Batad is a small village located in the Cordillera mountains of Northern Luzon in the Philippines. It is beautiful, remote, historically significant, and getting there involves a hike through the mountains. Naturally, it was my kind of adventure.
There are many small villages in the Philippines – I would suspect thousands – but the reason that this one is so special is because of its rice terraces.
Carved into the side of steep mountains, the incredible Batad rice terraces are over 2,200 years old (!) and are, rightly so, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. They are a marvel of engineering, even more so because of their age. And they are also stunningly beautiful.
A lot of people visit Batad on a day trip from Banaue but I wanted to stay longer, really soak it up and see what life was like there once most of the tourists left – not that there are a lot that go there in the first place – largely because it is such a pain to get to.
Getting there definitely did NOT sound easy.
I read Alex in Wanderland’s post of her experience getting to Batad back in 2013 and she mentioned that there were no roads that went all the way to the village. Back then, you could either splurge and charter a jeepney from Banuae to take you to the Batad Saddle from whence you would be walking the 45 minutes down the side of a mountain to Batad, or you could catch a cheaper tricycle which would have to stop at the Batad Junction – adding a 4km uphill slog to your hiking time.
Did I mention that getting there wasn’t easy?
I was prepared for a tough entry into Batad, hell, I was looking forward to the adventure of it, but what we found when we got there, only 2.5 years on from when Alex was there, was a road curving down from the Saddle towards Batad, stopping only 10-15 minutes’ walk shy of the village.
Things are changing fast. Within another couple of years the road will probably stretch all the way there and that could definitely change the dynamic of the place.
That would be a massive shame.
There were vans that could take us the 2km or so to the end of the road, but what would be the fun in that? I was still determined to have an adventure so we walked down the windy mountain road past lush mountain scenery, then along the dirt path to the village.
It definitely made me appreciate it more when we reached Batad. Not that we wouldn’t have appreciated it anyway, because Batad lived up to the hype, and then some.
It was one of the most awe-inspiring places I have ever laid eyes on.
Batad is nestled in the mountains, split into an upper section and a lower section. The upper section of Batad is where you come out at the end of the trail, and the views are ridiculously amazing.
Now I thought I had seen some beautiful rice terraces before, like the ones in Sagada, and in Banuae on the way to Batad, but the rice terraces that surround Batad are just another level of incredible. They clung to the side of the steep and rugged mountains; nature’s amphitheatre, reaching up towards the sky.
Lower Batad sat lower down in the green valley, and was positively tiny – just a few houses surrounded by the rice terraces.
The first order of business, after ogling the view and paying the environmental fee at the small information booth on arrival, was to find somewhere to stay. We rocked up at the Hillside Inn Batad, were shown to a basic but clean twin room (Toby and I were just friends in those days, hence the twin), and that was that.
After a couple of beers, looking out at the magnificent view that never got old, we decided to explore a little bit. We noticed a guesthouse perched further up in the mountains above town and decided to head there for a drink.
It was getting dark by the time we reached it, about ten minutes later, but as soon as we glimpsed the view over the valley from this higher vantage point, we knew it was the best in town. Fireflies flitted in the cool night air and the most incredible number of stars came out as the sky darkened. There was no doubt: we were moving up there for our second night.
Exploring the Batad Rice Terraces, and a Waterfall
The next day started bright and early, with our local guide, Belinda, meeting us at our guesthouse for a day of exploring. Belinda is from lower Batad Village but goes to University in Banaue. She was just back during the holidays to do some guiding to help her family out with money.
We began our adventure by hiking further into the valley then along the edges of the swampy rice terraces, through lower Batad village, then across to the next valley. The path was steep and we stopped often to take photos of the spellbinding scenery that surrounded us.
Most of rice had been harvested when we were there so there weren’t a lot of bright green rice stalks, but it was still one of the most dramatically beautiful places I have ever been.
From the viewpoint looking into the next valley over, we descended steep and narrow stairs till we rounded a corner and could see the powerful waterfall that was our destination.
As we got closer to the waterfall, a wind whipped up from the power of the tumbling water, buffeting me. I swam in the super clear and cool waters of the pool under the waterfall despite the cold wind. A little local girl swam around me, a giant and curious smile plastered on her face. After, I lay in sun and dried. It was such a beautiful and peaceful spot.
