Batad rice terraces

Annoyed in the Batad Rice Terraces

Anyone who makes the long trip to the Ifugao region in north Luzon should visit the Batad rice terraces. Batad, a small village off the road system east of Banaue, has some of the area’s most beautiful rice terraces carved into a natural amphitheater in a deep valley. After setting up a home base in Banaue, we headed to Batad for a couple of days of hiking in the UNESCO-designated rice terraces.

The Batad rice terraces were arguably the most spectacular ones we saw. But Batad also felt like the least friendly village in the Ifugao area and Walking ATM Syndrome was prevalent. One obnoxious would-be guide pushed me to my limits of patience. Still, we recommend a stay of at least one night in Batad to appreciate the marvelous landscape.

Highlights

• Possibly the most beautiful rice terraces we visited in the Philippines
• Trekking to the viewpoint across from the village
• Good weather and nice light in the late afternoon and early morning

Lowlights

• Annoying guide who followed us around
• Mediocre food and atmosphere at Ramon’s Native Homestay

Getting to the Batad Rice Terraces

Ifugao Valley
The view from the side of the road on the way to Batad Saddle.

Batad owes much of its appeal to the fact that it is inaccessible by road. The road ends some distance below a high point known as the Batad Saddle. The road used to end at the Batad Saddle, but it was recently extended and paved as far as the trailhead. It takes about 15 minutes to walk to Batad on the easy-to-follow trail. Porters will appear and offer to carry your luggage.

The owner of our lodge in Banaue, the Bogah Homestay, drove us and another couple to the saddle for PHP700 per couple: less than the PHP800 the tourist office quoted us for a tricycle for two. The drive took about 45 minutes. Once we left the built-up area of Banaue, the views from the road were amazing. The rice terraces around Banaue were in various stages of cultivation, which meant that some were flooded and others were green, making for a patchwork of colors and reflections.

Annoyed by an Irritating Guide in Batad

Batad rice terraces
The amphitheater of Batad.

Batad is a small village that spills down one side of a natural amphitheater facing a deep mountain valley. The entire bowl has been sculpted into stepped rice terraces. The trail from Batad Junction pops out at a viewpoint at the top of the village where the entire panorama is spread out. The tourist office is next door, where tourists have to pay a PHP50 registration fee.

While we were admiring and photographing the view, we met the obnoxious would-be guide who got our Batad rice terraces visit off to the wrong start. Any Westerner who has traveled in Southeast Asia for more than five minutes will be used to dealing with guides, touts, and taxi drivers who persistently pester you. We’ve dealt with our fair share of these characters and we can usually breeze through the swarms of touts around bus stations and tourist sights without getting rattled. But for some reason, the incredibly persistent would-be guide at Batad came close to pushing me over the edge.

I was framing a photo when a local guide wandered up and asked me where I’m from. First offense: don’t interrupt me when I’m taking a picture! Wait 5 seconds until I’m finished! And dispense with the phony chit-chat already. I know you want to sell me something, so get out with it. At this point, we weren’t sure how long we would stay in Batad or if we wanted to get a guide for a longer hike. We were pretty sure that we would only do a short walk that afternoon on well-marked paths where we wouldn’t need a guide. So, we told the guide that we didn’t need his services today, thanks.

Guide acted as if he didn’t hear, and latched on to us. He asked us where we were staying and followed us to our guesthouse, peppering us with questions. Where were we staying? What was our program? Did we want to hike to the waterfall? Let me be your guide? We declined his offer to carry our luggage to our rooms.

By now I was thoroughly irritated. We had been traveling for almost a year and I was getting fatigued of being treated like a walking ATM. I wished that Guide would take his sales pressure somewhere else and let us enjoy the spectacular scenery. I said “No, thank you. We don’t need a guide today,” what seemed like a hundred times and he still persisted. I usually try to be polite the first few times I decline someone’s offers, but my tone was not so polite by the time we got to the guesthouse. But seriously, I think that if a guide has ignored my first 99 refusals, then we are no longer in the territory of civilized discourse and he has no right to expect me to be nice to him!

Guide made himself comfortable in our guesthouse’s common area. It wasn’t clear if he was a friend of the owner or just wanted to stake his claim on us. I did feel a twinge of pity for him. He had sunk his hopes for the day on us, and we weren’t going to hire him. Finally, Paul went downstairs while I waited in the room above and told him once and for all that we were not going to use a guide today. That seemed to sink in and Guide ignored us for the rest of the afternoon.

I get that these guides need to make a living. They probably don’t know any other way of getting customers. They don’t have training or savvy to better market themselves. I just wish that they understood that laying off the aggressive sales pitch would actually get them more business. Sometimes I would be interested in hiring a guide, if I thought that he was a cool person who could help us better appreciate a place. But there is no way I would hire someone whose sales tactic is to pester me to distraction! If I could give these guides feedback on how to interact with foreign tourists, here’s what I would say.

