September 8, 2014

Puerto Princesa, Palawan: The Great Escape

Last November of 2013, I made an impromptu 4-day trip with a friend I met at Siem Reap. I enjoyed Coron but Puerto Princesa took me by surprise. Here, I carried a Bearcat, explored one of the 7 new Wonders of the World, survived spelunking and zipline, jumped off a diving board in the sea, and saw beautiful fireflies & planktons illuminate. 

Can you believe this?

My flight was at 9am and I wasn't sure if Kiernan was going to show up. And then I saw her, standing in one of the columns with her big backpack, waiting. This was my first time traveling alone with a stranger that I met for a night at a foreign country. To how this trip managed to push thru was a mix of persuasion and escape from my bereavement due to my grandfather's demise (RIP Papa).

At first I was nervous, but was amused when we started chatting about our travels. The bubbly girl I met at Angkor What? Bar was standing here in front of me, and I was grateful. Just to give you a background, we met in a bar at Siem Reap, Cambodia, parted ways, and communicated via Tumblr. She's from California, backpacking Southeast Asia for 2 months (See her amazing blog here) and didn't have plans to visit the PH until she was persuaded by yours truly to include it in her itinerary. So, when our flight was announced for boarding, our 4-day vacation began.

I normally plan my trips in advance, but since this was a spur-of-the-moment type of plan, I booked thru Airasia for a roundtrip flight worth P3k, a tour thru Boris Travel and Tours Co. and was able to score a sweet deal of the ff. for only P6k/head.

After an hour and a half, we landed on the shores of Palawan. And, here's how we toured the cleanest and greenest city in the PH for 4 days:

Day 1: City tour
1.Plaza Cuartel
2. Immaculate Conception Cathedral

3. The Crocodile Farm - I caught a glimpse of this Koala prototype called the 'Bearcat' and asked the caretaker if I can carry him. From his branch, he climbed up to my shoulders where Kiernan took a photo of me with this cutie.

4. Mitra's Ranch - A huge lot on a hill owned by one of the influential people in Palawan.

5. Baker's Hill - Where you can shop and devour freshly baked Hopias and bread. :)

A Christmas tree made out of plastic bottles. One of the many installations at Baker's Hill 
6. Butterfly Garden - Kiernan and I skipped this and went to the food kiosks for street food.

7. Binatuan Weaving Center - Where you get a chance to test your skills in weaving

After the tour, our guide brought us to Puerto Pension, a homey hostel recommended for nature lovers and native atmospheric aficionados.

Each room comes with a side table, comfy vintage chairs, and a ceiling fan
After dropping our belongings, we head on to try out Kinabuchs, one of the town's must-try restaurants, and tried the bestselling Crocodile sisig.

The famous Crocodile sisig
That's one hell of a tuna!
Kiernan had her first 'San Mig Pale' and started becoming a local. She ordered a huge piece of Tuna steak in lieu of the native crocodile dish. We were so full after that, so we decided to walk to our hostel and got a little lost because we ended at the Cathedral. Thank you, Waze, for showing us the right way.

Day 2: Adventure time!

A glimpse of Puerto Princesa
The Underground River - Our tour guide picked us up and brought us to UNESCO's new heritage site for our cave tour. One thing I can still remember from this tour was that when you're inside, try not to say "AHHH" in spite of being amazed so you won't have to taste bat poo.

Our tourist pose
Orange is the new black

Our tour ended earlier than usual so the tour guide asked us if we wanted to go spelunking and zipline. We had a lot of time to kill so everyone in the van agreed.

Ugong Rock Adventure - I must admit, i'm afraid of heights. I'm a bit claustrophobic, and I don't go well with trekking. But, since i'm already here, I might as well try it, right?

Spelunking - We were almost on top of the hill when my first challenge began: I had to go right thru a small gap between two huge rocks. Either I go thru it, or I head back down to where we started. I took no for an answer and was able to go thru.

Found this on the outer side of the caves
Zipline - The view from the top was breathtaking. After a couple of selfies, Kiernan and I readied ourselves to take the zipline. I was dead scared so I've thought of a plan to distract myself from my fear: as soon as the guide pushed me, I sang Wrecking Ball on top of my lungs. Panic started to kick in when I forgot the rest of the chorus and just screamed until the end. It was embarrassing at first, but then I felt proud because I didn't let fear stop me from having fun. (Kiernan, in case you're reading this... Can I have a copy of my Wrecking Ball moment that you caught on cam? :p)

View from the top

Looks like someone had a great time!
After our tour, we rested for a bit before we had dinner at another must-try restaurant: Kalui


Kiernan and I decided to have fun with the locals and headed on to the noisiest bar in the city: Tiki Bar. We had a few drinks until we dared ourselves to dance with the locals on stage. It may have been a bit embarrassing dancing in front of a live audience, but it was worth it.

Day 3: Honda Bay Tour and Firefly Watching

Grabbing our gears before our island hopping tour
Again, we had to wake up really early for our island hopping tour.

Our first stop was at Starfish Island, where I got to jump off a diving board in the middle of the sea and swim with the fishes.

We had lunch at Luli Island and dozed off till we got toasted. Our last island stop was at Cowrie Island. The sands are whiter and the weather was perfect for snoozing while other tourists were busy doing photoshoots. Yes, we just snoozed around the whole island hopping tour.

At night, Kiernan and I had dinner at the Butterfly Garden before the Firefly watching tour at the Iwahig river. 

This was probably the highlight of my vacation because we were able to see planktons illuminate just by paddling on the water.

Before heading home, our tour guide blasted out their perfectly compiled cheesy songs where we danced and partied inside the van. It was a night well-spent.

Day 4: Baywalks and Souvenir Shops

Puerto Princesa's baywalk
We didn't have to wake up early the next day, so we had breakfast a little later than usual. I took a walk to explore the baywalk at the back of our pension house.

When I got back, Kiernan decided to cut the trip short by going back to her folks in Singapore. I felt a little sad for not being able to tour her around Manila, so we made the most of our remaining time by doing some last minute shopping at the Souvenir shop. When in Palawan, hoard boxes of Pearls. They're dirt cheap! A pair costs as low as P10.

And just like that, we're back in Manila. Kiernan had a few hours before her flight, so we had lunch at C2 Filipino Cuisine at Resorts World Manila. I brought her to the airport, said our goodbyes inside the cab, and hoped to make another impromptu trip soon.

Overall, it was a happy experience for me. Meeting a stranger is one thing. Traveling with them is another. I'm glad to have met a jolly and adventurous one. Bringing an Environmental Science Major graduate to an Eco-friendly city made this trip a perfect start for future travels to come.

Arrivederci Kiernan! This turned out to be one of the best escapes I've ever had. :)