A Case for Aung’s Marionette Puppet Show: Inle Lake

•June 17, 2013 • 4 Comments

If you are going to Myanmar, you are likely going to go to Inle Lake. While you are there, you will see many wonderful things, but few can compare with Aung’s Marionette Puppet Show (daily shows 7:00 & 8:30 PM, 30 mins in duration), perhaps the most authentic Burmese culturally artistic experience you will have in the whole country. His show is charming, clever, and fun. To get there, ask around; its a few streets East of The Golden Kite Restaurant.

There are so many puppet shows all over Myanmar, so why Aung? Well, first of all, he comes from a family with a long tradition in the art. His father, his grandfather, and his grandfather’s father were all puppeteers, licensed by the state to carry on the important cultural tradition. Aung is no different; he got his license in 1985, and has been doing puppet shows for a living ever since. In fact, he is one of only 8 remaining licensed puppeteers left in the country. Why so few puppeteers? Well, the art of Burmese traditional storytelling with marionettes is a fine art indeed. Mastering it is a long process, and can be expensive, as the only place to get licensed is Yangon. It is much cheaper to make some puppets, throw on some music, and move them around for some tourists. Many hotels and restaurants do so. Tourists don’t know any better, right? Well you do!

Another reason to support Aung is that he runs a local family business in Nyaung Shwe (a town near Inle Lake). His backdrops are made by his brother, and his puppets are made by his uncle.

All of the money he makes off the show, he uses to support his family.

The third reason to give Aung your business is the price. You can enjoy his 30 minute show for only 3000 Kyat (about $3US), which is a steal compared to what you’d pay for a traditional show in Yangon ($15+). His ticket price also includes free tea!

Finally, you should support Aung because he’s a super nice guy. When we went to his show, he spent an hour with us afterwards answering our questions, telling us cool stories, and giving us a lesson on how to use our very own marionette (we bought an elephant puppet, made by his uncle; it is beautiful!). Aung is so happy to share his culture, his experience, and his life with anyone who walks in his door. If you are traveling to Myanmar. Go! Support Aung’s local business, help preserve a traditional artform, and be amazed. We were.

PS: Aung doesn’t have a website, an e-mail, or any internet access at all, so please spread the word.

PPS: If you go to see him, tell him you saw his info here, and that Steve from Canada says hi!

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Do I need a guide? Trekking in the Ifugao Rice Terraces (Banaue)

•January 11, 2013 • 14 Comments

If you are looking for a suggested itinerary for Banaue and the rice terraces click here!

When my wife and I were visiting Banaue, we often wondered if we needed a guide for every hike. We are all about supporting the locals, but sometimes it’s nice to be alone and enjoy one another’s and Mother Nature’s company. Unfortunately for us, we found that Banaue is rife with misinformation about how necessary hiring a guide really is. Half of the people are trying to sell you a guide, and the other half just tell you what you want to hear.

As a result, through much trial and error, here are our recommendations for hiring guides for some of the more popular treks around Banaue. Please note the estimated times are based on the speed my wife and I went and we are of moderate fitness.

(for a map of the area to help you understand the place click here)

1.Batad Junction to Batad Saddle Point (45 mins; 1-way):  No guide needed

This hike is a piece of cake along a torn up road. Impossible to get lost.

2. Batad Saddle to Batad Proper (1 hour; 1-way): No guide needed

This is an easy hike down hill. There is one fork, both both paths lead to the town (one is just a short cut). Follow the signs.

3. Batad Proper to Tappiyah Waterfalls (2 hours each way): Guide not necessary, but nice

This is a relatively straight forward hike. Head towards the red hut on the ridge and down into the valley behind. A guide is not necessary, but some tourists have taken a wrong turn and ended up climbing across the terraces in the dark. A guide comes with great stories, and is helpful for trekking in the village and around the terraces themselves.

4. Batad Proper to Lannah Junction (2 hours; 1-way) : No guide needed

This hike is easy as long as you get a local to show you the trail head. Head down the valley and cross the two bridges. Find the trail and stick with it to the village. Head straight through the village and the trail will lead you past a few rest houses and eventually to the highway.

5. The main road into the to Bagaan Rice Terraces (30 mins each way): Guide necessary

We haven’t been on this hike, but talked to some other travelers who told us that the way is difficult and poorly marked. These terraces are not easy to navigate.

6. Banaue View Point to Banaue Proper (2 1/2 hours; 1-way): Guide necessary

We tried this hike without a guide and got lost a few times before giving in and hiring a local we met along the way to guide us. The trail split many times and we were sent in the wrong direction by locals on more than one occasion.

