I never expect to be back to this lovely country. Barely six weeks ago, I made my maiden voyage to Philippines. After my first trip, my perception of the Philippines has changed. I used to think of poverty, corruption, crime etc is the trademark of this country. Even Abu Sayyaf is more popular than the Philippines President. Never that I know in this country, it has some of the best scenery found in South East Asia.
Six weeks later, I am back.
4th May 2011
This time, I took Philippines Airlines (PAL). However, the plane is late as I was told the plane trip from Taipei to Manila is delayed. So the domino effect now affect our flight to Manila.
Fortunately the delay wasn’t too bad. After delaying about 20mins, we are on our way.
The flight itself isn’t bad. The plane looks clean and new. The crew is friendly too. However, the food really taste bad.
5th May 2011
We still reach Manila on schedule. We landed on Terminal 2 with a 10/10 perfect landing. The Terminal looks newer and brighter compared to Terminal 1. Did I mentioned in my previous trip that Terminal 1 looks like a Vietnam War era airport?
I quickly locate the airport taxi stand and board a cab to Chill Out Guest House in Ermita. The fare is about P190 but the driver keep asking for a tip. I have given him but he still wanted more. After the flight, I was dead tired and the last thing I wanted is to engage in an argument. So I just gave him more and quickly leave the taxi.
Chill Out Guest House is located on A. Mabini street in Ermita. I think it is own by some Europeans. The guest house is not easy to find as it is located on the 3rd level of a building. The signage to it is not obvious too. However if you look hard enough, you still can find it.
The guesthouse is very flexible in its dealings. Though I arrive around 5am and by right I could not check in till noon, they still let me have the room early and that is 7 to 9 hours extra. I got a room with fan but without toilet. The room is simple and clean. It does not have a safety box but they do have lockers located along the corridor and you can borrow one from them.
After settling down, I left the guesthouse to buy the bus ticket I needed. I walk my way to Pedro Gil station and took the train to Doroteo Jose LRT Station. I walk to Recto station trying to find my way to the bus terminal.
However, I lost my bearings and walk the opposite direction. After walking about 15mins, I sensed something is wrong and ask for directions. However, seems like no one knows the place where I wanted to go. I tracked back to Recto station and ask again. Finally someone pointed me to the right direction and I slowly navigate my way there.
After walking about 20mins, I saw the bus station but the ticket office is still close. I was told it will open about 8am and it is only 0645hrs. There is nothing I can do except to wait and do nothing. I spend my time watching people boarding the bus, loading their luggage up. It is interesting to see how the buses utilize the limited space they have by correctly scheduling each bus to come at a certain time.
Fortunately the staff decide to open the ticket office at 0740hrs. I quickly bought my ticket at P440 for the 2110hrs bus. It is a regular bus without a toilet attached. I then walk all the way back to Recto station and took a jeepney to Divisoria.
As I have already mentioned about Divisoria in my previous trip report, I will not go too much into it. However, I can see that it is less crowded on a weekday. I just love coming here to shop and I guess I just covered 30% of it only.
After buying most of my stuff and lugging a 9kg bag with all the contents inside, I walk all the way back to Soler street to get a jeepney back to Recto station. At Recto station, I did try to get a cab back to the guest house but I just could not get one! I then lug the stuff up to the train station and walk all the way back to Doroteo Jose LRT Station.
When I reach Pedro Gil station, I then tried to flag down a cab. When they hear Mabini, they all shake their head. I was mad! In the end I walk back all the way to the guest house carrying the bag.
I was dog tired when I reach the guest house. Especially when I have to carry the stuff up 3 floors. Coupled with Manila hot weather, I almost freak out. I just rest on my bed with fan blowing at me. I just laze my time around till about late noon and took a quick shower. There is no hot water in the common toilet.
I got changed and decided to go to the nearby Robinson Manila Mall to shop around.
