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puerto princesa

Sunset seen from airplane aerial photograph Philippines

Philippines: Back to Manila, shopping, and my final thoughts about the country

Date: May 1st, 2011

Woke up at 6am, for the same reason I woke up yesterday at the same time — no electricity. Anyway, I had to get ready and reach the transport station in a few minutes.

Leaving El Nido dog on trike
That dog sat on this trike like that all the way to the station 🙂

I boarded the van and was joined by the two Italian girls who were part of my tour group yesterday. The van left El Nido at 7am and the journey to Puerto Princesa would take around 5 hours (cost ₱500/$11/€8). I chose to take a van taxi instead of the bus because I didn’t want to risk missing my 5:25pm flight back to Manila.

I didn’t bother taking any photos throughout the journey because I was behind tinted glass and also, I just didn’t feel like holding my camera. I have taken enough photos the past two weeks! 🙂 The journey was smooth and we only stopped once for a snack break.

The van reached Puerto Princesa just before noon and dropped passengers off at different spots. Myself and the two Italian girls got down at the van company’s office, which was the last stop. Our flights were both around the same time, so we placed our bags at the van company’s office and decided to have lunch together.

We sat at a nice looking restaurant located along the road leading to the airport.

Chicken inasal Palawan restaurant Philippines
I ordered chicken inasal, which was really good here

Post-lunch, the three of us collected our bags and took a tricycle taxi to the airport. But because we were rather early for our evening flights, the airport security said they would only allow passengers in at 3pm.

Puerto Princesa Airport Palawan Philippines
I took this at 1:45pm, sitting outside the airport

Good thing I had the company of the two Italian girls (well, one of them anyway… the other girl dozed off). We chatted away until it was time for us to go in. Once inside, I checked in and got my window seat. The Italians were on a Cebu Pacific flight, which was delayed by a little, but my Zest Airways flight was on time, so I boarded first.

Cebu Pacific airline landed Palawan Philippines
The Cebu Pacific flight had only just landed
Zest Air Puerto Princesa to Manila evening flight
With Zest Air, I had now flown all three of the major budget airlines in Philippines

The following was why I insisted on getting a window seat:

Flying over Palawan shores from airplane PhilippinesAerial photograph Palawan flight evening sunsetPalawan island sea from sky PhilippinesPalawan snake island from airplane PhilippinesSunset clouds from airplane islands PhilippinesSunset clouds aerial photograph PhilippinesPalawan clouds evening sky from airplane

Sunset Palawan flight Philippines
I was hoping for exactly such a sight

Clouds from airplane evening sun PhilippinesSunset sky aerial photography Palawan Philippines

Sunset seen from airplane Philippines
It was time for sunset

Sunset seen from airplane aerial photograph PhilippinesAs I sat looking out the window, in some ways I felt a sense of relief heading back to Manila. No more waking up early! I had nothing really planned for my last few days in Manila besides shopping and meeting my friend Aimee.

Evening sunset sky Philippines aerial photography
It was 6:41pm when I took this

I landed in Manila as it got dark, just past 7pm.  Collected my bags and exited the airport. I approached a taxi, but the driver quoted a rate which was too high and he wouldn’t turn on the meter. I had to walk outside of the airport and hail a passing taxi from the main road.

The last two times I landed in Manila, I chose to stay at the Kabayan in Pasay, but this time I chose to be in a more touristy area. I had asked Aimee to book me a place in Malate, near Robinsons Place and out of the two shortlisted backpacker hostels – Malate Pensionne Inn and Friendly’s Guesthouse – she ended up reserving a bed for me at Friendly’s.

Once I got to Malate (the taxi fare came to ₱110), the roads were busy as this area has a lot of clubs and restaurants. And when I mean clubs, I mean mostly KTV lounges catering to the Japanese and Koreans. Friendly’s Guesthouse and Malate Pensionne Inn are both located on Adriatico Street, and both are close to each other. It wasn’t easy to spot Friendly’s Guesthouse because they didn’t have a glowing sign outside, but after I did find the building, I got into the elevator and got off on the fourth floor.

The guy and girl manning the reception weren’t great, to be honest. But when they showed me to my dorm room, I would say I was a bit disappointed. There were a group of young Americans who were already talking loudly, high on booze, making plans to go out for some more drinking (they were English teachers in S. Korea apparently). The room was a bit messy too. The staff then pointed to my upper bed. Now, this peeved me off a bit, because I had specifically asked for a lower bed at the time of confirming my reservation via e-mail. I told the staff about it, but they said they couldn’t give me a lower bed because they were full.

Frustrated, I decided to just shower and then go out in search of another room. The bathroom wasn’t very clean either, but I was literally itching to take a proper shower. The luxury of a good hot shower eluded me while in El Nido and I needed to get all that coastal sweat off me. A lot of soap, shampoo and a clean shave later, I felt so much fresher.

I stepped out and went straight to Malate Pensionne Inn, but their dorms were full too. So I walked around and decided to check the other hotels in the area. A tout on the street then approached me, asking me if I wanted a girl. I said “no”. Then he asked me “guy?”. Definitely “no”. Then he asked me if I needed Viagra, Cialis or other drugs. I told him at my age, “no”. “Cigarettes?”. “No”. He finally gave up and asked me what I was looking for and when I told him I was in search of another room, he then went “Ah!” and told me he would show me around.

After visiting a few small hotels, nothing was as cheap as Malate Pensionne or Friendly’s. Just about every other ‘pension inn’ cost nearly a ₱1000 and above, while the rest were all star hotels in the area. Eventually, I slowed my pace of walking and decided to just manage a night in Friendly’s and try again tomorrow. Now I know why these two hostels were very popular among backpackers — there is no other choice!

All this while the tout was still beside me. I used the opportunity to ask him about the clientele at most of the KTVs in this area. He told me it wasn’t uncommon for Japanese men to spend $300-$400 on average a night(!), and that’s just to sing karaoke and enjoy the company of the women sitting beside them. If they want to take the girls out, that will cost them extra. $300 was my weekly budget, so no way was I eligible to enter these nightclubs.

The tout eventually gave up and left me alone after realizing I wasn’t going to give him any business for any of his (many) services. The one good thing about being in a touristy and popular area was that there were a few restaurants available that didn’t only serve Japanese and Korean cuisines. I had my dinner at a Persian joint and went back to my room.

I had a lot of sleeping to do!

Date: May 2nd, 2011

Woke up around 9am I believe. Lazily got out of my bed and decided to go upstairs for coffee. Also thought you guys would want to know what Friendly’s Guesthouse looks like.

Friendly's Guesthouse reception hostel rules Malate Manila Philippines
This is the reception (Taken on my phone)
Friendly's Guesthouse stairs to rooftop Malate Manila
You go upstairs for the cafe
Friendly's guesthouse roof top cafe kitchen Manila
The kitchen is up here too. It's fairly big and you can cook your own food.

Friendly's Guesthouse rooftop backpackers Malate Manila

View from Friendly's Guesthouse cafe Malate Manila Philippines
The view of Malate from up here

When you consider the facilities, and the location, paying ₱375 ($8/€6) a night for a bed in an air-conditioned dorm room is really good value. I went back to my room, where the staff were cleaning the toilets. I ultimately decided to just manage at Friendly’s for the next two nights.

Friendly's Guesthouse mixed dorm room hostel Malate Manila
I was given a bed in the mixed dorm; Friendly's has other dorms too

I spent some time online and basically took it easy. Spoke to Aimee before finally deciding to step out. Aimee had some work, so we decided to meet tomorrow. I told her I was going to check out Quezon City, which she told me was the former capital and currently the largest city in Manila province. I looked at my map and only noticed Quezon Memorial Circle as a notable attraction worth visiting. So off I went… without my DSLR. For once, I wanted to walk around without carrying my heavy camera bag. Only phone camera today. It felt so liberating!

