Bontoc’s Maligcong Rice Terraces is just one of many hidden gems in the Cordilleran hinterlands.

The Philippines, undoubtedly, is a blessed country that never runs out of amazing sights and landmarks. A mecca for the traveler, Philippines offers a wide range of exciting activities and destinations. Among these amazing destinations are the countless rice terraces that can be found all over the country. Rice terraces are very common amongst agricultural nations such as the Philippines. Even our South East Asian neighbors have amazing rice terraces but let us face it, the rice terraces in the Philippines are simply astounding.

Because of its mountainous terrain, the Philippines is home to numerous rice terraces. Whenever one talks about rice terraces, the first thing that Juan dela Cruz immediately thinks of is the famed Banaue Rice Terraces which is found in the northern Ifugao province, cradled in the towering Cordilleran mountains. It is a sight to behold that even earned a designation as the Eighth Wonder of the World. It is not only international tourists who are captivated by the sight as local tourists also want to witness it at least once in their lives. Just like Sagada, the Banaue Rice Terraces is on the bucket list of nearly every millennial.

However, there is somewhat a misnomer. Just like me, all of us probably grew up thinking and believing that Banaue Rice Terraces is the only prominent rice terraces that can be found in only Ifugao. In its certification, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has identified five rice terrace clusters in Ifugao as UNESCO heritage sites. Collectively called Ifugao rice terraces, these clusters enumerated by UNESCO are the following:

  • Nagacadan terrace cluster in Kiangan
  • Hungduan terrace cluster in Hungduan
  • Central Mayoyao terrace cluster in Mayoyao
  • Bangaan terrace cluster in Banaue; and
  • Batad terrace cluster in Banaue.

All of these rice terraces were carved out of the mountains about 1,500 MASL. Through the works of renowned anthropologist H. Otley Beyer, it was determined that these rice terraces are over 2,000 years old. Some contend it to be later but whatever its age might be, the rice terraces are a spectacle, a true delight to anyone who comes to witness all its grandeur.

The lush surroundings greeted us as we were on our way to Hungduan.
Even these flowers are warmly welcoming us.

Of the five clusters, the Batad Rice Terraces is perhaps the most popular. Admittedly, although I live in the neighboring Mountain Province, I have never once explored any of the rice terrace clusters named above. My visuals were limited to what one can see on the stretch of the National Highway in Banaue. However, all of that changed when Saul invited me to climb Mt. Napulauan, the 16th highest mountain in the Philippines and is nestled in the municipality of Hungduan.

We were picked up at Banaue by a tricycle arranged by our local contact because we were in a hurry to start our Mt. Napulauan climb. As we were making our way to Hungduan on the first day of our weekend excursion, we were immediately welcomed by the wonderful sight. The planting season just finished and the rice paddies are all glowing with a puerile green. The terraces became more prominent as they were surrounded by thickly forested mountains. The light green is in stark contrast to the deeper green of the foliage flanking them.

The proverbial stairway to heaven. And who wouldn’t walk up these lush structures.
The blue skies, the white clouds and the green fields.
The spider-web like layout of the rice terraces amazes everyone.

As we were nearing Hungduan, our tricycle driver suddenly stopped. He stopped in a view deck which offers a dramatic view of the famed Hapao Rice Terraces, just one of the many terraces in the Hungduan cluster. In spite of the vestiges of progress (there were concrete houses everywhere), it was still a breathtaking sight. Yes, it wasn’t as grand as its gigantic Batad counterpart but it was still a sight to behold. There is actually a signage there informing the visiting public that it is a UNESCO heritage site.

There were more rice terraces in the interiors of Hungduan but they were, unfortunately, not our focus. We went to Hungduan for the sake of climbing Mt. Napulauan. The rice terraces were just an added incentive but still something that I was thankful for because it gave me something to talk about and share to everyone. On our second day, when we descended Mt. Napulauan, we were greeted by the same majestic view. The green vision was pleasing and relaxing after our taxing climb.

I still wish that we have stayed longer in order to fully explore everything that Hungduan has to offer. From what very little I saw, there is much more to it than meets the naked eye. The cold waters of Balentimol falls, the amazing mossy forests of Mt. Napulauan and the mesmerizing rice terraces are just among the things that this quaint highland municipality has to offer. I am still hoping to go back and redo that Mt. Napulauan climb, if only to immerse in its unobstructed beauty (sans the rain of course).

A pleasant sight after that physically challenging trek up Mt. Napulauan.
Here’s something we rarely see. The color green is a reference to nature, and man, am I in awe. It was just simply breathtaking.