Palawan Trip Report
Air Asia – 12.05pm Clark to Palawan. Due 1.20pm arrived approx 1.05pm Approx 1800 pp inc all taxes. P150 domestic airport fee.
I enquired about the business and smoking lounge at Clark. P400 for unlimited food and drink and yes they have a smoking area.
Ysabelle Mansion – bit far from the main Rd at 1,300 p/n including breakfast for 2 and free transfers. Asked for 1 Queen sized bed when I booked, but the room was set up as a double room with 2 beds. They offered to remove the 2nd bed so I said yes. I didn’t realise at 1st but the bed was only a double width but at least had the length they promised (75”) which is essential when I am 6’2”. I got a feeling they don’t have any bigger.
Trikes seem to be P40 if parked at a “rank” or P20 if you pick up from the street for short distances. Longer distances by the haggle but better still to get one on the move.
Badjeo Inn for lunch. Nasty club sandwich on semi stale bread but my lady ordered a nice Filipino chicken dish which took quite a long time to arrive. Added 10% service charge.
The thing that I find strange is that there is well established tourism base here yet nowhere seems to have any brochures on tours available. This lack of information leads to frustration later as you can see from the rest of my trip report.
Went to markets looking for a bikini for my friend but it was just tourist souvenir crap. Asked where to get one and was suggested the new Robinsons mall so we went there. Overpriced and nothing she liked but it was getting late so we grabbed a feed at Max’s, a chicken chain.
Headed over to Phoenix bar/KTV on the way home at the suggestion of the trike driver. About 30-35 GRO’s and an add they have a special “Sexy Dancing Contest” Friday to Sunday. A few cuties in the line up but since I had company I didn’t enquire as to rates and availability. Spirits ranged from 180-220. SML 70, Pills & Red Horse 60, Soft drinks 60-80. No T Ice. Rum seemed to say 70 but quoted Rum coke as a cocktail at 120. No mention of a LD price. 10% service charge added to prices.
Thursday – Underground river tour P1,540 per person
Dam early 6.30 am wake up to an ordinary breakfast pre cooked to the order sheet completed last night. Had to argue just to get milk with my tea.
Left about 7.20am and headed off to the 1st pit stop after about an hour at a sari sari store in the middle of nowhere. A 5 minute stop that went for about 20. Next stop Ugong Rock. P200 per person for caving and an extra 250 if you want to come down by the zip line.
Basically dull limestone caves. Not particularly exciting but a few points where my height and girth were an issue in moving. They also have a rope climb section where you get harnessed for a short but steep ascent. What they don’t tell you before is if you are tall or wide like me you have to squeeze a few places which got me covered in mud on my shirt and shorts which was annoying.
This was topped by their revelation at the top of the peak that if you don’t take the zip line you have go back down the way you came. That pissed me off as a try on and even if wasn’t concerned about their reported weight limit I would have gone back on principal any way. The “try on” pissed me off.
We left sweaty and dirty about 11am and headed to Sabang Wharf where the underground river boats leave from. Arrived about 11.30am and were given a buffet lunch of luke warm Filipino dishes. I hate eating from buffets that don’t properly heat or cool their food but was hungry and no other option.
As we were eating lunch the rain kicked in pretty hard. We had a booking for 12.30pm to take the boat to the starting point for the river tour. Apparently the river had been closed due to heavy rains the past 4 days so they were busy. Why they closed for rain they never did explain and after viewing I don’t see why rain would have stopped them. I also recall reading somewhere that they only really have 4 months of dry season and rain is fairly common for 8 months of the year.
Nevertheless our tour guide arranged some throw away plastic rain covers at p50 each and told us to wait. Our booked time for departure was missed by about 30 minutes and we eventually got our 15 minute ride to the start of the river. To get on the transport, of course we had to step through water knee deep and try to avoid falling in the sea. Not a proper docking procedure and arrival was simply to beach the boat and get off in rough waves and up to waist deep water in pouring rain.
At the river tour start point we were told we had to wait for our spot in the queue for the tour boats. They were at 54 when we arrived and we were 72. So much for booking a time. Sitting around with nothing to do for about 2 hours with no smoking was very frustrating to say the least. A few long tailed Macaque’s and 1 monitor lizard were not entertaining enough.
It is in this context and the pounding rain which probably left me unimpressed with the river experience. The guide paddles a boat with about 8 passengers and points out various formations along the way. Most of which I noted bore little resemblance to the claim. An area called the Cathedral of course had a solid block column which they claimed resembled the Virgin Mary. It didn’t resemble anything apart from a block.
What do you think?
I got a nasty feeling the guide also deliberately steered us under water dripping from the ceiling because of course everyone had phones and cameras out and being dark, despite the work of the spot lighter it was hard to see the water dripping from the ceiling while looking around but I felt the driver could have been able to avoid it. About 50 minutes later we emerged as the last group was going in.
Taking pictures in the dark with an auto focus camera…… not easy!