Friendly's Guesthouse backpackers Malate Manila Philippines
This is the entrance to the building that houses Friendly's Guesthouse
Malate Starbucks building Manila morning
That yellow facade across the road is a Starbucks, which is also where Malate Pensionne Inn is located
Malate Korean stores Manila morning Philippines
The Koreans have quite literally taken over
Taft avenue Pedro Gil Malate Philippines
I walked to my nearest LRT/metro station

Pedro Gil station Metro Manila Philippines

Walkway Manila Philippines
I simply followed the map and pinpointed Cubao station, which meant I had to get to Doroteo Jose and then switch trains to get on the LRT 2 line (or purple line as they call it)
Metro line Manila Philippines
I don't remember if I got down at Cubao exactly but this was the station...
Gateway mall interiors panorama
... and I then walked straight into this mall

Comics Alley, a chain selling mostly Japanese ‘otaku’ merchandise and anime toys, were having a sale at their branch at this mall and I picked up Domo-kun plush toy for ₱250. I soaked up some more air-conditioning before going up to the food court for lunch.

Wendys prawn burger Manila Philippines
Ended up eating a Wendy's shrimp burger, which I thoroughly liked

Lazily, I got up and left the mall. I did walk around a bit, then looked at the map and decided I needed to go up Quezon Avenue. I got into a jeepney and got down at the busy Quezon Avenue.

Quezon Avenue roads Manila Philippines
The Quezon Memorial Circle is straight up from here

It was really hot today, and even though I had sunglasses on, the heat was getting to me. I stopped to have some ice cream and bought some more water. As I walked up Quezon Avenue, I noticed a man helping people cross the busy Elliptical Road.

Masked hero Quezon Manila Philippines
This masked hero (seriously) was helping the elderly cross the road by stopping speeding vehicles. I don't think he liked being photographed though.
EDSA highway crossing Quezon City Philippines
'Cos when it came time for me to cross the road... he didn't help. Hmpf, superhero with a prejudice!
Quezon Memorial Circle shrine Quezon City Manila Philippines
Anyway, this is the Quezon Memorial Circle

The Quezon Memorial Circle is both a national park and a shrine, which features a mausoleum containing the remains of Manuel L. Quezon, the second President of the Philippines. But I somehow was not in the mood to go any further and check it out… don’t know why. Maybe it was the heat.

I crossed the busy road, which itself was quite a challenge as nobody slowed down even as pedestrians were on the zebra crossing.

Once across, I kept walking further down Quezon Avenue in the hopes of seeing what life is like in this part of Manila.

Philippines Japan Quezon City roads Manila

Quezon Avenue Manila Philippines
Eventually I got tired of walking in the heat and ended up taking a jeepney instead. Quezon Avenue is one big-ass road!
Metallica disco club ktv Quezon City Manila
If Lars saw this, he would sue

In fact there were many large clubs/KTV lounges all along Quezon Avenue, none of which were open at this time though. The poshest one I saw, judging by all the high end vehicles parked there, was the Pegasus Club, which Aimee later me told is where the rich and famous (men) hang out. Also where a few girls working as ‘guest relation officers’ ended up turning into future actresses and models.

After going down the road a bit, I took a left turn as I wasn’t seeing anything besides gentlemen’s clubs and fast moving vehicles.

The Ascension church building Manila Philippines
I don't know which road I was on but the only interesting thing I saw here was this building

Other than that, all I saw were businesses dealing in automotive parts, a few bakeries and other general stores.

Quezon City Manila Philippines
So basically, after two hours of walking, I didn't see anything worthwhile

I called Aimee and asked her if I was in the wrong part of town, but she was sleeping, so I didn’t want to disturb her and cut the call short. I kept walking until I reached a metro station.

Arnel Pineda endorsement ad LRT V. Mapa Manila
Yay, Arnel Pineda of Journey!

(Plug: Do check out Journey’s new album ‘Eclipse,’ it’s brilliant!)

Manila slum houses Philippines
I walked past these slums at Doroteo Jose
Manila city view from lrt platform
I was switching trains to get back on the yellow line

Back at Pedro Gil station, I walked to Robinsons Place mall.

Robinsons Place mall floors from up Manila
Even on a Monday evening, the mall was crowded
Team Pacquiao store Robinsons Place mall Manila Philippines
Manny Pacquiao fever
Robinsons Place mall floors night Manila Philippines
Robinsons Place is a pretty good mall

After hanging around the mall for a while, I decided to have an early dinner from here itself and then head back to the room.

Kido Manga Japanese burger Manila Philippines
I saw this burger outlet and I wondered if it was anything like Mosburger

Being the curious foodie I am, I decided to give it a try. I ordered their shrimp burger meal (which at ₱150 cost the same as Wendy’s) and sat down, since the order was going to take 10 minutes (guess this restaurant isn’t what you would call ‘fast food’).

When the burger eventually came, you could say I was disappointed. I didn’t like the yellow sauce they put in the burger (don’t know if it was some sort of mayo, but it was a tad sweet). The burger patty was smaller than the one at Wendy’s and overall, it just wasn’t all that great. The fries were alright though.

Back in the room, I spent the remainder of the night talking to other backpackers who had just checked in to Friendly’s and later worked on some of my photographs.

Date: May 3rd, 2011

Today I was going to meet my friend Aimee. She was going to show me around Ortigas and then take me to Greenhills for some shopping.

SM Megacity Ortigas construction Manila Philippines
She asked me to meet her at SM Megamall in Ortigas
Ortigas business park overhead view buildings Manila
Ortigas is a major business hub

Ortigas overhead pedestrian bridge Manila Phillipines

Business park Ortigas office buildings Manila Philippines
A lot of these buildings house call centers
San Miguel corporation headquarters Manila Philippines
San Miguel Corporation's HQ - SMC is one of the largest companies in South East Asia
Manila business park buildings Philippines
Lots of glass... so your typical business park then
Ortigas business park Manila Philippines
A lot of pricey condos available here too
Ortigas square business park Manila Philippines
Ortigas is the name of a wealthy family whose land this is
Robinsons Ortigas mall Manila Philippines
Walked through Robinsons Mall just to soak up some A/C
Pedestrian walkway Ortigas Manila Philippines
Got out again
Virgin Mary EDSA shrine monument Manila Philippines
Aimee told me this statue is the Our Lady of EDSA, built to commemorate the People Power Revolution, which saw the departure of Pres. Marcos from power
Philippine Overseas Employment Administration office Manila
The ever busy Philippine Overseas Employment Administration office. Every Filipino going abroad for work has to come here first.
Elevated highway near overseas office Manila Philippines
Aimee and I decided to take a jeepney to Greenhills
Greenhills shopping center Manila Philippines
It was only a short ride away
Greenhills shopping center lobby Manila Philippines
I wanted to check out Greenhills because the way people described it, I imagined it was Manila's equivalent to Bangkok's Chatuchak market
Greenhills shopping center map Manila Philippines
Seemed like a pretty big place
Greenhills bags shops Manila Philippines
Only, unlike Chatuchak, Greenhills is indoors and has air-conditioning!

Theatre Mall Greenhills Manila Philippines

Greenhills shopping center mobiles Quezon City Philippines
You have the usual grey market electronics and mobile stores...
Greenhills shopping center inside shops Manila Philippines
... and of course clothing

But after much walking around and checking out a few stores, none of the offerings were as good as the ones I saw in Bangkok. I guess Bangkok’s street shopping experience is still the best in South East Asia.

Toe finger shoes Greenhills shop Manila
These were the only things I considered buying

After an hour spent at Greenhills, and not finding anything worth buying at all, Aimee and I took a van taxi back to SM Megamall.

SM Mega Mall interiors Manila Philippines
Checked out SM's department store and ended up buying a few good t-shirts from there. SM had official merchandise clothing from The Simpsons, Marvel, Transformers, etc. and they were all quite cheap.
Greenwich pizza pasta meal offer SM Manila
We had lunch from the food court. I ate two-thirds of this... and Aimee ate one-third of what was left. (The girl doesn't eat much)
SM Megamall in Ortigas EDSA Manila
We left Ortigas around 2:30pm
EDSA Shangri-la hotel office towers Manila Philippines
I insisted on seeing Aimee off home, so we took a bus to head to her part of town
Aimee Marie sleeping bus Manila
Poor thing was really sleepy

Farmers market Manila Philippines

Manila through dirty glass Philippines
We were going to an area called Valenzuela
SM city North Edsa Manila Philippines
This is now the largest mall in the Philippines

I walked Aimee back home, and we said our goodbyes as this would be the last I’d be seeing her. I was leaving Philippines tomorrow. It started to drizzle very lightly, so I made my way back to the main road to catch a jeepney to Monumento.

