“We hardly get any tourists these days,” said the old man as I inquired if the Ifugao house is available in Bangaan, Ifugao province. “Of course it’s available. You get the same rate as you got before.”
Business has been quite bad for Mang Florencio and his Bangaan Family Inn in Banaue since the road to Batad has been finally completed. Tourists these days simply go straight to Batad instead of staying overnight in Bangaan. Whereas before, the inn was the only place you can stay and park your car if you wish to trek to the village of Batad. But progress has made this arrangement unnecessary. The six-kilometer road from the Bangaan junction to Batad view deck is now all well-paved. What was once a three to four-hour trek can now be navigated in an SUV in less than 30 minutes.
The village of Bangaan has always played a secondary role to its more stunning neighbor, Batad. The amphitheater-like rice terraces of Batad offer the most breath-taking view among the five rice terraces listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The list includes Batad, Hunduan, Nagacadan, Mayoyao and Bangaan. Bangaan is the most accessible of the five and considered the least challenging to visit by most backpackers.
But I have always enjoyed staying in Bangaan. Whenever I feel the need to escape the humdrums of city life, I just drive there and stay for a few days. Mang Florencio of the Family Inn always gives me the same native hut that overlooks the entire village of Bangaan. The view there from the bedroom window where the sun can be seen breaking also reveal cloud covered village, and the sight is always as awesome as it can get.
Bangaan is also smaller as compared to the other rice terraces. Only 24 families live in the village that is in the middle of the terraces. I like it better this way. It gives you the intimacy that the other terraces have lost when tourists flood in.
How to get there
The distance from Manila to Bangaan is about 375 kilometers, and it takes about 10 hours of driving to get there.
The usual way is to drive north via NLEX and then exit from Santa Rita and then continue drive via Maharlika Highway passing the provinces of Bulacan and Nueva Ecija before finally entering the Cagayan Region via Dalton Pass.
The alternative way is to drive north via NLEX, continue to SCTEX, continue to TPLEX and then exit from Pura. From there, continue drive via Guimba and then enter the Maharlika Highway via the Science City of Munoz, and then continue drive north via San Jose. The road then ascends to the Caraballo Mountain range passing through the historic Dalton Pass and descends to Santa Fe and continues to Aritao, Bambang and finally Solano. Solano is the last place to fill up on fuel and to get a fastfood meal. From there, the 60-kilometer road to Banaue forks in Bagabag and enters Ifugao Province via Lamut before finally arriving at Banaue’s town center. Drive past the public market and take the road to Mayoyao. Bangaan is 15 kilometers from the town center and just one kilometer past the Batad junction.
What to see, what to do
Staying in Bangaan means you have a choice of doing either light, moderate or heavy trekking. Light trekking is just going down to the village from the road. This takes less than 30 minutes. The trail starts from the UNESCO signage and leads to the school before finally descending to the cemented foot path in between rows of terraces leading to the village.
The village of Bangaan still has a dozen of traditional Ifugao houses. These are one-room wooden huts on stilts with cogon roofing. The upper floor is used for cooking, eating and sleeping, while the ground floor is used for washing and raising livestock. A portable ladder is used to climb to the upper deck.
In Bangaan, there are three or four souvenir shops selling Ifugao products. Look for the old woman named Aling Virginia. She’s the only remaining weaver in the village. She continues to produce traditional clothes and blankets using a handloom. She also offers visitors a chance to wear the traditional Ifugao costumes and be photographed wearing them. The villagers also invite visitors to join them on the festivities whenever there’s an occasion. During harvest time, the villagers perform traditional dances to thank the gods for a bountiful crop.
Those seeking for a moderate trek can drive from Bangaan up to the school on the view deck, and then start trekking to the village and then go down to cool off at Tappiya Falls. Here, the trek down is easy but the ascent to return to where your vehicle is parked is punishing.
For heavy trekking, there’s the traverse that starts in Bangaan and climbs to Batad and continues to the hidden villages of Cambulo and Pula before finally descending to Banaue town. This takes two to three days to do and requires a guide. There’s also another back door trail that connects Bangaan with Batad. This one offers a magnificent vista of the Cordilleras that only few outsiders have seen.
Where to stay, what to eat
The only place to stay there is the Bangaan Family Inn and Canteen. Mang Florencio has several Ifugao huts for rent as well as rooms at the guesthouse near the canteen. Parking is easy as there are plenty of spaces parallel to the road going to Mayoyao.
In the village, Aling Virginia opens her house for home stay. Guests, however, must bring their own provisions like blankets and inflatable pillows. She promises free homegrown vegetables for those who wish to stay at her place.
For dining, the only place to eat is the Family Inn. They offer a complete meal with organic rice, native pork or chicken adobo, and fresh vegetables for less than P200.
But the best way to enjoy Bangaan is to stay at the view deck overlooking the village while sipping a hot cup of mountain coffee.