a journal on hiking and traveling around the Philippines

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Puerto Princessa Experience

Trip was last : Sept 2007
Just got back home from my four-day trip to Palawan and me and three other friends enjoyed it so much! We stayed at the Lucky Garden Inn and Suites, a budget inn in Puerto Princessa, Palawan’s capital. The city is clean and peaceful. The garbage bins scattered around Palawan are nice too, haha!  These  are huge, green expensive looking garbage bins with wheels. You can see it all over town and in the rural areas. What I also love about Palawan is their tourism program. They are so organized. It was so easy to book tours and the prices are standard. Nobody's preying on tourists because there seem to be information centers wherever we go like in the Underground river and Honda Bay. Generally, people are so courteous and those from the businesses give first-class customer service.
Garbage bins along Rizal avenue
Unforgettable experiences : Eating wood worm in Kinabuch’s, tripping on a boat in front of the whole tour group in Sabang waters, swimming for dear life away from a pink territorial fish in Snake Island, kissing a crocodile which got agitated afterwards and had to be calmed by its trainer, eating the best pineapple rice in Balinsasayaw Grill, eating the pastries at Itoy’s Coffee Haus, eating at Badjao Seafront Restaurant, eating barefoot in Ka Lui, swimming on top of the corals at the Pambato Reef, swimming in ultra-soft, powdery white sand in Sabang, boating at the Puerto Prinessa Subterranean River National park, buying stuff from inmates at the Iwahig Penal Farm.
I’m posting other trip details. Hope these will help you. Contratry to what most people think, staying in Palawan isn't all that expensive - you just have to plan for it.
ACCOMODATION : Lucky Garden Inn and Suites
Address : Rizal Avenue Extension, Puerto Princessa, Palawan
Description : 3-5 minutes away from the airport via van or tricycle but don’t worry, you won’t hear the planes at all; has 25 rooms, super friendly and warm staff; can book you tours; cheap food; no pool; offers airport pick-up; no curfew; great garden where you can hear the refreshing sound of chirping birds


Rates (as of 2007):
790 per night per room (Standard Room, airconditioned)
890 per night per room (Triple room, airconditioned)
1190 per night per room (Premium, can accommodate four people; contains two double beds, ref, aircon, hot and cold shower, cable tv)
Contact Information : +063(48 4332719/433-6576)
Email : reservations thru: luckygardeninn@yahoo.com
Website here



What I Love About this Place : Highly Affordable and excellent customer service! We stayed in the premium room and it was so clean and spacious enough. There was no closet though but there’s a small space to hang your clothes. Even if it’s just a budget inn, service is first class and quick most of the time. The aircon works well. In fact, it gets really cold. The bathroom is quite nice and I didn’t get the “icky feeling” at all. I’ve always been a little bit sensitive to bathrooms and when it’s ugly and dirty, I’m having a hard time taking a dump but this one, I went everyday so I knew the bathroom was quite acceptable.


WHERE WE WENT : 
Saturday – September 15, 2007 – Honda Bay Island Hopping





Tours for island hopping can be arranged through your hotel but my suggestion is, if you’re already in a group, don’t join the tour anymore because your time is constrained. Of course when you’re on vacation, taking time is what you want the most right?! So here’s what we did – we rented an air conditioned van through our inn to get to the wharf (which was about two hours from the airport) and booked a boat from there. Our plane arrived at 9:15 am in P. Princessa and as soon as we arrived at the inn which was about 5 minutes away from the airport, we immediately booked for a van to leave at 10:30 am.



Van rental is at 1,000 pesos. Depending on the arrangement, some vans are for rent at 1000 for only 3 hours. In our case, we only needed the van to shuttle us to the St. Lourdes wharf and back to the inn so we exceeded three hours. There were four of us in the trip so we split the 1000 among ourselves. From our inn, the drive to the wharf took about 30 minutes. On our way to the pier, we stopped by the Vietnamese Village where only 5 Vietnamese families live. We were told that most of them have already left the country. There’s a Vietnamese resto but we didn’t go anymore because we were running late but I read somewhere that they serve good food. There’s really not much to see in there but a souvenir shop.