Robinson Manila Mall is located at Pedro Gil street. It doesn’t look big from the outside but once you are in, you will be surprise by its size. It is a nice mall to walk with plenty of shops. I just want to enjoy the air con as the heat outside is killing me. Near to dinner time, I dine at Bacolod Chicken Inasal. I ordered Sisig and Crab Meat rice. Please do not tell me which part of the pig that they use to prepare Sisig. People just keep telling me to try so I just give it a go. It doesn’t taste bad but I doubt I will try it again.
After that I proceed my way to the bus terminal by using the trains and the power of my legs.
When I reach the terminal at 8pm, the terminal is bustling with activities. There are actually two Florida terminal. The other one just the opposite of the old one. So for Banaue bound bus, it is at the open air station.
You will be surprise what they load up the bus. Cloth and big boxes of supplies. I was told that the bus is freezing cold. I can see many passengers wearing sweaters and thick clothing. I also can see someone selling blankets to make a quick buck. I think I would term these buses as refrigerator bus.
For me, I brought myself a blanket, a cap and heat packs! When I board the bus, it is not that cold actually. Cool is the word to use. The bus company make use of the limited space they have and cleverly schedule the arrival of each bus to board the passenger. Please take a close look where is your bus or have they arrive to pick up passenger. For Banaue bound bus, the sign on the bus is actually spell Banawe.
Finally the bus move out and I begin my 9.5 hours of journey. As the bus move northwards, it indeed will become colder. I then took out my blanket and cover myself and open my heat pack. Some advice for travelers when the bus stop for a break. On the first stop, the toilet is still usable, meaning quite clean and bearable. At the second stop, you had better not use it if you have big business to do. Taking a leak is still fine. So do not eat anything that may upset your stomach during the bus ride.
6th May 2011
The bus reaches Banaue around 6am. It is already very bright. My guide Irene, is already waiting for me at the Florida bus terminal. When I was in Manila, she is still wondering I am serious about getting her as a guide as she has been played out by several people before. I assured her that I will be going to Banaue and I have even bought the bus ticket.
We greet each other and we walk down to the town center together. We went to purchase a bus ticket back for P500 to Manila for the same day. So this is actually a day trip! She introduced me to the jeepney driver Michael and Irene brought me to Las Vegas restaurant for breakfast. I offered her to treat her for breakfast and I guess she is quite surprised by it.
After breakfast, we walk around the town and brought me to the tourist office, market and the town hall for a walk around. She finally located Michael and she politely ask me that can she at the same time ferry some goods to her home stay in Batad.
Irene and her uncle actually own a home stay in Batad, called Ramon’s Home stay. She would like to transport some supplies back there since I have hired the whole jeepney to myself. I said no problem.
We went to visit Banaue view point first. I was so impressed by the sight. The rice fields are so charming. I really can’t believe after years of seeing the terrace rice fields in pictures, now they are right before my eyes. Standing there looking at the rice fields, you can’t help it but just be overwhelm by it. Imagine these rice fields are around since 2000 years ago.
“The Banaue Rice Terraces (Tagalog: Hagdan-hagdang Palayan ng Banawe) are 2000-year old terraces that were carved into the mountains of Ifugao in the Philippines by ancestors of the indigenous people. The Rice Terraces are commonly referred to by Filipinos as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”. It is commonly thought that the terraces were built with minimal equipment, largely by hand. The terraces are located approximately 1500 meters (5000 ft) above sea level and cover 10,360 square kilometers (about 4000 square miles) of mountainside. They are fed by an ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above the terraces. It is said that if the steps are put end to end it would encircle half the globe.
Contrary to popular belief, the Banaue Rice Terraces are not part of the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras UNESCO inscription but are declared a National Cultural Treasure as the Ifugao Rice Terraces. Ancient sprawling man-made structures from 2,000 to 6,000 years old, other terraces are found in the provinces of Kalinga, Apayao, Benguet, Mountain Province and Ifugao. But only those in Batad, Bangaan, Mayoyao, Hungduan and Nagacadan, all in Ifugao, are inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.”
