Photo Essay: Batad Rice Terraces in the Philippines

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Thins way to Batad rice terraces

Rice is life in Batad, Philippines.

It’s what you look at, it’s what you think about, it’s what you eat.

And it’s not just the rice grown on terraces that reach the heavens that produces an omnipotent amazement, it’s the entire atmosphere, the trickle of the gravity fed irrigation system, the peace of being surrounded by mountain walls, the chirping of the birds and the warm hospitality of local Batadians.

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First view of Batad rice terraces

My initial viewing of the amphitheater of Batad rice terraces gave me that jelly weakness, a feeling only possible to obtain from a true natural miracle or a man-made masterpiece. The Batad rice terraces were both.

It gave me that same adrenalized feeling of being a millionaire on the island of Palawan, dreamy emotions that can make anyone feel like royalty.

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1000 Pesos and Batad

I’m not the only one, the authorities in the Philippines also felt the natural power of the rice terrace region in the Cordillera’s – as depicted on the backside of the 1000 Philippine Peso note.

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Hiking down to Batad village

The hardest thing about hiking down the trail to Batad was remembering to look at your feet; a moment of staring at your surroundings and it could turn into a far out gaze, a dream – and then a twisted ankle.

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Batat rice terraces in full glory

This particular view of the Batad rice terraces put me into a mesmerize silent state of trance, a soothing rhythm of harmony. It was like a magic eye staring into the fingerprint of the earth.

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Batad rice terraces, Philippines

Whatever angle I looked at the rice terraces produced another stunning view of the same thing, with a different perspective.

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Batad rice terraces

I felt like a gladiator on the fighting floor of the coliseum, looking up at the mighty Batad rice terraces with an energized feeling of triumph.

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Home sweet home in Batad, Philippines

For the next couple of nights I camped out in a local Batad style hut (middle hut). I slept next to the rice, derived beauty from the fields, and learned to truly appreciate rice.

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Learning to husk rice

It’s a routine, there’s no example that can bang the point home harder; You don’t work, you don’t eat.

The process begins by husking the dry grains of rice off the splintery grass. I tried this a few times, believe me, your hands need to build up a series of callus’s to protect from the sharp bits of the dry grass.

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Pounding rice in Batad

After the rice is plucked from the grass, it’s placed into the pounding stone. We pounded back and forth, alternating thrusts of the 15 kilo mallet into the stone, attempting to get the hard wrapper off each grain.

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Sifting rice at Batad

The final step of rice preparation was sifting the rice to get ride of the outer shell that we pounded off.

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Plate of Batad rice

I won’t lie and say we ate luxuriously, we didn’t. But those plates of rice mixed with green beans and flavored with a splash of soy sauce were the brute force of century’s old techniques of rice cultivation and sustenance.

Though our meals were plain, they were truly special.

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Comments

  1. says

    Great article Mark. I like seeing how food is grown and harvested, especially since rice is a staple in my diet (yes, I am Asian!) Reminds me there was sweat in the process and it doesn’t just magically arrive at the grocery store. Beautiful photos. The first shot of the terrace reminds me a bit of the tea plantations in Cameron Highlands in Malaysia.

    Lily

    • says

      Thanks Lily! I grew up eating rice as well, and I still need to eat it everyday to feel best. It was a great experience to be able to pound my own rice for dinner!

  2. says

    Amazing photos! I have so much respect for rice farmers, it is such incredibly hard work! How awesome that you got to try it out for yourself. When I was in Thailand, I was having dinner with my Thai friend and he said to me, “Do you have the ability to grow rice?” I said, no. He said, “Then out of respect to the farmer you should eat every grain.” I had no problem doing that, but that conversation really made me think. It’s a good little reminder.

    • says

      Wow Kelly, that’s a great statement. Growing rice and harvesting it all by hand is really a lot of work, and it Batad their lives completely revolve around it. Thanks for sharing!

  3. jamie - cloud people adventures says

    like the others said, great photos! i love the perspective given to the size of the fields compared to the houses. also pretty impressed you got there amongst it! nothing like earning a meal the hard way.

  4. Weyland says

    Well done good sir!

    Can you please share your itinerary for Batad if you don’t mind? I will be in Manila sometime end of July for a week, perhaps a few days of north bound trekking would land me to the majestic wonders of Batad.

