El Nido, Palawan

May 30, 2015

From Sabang I travelled to El Nido on local buses. I first got a bus early in the morning to Salvacion crossroads where I would have to change to the service to El Nido. I knew there were two different kinds of buses (AC/no AC) and the transport vans passing through and I decided to just take the next service that showed up. I only had to wait 20 minutes or so until one of the buses arrived an I got on. Of course it was one of the no AC buses, but at least it was cheap, and all the windows were open so the ride wasn’t too hot. It was very packed and I got the last available seat. They were showing movies on a screen in the front. When I got on they were in the middle of one of the Madagaskar films, then American Sniper came on, it was as bad as I expected it to be. After that two movies I’d already seen and didn’t think were great (Lucy and The Guardians of the Galaxy). After eight hours squeezed on a hard seat I was very happy to get off in El Nido. The bus terminal is outside town so I took a tricycle to a hostel called Hakuna Matata which I had looked up before. I hadn’t booked anything in advance but luckily they had a bed available for two nights which I took.

The next day I walked around town and followed a path along the water. It didn’t really lead anywhere, just to some more houses and hotels, so after a while I turned around and walked back.

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The next morning I found out my hostel had had a cancellation which meant I could stay for one more night, three in total, which was great. I wanted to stay in El Nido at least four nights and wanted to avoid moving around to different places too much.

I went for breakfast around the corner in a hotel where they were doing a breakfast buffet. It was pretty good, especially for it’s price (200 pesos, £3). They had fresh bread, rice, a few different meat and veg dishes and coffee and juice. I ate a bit too much bread and left very full.

I decided to go to another beach outside town as the beach in El Nido isn’t that great. There’s not really any space on it, the buildings go right up to the beach and there are lots of restaurants with tables on the beach and the water is full of boats.

I went to Corong Corong beach which is a short tricycle ride from the city. It was beautiful there, I found a quite spot and spent the whole day just reading and walking along the water.

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At one point I came across a huge, purple jellyfish, it must have been at least 30cm wide!

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I stayed and watched the sunset, which was really pretty, before I walked up to the road and took another tricycle back to my hostel.

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The next day I went on an island hopping tour, it’s a common thing to do when you visit El Nido. I went for tour A, I had heard beforehand that tour A and C were the best ones, but I decided to just do one of them during my stay. I was picked up at my hostel in the morning and led down to the beach where others who were doing tours were waiting. After a while they gathered all tour A people onto one boat, there were maybe 10 of us in total.

Our first stop was “secret lagoon”. The boat stopped next to an island and we had to swim to an opening in the cliffs to get into the lagoon. It was very pretty but not so secret; there were many other boats and people there.

After that we stopped at a small beach on another island.

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The tour people cooked us a delicious bbq lunch on the beach. We had fish, pork, chicken, squid, veg, fruit and rice! It’s probably the best food I had in the Philippines.

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Then we visited a couple more lagoons named the small lagoon and the big lagoon.

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It’s so beautiful around El Nido, and Palawan in general, I really enjoyed just seeing the landscapes on the tour.

Our final stop was another beach. There was a small bar there (I had a coconut shake) and we stayed for about an hour before heading back to El Nido.

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I had dinner with a couple of guys from the tour and later we met up for a drink on the beach.

The next day I had to leave my hostel and move to another one as they were fully booked. They booked me in on their sister hostel on the other side of town, which isn’t actually that far as El Nido is very small. One of the staff went with me there in a tricycle to show the way and check me in, it was a very easy move.

This day I wanted to visit Nacpan beach, I had read about it and it seemed amazing. It’s pretty far from El Nido and getting a tricycle there and back was very expensive. Also, I had read the road could be pretty bad and that a tricycle was very uncomfortable on the bumpy road. So I decided to hire a scooter for the day and drive there myself. It was a great experience, it reminded me of how much I like driving. I walked down to the town from the hostel and found a place that had bikes for rent. It wasn’t super cheap (I payed 600 pesos for the day + petrol), but still a lot cheaper than a tricycle to the beach and back.

It took me maybe 50 minutes to reach the beach from El Nido. Most of the road wasn’t that bad, it was just a normal paved road with not much traffic at all. The last 5km was a small, rocky dirt road, and closer to the beach it got very sandy. It was fine though, I managed to navigate it without falling.

When I reached the beach I parked around the other bikes there. There was a small place that sold drinks and there were some people around there. The beach was huge and as I walked away from the main area it soon got very empty.

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There were more jellyfish on this beach, in some places you could see lots of darks dots in the water.

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Anyway, I was told the purple ones are harmless and don’t sting, it’s the smaller white ones to watch out for, and I didn’t see any of them here.

I was planning on walking along the whole beach but it was just too long and it was so hot. I parked my stuff and it felt like I had the whole beach to myself, I couldn’t see any other people around.

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I spent the afternoon swimming and reading (I was still very into 1984 at this point).

Later I walked to the other end of the beach where it met with another, smaller beach behind it. I climbed up a small hill to get a better view.

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I walked around this area of the beach a bit more and found a path to a higher spot. It was a very steep little dirt path, but of course I had to try and get up.

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Going down wasn’t as easy, I had to take my slippery flipflops off but I got down eventually, and I got a cool view from the top.

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When I got down the sun was beginning to set and I decided to head back before it got dark. It would have been nice to stay for the whole sunset but I didn’t want to drive on that awful dirt road in the dark.

The next morning I left El Nido to go to Port Barton, my final stop before leaving Palawan.

 

Sabang, Palawan

May 8, 2015

From Manila I travelled to Palawan, one of the bigger islands in the Philippines. I arrived at the airport in Puerto Princesa where I took a tricycle to the hostel I had booked. Tricycles are what they call this mode of transportation in the Philippines and it’s the main way to get around as a tourist in Palawan, I don’t think I saw any normal taxis while I was there.

