It’s time to wrap up my summer vacation with Blog #2, my adventure to the Philippines. If you missed it, check out the previous blog highlighting my time spent in Japan for the first part of my trip!
At this point it was Wednesday August 7th, and I caught an afternoon flight from Tokyo back to Seoul. I wasn’t able to get a cheap one-way ticket from Tokyo down to Manila so it was actually cheaper to fly back to Seoul and buy a round-trip ticket to Manila.
I had a few hours at the airport to charge all of my electronics and get some food but sadly my flight down to Manila was a little late taking off. It was already a later arrival so I didn’t make it through customs until nearly 1 AM, and with no place booked to stay I just grabbed a cheap hotel near the airport for the night.
As I woke up in the late morning of the following day, my plan was to sightsee a little bit in Manila and catch an overnight night bus that evening to the north. My entire trip was based around getting to the ancient Rice Terraces of the Ifugao people.
The hotel desk asked me my plans and they told me I needed to head to the bus station right now and catch a bus during the day. I asked them if there was a bus going to Bunaue and they said there was….which was the first time I experienced something I will call the ‘Philippine over-friendliness’. The people of the Philippines are incredibly friendly, and it’s a GREAT thing, except there were times where people wanted to help so they gave me advice or directions when they really didn’t know what was going on.
I made my way to the bus station and when I tell them my destination they just put me on a bus headed north. I had no clue where it was going, but it had air conditioning, wi-fi and a movie playing so I wasn’t going to complain! I made friends with the guy sitting next to me a couple hours into the ride and he tells me they have sent me off on a pretty bad route. I stayed on that bus for about 5 hours until he told me where to get off and gave me a list of the cities I need to travel to get up to my destination.
The city I got off in had a mall at the bus area which allowed me to grab some dinner, but I ran into some trouble when the route I was needing to take had stopped running for the day. I was trying to get to San Jose City and there were two other ladies trying to get there as well, so I went with them on a little motor tricycle for a 3 minute ride to another road. We then stood on the side of the road waiting on a ‘jeepney’ to come by that was going to San JoseCity. A quick note, a ‘jeepney’ is a former US military jeep from WWII that was left in the Philippines and they now use them all over the country as a favorite mode of transportation. They are not the most comfortable and can get a little crowded, but they get the job done.
At this point I was kind of like ‘What the heck am I doing right now?’. I was standing on the side of the road hoping a jeepney would come by that I needed, but I didn’t even really know where in the country I was, or where I was going. Thankfully one came by that I needed and I hopped in. It would periodically stop on the side of the road to pick up or drop off passengers and as the daylight left us I was treated to an incredible sunset out the back door (which just stays open the whole time).
After about 2 hours of mostly unpaved roads we made it to San JoseCity. It was past 8 PM at this point and I just needed a place to sleep for the night. Thankfully I found what I think was the one hotel in the whole city and was able to get a good night of sleep.
The following morning I woke up with the same goal, ‘Get to Banaue!’. I found the bus stop in town…by stop I mean the side of the road with a little blue sign that says ‘bus’. I got on an old bus with no a/c and wooden seats made which got me a couple more hours north, caught another jeepney to get a little closer, one more bus and one final jeepney to get me into town.
The travel experience to get up there was definitely a unique one, not made for people with low patience. I was able to interact with a lot of locals and see a lot of the countryside during the two days, as well as not see any other foreigners!
When you get to Banaue you immediately see why the Rice Terraces are a main destination; they are captivating. I quickly booked a place to stay for the night and took a tricycle ride up to the main view point. Another main mode of transportation is ‘tricycles’, both pedal and motorcycle, but I only went on motorized ones. It’s just a motorcycle with a little compartment welded onto the side and they are in abundance, especially in the touristy areas.
I spent nearly two hours up at the view point, into the early evening. As the clouds and sunlight changed the different areas and levels up the Terraces became more beautiful than just a few minutes earlier. I listened to some music and just soaked it all in. After about an hour hike down the road into the village I got some good dinner and spent me evening watching the Philippines National Basketball team win an Asian tournament game to put them into the final four. A fun experience to watch with some locals!
The next two days were spent in a village called Batad, which was a little more isolated in the mountains. I hired a tricycle to take me as for as the road would go, which was an hour long ride on a road that literally hung on the side of the mountain. The weather was great and I had some incredible views along the way. We even ran into a little construction work as it appeared they are trying to pave most of that stretch (a great idea).
