The Philippines is no longer the best kept secret in Asia. Gone are the days when savvy travellers used to tell people about this incredible country which didn't see many tourists. It's hardly surprising as it is one of the most beautiful and friendly countries in Asia. However, a lot of travellers head straight for the world class beaches, so you're in for a treat if you decide to spend some time in Luzon.
Most visitors fly into Manila and quickly move on. Ahead of our trip many people had warned us that Manila is a dangerous city. We spent over one month there and found it wonderfully welcoming, and it definitely has the best food in the country. If you have a couple of nights there at the beginning or end of your trip it might just surprise you.
Spend a bit of time in Luzon and you will be rewarded with some of the most incredible experiences Asia has to offer.
Well let's start with a biggie: Batad is honestly one of our favourite places in the whole of Southeast Asia. It's one of those rare places which takes your breath away. When you reach the village the view opens up revealing a huge set of 2000 year old rice terraces.
What makes this even more special? The lack of roads, noise or civilization, especially if you are coming directly from the busy capital. The peace and serenity of Batad compliments the stunning views and if you have just come on a day trip you will be wishing you brought an overnight bag.
Getting there is also part of the fun, with a jeepney ride, followed by a short walk to the top of the rice terrace amphitheatre. You can then hike down through the paddies and to a beautiful waterfall, all in blissful silence.
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Batad may be our favourite place in Luzon, but Banaue was the original reason we visited the Cordillera region. We were eager to see this spectacular rural area full of rice terraces and Filipino mountain wilderness. The whole area delivers view after view and you'll find most hotels have a balcony overlooking the terraces.
It's great area for hiking and we loved the day walks which you can do without a guide. Stroll from village to village taking in the rivers, rice terraces and patches of jungle. It can be quite an art balancing as you make your way up and down the terraces!
3. The hanging coffins, Sagada
The hanging coffins in Sagada have to be seen to be believed. As part of the local culture, the coffins of those who have passed away are either attached to the side of a cliff or within a specific cave, to be closer to their ancestral spirits. Some even have seats to accompany them. It's a practice which is dying out now as the younger generation prefer to bury their dead in cemeteries.
It was definitely a fascinating experience to get some insight into these ancient rituals. Our recommendation would be to take a local guide who can help bring the experience to life.
4. Getting a jeepney
Fans of 'Pimp My Ride' will love the transport of choice in the Phillipines: the Jeepney! These ex-World War II vehicles were quickly adopted by the local population from the American Soldiers who left after the war, and the locals decked them out Filipino style!
The majority have been jazzed up with colourful paint, each one unique. They are also a really convenient and cheap way of getting around the country.
5. Checking out a lake within a volcano within a lake, Tagaytay
The description of Tagaytay seems unreal and it's only when you stand at the top of the volcanic cone that you see the description is accurate. Tagaytay is a great day trip from Manila, and the journey there is half the fun!
Once you've reached the lake, you board a rickety Banca (boat), prepare to get absolutely soaked as you cross the lake! Once there, you trudge up hill to the top of the volcanic cone. The hike up is a little steep and dusty, but the views from the top are incredible.
6. An overnighter in Puerto Galera
Ok, technically this one isn't on Luzon, but it's so close to Manila, we thought it should be included in this blog! Puerto Galera may not rival the likes of Palawan or Boracay, but it's a great spot for an overnighter if you're in the area and want a bit of beach time.
During our trip, we stayed high up in the hills with an infinity pool and stunning ocean views. There's plenty of coves and nice beaches to explore as well as good dining options.
7. Chilling in Makati
Makati is the very upmarket area of Manila and is a great place to visit if you are missing a few home comforts. In this neighbourhood you'll find great shopping malls, restaurants and the glitzy five star hotels, a massive difference from the urban crush of suburbs such as Malate.
During our year-long trip, we took a break from backpacking for a little while and stayed in Makati, catching up on things we'd missed such as movies and western dining (it was like a holiday within a trip).
8. Gorging on Sunday Brunch
There are few things more opulent than a Manila Sunday Brunch in the Sofitel. Every week this five star hotel opens up all of it's restaurants for a champagne infused buffet, offering incredible food with Filipino specialities, as well as western dishes.
If you're anything like us, you'll need a place to crash and get over your food coma.
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Are you planning on going to Luzon? Anything to add to our list? Let us know in the comments below.