Nothing stays secret for long these days with the whole world being connected online. Secluded hide-outs, beautiful beaches, and hippy vibes all get discovered sooner or later and completely change, often for the worse.
For some reason, people often exclude the Philippines in their Southeast Asia vacation since it is harder to reach then other countries like Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, etc. Lonely Planet states that because of this, the party crowd is weeded out and you are bound to meet ‘serious travellers’. We had heard mixed things about the Philippines and decided to bite the bullet and purchase one of our more expensive flight tickets from Kuala Lumpur. After mistakenly thinking it was a good idea to fly into Clark airport, two hours outside of Manila, to save money we headed for the North Luzon region to visit the Rice Terraces in Batad and Banaue. It was one of our longest travel days ever.
Guess we are walking from here! No cars can pass after a rock slide blocked the road.
See that pile of boulders, we climbed over them inbetween blasting. Directly to the left is a 200 foot drop off
We assumed it would be fairly touristic since we read about it in the ‘must see’ section of our guide book and had seen the photos online many times. When we finally found a bus leaving at night we set off on a bumpy ride. The best rice terraces are in Batad, but less accommodation options are there. A day trip to Batad was our first eye-opener that tourism had not yet exploded here. A jeepney (converted WWII jeep) brought us as far as the road let it and we began our hike. It wasn’t so much a hike as it was climbing over unfinished roads and tip toeing around steep cliff drops. It dawned on us that not every traveller would be able to do this. Within the next two years, this will not be the case. Batad is changing rapidly and the demand for quicker and easier ways to access the rice terraces have led to the construction of a full road into the town. Local life will be forever changed as will the terrain and the serenity of the whole area.
Amazing hills surrounding Banaue and Batad
Another area that is no secret is El Nido on Palawan Island. We spent an amazing two weeks on the small island of Palawan and suggest you give it more than few quick days. Due to its past remote location from the Philippines largest inhabited Island, El Nido was discovered for tourism by accident. After a ship was forced to drop its anchor in the middle of the night they awoke to beautiful dramatic scenery and in 1979, tourism in El Nido began. Even with its popularity, there are many places around El Nido to find your own secluded island and beach.
Finding our own chunk of beach to relax for the day
Kayaking to own private island for the day
The clearest water we have ever seen in South East Asia
One of the most drastic changes to Palawan’s tourist industry will be a completed road connecting El Nido to Port Barton. For decades, Port Barton has been a travellers' hide out from the chaos and over development in and around El Nido. Port Barton is accessible by Jeepney if it has not been raining and is quite the ride regardless. Our jeepney stopped many times to push its way out of thick clay mud and avoid huge rocks. Arriving in Port Barton is nothing like most beach destinations. The area is still a working fishing town with a few beach front bungalow accommodations. It is popular with families and alternative backpackers looking for a more authentic experience. Again, this is all about to change.
The usual crowd on Port Barton... oh wait...It's just us!
Typical beach bungalow accommodation in Port Barton
Hiking past traditional homes minutes from the beach in Port Barton
It is hard not to compare destinations when you travel around a lot. It is safe to say that in Thailand, we saw similar landscape to Palawan, but also thousands of more tourists in our photos, raised prices, and no friendly interaction with locals!
We hope to get back to travel the Philippines as soon as possible to explore more of what this beautiful country has to offer before it’s too late.