Saturday, February 23, 2008

Holiday in the Philippines

Bacuit archipelago, northern Palawan

I had a great trip to the Philippines over Chinese New Year..taking advantage of a cheap flight, courtesy of Cebu of Asia's growing number of budget airlines (why doesn't Taiwan have one??? The local airlines are haemorrhaging money; seems to me that offering cheaper cheaper fares may be a way to lure more customers back)..
Near Paoay

It was a country that surprised me with its diverse geography and culture. I've travelled most of Asia..somehow, the Philippines was never high on my wish-list of places I wanted to go to. But I'm so glad I finally made it.
The people, in particular, were amazing. So open and friendly; such a great sense of humour; and an ability to laugh at themselves and life in general.
The incredible rice terraces, 2 thousand years old

Banaue's rice terraces

ampitheatre rice terraces at Batad village

My holiday was roughly divided into two parts: week one, trekking in Mountain Province, northern Luzon.

I flew to Manila, immediately taking a night bus to Banaue...I'd originally planned to go to Batad...but I met a group of great guys, all mountain bikers, who convinced me to travel with them to Sagada. A fiesta was underway...and I thought - why not? That's what travelling is all about; changing plans; being open to new experiences.

Hanging coffins, Echo Valley, Sagada

Anyhow, hi to the mountain bikers if they are reading this! You guys are inspiring. The group have different jobs and backgrounds and ages, but share a passion for mountain biking and seeing more of the Philippines beautiful environment. Every month or so, they get together for a long weekend and cycle somewhere. Believe me, the route from Banaue to Sagada was tough enough in a 4 wheel drive...but these guys were cycling the distance on what was pretty much an uphill dirt track road. Quite a feat.
My first week was quite exhausting - a lot of travelling; a lot of strenuous hiking to villages, waling across the rice terraces; seeing some amazing scenery. Exhilarating and liberating.

I especially loved the village of Batad with its ampitheatre views of the rice terraces. I stayed here a couple of nights.

Then back to Banaue and up to Vigan - where its Spanish colonial past is very much in evidence. Lovely old buildings, architecture; atmospheric heavy wooden furniture and elaborate doors...loved it.
The second week, I flew to Palawan and basically island hopped. I was based outside El Nido - i found a great basic thatch hut on the beach with my own view of the ocean. It was fabulous. I took some trips by boat to some of the many islands in the Bacuit archipelago - stark karst limestone cliffs (if you've been to Krabi, Thailand, or Halong Bay, Vietnam, its a little similar in atmosphere; but these all had white sand beaches around them and were good snorkelling spots too).

Some miscellaneous pictures of people and sights from my travels...

Subterranean river, Sabang

woman and child, Vigan

Woman, market Bontoc

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