Trin standing on the edge of an irrigation canal in Banaue Philippines

The Rice Terraces of Ifugao

Steam rises from my tea as I gaze out over ancient rice fields, terraces carved into the dramatic landscape of Ifugao, a mountainous province north of Manila in the Philippines. These ancient rice terraces are believed to be between 2,000 to 6,000 years ago. Many of them are still in use.  

Roosters crow to the background of the waterfall beside us. A refreshing breeze moves the tall bamboo below us making the bowing heads bob as if they were giants watching over the humble homes at the base of the terraces. Their leaves dance gently in the wind as if acknowledging the beauty of the morning.

“Look over there,” Trin says pointing to a terrace in the distance. 

Rice paddies in the Ifugao region of the Philippines

Three children in school uniforms are racing down the stairs woven between terraces. They scurry along the paths in ease as if their feet knew every nuance of the route. 

Trin and I laboriously walked down those stairs yesterday, each step knee-high or higher. The depth and height of every step varied and sloped sometimes forward or to the side uneven and dangerous to those used to flatter surfaces and uniform creations. But it is the variance itself that lends to the beauty and harmony with nature.

Soon we begin to see little ones emerging from various locations on the mountains bounding their way joyfully down to school.

As the last of the children reach the valley floor the sun begins to emerge slowly burning off the fog and changing the colors of the ancient rice paddies around us.

Batad rice paddies, Ifugao Philippines
Batad Rice Terraces

Peace in the terraces

The Ifugao region was my favorite place within the Philippines. The higher elevation gave us cooler days and was a much-needed break from the suffocating heat and humidity enveloping the rest of the country.  

We enjoyed the smaller town feel. It was a relief from the constant barrage of vendors who follow us down the street demanding we buy something. Or street carts selling ice cream quoting me a price 100 times higher than they quote Trin, my Filipino husband. 

Life in Banaue seemed calmer and more peaceful. 

Looking down on the rice paddies in Banaue
Looking down on the rice terraces in Banaue

Exploring the terraces

We hiked the length of the Banaue rice terraces one day. The trail led us deep into the rice paddies and it truly felt like we were walking on an ancient wonder. Steep stairs let us up and down from one rice paddy to the next or across the narrow ledge built into the wall of the mountainside. 

The edge of the canal on which we used to navigate across the terraces dropped off straight down to the valley far below. The trail at times became precarious but always beautiful. At other times the narrow ledge was only a few feet to the next terrace below. 

There’s hardly any safety rails to keep anyone from slipping and falling off the ledge. It probably won’t have lethal consequences but it would be inconvenient at best nonetheless. I had better pay attention to where I’m going instead of constantly looking at the sights, I thought to myself, easier said than done. And just as I thought this, I slipped on the narrow edge. 

Banaue irrigation canal in the Ifugao region of the Philippines
Trin walking along the slippery edge of the canal.

Thankfully I was able to shift my weight to the right and landed in the canal rather than toppling over the edge of the cliff that fell a few hundred feet. I knew I’d probably be sore the next day from hitting the rock wall, but it was no big deal really. The water was refreshing on this hot humid day. I hoped that eventually my soaked hiking boots would dry.  

At our next narrow crossing, I watched Trin skirt across a slippery wet log that was the path across another narrow section.  I didn’t even attempt the log. I sloshed my way through the canal, my boots were already wet.

Trin walking along the edge of a rice paddy in the Ifugao region of Philippines
Trin walking along the edge of a rice paddy

Betel Nut

Along the way, we passed small hovels and locals working in the field. Many of them were chewing on a local betel nut. Viscous crimson splotches that looked like blood could be seen on the ground all around them. It was the spit from the betel nut that they were chewing on, much like some chew on tabacco. 

A few men sat along the path their speech was slurred and their eyes were red like the blood-red spit from chewing the betel nut. With large dilated pupils they sat around and laughed exposing red teeth darkened by the chewing. They said something to us as we passed that even Trin could not understand.

Betel nut: Is addictive. At low doses, it can be a stimulant much like caffeine or nicotine.  At high doses, it produces cocaine-like effects.

Stairs in the rice paddies in Banaue Philippines
Stairs in the rice paddies in Banaue
Stairs in Banaue Philippines
Stairs, stairs, and more stairs, stairs connected everything. On this walk we did 75 flights of stairs and walked 8 miles.
Stairs in Batad Philippines
Narrow stairs, tall stairs, stairs on the edge of cliffs. We did 95 flights of stairs in 6.7 miles on our hike in Batad.

