Banaue, Ifugao, Philippines, literally throbbed with activity — trikes scooting along with passenger sidecars, jeepneys, full to capacity with young boys leaning off the top like an illustration in a children’s picture book, cables crisscrossing overhead connecting cement and wooden structures as if they were processors inside a computer.
There was just so much the senses could take in without overloading!
That was my introduction to what some call “a ragged collection of tin-roofed edifices along a ridge,” and I call amazing. To me, Banaue could have been the inspiration for one of my favorite science fiction television series, The Expanse, and the colonies in the asteroid belt whose inhabitants are known as belters.
Banaue is 333 km away from Manila, capital city of the Philippines. My trip to Manila had been great, with a direct flight from Vancouver, and a reasonable connecting flight from my home airport, Regina. After speaking at the TBEX conference for travel bloggers, I’d arrived for the adventure segment of my trip after a short flight to Cauayan and bus ride to Banaue.
There are just nine towns in landlocked Ifugao province. Historically, the two-thousand+ year old state was prosperous with one of the best technologically developed agricultural areas in Asia. Thus, of course, the nearby Banaue Rice Terraces stand out — indeed, they’re sometimes called the eighth wonder of the world and have been designated a UNESCO site.
One of the things that made the Philippines an enjoyable adventure for me truly was the people — of course that’s a common thing for travelers to say — but it really was true. Smiles were common place and as I strolled through town, staff were helpful without the pushy kind of sales pitch that’s common when tourism is the main source of income.
I spent my souvenir budget inside the Cherish Arts store, coming home with several treasures. Ifugao is known for its colorful blankets, hand woven locally with looms. While there were many to choose from, I choose one that was a rich shade of yellow and gold.
The area is also known for its wood carvings, so I selected a Bulol. The Bulol represents the Ifugao Rice God. Carved of narra wood, the human-like figurine represents wealth, happiness, and well-being.
Making the purchase was somewhat complicated, as the Internet connection into town was down, so they couldn’t do credit card purchases. We did manage, however, to figure out an appropriate price in US currency ($24!) as I had already spent my Philippine pesos.
Stay at the Banaue Hotel and Youth Hostel
The Banaue Hotel and Youth Hostel provides a great local welcome with the comfortable feel of a lakefront cabin or hunting lodge in North America. While upscale by standards in Ifugao, look for a much more relaxed atmosphere and easy-going feel than you might expect from the town’s website description.
Rooms were comfortable, and relatively cool even with just a fan. That’s due, in part, to having lots of windows that open throughout the connecting hallways. One thing that’s often a challenge, once you leave bigger centers, like Manila, is that toilets are flushed with a dipper of water from a bucket, rather than by the lever. The mechanism inside the toilet is disconnected and even when I hooked it all back up, found it wasn’t effective. So, stick to the bucket!
One great feature of the hotel is that it regularly has cultural shows. I was lucky to see local Ifugao dancers the first night of my stay. Ifugao culture is matrilineal, so women have the main parts in the chants performed by the dancers. Traditional costume, as you can see from the photo below, consists of a white blouse and a hand-woven skirt.
Plain skirts mean the wearer is poor, belonging to the Nawatwar class. They’re generally servants to the rich or work as tenant farmers. The middle class, the Natumuk, also have little money but own some land and often become indentured servants to the higher classes. The upper class, the Kandangyan, are the moneyed aristocrats who guide the village. Women from this class have the most intricate designs woven into their skirts.
A number of the dances I watched told elaborate stories, from courtship through to the hunt, when one of the men captured a wild pig (it wasn’t real of course!). The movements though are precise, no doubt choreographed over the centuries.
The hotel had Internet, although it was only available in the large room that served as the main office and performance area for the cultural presentations. Desk staff were helpful in getting connected as it took a few setup steps.
One of the hotel features that I didn’t get to check out was the pool, however, it sounded like an interesting walk down to it. Since I didn’t relax in the water, I did take advantage of the in-room massages offered at the hotel. While it wasn’t the atmosphere of a swanky spa, it sure provided the same kind of relaxation.
I also ate breakfast there both days during my stay, with the first a basic breakfast served by plate and the second, a breakfast buffet with such delicacies as daing, which are salted, dried fish.
If you’re planning a visit to the interior of the Philippines, to experience the UNESCO site and a centuries old lifestyle, the Banaue Hotel and Youth Hostel is a good choice.
Visiting Banaue in Ifugao, Philippines
Hotel and reservation formation – http://www.banaue.info/banauehotel.html
What to see and do in Banaue – http://www.banaue.info/whattosee.html
Getting to Banaue – http://www.banaue.info/transport.html
My visit to Banaue was hosted as a post-trip to the TBEX Conference in Manila, Philippines, in 2016, where I presented a workshop for travel writers.
Do you pin? If so, here’s one!