Valenzuela area Manila Philippines
There's a popular nursing college nearby, so a lot of the students live around here

Unfortunately, what started out as a drizzle, eventually turned into rain.

Raining evening Manila Philippines
Two & half weeks in Philippines and I finally see rain... and I didn't have an umbrella with me!

I took shelter in front of a Max’s Restaurant, but then, the rain got really heavy a few minutes later!

Heavy rain Manila Philippines Petron
I had to keep my camera away as it was getting wet (This was taken on my phone)

I waited nearly 45 minutes for the rain to subside. I managed to cross the road and caught a bus going to Monumento.

Monumento flooded after rains Manila Philippines
The bus dropped me here. Quite literally. I just stood on the road after I got down wondering how to get to Monumento station. It was flooded and I was wearing slippers. I just didn't feel like dipping my bare foot in the dirty water.

There were cycle taxis offering locals a ride to Monumento LRT station, but when I asked them ‘how much,’ their rate for me, a non-local, were ludicrous. So I just took a deep breath, hopped across the road — and got wet in the process anyway.

It was past 5pm and I still had some shopping to do. I got the train from Monumento and went to Pasay.

Pasay interchange LRT station evening crowds Manila
This was the scene at Pasay interchange station at 6pm. Yikes.
Glorietta malls Ayala center Manila night Philippines
I went back to Ayala Center to check out one last mall
Pedestrian overbridge to Greenbelt mall Manila Philippines
I was going to Greenbelt, Manila's 'luxury' mall
Blue lights glowing building book store Ayala center
I forgot what store this was
Greenbelt complex at night Ayala Manila
I was woefully dressed for such a place - soggy socks, shorts, moist t-shirt - but what the hell, last day!
Inside Greenbelt mall Ayala center Manila Philippines
I couldn't take many photographs inside. Security came by and said it's not allowed. (Ayala has seen bombings in the past, so security is beefed up here)

After window shopping in Greenbelt, I walked back to Landmark department store and ended up buying two K-pop CDs before walking all the way back to Ayala LRT station.

Once back at Pedro Gil, I wondered where to have my final meal in Manila. For kicks, Jollibee one last time was a consideration, but instead, I chose another chain owned by them which I had yet to try.

Mang Inasal chicken bbq Philippines
So Mang Inasal it was 🙂 (Cost ₱120/$2.7/€2)

Date: May 4th, 2011  – Last day, lasting memories

I packed my bags yesterday night itself, just so I knew just how much space I had left to fill up with some last minute shopping. I still had a few things to pick up and so once I was ready, I walked to Robinsons Place one last time. The mall only opens at 10am, and I had to wait outside until it did.

Once inside, I quickly went up to the department store to see if they had any good t-shirts like the ones I picked up from SM’s department store yesterday. They did, really good ones too – retro gaming themed Mega Man and Mario t-shirts – all for just ₱200-₱250. I ended up buying five t-shirts for my brothers from Robinsons.

After that, I rushed downstairs to the supermarket, picked up some snacks and then stopped when I spotted a bottle of Absinth in the liquor store. Absinth is something I hardly find in most liquor stores, so I picked up a bottle for my friends back in Bangalore.

