There’s More to Mayoyao Than Its UNESCO-Inscribed Rice Terraces


Walking thousands of steps in the midst of a sunny afternoon would be taxing under normal city conditions. Well, up in the highlands of Ifugao and in the middle of Mayoyao's rice terraces, this kind of undertaking looks like something out of a well-shot film.

Moha Barakat
During sunrise in Mayoyao, Ifugao

The scenic paddy fields under a bright blue sky make for an idyllic setting, and as we made our way to pockets of small communities, we passed by many fascinating characters such as farmers sowing crops, village mothers weaving a Ginallit, an Ifugao stripped wrap-around skirt, and residents tending to other farm animals.

Ayi Del Rosario
The best time to see the rice terraces are from the months of April - August when the rice fields are all green

In between being awestruck by Mayoyao's rice terraces, which is one of five clusters in the Cordillera region inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site alongside Batad, Bangaan, Hungduan, and Nagacadan, I immediately discovered that Mayoyao is more than just its iconic rice terraces. Over the next five days of exploring this part of Ifugao, we would discover the rich culture, beautiful nature spots, witness performances of traditional arts, learn about its history, and even taste some local delicacies, all of which shape the unique character of Mayoyao and its residents.

Trekking through Mayoyao’s Stone-Walled Terraces and into Small Villages 

Mayoyao's rice terraces are so huge that they are divided into clusters, stretching to more than half of the municipality. These are Chaya, Chumang, Bongan, Magulon, and Banhal, the ones we explored by foot. 

Marky Ramone Go
During our hike through the communities along the rice terraces of Mayoyao

Hiking to the village of Banhal reminded me of the Open Air Museum in Kiangan, also in Ifugao. Similar elements, such as traditional dwellings and other aspects of Ifugao culture, can be witnessed during the hike. After a kilometer of brisk walking, we stopped by and observed a brief session on loom weaving and handicrafts with members of the Mayoyao Women's Organization. A short distance away, we paused our hike once again to mingle with the owners of a small farmhouse and shared with them servings of sweet potatoes, banana cue, and brewed coffee while sitting on the lawn and taking in the breathtaking view of the surrounding Banhal rice terraces.

April Enerio
One of the cultural bearer mothers we met during our hike

On the fourth day, we would embark on another rice terrace trek in a different town. This time, we were escorted by Leandro Elahe, a local tour guide who could easily pass as a historian. We began our walk in Bongan at the same location where a UNESCO marker stands. Along the journey, we stopped at a few abodes to meet villagers who demonstrated customary rice pounding and rice terrace farming practices.

Chasing Waterfalls

The first waterfalls we visited only requires half an hour of hiking as the jump-off trail is reachable by vehicles. Tenogtog Falls, as it’s called, takes its name from a native word for "chopped" or "sliced." It is said that during the olden days, following an arduous hunt, hunters would assemble near these multi-tiered waterfalls to distribute the rewards of their kill.

Tenogtog Falls
Below this towering Tenogtog Falls are another series of cascades.

Despite the frigid water, I surrendered to the urge of taking a dip on the crystal-clear stream as a form of therapeutic relief for my body after the lengthy land travel to Ifugao and the afternoon trek the day before. The following day, we visited another waterfall, the A'pfaw Mahencha Falls.

Tenogtog Falls
Wouldn't let a good opportunity to take a dip pass by

The hundreds of steps leading down to the waterfalls from the picturesque viewpoint now called Khohang Garden and back, can be taxing in a mountain environment where air becomes thinner. 

A'pfaw Mahencha Falls.
Another day, another waterfalls. This time, its the A'pfaw Mahencha Falls

Nevertheless, the sight of A’pfaw waterfalls will immediately put you in a state of deep contemplation, where you can let yourself be embraced by the breathtaking beauty of nature. While others in our group jumped and splashed about in the chilly waters, I opted to relax and stare at the waterfalls this time.

A'pfaw Mahencha Falls.
Myself at the top of the first cascade of A'pfaw Mahencha Falls

More #CultureTrip Learnings

Outside of our rice terraces and waterfalls exploration, we also went to a number of historical and cultural sites around Mayoyao, accompanied not only by the local tourism staff but also by the town's cultural bearer and historian, Bobby Bongayon, and in one instance at the Mt. Nagchajan Historical Site, the town mayor himself, Jimmy Padchanan Jr. They both delighted us with anecdotes about the rich history and intriguing customs of Mayoyao.

s cultural bearer and historian, Bobby Bongayon,
Cultural bearer and historian, Bobby Bongayon regaled us with historical anecdotes as well as local legends and other stories about Mayoyao

At Khohang Garden, Bobby Bongayon led a storytelling session where he narrated a few legends handed down from their ancestors as well as having us listen to a Hudhud chant performed by a young lady, Jhomaica Panangon, a member of Mayoyao's Tourism Office.

Jhomaica Panangon
A young cultural bearer Jhomaica Panangon

Stories chanted by the Ifugao people as far back as the seventh century make up the Hudhud, an art form recognized by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. There are hundreds of chants that cover topics such as history, customary law, religious beliefs of the ancestors, and epic tales of warriors.

Mishi Magno
Some of the locals demonstrated to us a number of their traditional dances

Usually sang or recited in the old days by an elderly person who holds a prominent role in the community, either as a historian or preacher, to complete a comprehensive recitation of the Hudhod may take several days.

Thea Ifurung
Group shot after their cultural performance

In Mt. Nagchajan, we visited the place where the last band of Japanese soldiers made their last stand during World War II. Amidst the breathtaking scenery, we were joined by Mayor Padchanan Jr. as he further shared with us more about their local customs and culture. Following a sumptuous lunch, the locals serenaded us with folk songs and treated us to an amusing presentation of ceremonial and courtship dances, in which some of us even took part in.

Kezia Romblon
You can still find a few ancient burial tombs called "Apfo-or" tombs in Mayoyao. These are the final resting place of an elite / warrior family in the old days

In the process of being both visually amazed and intellectually stimulated, our journey to Mayoyao evolved into much more than a simple sightseeing tour. On any given day, most of the people we met in Mayoyao would be going on with their daily lives. But when visited by guest travelers, they easily open up to share their proud history, culture, and traditions.

Charisse Vilchez
Pikaw, is an elongated freshwater fish introduced by the Japanese in Mayoyao during WWII. Today, a pikaw hatchery plant is maintained in the town

In a nation like ours, where many ethnic treasures are sometimes overlooked in favor of picture-perfect attractions, this is how I envision traveling. Instead of just popping in and out, taking pictures, and then going away, an immersive experience like what he experienced in Mayoyao should be replicated everywhere. By including locals in tourism activities, we provide them with a voice and a platform to preserve and pass on their unique intangible heritage.

Desa Tayting
Another cultural bearer let us listen to their traditional music

Because of that, our trip to Mayoyao, Ifugao became one for the books.