Visiting Batad Rice Terraces In Luzon
A lot of people have heard of the Banaue rice terraces on the hillsides in Ifugao in the Philippines. What a lot of you probably don't know is that unless you are there just before harvest the photo's will be quite different from what you see online. The pictures you see show these stunning green terraces walking down the mountainside and are really impressive. Sadly though a lot of the less scrupulous operators don't tell visitors that they look like that for only a month or two of the year. While rice takes from 3-5 months to grow from seedling to harvest, the change in climate has meant that the farmers from Banaue might only get 2 crops per year, which means that if you aren't there the month before harvest at either of those times you won't see the landscape represented in those photos.
Are Banaue and Batad Rice Terraces the same?
No Batad and Banaue rice terraces are different locations. They are both in the same area and are approximately 5km apart (as the crow flies), but they are completely different locations. Both rice terraces are under the same UNESCO umbrella that covers all of the significant rice terraces in the Philippines but they are different sides of Banaue. Banaue has a viewing deck which makes it easy to get a fantastic view out over the landscape, however Batad Rice Terraces require you to walk in to view.
Batad Rice Terraces as an alternative to Banaue
Denwil our guide (who I was still not super impressed with at this point) informed us that at this time of the year Banaue has just been planted and we wouldn't get the view it was famous for. He suggested Batad Rice Terraces were much nicer at this time of the year, we could hike in and out, and we could see many more local people as well. It wasn't as popular with tourists, and for that I was grateful. He had started to at least try to restore his value…
About Batad Rice Terraces
The Batad Rice Terraces are located in the Ifugao province on the Philippine island of Luzon. The area known for its steeply-terraced rice paddies that were originally constructed more than 2,000 years ago. This area was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 based around its impressive age, construction methods and cultural values.
The terraces have become a popular destination for tourists who want to see the incredible views along with experiencing the life of the people who plant and harvest these fields. The terraces follow the hillside allowing the farmers to grow on land that they otherwise would never be able to. I personally would love to know how long it took the original farmers to sculpt and carve these fields out of the mountains.
To reach Batad Rice Terraces, you need to walk in through the surrounding forests and hills. The trek can be quite challenging (its lots of stairs), but it's worth it for the breath-taking views that await. Traditional Ifugao houses fill the valley hillsides and the locals are open to meeting visitors. About half way up (or down) one entrance is a hike down to Tappiya Falls which is a nice way to cool down if you need to.
Hiking Into Batad Rice Terraces
Trekking in to Batad isn't technically difficult. It's just walking for the most part and while there are ups and downs (down going in of course) for the first hour or so we are walking down to the village and then around the edge of the terraces to the highest vantage point. This is a spectacular view of the valley and Brad immediately embraced the fact that they had beer and we all sat in this tiny shack just watching the view for a while. I had had a very nasty reaction to something I ate for dinner (I think there was probably soy in my chicken) so I had been very sick the night before and not at all trusting of my digestive tract at this point. Denwil kept trying to get me to drink coke insisting it would “clear out” the trouble but that was exactly what I was afraid of. Its not like there are any bushes to rush behind in the rice terraces!
So we finished our drinks (water for me) and started the long trek down into the village. NOW – while I say its not technical at all and its not, its just stairs but it is very very VERY steep and there is nowhere but down if you slip so you really have to keep your wits about you. The locals skip down like its nothing of course but my hatred of down made me very slow. I was still only about 7 months out from a full Achilles reconstruction and of course I'm sure my very slow pace enforced Denwil's “fat” theory, but down we went and while Brad did have to help me a few times we made it down uneventfully and to the homestay around early afternoon.
Batad Village Homestay
Our home stay was a great little local house and we met three other guys who were also staying there. Jake spent the entire time trying to get the local house dog to trust him which is a pointless exercise as they are well aware of how strangers can treat them, however we did manage to feed her some sneaky left overs (not that she needed it she was very well looked after) which reinforced to ourselves our ability to tame the wild beast!
The rooms were clean and slept 2 per room so Brad and I stayed in one room and Jake and Noah in the other. They didn't have showers but there were western toilets for which I was very grateful. I'm not opposed to squat loos at all, in fact I find them quite hygienic as opposed to sitting on a public toilet, however my knee that doesn't bend very far always makes it a challenge to use them.
