Once upon a time, I went on the adventure of a lifetime with my partner and inadequately tried to describe our incredible experiences in this blog.
We traveled from Bangkok to northern Thailand, riding our scooter through misty mountain roads, stopping for coffee and pastries at tucked away mountainside cafes. We journeyed for two days on a slow-boat from northern Thailand into Laos where we accidentally came across Hmong New Year celebrations and learned about UXO. We traveled back down through less-traveled eastern Thailand where we made some friends and ended up at a Thai social justice rock show. We hopped on over to Burma to experience the magic temples of Bagan, the peaceful serenity of Inle Lake, and the city rush of Yangon. We spent the better part of a week lazing around on an almost uninhabited Thai island before tasting an explosion of flavors in Penang, Malaysia. We bused down to Singapore to meet up with friends we made along the way, experiencing hospitality like no other. We spent over one month exploring Vietnam, epitomized by our weeklong stay in a tiny fishing village on the central coast.
And then we made our way to the Philippines where life seemed so wonderful, it almost slowed to a stop.
This last, most special part of our trip never got recorded in my blog because — and I’m not trying to be dramatic — it’s impossible to accurately describe our experience there. Every time I attempted to sit down and write about it, the task seemed too overwhelming, but I was sad to have never recorded our time here. So I’m finally just going to do it, knowing that these words can’t truly capture the magic of our time in the Philippines.
We spent the first half of our time in the Philippines exploring the rice terraces around Banaue in the Ifugao region of the Philippines and cooling off in the hill-station city of Baguio, but what made our travels in the PI especially wonderful was the second half of the leg, meeting up my dear friend, Arra, and spending the last two weeks abroad with her family who live in the Bicol area and on a little heart-shaped island called Marinduque. This post will cover the first part of our trip in the Banaue area and Baguio, and I’ll revisit the magic of Bicol and Marinduque in the next post.
After spending a day or two in Manila, Mitch and I took a sleeper bus north to the Banaue region, known for its incredible rice terraces. Much like our sleeper bus in Burma, this bus was absolutely frigid, and I caught a little cold. We stayed in a comfortable Airbnb guesthouse nestled in the hillside of Banaue and run by a man named Randy. The accommodations were basic with no extras but just what two budget travelers needed for a few days. As we travelled, we learned that the local people typically point out the best sites — it’s how we ended up on the best adventures — and Randy was very insistent on what we should see and do each day. As usual, I was glad we followed his advice.
On our first day, we took a tricycle/tuk-tuk to the top of the Banaue rice terraces to hike back down to the guesthouse. The view from the top was astonishing and took my breath away. The terraces are enormous individually and altogether cover vast mountainsides and valleys. Incredibly, these handmade agricultural steps are about 2,000 years old and still in use to this day, although the ancient farming techniques and practices are fading as younger generations choose more modern lifestyles.
It was a hot day, but we reveled in every moment as we picked our way down the terraces, seemingly the only people on the mountain. Since we chose not to use a guide, we tried to follow the very unmarked paths and were forced to turn around many times upon discovering we had gone astray. I have to say that it was so much fun and the childlike explorer in me was giddy. To this day, this is still the best hike of my life.
On Day 2, our guesthouse host, Randy, recommended a hike through another famed terrace valley in Batad, a short distance away. We took another tricycle to the trailhead and spent the day hiking through the lush valley of Batad. This valley was a smaller but much greener and no less impressive than the Banaue terraces. There were more travelers hiking through this area though, as it was smaller and easier to navigate than the winding paths of Banaue.
We were rewarded with a beautiful waterfall at the bottom of the valley.
Our last day in the area was drizzly and gray. After two full days of hiking through valleys, our legs and muscles were sore, and we planned to use the day to rest and recuperate; however, Randy insisted we use our time wisely and encouraged us to hike through the Hapao terraces. He successfully guilted us into going, and we enjoyed yet another day wandering through lush rice fields and terraces.
We hiked through Hapao on a cool and misty day, which gave the valley a much different feel than our last two terrace experiences. Hapao is unique in that it shelters wonderful hot springs, nestled in the valley. We rested our sore and achy muscles in the hot springs as well as the crystal clear, freezing stream beside it.
That evening, I joined Randy and the village at a Catholic mass and enjoyed the service in Ifugao, Tagalog, and even a bit of English. One of my favorite parts of traveling is experiencing the daily traditions and rituals of the people.
The next day, we bid farewell to Randy and hopped into a minivan on the way to Baguio.
Baguio used to be a hill-station for Spanish colonizers to escape from the tropical heat of the Philippines, and when we arrived, the weather was cool and rainy. After three days of hiking through enormous rice terraces, we slowed down for a bit, taking our time to enjoy the famous local hot chocolate in a cute little cafe. We also stopped by the Philippine Military Academy as quick nod to Mitch’s days at the Naval Academy.
Next, we headed back to Manila for our favorite part of the Philippines trip: to meet up with my dear friend Arra and her parents on our way to visit family in Bicol and then Marinduque!