Tom's Travel Blog

Independent travel around Eastern Europe, East Asia and beyond

Philippines Part 2

by tom on 20/04/2016

I went to the Philippines around 5 months before this trip, and decided to go again but with Penny this time. We both wanted to go to Palawan, and as I had been recommended it the last time and didn’t get the chance to go, this was the perfect opportunity to go again. We had to find a time that was suitable for both of us, but about 3 weeks after needing a holiday I finally got to go!

Friday / Saturday

On Friday lunch time we both finished work at about 12:30 pm and made our way to the airport. Penny was working in Taoyuan, on the opposite side of the airport to me, so got the High Speed Rail to the station closest the airport and then a bus to the airport. I got a bus home, picked up my stuff, got the MRT to Taipei Main Station and then a bus to the airport. We both arrived within about 10 minutes of each other, picked up the Filipino Pesos we had pre-ordered from the bank and then went to check-in to the flight. We arrived in Manila without any problems and then got a taxi to the hostel.

We had decided to take the ‘no sleep’ approach to getting to Puerto Princesa, as the flights were cheaper from Manila and we could get to Puerto Princesa and sleep there. This meant staying in the hostel in Manila for about 6 hours, which was enough time to get a shower, something to eat, and about 4 hours restless sleep before getting up and getting another taxi to the airport. As the roads were clear at this time (about 3:30 am) but still surprisingly busy, we made it to the airport in less time than it took us to get to the hostel in the opposite direction, but this was partly because the hostel was difficult to find and it cost us some money in taxi fares just trying to find it. Penny hadn’t factored-in the time to check-in to the flight in Manila, which as it was an internal flight, she thought it would be relatively straightforward. Even though it was 4:00 am in to morning, the airport was surprisingly busy and check-in was pretty crazy. There were people everywhere, and the airline woman checked-in 2 people at once. We changed gates once, as we had been warned may happen by the airline staff, and finally found the final gate before boarding almost immediately. We got to Puerto Princesa without any problems.

Once in Puerto Princesa, we got a motorbike tricycle to the guest house, we was 5 minutes walk from the airport, but the tricycle driver still charged us double the normal price for. Once there, we had breakfast and had to entertain ourselves until 10:00 am, when the first guests checked-out. We did this by walking into the centre, sitting in Jollibee (their version of a well known burger restaurant) and getting a tricycle back again, for the correct price this time. Once we’d checked-in, we slept for some time and then went to get something to eat.

For dinner we ate in a really good local art/BBQ restaurant, which was surprisingly cheap and good value for money. The food was great and the service was good, and we went to a good bar that was opposite the guest house and had some beers and listened to a live band before going back to the guest house and sleeping properly.

Sunday

On Sunday we rented a motorbike and attempted to ride around the countryside outside Puerto Princesa. We went to the bus station first, which was in the New Market some way out of town, and bought a bus ticket to El Nido for the next day. Once we’d done this, we rode out into the countryside, and ended up following a route which we thought would take us back to Puerto Princesa, but around a long loop. This however didn’t happen, as the roads were still being built and most were dust roads, and the route back along the route we intended to take was so long, that we ended up going back the way we had come. We had to stop in a small village to buy petrol from a local convenience shop in a 1 liter beer bottle, get sandwiches that only had mayonnaise as their single ingredient (other than bread) and eat crisps and drink un-refrigerated soft drinks. Once we’d had this snack, we continued the journey as far as Labtay, which we thought would take us to the ocean, but we decided to turn back, as our intended destination was Napsan, and as this looked like it should be next to the sea and wasn’t, it seemed like we were getting further and further away from Puerto Princesa and would have to go back anyway. The journey was fun and we got to see some of the countryside outside of Puerto Princesa.

On the way back we bought a BBQed checked from a street-side shop and ate this in the guest house. We rode the motorbike to a massage shop that Penny wanted to go to, and as I was waiting for the massage, I went and sat at a nearby cafe and had some kind of green tea latte. It was great, as it’s difficult to find real dairy products in Taiwan, and I walked around the park next to the massage shop and got to observe some Filipinos going about their daily business. When the massage was finished, we got the motorbike back to the guest house and I went to sleep early, as I was tired from the day of motorbike riding.