The hike back up was rough. It was hot and humid, and I struggled. I had to stop often to catch my breath.
Luckily the journey back to the upper village as broken up with a stop in lower Batad. We had a simple but tasty fried rice lunch at a small restaurant, then Belinda took us a couple of doors down to her house where she and her sister showed us how they make rice.
I love seeing how food products are made. I have been shown the process of making coffee in Colombia, as well as how chocolate is made in Guatemala.
The process from the rice stalk through to the rice grains that we get in stores was very interesting and quite simple.
The first step is to dry the green stalks and then, the step that we were shown, the dry stalks are pounded in a giant mortar and pestle. The rice is little husks within the stalks and the pounding releases them.
We watched them pound the crap out of the rice stalks for a while, then I gave it a go. And it wasn’t easy!
After pounding came sieving and there seemed to be a real knack to it. Woven baskets were used to toss the mix of grains and crushed stalks in the air, with the breeze dispersing the stalk matter as it is lighter, just leaving the grains. The pounding and sieving is repeated until there are only grains left in the basket.
A flock of ducklings and their mother clustered around our ankles, pushing each other out of the way to get to the stalk dust that was being blown onto the ground. It was hard to concentrate on the process when the cutest babies in the world (after kittens) are literally surrounding you. Man I love ducklings.
The last step is drying the grains of rice in the roof of their home over a few weeks. And that is how you make rice folks!
After our informative stopover, we continued the hard slog to upper Batad.
There was a funeral procession making its way from lower to upper Batad and we stopped on the side of the trail to let them pass. An old lady had died in lower Batad and a group of men were carrying her coffin above their heads, up the steep track to the road, where the body would then be taken to Banaue.
The ease of which they carried the coffin and the pace they set up the hill, while singing along the way, while I puffed and wheezed to just get myself up there, definitely made me realise how unfit I had become after barely hiking for months.
Once they reached upper Batad they stopped to merrily drink some beers and some kind of spirit, before they were on their way again.
At our new guesthouse, we sat and drew pictures with the owners bright and cheerful little girl, with Toby also teaching her and her mother magic tricks. We were pleasantly exhausted, and brimming with good feelings after an amazing day exploring the rice terraces of Batad.
Looking out onto the mountains and the rice terraces as the sky darkened, until we could only see stars, was one of my favourite things to do in Batad.
That, along with all my other special memories of Batad will always stick with me.
Getting to Batad
From Banuae, you can either catch the once daily collective Jeepney (ask at the Information Centre for times) to the Batad Saddle or you can hire a Tricycle to take you there: They now travel all the way up to the Saddle.
Once you arrive at the Saddle you can either walk down a steep trail or the road, or catch a van down. The last section from the end of the road to Batad is a mostly flat 10-15 minute walk on a rough trail.
When leaving from Batad, it is best to time it to catch the Jeepney going back to Banaue, otherwise organize a tricycle driver to pick you up before you leave Banaue. You may be waiting at the Saddle for a few hours otherwise, as tricycles only really come up there if they have been booked to pick someone up or if they are dropping someone off.
Getting Around Batad
Batad is tiny so you can walk everywhere once you arrive in the village, including down to lower Batad. There is actually no other way to get around.
Where to Stay in Batad
The first night we stayed at the Hillside Inn Batad, which is just to the right of the Information Centre. The views are beautiful and there is a hot shower although it is really just a dribble of warm water. When I visited in January 2016, a room for two people cost PHP
Our second night we stayed at the Batad Top View Point Homestay and Restaurant, it is the highest guesthouse in town and you will see it once you arrive in upper Batad. The views are spectacular and the owners are very friendly. There is no shower there, just a cold water bucket you can use to clean yourself. When I visited in January 2016, a room for two people cost PHP
Where to Eat in Batad
You don’t go to Batad for the food. There are a few restaurants scattered around upper Batad, most attached to guesthouses, and they all serve the same kind of stuff: basic Filipino and Western cuisine. You don’t have to be staying somewhere to eat there and you don’t need to book, just turn up.
Have you been to the Batad Rice Terraces? Were you as amazed by them as me?