After getting dropped off at Saddle Point I hiked my way for nearly an hour into the valley of the mountains, where I found my home for the next two days. I found a place to stay and hired a guide to show me around. They gave me a tiny little room because it was their only room for a single traveler, but the view was spectacular. In fact the view from where I ate all my meals was even more magnificent. The rice terraces were a little different from Banaue’s in the fact they formed more of an amphitheater on the mountains.
I made a few friends while there and spent the first day hiking with some new Dutch friends. We hiked right through all of the rice terraces, a phenomenal experience I will never forget. After a couple hours of hiking we made our way down into a part of the valley where there was a nice waterfall that was probably about 60 feet high. Although the water was a little bit cold it was a refreshing swim after a few hours in the hot sun!
The food at the place I was staying was really really good, and I also took advantage of their massage services that evening. It was just what I needed after so much travel and hiking!
The following morning I decided to hike to the other side of the valley and scale the mountains on that side to get another view of the terraces. I didn’t really know what I was signing up for at the time, but it turned into a really intense 3 hour hike. After coming back down into the valley I went ahead and made my way all the way down to the waterfall gain so I could do some swimming and relaxing. I spent most of my afternoon there even fitting in an hour long nap on the rocks.
I finished the day with another great meal while admiring the scenery and a post-meal massage…because in my opinion you can never have enough massages! Plus I won’t be able to get an hour long massage for only $10 again for a long time.
This is the part of my vacation where it turned from a fun-filled adventure to a downright crazy story. I woke up in the early morning to my room shaking because a Typhoon was hitting the Philippines. The worst part of the country hit was the area I was in.
We didn’t have any power and they told me I should just stay there an extra day and try and let it pass, but I had to get back to Banaue to take my overnight bus to Manila and catch my flight the next day. I spent the morning trying to sleep and relax despite the sideways rain hitting the side of the building and the trees that had fallen outside my window.
Around lunchtime I found out a group of Israelis who were going to hike out of the valley and to the main road, where hopefully a jeepney would be waiting for them. I knew it was my one shot so I decided to tag along with them.
We had to hike nearly 3 hours in a monsoon, and all I had was a tiny umbrella that did little good. As we made our way to the road just about everything in my backpack was soaked and most of the clothes I had were soaked. Part of the path we took had turned into a river and we had to navigate a lot of different vegetation that could not stay in place because of the storm.
Thankfully the Jeepney was there and we found ourselves taking a hour and half wild ride around the muddy mountain roads. We were pretty worried about erosion wiping out parts of the road so I was just glad to finally pull into Banaue in one piece.
I got a nice warm meal and had a few hours to try and dry out some clothes before my 7 PM bus departure. Unfortunately the bus was blasting the air conditioning and with most of my clothes wet I had a pretty chilly 9 hour ride back to Manila.
We arrived in the city a little past 4 AM and I was hoping to do a little sightseeing and shopping, but the rain was still coming down and I decided to just split a cab to the airport with some people from the bus, even though my flight didn’t leave for another 12 hours. I used the time to catch up on the intenet, eat some good food and even get a nice hot shower and hour long massage.
My flight roundtrip to the Philippines was about $220 so I can’t really complain that much, but the Cebu Pacific flight back to Seoul was delayed by 4 hours. After all of my travelling I was just ready to get on that plane and get back to Korea! Finally our plane arrived and we landed in Korea a little past midnight.
They provided some free buses into downtown Seoul so I arrived at my friend’s apartment at 2:15 in the morning, tired and worn out but thankful for an incredible journey! My friend I was visiting was actually my old high school English teacher from Kentucky, who is teaching at Seoul Foreign School. It was great to catch up and spend the next two days relaxing and seeing Seoul one last time before I leave.
I tried my best to sum up my adventure without giving too many details, but there are so many small events along the way that made the trip memorable and special. I really hope to make it back to the Philippines one day to see the other parts of the country people rave about. The people are friendly, the country beautiful and the experiences unforgettable.
If any of you find yourself with a chance to visit the Rice Terraces please do yourself a favor and make it happen. They are often called the ‘8th wonder of the world’ and having spent a couple days in their beauty I can understand why.
I have 5 more days in Korea before I head home for good! I’ll have one more blog post to try my best to wrap up this incredible year.
As always, love you guys and thanks for reading!