Trip report Part I – Northern Luzon (rice terraces etc)
I will spend 5 weeks in the Philippines and whilst I cant promise a full report I thought I’d give back to the forum with a report of our first two weeks in this smiley country.
We arrived early afternoon and checked in an airbnb in Makati, in Beacon Towers. Crammed studio with good views and overall adequate facilities. We met a couple in the elevator who gave us the number of a taxi driver who picked us up on day 3 (we spent day 2 planning and resting from our ten hour flight) and took us to Farinas bus terminal. We were not keen on the night time bus journey so we opted for a daytime trip. We were able to book the bus tickets online n Farinas website and pay via cash deposit into the local bank account (we were able to do this at the Banque D’Or bank, no fee, just a long wait – the cost for both tickets was 1560 pesos). As we were keen on seeing the northern tip of Luzon we opted for the bus to Laoag, where we’d arrive 12 hours later on day 3 (so 8 am to 8pm). The bus made lots of pee stops. We spent the night in « West Gate » hotel (nothing special, clean) and in the morning (day 4) we went sandboarding in the sand dunes north of Laoag – we organised this through Eco Adventures (the telephone number is in the 2017 Rough Guides). It was fun but nothing too special, was more interesting for the landscapes than for the 4W drive / sandboarding. It was scorching hot as well.
In the afternoon we took a bus to Pugudpud, where we spent three nights bumming around. We stayed at Jun and Carol’s, a at the end of Saud Beach, again adequate facilities and a bit away from the other hotels which were straight on the beach. We had a room at the top, with a terrace and a view, it was nice. Not all rooms have hot water do check in advance. They have an onsite restaurant thought it’s more of a garlic tasting centre if you ask me. You can walk via the beach to the other hotel restaurants, 2-3 mins. We did go to Blue Lagoon one day, and indeed it is an awfully developed and tacky stretch though the lagoon itself is very pretty. We drove (by tricyle) all the way down as far as the road went and founda place called « hotel Consuelo » paid 200 pesos per head to use their pool and their grounds, we were the only people there and had a wonderful view onto the reefs / Dos Hermanos island (you could walk to it at low tide but we didnt). There seemed to be snorkelling excurisions going from one of the bigger hotels to Dos Hermanos. We had lunch, mangoes and ice cream there, we had a very pleasant afternoon. There were reef herons playing / fishing … on the reef (you guessed it) which I found very entertaining.
On day 8 we left by bus for Vigan (the bus was full, hot and unpleasant, from Pugudpud you go to Laoag and then change buses there, they go regularly, each stretch is about two hours, you can handpick the bus by getting on it to check it out and then waiting for it to go, as opposed to getting on the next one leaving, that’s how we got an AC bus for the Laoag – Vigan part), where we spent two nights at Villa Angela, formerly glorious if very run down property. Tom Cruise stayed here whilst filming in the late 80s. Our room (THE one apparently) was huge, had an ensuite and AC and lots of lovely period features but was also hellishly noisy but I think most places are in Vigan. The breakfast was not very good (some bread and some jam and nescafe sachets). Also the wifi never worked. We ate at Hotel Veneto (opposite post office) both nights, very good food and good service. In Vigan we attempted a guided tour but the guide (a friend of whoever was at the badly run tourist info office) was no good and we cut the tour short (« this is the library and there are a lot of books » was one of his finest commentaries). We had lunch at the garden centre, basically a plant nursery with a huge restaurant in the middle of it, I think it’s called the secret (or hidden ?) garden. Definitely worth it for the concept, I had an empanada there and to my surprise it was light and crispy. We also had a lovely walk alond the river ( the river cruises are currently not running) and spotted kingfishers and other birds. Mind you the road is dusty and there are tricycles going past etc but still we enjoyed it. Vigan itself was a bit disappointing in the sense that the buildings were not maintained and were most definitely decaying, also we were a bit dissatisfied with the lack of a decent guide or anyone who could talk us through the history of th place. There is a website (I think it is vigan.ph) and also UNESCO’s website where you can read about the history of the place. Crisologo street is crammed with souvenir shops which take away from the beauty of the place in my opinion.