I rushed back to Friendly’s Guesthouse, adjusted my bags and checked out. I took a taxi to the airport – which stopped along the way to fill up fuel – leaving me cooking inside (no A/C in the car!). I still managed to reach NAIA Terminal 1 in time.

~~~~~~ What this Indian has to say about the Philippines 🙂 ~~~~~~

Sigh. This was it. My epic two and half weeks across Philippines was finally coming to an end. In some ways, I was both happy and sad. Happy because this was such an amazing experience, and I saw pretty much every major attraction I planned to see. Hardly anything went wrong too.

Sad because, well, there’s still so much more I wanted to see! I still didn’t visit Davao – the second largest city after Manila, Boracay – the most popular island in Philippines, Mount Mayon – the most perfectly cone-shaped volcano, and of course the one place I really, really wanted to visit – the island of Batanes. I would love to return to El Nido, or even consider the islands of Coron even further north of Palawan, which people say are incredible.

I wish I could have stayed longer, but unfortunately, Indians are only given a 21 day tourist visa — that too, one that needs to be applied for in advance, something which cost me Rs. 3230 ($60) to get done. None the less, for a first visit to a country, I couldn’t be more proud of myself! Every Filipino who asked me where all I went had the same response: “Wow, even I have yet to go to all these places!”

In the end, it’s not just the natural beauty that appealed to me about the Philippines. As a Gulf-raised child from the state of Kerala in India, it was very easy for me to connect with many Filipinos I met. Especially when I stayed at Kabayan, where just about everybody was either coming from or going to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, etc. Bring up the Middle East, and it was a conversation ice breaker. I know what it’s like, and seeing Filipinos in the Middle East, I can now see how far they go just to make a living.

As a Keralite, I know my state’s greatest export isn’t coconuts — it’s people. Philippines isn’t any different. And that’s largely due to a culture (and religion) that encourages it’s people to be educated, but then, led by governments who wipe their hands clean when people were left with no choice but to leave the country in search of a better livelihood. It’s easy when all the government has to do is sit back and count the millionsbillions sent home by their own hard-working people abroad. The money from overseas workers is what fueled the local economy for decades. Some would argue it still does.

Things have started to change though. With a booming local economy, largely driven by the outsourcing movement, Filipinos now have an option. Work can be found in the country, it’s just that it may not pay as well as a job in the Middle East. The rising incomes of today’s Filipinos is what is fueling tourism within the country. I saw more Filipino tourists than foreign tourists at most places I visited. Which is not how it is in Thailand.

‘Brand Philippines’ isn’t well-marketed to the world either. Sure, San Miguel beer is now available in India, but I doubt the majority who drink it even know it’s Filipino. Yeah sure, there’s Charice and Arnel Pineda, but lets face it — only Filipinos make them appear ‘world famous’. What little most people know about Philippines is judged from its OFWs — Overseas Filipino Workers. Not exactly the best way to learn about the country and its people, especially if you go by the stereotype I hear from friends and family.

Fluency in English has given many Indians and Filipinos an edge over our Asian counterparts. There are over 10 million Filipinos working outside the Philippines, most of whom are in the Middle East. Many work as maids and sales people even in neighbouring Singapore and Hong Kong. But is it fair to draw a conclusion based on those Filipino workers? Not really. And just like millions of NRIs (Non-Resident Indians), especially those from Kerala, a large chunk of their income is sent back home to feed their families and hopefully one day, buy/build a home and retire.

Unless you have been on Philippine soil, your opinion about the Philippine people may remain skewed if you simply assumed every OFW is exactly the kind of people you will find back in Philippines. There are Filipino doctors too you know, they are just not as exported in the sheer numbers the nurses are. You have to come to Philippines to know what the modern day Filipino is like, not judge them based on the career choices they are forced to take up abroad.

All said and done, just like Kerala (and for that matter, all of India), Philippines suffers daily from its share of dirty politics. And what a history it has. Philippines was first colonized by the Spanish, turning just about everyone Catholic in the process. Then the Americans came, waged war with the Spaniards and took over the country. Philippine revolutionaries then fought the Americans. Then the Japanese invaded. Americans fought the Japanese (using many Filipino soldiers mind you) and the U.S. remained in control until Philippines finally gained independence in 1946. But like many countries post-independence, the nation’s headaches didn’t end there.

Post independence saw the struggle of Filipinos living under one corrupt government after another. The worst period being under GeneralPresident Ferdinand Marcos. Even as a kid growing up in the late 80’s, with little interest in world affairs, it wasn’t hard to not hear or come across the ‘Marcos’ name. Especially his infamous wife — just read her profile on Wikipedia and about Yamashita’s Gold — the wealth figures mentioned will leave you shell-shocked if you are non-Filipino who knew very little about Philippine politics.

Revolution after revolution, not much has changed in the political landscape. Or for that matter in society at large. The people may have progressed to a point where homosexuals are not victimized as badly as they are in other Asian countries, but stupid laws like the fact divorce is still illegal persist! Just like the majority of Indians, Filipinos hate their politicians with so much vitriol, reading any news article online about a high-ranking public official comes with its share of nasty comments.

Even the nation’s biggest celebrity, Manny Pacquiao, has joined political fray. How much of an impact will his political punches have? Who knows.

One thing I did find a bit annoying though were the many locals complaining about Manila. I still don’t think it’s as bad a city as they claim it to be. I’d like to see the very same people go to Mumbai – where real estate costs more than Manila – then come back and compare. Manila’s infrastructure still beats most Indian cities. Probably the very reason why Philippines has now overtaken India as the global call center hub.

Of course, not all infrastructure in Manila is worth bragging about. And there is no greater example of that than NAIA Terminal 1 — the terminal for most international flights. Also considered to be one of the worst airports in the world!

NAIA Terminal 1 International departures Manila Philippines
First there was a long line outside the terminal to get in, then the line to check-in was again equally long. It took nearly an hour and half after arriving at the airport to receive my boarding pass.

This terminal was built in 1981… and it still looks like that! I didn’t take any other photo besides the one above because it only goes downhill from there. Facilities are poor, and even though I didn’t face any issues, I have read about Filipinos who experienced corruption at their own airports.

Maybe it’s because I’m a tourist or a ‘foreigner,’ so the airport officials could be too ‘shy’ to try anything funny with us. But, there is one final slap-in-the-face/kick-in-the-groin every passenger gets for using this outdated terminal upon departure. Every airport I used within Philippines had an airport usage fee: ₱200 at Cebu and just ₱40 at Puerto Princesa, since both were for domestic flights. For NAIA Terminal 1 international passengers? ₱750 ($17/€12).

Now I know a lot of airports charge a user fee, and sometimes it’s even included in the ticket cost. Heck, even New Delhi International Airport has started charging passengers Rs. 1300 (₱1100) for international flights – which sucks. But, at least they began collecting this fee after they built, what is now, the 8th largest airport in the world.

Even as a non-Filipino, walking around this terminal after paying ₱750 made me angry. All I kept thinking about after I paid this ‘airport development fee’ was “how many years have they been collecting this?!” and “what the hell are they doing with this money?!”. When I think about my money going to waste or going into a suited up thief’s pocket, it makes my blood boil, be it in India or abroad.

Malaysia Airlines at NAIA Manila Philippines
The Duty Free sucked, so I simply went to my gate and sat there. My flight was on time.

As I looked around, I didn’t notice many Indians besides myself. There was one Indian couple, who looked Punjabi, but they didn’t look like the Punjabis I was used to seeing. They looked more like the Indians who came to this part of the world decades ago and tried best to keep their heritage. The ‘lost Indians’ so to speak.

Oh, I need to bring this up. In Manila, occasionally a few jeepney drivers on the streets would shout “Bombay!” to me. I assumed it was because it’s the only famous Indian city everyone knows, so I used to just smile back. But when I told Aimee about this, she told me that’s not why. Get this, Indians don’t have a good reputation in the Philippines (among the masses) because of certain “Bombays” in the country. It’s the slang term used to refer to several (illegal) money lenders, most of whom are of Indian origin, and have been in the Philippines for decades. Most of their ‘customers’ are often poor street vendors and stall owners, people who wouldn’t get much help from big banks due to the lack any of valid documentation. The “Bombays” approach such people, lend them money, but at very high interest rates. Of course, when things get bad, these “Bombays” show their nefarious side. You could say: “Well, how come they are allowed to operate?”. In a country where the police can be paid off, a lot can be ‘allowed’. They are basically ‘loan sharks‘. For more details, read this excellent research paper I dug up when I was curious to find out more about these “Bombays”.

I still didn’t see many Indians in the two and half weeks I spent in the Philippines. The few I did see were only in Manila and looked like they were here because of the BPO majors in the city — or were visiting from Singapore.

