Part of a trip through Southeast Asia encompassing Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia’s Sumatra, Brunei, Malaysian Borneo, the Philippines and Taiwan.

Philippines: Manila and Northern Luzon

– visited June 2015 –

I have only five nights in the Philippines. How to make the most out of that? I arrive at Manila airport in the afternoon and head straight to the bus station. The overnight bus to Banaue is the one for me.

Sagada

I change into a minivan in Banaue that will bring me further into the mountains. Sagada is a small town at about 1600 metres of altitude. It is famous for trekking, exploring caves and the hanging coffins. The tourist office is well set up and provides a cheap array of tours. As an advantage for solo travellers they pool people together and do not try to sell an individual tour to everybody.

The caving tour borders on the dangerous. Our guide is wearing flip-flops as are all other guides we encounter. As illumination we have our lamps and the guide carries an old-school gas lamp. LEDs have not reached that far yet. We have to climb or descend over steep rocks, sometimes with the help of a rope, sometimes not. Often it is slippery, the guide is very helpful providing more stability and having us step on his shoulders to be able to climb up. I ask if ever someone slips and breaks a leg the nonchalant answer is, “yes, sometimes”. All in all, it is great fun and I make good use of my flash.

Entering the cave, we had seen some hanging coffins. They were not really hanging but had been arranged on a steep wall. The next day, I am going to see more of them. A weird custom to me, why arrange a coffin somewhere where you ask yourself how that coffin got up there. Maybe just that is a sign of reverence, to do something difficult to honour someone.

Banaue / Batad

I am back in Banaue, a town beautifully located in a valley of rice terraces. I take a motorbike, the Philippines have special motorbikes with a sidecar as passenger transportation, to the nearby village of Batad. The small village is superbly located in an amphitheatre of rice terraces. It is part of the UNESCO World Heritage “Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras”. The harvest is ongoing and I explore the rice fields on the small paths and sometimes walking on the walls of the terraces. A great effort was necessary to establish this cultural landscape. Will it last into the future?

The future is approaching in big steps. Batad is a village without cars and without roads, small paths and often steps are the way to move around. But a road to reach the village is under construction and we are not talking about a small single lane road but a state-of-the-art two-lane road ready to take a considerable amount of traffic. Where will it once end? In a big parking lot? It will not be possible to build roads in Batad as this would just destroy the village. The construction crews have already reached until about 800 metres before the village. As the built-up road ends, a smaller dirt road goes on for a bit before narrowing to a walking path. You reach Batad as you would have hundreds of years before, on foot. I need to go back one day to see who won, beautiful Batad or the future.

Manila

Manila is a mega-city. 1.8 million people live in the city itself but the surrounding agglomeration is home to about 13 million people. It is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. It has a reputation for chaotic traffic and, unfortunately, is not the safest of places.

The Philippines had been a Spanish colony. Ever thought where the name is coming from? In 1521, the famous explorer Magellan arrived in the area, claimed the islands for Spain and was killed for the affront. But more Spanish were to come and they named the islands after king Philipp II of Spain. Manila has a beautiful colonial old town known till this day as Intramuros, Latin for “within the walls”. All residents of Manila know this name but only some will be aware of where it is coming from.