When we reached Sta. Lourdes wharf, we did not have to endure any tourist hungry boatmen. Everyone is spared of this because Sta. Lourdes wharf has its own information center and this is where you will book a boat. 


For a whole day of Island hopping, you only have to pay, 1,100 per boat which included the boatman and a guide. Each boat can fit about 6 people. You can also rent snorkeling gear for 100 pesos per person also good for the entire day but it would be much better if you bring your own because you have to insert this mouthpiece inside your mouth. They also sell bread for 20 pesos (to be used for feeding the fishes or humans) and bottled water (they sell Absolute and this other brand). 


Since none of us had time to eat, we immediately headed to Snake Island, the only island which can serve food according to the locals. Boat ride from the wharf to Snake island took about 30 minutes. Water was really deep, clean and green! It was amazing. Along the way to Snake Island, we saw tons of corals, some birds and other islands like Cowrie island, starfish island, etc. Hehehe! There were a lot, I can’t remember the rest.


When our boat docked Snake Island, I immediately wanted to dip in the water but priorities needed to be set. We ordered food. They serve grilled squid and other sea foods but when we came in, only the squid was available. The island does not have a restaurant but there’s a small store where you can buy food and some little cabanas where you can hide from the sun and eat. I think there was a rest room near the swamp made of dried leaves. We ordered 1 kilo of squid (3 pieces medium-sized squid), one can of tuna, one can of small corned beef, 6 cups of rice, 5 plastic cups and a 1.5 liter of Royal. Guess what?! It only costs 426 pesos for everything. We ate with our hands after taking a swim and food was heavenly but it did take quite a while to get ready – about 45 minutes! The squid was so fresh, it tasted so good. 


The best thing about Snake Island is the swimming, snorkeling and feeding the fish. We were able to feed a whole lot of various classes of fishes! Our guide even took us to deeper water to see a school of fish. It was quite scary at first because when you look into the water, you won’t be able to see the sea bottom but the school of fish was amazing you’d forget how deep the water is. There were like thousands of fishes and we were amidst it all. Ahhhh..it was heaven.  


We were warned to stay away from the pink fishes because it’s territorial and its bite sting a bit. Being lady luck, I actually encountered one while swimming away from my friends and as soon as I spot it in the water, I swam for my dear life and successfully avoided unpleasant bites. 


Aside from Snake Island, we only passed by the other islands because they all look alike. By the way, some islands have entrance fees ranging from 30-50 pesos. Snake Island has no entrance fee. We also went to Pambato Reef which was somewhere in the ocean. You have to register first before you go in the water. Entrance is at 50 pesos. 


The floating registration area is pretty cool. From the hut, you need to go down three steps to get in the water which is so deep you won’t see the bottom at all. It took a while before two of my friends actually went in the water. It was really scary. We saw a small colored fish along the steps. We swam around the area to tour the corals. Our guide is really good. He is well-trained, knows corals and only 16 years old. We saw a lot of corals, soft corals, mushroom corals, etc. We all swam with life vests which made it more tiring since it makes swimming harder. I didn’t dare take it off for fear of getting dragged somewhere by the current or by some invisible creature.








After our Island hopping adventure, we went to the stalls near the information center where we bought souveneirs. They sell cheap, unique affordable souveneirs so be sure to shop here. The shirts here are quite rare so buy it right away because it’s terribly hard to find the same design again. I should know, I really regret not buying shirts here thinking I can buy it elsewhere in Palawan. Shirts range from 100-130 pesos only. Sarong capris are sold at 120 above. There are mother or pearl bracelets sold at 3 for 100 pesos. Several key chain designs like star fish, crocs, at 12 pcs for 100 pesos.