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Of course the drivers at the airport tried to overcharge me, as they do everywhere in Asia, but in the end I got an alright price (80 pesos down from 150…) and was driven to my hostel in the outskirts of the city. I spent the evening making a rough plan for my Palawan stay, I had 11 days and there were a few places I wanted to visit. I decided to leave the next morning for Sabang to see the underground river. There were tours arranged for the river i PP, but they were expensive so I settled on taking cheap local transport the next day and spend two nights in Sabang in a cheap hotel and get the permit and ticket for the underground river myself.

To go to the underground river you need to get a permit from their office in Puerto Princesa, they only allow 900 or so visitors each day which is why it can be good to get the permit in advance. In the morning I walked the 1km from my hostel to the office intent on getting the permit for the next day, but it turned out to be closed until later that afternoon because of some holiday. I knew I could probably get the permit in Sabang and the security guard in the office building seem to think so too, so I made my way to the bus terminal on another tricycle.

The long distance transport in Palawan consists of expensive but fast and comfortable vans or cheap local buses and jeepneys. As I’ve been trying not to spend too much money I decided to skip the vans and headed to the jeepney terminal. I got there and was directed to the correct vehicle and managed to find someone who spoke English enough to tell me what time it was leaving. Turned out it wasn’t until 2pm, and it was currently 11 in the morning.. I decided to stick it out and spent three hours in the car reading while waiting for it to leave. I actually didn’t mind too much; it was a good chance for me to start reading 1984 that I had picked up in a hostel in Malaysia weeks ago.

When we finally started the jeepney was packed with people, but we still stopped a lot on the way letting more people on. The whole journey took about 3 hours, including a short stop for food in the middle of nowhere.

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When I reached Sabang I was planning on looking up the Green Verde travel agency and hotel as I had read they can help you get the underground river permit. I got off the jeepney and asked a man waiting outside where I could find Green Verde, and it turned out it was him. His name was Miguel and I my guidebook had actually specifically recommended him so I was happy to have found him. He told me I could just go down the the pier in the morning and get the permit and I didn’t need to go through Green Verde at all. He asked if I was coming to their hotel but I wanted something cheaper and was going to check out another place called Blue Bamboo. Because it was a bit of a walk and I had heavy bags Miguel was really nice and drove me there on his bike. I’d really recommend going to Green Verde for their hotel, restaurant and travel agency in Sabang, they’re super nice and helpful and have good, cheap food.

Blue bamboo first wanted me to get one of their cottages, but when I asked for something cheaper they showed me to their “dorm” which was these three rooms divided by thin walls.

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It was very basic, a mattress on the floor and a bathroom outside in a small hut crawling with ants, no proper shower just a bucket, but very cheap; I managed to get it for 250 pesos (£3.50) / night.

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Also, technically I had a balcony with sea view.

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In the evening I went for a walk back towards the “center” and the beach. Sabang is a very small village with some houses and hotels along the sea front, but not much else. I went to the Green Verde restaurant for dinner, it seemed to be one of the cheaper places to eat (everywhere else I saw had expensive tourist prices) and the food was good. I went back home to sleep early so that I could get up in time to get my permit the next day. I actually slept really well in that little room, falling asleep to the sounds of the sea.

The next day I went down to the pier, got my permit and paid the boat and environment fee for the underground river. It wasn’t too pricy and I spent a lot less on my whole Sabang trip than I would have done on a one day tour from Puerto Princesa. After getting the permit I went to Green Verde and had a delicious mango pancake for breakfast. Then I went back to the pier and joined the queue for the boat to the underground river.

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Every boat took 6 people so I was put on one together with a Filipino family.

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After a short journey we boarded on a small, beautiful beach where there were already a lot of other boats of people visiting the river.

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We walked a short distance through the forest and reached the end of the river, a small lake that flows out into the sea.

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Here we got on another boat and went into the cave following the river. The guide told us the river is 7km long but we’re only allowed to go 3km (or 4?) in and then turn around. It was very dark in the caves, but the boatman/guide had a torch and talked a lot about the different formations. Once we reached a big opening he told us this part was called the church and pointed out different formations that were supposed to resemble various Christian symbols… I guess you can see what you want to in there.

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Everyone had to wear helmets in addition to the life vests. There were a lot of bats in the cave resting in the ceilings and we were told to close our mouths while looking up at the caves in case of bat droppings…

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When we returned from the underground river I went for a walk along the beach and stopped for a swim when I felt like it.

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I also had a massage the beach, mostly cause I had nothing else to do.

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Then I just took it easy, read and had dinner at Green Verde. It was a really nice day and I really enjoyed just being on my own again.

 

Manila

April 26, 2015

I made a short stop in Manila before visiting other places in The Philippines. I stayed in a nice hostel set in a gated neighbourhood close to the airport. It was a big Filipino house and had a swimming pool in the garden. My first afternoon I just spent in the hostel.

The next day I went out to explore Manila with a Canadian guy, James, from my dorm. We went to the old Spanish town and saw the cathedral.

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We also went to the old fortress, which is mostly in ruins, but set in a nice park in the same area. There was also a small museum there about their national hero José Rizal.

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After the fortess we walked through the old town for a bit and stopped for a drink. It was pretty nice around there, small streets and interesting architecture, pretty different from the rest of Manila.

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Then we walked down to Rizal Park and went to the two national museums there; one is about Filipino history and the other one art. They were pretty interesting, I was mostly interested in the history one but sadly they were renovating and half the museum was closed.

In the evening we headed to another area in Manila where we went to a night market. I had a really good Mongolian rice dish (basically a stir fry).

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In the evening we went out to a club and the next day I flew to Puerto Princesa in Palawan, another island in The Philippines.