That said, I don’t expect many Indians to fly all the way to Philippines for tourism — because it’s a hard sell. I can show my friends the beaches of Palawan and they’ll say: “Doesn’t Thailand have such beaches?”. And it’s true. When Thailand offers most of what the Philippines also offers (nightlife included), chances are they rather take a 3-4 hour flight to Thailand than the 7-8 hours it takes to reach the Philippines. I can argue about how beautiful the beaches, the stunning rice terrace farms, and how less crowded Philippines’ tourist spots are in comparison, but it wouldn’t matter to the majority.

[Fun trivia: Some similarities between India and Philippines I observed — the mobile numbers are 10 digits long and all begin with 9; the men use the term “boss” a lot :)]

Philippines island leaving for Malaysia aerial photo
Another reason why Philippines is a hard country to market is because of its geography

A lot of international travellers — families, the new markets, and in the case of most Indian tourists — travel on package tours, because it’s convenient (plus they’re too lazy to do all the research themselves — that’s my reasoning). Philippines is a tough country sell as a package tour, because you simply cannot do it in less than a week. Being a nation of over 7,000 islands, it’s not landlocked country like much of Thailand or Malaysia’s touristy half (KL, Penang and Langkawi). If you are in Manila and want to see the amazing Chocolate Hills, you have no choice but to fly. Palawan? Flight again. If not flights, then by ferry. In short, accessibility is an issue. Well, easy access that is. Package tourists prefer convenience, backpackers enjoy the challenge, tiring as it may be.

Malaysia Airlines Boeing airplane wing Philippines islands
Despite the lack of connectivity, I still say Philippines is one of the most amazing destinations in South East Asia. It beats other nations like Malaysia when you compare natural beauty.

Would I go back for a second visit? If I had the chance (and the money), I would go back in an instant! Would I work there? Hmm, only if the work itself was interesting and the pay package makes it worthwhile. Would I live in Philippines? That’s… a bit tough for me to answer. Cebu maybe a preferred city for many retirees, but the only city I would only consider living in is still Manila. It’s a huge city, yes, but it’s the only city that would keep me entertained. K-pop stars drop in often and it’s global enough in its options. I could easily afford to buy an apartment in Manila with my current savings, something I can’t even do back in Bangalore. But cost of living aside, typhoon season scares me a bit. Typhoons hammer much of Philippines every year, and Manila is always hit. Everytime I see the footage, I can’t fathom what the poor slum dwellers must go through… every year!

Flying over South China Sea to Malaysia
Are these islands also a part of Philippines?

Despite all the bad, one lasting impression I will always hold in positive view is the general attitude of the Filipino people. I really like them, they are very friendly and I love their mannerisms (the good ones). Everytime I was at store, the sales staff would approach me with a “♫ Hello sirrrrrrrrrrr ♪” — and it still resonates in my head 🙂 Again, this is how I was generally treated. How Filipinos behave with each other, I’ll only know if I stay there much longer.

Malaysia Airlines seafood meal lunch
My lunch, a slightly sweet fish fillet and rice

The only notion about Philippines that remained unanswered for me was… I still don’t know what Philippine culture is! I didn’t see much that seemed ethnically Filipino, or a heritage that is native to this country. Maybe it’s because of the 300 years of Spanish rule, succeeded by the years of ‘Americana’ that followed. Philippines has, in some way, lost its native identity — probably the only South East Asian country to do so. The last few generations of Filipinos absorbed a culture and influence America left behind, and it’s now very much become their own — like their love for basketball, the preferred genres of music, fast food, and even the English they follow.

Malaysia Airlines plane wings Boeing plane clouds

Flying over Malaysia sunset ray through clouds
I was above Malaysia just before sunset
Kuala Lumpur airport departure Terminal Malaysia
Needless to say, KLIA is a much better airport
KLIA Malaysia airport interiors
I had 2 hours to kill before my connecting flight, so I walked around the terminal
Kuala Lumpur train service food court Malaysia
The trains that take passengers to the other terminals

KLIA terminal train service Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur airport international terminal pillars
This is where the gates are
Bangalore city at night lights from sky
3 1/2 hours later, I was in Bangalore

I began working on this Philippines series in June, after I got laid off from my company. Six months of sitting and writing 16 posts, nearly 2,068 photos used (out of over 5,000 clicked)… it was a lot of work, but it’s with immense satisfaction I conclude what has been the most satisfying international trip of my life so far! The response from my friends back in Bangalore when I showed them my photos of all the wonderful sights Philippines has to offer was nothing short of amazement. I guess I’ve played my small role in promoting the country.

What else can I say… hanggang sa muli Philippines! 🙂

Previous posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Day 14 – El Nido island hopping tour A and sunset at Las Cabanas beach, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 13 – Puerto Princesa to El Nido by bus

Philippines 2011: Day 12 – Puerto Princesa Underground River tour, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 11 – Arriving in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 10 – Bohol tour: Chocolate Hills, Loboc river cruise, Tarsiers, churches

Philippines 2011: Day 9 – Cebu: Fort San Pedro, Basilica of Santo Niño, Taoist Temple

Philippines 2011: Day 8 – Manila tour: Rizal Park, Intramuros, Manila Cathedral, China Town

Philippines 2011: Day 7 – Leaving Angeles City for Manila, Mall of Asia

Philippines 2011: Day 6 – Good Friday in San Fernando, San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites

Philippines 2011: Leaving Sagada for Baguio, and arriving in Angeles city (Days 4 & 5)

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Sagada’s Lumiang burial cave, Sumaguing cave, Hanging Coffins of Echo valley

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Banaue town; heading to Sagada via Bontoc

Philippines 2011: Day 2 – Banaue rice terraces; trekking to Batad village

Philippines 2011: Day 1 — Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Fort Bonifacio

Philippines 2011: Flying over South China Sea for the first time

Palawan dog stretching

Philippines: Day 13 – Puerto Princesa to El Nido by bus

Date: April 29th 2011

Woke up really early today morning — like, 5am early! I left Banwa Arthouse and managed to catch a passing tricycle taxi to take me to the Puerto Princesa bus stop. It was a bit of a drive away, but I managed to get there in time. Anyway, I had called up the bus company (called Eulen Joy) the previous day and secured a seat for myself.

Now, despite reserving a seat, the bus is nothing fancy. Anything but! In fact, to get my seat right in the front, I had to walk over luggage belong to the other passengers. When I was instructed to do so, I kept looking at the other passengers with a mental “Im sorry but I have no other choice” look — but all they did was smile back.

Puerto Princesa bus stop road early morning Palawan
The bus left the station at 6am
Puerto Princesa to El Nido highway Palawan
It was going to be a 6 hour long journey to El Nido

The one-way bus ride to El Nido cost ₱380 ($8/€6) and I opted to take the local bus instead of a private van (which cost more) not simply to save a few hundred pesos, but for the very same reason I chose to take tricycle taxi in Bohol — to take clear photos along the way.

Puerto Princesa early morning misty clouds Palawan
I'm glad I made that decision again

Palawan highway road bend PhilippinesPuerto Princesa early morning cow PalawanPuerto Princesa farm land early morning Palawan PhilippinesPuerto Princesa dawn mist Palawan PhilippinesPuerto Princesa bus to El Nido behind window

Honda bay early morning Palawan islands Philippines
Passed by Honda Bay

Morning mist forest Palawan Philippines

Sabang Roxas Taytay junction Palawan Philippines
This is the junction from where you break off the main highway if you wish to go to Sabang
Dog stretching morning Palawan Philippines
We stopped by this house for a passenger

Puerto Princesa village highway Palawan morningPuerto Princesa village highway Palawan morning
Puerto Princesa to El Nido highway Palawan morning
Farm by highway Palawan morningRiver Palawan backwaters PhilippinesFence Palawan morning Philippines

Palawan calm beach Philippines
The seas were calm

South China Sea calm beach morning Palawan Philippines Puerto Princesa to El Nido highway PalawanSmoke on road Palawan PhilippinesRiver stream Palawan Philippines

Palawan highway checking for plants Philippines
The bus stopped along the way for a check for plants and seeds, which apparently isn't allowed beyond this point. Guessing it's because of fears of alien viruses contaminating plants.

Palawan Highway to El Nido Philippines

Palawan island highway picking up passengers Philippines
Passengers were picked up all along the way, stuffing the bus inside and out -- quite literally

Nearly 2 hours into the journey, with the sun hitting my eyes, I felt sleepy again and dozed off after keeping my camera back in.

I was woken up an hour later by the bus driver, who using the universal hand gesture, asked me if I wanted anything to eat. I politely said “no thanks”. The bus had stopped and the passengers got out for a break. I wasn’t hungry but an ice cream vendor on a bicycle asked me if I would like some ice cream. Now, I wasn’t very keen on having ice cream from a bicycle vendor in a remote village for health risks, but he had cones and buns.

Ice cream bun street food Palawan Philippines
I just had to order one! Cost just ₱15 and it was yum!
Palawan highway to El Nido Philippines
From here on, I shot using my Nokia E72 phone camera

Palawan village house PhilippinesPalawan rice fields PhilippinesBy 11am, the smooth concreted roads eventually gave way to unpaved ones.

Dirt road to El Nido Palawan PhilippinesDirt road to El Nido Palawan Philippines

Sea Palawan Philippines
After nearly 5 hours on the road, I finally got a glimpse of the sea again