Sunday – September 16, 2007 – Puerto Princess Subterranean River National Park


We booked this trip through our inn and we paid 1,300 pesos per head. It includes van ride from hotel to Sabang wharf and back to hotel, lunch buffet at Taraw beach resort, entrance fees, tour guide, two boat rides – from Sabang wharf to the entrance of the park and another boat ride into the underground river. Our tour started at 7:30 am. We ate breakfast at the inn. I ate daing na bangus with fried rice and two sunny-side up eggs and calamansi Juice (135 pesos, tax inclusive). We stopped over another inn (Badjao Inn and Resto) to pick up the other guests who will be joining the tour since there were only two of us, our other friends had to fly back to Manila Sunday morning. It took quite a while before they came out but they seem to be friendly enough so we didn’t mind. From Puerto Princessa to Sabang wharf, ride took 2 ½ hours with stopover at a local store to buy water, food and insect repellant. Road condition was ½ paved roads and ½ rough roads. Our travel agency was Topstar Travel &Tours and they are very professional and friendly. We were well taken care off. Our tour guide was Len. (Contact information below.)
Upon reaching the Sabang wharf, we went for a rest room break and quickly boarded another boat to take us to the Underground river park. The view on the way to the park was enough reason to take the tour. It was really amazing! Water’s so clean and green! 


After what seemed like 15-20 minutes, we reached the entrance of the Puerto Princess Subterranean River National Park. It also showcases some other animals like monkeys and lizards roaming freely around the park. Monkeys grab plastic bags so we were warned not to bring any material which contains plastic. Since my clothes were inside a resealable plastic bag, I was instructed to bury it among my other stuff so they won’t grab it.


We had to walk some 3-5 minutes over wooden planks towards the river entrance which was amidst a plush, thick forest. I was quite grateful for buying a mosquito repellant because there were mosquitos everywhere. We had to wait about 20 minutes before getting in a boat. 


Even if it’s not a peak season, there were a lot of people waiting for their turn to tour the underground river. Our guide informed us that we were 40 people in the group. I hate waiting so it was a downside for me but we were able to take pictures by the dock so it wasn’t so bad. Due to the rainy season, water was very murky and brown unlike the pictures I saw from other people’s blogs, quite disappointing because I was hoping to see beyond the water. We had to wear life vests and helmets before getting in the boat. 


Thank God when it was finally our turn. Our boatman’s really funny and he knows the cave well. He was able to point out every amazing rock formation like the Cathedral, face of Jesus, vegetable looking stuff, even this mushroom with a penis. It was quite dark and cold inside. There were tons of bats too but they were nice, actually, they’re asleep. I’m not a cave person, so after 5 minutes, I began to feel bored and sleepy. I did enjoy the rock formations and drinking water that dripped from a stalactite, hihihi, just couldn't resist! 


After the boat ride, we headed to Taraw beach, walking distance from the Sabang wharf to eat lunch and swim afterwards. I was really hungry and very much eager to swim and that’s when I had my little embarrassing incident. 


I was about to step down the boat and into the shore when I tripped over some rope and headed face down into the water with my bag. Thank God Len, our guide, grabbed my other hand before my whole body slammed into the water. My shorts and bag were wet afterwards, also my extra shirt for changing. My phone was still alive since I placed it inside a resealable bag. 


I didn't let my lil accident bring me down. The water looked so inviting so I hurriedly ate buffet lunch which consisted of liempo, grilled fish, chicken adobo, adobong Kangkong, soup, rice and a serving a buco juice served with the shell. It was very, very, very good! Everything was unlimited but I couldn’t eat a lot because I keep thinking of the water. I really can’t wait to swim so I finished eating in 10 minutes. I immediately went into the water, and instantly, I felt like I’m in heaven! The sand is powdery soft! The water is so clear even if it was salty. I loved it! We got to swim for an hour much to my disappointment. I could swim the whole day and didn’t really feel like leaving but it was a tour so we had to go with everybody else. We left the resort around 2:30 pm. We were able to buy souveneirs here. The sarong Capri pants is cheaper here by 5 pesos than in Sta. Lourdes wharf.