Monday

On Monday morning we had to get the bus to El Nido, so got up early and took the motorbike back. There was some discussion on the best way to do this, as the guy had offered to give us a lift to the bus station, but as one of us would have to get a tricycle to the bus station anyway, we decided to both get the tricycle. As we were riding down he road, the guy that rented us the motorbike caught up with us, as I’d left my ID with him, which I’d completely forgotten about!

The bus to El Nido was possibly one of he most uncomfortable bus journeys I’ve been on. The AC wasn’t working, and as we were sat in the front seat, Penny and I could see the bus driver turning it off and back on again once every 5 minutes, which didn’t help. He did this whilst driving very fast, so it was pretty scary at some moments, and I’m sure he almost lost control at one point. We got off the bus tired, in shock and dripping with sweat, and sat at the bus stop for a few minutes, just to recover!

We got a tricycle to the centre of El Nido and walked round to find somewhere to stay. After finding somewhere to stay, we ate, walked around El Nido, and drank beer on the beach.

Tuesday

The first thing we did on Tuesday morning was to have breakfast and rent a motorbike. We picked up a map from the tourist office and went and found some beaches. The first beach we went to was Nacpan, which had 2 beaches: a small one and a big one. I thought the small one was perfect; quiet, no-one there, calm, peaceful and with clear water. Penny wanted to try the other one however, which was longer, bigger, windy and with more people. I didn’t like this one as much, but we sept about 1.5 hours here, getting drinks, eating cake we’d brought from El Nido and swimming. After this, we decided to try and get to Duli beach, which had been recommended by the people in the tourist office. We found it, but there was a 50 Pesos ($1 USD!) charge for taking your motorbike down and I was told later that there was also a fee to park it. We though this was a bit steep, so we kept going, up about 5 massive hills, to Verde Safari beach, which was amazing. The beach was huge, about half the size of Nacpan (which was really big) but there was only us and 2 other people on it. It was shallow, warm and with an amazing beach front of palm trees. We got coconut juice before leaving (from a coconut) and rode back the exhilarating (/challenging) journey to El Nido.

In the evening we ate fresh, BBQed fish at a touristy restaurant, and I saw (and ate) some of the biggest muscles I’ve ever seen.

Wednesday

The day before, before setting off for Nacpan, we bought a ferry ticket to Coron. This was a bit of an investigation, as no-where would sell us the non-touristy ticket. This included the harbour master, who pointed us in the direction of a tourist office across the road, and we also tried in the port, but could only find a woman in the waiting room who wanted to sell us a ticket at the tourist price, but for a day later. We eventually went to the tourist office the harbour master had ‘recommended’, but we decided later that we should have gone to the un-marked office with a glass front in the port building, which Filipinos seemed to be buying tickets from the next day.

The tourist boat was the most packed tourist boat I’ve ever been on. There was about 80 tourists on a relatively small boat, with garden chairs for seats, and they expected you to wear your life jacket at the beginning. Everyone took these off as soon as we left (I didn’t put mine on), and there was more space as everyone dispersed around the boat, but it was pretty crazy at the beginning. The lunch that was included was rice and some vegetables, but as Penny and I had bought some of our own food before leaving, we ate like kings. I tried hard not to look like I was gloating, but the difference in how substantial the two meals were was huge.

Once we got to Coron, we walked around to find a hotel. We started walking from the port, but didn’t realise how far it was, so ended up getting a tricycle for the 2nd half of the journey.

We found a hotel and after resting, went to get something to eat. This we ate in a special tourist-priced BBQ, which we later found out had been over-charging for almost everything.

Thursday

The next day we got up and went to find the tourist office. This was a seemingly abandoned building, which had people asleep on the floor in it, but we eventually found an office with some people in and asked where the tourist office was. We were pointed in the direction that we had come in, and as we were walking towards the exit, the tourist office woman walked though the door and asked if we needed anything. She unlocked the tourist office, gave us a map and gave us some ideas on where to go.