On day 10 we left for Sagada. We arranged a driver for this as we had heard the bus journey was very long. We were given his contact by another couple staying at Villa Angela. The road trip between Vigan and Sagada was beautiful, took about 7 hours (with several photo stops) and the roads really are windy and on the side of steep mountains. Robert wa an excellent driver, we were very happy. In Sagada we slept at St Joseph’s convent, basic but clean room and the ensuite had a much appreciated curtain between the toilet and the shower. Other « homestays » we checked out had the shower head directly on the toilet, great if you are into multitasking, annoying if you are not. We ate at St Joseph’s two nights, food was decent, soup was not powdered, and they made nice pancakes for breakfast. We really liked that the place was a bit removed from the middle of town which was crazy busy and quite noisy. A double room with ensuite was Pesos 1700 per night, without breakfast.
On day 11 we arranged a tour to the hanging coffins, basically you have to go to the tourist info office, register, pay a small fee, then get a guide, which as it happened was unlicensed, so we turned him down and drove directly to the site of the hanging coffins, where we were able to get a licenced guide (ask to see their badge) . The hanging coffins site was quite busy, but it was very interesting to see. Some steep steps down to it. We then drove to some caves, passing another viewpoint where you could see more hanging coffins in the distance from the road. We definitely didnt see the added value of the guide for the caves (whereas she dispensed interesting facts for the hanging coffins), but I think it is mandatory. We paid the guide 400 pesos for each site, dont remember if that was per person or for two of us. The whole coffins + caves took maybe 3 hours if that (and we took our time) so we picked up some fruit at the Sagada market and drove off to Banue in the afternoon, reaching it in the evening.
We checked into Greenfield Inn, about 2 kms out of town, very nice views on to the rice terraces, the room was again very basic but clean and we were happy to be away from the crowds of downtown. The inn was run by one of our driver’s sisters and all the girls working there were very endearing, charming and kind as Filipinos tend to be. The room was 1200 per night again with ensuite (no shower curtain there but enough room not to have to sit on the toilet whilst you showered). There were some slight comms issues in English, but nothing unresolved. On day 12 we went to Hapao at 8 am, where you have to get another guide, who walks you through rice fields / terraces (at some points you are balancing on the walls of the terraces) and eventually to a natural hot spring, which is so discreet yet so nicely done. We got to soak in it for about an hour (loved it) before making our way back. We were back in Banaue by 1.30pm. We spent the afternoon having lunch at Las Vesgas (waste of money) and then coffee + chat with some friends.
On day 13 we hired another one of our driver’s sisters, Irene (whom you might have read about) to go to Batad, which we absolutely loved. It had rained the day before but luckly we got some sunshine in the morning – though it rained again in the afternoon. The tour was enjoyable if somewhat tiring. We set off at 8.30 am, took a jeepney ride to the saddle, which is the closest point to Batad, then hiked down and round the terraces. We walked down to the waterfall as well, which was a very steep descent of interminable steps (about 800 said Irene) but it was worth it. But it had just been raining for days so that might have made the fall more dramatic. We stopped at a restaurant on the way back, by which time it was raining so not much of a view onto the terraces but we did get a demo of rice pounding etc, and got to try it too which was nice. The jeepney had waited for us (2800 pesos for the jeepney) and took us back to Banue. We were back in Banue for 6pm. The guide Irene cost us 1200 pesos for the day.
Day 14 – Robert picked us up at 7 am for the long drive back to Manila.
Robert was great, reliable, fun, clean and thoughtful. He kept a blanket a neck pillow and a bluetooth speaker in the car for us which we appreciated. He also knew where to stop, both for ‘comfort stops’ and for pic opps. Couldnt recommend him highly enough. Make sure you agree clearly on what his service includes though , as if there is any touring (like the Hapao half morning) he expects a seperate fee, which we hadn’t understood. If you are going from A to B only, that’s considered a « drop » not a tour. So make sure you are both clear on what the deal is. His number is 0063 926 25 66 118 (text dont call)
Out of the whole trip, the walk through the Batad rice terraces were our favourite part, together with the trek to the hot spring in Hapao.
Happy to answer brief, to the point questions internet permitting.