    Gracias!!

    • says

      Hey Weyland,

      I took an overnight bus from Manila to Banaue, arriving in the early am. I was with a few Filipino friends, which made all the logistics easier, but from Banaue we took a truck about an hour away to the start of the hike. Then it’s about a 1 hour hike to get down to Batad. There are a number of huts that are available for rent in Batad, but not sure exactly what you need to do to rent them. If you just go there and ask, the people that live in Batad are extremely friendly and helpful.

      From Batad, I actually went on trekking to a placed called Mayoyao, and that’s 1 – 2 days trekking away. I hired a personal guide (by that time I was solo) for about $5 a day.

      Hope this helps a bit. You will have an incredible time!
      Mark

  5. says

    My grandparents planted rice, and I had a taste of how it’s done when I’d visit them during summer growing up. Thankfully, we didn’t have to husk or pound them manually. By that time there were thresher machines (although we had to rent that from a neighbor).

    You learn to appreciate these things. It’s a sad fact though, that not many young ones want to take over this tradition.

    • says

      Cool Kat!
      Thresher machines are definitely a huge saver when it comes to productivity, but you are right about really learning to appreciate it. Learning and remembering how to pound rice will definitely make one realize the work that goes into it.

  6. The Travel Chica says

    That’s so cool that you actually got to help prepare rice for your own meal. (And I don’t just mean boiling water and adding some spices which is my normal definition of preparing my own meal.)

    Love the photos. The rice terraces are really stunning, especially at such a large scale.

    • says

      Thanks Stephanie,
      I think it would be really cool to spend an entire rice season at Batad, planting, harvesting, and then doing the whole process mentioned here, and finally eating. If there was wi-fi, I’d probably try it out!

  7. adventureswithben says

    I love how the photo of the bill matched the place you were at. Didn’t realize exactly how rice grew – in steps, and loved how you helped!

    Great post.

  8. says

    I had no idea how rice was grown. What an amazing site this is and for you to experience it. I love the bill pic, it seems the scene in the bill fits the pic. The pictures are awesome!

  9. says

    I’ve not been to the Philippines yet, but this post is very tempting. Love the photos, all the green, the interesting and varied angles… just beautiful.

  10. Debbie Beardsley @ European Travelista says

    The rice terraces are beautiful! Your pictures are amazing and tell a great story.

  11. Tijmen says

    Rice fields always make for good photos, yours are no different :) Never really realized how much work it must be before you can have some rice on your plate.

  12. Emy says

    Amazing Marcos!!

    I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy looking at these pictures. And reading your descriptions makes them seem more vivid.

    Just A-ma-zing!

    • says

      Muchas Gracias Emy!
      So glad that you enjoyed these photos and thank you so much for taking the time to look at them! I’m hoping to be back for a visit next year.

  13. Melody says

    Thank you very much for appreciating and visiting our rice terraces in Ifugao Province. Your photos of Batad are really good. Likewise, I admire your patience when you tried to pound rice, and your flexible character in mingling and eating w/ some of our folks w/o reservation. I know they appreciated you for that.

    The rice terraces in Ifugao, including Batad, is one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites. Visiting there is, indeed, a worthwhile experience. :)

    Here is an additional link about the Ifugao rice terraces (LivingAsiaChannel). It gives historical explanations on how these terraces were built. Hope you’ll like it. Thank you very much! :)

    • says

      Thanks for sharing Melody. I had an incredible time at Batad and consider it one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. Thanks for the video, very interesting.

  14. says

    Hi Mark. Thanks for seeing the wonders of my beautiful country. I went to that place on a different high. And by this I meant, I rode on a chopper, flew through a sudden storm cloud that formed, and made an emergency landing on one of those cabbage patches. They really grow humongous, healthy cabbages there. Same with the size of an earthworm. But I digress. Your story just made me remember my crazy adventure. Thank you for doing that. If you pass by our islands again, keep in touch on my side of the archipelago.

    • says

      Hey Jojie, wow, seeing the terraces from a helicopter must have been incredible, but glad you made it safely off the helicopter in the bad weather. I’ve been browsing through your photography on your site, amazing photos and makes me want to return to the Philippines as fast as possible. Will let you know if I return!

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