We began the walk early in the morning but we must have taken a few long cuts as it was late afternoon by the time we could see our destination, the main viewing deck where we planned to turn around and head back to our homestay. 

The viewing deck was on the other side of the valley from where we stood. It was still a long hike down and back up the other side. From there we returned to our lodging in a tricycle.

First view of Batad
This was our first view of Batad after hiking in from the end of the road

A town with no cars, Batad

Wanting to explore the region even deeper we caught a jeepney the following day that took us further into the mountains. It wound around the edge of the cliffs at seemingly impossible grades. I hung on half expecting the vehicle to stall and then slide back careening off the cliff. We rode the Jeepney to the end of the road.

At the end of the pavement, we threw on our packs and started hiking. A narrow trail led deeper still into the mountains. In half an hour we spotted Batad the tiny village we planned to spend the next few nights.

Landslide we skirted around on our way into Batad Philippines
Navigating around a landslide from the night before on our way deeper into the mountains to reach Batad
Jeepney in Batad Philippines
A Filipino Jeepney, our ride into the mountains to reach Batad

There are no roads within Batad and no place in the village where a road would even make sense. Homes cling tightly to the mountainside stairs wind in and around the homes. The entire village each had their own view over the Batad Rice Terraces.

See also: Tortuguero, a town in Costa Rica with no cars

We climbed more stairs to our plywood room with a window that allowed us to watch the storm passing through the valley.

The following day we ventured into the rice paddies. The whole ensemble was like a huge amphitheater, the far edge almost abruptly ending on a cliffside. Narrow stairs hugged the cliff edge. They were so high I used hands and feet to ascend them. The climb was scary at times but the views were stunning.

Homes in Batad, Ifugao region of the Philippines
Homes in Batad
View from the window of our Airbnb in Batad
Lower end of the Batad Valley

Ancient Architects

These rice terraces that have been in use for centuries reminded me of the lasting legacy of the peoples in South America. Salt mines terraces in Per, built before the time of the Incas, are still in operation today. Inca dwellings built in the 1400s are beautiful and their water systems still function today.

We think we have evolved so far yet what will our legacy be a century from now if we were to disappear now? Will modern mankind be known for its sea of floating plastic? Our temporary gadgets that last no longer than the next release seem to be only a mirage of advancement. 

The rice paddies of Batad
Rice Terraces of Batad

Despite the rain, pink pastel had adorned the sky painting hues of glory glimpsed through the mist. The sun was setting over the ancient rice terraces as the laughter of children from the valley below reached our ears.

Maybe the key to the next opportunity rests in understanding what truly lasts for centuries.

8 thoughts on “The Rice Terraces of Ifugao”

    1. So many stunning places in the world and it’s cool to see similarities like that. Hopefully if you are reading this it means you found better internet – or more. I’m enjoying our time to stay put, but it would be much less enjoyable without the Wi-Fi connection.

  1. I enjoy looking at all the beauty that each country has to offer. Yet, it also makes me thankful for what I have when I see some of the places. Keep posting.

    1. Yes, we have a lot of conveniences in the USA. But experiencing life without them has taught me how many of them I can comfortably do without. On the other hand it has taught me which ones I definitely want if we ever settle down again ?

  2. So much beauty in the world! One of the first things I thought of when looking at your stunning photos is how much these terraces resemble the Inca country in Peru’s Sacred Valley – and then you pointed it out yourself 🙂 Since we’re all reduced to “armchair traveling” these days, posts like this are a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

  3. Such stunning photos and interesting post. Being on lock down for over a month,I’m gravitating towards nature posts ( I started to read your post on Confinement in Fremantle Prison and I couldn’t get through it. Even imagining that existence was too much for me at this time). I love all the lush green and open skies. I’m not much of a “hiker” and I can see myself toppling over at least 5 times. I too would slosh through water/mud and grip on to every tree branch,twig and stone before ever thinking of walking on a fallen log. What a sight it must have been to see men binge on Betel nut.

    1. I can understand why you would not want to read the Fremantle post right now. The longer this goes on the more difficult it is.

      I prefer nature any day as well and thankfully there is an abundance of beautiful nature to see even if only in pictures right now. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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