After visiting the tourist office, we went to find a motorbike to hire. We’d been recommended somewhere by the tourist office woman, but found somewhere closer and took the motorbike, as it was about the average for daily motorbike hire. We took the motorbike and our stuff and set off in the direction of Conception Falls.

Conception Falls was unimpressive, and a small local kid helped us find it, even though we would have probably found it anyway, and I gave him 20 Pesos, as he was quite nice about it. We walked around to check that there was nothing else there, and went and sat by the sea and ate some lunch. On the way back we stopped in a cool road-side cafe, which we had seen on the way there, and got some proper food. Whilst we were there is started raining, so we waited for it to stop, and then I decided to attempt the local way of riding a motorbike, which is to do it with flip-flops on. It was still raining a little bit, but the lightweight clothing and the sun made sure that we didn’t stay wet for long.

On the way back, unlike the motorbike ride in Puerto Princesa, we were almost out of petrol, and Penny didn’t have a problem with this, as she’d seen places to get petrol on the way there. This was taken to the extreme though, with me worrying we were going to run out of petrol before we found somewhere.

Once we were back in Coron Town, we went and found Bali beach, which was in the opposite direction to Conception Falls. This you had to pay for, and was only really good for taking photos, but not much else.

In the evening we ate in a restaurant with a noisy Chinese mainlander in it, who acted like he was in mainland China and possibly got a bit over-excited about being in the company of a white girl, and organised a tour for the next day. This was the only way to get to Lake Kayangan and Lake Barracuda on Coron Island, which we both wanted to go to.

Friday

On Friday we go up a little bit later than expected and went to eat breakfast in a restaurant across the road from out hotel. I had said to them that we didn’t have much time, but because I ordered ‘Filipino Spaghetti’, they had to make it from scratch and it was going to take longer than usual. Penny got her breakfast and the tricycle turned up to collect us from the hotel, but they were happy waiting for a few minutes whilst we finished breakfast. I ate some bananas and we took the Filipino Spaghetti with us.

We got on the boat and went to various destinations for snorkelling, sitting on the beach and visiting lakes. These were:

  • Las Islas de Coral
  • CYC Beach
  • Atwayan Beach
  • Quin Reef
  • Green Lagoon
  • Kayangan Lake

I think I’d got ill the night before from drinking beer from a dirty glass, and I was feeling slowly more ill as we went along. I went to the toilet about 3 times during the tour, and continued to go to the toilet for the rest of the day. In the evening I decided to see how I felt the next day and take something then if I had to.

The tour was good, with a surprisingly good lunch and some good locations. We only got to got to 1 of the lakes, but it was still good and it was interesting seeing what it was like swimming in both salt and fresh water. You got tired a lot more quickly in fresh water, and I think I got a bit sunburnt from the sun cream coming off more quickly (also, presumably, because of the fresh water). We got back to Coron Town and went in search of a ferry ticket for Sunday, back to Manila.

As I didn’t feel very well in the evening, I looked at a few scuba diving shops for dives the next day, but none of them jumped-out as places I wanted to dive with, so I decided to give scuba diving a miss. This was a bit disappointing, as there are some good wreck dives on Busuanga Island, but it felt like the right thing to do.

We did some admin, like getting money out and making a reservation for another hotel the next day, and went to Joey’s Eating Station, which looked pretty popular from the road. The food was average, and I only had chopsuey and rice, as I was feeling ill.

Saturday

The evening before, once we were back in Coron Town, Penny and I tried 2 or 3 different places, in search of a ferry ticket. We hadn’t realised, but there was only 1 ferry operator’s office (in the port), and if this was closed, then no-one could book tickets. We tried the first tourist office, which gave us one price, and because we knew how much it should be, decided to go to the operator’s office in the port. By the time we got the tricycle there, it was closed, so we got the tricycle back and went to another tourist office. This wasn’t able to book anything, as the operator’s office was closed, so we had to wait until the next day.

On Saturday morning, we decided to get a tricycle to the ferry operator’s office, but there was a blackout in Coron Town and nowhere had any power, so they couldn’t book anything. We left our details and then went to go and move hotels. Eventually we booked the ferry tickets online, and used the hotels printer to print the vast array of documents required.

