February - March 2008
Part I - Puerto Princesa


This is an abridged description of a trip to Palawan in the Philippines in February-March 2008. The intention is to give a first hand personal experience of how we, Joy and myself, did get to and through the country. Again: no advanced booking except for the flight and the Super Ferry. Only one day advance inquiry of available accommodation. It really was a very good journey with no real hassle whatsoever (though no adventurous jungle trips).

If you want to skip directly to the other part, then just hit Part II.

How to get from Berlin to Puerto Princesa via Manila

I was not coming from Berlin to Manila this time but actually from Catarman in Samar, because I have already been in the Philippines since October 2007 after I came back from Australia.

There are many ways to get to the Philippines. I prefer the 4-star Qatar Airways (they rate themselves 5-star). They fly to Manila via Doha (thus changing planes only once). Gulf Air from Frankfurt would be my second choice. One year ago I paid for a round trip ticket from Berlin, valid up to 6 months, 719 Euro (including tax). I book all my flights at the Vietnamese Travel Agency Deviko. My "girlfriend" Dr. Phan always books the cheapest flight possible.

Since no staterooms were available on the Super Ferry from Manila to Coron in the northern part of Palawan (leaving once a week on Friday afternoon), we booked instead a flight to Puerto Princesa with Cebu Pacific via the Internet for 1913 Peso (30 Euro) per person (including tax), and planned to make the loop the other way around by taking the Super Ferry back from Coron to Manila.

We made the final reservation for the Super Ferry at the WG&A office in Puerto Princesa and paid 5500 Peso (87 Euro) for the stateroom with bath, hot water, TV, including breakfast and lunch (good for two, would have been almost the same for one person).

Puerto Princesa

The flight took one hour and we arrived in Puerto Princesa on time. Since we arrived together with another full load of an Philippine Airline plane, the luggage pickup was a little bit chaotic and thus took some time. Our hotel owner was already awaiting us in front of the airport. I had called him before our departure same morning. After a 5 minutes drive with his courtesy car we arrived at his
Paradise Hotel
210 Manolo Extension
Puerto Princesa City
Tel.: (048) 433 5526
where we occupied a double room with an attached bathroom for 790 Peso (12.50 Euro) per day. It even had Cable-TV. It also was supposed to have hot shower but that was not available most of the time. The hotel was small and pretty new and had a nice garden. It was just a five minutes tricycle ride to the city center (20 cents or 20 minutes by foot).

Ok, from here on I will only state the prices in Euro for simplification. I took the average exchange rate of 63 Peso to the Euro valid at the time we traveled around Palawan.

Click the small picture to get it enlarged

Flying with Cebu Pacific Arriving in Paradise (Hotel)
Since the small restaurant of the "Paradise" did not look very inviting, we went by tricycle (or 10 minutes walk) to the
Badjao Inn
350 Rizal Avenue
Puerto Princesa City
Tel.: (048) 433 2761
where we had a real good breakfast for 2 Euro (we had that every morning from now on). I had called and tried to also get a room here but unfortunately they were fully booked (best deal for 15 Euro for a double room with TV and hot shower).
Having a good breakfast at the Badjao Inn Garden
We had no intention for a city sight-seeing tour. We are actually here for the nature. So we booked a daily tour to the islands of the Honda Bay including lunch for 14 Euro per person at Topstar Travel & Tours through our hotel for the next day.

Joining a tour is still better than trying to do it on your own, because you always have to hire a whole van and boat to get around in one day, which will be more expensive at the end. No way of a several days trip and staying on one of the islands we are going to visit now: there is no accommodation (or BYO tent and food).

