With the arrival of the darkest winter months, I felt the growing urge to have a short laid-back do-nothing holiday. Nepal and India had been an incredible but very exhausting trip for me in the spring and I had had no vacation in the summer, not that there was much sun anyway.
So after a long debate on where to go, Thomas and I decided to take a flight to Palawan, an island in the western corner of Philippines stretching towards Borneo like a long thin bridge between the South China Sea and Sulu Sea. We were hoping for a quiet, relaxing getaway – no stress, just the sea, beach, some sun, good seafood and a couple of books. But so it happened that adventure didn’t leave us even this time.
It started already from Hong Kong airport when we learnt that we need to produce a ticket from Philippines to Hong Kong in about 30 minutes, otherwise we would not have been allowed to enter the plane. We had not bought a flight ticket back because we wanted to be flexible and we are not that good in traveling with plans. On the Philippine border nobody cared about any ticket. Of course.
Getting stuck with a jeepney bus
After about 30 hours of flying, we arrived to Puerto Princesa, which for most part I actually skipped because I was sleeping for almost 2 days in row. I do remember that we rented a motorcycle and found a beach with mangroves all to ourself. We took a local jeepney bus to Port Barton but managed to get stuck in the mud along the way. It was a good show by itself to see how the bus managed to deny gravity and pull itself out with raw horsepower.
When we finally made it to our destination, we spent a few days on a beautiful Cacnipa island depicting everything that we were hoping for in a vacation (yes, emerald sea and white sand too). It was all very romantic, if I leave out the fact that we were actually quite close to being hit by coconuts in the hammock and found out that the sandflies in this part of the world are barbarous.
For those who haven’t had the chance to meet sandflies yet – these are invisible little insects that seem harmless after the first contact but keep reminding you of themselves with endless itching for weeks. Well, I guess every paradise has its price. After a good rest, we undertook an 8 hour boat ride to El Nido, the back-packing hub in the Northern coast of Palawan.
We did the obligatory island hopping with the bangka boat, enjoyed some delicious seafood on the beach, made abundant use of happy hours, experimented with white russians, ran into my colleague Martin in the middle of the night without any knowledge of him being there, created some funny and rather silly videos with my new camera and made friends with tricycle drivers.
24 hours at sea
Since we had bought a ticket back to Hong Kong to leave from the neighbouring Busuanga island, we had to face another 7-8 hour boat ride. Unfortunately, it turned into a nightmarish 24 hour trip, that included anchoring close to a small island, getting into a kind of storm at night and being afraid of not getting out of it alive, having no food or drinks (besides coconuts) and being dead tired, when we finally arrived.
In Coron town on Busuanga island we met a cool old Austrian guy with a speed boat and at least 3 different motorcycles. He was well over 65 and spent his time taking one of his motorcycles on a ride every morning and every evening along the only 28 km stretch of tarmac that can be found on the island and jet-skiing in the afternoon in Coron Bay. What a way to grow old!
He graciously gave us one of his enduros and we went for a ride on the gravel road. Despite the fact that my body hurt for days after that endeavour, considering that I had almost no seat on the motorcycle, we saw some Philippine village life, which was an interesting change after spending so much time taking photos of the beach, boats and sunsets.
After another 35 hours of flights back home, I felt physically almost as tired as before going on a vacation. So tired even, that it took me 3 months to look through the photos I had taken and upload them. But putting that aside, my mind had definitely had a restart and I felt recharged enough to get through the winter.
Philippines are well worth a visit, at least Palawan and the islands around that area – see the image gallery for photos. For some reason I didn’t have many expectations but I was positively surprised.
Some highlights from Philippines
- hammock time on the island with falling coconuts
- tricycle rides with loud music you would normally never listen to
- going to the North by jeepney and the mud match that resulted
- discovering a hidden beach South of Puerto Princesa
- the sunsets in El Nido area
- the villages in the inner part of Busuanga island
- making funny amateur videos
- seafood with coconut curry and sizzling hot tiger prawns
- caramelised bananas – yummy, yummy…
- and of course – the sun and the sea