BY ANTON WALKER
The Banaue Rice Terraces in the Philippines are often considered to be the eighth wonder of the world and are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Somehow, they remain an unspoiled destination with far less tourist traffic than they might be expected to draw. The terraces were created by tribal people and are one of the few significant sites in the Philippines that have not been influenced by colonialism. As tourist activities are coordinated by local Filipinos rather than a streamlined Western operation, making travel arrangements is complicated and done through in-person reservations rather than online. The benefit is that it is also cheap and connects you to the friendly locals. Located in the northern part of the largest island in the Philippines, Luzon, the rice terraces are best accessed from Manila.
Our group of seven travelers departed from the Ohiyami bus terminal in Manila at 9 P.M. on a Tuesday evening with plans to spend the following day at the rice terraces and then return that evening to Manila. The nine and a half hour bus ride was an experience all in its own, so for travelers seeking comfortable transportation, booking a private van may be worth consideration. The most valuable piece of advice in reference to the bus is to bring warm clothes even if the weather is unbearably hot, as the air conditioning on the buses is fierce. Bring a book or iPad to keep you entertained as well, as sleeping can be a challenge on the bumpy ride.
The bus arrived on Wednesday morning at 6:30 A.M, and our group reaped the benefits of being awake earlier than we could have ever thought possible, ready to seize the morning. We secured a driver to take us on a Jeepney, a big truck with seating for 10 seen all throughout the Philippines, on the hour drive up the hill to the Batad Saddle where we would start our hike. Our driver let some of us ride on the roof to enjoy the views, and locals hopped on and off the back fender as they hitched rides to their rural homes along the course of our ride.
The hike to the Batad Rice Terraces begins at the top of a steep flight of rough stone stairs. Within an hour we were at the tiny town of Batad, which is both the center of tourism operations for the rice terraces and home to the laborers who work there. However, don’t let the term “tourism” fool you, in reality this means three tiny restaurants, one inn, and a selection of huts which can be rented for the night for less than $0.50 USD. It is a nice secluded spot to eat lunch or fall asleep with a truly incredible view. At this point we hired a guide for the rest of the hike as the trail would become more complicated, and we were bound to get lost.
Our guide led us down from the village, past her house and the tiny school where we saw her children, and onto the narrow stone walls of the rice terraces. The rice terraces themselves are tiered sections of the hillside that are flooded with water and grow rice. Each family has a separate section to grow their rice. We hit our halfway point at a waterfall on the other side of the terraces where we swam and cooled off before the inevitably tough hike upwards. One of the best parts of the entire experience was our realization that as we experienced the absolutely breathtaking scenery, our group made up seven of the probably thirty tourists that we saw at the rice terraces. In a world in which many of the best sites have been “Disneyfied” this was a prized experience.