Palawan, Philippines, was surprisingly an untouched paradise that restored my faith in humanity. The rest of the world should learn from the changes the Philippines are making and the laws they are enforcing to protect the environment.
The Philippines will always be special to me as it is my 50th country I’ve travelled to! I have to admit it does make me proud but also a little concerning, to think about the small amount of funds that’s actually in my bank account. But it’s all worth it, travelling has enriched my life in so many ways. It has made me more spiritual, grateful and to appreciate everything that’s good in my life.
I flew to Manila from Bali and met up with my friends who flew in from Sydney. My first taste of Manila wasn’t great. I got yelled at by a white taxis, only to discover later that they’re actually not allowed to pick up passengers from the airport. Top tip, from the airport, go to the “Metered Taxis” stand, and get the yellow taxis – safer and legit.
To get to any of the islands in the Philippines you would have to fly into Manila and get a connecting internal flight. We figured we’ll stay overnight and experience Manila. Unfortunately, there really isn’t much to see and do in Manila, other than eating and drinking. And we’re not complaining.
View from our hotel in Makati.
Manila has an old Spanish Quarter and the oldest Cathedral in the Philippines. Other than that (and shopping malls), I’m really struggling to give you recommendations on what to see.
Streets of Manila.
We flew out to Palawan, Puerto Princessa, the next day and started our trip from mid-Palawan. If we had more than 2 weeks we would have liked to experience the south too.
We stayed in Sabang for 2 nights and got our hotel to organise pick up transfer from the airport. I highly recommend you pre-organise your transfers as Palawan isn’t a developed island, the roads were still under construction when we were making our way to Sabang.
Sabang is a small coastal town, also known as the drop off town for the UNESCO Underground River, which I would also recommend you check out while you’re there! We stayed at the Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort.
The Underground River is a subterranean river system situated in the national park. I couldn’t get my camera to focus in the dark, so you will have to take my word for it that it’s worth the tour! If you’re an environmentalist or a geologist, you will love the rock formations and the sound of the bats.
We also tried a local restaurant just metres away from our hotel and I had my first Tuna Sisig! So good!
After relaxing in Sabang for two days, we started making our way to Port Barton – 3 hrs by car.
Port Barton is set to be the next El Nido strip, slowly getting popular by the tourists. Best known for its snorkeling areas to see corals, turtles and other sea life.
We got a boat to our next accommodation, Prince John Lodge, a very private area away from the town, feels like your very own piece of paradise.
Also, there are friendly dogs everywhere in Palawan. Most of them are well looked after, however there are no vets around so a lot of them do need to get vaccinated.
A beautiful sunset in Port Barton. You’ll see many beautiful sunsets in the Philippines.
We booked a day of snorkeling out on the reefs to see turtles, but unfortunately there weren’t many around. I guess lounging around the crystal clear blue water will have to do….
Stopped by the Starfish Island.
Two days later, we were back on the road, another long car ride (4 hours) to El Nido.
El Nido has been through a lot in the last couple of years, and definitely on the rise for the next big upcoming tourist destination. The popular port (town) got so crowded that rubbish was becoming a major issue for the environment, affecting the beaches and the UNESCO lagoons. The government since then, has put in place regulations and environmental laws, this included limiting the amount of people seeing the famous Big and Small Lagoons in one day. If you wanted to check out both, best to stay for a couple of days. We only had two days.
View from our Airbnb, of course another sunset.
We did Tour A, which will take you to the popular Big Lagoon. All tours will include a cooked lunch on board your boat.
Made it to the Big Lagoon, where you can hire a Kayak for the hour at US$10. We opted to snorkel our way into the lagoon. It’s worth noting that wearing a life vest is compulsory from the Coastguards (yes, they do monitor the area).
The Big Lagoon, like many others in the area are UNESCO listed and in recent times have been damaged due to tourism. Pollution and over crowding have caused damages to the corals and even chemicals from sunscreens are harming these beautiful areas. Please use Reef Friendly sunscreen when you’re swimming in their waters.
While in El Nido, these are a few suggestions of places to check out!
Cuna Hotel, possibly the best place for the panorama view of El Nido port.
For the best place to see the sunset, look no further than Republica Sunset Bar.
For the best ‘swimming’ beach, go to Marimegmeg Beach.
After our time in El Nido, it was time to start our Tao adventure. Which is essentially an island-hopping tour from El Nido to Coron. For those who don’t know the background of Tao, this is their website for you to read up on them. Tao is a Filipino based company which operates on tourism in conjunction with the independent islands communities and is a major advocate for environmental conservation. This 5 days tour (there are other options for length of duration) will set you back roughly US$500pp, which includes everything (except alcohol). Although it’s a little on the steep side for Filipino standards, be reassured that most of their profits goes back to the community to help them grow and provide education for the children.
We had an amazing time on Tao and met some great people on board! The best part of the trip was hanging out with the ‘Lost Boys’ (the crew) and learning how to fish, cook, and hearing their stories. Their jokes and hospitality was top notch. They even saved me when I got caught in a rip out on the reefs.
When the water is this blue, all you want to do is get out there and swim!
Camp life on Tao consisted of shelter, mosquito nets, mattress, pillow, sheets and the ocean breeze. Bed time would be whenever you’re tired or passed out from being too drunk, while breakfast started at 8-9am.
Before you start the expedition you will be given an electronic bracelet that you can pre-load funds on to, this will be your payment method for the bar and massages at the main camp area.
We asked for a fresh coconut, the crew literally climbed a tree and got us some.
You can even try your hands at fishing off the boat, we managed to catch two tuna fish and the crew made us fresh sashimi and ceviche. Caught the fish and in our bellies within minutes – can’t get any fresher than that!
Our final campsite at Camp Ngey Ngey where we spent two nights. It was very peaceful and relaxing. A 45mins massage is also included in your package.
Waking up to sunrises like these…
Walked up to the look out point to watch the sunset. Life in the Philippines is pretty sweet.
On our final night the crew fed us well, look at that giant grouper!
Tao has been the highlight of our trip, it was so nice to be off the grid and go on a technology detox for a few days. It was also nice to get back to basic, and realise you don’t need much in life other than fresh food, shelter and good friends.
We bid farewell to Tao in Coron, and we made our way to our final destination – the Paolyn Houseboat. Even though we were only there for one night, it was worth the experience!
Nestled in a private lagoon, surrounded by coastal terrain blocking the wind from entering the lagoon lies the houseboat floating on calm water. Paolo, the owner will greet you and provide great hospitality to ensure your time there is not wasted.
Paolo helped us book our tour to ensure we see everything before leaving Coron (we were only there 1 full day).
The bluest water.
As this point my GoPro ran out of battery, but on the day trip, you will also snorkel at Coron Garden, which was the best snorkel I’ve ever done! So many colourful corals and sea life. We even saw a turtle! Sorry for having no photos as proof.
We had the best time in the Philippines and to experience their hospitality and submerging ourselves in nature’s wonders, made us come home with a new found appreciation for the world we live in. We all have to do our part in preserving it for the future, big or small, every little bit counts.
As we flew back to Manila to have our final dinner before heading back to Australia, we were recommended Agimat for its exotic cocktails. My drink came with a dance and all!
Unit next time Philippines, you’ve been great!