Monday – September 17, 2007 MONDAY – City Tour
Since our 2 other friends had to go back to Manila, me and Olay decided to rent a tricycle arranged through our inn rather than a van. We only had to pay 500 pesos for the trike – that’s good enough for the whole day. It rained so hard before we left so the weather was cold but comfortable. We were able to take a lot of great shots, something that is harder to do when you rent a van because they move quicker. We were able to go to Iwahig Penal Farm, Crocodile Farm, Plaza Cuartel and Immaculate Concepcion Church. We did the tour in about 5 hours. Our trike driver’s really nice and he knows all the places as well as historical data linked to the place. He’s actually trained by their tourism authority. All their guides are well-oriented.

FOOD TRIPS:
1. Dinner Saturday night was at Ka Lui along Rizal Avenue extension. You don’t need to know the exact address because this is dubbed as the most famous resto in P. Princessa and every tricycle or van know where this is. It is closed on Sundays for a noble cause. The trike driver we talked to said it’s closed on Sundays because it’s a family day and the staff has the privilege to be with their families. How sweet! Reservations are highly encouraged so please do call. We were lucky enough that we arrived early on a Saturday night (around 6ish pm) because as soon as we finished eating, the place was packed already. You need to take off your shoes before you enter the dining area. They specialize on sea foods and everything is affordable and heavenly. It will make you swoon! Fruit Shakes start at 35 pesos, most dishes which are good for 2 people start at 70 pesos above. We ordered the Ka Lui special – a set menu which contains adobong Kang kong, grilled squid, shrimps..hmmm I don’t remember the rest, we also ordered tuna belly and seafood sisig (the best!) . The sisig does not look like our sisig here, it’s not grinded but better! There were chunks of squid and some other unrecognizable sea foods. I had banana shake, my friend tried mango –pomelo shake which is good also, my two other friends went for the buco shake which is also amazing. Our bill – no more than 600 pesos – tax inclusive!


2. Kinabuch Bar and Grill – we went here mainly for the “fear factor food trip” which is all about the famous Tamilok. It’s a mollusk served fresh with vinegar. Don’t worry, it doesn’t move anymore but it looks really slimy. I’m not sure of the color because I thought it was white but my friend says it’s green. One serving only costs 100 pesos and it’s good enough for a group of 10 to take 1 fork of Tamilok each. I tried it first without any vinegar which was a huge mistake because it tasted so raw. My side dish was chocolate ice cream so that’s where I mixed it. It was okay. It suits better with vinegar though. It’s a bit difficult to swallow. There’s no music inside the bar so we got a bit bored. They have billiards there though and huge spaces plus several other bars. It’s really ideal for big groups. Price range – very affordable. Beers starts at 35 pesos, everything’s cheaper than your usual bar in Manila. Appetizers at 100 pesos below.


 A serving of a local delicacy called tamilok
3. Itoy’s Coffee Haus – Puerto Princessa’s answer to your coffee cravings and my favorite coffee house next to Starbucks. It’s dubbed as the Starbucks of Palawan but not as expensive. Even the environment and the music inside the coffee shop feels like Starbucks. We had breakfast here Monday morning before we headed for the city tour. We ate a lot! We tried their bestseller – choco moist cake plus several other pastries – carrot cake, marble cake, croissant, butterscotch. My friend ordered TOCILOG, coffee dalandan frap – also good. I tried the cafĂ© Americana topped with whipped cream. The verdict: I loved the butterscotch and marble cake and the coffee. I actually came back the next morning for these and regret very much for not buying a whole box because now, I’m craving for them. I also had one piece of marble cake which I hand carried to the airport but it never made it to Manila because I ate it while waiting. What can I say, they’re very irresistible!
Their cakes are all big and moist and delicious and worth your money. The pastries start at 30 pesos. What I love most about it is that it’s not too sweet. Coffee is good enough. I wish they’ll have a branch here in Manila. I miss Itoy’s. I haven’t even eaten their Seafood pesto, the Danggit SILOG, etc. I also had a blooper eating their butterscotch. My friend and I had it for take out and while walking along Rizal Ave., I decided to eat it and it was my first time to try it. It was so delicious I had memory lapse. She kept on talking to me but I couldn’t absorb anything she was saying. That’s how good it was!



