Around Christmas last year I was able to book two roundtrip tickets to Puerto Princesa, Palawan for just Php 710. Yes, that’s for two already. Of course, the catch is that the flight takes place almost one year after – November 2011. As luck would have it, I started work for a new company four months ago and couldn’t take a leave (I booked weekday flights for cheaper airfare). Because my mom had been overly excited for almost a year, cancellation wasn’t really an option, so I booked anew, this time during a long weekend. Well, what do you know, Php 710 easily became ~Php 8,000!
…no regrets. It was a much needed break, both for me and my mom. Plus, it’s her birthday in a week (she’ll be 53, and already asking where our trip will be on her 54th! I wish my brother can join us next time though, that’ll make me so much happier).
As I had no time to research about the place, I depended completely on an agency, which I don’t usually do. During our trip to Bangkok and Hong Kong, it was totally DIY (Do It Yourself), and I loved every bit of it – including confusion over finding our way to our destination! I think DIY allows for more cultural immersion, and the uncertainty keeps you on edge, making you see and experience more. Then again, if pressed for time, arranged tours is the way to go.
And go we did!
A beaded necklace was presented to us upon arrival at the airport. We were then taken to Raq Pensionne, where another local product was given to us – something used by the natives to summon rain. It gives a most pleasant sound when shaken.
We had lunch at Balinsasayaw Restaurant. We were too hungry we ended up ordering too much for the two of us.
I love squid, but I usually avoid it because I’ve had one too many ‘rubbery’ tastes of it. But this was Palawan, where Manila gets much of its seafood supply, so I braved it. It was a successful gamble – the squid was very tender and grilled to just the right degree.
Though it isn’t obvious from the photo above (soup overload + we already got some), it was actually a shrimp-fest, far from what we’re used to in Manila. However, the soup seemed diluted. Or maybe it’s just me – I’m used to sour and spicy sinigang at home.
A disappointment on so many levels. I usually love ampalaya and beef, but their beef was the opposite of tender, and the ampalaya so… I can’t even describe it. The sauce didn’t help either.
All in all, the three viands above + two fresh buko juice + two cups of rice = Php 695. Not bad!
DAY 1: PUERTO PRINCESA CITY TOUR
Puerto Princesa is an ideal city. With a crime rate of just a little over 1%, it is one of the safest cities in the Philippines. Through the efforts of its local government, it has been recognized as the country’s cleanest and greenest city for three straight years in the 1990s (it was inducted into some kind of Hall of Fame, making it ineligible to be considered for the award in the succeeding years); and it has successfully marketed its many assets to boost tourism, and consequently, employment.
However, the tour itself wasn’t all that interesting, with the exception of the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm.
The Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm is very different in that the prisoners aren’t bound by chains nor walls. If they are reformed enough, they can even be granted the right to cultivate a piece of land and earn a decent living for themselves and their family. They also make the most out of visiting tourists, with some even performing a welcome dance to visitors.
As I mentioned, the other sites are hardly worth mentioning, but I will still do so in the interest of completeness.
The Crocodile farm houses the second longest crocodile in the country at 17++ feet. Some interesting facts:
We also went to Baker’s Hill where we had hopia c/o the tour guide. We were behind schedule because the pick-up time in different hotels took so long. I know it’s a joining tour, but since they knew which hotels these several joiners were billeted, they could have adjusted the pick-up time. We ended up hurrying at every stop, barely stopping by other tourist spots. Good thing they weren’t so interesting, otherwise I would’ve been so pissed.
The tour ended with the mandatory stop at tiangge-tiangge, or souvenir shops.
For dinner, I so wanted to experience Ka Lui. Disappointingly, they were fully booked. Yes – you need to had reservation to be let in. Well, one of my friends was able to get seats. According to her, the hype was probably due to the affordability of the food. Meanwhile, three of my other friends told me they immensely enjoyed the food and ambience. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.
As for us, we went for the nearby restaurant instead – the Kinabuchs.
We were still so full from lunch and snacks, so we just ordered tuna steak (delicious!) and ensaladang mangga (too sour for me!).
Affordable dinner at Php 300 for two.
Day 2: Underground River Tour
Day 2 started early, the call time being 6AM. After a 1-hour land trip via van, we arrived at Sabang Port where we were to take another 20-minute ferry ride to the Underground River.
The Underground River Tour is decidedly the highlight of our vacation. My mother cannot contain her excitement. As a history teacher, this is just the thing to make her giddy.
Inside, my mom can’t help but marvel at His creation, gasping wows at almost every stalactite / stalagmite formation. I also discovered that she has wonderful imagination – she can easily give the boatman a run for his money! We saw hundreds (maybe) of bats, but they weren’t the size I thought they’d be. They were merely insect bats, perhaps just a bit bigger than a big man’s fist. Also, it wasn’t that smelly as I’ve heard others say; I hardly noticed the smell as we went through formation after formation. It was wonderful to see images different images inside, and our boatman had a few jokes which made the trip more enjoyable.
The trip was short, I reckon it was just around 30 minutes (roundtrip). Had we decided to navigate the entire course, it would have taken us around 3 hours (per the boatman); and though initially I thought this was what we should have done, I realized that even the wildest of imaginations will experience drought.
As an added attraction, we were taken to a trail where wild monkeys and iguanas are seen. The iguanas seem to be used to the presence of people. They hardly cared, which was great because a lot of people were able to take pictures ‘with’ them.
We had buffet lunch at the Sabang port – not worthy of pictures so I didn’t take any. We were back in the city by around 2 pm. At around 5pm we went back to tiangge-tiangge to buy more pasalubong.
We then had dinner with my friend and her boyfriend at Badjao Seafront Restaurant.
My mom ordered salt and pepper crab. She was disappointed because the salt and pepper flavor was so powerful she wasn’t able recognize the taste of crab as she knows it. She made a mental note to herself to only order steamed crab or crab in coconut milk next time.
My love for shrimp is non-discriminatory. I am almost indifferent to the many ways you can cook it – sinigang, gambas, grilled, tempura – I love them all just the same, so I hardly think my opinion matters in this case. Shrimp will always be delicious to me.
My friend also had shrimp, but hers was garlic-flavored.
No complaints from my friend’s boyfriend on this one. Must be good.
All in all, with those mentioned above plus drinks, rice and 10% service charge, it came up to Php 1,600. You won’t miss anything if you skip this one. If anything, you can save for some more pasalubong shopping.
Day 3 – Honda Bay Island Hopping
Another early day – pick up time was 7am. Nothing breathtaking about the entire trip. Its underworld (via snorkeling) isn’t as colorful as in Coron, Bohol, or even Puerto Galera.
The highlight of the day was lunch!
Our tour guide and boatman prepared everything while we chatted the hours away.
They also served adobong talong, itlog na maalat with tomatoes, and grilled fish. I wash’t able to take pictures anymore as these came last, I was too hungry by then.
We were back in the city in no time, just in time for our flight back to Manila, this time via PAL.
Even if it wasn’t as exhilarating as I’d imagined it to be, it’s one of the more relaxing vacations I’ve had. My mind was taken away from work for the first time in months. I came to work Tuesday with renewed energy, enthusiasm and positivity.
I need to do this more often.