The underground river of Puerto Princesa for the end

On the last day of our trip to the Philippines, we had planned on visiting the subterranean river of Puerto Princesa. Opposite to what its name indicates, it is really in Sabang, about 2 hours van ride from the main city. But the tickets can only be bought in Puerto and the trip is almost impossible to arrange independently, especially in high season, so we signed up for an organized tour.

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Some frustration and some fun in El Nido

Our stay in El Nido was quite frustrating. We had very high hopes for this place, and if you google images of it you’ll understand why. For 4 days, we tried to explore the lagoons, coves, coral reefs and caves of the Bacuit Bay islands, and we couldn’t. The coast guard wouldn’t allow any boats to sail due to a small typhoon that was crossing the area generating strong waves.

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A perfect day in Palawan

Getting from Coron, where we came for wreck diving, to El Nido, the travelers’ hub of Palawan, is not as easy as one would expect. There are no flight connections, so most people are forced to pick one of the two, or try their luck in rather unreliable bangkas (7-10 hours and several mishaps). Because we didn’t want to waste a precious day and wanted to do something special for Elena’s birthday, we contracted a private 3d/2n trip with Abandon Paradise Expedition. I cannot recommend them enough; Don and Fred are very professional and fun, and they offer a memorable experience.

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Exciting wreck diving in Coron

The waters around Coron, in the Palawan archipielago, are a world-class destination for wreck diving. There are 24 Japanese ships sunk during an American strike in 1944. The story of this fleet is one more chapter in the fascinating Philippine history, which includes key roles in the Spanish-American war and WWII, mandatory reading for anyone visiting the country.

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Hiking through rice terraces in Banaue & Batad

We arrived in Banaue by Ohayami bus at 5am, when it was still dark and rather cold. A kid offered to take us to a guesthouse and we followed him… got a double room at the People’s Lodge, in the center of the town, for 800 PHP ($17), and quickly passed out.

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At 7am we woke up and enjoyed the Banaue views for the first time: a mesmerizing green valley covered by rice terraces, carved by the Ifugao people 2,000 years ago. After a quick breakfast, we walked to the main square and hired a tricycle (which apparently works on coke ;P) to take us to the top of the mountain, the so-called Banaue viewpoint. Most people drive the tricycle up and down, but we wanted to be dropped off and hike down on our own. As we got higher, the fog wrapped us to the point that we weren’t able to see much of the rice terraces. But as we were trying to figure out the trailhead, the fog started to dissipate and we were able to see not only the paddies, but even a section of the ‘trail’ we intended to follow.

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Tramping around Manila

On Christmas day 2014, Elena and I landed in Manila. We were planning on travelling across the Philippines for 10 days, covering the capital, the rice terraces in north Luzon, and the water wonders of Palawan. Since our plane had arrived at 4am and we were planning on taking a 9pm bus to Banaue, we were left with ample time to tramp around the city. I have to admit I was positively surprised, as I hadn’t heard the best things about Manila, and I found a neat, interesting town with friendly people. Yes, there is poverty, but somehow it feels more organic, integrated than in other places. And the mix of Asian, Spanish/Latin and Northamerican heritage creates a unique character.

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