Welcome to the Philippines – Part 1 – The South

By far an away my favourite country of the three in Asia I have visited, the Philippines will always fill me with joy when I think back to the month I spent there. Each place I visited was different to the last, whether it is the south down in Palawan with its long, dreamy beaches, or in the north to Banaue and Segada with its ancient, sleepy mountains. To wake up each day in either of these place is a blessing in itself.

I arrived from Java to Manila on the 1st of May, sad to be leaving my friends in Jakarta, but excited to see whether the rumours I had heard of this country would hold up. I stayed one night in Manila, before taking a plane down to Palawan. In hindsight I should have got a ferry, but I was in a rush to get out of Manila. My taxi ride from the airport to the hostel hadn’t quite gone smoothly, and there were times in the taxi that I felt pretty uncomfortable. It was the first time on my trip that I had felt properly out of my depth. It was late, dark and I had been driving round in circles for over an hour, with my taxi driver getting more and more irritated each time I showed him the address.

It’s funny how quickly a situation can change I thought, as a policeman steps into the taxi with a massive grin on his face. My brain, alert from the tension, decided that I was not about to be extorted, or he would have tried to look intimidating. I relaxed as he said a few words to my driver, took a look at my address and said “Not to worry!” A few more words to the driver and they both laughed, the policeman stepping back into the night. I smiled and chuckled along like I knew what the hell was going on and decided to go with the flow. Ten minutes later I arrived at a cash machine, my now sluggish brain attempting to do currency conversions which were most likely screwing me over harder than the airport and banks put together. Short ride further and I arrived at the Pink Manila. Anyone heading to Manila I highly recommend this hostel, I had allot of fun here later in the month. It has everything you need, plus the most incredible view of the city. On the roof you will notice a massive box which I guess is a store room. Find a way to climb onto the roof of this and stand there with your arms out. You are 13 stories high with a 360 degree view of the city, and nothing stopping you falling off the edge. If anyone asks, I did not recommend that to you.

I arrived in Puerto Princesa and stayed the night in a hostel with cooking facilities. I was so happy. I went to the local market and went mad. Everything was so fresh and I had long conversations about different cooking techniques with the ladies that ran the stalls. They were so friendly and kept giving me things to try. I left with a big bag and slept content that night. 

The bus that took me away from Puerto Princesa the next day carried me towards an incredible week and a half on my life. I was headed to the very northern tip, to a place called El Nido. Wow. What a place! I checked into the cheapest hostel I could find. It was 350 pesos a night which is £5 at a 70/1 conversion rate. put my stuff down (I had so much bloody stuff. Ill write about that in another post) and walked out onto the balcony. It was massive and right on the beach. El Nido is a big bay, about a mile long, with bars, restaurants and hostels lining the whole beach. Not in a tacky way though, El Nido is a little slice of heaven. Having said that I might get slammed by some hardcore pioneers saying the scene there is dead, but I loved it. Small white boats crowd the front 10 meters of sea and the sun sets to the left, with the last rays illuminating the ocean mountain that rears its head, making the bay feel very sheltered and secluded. 

I spent a week chilling at the beach bar down the road, sunbathing on the balcony and island hopping with some beautiful French girls and my Canadian friend Cory. If you are in Palawan, go to El Nido. I feel like I should have used the week or so that I had on that island to see a bit more of it, but I was having such a good time on the beach with 50 peso Tandui rum and French girls in bikinis that I don’t care. When you head to this spot, do the island tours, but get a small group of people together from your hostel and ask to do a custom tour. This is what we did, and we ended up with a beautiful white boat with speakers taking us to all the quiet spots that the main tours missed out. This made it more enjoyable because your view wasn’t interrupted by the floating chains of Chinese tourists, linked arm in arm by their life jackets, being swept along by the guides. While that is hilarious (I beg one of you to find me a picture of that if you know what I am talking about) the first couple of times, it can rather ruin the ‘secret’ beach when everyone bar your nan is there… 

Me and Cory decided to go to Coron, a town a 7-10 hour ferry ride away (depending on who you talked to) to go and check out some of the dive spots that this town is famous for. Coron went a bit like this:

CoronFerry

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A good place to stay in Coron is Sea Dive hotel. Its got a great root top and is right on the water. It has a bar in the bottom with a restaurant the does great breakfasts. They organise dive tours to the ship wrecks as well. Lots of rooms at varying prices. We managed to get a room for £2 each a night. Cory then convinced me to come up with him to Manila for a music festival. He is very persuasive, and even though my budget was wearing thin I agreed. There was a mad struggle to get tickets for a ferry as it is very confusing and no one really knows what is going on. But it was all good and we got on a night ferry. The boat took 21 hours and it was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing journeys of my life… 100 bunk beds were arranged in rows on the top deck of the ferry, and the sides were open to the sea. The perfect breeze blew all night, and for the first time in two weeks I didn’t fall asleep sweaty from the humidity. I woke up 20 minutes before sunrise, sat up a little in my bed, and watched the ocean around me light up as the sun began to dance over the islands. One of the benefits of floating so slowly through a country such as the Philippines is that you get a view of the islands which would be impossible any other way, and it’s thanks to that ferry that I appreciate just how many thousands of beautiful islands there are in the Philippines, I’m looking forward to exploring the ones I liked the look of..

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Cory sleeping for the first 10 hours…

The sunrise from my bunk bed. Pretty nice to wake up to.

The sunrise from my bunk bed. Pretty nice to wake up to.

Ocean and Islands.

Ocean and Islands.

Picking up some tips from the locals. He is on his way to study accounting.

Picking up some tips from the locals. He is on his way to study accounting.

First glimpse of Manila after 19 hours on the boat.

First glimpse of Manila after 19 hours on the boat.

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Cory sleeping for the second 10 hours… waking up half an hour before we docked…

And that’s how I ended up back in Manila, unbelievably excited to see if the north of the Philippines was as good as the south.

It was.

To read Welcome to the Philippines – Part 2 – Manila click here.

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7 responses to “Welcome to the Philippines – Part 1 – The South

  1. I had the great opportunity to visit Palawan last March. Although I did the average touristy things like visiting Honda Bay, I also trekked through the jungles bordering Puerto Princesa. As for your description of the chain of Chinese tourists, I would say that Chinese tourists feel more comfortable with excursions with a tour guide and in groups, unlike Westerners, who are more adventurous. Anyway, great article! Makes me want to return to the Philippines.

    • Do you have any other jungle trekking experiences in other countries? I did it in Malaysia but not much anywhere else and I would love to know how much the different jungles change from place to place! By chains I don’t mean groups, I mean literal chains, holding on to the person in front of you’s life jacket. And I joined the chain a couple of times! Thank you, hopefully it will inspire you to go back!

  2. Unfortunately, I don’t. From what little I know about jungles, the one I had to go through was extremely dense, but the locals had slashed and burned ~3 hectares in order to plant a coconut plantation. Pretty interesting, nonetheless.

    It’s a shame I never got to see that spectacle (Chinese tourist chain). The most bizarre tourist I encountered while in Palawan was an old obese Russian man wearing a Speedo who approached random local boys who were selling souvenirs. Still can’t erase the image out of me head.

      • Grew up in Davao (Mindanao) but moved to Manila for college and now here for work. Do let me know if you are back in these islands I’ll buy you a beer! It’s always nice to see foreigners who love the islands as much as we locals do.

  3. Pingback: Welcome to the Philippines – Part 2 – Manila | alexnorthrule·

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