After visiting the several view points in Banaue, we make our way to Saddle Point. It is an hour drive from the town. The road is quite bumpy and the government is paving some of the road concrete. I am actually very eager to try to sit on the roof of the transport since this will give me a better view. However, some parts of the road are quite narrow. I was thinking of asking Irene is a parachute included part of the package. I am always ready to grab Irene with me if the transport will to go down the cliff. At the same time, I am thinking how can I jump out of the transport in record time in the event that the transport slip out of the road.
After crossing Batad junction, the road started to get rough. Batad Junction is where all the tricycle will stop as the road is too rough to continue. I would seriously advice any visitor going to Batad to use a jeepney, be it the regular service or renting one. These are the reasons,
- Imagine yourself in a tin can rolling down a hill where the road is bumpy? How do you feel? If you want to experience this, take a tricycle to Batad Junction.
- The trek from Batad Junction to Saddle Junction is a tough one. Other than overcoming fatigue and rough road, the road is also an uphill one. When we were on our way to the Saddle, we saw four Filipino tourist walking up. I could see the tiredness in them and the girls are really struggling to move on. I then signal them to board the jeepney and give them a lift.
- Do not forget that after reaching the Saddle, you will still need to trek down slope to Batad. You may say that down slope is easy. However, remember that if you will to walk from Batad Junction to the Saddle, you will be dead tired by then. When you trek down to Batad, you may lose concentration and slip. This is no laughing matter as you may need to hire four porters to carry you back up. This will be more embarrassing if you are a lady as most of the porters are men.
During the journey, Irene shared with me about the rice terrace. How the red plant signifies territorial boundaries and its other significance. Banaue usually have one harvest per year but Batad can have as many as 3 harvest per year depending on the weather. As Filipinos eat rice for almost every meal, all the rice harvested will not be exported out to anywhere else. All rice will be consumed locally. She is very knowledgeable and also a cheerful lady. We chat casually and told her that I went to Manila on my first visit. She then exclaimed “Manila is a disgusting place!” I was quite taken aback actually.
We finally reached the Saddle Point. This is the last frontier of your cell phone network. Use the last weak signal bar in your phone to send out any messages you want. Once you enter the trek, it is the point of “no signal”.
The trek down to Batad is not that tough as it is going down slope. Actually, this is what worries me. Since it is down slope all the way, when you walk back up to the Saddle, it will be up all the way! The trek down to Batad took about an hour.
We took a rest at the Tourist Information Counter. You will need to register yourself and the staff will ask you whether do you want to make a voluntary donation. I took the much needed rest. Sitting at a bench overlooking the terrace rice fields. So what other visitors said are true; Batad rice terrace indeed look better than Banaue ones. After 5 mins, we start to make our way down to Ramon’s Home Stay. It is not an easy walk but it is worth it.
Down at Ramon’s Home Stay, I took another rest and look at the rice terrace. It is a wonderful sight. I can see the rice fields being blown by the wind, creating a pattern of fallen crops and spring back up again. I can never forget this sight. Irene cut the mango that she bought from the market and share it with me. We sit down and have a chat. I told her about my first trip to Philippines 6 weeks ago and what I saw in Ermita. I can see the income gap disparity where some can afford to shop comfortable in Makati but some poor residents are sleeping on the road with rodents running around them. When she heard this, Irene said it with must gusto “That is why I said Manila is such a disgusting place!” I think I have step on a landmine. She even said you cannot find a single prostitute in Batad and Banaue. I wonder which part of my body language hinted to her that I am a sex tourist.
I would advice anyone not to mess with Batad woman.
- They can carry heavy load with their head. I saw woman carrying sack of supplies down the trail. I bet their head is stronger than anyone of us. If she headbutt you, I can’t imagine the consequence.
- Batad woman are strong. They spend a lot of time pounding the rice. So they have strong arms. Try arm wrestling with them and you are dead.
- They walk a lot! Up and down the trail. Climb the rice terrace. Planting rice in the terrace which Irene still do now occasionally. I saw little girls manning stores along the trail selling drinks. Imagine it was halfway along the trail and a little girl walk all the way up just to man the store! To them, walking the trail is just like a walk in the park. So I believed they have strong legs!