Concrete roads Palawan Philippines
Fortunately, the dust gave way and we were back on concrete roads

Palawan burned trees PhilippinesHighway to El Nido Palawan island Philippines

Remote village home near El Nido Palawan Philippines
The bus would stop at independent houses along the way to drop passengers who had gone to the city to stock up on goods. Moments like this made me wonder how far away from home I was!

Even though the bus journey is longer, and less comfortable, I still enjoyed the experience of what life is to these locals on this remote island.

El Nido sea karst hills Palawan Philippines
By 12:30pm, my first hint I was nearing my destination. I smiled with glee seeing this 🙂

I finally reached the El Nido bus station as it neared 1pm. I didn’t have a reservation anywhere but I did make a list of accommodation by the beach that suited my budget.

After stopping by one or two hotels I didn’t end up liking (and some that were full), I walked to Spider Pension House — a place I had called the day before and asked for a room to be kept available in case I were to stop by. Fortunately, one private fan room (but common toilet) was still available, so I checked in. I got the room for ₱700, for two nights.

Spider Pension house Pukka restobar El Nido beach Palawan
Most of the accommodation in El Nido is small and basic at best
El Nido beach view from Spider guesthouse Palawan
The view from the Spider Pension House wasn't bad either 😉
El Nido beach afternoon Palawan Philippines
Spider Pension House's location is in the middle of the beach

After dumping my bags, I didn’t waste any time and made my way to Art Cafe — the most popular and one of the earliest businesses to promote El Nido tourism.

Submariner diving center El Nido beach Palawan Philippines
A few diving centers are available in El Nido
Rovic's pension house El Nido beach Palawan Philippines
I decided to take photos of other beach front accommodation in case you (my reader) are looking for where to stay in El Nido

El Nido beach shore sand PalawanMarina Garden beach resorts El Nido Palawan PhilippinesEl Nido beach anchored boat Palawan Philippines

El Nido Buena vista hotel Palawan Philippines
Walked up through here

El Nido road to Art Cafe Palawan The Alternative massage El Nido Palawan PhilippinesLa Salanqane hotel El Nido Palawan Philippines

El Nido boutique Art Cafe Palawan Philippines
I planned to have lunch here, even though there are cheaper restaurants on El Nido beach

Besides lunch, I was also here to book a tour for tomorrow. Though there are primarily three tours on offer, I opted for Tour A as it would give me a good enough experience of what all El Nido has to offer. Paid some money as advance and sat down for lunch.

Art Cafe tourists El Nido Palawan Philippines
I sat by the balcony
View from Art Cafe balcony El Nido beach Palawan
The view was... alright
Seafood pizza El Nido Art Cafe Palawan Philippines
I ordered a seafood pizza and beer (cost ₱320 totally). Needless to say, I had a good lunch 🙂
El Nido Art Cafe restaurant interiors Palawan Philippines
The Art Cafe has a relaxing environment -- and free wi-fi
Shore Pass lodge El Nido Palawan Philippines
Shore Pass lodge, this was right across Art Cafe
Nidobay Inn lodging El Nido Palawan Philippines
Another one that's on the same lane as Art Cafe
Anang Balay Turista El Nido Palawan Philippines
Anang Balay Turista
El Nido beachfront lodging hotels Palawan Philippines
There are plenty of beachfront accommodation available, but a lot of them cost ₱500 and above
Monkey tied to tree El Nido Palawan Philippines
Hmm, is this legal?
El Nido hotels massage lane trike Palawan Philippines
I chose to walk around the village a bit

El Nido shops house lane Palawan Philippines El Nido Maligaya market shops Palawan island El Nido new look barbershop Palawan Philippines

El Nido general store Palawan Philippines
Don't expect to do much shopping here. Other than the basics, there is little else to buy.
Philippines Ports Authority El Nido Palawan
The port

El Nido village life locals Palawan islandEl Nido village homes Palawan PhilippinesMidtown bakery El Nido Palawan PhilippinesHay roof house El Nido Palawan Philippines

El Nido Eulen Joy buses Palawan Philippines
These were the type of buses I took from Puerto Princesa today morning
Blessed Inn El Nido Palawan Philippines
There are hotels a few lanes away from the beach as well
New building construction El Nido Palawan Philippines
Looks like more hotels are on the way as El Nido grows more and more popular

El Nido coconut tree blowing in wind Palawan island Philippines El Nido village welcome sign Palawan

Barangay Maligaya family day El Nido Palawan
I gatecrashed, out of curiosity
El Nido local gathering Palawan Philippines
Even though it said 'family,' it was mostly men drinking beer while the women served food
El Nido cock fight ring Palawan village Philippines
But it seems the 'main event' on Family Day was cock fighting
Cock fight El Nido village men Palawan Philippines
These cocks (no, the birds)
Cock fight dead chicken El Nido Palawan Philippines
The aftermath of a concluded match
Chicken El Nido Palawan Philippines
Enjoy your freedom while it lasts dude

El Nido men gathered for cock fight Palawan Cock fight ring blood on ground El NidoRocks children of El Nido Palawan

El Nido children Palawan Philippines
The "Hey mister, take photo!" shot
Dog sitting wooden planks El Nido Palawan
I left the venue

El Nido coconut tree tricycle bike parked Palawan El Nido village water road PalawanEl Nido village houses Palawan PhilippinesElderly couple El Nido Palawan Philippines

El Nido village elderly couple Panorama
Panorama comprised of 6 shots

Concrete road El Nido barangay Palawan Philippines

First Consolidated bank atm El Nido branch Palawan Philippines
This is the only ATM machine I saw here -- and it was new!
El Nido field Palawan Panorama
Panorama comprised of 6 shots
El Nido road to bus station children playing Palawan Philippines
I got back on the road which leads to the bus station
El Nido bus station Palawan Philippines
This is where you catch the van or bus back to Puerto Princesa

Road in front of El Nido bus station panorama

El Nido airport road Palawan Philippines
The El Nido airport is 7kms from here. But here's the thing, the 'airport' is apparently not a big one and only few charter flights land there, making it very expensive to fly straight from Manila.
Inngo tourist inn lane El Nido Palawan
I had gone all around and come back to the beach near my guesthouse
Lally & Abet beach cottages El Nido Palawan Philippines
I walked back to the beach

El Nido beach Palawan afternoon sunlight

El Nido beach bike platform Philippines
You can ride a bike on this platform

Filipino boat water reflection El Nido Palawan El Nido outrigger boats Palawan PhilippinesEl Nido bike beach Palawan Philippines

El Nido corner hotel Palawan Philippines
El Nido Corner and Bacuit Grill Bar

Filipino tour boat El Nido Palawan Philippines El Nido beach afternoon path PalawanEl Nido beach boat afternoon Palawan PhilippinesEl Nido path along beach Palawan PhilippinesRocks El Nido beach Palawan

El Nido beach cabin Palawan
I kept walking down the path to see how far it would take me
El Nido rock beach bicycle Palawan Philippines
The beach extends to this side where there a few cottages here as well
Makulay Lodge El Nido beach Palawan Philippines
Makulay Lodge was one of the places I had shortlisted; now I know where it is
El Nido clear water shells Palawan Philippines
Believe me when I say this is under water! The water is that clear! 🙂

El Nido clear water pebble stones Palawan

El Nido water ripples sunlight Palawan Philippines
The time was 5pm

El Nido beach sea boats Palawan

El Nido beach sun flare Palawan Philippines
I decided to head back to Spider Pension House

El Nido rocky beach Palawan Philippines

El Nido elevated boat family Palawan waters
Kind of makes it look like the boat is where those locals live

Man coming out of water El Nido sunlight Palawan

Rosanna's beach cottages El Nido Palawan Philippines
Rosanna's Beach cottages
Tandikan beach cottages El Nido Palawan Philippines
Tandikan Beach Cottages
El Nido beach shadow light Palawan Philippines
The shadow really hit the beach like this

El Nido beach children Palawan Philippines El Nido hills in sea Palawan Philippines

El Nido Beach evening sun Palawan Philippines
Darkness was slowly taking over the entire beach

Once I got back to Spider Pension House, I sat on the porch and simply stared out into the sunset, listening to the ever relaxing sound of waves crashing. I ordered a coconut milkshake (or ‘boku juice’ as per the menu) and Joy, whose mother owns the place, sat beside me for a chat.

Joy Spider Pension house lady El Nido Palawan Philippines
She was curious as to where I was from as 'my kind' are not often seen in El Nido, let alone Palawan
El Nido beach sunset Palawan Philippines
Joy told me because of these hills, one can't see the sun set from here. For that, you need to go to Las Cabanas beach, which I planned to do tomorrow.

El Nido boats in water Palawan Philippines

El Nido bottle flame light Palawan
As it got dark, they lit up these bottles
Sunset at El Nido beach Maligaya Palawan Philippines
Time was 6:30pm
El Nido beach sunset evening Palawan Philippines
By 7pm, the sun had set

Even though the sun had set, I still sat there, feeling very relaxed and drinking my second coconut juice (didn’t feel like drinking beer at all). Unfortunately, when I ordered my third glass of boku juice, the electricity went.

I was joined by another guest staying at Spider Pension House (Aldo was his name I believe). A Spaniard based in London, a regular to El Nido and one who liked staying at Spider Pension House so much that he decided to help the owners by creating a Facebook page to help them with promotion.

Aldo young girl drinking coconut juice El Nido Spider Pension
Eventually, everybody had coconut milkshake -- including Joy's adorable daughter!

Since there was no electricity, it was pointless to go to my dark room upstairs, so I continued chatting away to the sound of waves crashing. When it came time to make plans for dinner, Aldo told me there was so much pork leftover from yesterday, that he asked Joy to make something for tonight as well. He had bought an entire pig from the market to be roasted a la lechon style – which they did (he showed me his photos). But needless to say, there was quite a lot of meat left over.

El Nido Spider Pension House dinner pork rice Palawan
Dinner was curried pork and white rice. And for the first time in nearly two weeks, I finally enjoyed Filipino food! The pork was simply delish!