7. Hapao road to Hapao hot springs (1 hour each way): Guide recommended

Some travelers successfully do this hike without a guide. We tried, but went the wrong way. We eventually found the way when we ran into our tricycle driver and he offered to show us the way for free. While it’s not the most complicated hike, there are many places where you can accidentally go the wrong way.

8. Batad proper to Cambulo Rice Terraces (2 hours each way): Guide necessary

We haven’t been on this hike, but once again, talked to some travelers who told us that the way is difficult and poorly marked. These terraces are not easy to find or to navigate without help.

Decisions, decisions

Decisions, decisions

The Ifugao Rice Terraces, A 3 1/2 Itinerary for Banaue

•January 11, 2013 • 35 Comments

If you are wondering about the necessity of hiring guides click here!

Thinking of traveling to the Ifugao Rice Terraces (Banaue), but not sure how to spend your time? After my wife and I travelled to the area last December, we created and enjoyed the following 3 1/2-day itinerary, which includes the Banaue, Batad, Bagaan, and Hapao Rice terraces.(for a map of the area to help you understand the place click here)

I’ve heard from many people that 2 days in Banaue is enough. 2 days may be OK for a whirlwind tour, but we found that 3 1/2 days was a better length to truly enjoy the area and to get off the beaten path a little bit. If you wanted to make this itinerary shorter, you could cut out the trip to Hapao. To make it longer, you could add a trek around Bagaan, or a trek to Cambulo.

3 1/2 days in the Ifugao Rice Terraces (Bananue) Our suggested itinerary:

Day 1 

3:30 PM: Arrive from Baguio

Many people opt for an overnight bus from either Manila or Baguio to get to Banaue. However, we had learned on another leg of our journey that overnight buses in the Philippines are brutal. We hardly slept at all and were quite uncomfortable in a bumpy bus on a bumpy road. We opted to travel by minibus from Baguio to Banaue during the day. The ride was BEAUTIFUL! We traveled with KMS Lines (their office is next to Rizal Park in Baguio T: 09159471440). The bus left at 8:00AM (there is also a 9:30pm Bus)  and arrived at 3:30PM 

3:45 PM: Buy tickets to Manila at Ohayami Trans

These buses fill up so it’s advisable to buy as soon as you arrive. Ohayami is currently the only overnight service to Manila.

4:00 PM: Check into your hotel

We stayed at the Banaue Homestay, a nice and quiet place with great view, good food, and the manager Bea is a real star! Our private double room was 700 pesos a night (Her email is beatrizbandao@rocketmail.com) 

4:30 PM:  Register at the Banaue Tourism Office

Here you can hire a tricycle to pick you up the next day and take you to Batad Junction. The going fare is 700 Pesos one way, or 1000 Pesos return. Bigger groups can opt to hire a jeepney. Another option is the public jeepey that usually leaves around 1:30 PM and 3:00 PM.  Batad public jeepney fare is Php 150 per person. We wanted to reach Batad early to beat the crowds, so we opted to hire a tricycle one way (more on that below) through Bea at our homestay as she matched the prices we got in town.

5:30 PM: Supper in Banaue town

Great hot food can be found in the restaurant on the far right of the “Town Market” building. It’s cheap too! Buy water, snacks and drinks in Banaue proper since goods here are way cheaper here

Overnight in Banaue

Day 2

6:30 AM: Have breakfast at your homestay

7:00 AM: Leave for Batad Junction

8:00 AM: Arrive at Batad Junction. Begin the 45 minute hike up to Batad Saddle Point

This walk is a piece of cake, no guide is necessary.

8:45 AM: Arrive at Batad Saddle Point. Begin the 1 hour downhill trek into Batad

If you don’t have a walking pole, one can be bought for 30 Pesos. Once again, this walk is also a piece of cake, no guide is necessary.

10:00 AM: Arrive at Batad proper and find accommodation

The most popular places to stay in Batad are the Hillside Inn, Simon’s Place, and Ramon’s homestay. We chose Ramon’s because of it’s online reputation. We were not disappointed! The staff were great, the food was good, and the rooms were fine. You can stay in traditional native huts for 400 pesos/person a night, but we opted for the simple rooms at 200 Pesos/person (We got to tour the huts anyway). The staff also dressed us up in traditional Ifugao clothes for an amazing photo-shoot. They have a telephone number, but cell service is sketchy at best. It is easy enough to book a room the day you arrive.