Basically returned to the van soaking wet and lucky to have brought plastic bag to keep my camera, phone and money dry. Even without the rain, getting wet was inevitable but with some planning and a bit more basic infrastructure could have been avoided by organisers. As a “World Class” tourist destination they are running it like a sari sari store. Filipino’s will put up with that sort of shabby treatment but foreigners won’t.
The tour guide asked me if I had brought a change of clothes and I curtly replied that if they had told us it was a good idea I would have.
I simply can’t and will not recommend this tour to my friends.
Arrived back to hotel around 6.30pm and cleaned up and headed out for dinner at Kinabuch’s. Good selection and reasonable prices but still no T Ice. I had 1 of the Croc dishes for 340 which wasn’t bad. Service was a bit slow but they have a huge site and were very busy. Understaffed in my opinion.
Friday – van booked for the day, city tour and waterfall. Asked 4000 accepted P2,500
Wanted to start with Salakot Waterfalls but due to rain for last 5 days straight they advised it was flooded with no access so we started at the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm. The driver did suggest another falls but a 2hr plus drive away I declined. I misread Penal as Pearl and hence it wasn’t as interesting as I thought. Basically just a farm and souvenir shop with goods mostly made by the minimum security inmates.
Next stop was the Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre (Crocodile Park). P20 tour fee for a quick look at the holding tanks for the young crocs, fresh and saltwater and a look at the large pens out the back with the bigger crocs including a big 5m specimen. Small reserve out the back with a few enclosures of birds, reptiles and animals. Took a snap of the misses with a Palawan Bear Cat and for p20 then we both took shots with a 3 year old croc about 1m long and manageable for p30 each.
Butterfly Garden was closed nearby so next stop was Bakers Hill where we grabbed a quick lunch. Not much here to see but a good pit stop for food. Headed over to the Sta. Lourdes Hot Springs which turned out to be enclosed locally within a hotel and restaurant compound and the spring was not visible, just fed in to a large bath house type set up. Not worth the visit!
Quick pit stop at the Nanhai Fayu Chinese Buddhist Temple which was worth a quick look since we were in the area but no photo’s allowed inside. The Buddha statues had more of a Thai vibe or maybe it was just me.
Pit stops at the Palawan Museum (P20), Puerto Princesa Baywalk and the Plaza Cuartel (free) none of which were particularly interesting for me or worth a longer look. A visit to the markets to try to find a bikini for my girl yielded nothing. Guess they just wear civvies or nothing at the beach here. I am hoping the latter but I assume not.
Another pit stop at the WW2 museum (P30 donation) which has been open about 9 months and again is a fairly small set up and can be knocked over in about 10 minutes. That was basically it for the day so we headed back to the hotel.
Dinner at the Tiki Bar. Food was OK and reasonable price but included service charge and didn’t have T Ice. Service was a bit slow but the live band was quite good. Service charge included and it says on the menu not to tip. Headed down the street a bit as my girl wanted to see a comedian performing at the Republic restobar. She asked at the door and they confirmed but a live band was performing instead. Stayed for one drink but didn’t see the comedian. No TI again and service charge added. Early night.
Saturday – Honda Bay Island hopping
Had ordered breakfast for 9am today but they knocked on our door at 8am for breakfast. I said we booked for 9am not 8am. Needless to say I am sure the food served at 9 was what was ready at 8 as it was stone cold and nasty.
Organised Tour is P1,340 per person but after the debacle of the Underground river trip I decided to run my own show and do it myself. My costs for 2, return trike 400, mask, snorkel and flipper hire 600 (found out later could have got for 400), Boat for 8 shared with another couple 750, extra fees and island fees 550. Lunch 360 for 2 BBQ chickens purchased at the wharf. A little bit more but only 4 in a boat for 8 and we set our own pace and didn’t have to take a 7.30am transport and had food I could eat.
We left around 9.30am and stopped on the way for the fins and masks and arrived around 10.15. Quickly sorted and grouped with another couple who were actually staying at our hotel. Payed most of the fees and jumped aboard to head over to the 1st stop at a small reef called Pambato. Launched off the floating Turtle dock and snorkelled around the reef. A good range of fish about and a nice spot for snorkelling. Paid the “Island” entry fee of P50 per person.
Next stop was Starfish Island (p50 fee) where we picked a few starfish but didn’t do any snorkelling. Only a short visit there then off to Pandan Island (p75 fee) for lunch and a bit more snorkelling. Food available and table in the shade for up to 6 was 300. We went halves with the other couple. Most disappointing was no pandan products available. I could have gone for a pandan ice block but despite the name, nothing pandan available. The boat captain mentioned it was named after the numerous pandan trees found on the island.
Lu-Li Island was next which had a small reef, a small fish feeding area and a diving board at about 3m height. I took the leap and my lady followed later. Followed the reef for a bit of snorkelling again and then back to do a few more jumps. A bit of grey cloud had started to gather and the next potential stop was just another snorkelling stop so the 4 of us agreed to head home early. Back to the wharf around 3.45pm.
A pleasant day and if you have a group of 4 I would suggest do your own for sure. If you don’t mind paying a bit extra for 2, the same applies. IIRC they had a smaller 4 person boat available for P1,300.