Just as I took out my wallet and asked “How much?,” Aldo gestured “no” with his hand. It was on him, so “thanks” was all I could say.

I finally went up to my room after the electricity did come back, as I had to copy over today’s photos to my back-up hard drive and prepare for tomorrow’s island tour. I had to make the most of the electricity available, because if there’s one thing you need to know about El Nido, it’s this: electricity goes off everyday from 6am to 2pm.

Sigh, I guess I knew what time I was going to wake up tomorrow — that too with the humidity!

Previous posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Day 12 – Puerto Princesa Underground River tour, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 11 – Arriving in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 10 – Bohol tour: Chocolate Hills, Loboc river cruise, Tarsiers, churches

Philippines 2011: Day 9 – Cebu: Fort San Pedro, Basilica of Santo Niño, Taoist Temple

Philippines 2011: Day 8 – Manila tour: Rizal Park, Intramuros, Manila Cathedral, China Town

Philippines 2011: Day 7 – Leaving Angeles City for Manila, Mall of Asia

Philippines 2011: Day 6 – Good Friday in San Fernando, San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites

Philippines 2011: Leaving Sagada for Baguio, and arriving in Angeles city (Days 4 & 5)

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Sagada’s Lumiang burial cave, Sumaguing cave, Hanging Coffins of Echo valley

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Banaue town; heading to Sagada via Bontoc

Philippines 2011: Day 2 – Banaue rice terraces; trekking to Batad village

Philippines 2011: Day 1 — Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Fort Bonifacio

Philippines 2011: Flying over South China Sea for the first time

Other posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Day 14 – El Nido island hopping tour A and sunset at Las Cabanas beach, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Back to Manila, shopping, and my final thoughts about the country  (Last post)

Sabang underground river Mithun Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines

Philippines: Day 12 – Puerto Princesa Underground River tour, Palawan

Date: April 28th 2011

I was up and ready by 7:30am. I waited for the tour van to come pick me up for today’s tour of the longest underground river in the world, the Sabang Subterranean River (which on November 11 this year, became one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature — based on public votes).

Tour van Palawan Philippines
I was the first to be picked up. I was also given a bottle of iced tea and a Palawan souvenir pouch. I don't know if it was because I was the first to be picked up, but I didn't see other passengers get it
Area near Microtel Inn beach resort Puerto Princesa Palawan
One of the members in our tour van had to be picked up from the Microtel Beach Hotel
Emerald playa beach and nature park Puerto Princesa Palawan
Which gave me the chance to check out the mangrove beach on this side of Puerto Princesa
Microtel Beach hotel Puerto Princesa Palawan
It was a bit of a wait, so we all went in
Microtel Inn emerald playa beach Puerto Princesa Palawan
Microtel is one among the few posher accommodation options in Puerto Princesa
Microtel emerald playa beach Puerto Princesa Palawan
The beach isn't great, but it's all you get near Puerto Princesa citytown
Microtel Inn emerald beach mangrove Puerto Princesa Palawan
We headed back to our van
Microtel Inn lobby Puerto Princesa Palawan
The lobby of the Microtel hotel (Above photos were all taken using my phone)
Inside tour van Palawan Philippines
Once everyone was picked up from their respective hotels, we were on our way
Palawan highway Philippines
Since I was sitting at the back, I tried my best to take photos from behind the tinted glass
Hill range Palawan island Philippines
The hills of Palawan look lovely

Palawan highway road bendPalawan highway concreted roads Philippines

Honda bay Palawan Philippines
To our right was Honda Bay

Highway to Sambang Palawan

Road under construction Palawan Philippines
The smooth roads eventually gave way to bumpy ones

The van stopped at a viewpoint on the way for a break.

Beunavista viewdeck Palawan Philippines
Yes mayor, I'm sure you did this with your own salary. Psssh.
Viewdeck on the way in Palawan
The locals sell food and other small items here -- and there's a toilet, thus the stop
South China sea Puerto Princesa Palawan
The South China Sea

South China sea from viewdeck Palawan

Cock chicken viewdeck Palawan
We got back in our van

 Hill forest Palawan PhilippinesBranchless trees Palawan PhilippinesRoad to Sabang village Puerto Princesa Palawan

Cabayugan Puerto Princesa PalawanSabang mountain Puerto Princesa National Park Palawan

Sabang mountain Puerto Princesa national park Philippines
The guide pointed to that big hill
Mountain Puerto Princesa National Park Palawan Philippines
The underground river is beneath that!
Sabang beach village Palawan Philippines
After one and half hours of driving, we were by the sea
Sabang outrigger boats Palawan Philippines
Ahh, finally! What I came to Palawan for. No, not the boats... crystal clear water!

Sabang community stage Puerto Princesa PalawanSabang beach courtyard Palawan Philippines

Sabang beach clear water Puerto Princesa Palawan
Sabang beach
Sabang boats Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
It was time for my group to begin our tour

Sabang boat tour Puerto Princesa Palawan

Sabang South China sea water Puerto Princesa Palawan
I like these boats, they feel safe
South China sea Filipino outrigger boat Philippines
The bamboo poles on either side prevents the boat from flipping over (well, in theory at least)
Limestone rock Sabang beach Palawan Philippines
Even though I've seen similar sights in Malaysia and Thailand, I never tire of these limestone rock formations amidst blue waters

Puerto Princesa hills Palawan island

Arriving at Puerto Princesa national park by boat
We arrived at the Puerto Princesa National Park

Puerto Princesa National Park beach Palawan Philippines

Puerto Princesa subterranean river national park Palawan PhilippinePuerto Princesa Subterranean river national park Palawan

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park entrance
Since our tour cost ₱1500 ($34/€25), all our charges were covered
Long-tailed macaques Sabang underground river Palawan
Lots of monkeys here too

Puerto Princesa National Park do-not-feed animals sign

Puerto Princesa national park wooden path to river
I walked towards the underground river
Puerto Princesa national park heritage site information Palawan
This place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Puerto Princesa National Park facts figures Palawan PhilippinesPuerto Princesa national park cave tour rules Palawan

Boat entering Sabang Underground river Palawan Philippines
The cave... beautiful, isn't it? 🙂
Sabang Underground river tourists photo Palawan Philippines
We had to wait for our turn, as they only allow one boat in at a time
Sabang under river emerald water Palawan Philippines
Look at the colour of that water!
Sabang underground river Mithun Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
Yes, finally, a photo of me

Sabang underground river swamp Puerto Princesa Palawan When it came time for us to go in, the guide asked which one of us would volunteer to hold the light. When researching, I read that the person who has to hold the light gets to sit in the front, so I ‘volunteered’. Now, I needed to sit in the front if I wanted to take good photographs inside, because as it is, it was going to be dark. On top of that, I didn’t want somebody obstructing my view. Also, holding the light gave my camera a light beam to focus on — and I could only shoot with auto-focus on given my hands were now occupied with two tasks.

So I sat, adjusted my tripod’s height and set the camera’s settings. I was going to hold the light with my left hand and press the camera shutter with my right hand.

Entrance to Sabang Underground river cave Palawan Philippines
Helmets and life-jackets on, we followed suit
Entrance to Puerto Princesa subterranean underground river Palawan
Here we go! 🙂
Inside underground river limestone cave Palawan
I knew it was going to be tough to shoot inside while moving and shooting in manual mode that too. I didn't want to use flash since I assumed it wouldn't be good for the eyes of the cave's creatures.
Inside underground river cave swallow bird Sabang Philippines
But other tourists inside the cave were shooting with the flash on and the guides didn't say anything. So I switched my camera to Auto mode and continued shooting.

Inside Puerto Princesa underground river darkness cave PalawanInside underground cave Puerto Princesa PhilippinesPuerto Princesa underground river cave tour Philippines

Inside underground river cave Puerto Princesa Philippines
It was cool inside the cave
Inside underground river cave tourists boat Sabang Philippines
Other boats were making their way back

Inside underground river cave stalactites Philippines

Inside underground river cave boat lights Sabang Philippines
Kinda looks like car in the distance doesn't it?

Inside underground river limestone rock ancient Puerto Princesa

Inside underground river one light Puerto Princesa
Besides the sounds of the cave dwelling fauna, the only echoes one could hear were the cheers of the tourists

Puerto Princesa underground river tourists Sabang Palawan

Inside underground river dinosaur rock formations Puerto Princesa
The guide would point to many limestone formations that were moulded over hundreds of years into shapes resembling many things. Like these 'dinosaurs'.
Undergound river National Research Council Puerto Princesa
Scientists visit the underground river quite often

Inside Underground river 7 wonders Puerto Princesa Philippines Deep inside underground river Sabang Palawan Philippines

Inside underground river candle shape rock Philippines
The 'candle' rock
Inside underground river horse Palawan Philippines
Spot the horse 🙂
Inside underground river stalagmite Palawan Philippines
There are a lot of birds flying about inside
Inside underground river rocks Palawan Philippines
This is the only 'land mass' we came across
Inside underground river religious Palawan Philippines
This was something resembling a 'religious' event, but I can't recall what the guide told us

Inside underground river stalactites Palawan PhilippinesInside underground river Puerto Princesa tooth rock Philippines

Inside underground river stalactites shape Puerto Princesa Philippines
There were many more object-shaped rock formations

