The Philippines is awesome in almost every way. It’s cheap and exotic. The locals are charming and kind. The beaches look like postcards and the jungles look Indiana Jones movie sets. And there is rum, smooth delicious rum, for less than $2 USD per bottle. Go to the Philippines. Go now, go often, and go for a long time but, for the love of God, after you get off the plane get the hell out of Manila as fast as you can.
Unless you’re shopping, looking for hookers, or watching midget boxing, there’s nothing to do in Manila. Aside from a few colonial era churches, the city is devoid of historical attractions. The poverty is depressing, the beggars and touts are aggressive, the prices are the highest in the country, and crime aimed at tourists is common. There is no reason to stay there. I strongly advise leaving as quickly as possible.
The Bus From Manila to Banaue
Jeannie Mark, aka Nomadic Chick (you can read her post about our trip here), and I spent one night in Manila at a hosel while planning our escape for the following day. The owner, Elanore helped us to figure out the bus times. Several companies run busses to Banaue. It’s an 8 – 10 hour trip (give or take) so busses generally run in the morning (travel all day) or between 8pm and 11pm (travel all night). They generally run $400-450 pesos (around $10-12 USD). Don’t expect a lot of luxury. If you are traveling at night expect hard seats, bumps, and swerves to interfere with your rest. Also, and I cannot stress this enough, the bus is COLD. For reasons that I cannot explain, the bus drivers crank up the A/C like they’re trying to climate-control hell. Bring a sweater, jacket, and hat.
Banaue, Batad, and the Best Ways to see the Rice Terraces
If you want to make your stay as comfortable as possible, stay in Banaue. Banaue is a small town at the foot of some very nice rice terraces. The town has several hotels and guest houses (though its quite hard to find information about them online) as well as a handful of restaurants and cafes with internet access and great views of the nearby terraces. However, the prices do reflect the large number of tourists that stay there and Banaue is about an hours bus ride from the Batad Saddle Point where you begin the walk into Batad where the most spectacular rice terraces are.
If you want to really explore the rice terraces (and save some time and money) I suggest that you try to skip Banaue and go straight to Batad where the most spectacular rice terraces are located. From Banaue you will need to take a jeepney to the Batad Saddle Point. The price per jeepney is $2000 pesos and is split between all occupants (12 at the very most). From the trailhead you will have to hike about 45 min – 1 hr (with all your gear) downhill into Banaue. Banaue has some inexpensive guesthouses with beds as cheap as $100 pesos per person per night. The restaurants are also reasonable and the views are epic.
Waking up in Banue and eating breakfast with a view of the amphitheatre of terraces is itself worth the trip. Even better, however, is geographic position of Batad among the terraces. Here you are in position to jump off into several hikes ranging from one to several days that will take you through thousands-of-years-old terraces and villages that are only accessible by foot.
On our visit, I didn’t have time to go on one of those hikes. Had we gone straight to Batad, I would have. Don’t make the same mistake I did.