Irene cook my lunch. Yes, she cooked my lunch! I felt so honored that my guide cook for me. She prepared a dish simply called spicy chicken which actually she did ask me what I like to eat during our journey to Saddle Point. Never expect that she cook!
My chat with Irene make me understand more about the people of this region. People here are less materialistic and the family social fabric is very strong. Regardless are you poor or rich, people do help each other within the family. They spend money on what they need and not what they want. They only “celebrate” two occasions in their life. One is their first birthday and the other will be their last breathe. So during these occasions, a pig will be slaughtered for the ritual. Therefore, if they have money, they would rather spend money to buy livestock then any other thing. If you want to celebrate any other event in your life, this will depends on your financial means. Even if there is a celebration, it will be a simple affair of some simple food and beer.
People here are less calculative too. For example, during my ride from Batad to Banaue and vice-verse, people will just jump on my transport but not inside the transport and maybe sit on the roof to hitch a free hike. As a matter of fact, when the driver see some people by the road, he will just give a soft horn to ask them “hey, wanna ride?”. I can see sometimes 4 or more person chasing after my transport and all hang on to the back of the transport. Interesting.
Irene showed me around the guesthouse. There are 3 native houses in her compound. Near to the dining area, this native house is between 50 to 80 years old and the native house outside the dining area is more than 100 years old! Irene continued to explain to me why the house are all black and this is due to the smoking of the house. The house must continued to be use to preserve it. Cooking and smoking (not cigarette smoking) of the house are for 2 reasons. One is to prevent termites and also to dry the rice granary on the 3rd floor.
These native house are available for rent and I ask Irene wouldn’t renting out of these houses will damage it? It should be preserved! Irene further emphasis that such houses must be continued to be used so it can be preserved. Imagine all the utensils and items you found in the house are as old as the house. This is really unbelievable. Irene also showed me the various “conquest” of his ancestor; animal skulls. I saw monkey, rabbit, mouse etc.
The native house that is located below the dining area has an interesting history. The house is actually originally located in Banaue and is own by a Greek! However, the Greek decided to give the house to someone who can preserve it. So Irene’s uncle took up the offer. The house is labeled, dismantled and ship to Batad; piece by piece. In Batad, it is reassembled to its former self. One thing to note that the native house has no nails. Just like the Forbidden City in China, the house has no nails to secured it. However, it is cleverly design in such a way that it will not collapse. Well, they have been living in such a house for over 2000 years. There is no reason not to believe it. This is also the only house that has a window view of the rice terrace.
In the compound you can see dogs and chickens running around but I do not see any pigs.
After lunch and a short rest, we move on to Batad View Point. Again, we walk up the hill and reach the wall of the rice terrace. The walk up the hill is no easy feat. It is actually more difficult compared to trekking back up to the Saddle Point. Some spots you really need to be extra vigilant and watch your steps.
Walking on the wall of the rice fields, you will need to balance yourself well. Even Irene sometimes need to do some balancing act like spreading both her hands to achieve some balance. I actually almost slip a few times but fortunately I manage to balance myself. Irene will constantly remind you to be careful.
Irene also teaches me how to differentiate the type of rice that is planted. Look at the bottom of the rice crop; red will be red rice, black will be glutinous rice and green will be white rice. I always thought glutinous rice is treated white rice but now I know they are direct from the fields.
Irene will bring you to the center to the terrace and she will say, “This is it!”. Wow. I thought Batad View Point is just another view deck like Banaue but hell no. You are actually standing on the rice terrace wall and look down the whole rice terrace fields. So the difference is in Banaue, you look at the rice from the outside but in Batad, you view it within the rice terrace. The view is really awesome. Irene ask me do I want to walk further to the other side of the terrace to have another angle of the terrace. I said “Yeah!” We continue to walk and climb one more level up to the higher terrace. We are now about 800m above sea level. I sit down on the wall of the terrace and enjoy the cool breeze blowing at me. It is indeed a worthwhile trip. How I wish my wife is here with me to enjoy the view.