Ok, pick-up time at the hotel was 8 a.m. Then we went by van to the wharf in Santa Lourdes around 10km up north.
Cruising Honda Bay with a small outrigger At the coast: looks like the Mayon Volcano
The Pandan Island was our first destination. Nothing there to stay overnight. Just picnic huts to stay during the day.
Fantastic Pandan Island with a beautiful beach
Serenity pure Optimum relaxation
But we were not lazy. Rather looking for adventure. Hoped the island was small enough to encircle, so we started walking along the white beach.
Some fish breeding in the sea Nice flotsam in front of the Pandamus tree
A lot of driftwood everywhere Lying around like art sculptures
Then we came to the end of the sandy beach and of the island and walked back the other side with mostly mangroves growing in the salty water. Encountered a fisher folk settlement and local kids strolling around.
Sitting on the mangroves isn't very comfortable
Fisher woman's boat Abu Sayyaf's boat?
After around one hour we have been all around the island and now smelled barbecue all around. Lunch was ready.
Cheap fish, fatty pork and dry bananas were ours Big crabs, spicy rolls and juicy melons were the neighbor's
Rest to digest or play a game?
Afternoon tranquility Not for long
The next destination was Snake Island, called not because there were snakes but the sandbank portion if the island had the shape of a snake. It was too long to walk all along. Snorkeling over the coral reef close to the beach was a better option, especially while feeding the fish with toast bread (were told before to buy). You almost couldn't see the water of all those fish, even swimming around and touching your neck and nibbling at your ears.
Where is the snake on Snake Island Here! But the snake is really too long
Maybe real snakes hiding in the mangroves Fishermen huts far out are not endangered
No snakes around but fish abound Nothing to drink but coconut water
The next destination was Star Island. But here it has been named after the many starfish, and not because the island has the shape of a star. But this island can also boast with a winding sandbank like a snake and a coral reef with lot of fish also conditioned to be fed.

However, except for some old sheds almost everything else man-made on the island was rotten: the restaurant, its inventory on a junk yard and the broken boats lying around.
This is the Star Island's snake sandbank with a real starfish swept on the beach
This restaurant isn't even first star but it really has already its own junk yard
No way to leave with these rotten boats Only the picnic sheds are still in use
Now our island hopping tour in the Honda Bay came to an end. Heading to a good restaurant was the first thing as soon as we came back to Puerto Princesa. The evening before we went to the
Balinsasayaw Restaurant
Manolo Extension
Corner Rengel Road
Puerto Princesa City
Tel.:(048) 434 5804
just hundred meters from the Paradise Hotel, which was inexpensive and good. But today we wanted to try a German restaurant, the
Tom Tom Club
Manolo Extension
Corner Rengel Road
Puerto Princesa City
Tel.:(048) 433 3111
and we were not disappointed. Also to be reached by foot from the "Paradise" in 5 minutes. Puerto Princesa boasts with many good restaurants, of which some more we will still experience during our stay. But you can forget all the buffet lunches offered by the daily tours.

Talking about tours, we have booked another one for the next day: a visit of the Underground River for 19 Euro per person, also including lunch. Pick-up this time: 7 a.m., earlier because of a two and a half hours drive on half sealed half dirt bumpy road to Sabang and a final half hour with a bumpy boat in rough sea to the Subterranean River National Park.
Where are we stranded? Now we will go underground
Waiting for the boat, looking at the river bank Soon we will disappear through the hole
Now we will paddle up the longest underground river in the world. The first eight kilometers are navigable but we went along only for about one kilometer while passing a bewildering array of stalactites, stalagmites, caverns, chambers and pools.
This underworld illuminated is a fantastic wonderworld
It looks like art in many shades
This rock even looks like a jellyfish The boatman had a name for many shapes
Back from the underworld we strolled through the forest back to the beach while saying hello to the Monitor Lizards. I do not think they have been tamed but they are very tame to eat food out of your hand.
Looks like a dangerous Waran but here they are called Monitor Lizards
They are not dangerous, but may eat monkeys but it was dangerous going back by boat in heavy sea
We were lucky to get to the Underground River early, because some tours after us weren't allowed to go by boat the last stretch because of bad weather (it was already rougher on our way back to Sabang). Also heavy rain started just at the time we sat down for lunch in a picnic hut, and continued all the way back to Puerto Princesa.

There is also the possibility to go to Sabang with public transport and stay at one of the modest resorts. Even outrigger boats are leaving from there to the north to Port Barton and El Nido.

It was already dinner time when we were dropped off at our "Paradise". After that "succulent" lunch in Sabang we were hungry as hell. Let's try another restaurant. According to the guidebook, the Ka Lui was supposed to be the best restaurant in town. When we arrived, all tables had been reserved, so we walked to another one just next door,
The Lotus Garden
371 Rizal Avenue
Puerto Princesa City
Tel.:(048) 434 1132
which was just inaugurated three month ago (so not listed in the guide book). It really was very new and had a very good ambiance: Tropical combined with Japanese (one affiliate is in Costa Rica). We were happy to get a Japanese table with an "underground, i.e. undertable pit" to put the legs instead of having to sit in a Lotus position, which would have been real torture for me (not so for my monkey). The food as you can see looked good, that we also had to look at it, but not for long. The prices were a little higher but justified.

