Hello again world! I’m getting the blog back on track. I’ve gone offline (uninentionally) for the last six months for many reasons. The biggest one is that I’ve had too much on my mind and too much happening offline. Something had to give. So let’s start with a lovely catch up on the beach. In El Nido, Palawan, the Philippines.
I’ve been to the Philippines twice now. And I swore after my first time I really didn’t need to return. (Sort of like Bangkok, and you see how that turned out.) After several days of work trapped in a hotel conference room near Clark Air Force Base north of Manila, I tried to escape to Cebu further South. Cebu, if you haven’t heard of it, is one of the Philippines major beach destinations. It’s also the nearest main launch point for the the Chocolate Islands. The latter was my target.
Well, long story short, that entire weekend supplemental went straight to you-know-where in a hand basket. Two hour delayed flights, one and a half hours in a taxi cab line, stuck inside a resort with nothing around it, and I even had to change rooms at the hotel because the wind was howling so badly through the patio doors I thought there were sirens going off. I missed the ferry connection to the Chocolate Hills too. So yeah. Pretty beach, but way too much hassle for me. Oh, and I got food poisoning from the airplane food on the way back to Bangkok. I mean… when it rains, it pours. Geez.
Fast forward to 2018 and I’m on the schedule to travel to Manila for work again. I debate back and forth several times. Should I just round trip out of Manila and call it a win? Or should I try this again? Somewhat against my better judgement I decided to make another go of it. This time to El Nido, Palawan. Islands that are further west than Cebu.
- El Nido is wonderful. I HIGHLY recommend staying in town, but that’s in large part because I’m a little scarred after being trapped twice now inside of a resort with nothing else to explore. Clearly I’m not built for resort vacations.
- The town is adorable, they are used to tourists (which is good and bad of course), and there is a lot of good food (and alcohol) to go around.
- Even if you stay in town (like I did), take time to head out to the islands. There are four standard tour routes outlined, descriptively called A, B, C, and D. Generally A and C are the most popular. Dozens of companies for a variety of prices will take you along these routes. Some go in reverse to try and skip the crowds and some have a license to combine a day long journey with highlights from multiple routes. But everyone pretty much goes to the same places. I hopped on to one of the standard tourist boats and was just fine. My only suggestion – try to get on a smaller boat if you can. They can anchor further into the lagoons, which is nice if you want to swim instead of kayak the lagoons (which if you have any swimming capability, you really should do. The Small Lagoon in particular is an easy swim.)
- The Tao Experience is supposed to be one of THE defining experiences in the area. I learned this too late, and had to listen in envy to a few of my fellow travelers. If I return (and I liked it enough that I might) I will be signing up for this.
- The people all across the Philippines are really lovely. It’s just a nice place to visit. (Just stay out of the drugs and cartel business of course.)
- Wifi (and cellular service) is awful everywhere on the island. Brace yourself. I was still working during the day my first days there and had a little panic attack until I found a restaurant with decent enough wifi. I bought a lot of tea, water, and eventually beer from them to justify my spot. Oh, and I had a local SIM card, but it still wasn’t good enough to tether. So… yeah.
- Get a SIM card before you land in El Nido. It’s a beach town, not a tech center, so you might struggle getting sorted out here. I did eventually find spots where the cellular service was good enough. And I needed a local number to make reservations at a couple places, so it’s a good thing to have.
- Hotels are really not up to snuff yet in the area. It’s a huge market opportunity so I expect this will change over the coming years. In the meantime, live off a boat like the Tao Experience, suck it up in a 2-3 star (3 star might be stretching it), or stay at the Cavern Pod Hotel. I did the final option and I have NEVER liked a hostel so well. This place is impressive. It’s owned by an American-Filipino entrepreneurial couple and they really know what they’re doing when it comes to hotels. I shared a room (pod) with only three other ladies, had quite a bit of privacy, hot shower with pressure, a fantastic bed and lights/storage/outlets exactly where I needed them. The wifi isn’t great… but that’s not the hotel. That’s El Nido.
- There is one ATM in the entire town. Bring cash with you from elsewhere. (Seriously)
- Manila international airport is a bit of a nightmare. You’ll want to take a taxi between terminals (yes, really.) There is technically a shuttle but it took me 1.75 hours to go between terminals when I did it. So not worth it. Grab Taxi has it’s own pick up stand at most terminals to make finding your car really easy. That’s what I did the second time and it was about 10 minutes between terminals. Much better.
- If you’re a resident or working in South East Asia consider applying for an APEC card. Immigration in Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport seems to be competing with Bangkok some days.
Overall I’d be happy to repeat the experience. Which is 180 degrees different from my first visit to the Philippines.