Philippines – Palawan, Goodbye, farewell, So-long

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. So that’s it, all over for this visit to the Philippines and for a first timer I have to say it wasn’t the resounding success I’d hoped for. El Nido is nothing more than a launch point for those who like to spend time under water and on Island beaches. As any kind of a cultural experience, forget it – unless of course being surrounded by hundreds of boozy Westerners can be considered cultural then its win win!  As already highlighted in the last blog, Puerto Princes turned out actually be a good stay, that is apart from the food rationing going on at the moment. yes, it’s near impossible to persuade food vendors to dish up more than what amounts to about 3 mouthfuls of anything! But now its time to fly off to another country, Malaysia for a couple of days of culinary delights and a rest between flights.

Puerto’s airport is a small, cute little airport, just big enough to handle the 2 morning flights with Cebu, and then Air Asia about an hour later. All is going pretty well until the little man says “terminal fee”. 200 pesos to leave Palawan by air or face a lengthy boat ride to Manila of 29 hours. So, another tax to pay but at least getting into the country was free with just a 30 day passport stamp so its nothing to grumble about. Air Asia to Manila then, a 1 hour flight but no window seat sadly, yes, I’ve slipped up somewhere during the booking process! Next stop then, Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

here’s a few good bye photos. As you can see, airport security isn’t strictly enforced around here!

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Philippines – Puerto Princesa, Palawan, The Verdict

Puerto Princesa, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. When I first arrived here, its fair to say I wasn’t hat impressed with the place but the trip up to El Nido made me realise that actually there is something that I’m missing about Puerto – not the boozy Europeans or raucous Americans, not the incessant traffic and definitely not the food! It’s the people, yes that’s it. Puerto has a genuine warmth, depth of feeling and definitely a local vibe that visitors staying here for a few days will discover and begin to appreciate. All smiles and even a hug, yes a kid runs up to give me a hug as I wandered around the slum area – and if that doesn’t pull at your hart strings, nothing will! Puerto Princesa rocks!

So, as its the last day for me in the Philippines hers a quick rundown on the facts and figures for Puerto Princesa:

Sleeping: At Color Mansion, Rizal Avenue, Puerto Princesa. 600 pesos per night, double room, air-con, TV with shared bathroom. Google Map 20-25 minutes walking from the airport terminal, 10 minutes walk into downtown.Can pay with credit card. Free coffee in the morning, free boiling water anytime to make your own tea! Email: lorrainelagan@gmail.com for a reservation or use booking.com.

Eating: The food corner at the 0 KM junction. Local food and delicacies, average cost of a meal here is 60 pesos, on Fernandez. (Google Map). Also the food counter opposite Maybank (Google Map) is another source of good local Filipino food and pancakes. A meal here averages 50 pesos, pancakes 10 pesos each.

Transport: Tricycles, around 40 pesos local  journey for a tourist, bargain hard. Multicab vans average 15 pesos to as far as the Northern edge of town. Roro Bus to El Nido is 380 pesos air-con, Cherry bus to El Nido is 450 pesos air-con to El Nido all stopping at Roxas and Taytay. Non air-con buses are slightly cheaper but are packed out normally.

Free Sightseeing: Downtown Market between Rizal and Malvar, near the fish port (Google Map), Cathedral and historical area Western edge of the city (Google Map), See the slum area (Google Map), Hartman Beach (Google Map). Bay front walk, good for sunsets, scenery (Google Map), and local life..

Cheap Sightseeing: Pristine Beach 40 pesos entry  (Google Map). Boat ride across the bay, public ferry, 40 minutes and 35 pesos each way. (Google Map) Good for scenery photos and a look at rustic village life. For serious photography, afternoons offer best lighting conditions.

Tours: Island hopping for the day is 1300 pesos, Underground river 1500 pesos plus tax plus a few other tours out of town, including a visit to a jail house, rides along the river and spotting fireflies. All rather pricey though!

Money: About 65 pesos to £1, banks and ATMs are numerous and all can be found on Rizal in the downtown. (Google Map)

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Philippines – El Nido to Puerto by RoRo Bus

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. I arrived by the Roro bus and now I’m leaving by the Roro bus. A schedule is pretty hard to come by in the town as they all have a vested interest in selling these minivan tickets. Personally I’d avoid the vans – cramped, expensive and fast, way too fast by all accounts as these drivers are well known for excess speeding, but popular with the Western tourists seemingly not keen on the local bus.10 am sounds like a good bet for a departure to Puerto Princesa – and indeed it is, a bus there waiting as I stroll into the bus station, just a 20 minute stomp from the town.. Opposite is a local market where one can grab some fruit and water, snacks and such like although the bus will stop several times en-route.

Another 380 pesos for the ride as the bus drives away only 1/2 full, and that’s how it stays in sharp contrast to the journey up when the bus was packed pretty much all the way. A pleasant journey with a stop at Taytay and then Roxas by the sea and one more stop about 1 1/2 hours from Puerto. Only 6 hours, far fewer pickups on the way down, as if the driver is keen to get somewhere tonight – quickly!

A local multicab awaits as do hundreds of three-wheeler drivers, mobbed as I get off the bus. From here at the San Jose bus terminal there’s only one way these guys are going and that’s downtown and as I’m booked into Colour Mansions again the multicab  is the option – a 26p ride, 20 minutes and plenty of fresh air. Multicabs are converted small vans with bench seats each side on a semi open back, unique to the Philippines perhaps although there is a similar version in Thailand. Its good to be out of El Nido and back in Puerto Princesa!

So here’s a few snaps along the way. The schedule for future reference!