If you happen to come here, then check for the offered cultured pearls and mother pearls jewellery. Very real and cheap, whether a pair of pearl earrings (1.50 Euro) or a big mother pearl pendant in a beautiful design (4 Euro). This would also be a good new business opportunity.
Safely arrived again in our "Paradise" Had to look at our good looking food
Next day we did not join another tour. But we moved out of the "Paradise". Not that it was not good enough, but it had no flair. The other one was the
Casa Linda Inn
Trinidad Road
Puerto Princesa City
Tel.: (048) 433 2606
This hotel and the double rooms had a very nice natural ambiance, i.e. all shiny wooden floors and Nipa palm walls. Though no TV and no hot water and with 15 Euro even more expensive. But we felt for more nature, also to try and evaluate another hotel. (However, breakfast was being consumed again at the Badjao Inn just around the corner.)

What to do after the move. Let's go to jail. We hired a tricycle the whole day for 5 Euro (including 1.60 Euro tip) and made the Puerto Princesa tour on our own. And Puerto Princesa, beside the city itself, was big; it even stretches up to Sabang.
Today we go to prison (not to an island) but still not with open gates for some
The Iwahig Prison and Penal Colony is really something special and is a must to visit for every tourist. Prisoners live here like in an ordinary village, cultivating rise and root crops and fishing. Many even live here with their families. This prison is also called "Prison Without Bars" according to the guide book, but it seemed to me that there are different classes of prisoners: We saw some still behind bars and guarded. Anyway, repeat offenders of the released ones are less than from other prisons in the country.
Prisoners coming home (extra blurred) from working in the rice paddies or crop fields
Some may now work in the garden or doing more work-out at the gymnasium?
On the way back we visited the Irawan Crocodile Farm. Supposedly financed by Japan to save the last big crocodiles of the Philippines, according to the guidebook.

However, I saw the skin and the skull of the last big one "saved", which did get a heart attack in its fifties once removed from its natural habitat in Southern Palawan.

All the living ones here are being bred for commercial use, as the lady guide told us (the croc farm must also survive and... so will the species, but always confined). They are either sold to other farms or zoos or factories for making handbags and shoes (what about steaks?). No croc, as we could see, is put back to the wilderness.
Better keep the crocs confined Here they can survive. Until?
This one didn't like it here at all and thus died of a heart attack
But enough off-spring will save the species Some will be killed for their beautiful skin
This little one was very cute And the skin felt very smooth
After surviving the Crocodile Farm we went to a Butterfly Farm. This also serves to save the colorful Palawan butterflies. Here they are more safe, because of no potential commercial use opportunities like for the crocs. It also has some interesting displays about the different development stages.
The beautiful Butterfly Garden with all the beautiful butterflies
Nice to look at with nice pattern
We have noticed before that there is some festival going on during our stay in Puerto Princesa, but didn't know when the parade will take place. Now it just happened that we did get stuck in the traffic to let a parade pass when we arrived back in town.
A carriage like Mardi Gras A group of majorettes
Each girl feels great in colorful costumes
Many hotel employees are participating to have fun and promote tourism
That was a busy day. This evening will finally be the most culinary experience in Puerto Princesa: Dining at the
Ka Lui Restaurant
369 Rizal Avenue
Puerto Princesa City
Tel.:(048) 433-2580
located just around the corner from the Casa Linda Inn and beside the Lotus Garden. We tried to eat here before, but without reservation it is impossible to get a table. This time we did and we were not disappointed.

No big menu, but the few meals came all with soup and dessert. The fish and the veggies were juicy and delicious and the price was unexpectantly low. The bill for two including beer and shake came up to 8 Euro.
Finally got a table in the Ka Lui the best restaurant in Puerto Princesa
With a tasteful interior and nice decorations
A beautiful garden with artful designs
It is hard to believe that Palawan also has some very expensive resorts. Especially after the experience with the Ka Lui restaurant some people will expect maximum luxury if a resort charges at least 180 Euro and more per person per night, as offered to me by email upon my request for a three nights stay at the
Dos Palmas Arreceffi Island Resort
Honda Bay
We really wanted to know about this place so we booked a daily tour including lunch for 29 Euro per person at the Dos Palmas booking office in Puerto Princesa. There I also fetched a flier offering a promo for three nights for 120 Euro per person per night, i.e. one third less than offered to me before.