All my photos taken in Batad are actually doing a disservice to it; a lousy camera and a lousy photographer. You will really have to see it for yourself to experience the granduer of the Batad Rice Terrace.
After 10mins or so at the terrace, we walk back to Batad village. Before we reach the tourist information center, Irene decided to take the short cut up the trail; a shorter but steeper trail that will eventually lead us back to the main trail. As a couch potato, I was thinking hard whether can I make it. We slowly ascend the trail and Irene can see that I am panting very hard and took several rest along the way. Soon we are back to the main trail and we can see people; man and woman carrying supplies on their head down to Batad. I even saw a 70/80 year old woman slowly making her way down. I was so embarrassed by it; I can’t even be compared to an old woman. I later saw a child maybe about 5 years old making her way down. Now I can’t even compared to a 5 year old girl. I really want to find a hole and hide my head.
Batad people are hardened people. Imagine carrying supplies from the Saddle Point down to Batad. Even if it is a down slope trail, it is no easy feat with a sack of potatoes on your head. I told Irene that I believe I will be the first to reach Batad if I will to carry the same load as them; I will be basically slip and fall and roll all the way down to Batad. I bet I will make an impressive entrance.
When we reach about 80% of the trail, Irene ask me whether do I want to take another short cut that will lead us back to the Saddle Point. She said this will shelve off about 10mins. I said ok. Here I begin the 420 steps climb. I just take a step at a time also regular break. Finally I made it! Irene shouted “Congratulations Sir, you made it!” I really feel like kneeling down and raise my hand and say “I need my jeepney!!!” If you don’t know how it look like, see this.
I was really panting like a dog. I drag my feet to one of the store, sit down and order a drink for myself and Irene. I can see the strain on Irene too maybe because she have to trek down and up Batad within a day! I wonder how many people want to do this trip within a day. Guess I am the only idiot.
We then took the jeepney back to Banaue. Irene keep suggesting me to go to Sagada but I told her I do not want to miss the flight back and I do not have sufficient money with me.
It is already 6pm when we reach Banaue. I offer a dinner treat to Irene and she opted to have burger on the street side. I welcome her decision as I prefer to try something non-restaurant.
After dinner, Irene and me parted our way.
I would like to mentioned more about Irene at this point.
Irene lived in Banaue and have a home stay in Batad. This makes her well verse in both Banaue and Batad. She is not a certified guide but this does not make her less knowledgeable. She told me that when the authorities came to conduct the certification course, she is pregnant so she could not attend the course. She is really a friendly girl and I would say capable. Down to earth girl that I must add. I can see that she speak with much passion and enthusiasm about Banaue, Batad and the Ifugao tradition.
I found her through websites and her response is usually fast, maybe give her 2 days as Banaue internet access is limited and in Batad, the only way to have wireless communication is to use homing pigeons. She can bring you around Banaue, Batad and Sagada. I heard that she can bring you to Cambulo too! She is efficient and she really knows a lot of people in both Batad and Banaue.
You can contact Irene at 09169848380 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I make my way to the bus terminal. I doze off within seconds after the bus move out and I even miss out a few rest stop until the last one.
The bus actually stop at two terminals, Cubao first and Sampaloc. Many tourist do not know and just alight at Cubao. It was later then I discovered that the bus do stop at Sampaloc too and I have verified it with the driver.
I alight at Sampaloc at around 7am and again, I walk to Doroteo Jose LRT Station, take a train to Pedro Gil and walk back to the guest house.
7th May 2011
I actually wanted to go to Batangas today. I guess I have under estimate the traveling time. Also, I felt a bit sore on my legs. When I reach the guest house, I am quite tired. After sleeping 1 night on the plane and 2 nights in a bus, any bed will look at hot as Cristine Reyes.
I am still thinking about the terrace rice fields I have seen. They are just so beautiful. I lie down thinking Cristine Reyes embracing me in the rice fields.
Time flies and it is almost 11am. After torturing myself for 2 nights and I did not even sleep in the guest house! I decided to pamper myself. I login into Tripadvisor and look for something.
