To get to Banaue, we took the overnight Ohayami bus from Manila, which costs 450P a person. It left at 10pm and arrived in Banaue at 6:30am, making two rest stops along the way. The bus also had wi-fi, which was slow but still quite nice on a nine hour journey. Upon arrival in Banaue we were picked up via trike to be taken to Randy’s Brookside Inn, a place we booked ahead of time from AirBnB. Randy is THE BEST. Like actually. When we got there he made us breakfast and then helped us plan out our next few days in the area. He’s kind of like a cross between a personal tour guide and my mom, giving us directions to all the top sights and best cheap eats but also making sure we’re fed and wearing sunscreen before we leave. Even when we returned to Banaue for the afternoon after visiting Sagada, Randy insisted we come “chill out” at his place and one of “the boys” would trike us to the bus terminal for our overnighter back to Manila.
Banaue’s claim to fame is its rice terraces, so Randy suggested we first hike up to the main viewpoint. The walk is somewhere between 4-5km entirely uphill but there are lots of minor viewpoints along the way to stop and rest and take pictures at (or in Chris’s case, sit in the shade and re-apply sunscreen).
The hike is also along the main road, which means we got to walk past all the locals’s homes and wave at the tiny adorable children yelling “Hello! Hello!” as we went by. Many of them also shouted “Picture! Picture!” when they saw our cameras and were very keen to pose when we obliged.
We were pretty sweaty by the time we got to the top, but thought we’d hike back through the rice terraces for change of scenery. Randy had said that it was up to us whether we hired a guide for this portion or not. He said, “if you have a compass, GPS, etc. you’ll probably be fine, otherwise, perhaps you want a guide.” One man at the top of the viewpoint told us we would for sure need a guide, and that guide should be his wife. Of course, being the overconfident backpacking young people that we are, we though meh, our phones have GPS, we’ll be fine (and when a man insists you need his services, naturally you are a little suspicious).
This is how we learnt a valuable lesson: if the locals suggest you should hire a guide, you should probably think strongly about hiring one. You see, the thing about rice terraces is they aren’t like a forest – if you get off track you can’t just look at a compass and then bushwhack your way back to the path. The terraces may look like innocent happy stairs from afar, but in actuality each one is like a 10 foot near-vertical drop. As such, our easy hike actually turned into an all afternoon affair, during which I almost ran face first into a sleeping bat (which was actually super adorable until it woke up and flew off, startling the beejeesus out me) and then slipped off a ledge, forcing Chris to grab my arms and haul me to safety with an impressive bruise on my leg. We wandered for a quite a while; it was actually quite neat because there was nary another soul in sight, although after a while I started getting worried we were going to be trapped in the rice terraces forever.
Thankfully we eventually came across a lone farmer, who told us to go back up the terraces, where we would find an irrigation channel that we could follow back to the town. Somewhat grudgingly (we had struggled quite a bit to get DOWN to this part, including Chris being attacked by biting ants) we turned around and found the grey concrete road home. Even this became a little confusing near the end, as the path leads straight through the centre of people’s homes. Some small children laughed at Chris’s dirty backside, but then one ran ahead of us and pointed the way. We figured his mother sent him after seeing our sorry state. We made it back without any more catastrophes, then treated ourselves to an enormous bottle of Royal Tru-Orange (what they appear to call orange Fanta over here, and I have immediately become addicted to). Now, we did see others who made it without a guide, along with others who also got lost, so I think it’s kind of a game of chance as to whether you pick the right path or not. Either way though the rice terraces are so very lovely.
Randy recommended some places for cheap local food in the area so we went out for fried chicken, veggies, and rice, which is I think is a Filipino staple. Banaue and it seems many of the other small towns up here have a curfew of around 9:30-10:30pm, so restaurants seem to stop serving around 8:30pm. Not that we really noticed because we were so tired from all the adventuring we were in bed by 9pm anyways. It was necessary since tomorrow we were headed to Batad, a.k.a. MORE HIKING.
FYI: Visit 7th Heaven’s Cafe if you come here. We hung out there when we returned to Banaue to get the bus back to Manila and it offers delicious food (mmm… pancit), spectacular views of the town from their veranda, a place to shelter out of the rain, and some lovely dogs to pet.