The narrow road seemed to snake on endlessly. Before me were several towering mountains thickly covered with pine trees. Thin clouds that seemed like wandering spirits shifted in and out of the scenery.
Some sections of the road apparently had just been been cleared of landslides, but there were still boulders and rocks strewn all over. At every blind turn, I was terrified of crashing head on with a jeepney full of toploaders or a speeding truck on its way up to Sagada. More than once, I had visions of my motorbike careening off a cliff, tragically with me still on it.
Motorcycling all the way from Sagada, Mountain Province to Banaue , Ifugao is probably not at the top of most people’s list of things to do. Most would prefer to try other activities in Sagada like spelunking at Lumiang Cave or trekking to Bomod-ok Falls in between sampling all the restaurants in the pleasant mountain town.
However, Art and I had already tried those activities during our last visit to Sagada several years ago so this time, we wanted to try something new. Coincidentally, the first thing I saw at the front desk of St. Joseph’s Resthouse when we checked in was a laminated card advertising motorbike rentals. It said:
Motorbikes for Hire – XRM 125 (Underbone)
- Now you can tour much of Sagada at the shortest possible time on your own pace
- Reach the rice terraces in Banaue while stopping by at other rice terraces viewpoints
- A road trip to the different parts of Mountain Province would be awesome
Hell yeah! It would be awesome! After trying out other activities in town like mountain biking and rock climbing, we decided to do the motorcycle tour as well. Our original plan was for me to backride so I could take photos while Art drove. Since rentals cost P800/day, renting two separate bikes would cost P1,600. However, we had gotten a good rate for our hotel and we decided to limit our meals to 2x a day instead of 3x to save on costs. (Yes, our priorities are in order.) And so we rented two motorcycles.
I thought that riding pillion on such a scenic route wouldn’t be as fun as actually driving a motorbike myself (even through I had ridden an XRM only once during a solo ride around Siargao.) Gareth, the motorbike rental guy, also had to modify one of the units to make it lower so that I could ride it. Even then, I found the bike incredibly heavy and difficult to back-out and maneuver at a standstill especially when parking in inclined areas. Gareth explained that most of their clients were foreigners, which was why most of the XRM units were pretty tall.
We left Sagada past 8 am. We were told we could reach Banaue by motorbike in about 2 hours. But with our extremely cautious pace and numerous picture-picture stops, it took us nearly 4 hours. The twisties of Halsema Highway provided a great playground for easy cruising and banking, with some of the most spectacular views I’ve seen in the country. For the most part, we were greeted with an open road framed by a head-clearing blue vista and emerald mountains. The ridges and gullies were carpeted with pine trees and bright sunflowers in full bloom. With waterfalls along the highways, streams and rivers snaking through the terrain in the towns below and dramatic mountain peaks in the distance, I felt like I was traversing the mountain ridges of Middle Earth.
The winding route took us up close to several rice terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. These stairways to heaven showcase the engineering feat and ingenuity of Igorots, who are master planners and agriculturists. The Igorot culture revolves around rice and to this day, locals still plant rice and vegetables on the terraces.
The first terraces we came across were the Kadchog Rice Terraces right by a roadside sign welcoming us to Bontoc, Mountain Province. The impressive Kadchog Rice Terraces are said to have been built by the tribe of the same name. It spans 12 hectares.
At past 10 am, we had a brief stopover at a carinderia for brunch at the Bontoc poblacion, before driving on. About 45 minutes from the poblacion, we passed the Bayyo Rice Terraces in Bayyo, one of the villages in Bontoc. The scenic terraces covered at least 10 hectares of Bayyo and were sculpted from the mountain peaks which gradually meet the the river.
A good view of the terraces and a cluster of houses at its foothills could be seen from a strategic view deck for visitors. While the terraces of Bayyo are smaller than other rice terraces in Bontoc, they were still pretty picturesque.
Finally, after what seemed like hours on the road, we reached our destination. The Banaue Rice Terraces are one of the most iconic symbols of the country.
These 2000-year old terraces have been deemed time and again as the “Eight Wonder of the World.” It was not hard to see why. Judging from the number of souvenir shops in the area, it’s a very popular tourist destination.
The shops here sold a number of Banaue souvenirs including bags and items made from woven Ifugao textiles, hats with feathers, and postcards. One of the most interesting items were wooden Ifugao scooters, which you can see the local kids riding downhill. For a small fee, you can pay to pose with them (P10/picture), or ride them yourself (P50/per ride). There are also several eating places in the area and a pay restroom at the Banaue Heritage Cafe.
Our pace on the way back to Sagada from Banaue was much better since we made only a few stops. The weather was bright and sunny throughout most of the ride, except for one point where a thick layer of fog transformed the pleasantly green mountains into a Silent Hill like landscape. We proceeded more cautiously through this section since our visibility was limited… and who knew what lurked in the fog?
We were out of the fog bank after a few minutes, and the open (and clearly visible) road greeted us again.
On the way, we passed a foreigner on mountain bike loaded with panniers who seemed to be doing a pedaling tour of Cordilleras. We saluted him before speeding away and Art said he’d like to try that someday. A ray of sunlight from the clouds above the mountains signaled the home stretch, and 2.5 hours later, we were back in the Sagada town proper.
Once we were back safely in Sagada, we celebrated the epic ride in Misty Lodge and Cafe with an All-Meat Pizza, Blueberry Yoghurt Shake for me and beer for Art. All in all, this Halloween Ride was 120+ kilometers of great roads and spectacular scenery that’s the stuff of dreams. This is definitely an epic bucket-list worthy ride that I’m proud to have done. More photos here.
- Motorbike rental costs P800/day. The motorbikes are delivered to your hotel/guesthouse. Helmets are provided.
- Motorbikes are issued with a full tank of gas. You have to return it with a full tank as well. The full tank can get you from Sagada to Banaue and back, but it’s best to refuel at the gas station in Banaue to be safe.
- It can alternate between very cold and very hot on the road. Layer up with a jacket or long sleeved shirt to avoid getting sunburned. I’d suggest you bring gloves as well.
- Things you should bring: Drinking water, camera, shades, plastic bag for gadgets in case it rains, money for gas, food and souvenirs + a sense of adventure.
- I’d recommended this only for those with prior experience driving motorcycles on mountain roads like Marilaque. Not recommended for newbie drivers or those with a fear of heights.
- Do not attempt this at all in inclement weather. The wet roads can be very slippery, and you can be hit by rocks falling from the cliffs.
- The advertisement said for motorbike rental inquiries, visit the SaGGAS Office or contact them at 0938-2511996. However, the number was unattended and for some reason we were told that the motorbikes SaGGAS was renting out were for use within Sagada only (same rate).
- We were able to get in touch with the renters, particularly Gareth of SaGGAS at 0929-5569553 through the help of the receptionist at St. Joseph’s Resthouse.
Sidequest: Show Me the Money. 1 of 6. 20 peso bill at Banaue Rice Terraces.