Next morning no pick-up from our hotel. Meeting point was in front of the booking office. The bus and later on the boat filled up mostly with Philippinos, no other foreigner like me, though. Now let's see what we will see and experience.
Dos Palmas Arreceffi Island is in sight with its bungalows on stilts
They looked nicer from far away than a close-up look The "cheaper" bungalows at the beach with no beach
Surrounded by a nice garbage dump and an old engine scrap yard
which has to be passed on the way to the wellness area with a bunch of massage ladies waiting for clients
I would not lay my eggs here in the sand Only lying at the pool was the best place
A whole body massage (1 hour) would have come up to 16 Euro, three times as much as in Puerto Princesa. Swimming in the pool was only allowed for another 8 Euro. The sea was ok for a swim, but the water was not clear enough for a snorkel expedition, not to mention any coral reefs around. The snorkel platform we will visit later on was only good to watch fish but only lured with bread.

The restaurant, where we ate our mediocre lunch (meat was only pork and chicken, seafood only tuna and little shrimps), looked like a canteen.
Time to lunch. Chef, how many forks? No lobster, not even salmon or prawns
A folk dance show for amusement but the ladies didn't look amused
Relaxing in a chair on the beach was better than kayaking for free
I wonder what made the Abu Sayyaf pirates come here in 2001 all the way from Jolo in Southern Mindanao with their speedboats just to kidnap some people, one of them an American missionary couple (how could they have afforded Dos Palmas?). Still have to look for the story in the Internet. One thing I know is that the missionary was killed (so all money spent at Dos Palmas and nothing left to pay the ransom?) and his wife wrote a book about it.
This was the last chance for a free boat ride to the snorkel and fish feeding platform
Small fish only, no shark in sight On the way back to the island
Killing the time on the beach Still enjoying the view
Ok, folks, I cannot recommend Dos Palmas, not even for half the price. We were happy to be back in Casa Linda.

Next day we hired a tricycle again to visit the last remaining interesting spots in Puerto Princesa.

Just after Santa Lourdes we stopped at the Hot Springs. It was open but nobody was there, not even at the cashier to charge 50 cents just to look around for 15 minutes. The pool had bath tub temperature, but no nice place to stay around.
Visiting a hot spring on our own The Vietnamese Village, another tourist spot
More interesting was the Vietnamese Village. Around 300 refugees who fled the Communist takeover of South Vietnam occupied this place after they reached Palawan by boat. Now there are only a few left living here.

Many immigrated to other countries in the meantime, like the United States or Canada. Still, the restaurant serves Vietnamese food and the souvenir shop offers Vietnamese handicraft.
With a Buddha temple still being used Inside, the altar with a lot of offerings
Even the garden pond is nicely decorated and some houses are very well tended
Now, since we have seen everything around Puerto Princesa we took a look at some of the few sights in the city itself. One is the Plaza Cuartel from the Spanish times, but played some importance during World War II, where 150 American POW have been killed and burned by the Japanese.
One of the few old historic buildings in Puerto Princesa also tells a story about the fate of 150 American soldiers
The other building, the cathedral, looked pretty but is not of any historical significance.

It also looks clean, like the park around and almost all the streets, because the Mayor of Puerto Princesa, Edward Hagedorn, has introduced an exemplary garbage collection and street cleaning system in his city. You also can see garbage containers (same as used in Germany) all around.

Additionally, anybody dropping any cigarette butts on the street has to pay 3 Euro penalty for first offence (still cheap in comparison with Singapore) and can even go up to imprisonment. No wonder that this city has been declared the cleanest one in the Philippines and also has won many awards. By the way, Hagedorn is half German.

However, what he has not accomplished (yet?) is to reduce air pollution mainly caused by the many tricycles roaming and congesting the streets.
The cathedral looks new in comparison The Philippine hero Rizal stands in front
But some highlights still await us when we tried to get back to our Casa Linda Inn and were blocked by the gathering of another parade. There are only two festivals in Puerto Princesa, the Tabuan Festival in March and the City Fiesta in December.
We were getting stuck in the gathering for the next parade and just commencing in front of the Lotus Garden
The country needs leaders like these marching majorettes
A really special parade with many carriages
One is nicer than the other Always staffed with beautiful girls
Up high on the rollin' wagon Also nice to get a close-up look
What is this supposed to mean? Will an enlargement reveal more?
Ok, that was the first part of our trip to Palawan, for the best still to come. For the next part just click on Part II.

There could have been seen and done a lot more. Also I could have written more. If you want to know more all about the places I have visited, then just look up any of the many guidebooks or in the Internet.

© 2002 by WEW Tours