Don’t interrupt me while I’m framing a photo. I want to enjoy the view and take a good photo of it. Wait for the right moment to approach me.

Don’t make fake conversation as a lead-in to the sales pitch. I know that no local person will approach me unless they are trying to sell something. Be honest and direct.

Introduce yourself, briefly describe the services you offer, and hand me a card with your contact information. Don’t pressure me. For example, “Hi, my name is Joe and I’m a local guide from Batad. I offer hikes to the waterfall and the surrounding villages. Here’s how to contact me.”

Stop trying after I have politely declined twice. No means no. It doesn’t mean “try again.” Persistent hassle stresses me out and makes me want to get away from you.

Don’t follow me to my hotel after I have declined your services several times. This demonstrates that you don’t know how to listen. I don’t want to hire a guide who doesn’t listen to his clients.

I know that you have a family to feed and that this might be your only chance to make money today. But try to understand that I might not want a guide, or I might not want to commit to hiring one today. And be nice. I’m more likely to hire you if I like you.

Hiking the Batad Rice Terraces

Batad rice terraces
Batad rice terraces terraces low in the valley.

The next day, we took a walk to the top viewpoint for a killer view of the Batad rice terraces. The high point is on the opposite side of the amphitheater from the village. You can see the staircase leading to it from almost anywhere in Batad. The path to the viewpoint is easy to follow and there is no need for a guide. We took it slow and made lots of detours to get the most out of the scenery. From Ramon’s, we took the path downhill through the village, then veered left across the bottom of the amphitheater and up the opposite side. There are drink stands at several strategic spots.

The view from anywhere in the amphitheater is incredible. The rice was tall and green when we visited, and it was like being in a bowl of bright green. Layers upon layers of terraces curve along the contours of the terrain. It is one of the few places that I can think of where human intervention has produced a magnificently beautiful landscape.


The Batad rice terraces in their natural amphitheater. Click to see the bigger version.

Batad rice terraces
Endless green Batad rice terraces.

On the way back, we met a boy of maybe 8 years at the bottom of the village. He wanted to guide us back to our guesthouse for 50 pesos. We told him we knew where our guesthouse was and didn’t need a guide. “Whyyyy?” he whined with an exaggeratedly heartbroken grimace. Argh! We don’t like to see children working for tourists. We really didn’t like that at a young age, he already had the expectation that foreigners were there to give handouts.

Batad rice terraces
Sunrise from a spot below the Transient Inn.

We were lucky with the weather and had nice light on the terraces for sunset and sunrise. I had read a lot of Batad travel blogs ahead of time. Most of them have photos showing the Batad rice terraces under damp, foggy clouds. I don’t think gray skies show the rice terraces to the best effect. It was mostly clear during our visit, and it was a pleasure to watch the light change and spotlight different sides of the terraces.

Batad Accommodation and Food

Accommodation in Batad consists of simple lodges with attached restaurants. Rooms are basic clapboard affairs that resemble the trekking lodges of Nepal. We booked Ramon’s Native Homestay, one of the few places with a phone number listed. We weren’t as impressed with it as the rave reviews online led us to expect. It was fine but nothing special.

There are many lodges in Batad and most of them aren’t listed on the internet or systems like Agoda. It shouldn’t be a problem to just show up in Batad and pick a place that you like. All the lodges look similar, but the Transient Inn a little below Ramon’s has a deck that probably has the best view overlooking the terraces. We didn’t go in because we weren’t guests, but our favorite photo spot was right underneath the Transient and the view from the deck must have been fantastic.

Food in Batad, like most other places in the Philippines, was pretty uninspiring. The chicken curry at Ramon’s had a nice spicy sauce but the chicken was 80% gristle and bone. Pretty unappetizing.

When We Were There

April 12-13, 2016. The weather was good. This is high season in the Philippines, but it never felt crowded.

Batad Rice Terraces: Beautiful, but wear a thick skin

Batad rice terraces
Batad village in the middle of the rice terraces.

We’re glad we visited the Batad rice terraces, but one night was enough. Our hike to the viewpoint was so beautiful that it would have been hard to top. Any longer trek would have required a guide, and our experience with the obnoxious guide on the first day made us not want to hire anyone from the village! Finally, the food at our guesthouse was so dismal that we didn’t want to linger.

The next morning, we hiked up to the end of the road – a lot harder going uphill – and got a public jeepney to Banaue. The driver overcharged us at PHP150 per person but it was still a lot cheaper than taking private transport. It was one last episode of the Walking ATM Syndrome that pervaded our visit to Batad.

How do you deal with annoying touts who won’t take no for an answer? Please share your strategies in the comments.

Photos

View full size photos on Flickr

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