I added a note to our breakfast order requesting it be hot for a change. Will wait and see tomorrow.
Dinner at Kinabuch’s. I think they are a victim of their own success. They have probably 400 odd seats across about 4 different sections with room to add more but they seem to be understaffed in a country were labour is dirt cheap. They were very full and service was slow. There seemed to be 3 servers in my section with maybe 60 seats and they were not coping well. The food is well priced and my grilled pusit (squid) was large and correctly cooked for 190. Nice banana desert only 55.
Off to Phoenix to see the sexy dancing and fashion parade. We arrived just before 9 and were told it would start 10pm. At 10pm they said 15 minutes. At 10.15 they said 10.30 and eventually started about then. Only stayed for a little while and left. Nothing much to get excited about but better than them all sitting around doing nothing which seems to be the normal procedure.
Breakfast was moderately warm and on time today. I don’t understand why they need to pre cook eggs so they can go cold. They are fast to cook and they aren’t exactly running flat out with no other guests present every time we have had breakfast here.
Decided to check out White Beach which was only 10 minutes away according to the map. We arrived there and paid a P20 entry fee but as we walked the short path I noticed the mangroves and figured it wasn’t going to be a white beach. I was correct and there wasn’t even a beach, I assume high tide but even at low tide it wouldn’t be white. I am not sure if they are entirely familiar with irony so perhaps just a misleading name.
Left immediately and was pleasantly surprised that when we asked for a refund of our fee it was given without argument. My lady was surprised as well. We then chatted with a trike driver about other options and his suggestion was about another 15-20 minutes away and 150 for him. Eventually we settled on the new Robinsons mall as place we could get lunch in air conditioned comfort as it was starting to get very warm.
The mall is only about half to 2 thirds open but not a lot do there and no movies I liked on. After getting an early lunch just headed back to the hotel for a nap.
Noticed at the room housekeeping hadn’t visited. We were gone for over 2 hours, there are not many rooms here and you hand the key in at reception so they knew we were out. Hmmm. As a bonus the toilet is now not flushing properly.
The tour we didn’t take was the firefly watching tour. Obviously a night tour but the issue for me being it is in a mangrove area there is a lot of mosquitoes. The guide on the underground river tour told us not to worry about the dengue mosquitoes there as they only bite at night, usually 6-10pm. Hence even with repellent I didn’t want to chance it.
Dinner at Balinsasayan restaurant. Nicely set up in a garden type setting with tables and cabanas set up under cover for eating. Probably better for lunch as the mosquitoes were out even though they put a coil under our table. Good selection but my garlic prawns were a bit disappointing especially when compared to the chilli prawns my lady ordered. I got 5 prawns with heads and shells attached and she got at least 10 with tails only. Both were the same price at 199. The pineapple rice was interesting especially presented in the pineapple and the banana desert saved it for me.
We walked up to the main road and down the street to a KTV I noticed last night. Equss KTV was also doing the shows on the same nights as Phoenix. They said there show started at 11pm so we had a drink and my lady sang a few tunes. Saw about 20 girls and they ranged from chubby to chunky. No spinners here but maybe being Sunday, some were off.
Headed over to a pool place we saw on the way and the foreigner owner explained why no one here has TI. Sam Miguel puts them on exclusive deals so they can’t sell the TI made by Asia brewery. A few games and we headed home.
The 1st thing the Mrs said when we walked in the door was that housekeeping never came. We did remind the receptionist on the way out. Never mind.
Monday – flight back
We had ordered breakfast for 9.30 today but were both up around 8.30 so after showering we hit breakfast at 9am and I asked the waitress for my eggs to be soft yoked. Finally got a hot breakfast with my eggs cooked correct for a change.
Chilled out in the room till the 12 noon check out then got our transfer to drop at us at a café a short walk from the airport entry. Reasonable burger but took a bit longer than expected to get the food out for a simple hamburger.
I got my matches confiscated at the 1st screening as you enter because I thought they would be ok. I told my girl I was trying to sneak a lighter through in my hand luggage and it passed the 1st X-ray no drama. After getting our boarding passes and paying the P40 per person airport fee we hit the 2nd X-ray screening. They pulled my bag for a 2nd look and I thought they got my lighter but they didn’t look close enough and it got through.
They have a smoking area airside which requires you to buy a drink or food. Bottle of water p40 but they do have a lighter you can use.
The inbound flight arrived about 10 minutes late and we left about 5 minutes late and arrived at Clark only 5 minutes late. The flight wasn’t full so we took a row to ourselves at the back of the plane. We had originally been given 1 window and 1 middle seat and they wouldn’t change it at check in but said you can on the plane. Due to my height I need the aisle and my lady wanted the window to look out.
Air Asia was quite Ok to fly with and I would be happy to use them again.
I would give Palawan a miss. Plenty of other places to get good snorkelling and the river was more a pain in the ass than a pleasant experience. Definitely not a good mongering destination. My lady’s perspective was interesting as she seemed to enjoy it more than me but she had never been on a plane before and is used to the local way of doing things. I don’t think she grasped my perspective on what an alleged world class destination should be like. Very much geared to the local Filipino market.