4. Balinsasayaw Grill – where I discovered the 8th wonder of the world – Pineapple rice. I don’t know why this rice is not that popular but it’s definitely one of those orgasmic things as my friend calls it. It must be a new dish or something. You must try it with their house specialty – their grilled chicken. It was the first time I ate more than one cup of rice in weeks. It’s that good! My friend and I ordered 3 cups of pineapple rice, Grilled chicken, garlic shrimp and Balinsasayaw dessert (ice cream served with coconut shell and cashew nuts) Must Try!, banana shake and avocado shake. Price range : meals costs as cheap as 59 pesos.



5. Badjao Seafront Restaurant – just a word of caution. This is NOT the same as Badjao Inn and Restaurant in Rizal Ave. Extension in P. Princessa. This is the one along Abueg Road. We almost made a mistake of going to the second one had not our trike driver clarified it with us. This is a resto constructed on top of a beach – quite romantic actually. The walk to the dining area is through a steady wooden bridge overlooking a mangrove. It’s really amazing. Food is okay and priced like Dencio’s. What would be worth going here is the scenery and the service. I love their set-up and the utensils. It’s really better if you go here before sunset so you can have a spectacular view of the ocean.


We tried the Badjao Seafood delight which consisted of crabs, shrimps, grilled fish, stuffed squid, fish lumpia and sea weeds. We also orderd calamansi juice and tea. They’re both served with honey which went perfectly with our drinks. The location of the restaurant is quite isolated so be sure to arrange a ride to pick you up or wait on you. Our total bill for everything was 555 including the SC.


Customer Service is really good same as pretty much everywhere in Palawan.


6. Jollibee Rizal Avenue – but of course! Honestly, their pineapple juice here tastes much better than the ones in Manila. I swear! It’s sweeter and tastier!
WHERE WE BOUGHT SOUVENIRS :
  1. Sta. Lourdes Wharf – they sell unique shirts (100 pesos above) that we couldn’t find anywhere else.
  2. Iwahig Penal Farm – please splurge your money here. I believe the proceeds go to the funds of the prisoners. They sell cheap and unique souveneirs here. I got a statue made of Mabolo which normally sells 150 pesos everywhere else at half the price. They also sell cool key chains made out of plastic cups at 12 pcs for 100 pesos. The designs come in starfish, croc, seahorse, etc. I also got a dreamcatcher necklace embedded with pearls at 50 pesos.
  3. Souveneir Shops along Rizal Ave. Extension
  4. P. Princessa public market - just roam around the market and be on the look out for sarong capris sold at 100 pesos each and jewelry stores which sells pearls.
  5. Sabang wharf – they sell shirts, unique bags, key chains, etc. *I learned that if a colored shirt costs 130 above, that’s expensive already
EXPENSE SUMMARY:
Airfare : Courtesy of Cebu Pacific’s Fly One Peso Domestic Seat Sale booked seven months before our trip. We only paid 2,737.28 pesos each for a roundtrip ticket bound for Puerto Princessa (Palawan’s capital). Book early so you can pay less. Philippine Airlines also offers flight packages to Palawan.


Plus Pocket Money : 8,000 pesos (Actually, I only spent 7,500 pesos and that’s after everything we did and ate – island hopping, tour, shopping, pasalubong for 30 people, airport terminal fees, etc). Some of the costs like hostel and tours were split among ourselves – there were four of us in this trip.
Travel Agency You can Contact (for booking city tours, underground river tour, island hopping) Address: Rizal Avenue, Puerto Princessa City
Contact Numbers: +63 (048) 433-8247 or through their mobile numbers - 0927-635-1666 or 0928-5034425
Proprietor: Ted Esguerra Zulueta
*loved their staff. They’re so friendly and professional.

Other Resources: 
1. Visit Puerto Princessa - This site also contains a suggested trip itinerary for two and a half days.
2. Accommodation : 
Duchess Pension House - info. available at Marcus Castle's Blog
3. Honda Bay Island Hopping - Pinoy Travelr Blog
4. Firefly Watching at Iwahig River - Pinoy Travelr Blog




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