I decided to check out the guest house. I head to Riviera Mansion along Mabini Street. I check in to their Deluxe room and I was assign the 16th floor. When I enter the room, it is pretty big but the air con is not working. I contacted the front office and ask them to fix it while I went out. One thing I am also annoyed is that they do not even have a safety box inside the room. They have safety box available at the Front Office which I am uncomfortable with. They also charge for Wi-Fi access! Even Go Hotel and Chill Out Guest House is giving free Wi-Fi access. These bigger hotels are really trying to milk as much money as possible from tourist.
The reason why I chose Ermita this time is it is nearer to all the places I wanted to go; Divisoria, Sampaloc and Manila Bay. Ermita is a place of sleaze, despair and also contradiction. With the backdrop of the 5 star Hyatt Hotel, I saw street beggars, some of them are children. Poverty is very visible here. There is even one child not more than 7 years old with a naked baby barely 3 months old lying on the floor only with diapers her begging for money. Family sleeping on the road with rodents running around them and children playing with sand. I saw a little girl bathing by the road. She poured the little water she has on her body and while the water is dripping off her, she uses the very same pail to catch the water. She then recycled the water and bathe her other parts of her body. My heart cried when I see these.
Ermita may be a good place to stay for me. Reason is to remind myself how fortunate I am compared to them. I should count my blessings.
I really have nothing to do so I decided to go to Mall of Asia which is the next nearest Mall. I took the train and jeepney. I again loiter in the Mall unlike the last time, I take my time.
I happen to bump into a shop call Kultura. This shop actually sell tourist souvenirs. Though I must admit it is very touristy but some souvenirs do look very nice. So if you need to buy some last minute souvenirs, do not buy them at the airport but buy from this shop. Furthermore, one thing I must comment is the uniform worn by the female staff. The uniform is very simple but what I like is the scarf worn by them. It has a very Filipino design. It do have lace but they still keep the design simple. The scarf make the uniform look so elegant.
After buying all the things listed in the shopping list given to me by my wife, I took a cab back to the hotel. When I am back, the air con is still not fix. I went down to the front office and wanted them to send an engineer to go and take a look. They said they already went. I was getting annoyed and after a few visit to the front office, they discovered that they went to the wrong floor!
Finally the engineer take a look at the problem and informed the front office that they could not fix it. They then upgrade my room to a junior suite. The room is much bigger compromising of a double bed and a single bed.
By the time the change of room is done, the sky is already dark. I actually wanted to go to Manila Bay to see the sunset but the hotel ruined it! This is not the worse part. When I wanted to leave the hotel and go for a walk, Typhoon Bebeng paid Manila a visit.
The rain was very heavy and many shops and bars in Ermita suffered power outage. Even the hotel have intermittent electricity surge. That night, History Channel became my best friend.
8th May 2011
Another aimless day. At the least I got a good night rest. It sure beats sleeping in the bus. It is still drizzling, must be from the after typhoon effect. No where to go, I head to Mall of Asia again. As the day progress, the rain is getting heavier. I took a cab back to the hotel and start packing my things.
My flight is 1910hrs and I leave the hotel at 1640hrs. Some parts to the road to the airport is flooded. Some are as deep as almost reaching the bumper of the taxi.
When I reach Terminal Two, I was quite surprise by the size of the airport. The International Wing is so small. Worse then Terminal One. It is small and cramp. The check-in is chaotic. I really do not like it. PAL is pretty strict on baggage weight. They even weigh your hand carry bag and tag it.
After immigration, the passenger area is so small! There isn’t enough seats for all the passengers! One gate can be used by several flights. For example, my flight is at Gate 1 and 5 mins before us is a flight bound for Hong Kong and next is us. I really do not know how they manage it.
I really hope I have a chance to experience Terminal 3. Our flight is delayed by more than an hour due to some denied passenger. PAL need to locate the bag of the passenger.
Finally after 4 days in Philippines, I am leaving for home. I have already thought of some places to go if I can visit the Philippines again but I bet that will be a few years from now.
More pictures available here.