Just few hours by bus north of Manila, the Cordillera rises to almost 3000 meters above sea level. The deeper we penetrated the mountains and valleys of Northern Luzon, the more it reminded me of Nepal.
|The fruit market in Baguio|
Baguio City, the entrance to the mountains
After a night spent in Manila we were happy to take the sky train to Cubao (Manila northeast), where frequent buses leave to Baguio, the entrance city of the Cordillera. Victory Liner seemed like a reliable bus company, and we only had to wait 30 minutes for the next departure. When we arrived Baguio 6-7 hours later, it was raining like hell. Tricycles are non-existent in Baguio because the hills are to steep, so we had to look for ordinary taxi's instead. But it turned out to be quite impossible to get a taxi in this busy city. In the end we had to walk, while the rain poured down. It took us more than 30 minutes to find Burnham Hotel, completely wet, cold and miserable. The nice hotel and the abundance of quality restaurants in this city, made us smile again within short time. We spent two days and nights in Baguio.
Spooky but beautiful Sagada
After Baguio we continued by bus to Sagada along Halsema Highway, one of the most spectacular roads in Asia. The road winds through the mountains along steep ridges, mostly at 2000 metres elevation and above, offering a fantastic scenery. This 7 hours journey in a local bus, is comparable to any bus journeys in Nepal. Halsema Highway is rated the world's 3rd scariest road. It is under-maintained, many sections remain unpaved, landslides are a hazard and big stones and debris tumble down frequently. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day, and the mist ruined most of our visibility. It was raining heavily as we stepped off the bus in Sagada, but luckily we found a place to stay just 30 meters away (Sagada Guest House). Sagada is becoming a very popular tourist destination, and it's not difficult to see why. We visited the spectacular caves and the spooky hanging coffins.
|Hanging coffins in Sagada|
The famous rice terraces of Banaue
From Sagada we continued by jeepney to Bontoc (1 hour), which also boasts some spectacular rice terraces. But we only stayed in Bontoc a couple of hours visiting the museum and waiting for the 12 noon departure of the next jeepney to Banaue. After two more hours on a steep and winding road, we arrived Banaue, and as usual the rain was pouring down. But we found a satisfactory place to stay just a short walk away from the jeepney stop (People's Lodge). The rice terraces of Banaue are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and commonly referred to by Filipinos as the "Eighth Wonder of the World". A slight overstatement maybe, but the 2000-year old terraces that were carved into the mountains by ancestors of the Batad indigenous people, is nothing less than awesome.
Unfortunately it was raining all the time we spent in Banaue. We also had to cancel the trek to the even more spectacular rice terraces in nearby Batad, because of a landslide on the access road.
|Emily in the hotel in Banaue|
Extremely polluted Tuguegarao
Instead of returning to Baguio, and from there to Vigan, we decided to take the northern loop via Tuguegarao and Laoag, which would also eventually bring us to Vigan. This northern loop would also simplify my Visa-extension process, since there was an immigration office in Santiago City, which could process this request in less than one hour. If I had done this in the touristy city of Baguio, I would probably be in a long line behind other foreigners (just like the busy immigration offices in Manila and Cebu City) wasting most of the day.
After two hours in a jeepney from Banaue, we left the Cordillera mountains behind us and reached the highway junction. From there we caught a connecting jeepney to Santiago City. One hour later I was in the immigration office filling out an application. The whole process took less than 20 minutes, and immediately after we were sitting in a van going to Tuguegarao.
When we arrived Tuguegarao three hours later, we checked into a hotel, and took a walk around the city. That was my worst breathing experience ever, because the fumes from tricycles and jeepneys was worse than any place I've ever visited before. Tuguegarao is also dubbed the "hottest city in Philippines", but this was fortunately not the case when we visited.
|Horse cart in Tuguegarao|
Laoag City and the old church in Paoay
The horrible 8-9 hours ride in a crowded bus between Tuguegarao and Laoag, was only survived because of some excellent rice cakes we had about halfway to Laoag. When we arrived Laoag it was pitch dark, and the city was not even listed in my Lonely Planet book. But a tricycle driver guided us safely to a nice and affordable hotel (Elliana Hotel). Emily was happy to see that Laoag hosted all the fast food chains (MacDonalds, KFC, Greenwich, Jolly Bee and Chowking). A certain proof that this must be a 1st or 2nd class city by Philippines standard.
We left Laoag City early next morning, because we wanted to see the Church of Paoay, about 45 minutes south of Laoag by a jeepney. The church which is a UNESCO World Heritage Listing was well worth the stop, but since there was nothing much else to see in Paoay, we continued directly to Vigan.
|Church of Paoay|
The Heritage City of Vigan
It took us a couple of hours on a local bus to reach Vigan from Paoay. We checked in at Vigan Hotel, which is one of few budget options in Vigan, even though it lacks TLC (tender-loving-care) according to Lonely Planet.
Vigan is a World Heritage Site and one of numerous Hispanic towns in the Philippines. It is well-known for its cobblestone streets, and a unique architecture that fuses Philippine building design, and construction with colonial European architecture.
It was such a relaxing atmosphere in Vigan. Day time we mostly spent in and around Calle Crisologo, a peaceful walking-street, watching other people.
|The historic streets in Vigan|