Denwil took us to meet his in laws who live in the village which was really nice, aside from their very drunk next door neighbor who has (obviously) a rice wine drinking problem. The traditional houses are made from ironwood and square in shape. They are about 4 feet off the ground and have little ladders that can be pulled up at night to stop the domestic animals getting up we were told, but I'm sure there was probably some real reason for that – not so that you can't wake up with the pig sleeping next to you.
You are Ok walking around the village and the kids of course all come out to interact. There is a mix of homes and styles, but they all for the most part are elevated and timber construction. I'm assuming the elevation is to protect against flooding.
I still wasn't trusting of my burbling belly so rice for dinner for me but the boys hoed down on some more chicken curry and we all went to bed fairly early. The rooms were more than comfortable and the bathroom and shower were also clean which is always a great thing when you've been sweating your arse off for the day.
The division of labour for rice planting and harvesting
The women pretty much plant the rice and the men harvest so when you see dozens of women bent over in the fields – the men aren't slacking off. Well actually I guess they are – but come harvest all you will see is men so their turn does come around.
The terraces are amazing for sure but what is interesting is that the division of labour is very exact.
This pic shows just how steep those stairs are. They aren't built for people with giant feet like me, so you have to pretty much sideways step the entire way down. Thank goodness we were going up on the way out.
Climbing Up Out Of Batad Rice Terraces
After a lovely breakfast for the boys (still not a great stomach for me) we started our climb up out of the valley. I could see Denwil watching me and I would be lying my butt off if I didn't love the way he kept looking down the valley for me and then realising I was standing next to him, or one step behind him the entire way up. I may never get over him changing our itinerary when he saw me (read my post about being told I am too fat to trek), and while I know its shallow and ego based, I kept up with him step for step out of the valley and will always remember being happy to see his smirky little face stunned I could keep up.
About two thirds of the way up out of the village you come to a little drinks stand and the path down to Tappiya Falls. The path to the falls is recently constructed (in the last century I imagine) so the stairs are much easier to walk down. They are a decent height and not at all challenging. While it is obviously a steep set of stairs they are uniform in height and its easy stairs to get down and back up again.
Tippaya Falls itself is a decent waterfall and there is the chance to swim as well. The water is much cooler than you think its going to be and while the boys took a dip it was too cold for me.
Tippaya Falls does depend on the season as to how much water you will see. Denwil insists that it always runs however some locals did tell us that it slows to a trickle on occasion. We were fortunate to see it in full flow which was great.
We work our way out heading up and around the top of the terraces and I had a short 5 min game of basketball with some kids at the school at the top before we leave Batad and head up the track back out of the valley all together.
We continue up out of the valley stopping every so often to admire the view behind us. When you get to the top, there is a little stand that sells freshly cut coconuts which are great for quenching your thirst. Yet again Denwil seemed stunned that we were all with him. The boys were doing silly surprise races here and there but Brad and I just walked up and ended up there with everyone else. Denwil did not seem happy, mostly I think because by this point the boys were all telling me “You're to fat for ‘insert anything I might do for the day here'”. As Australians we feel its out duty to tease each other and while we would stop immediately if we were asked (no bullying here) it is considered a “good faith” action if your close friends make fun of you about something. I guess Denwil wasn't too familiar with this trait and maybe thought we were having a dig at him telling me I was too fat to trek. WE WERE! Suck eggs Denwil – didn’t your mother ever tell you not to judge a book by its cover.
Fat I may be but I can do up for ever you twat!
Would You Like to Visit Batad Rice Terraces?
The area is beautiful and a few days or a week around the terraces, Baguio City, the hanging coffins of Sagada, the caves and the other local villages would be a week very well spent.
To be honest I wouldn't recommend Denwil. He is really financially driven and despite him not taking us on the extra trek we were supposed to do, he still told us we should tip his sister because she delivered our bus tickets in Baguio City. We paid for the tickets with Denwil and he was always supposed to provide them. He forgot them and then wanted us to give his sister delivery money. Never going to happen.
This trip on Viator looks to be very similar to what we did and of course you can find your own from Manila or Baguio (which by the way is a cool little city).
Buses run from Manila to Banaue and you could get a guide easily in Banaue.
Overall, the Batad Rice Terraces are a must-see destination for anyone visiting the Philippines. It is a cultural treasure that showcases the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the Ifugao people. The stunning beauty of the terraces is matched only by the warmth and hospitality of the local people who welcome visitors with open arms. Anyone who visits this wonder of the world will leave with a deeper appreciation for the power of human creativity and the beauty of the natural world.