Puerto Princesa, Philippines

My favourite Asian country.

I booked the Philippines on a whim. I wanted to go to Sri Lanka. Like, really, really wanted to go to Sri Lanka but, the tour I wanted to do was cancelled and there was no other alternative that I wanted to do there. I had already booked my holiday slot with work and so I had to find somewhere to go. The UK was not an option as my little sister was about to give birth, a drama that would make East Enders envious. I had heard great things about the Philippines but I was in no rush to go back to South East Asia. Firstly, it’s really not my favourite part of the world and, secondly it was only February when I was down that way in Indonesia although, to be fair was a nice little tour. The Philippines was in luck though, because I found a tour that fitted the dates and, a week of beaches was a perfect option after the intense workout I endured throughout my tour of Greece.

Upon landing in Manila I was rewarded three hours sleep before having to get up and return to the airport at 4am to catch a flight down to Palawan Island which, is where we would spend the week. My first day therefore consisted of spending a lot of time looking at the back of my eyelids as we spent the morning bouncing around in a minibus, making various stops around Puerto Princesa. Before I knew it we had entered a prison. An actual, real life prison. I was to sleepy to try and make sense of it all but from what I can work out it was an open prison for people of the not so violent nature. They (the inmates) worked five days a week in the fields or, producing curios to sell to tourists or, practicing their dance moves in preparation to perform in front of tourists. I can imagine it being a lot like Butlins! It was never going to harm you being there but you would avoid it if you could! To be dropped in front of a shop selling all the usual tourist **** so soon was a disappointment but thankfully this was the only time. A slightly more interesting stop was back in town where we visited a memorial for 150 American WW2 servicemen. There had been a prisoner of war camp on the island, operated by the Japanese and, on one occasion they decided it was a good idea to lock 150 American prisoners in their dormitories and turn up the heating aka, burnt them alive.

One of the trip highlights mentioned on the pre departure notes was the underground river system on the island which, as it happens the island advertised as the seventh natural wonder of the world. I will get straight to the point. It isn’t! It just didn’t blow me away like I imagine a natural wonder to do, like for example, Torres Del Paine, the Namib desert or, Icuazu falls. It was jolly lovely though and worth the visit. The surrounding area was beautiful with lush forrest coming down the hillsides, meeting with sandy beeches and crystal clear sea. We boarded a raft and a guide paddled us along the river into the cave system while we listened to commentaries on our headsets that were handed to us. I can only describe what I saw. A river, in a cave with stalagmites, stalactites and, huge piles of bat poo. The return trip lasted for about 45 minutes with the take home message for me being that an Italian science expedition discovered a cave and they decided to name it ‘The Italian Cave’. To round off the morning we immediately headed off to whiz down a zip line. Unfortunately it wasn’t very fast and the water below looked so lush and inviting that falling into it wasn’t a scary proposition. But, with such beautiful scenery to admire on the trip down, any lack of adrenaline was soon forgotten.

Whilst in El Nido we spent a day island hopping. I can never make my mind up if I enjoy these days or not. I’ve done them so many times now, I always get sun burnt while snorkelling no matter how much sun cream I put on and, I always drink too much sea water due to my inability to use a snorkel and mask to their full effect. The day started well however, sailing over to a beautiful beach where we stopped off for a swim. We were pretty much the only people there but then, a boat rolled up, and another, and another until the beach wasn’t quite so peaceful. We therefore purchased some refreshing coconuts, jumped on the boat and headed off for a bit of snorkelling. We parked just outside of an entrance to a large lagoon. The sea was littered with islands of tall limestone cliffs covered in forest. The limestone had been eroded into some awesome shapes with the tips of the rocks razor sharp. At the lagoon we had a choice of kayaking or, swimming the 2km. A couple of us chose to swim. The first 700m was pure carnage with swimmers, kayakers and, boats all falling over each other going through the narrow channel towards the cove. Once we got into the cove it appeared that no-one else could be bothered to go any further as things got a whole lot more peaceful and we could just swim around enjoying the view. It was pretty perfect, until I put my hand on a sea urchin which, I can safely say bloody hurt and thus we made our way back to the boat.

For lunch we stopped outside another cove and had a tasty fish BBQ. The cove was called ‘little cove’ which was unfortunate as there was a mass of tourists fighting to get into it. It was like black Friday at a Walmart. I don’t know why I let it anger me, after all I am a tourist! It just never fails to amaze me how little respect people have for their environment and, people around them. The crazy thing was that there were so many other places we could have gone which were secluded but we just went to the same handful of places as everyone else. I guess the other places were privately owned or, protected in which case one just has to suck it up and go with the flow.

The Philippines has already quickly become my favourite Asian country to date. This is firstly because so far on this tour it hasn’t made me hug a toilet for 24 hours. Secondly it is as cheap as you were hoping and, finally and, most importantly, it hasn’t imploded under the weight of tourism. Yes there are some places where the tourists flock and there are many places that will go the same way I am sure but, I hope the government can try and keep check of things. The country is stunning with a very untouched environment. Lazy fishing villages are still lazy fishing villages, the beaches are unspoilt, there is still corral worth looking at and the beer is still cheap. It would appear that there is a lot of thought put into maintaining the environment and I would guess/hope that the Philippines push for tourism has come at the time of eco-tourism and as a result they will be able to build a much more environmentally sustainable tourist industry. Hopefully they will learn from Bali’s mistakes! From what I can make out, the next half of the tour will be more my kind of travelling. Bring it on.

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