As I was feeling ill the day before, I didn’t book any scuba diving for Saturday, so we moved hotels into a much nicer, cleaner, newer hotel in the ‘fancy hotel area’ of Coron Town. This was where all the fancy hotels were, and we decided to stay one night there, as we’d been working pretty hard on travelling before this. We stayed in the hotel for most of the day, as it was nice and they had air-conditioning (running off a generator). In the evening, we ate in an inconspicuous restaurant that was easily the best in Coron Town, and went to a bar for a drink.

Sunday

As the boat left at 4:30 pm, we had the morning and most of the afternoon to do something before getting on the boat. The instructions said get to the ferry terminal 4 hours before departure, but Penny and I thought this was ridiculous, so we got there 2 hours early instead. In the morning we slept in, went to the market and bought some mussels, and asked the people in the cafe next to our hotel if they could cook them, which they did. We bought some drinks and gave them a tip, because they cooked them with garlic and chilli and everything.

After checking out and eating some mussels, we got a tricycle to the port and waited to board the boat. The process was quick, as we could see the boat docking, and we were in one queue to get on, whilst the previous passengers were getting off. We went for ‘super value’ accommodation, which effectively means you’re sleeping on deck, in one big room, but with no sides, so that the sea air can blow through. One look at the air conditioned version, which was the same as what we had but with no windows, the same number of people and (seemingly) only one exit, decided for me that we had chosen the best option. We sat on deck at the back of the boat, watching the staff load it and waiting for it to depart. The sunset was great as we left Busuanga Island and this was the first time that I felt I was on holiday.

Monday

On Monday moning we arrived in Manila, and this is where the work part of the holiday started. Due to the visa that I had gone to Taiwan on, I had to leave Taiwan if I wanted to either renew or change the visa, and then come back on a tourist visa. The job for Monday was to go to the Taiwan embassy in the Philippines, get a tourist visa, and then fly home. Unfortunately, due to the wording in the documentation on the Taiwan embassy in the Philippines website, this made it seem like it was possible to do this in one day, even though it was not. It takes a minimum of 36 hours to process a tourist visa, even with expedited processing, and so I had to spend an extra, un-planned night in Manila and book new flights for the next day.

The hostel wasn’t a problem, as I had stayed there twice before and they recognised me from the first trip 5 months earlier. It was quite fun, as even one of the cleaning staff was telling me that he’d been promoted to head of housekeeping, so they were quite pleased to see me. The security guard was also asking if I’d be coming back to the Philippines and if I’d enjoyed my holiday. I knew where to go to eat, and one of my Filipino friends was working in a bar close to the hostel later the same night, but I decided I was too tired and went to the hostel and slept. Penny took the original flight home on Monday night and I booked more flights for the next day.

Tuesday

I’d booked my flights for around 10 pm on Tuesday, so had most of the day in Manila. I went to collect the visa, walked around a graveyard (as I thought I was taking a shortcut) and went and ate in a really cool, middle-class group of restaurants that I’d found in a shopping mall. Manila has a fair amount of shopping malls, but I never expected to find this, so spent the last of my Pesos in Mr. Delicious, getting Polish pierogies and sauerkraut, and a local type of lemonade. It was very expensive, but worth it.

I mis-judged when my flight was and asked the hostel staff if they could book me a taxi, all of which were unavailable. I ended up taking my bag and walking down to the main road, where all of the taxi drivers wanted to charge me an extra 150 Pesos as it was busy and they didn’t think there would be anyone at the airport to bring back. I eventually found one who gave me a reasonable price, and he took a lot of shortcuts and side-streets to get me there on time. I got there in enough time, boarded the flight and must have fallen asleep, as we seemed to be descending very soon after taking off.

Once back in Taipei I got the bus and a taxi home, as the MRT had stopped running. The weather was different and noticeably less humid, and it seemed like another world in comparison to the mayhem of Manila. Instead of trying to negotiate a price for a taxi to take you through the grid-locked streets of Manila, you paid a single, fixed price fare for a bus that took you non-stop to the place that you wanted to go to. The difference seemed huge, and made Manila seem like another world.

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