Palawan is known to have a collection of the most beautiful islands in the world. Quaint islands, crystal clear water, stunning sunsets and golden beaches – did not disappoint!
It was hard to choose where to go with only four nights left up our sleeve before we were due to visit my cousin James in Manila. Most of the travellers we had met had been to El Nido and a few then went on to Port Barton. Originally, we just planned for El Nido, until we met the people who had done both. All of them suggested only Port Barton. We had never heard of Port Barton…but we were told that it was very similar to El Nido, minus the huge tourist crowds, partying and chaos – sounded great to us.
HOME FOR A WHILE:
Our first day in Palawan was made up of travel. We flew from Cebu to Manila to Puerto Princesa where we piled into a mini van crammed full of people for a three hour trip to Port Barton.
Thankfully, our mate Roderick from the Netherlands, who we met a few islands back in Siquijor, had arrived there earlier that morning and sorted out our accommodation, what a top bloke. He’d booked into the Princess Michaella hostel, which was 350Peso per night ($10NZ). He booked Neil and I a wee bungalow, all to ourselves, for 800Peso ($23NZ). What luxury to have our own room for the next four nights. Our room was very colourful and comfortable, equiped with an ensuite and a double bed with a mosquito net, it was perfect. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned yet that on the islands it’s very rare to come across a warm shower – but by this stage we were used to refreshing cold water to get clean with, or should I say, I’d learned to make my showers very fast! The staff at Princess Michaella were incredibly friendly and super helpful, the owner even played tour guide for us one day, free of charge! Not to mention, it was less than a minute walk from the beach.
ISLAND HOPPING, WATERFALL CHASING AND LAZY BEACH DAYS:
Once we had settled into our bungalow, Neil and I set out for a swim. What a beautiful spot!
We were getting close to sunset, but the water was so lovely and warm we stayed in for quite sometime before tripping over Roderick on the beach and watching the sunset.
Rum and dinner called our names, followed loudly by bed.
Our first full day was taken up by a wonderful island hoping tour run by a local fisherman named Jensen, our hostel set this up for us.
It cost 700Peso ($20NZ) per person which included an awesome lunch – Jensen caught and cooked us fish with lots of veggies, fruit and rice, hands down the best food we had in the Philippines.
There were eight of us on the tour, Neil and I, Roderick, a Finish couple – Kim and Marju – an English/French couple – George and Emma – and a deaf man who couldn’t read lips, it was a bit hard to communicate with him, but he seemed to enjoy himself. It was a good bunch.
We went snorkelling at four different reefs and visited German Island where we swam with more sea turtles. The reefs were all good fun. Jensen, who is recommended and listed in the Lonely Planet, took us to all the best places.
Normally you pick between three different tours and you get to see three reefs and an island, but Jensen was in no rush and said he would just take us to the best spots – such a great day and such an awesome guide. Look him up if you head there.
The first reef was the most touristic, but it was a great way to get started with lots of coral and pretty fish.
The second was a lot bigger and Roderick and I were lucky enough to see a turtle before it swam into the deep.
The next stop was German Island.
This was a private island where we spent a few hours relaxing on hammocks, had lunch and swam with some turtles – this was the highlight of the tour for me.
The third reef we went to was the best, it was very colourful and there were so many fish! Stunning. The last one was no better or worse than the first two, but it was still good fun.
Once we arrived back on shore we headed in to shower and freshen up before joining Roderick and the two other couples for dinner and more rum! A great way to end a great day.
The next day, we all hired scooters and started planning a route to a couple different waterfalls.When Neil was trying to get directions from the hostel owner, Robert, he just said he would show us the way because it would be fun. Filipinos really are just amazing people.
The seven of us followed Robert and another guy named Andrew from Australia joined us. The first stop was Bigaho beach.
A beautiful slice of paradise with no other soul in sight. We sunbathed and swam before heading to Bigaho waterfall.
The falls were very pretty, there was nowhere to jump, but it was lovely to swim in fresh, rather than salt, water.
We ate lunch at a little eatery just outside the waterfall, then our scooters took us to Papawyan waterfall. It cost 20Peso ($0.50NZ) to park our scooters. It was a wee walk down the river to get to the falls, this was beautiful and shaded by lovely trees. The waterfall was very pretty and there was a good jump at the top. Another refreshing swim. After that everyone was knackered.
Our last full day in Port Barton was our best. It was Roderick’s birthday so the three of us started the day with coffee, crepes, banana smoothies, and omelettes. We were joined by another dude from the Netherlands, Ties. After coffee we wandered down the beach until we found somewhere for a neck and back massage, 200Peso each ($5NZ). Once we were all relaxed it was time to set up on the beach with some snacks and rum.
The presence of us fine specimens and the few bottles of rum, soon attracted a fair few beach goers, and things started to pick up.
It didn’t take long until we had a full on beach party going with about 15 people! An epic sunset set the spirits up for us up for what turned into a full-on beach party.
The day was full of good banter, spontaneous swimming, good food and great company. An epic sunset got everyone excited and the gathering turned into a full on beach party.
When it got really dark we went to a little BYO bar down the other end of the beach, it had didgeridoos so Neil put on a show and taught a few others how to play.
Things got pretty wild when Neil started a belly rolling competition:
By now it was fully dark so we went swimming with the plankton – this was awesome! The little things glow in the water the more you move – I felt like I was surrounded by stars as when you looked up, the sky was shinning with millions of them and then looking down, the sea glowed just as bright. What a wonderful experience!
The following day brought with it a sad goodbye as we left Roderick with the promise to see him in the Netherlands later this year and headed to Manila.
PERSONAL DRIVERS AND HIDDEN BARS:
After a month of cold showers and mainly dorm rooms Neil and I were excited to see some family and enjoy some home comforts. My cousin James and his beautiful wife Tori live in an awesome high rise apartment in Manila. They generously they invited us to stay for our last three nights in the Philippines.
When we got into the airport James’s driver Jessie was waiting for us with our names printed on a sign. It turns out the traffic in Manila is incredibly busy, and the driving is crazy – it’s like there are no road rules and if you get pulled over by a cop you can bargain with them as to how much you pay, because they can’t be bothered going through the paper work of giving you an actual fine. We were very grateful to see Jessie.
When we got to the apartment it was such a stark contrast to what we had been staying in. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy roughing it, but this was so amazing. We had a warm shower! There was a kitchen! I cooked for the first time since we left New Zealand! Not to mention the view of the city and ridiculous golf course below was beautiful.
Oh, and that bed, James and Tori, you’re the best.
On the first night the cousins took us out for cocktails and dinner – we had to borrow clothes and shoes because we had nothing appropriate to wear, the dirty hippies we’ve turned into. What an awesome change in scenery – the highlight being a secret bar.
After dinner Tori said we should go to a bar called The Bank for a drink, we followed. Randomly we started walking into a 7eleven (a dairy or corner store), I was thinking what the heck are we doing here, when Tori went into what looked like a stocks cupboard filled with food. Suddenly, a curtain on the other side pulled open and boom we were in a night club! Such an awesome idea, apparently there are a bunch of secret clubs like this all over Manila.
The next few days were very lazy, we walked around a few markets and stocked up on things we needed while we could grab them. The cousins took care of us, organising massages and they even cooked us a roast chicken for dinner which was incredible – it’s the little things you miss.
Port Barton was awesome, a lovely place to explore and chill out – we will definitely go back some day and we can’t wait to eventually explore the rest of Palawan and visit Coron. Manila was really just another city, but because we had people to show us around it was good fun. I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a travel destination though. This brings our Philippines journey to an end. Next up? Good morning Vietnam!