Rural highlands meant extra good coffee and extra bad wifi. It was time to put down the phone and tune into the present. Banaue and Sagada were tucked into the Cordillera mountains, adored by Filipino couples and families for their views and cute cafes. Both towns possess UNESCO World Heritage sites. While these spots get worked into backpacker itineraries less often, those who do make the visit often say North Luzon was a Filipino favorite. 
 

Sagada Hanging Coffins

 

The Ifugao tribes hand-built the Banaue’s terraces into the stoney Cordilleras 2,000 years ago. Today it has the nickname “Eighth Wonder of the World.” If the steps were connected laterally, it would be ten times longer than the Great Wall of China, or be able to wrap half way around the world. Like from the Philippines to Florida.  While still used for agriculture today, the rice terraces are endangered as tourism continues to increase and the younger locals understand how much more profitable and less back-breaking it is to open a cafe or homestay for guests.

The colors in Banaue peaked during the months of June and July, and while I met many who hesitated to visit because it was rainy season, it was often clear in the mornings. I only had time to stop by some sweeping viewpoints en route to Sagada, but a lot of backpackers do one or two-night treks in Batad. I continued to see the terraces near other villages, such as when I headed to the remote Buscalan.

 

Banaue viewpoint.

 

Sagada was well known for their coffins protruding from a small cliff face that were so approachable you could almost touch it. Just like the tradition of rice terracing, the ritual of sending off the dead in this manner was 2,000 years old. The corpse was usually placed in a fetal position so one could leave the same way he arrived into this world, and coming into contact with his blood was considered good luck for mourners. The smaller coffins were older, and these corpses needed to have their bones cracked to fit inside. Historians remain uncertain whether the coffins were raised to bring them closer to heaven, or to avoid preying animals or head-hunting enemy tribes.

Visit the coffins in the dewey morning hours before the hot midday sun and afternoon downpour. You don’t need a guide for this quick hike from town—use your maps.me!Scream out loud as you pass through Echo Valley. Further along the main road is the viewpoint for the coffins of Sugong, also found on maps.me.

 

Sugong Hanging Coffins


 

Getting There & Away

I flew into Manila (MNL) from Cebu (CEB) with AirAsia, $33, less than 2 hours. Another popular airline with similar fares was Cebu Pacific. It was also cheap to fly to Manila from Thailand, Vietnam, or Malaysia.

I took a jeepney from the airport to the Metro Rail Transit (MRT) terminal, and got off near the station for my overnight bus to Banaue. I took a bus with Ohayami Trans for $11, leaving around 9pm and arriving just after sunrise, but it would have been better to take the latest bus because at Banaue all shuttles wait for the second bus before departing for guest houses or for subsequent towns.

The shared shuttle from Banaue to Sagada was $6 and took several hours. We stopped at rice terrace viewpoints, and as it turns out this is normal for public transportation when skies are clear, even the Sagada-bound buses.

To leave Sagada, I top-loaded a $.80 jeepney to Bontoc, the capital of Mountain Province, before continuing on to Buscalan.

 

Leaving Sagada.


 

Accommodation

There were quite a few guesthouses all in close proximity in Sagada. I had a $5-ish private at Residential Lodge and enjoyed interacting with the large family running the place, but there was no backpacker atmosphere. Sagada Guesthouse seemed popular and had a better location.

While I did not stay in Banaue, Pink Banaue Hostel was popular for $8 for a dorm.

 

Banaue

 

Food

Beyond caves and coffins, Sagada also had cafes with quite the set self-explanatory names perfect for cozying up on rainy days.

Strawberry Cafe—yogurt with strawberry jam. Frequented by visitors, but I wasn’t a fan of the vibe and the signs threatening against staying past two hours.

Sagada Lemon Pie House—lemon pie. I’m not a fan of pie but this was one of the most classic eats you might as well eat when in this quaint little town,

Yoghurt House—plain yogurt with granola. This was my favorite place. Not because the sun came out and hit the beautiful balcony perfectly as I was eating, or because of the friendly staff, although these helped. It wins because it had the freshest food.

Log Cabin Sagada—Saturday buffet. Did not make it to this one but it’s been a long-standing hit for a filling meal.

 

 

See and Do

Day 84

I have to say it’s a pretty genius business model to buy Dunkin Donuts munchkins in bulk and sell them on the bus.

I also felt my leg start to feel fire-y as an allergic reaction started to unleash itself. With my epi pen deep inside my backpack locked underneath the bus, this was the point when I started to refrain from touching it and just pray.

Day 85

My parents have always guilted me if I waste food, but learning about the intense laboring to upkeep these terraces will really make me think twice when I don’t finish my rice. As someone who identifies so much with world travel and equality, I really do want to be less attached to food and the out-of-hand modern food culture.

 

Feeling fashionable.

 

I’ve heard several travelers note how the Philippines is for couples travel. It’s pretty true. On weekends I was almost always fifth or seventh-wheeling Filipinos on short trips from Manila.

One girl wasn’t having it with the swerving roads and motion sickness. I held back her hair and thanked God for helping me better travel because I was

  1. not one to ever get nausea from car or sea sickness
  2. not a sympathy vomiter.

 

Sagada Hanging Coffins

 

Day 86 (am)

I dragged myself out of bed and into the chilly morning. As if I could ever forget the fact that I was in the Philippines, I walked by a man hacking away at a pig corpse on a tree stump.

After successfully finding all the coffins using my GPS and wondering if I was supposed to pay for entry at some point, I had breakfast overlooking the slow-paced street below, and finished applying for my visa for Vietnam.

 

Filipino market colors.

 

At the tiny open-air market I somehow found lots of cheap pink dragon fruit. I also grabbed a stick of sugar dusted sticky rice wads and climbed on top of the jeepney before it barreled its way down the mountain.

 

 

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