I WAS REALLY surprised to find that Luzon is the 4th most populous island in the world. It never felt like it. I spent nearly all my time in the mountainous Cordillera region, where greenery and space were plenty.
The largest and most northerly of Philippines islands, Luzon has a wealth of volcanic mountains, lakes and lagoons, historic cities, beaches, ethnic diversity and cultural sites. Much to visit when I come back. The Cordillera region is an ethnically diverse area, 400km north of Manila, where incredible millenia old stone rice terraces sit in breathtaking surrounds.
Luzon is the 15th largest and 4th most populous island in the world, and ranks first for both in the Philippines.
It is home to over 64,000,000 people, including a green, army uniform wearing street performer.
Despite the very obvious population pressures, Luzon boasts some incredibly beautiful rural scenes.
Surf breaks on the east coast. Lakes and volcanoes are strung out east of the madness of Manila, and quiet mountain towns are many.
One of those mountain towns is Banaue, in the Cordillera region, 400km north of Manila.
Banaue hides beneath the morning mist.
Spectacularly set itself, it is a regional transport hub, making it good for visiting two of Luzon's premier attractions.
While the beauty of the area is evident on the edge of town, the famed rice terraces are about 20km from town.
The spectacular rice fields of the Ifugao people have followed the contours of the mountains for 2000 years.
The height and slope of the stone and mud walls show a mastery of engineering.
There are estimated to be 20,000km of walls in the region's terraces, which would reach half way round the world.
The village of Batad is home to around 900 people, guardians and traditional owners of these cultural jewels.
Visiting the terraces will take you past traditional homes which line the mountain sides.
Other houses sit in islands of green on the edge of the paddies.
There are, apparently, homestay options in Batad, allowing you to expereince the cool mountain peace after us day-trippers have gone.
Whether viewed as an engineering triumph, a cultural legacy.....
....or a magnificent landscape, the Ifugao rice terraces are unforgettable.
A little further from Banaue, in the mountain town of Sagada, the Igorot people place their dead in gravity defying coffins suspended from the cliff-face.
The practise is probably 2,000 years old. A guided tour can be arranged in town, and will also take you to a swimming spot, and through the grand Sumaguing Cave.
Sagada is a short jeepney ride from another pleasant mountain town, Bontoc, which also has UNESCO listed rice terraces.
These fields are less frequented by visitors than those at Batad/Banaue.
The village is served by irregular jeepneys, which stop at a dead end street where the terraces begin.
Unlike Batad, there is very little sign of life here, few villages houses or people.
Check the departure time of the last jeepney if its past mid-afternoon. And even then don't be surprised to be running up the hills through people's gardens to catch it.
Bontoc itself is a busy market town, set along a large river.
The market itself is worth a wander.
A large number of stalls upstairs serve some good dishes. There was a cake shop in town, too.
There is an interesting cultural museum in town, highlighting ancient tribal practices.
Murals are common in Bontoc, usually paying homage to the area's agrarian roots.
And sometimes, the farms come to the city streets.
I didn't see any wild mammals in Luzon, probably because I didn't visit any forested areas. A few birds like this bee-eater made up for it.
A cold and misty roadside market was a rest-stop on my way back down to Manila.
My first trip to the Philippines was followed by my second less than a year later.
There is a lot more in Luzon I'd like to sample.
So save me a seat on the jeepney.