10:30 AM: Start your village tour and trek to Tappyia Waterfalls with a guide

You don’t really need a guide to the falls, but it’s good to support the locals. Our guide told us many cool stories, and took us all around the village and the Batad rice terraces. It was worth the 800 Pesos extra. Be sure to take your swimsuit to swim in the fall!

12:00 PM: Arrival at Tappiya Waterfalls, Swim, take photos, relax

1:30 PM: Start the trek back to Batad town proper

3:00 PM: Arrival in Batad

Wash up, relax or explore the village more. Enjoy the company of 2000-year-old terraces and the great locals. Have a San Miguel Pale Pilsen.

5:30 PM: Supper at your guesthouse

Overnight in Batad

Day 3

6:30 AM: Have breakfast at your guesthouse

7:00 AM: Hike to Lannah Junction

Most people go back up to Batad Saddle and down to Batad Junction. We opted to take a different trail to Lannah Junction and were rewarded with stunning views. Also, we had the trail to ourselves. Once again, the trail was straightforward with no guide necessary.  The hike was supposed to take 3 hours. We did it in 1:45. 

If you go this way, you also get to see the Bagaan rice terraces along the road. You could also spend half a day hiking around Bagaan if you were looking for more activities. We enjoyed the views from the road and carried on.

8:45 AM: Catch the public jeepney back to Banaue

The jeep leaves at 8:45 and costs 30 Pesos per person. Make sure you arrive early so you don’t miss it. The public jeepneys are not very frequent. Alternatively you could have your tricycle pick you up here.

10:15 AM: Arrive back at your guesthouse in Banaue

11:15 AM: Leave for the Banaue viewpoint and the Ethnic Village and Pine Resort

There are actually three viewpoints. We visited the 2 closest, then went to the Ethnic Village, then went to the third viewpoint. The Ethnic Village cost 50 Pesos to get in and has a swimming pool and picnic area. We hired a tricycle for this trip for 300 pesos. We found the best souvenir shopping in the whole area was at viewpoints 2 and 3. The prices were very reasonable.

12:30 PM: Begin trek from the 3rd viewpoint to Banaue city with a guide

There is a lot of misinformation out there about this trek. YOU NEED A GUIDE. We got lost a few times along the way and locals were very unhelpful. We ended up hiring a guide part way there for 700 pesos. This is the most strenuous hike that we did, but it is still pretty easy if you are in moderate shape.

3:00 PM: Arrive back in Banaue and relax, OR walk to the Banaue Museum OR hire a tricycle to the Cordillera Sculpture Museum

After visiting Batad and staying at Ramon’s we found the Banaue Museum small and boring. If you only do 1, the Cordillera is a better bet. Both places cost 50 pesos

6:00 PM: Supper in Banaue town

Overnight in Banaue

Day 4

7:30 AM: Have breakfast at your guesthouse

8:00 AM: Leave for the Hapao Rice Terraces

The road to Hapao is really bumpy, but very scenic. It’s a good idea to get your tricycle driver to make frequent stops to enjoy the view and give your bum a break. Our tricycle cost 700 Pesos return.

9:00 AM: Register at the Hapao tourist centre (50 Pesos entrance)

9:30 AM: Arrive at the Hapao Terraces; trek to the hot springs with a guide

The path to the hot springs might be doable without a guide, but we wanted to explore the terraces too, so we hired a guide for 800 pesos for the day.

10:30 AM: Arrive at the hot springs and enjoy a soak with the locals

The locals are very modest and wear t-shirts and shorts in the pools. Please be mindful with your swim suit selection. The earlier you get here the better. We were the only foreigners here until noon when a bunch started arriving.

12:30 PM: Begin the trek back to your tricycle

There are small shops along the road if you want to buy something to eat.

1:30 PM: Start the drive back to Banaue

3:00 PM: Arrive back in Banaue and relax, OR walk to the Banaue Museum OR hire a tricycle to the Cordillera Sculpture Museum

5:00 PM: Supper in Banaue town

6:30 PM: Board your bus for Manila

A few tips: 

1. Carry as much food and water as you can. It will save you money and time. Trying to find food or water in the middle of a trekking day can be frustrating and time consuming. Banaue town centre has fruit, baked goods, snacks, and water for sale at decent prices.

2. Buy a walking stick at Batad Saddle. You can bring them with you in tricycles and jeeps. They are so nice for the seemly endless stairs you must climb up and down. We used ours all three days we trekked.

If you have any questions please feel free to drop me a note and I would be glad to help you.

If you wish to see more of my photos, please read my personal travelblog entry here

Batad Rice Terraces

Batad Rice Terraces