Philippines – Manila, Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Air Asia Survival Guide

Manila, Philippines, May 2016. Terminal 4 at NAIA and all Air Asia domestic flights operate from here. The bad news is its located quite some distance from terminal 3 and a considerable distance from terminals 1 and 2.  But have to fear, there is a free bus transfer between all the terminals, and its on airport territory so there’s no need to worry about getting stuck in Manila traffic jam! Its operates every 30 minutes and after handing in ones credentials to the staff, its just a matter of waiting in a rather small lounge next to the baggage belts. Passengers with tight connections shouldn’t hang around, but  as I have several hours to kill before the next flight time to take a wander around the local area and grab some food, coffee and a quick exploration.

Plenty of fast food, slow food, coffee and Filipino life across the road from Terminal 4. Just turn left towards the overpass and cross. Explore, eat, drink, enjoy a little snapshot of life in Manila. I’d recommend Jollibee spaghetti and coffee, about £1. ATMs and money changers are to be found here and since that terminal fee in Puerto has all but wiped me out, now is a good time to dip into the emergency cash and change some British pounds.

 

 

 

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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, 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 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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Philippines – El Nido, A Kids life

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. El Nido may not be the complete Filipino cultural experience I might have hoped for but here’s a look at life through the perspective of the towns youngsters – no Xbox, no Playstation, no Ipad! These  kids are adept at making their own entertainment.

These kids hanging out on El Nido corner look content enough. To them, I’m known as Saint Paul!

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Kids around here have to learn life skills quickly as this photo shows. A young boy, about 12 yers old, balances the boat while pulling in a fish to cook for dinner. This shot reminds me of ‘Mowgli’ from the ‘Jungle Book’.

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I captured these ragamuffins playing in a old sidecar contraption, behind the scenes in El Nido town.

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From the town beach kids can be seen larking around on the tourist boats to the amusement of passengers waiting to sail – a morning and evening ritual it seems, or do they just like showing off?

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Captured these in the slum area. Kids around here are experts at making their own entertainment – just like I did growing up in  late 1970’s England.

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I have to admit not being too pleased at seeing what this kid was up to – catching swifts on the town beach.

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And finally, these happy, carefree kids insist on a photo – so I had to oblige. Again captured behind the tourist scene, El Nido town.

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Philippines – El Nido, Boat Trips

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. El Nido may be a tourist trap but lets not forget why that is. The towns proximity to the many Islands that are teaming with marine life is what entices thousands of tourists to El Nido., but with prices double that of Cambodia and Indonesia its not going to be a budget trip by any means. here’s some info ascertained from my recent stay…

Island hopping, what to know. Prices are published everywhere one looks in El Nido so there isn’t the ticket tout scams that’s commonly experienced across the rest of Southeast Asia, No negotiations, the price you see is the price you pay, or is it? In addition to the published price there is a 200 peso tax to pay and as the boats have to anchor off the islands, especially at low tide, passengers will have to swim or a best wade to that paradise beach – rent or purchase a dry pack to keep those gadgets and cameras dry!  Renting a dry pack for 1 day is 150 pesos but its really just splash proof according to the shop girl and not for on water activities. Plastic pouches are on sale every where for 150 pesos but again only splash proof. You’ll need to pay around 700 pesos for a 100% waterproof backpack! The sea bed is littered with shrapnel from corals, rocks etc so wading barefoot might be painful – renting rubber shoes is another 150 pesos. Good news is lunch and a snorkel mask are included in the original ticket price.

The boats are packed to the rafters, shoulder to shoulder with predominantly white tourists. Life jackets are provided and there are a couple of boats that have a kayak strapped to the bamboo outrigger, but who gets the Kayak in an emergency is anyone’s guess!

The tours will leave around 9.30 am and return around 4.45 pm, sometimes as late as 6 pm. There are so many boats and tourists its not uncommon for ones boat to wait in a queue at some islands and lagoon destinations.

The boat to Coron takes 6 hours, leaves from the town jetty and costs 1400 pesos for a one way trip. Any tour desk will gladly sell a ticket and give reliable advice. Coron Island Google Map

 

 

Philippines – El Nido, Where to Sleep

El Nido, Palawan, Philippines, May 2016. Good news is El Nido is crammed full of accommodation, the bad news is its expensive by Southeast Asian standards. On-line research via booking sites will quickly reveal this place is not priced for the average budget tourist and  solo travelers are at a distinct disadvantage having to pay for two in most cases. Average starting price for a double room comes in at 1200 pesos, around £16.50 which is pretty steep for a solo traveler planning to hangout for a couple of weeks. The dorm room is an option I’m desperately trying to avoid – hot, sticky, bed bugs and fleas not to mention boozy inmates with nocturnal habits, yes, I’m through with all of that!

A long hard search and booking.com has a room, single bed with a cooling fan for 500 pesos including breakfast. Well, that’s clearly going to be the best deal on offer in El Nido – £8 per night with booking fees applied. And so welcome to Austria’s Place on Real Street, El Nido. For 500 pesos don’t expect too many home comforts here with just enough room to sleep and park ones backpack. There is a locker in the room and its a good idea to use it – big enough to keep those laptops and gadgets safely secured. So, after a few days of settling  in I can  vouch for this place. Its not the cheap option you’ll find in other parts of Asia but its as good as it can get in El Nido. Super friendly staff, especially in the restaurant who let me eat with them at night. The breakfast is good too, pretty substantial with 1 free egg, 2 thick pancakes, spoonfuls of fried rice and some fruit. With fresh coffee unlimited I was able to fill up nicely until around 2 pm.

So, if you’r set on coming to El Nido, then you wont find a better budget option than Austria’s Place, found on booking.com. Google Map

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In the restaurant, a comprehensive tourist food menu and a well stocked fridge of beer. I was pleased to share local food with the staff and drink water with them – and they were pleased that I did so. Note: Inmates should understand its not a party house!

And here’s a few more names for the research pot. Since I had a couple of weeks to kill I took the liberty of asking around a few places. There was just one that offered a single room accommodation – Mountainside on Rizal Street at 500 pesos.Google Map. Most accommodations can be found on Rizal street, the main road into town from the South and Real street, the main road in from the North.More can be found at Coron-Coron village and a few more along the town beach and further round the bay.