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Philippines – El Nido, In Summary

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. For the discerning long term traveler seeking out a cultural experience, I’d say there are more rewarding places than El Nido (Indonesia, Cambodia). For the 18-30’s and the young at hart vacationers, El Nido should hit all the right spots.

But something about this place just doesn’t add up – a place that comes at a high price yet 80% of its inhabitants are living in poverty!

So to finish El Nido here’s a summation in images….

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Philippines – El Nido, That Was the Place That Was

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. So, as this visit to El nido draws to a close time to look back and reflect on whether the stay here was a price worth paying?
El Nido is a dump! that was my initial view on arrival after having ridden on a crowded bus for 7 hours. A view exasperated a few hours later when I couldn’t find any local food to eat and a view exasperated even further with the realisation the place is over run with Westerners and of the boozy kind at that – boisterous, raucous, how little sleep do I need? So, well and truly stuck in a tourist trap, forced to eat tourist food with drunken tourists and with accommodation on the pricey side here, all the ingredients for less than  satisfactory trip! Why did I come to El Nido? because all the blogs and research says “it’s a wonderful place to be”.
undeniably the scenery offshore is stunning.That wow factor kicks in immediately then wears off after about an hour as one gets used to the array of lush green islands, shaded blue sea and a blue sky. The town itself actually does have a mildly picturesque element to it – that is when the hundreds of tourist boats have left the beach front. The small crescent beach fronting the harbor with a few local fishing boats anchored gives the place an air of tranquility from 10am until about lunch time. Then its boom boom base and boobs from the likes of the reggae bar and others as the peace is shattered among the other competing bars here.
Well, it took a few days but life in El Nido has improved significantly. No longer do I have to suffer the expensive tourist food after finding a local canteen and the discovery of a small beach where I can hangout and be lazy and not see another drunken tourist for hours! Oh and drink coffee while tapping into the Wifi and its a pretty decent wifi at that. The only people to hangout with here are the Filipino family that run the place – Garden Bay.
So, with basic costs of hanging-out averaging around £12 per day (£9 room, £3 food and drink) I’d say this trip to El Nido was worth the price to experience those natural wonders off the Palawan coast. The cost will of course escalate for those eating tourist food 3 times a day and taking the rather pricey tours around the bay, not to mention the alcoholic intake. But then from my observations most visitors here only stay 1 to 2 days before move on.
Will I return? no. On the whole, its an expensive stay (not dorm) compared to other developing towns – Cambodia’s Sihanoukville for example is half the price and that includes Island hopping tours! Its just this time I got lucky with the guest house allowing me my own coffee and letting me eat their food for free – Austria’s Place, Real Street. Awesome, from the king of frugality go, check it out!
Having traveled extensively across Asia, I’d say there’s better value elsewhere. Indonesia for example offers much better value for money if one is seeking island hopping and a subsea experience. Consider a trip to Southern Cambodia – value for money here is unrivaled with Island hopping trips and Island camp-outs – happy travels 🙂

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Philippines – El Nido, The End is Nigh

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. Yes, the end is in sight and I would usually punctuate that with ‘sadly’ but its not the case. I’m actually glad to be leaving, getting out, getting back to Puerto Princesa. In the next post I’ll convey my thoughts about the place, so until then please enjoy this marvelous El Nido Sunset.

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Next Post: “So, as this visit to El Nido draws to a close time to look back and reflect on whether the stay here was a price worth paying” 

 

Philippines – El Nido, The Tourist Town

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016.  A town that thousands of tourists flock to, a town barely able to cope with the relentless flow of traffic cramming into the small narrow streets and a town more about Western culture than Filipino warmth and hospitality. Independent travelers will stay a couple of days and move on while native tourists enjoy a weeks vacation at this premier Filipino seaside town. Personally, I don’t like the place but since its a 2 week stay I need to make the best of it  – over priced, over rated, Western overkill, definitely. A town without charm, without warmth and without character. Just to compare, Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam all have seaside towns oozing with charm for 1/2 the price.

So, lets take a wander around the few streets that make up El Nido the Tourist town and tell me if you can see anything charming about this little seaside town.

There is just one aesthetically pleasing building in El Nido, the Town Hall. Here visitors will find an ATM in the lobby.

 

 

Philippines – El Nido, Beyond the Bay is a Lonely Beach

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016.  A hiking path of sorts leading North from Garden Bay towards the El Nido Airport. Its a walk on the wild side that’s for sure as this part of the coastline is exposed to the wide open ocean. A strong wind driving waves, crashing against the slate rocky outcrops. One thing is immediately noticeable – the absence of human life. No tourists, no locals and actually no nothing! The last shack was a couple of  miles back and so the only thing to share all this with is a few crabs scuttling around the rock-pools, the odd lizard scurrying past and a rather evil looking hornet!

I’d say this is the perfect getaway from El Nido town and all those tourists. One is inclined to strip naked and take a quick refreshing dip – No, not this time, maybe next. The beach isn’t perfection with seaweed, shrapnel and a little washed up garbage on the back edge, but for a sake of a short hike over some rocks, through a small jungle It’ll do for me.

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The Stats

While its nice to gain feedback from readers, once in a while I’ll give feedback too. So to that end here’s a look at yesterday, easily the best day of this week in terms of views. Australia, top of the leader board followed by USA with Britain coming third. Hmm, seems I don’t have a great readership in the UK, something I shall try to remedy in the near future! In the meantime if you have any feed back or ways I can improve (for free) then please drop me a message :). So, a big thank you to all of you dropping by and a big thank you to my reader in Austria and my reader in Greece for tuning in – I hope you’ll come by again soon.

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