Inside underground river limestone rocks cave Puerto Princesa Philippines

Inside underground river stalactites cave Puerto Princesa Philippines Inside underground river dark cave Puerto Princesa PhilippinesInside underground river molar limestone shape PhilippinesInside underground river cave rocks Puerto Princesa Philippines

Inside underground river end point for tourists Puerto Princesa
We had reached the end point for tourists. Even though the underground river is the 8.2 km (5 miles) long, only a kilometre is allowed to tourists. To go beyond that, you need a special permit.
Inside underground river turning around Puerto Princesa Philippines
The boat turned around
Inside underground river big insects Puerto Princesa Palawan
Because I was holding the torch lamp, these big bugs were all over me. I had no idea what they were, but they made my position all the more uncomfortable.
Inside underground river man face rock Puerto Princesa Palawan
This was a 'face' rock

Inside underground river limestone cave Puerto Princesa Palawan Inside underground river cave rock formations Puerto Princesa Palawan

Inside underground river cave swallow birds Puerto Princesa Palawan
Swallow birds, lots of them inside

Inside underground river cave ceiling Puerto Princesa Palawan

Inside underground river cave ceiling structure Puerto Princesa Palawan Puerto Princesa underground river rock tourist boat Sabang PalawanPuerto Princesa underground river stalactites Sabang PalawanPuerto Princesa underground river candle rock Sabang Palawan

Puerto Princesa underground candle rock Sabang Palawan
Past the candle rock again

Inside underground river rock in water Puerto Princesa PalawanInside underground river limestone rock reflection upper cave PalawanInside underground river journey back Palawan PhilippinesInside underground river limestone rocks upper cave PalawanInside underground river boat going back PalawanInside subterranean river boat tour Puerto Princesa Palawan

Sabang subterranean river boat ride Puerto Princesa Palawan

Inside subterranean river jesus face Puerto Princesa Palawan
I don't remember if I took this shot because the guide told us it resembled Jesus' face

Sabang subterranean river boat tour Puerto Princesa Palawan

Inside subterranean river stalactites rock Puerto Princesa Palawan
Yes, the boat went in between these rocks

Inside subterranean river cave Puerto Princesa Philippines

Sabang subterranean river towards entrance Puerto Princesa Palawan
After nearly half an hour inside the cave...
Sabang subterranean river cave opening Puerto Princesa Palawan
..."light at the end of the tunnel"

Sabang underground river cave opening Puerto Princesa Palawan

Sabang subterranean river towards entrance Puerto Princesa Philippines
Here we go...

Leaving subterranean river light end of tunnel Puerto Princesa Palawan

Coming out of underground river Sabang Palawan

The boat dropped us back to the banks where I collected my bag from the counter. Going inside the subterranean river is my second cave experience on this trip, the first being back in Sagada last week. I truly enjoyed this though! The above photos were just a few of the 140 shots I totally took from inside. 30 minutes went by really quickly and you don’t even realize it took that long until you look at your watch. I wondered what the remaining 7 kilometres must be like.

Underground river beach boats Palawan Philippines
Walked back towards the boats

Underground river beach children playing tree Palawan Underground river beach boats anchored Palawan PhilippinesPalawan island beach boat boy Philippines

Subterranean river tour boat Palawan
Our tour group gathered and headed back to our boat

Underground river beach getting shade under tree Palawan Palawan island limestone rock Sabang Philippines

Palawan island hill Philippines
Everytime I see islands like this, I'm reminded of LOST (man, I miss that TV show!)

Filipino bamboo boat hitting waves Palawan sea Philippines

Palawan island boat going through rocks Philippines
Yes, our boat would go through these rocks as well
Palawan island boat sea rocks Philippines
Don't know if the boat drivers do it as a challenge 🙂

Palawan island rock Sabang beach Philippines

Palawan island Sabang beach coconut trees Philippines
I was looking forward to spending some time at the beach and in the water
Sabang beach Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
We walked back to the shore, where a buffet lunch was prepared for us

Twig in water beach Palawan Philippines

Sabang beach Puerto Princesa Philippines
I thought of hitting the water before lunch but...
Sabang beach no swimming sign Palawan
... I don't know why it was so

I still went into the water, knee deep.

Sabang beach coconut trees Panorama Palawan
Panorama comprised of 7 shots

I then decided to check out the accommodation available on Sabang beach in case my readers were looking for information on where to stay on Sabang beach.

Vista Lodge and restaurant Sabang beach Puerto Princesa Palawan
There weren't many beach front 'hotels' as such
Taraw beach resort Sabang beach Palawan Puerto Princesa
Got a card from here. Some info: 09196011227/09215492156; e-mail:
Green Verde beach inn restaurant Sabang beach Puerto Princesa Palawan
Ph: 0910-978-4539/0926-701-9246; e-mail: (as mentioned on their card)

The lady at Green Verde curiously asked me where I was from, among a few other questions. I asked her if it was easy to get from Sabang to El Nido and she told the only way it’s ‘easy’ is when there is a group big enough to fit a private van that can be booked in advance. That’s it. Otherwise, its back to the junction at the main highway and wait for a bus to El Nido.

Considering how much time I spent yesterday, going back and forth thinking how to do Sabang and then El Nido, I guess it is far more convenient to do the Underground River tour from Puerto Princesa City itself.

Dog at Green Verde resort Sabang beach Puerto Princesa Palawan

Sambang beach coconut tree Palawan Philippines Panorama
I liked taking panorama shots of these trees (comprised of 6 shots)
Buffet lunch Sabang Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
I had my lunch, which was mostly barbecued tuna and other dry dishes. (Didn't really enjoy it much)
Sabang beach yacht Puerto Princesa Palawan
We left Sabang past 2pm
Sabang beach village Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
No matter how far or how small a village is, you will always find a basketball hoop in Philippines

Sabang farm Puerto Princesa Palawan PhilippinesThe journey back was another one and half hours. In the end, I felt I made the right choice by opting to simply do a tour from Puerto Princesa itself, instead of attempting it myself. I mean, I would only suggest going at it alone if you plan on staying on Sabang beach a few days. It would have cost me about the same but had I done it myself, it would have proven to be quite difficult.

I spent the rest of the day back at Banwa Arthouse’s cafe, researching on El Nido, but as I went through my photos, newer guests who had checked in that day said their “hello” and began conversations. First a Japanese surfer, who spent a few months in Canada picking apples (seriously, some of the people I meet on my backpacking  journeys) and then spent those earnings traveling throughout India and is now in the Philippines. (Sigh, it’s moments like this I wonder why I spent 8 years working at multi-national corporation back in Bangalore!)

Then a group of young Danes (I believe they told me they were Danish) asked me where I had been today. We spent quite some time talking and then, we decided to go to Baybay for dinner and check out what was happening there tonight.

We walked to Baybay expecting a crowded festival.

Babybay at night food stalls Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
Hmmm, not quite
Chicken intestine fried street food Palawan Philippines
We all bought some beer cans and decided to snack. We tried fried chicken intestine first.
Barbecued meat stick Philippines street food Puerto Princesa
Had this next. Barbecued... something (I don't remember what)
Filipino food Palawan stall Philippines street food
Quite a lot of Filipino cuisine is this shade of dark brown
Babybay at night Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
Walked around a bit with our beers in hand
Danish tourists burger stall Palawan Philippines
'Main course' was hamburger

Just as we were walking out, a b-boy dance battle was announced to begin.

Baybay b-boy competition Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
Puerto Princesa's finest dance crews (I'm presuming) were on stage
Baybay dance crew stage competition Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
Some of the moves were impressive
Baybay dance battle Puerto Princesa Palawan Philippines
We didn't hang around for too long though

Back in the room, the Danes were curious about all the places I had already been to in Philippines and wanted to see my photos. After an hour of that, I paid for my two nights stay at Banwa Arthouse as I was checking out tomorrow early morning. I had to call it an early night. Tomorrow I was going to take the first bus to the final stop on my Philippines tour — El Nido.

And wait till you see those photos! 😉

Previous posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Day 11 – Arriving in Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Day 10 – Bohol tour: Chocolate Hills, Loboc river cruise, Tarsiers, churches

Philippines 2011: Day 9 – Cebu: Fort San Pedro, Basilica of Santo Niño, Taoist Temple

Philippines 2011: Day 8 – Manila tour: Rizal Park, Intramuros, Manila Cathedral, China Town

Philippines 2011: Day 7 – Leaving Angeles City for Manila, Mall of Asia

Philippines 2011: Day 6 – Good Friday in San Fernando, San Pedro Cutud Lenten Rites

Philippines 2011: Leaving Sagada for Baguio, and arriving in Angeles city (Days 4 & 5)

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Sagada’s Lumiang burial cave, Sumaguing cave, Hanging Coffins of Echo valley

Philippines 2011: Day 3 – Banaue town; heading to Sagada via Bontoc

Philippines 2011: Day 2 – Banaue rice terraces; trekking to Batad village

Philippines 2011: Day 1 — Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Fort Bonifacio

Philippines 2011: Flying over South China Sea for the first time

Other posts in this series:

Philippines 2011: Day 13 – Puerto Princesa to El Nido by bus

Philippines 2011: Day 14 – El Nido island hopping tour A and sunset at Las Cabanas beach, Palawan

Philippines 2011: Back to Manila, shopping, and my final thoughts about the country  (Last post)

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