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.
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.
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.
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.
Also, technically I had a balcony with sea view.
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.
Every boat took 6 people so I was put on one together with a Filipino family.
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.
We walked a short distance through the forest and reached the end of the river, a small lake that flows out into the sea.
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.
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…
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.
I also had a massage the beach, mostly cause I had nothing else to do.
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.