The Philippines is a truly incredible country. Goes from stunning beaches to staggering mountains within the same country and sometimes within the same islands. The sky and the ocean have some time the same colour and can hardly be distinguished if not for the beautiful floating trimarans. When sunset comes it feels like the doomsday as everything take a fire red color mixed as it's reflects on the azure blue of the water.
I've landed in Puerto Princesa, in Palawan on April 22nd coming after a month of Bali. April is full-on Filipino summer...big mistake! It is extremely hot!! From 12pm to pretty much 3 pm, there is no way to get around. You simply evaporate and the sun would burn every square inch of your white pale skin. The asphalt doesn't help as it doesn't help not having beaches around you. I know people that have been caught by heat strokes. And having an heatstroke is terrible experience. You vomit the sould out of your body, cold sweat, shivering, nausea and fountain diarrhea. No good! Better stay home in the shade and chill or go to a bar or restaurant.
Personally, I was always going around with a wet towel over my shoulders and over my head that made me look like a rich Arab. Best way to remain fresh and save yourself from sunburns and heat strokes.
A lot of reviews talk about Puerto Princesa as a concrete jungle, a town to visit Max for one night to recover from the flight, go to the famous KaLui Restaurant, see the Underground River and take a van to go to either El Nido or Port Barton. So basically the same way you'd behave with a prostitute. But Puerto is much more than that. Don't be a dumb tourist. Get to know the culture and the people of the places you visit. Don't just go to take a picture with the locals to post on Facebook say "My new Filipino friend" looking like a fake version of a fake plastic American doll.
I ended up staying in Puerto Princesa for 8 days and I had the best time. Maybe because I was coming from the Bali where locals treat exclusively as a cash cow, I immediately felt in love with the warmth of Filipino people.
Puerto Princesa does not have beaches, the closest one is Nagbaton which will leave you completely breathless. But can the capital of the island voted twice the best island in the world be so horrible? Of course not!
If you get off the beaten fucking track you'll the chance ti find hidden gems around the island. Beaches so beautiful that Nacpan beach will look like Brighton in comparison. But you' wont't find them on the Lolenely fucking Planet. You'd have to speak with the damn locals. Make a fucking effort!
Puerto has a lot to offer, nice restaurant, nice cafes, shopping centres and nice hostels. I stayed at Bamboo Hostels where I really felt home. Sleeping outdoor under the stars protected by a mosquito net in a very quiet area is priceless. True, might be a little far from the centre, but a tricycle can take you anywhere in 10 minutes for as little as 15 pesos ($0.20). And I also manage to stay for free. Learn how in the next post. Don't be lazy!
Ah yes....Tricycle! The best and almost only way to get around in the Philippines. In Puerto, I managed to rent a Motorbike though a friend for as little as 350 pesos a day - about $7. Slightly more expensive than other countries, but a great price for the Puerto Princesa and the Philippines. Tricycle are sort of improvised sidecars. It seems they might falling apart every minute by they're actually quite solid. A ride from the airport might cost 50 pesos a person or a 100 if you're alone. 80 if you like me like to argue. Mainly because coming from other countries in Asia you'd expect the locals to rip you off on everything. Not true in the Philippines where locals are actually very transparent and helpful.
I will do a whole blog post about how nice Filipinos are, but let me tell you just one right now. When landed and in need of a Sim card, the tricycle driver brought me to the local market to find one and he stayed with me all the time to make sure I would have been successful. Didn't ask for anything in exchange, just wanted to be helpful. Not common in Asia!
A Motorbike will give you the complete independence to visit the wonders around Puerto Princesa without having to be forced to take a tricycle all the time.
Nagtabon Beach is 40 minutes away by motorbike. I strongly suggest hiring a motorbike to get there. The drive is very easy and when you get to the top of the hill before the beach, the view is really stunning. Plus, if negotiate well you can get a motorbike for 350 pesos (normally 500) while a tricycle would easily cost you 400 each way, and getting one to come back might be very difficult.
I arrived at Nagtabon quite late, just in time to see the sunset. It will make your eyes bleed for as beautiful as it is! Driving with a friend of mine we got caught by the rain but even when we stopped to wait for the rain to stop, Filipino's welcomed us inside their houses offering hot coffee and local gin. Obviously, everything for free despite us insisting on paying. At the beach there are several small restaurant grilling fish, however, we spent our time playing and entertaining some local kids. really cool experience.
From Puerto Princesa you can also visit Honda Bay, island hopping at its finest. Personally, I didn't really enjoy. With Dave, a local friend, and his girlfriend we hired a private boat from a common friend in order to be as independent as possible. It turned out that there is no way to escape the classic touristic tour and we ended up swimming with loads of Asian with safe jackets feeding fishes. Just not my cup of tea, despite the island being esthetically blasting. White sand beaches and crystal clear water, just like the typical Philippine's postcard. Disappointing snorkelling though. Most of the corals in that area are death, probably crushed by the recent typhoon or killed by the rise of water temperatures.
For me Puerto has been a great adventure for the reasons you will read in the next posts, but also a great and way to recover. Coming from Bali where services are very essential and to buy anything you have to ride for dozens of kilometres, I needed a place to stay a little more stable.
Puerto has everything you need. From two very efficient hospitals (you will read later why I needed a hospital in Puerto) to an up to standard Post Office, a very modern shopping centre and of course The Underground River, one of the world's natural seven wonders. It also has a vibrant night life with a street with few bars next to each other with live music every night, a beautiful park with food stalls and live concerts. But above all, it has all the kindness and warmth of Filipino people.
Also, very important for me, Puerto has few places with a fairly reliable internet connection. I'm saying fairly reliable because, as you read everywhere online, reliable internet in the Philippines is an utopia. Things are changing thou. At Bamboo Hostel I managed to have a decent connection, mainly because during the day everyone was at the Underground River while I could enjoy some stable connection to get some work done. It is also the only town I found with an actual Internet cafe. Actually now it has two as the second one has literally just opened. You'll ask around and everyone knows about them.
However, I believe that "The Philippines for digital nomads" deserves a post of its own.
I'm not suggesting here that Puerto Princesa is a town for everyone of course. Tourist with few days available shouldn't probably be spending too much time in Puerto, but real travellers probably should invest a little more than two days. It is a town with a soul.
Not your prostitute.