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The tides in Palawan Island are dramatic, and the area outside of where we were staying drained completely during low tide.

Exploring Manila, El Nido, and Coron, Philippines

After an excellent season on the ice this year, my first travel stop was in the Phillipines to relax with dear friends Brad and Talitha.

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I started my journey by flying Sydney>Manila. Once in Manila, I had a solid four days of time to myself to explore Manila. I stayed in the Makati area, at a mid-range hotel. I split my time between training for the upcoming Tokyo Marathon, exploring various parts of Manila, and beginning the process of wrapping up the antarctic season.

Overall, Manila was an interesting, although not overly majestic experience. The city is a massive sprawl. Giant, modern skyscrapers are intermingled with small shanty towns. The city grid is cut up by winding alleys and backstreets. Large, free-flowing avenues are rudely interrupted by snarled traffic jams, and a constant flow of jeepneys, busses, and motorbikes. People are everywhere, doing everything.

I entered Manila without much of a plan, and was fairly overwhelmed – but ended up having a great time, and getting into the vibe of the capital city. As a word of advice for future travelers – Manila is definitely worth seeing in order to understand the city-dwelling style of the Philippines, but before you go, establish a good plan of what you want to see. Get it and get out – it’s intense. I spent four days there, but could have done with three.

Downtown Manila. I stayed at a hotel in Makati, which was interesting enough for four days. Manila is a huge, congested city, and Makati provided a good amount of walkable entertainment.
Downtown Manila. I stayed at a hotel in Makati, which was interesting enough for four days. Manila is a huge, congested city, and Makati provided a good amount of walkable entertainment.
In Manilla, I used the cemetery in the center of town as a running track, to train for the upcoming Tokyo Marathon. Running through the cemetery was interesting - people seem to have moved into the space, creating a shanty town between the graves.
In Manilla, I used the cemetery in the center of town as a running track, to train for the upcoming Tokyo Marathon. Running through the cemetery was interesting – people seem to have moved into the space, creating a shanty town between the graves.
The Mall of Asia - a combination of indoor and outdoor mall stores, as well as a few department stores, and lots of food stands. I bought my Seiko SKX009K2 here.
The Mall of Asia – a combination of indoor and outdoor mall stores, as well as a few department stores, and lots of food stands. I bought my Seiko SKX009K2 here.
Inside the Greenbelt Shopping Center in Manila, the nose and dirt of the street fades away into a tranquil koi pond. Manila has a ton of shopping centers - some nicer than others.
Inside the Greenbelt Shopping Center in Manila, the nose and dirt of the street fades away into a tranquil koi pond. Manila has a ton of shopping centers – some nicer than others.
At the newly-opened City of Dreams Manila, I played a few rounds of Baccara, and then checked out an amazing cover band playing in the middle of the casino. Cover bands are hugely poplular in the Philippines, and they're very talented and precise.
At the newly-opened City of Dreams Manila, I played a few rounds of Baccara, and then checked out an amazing cover band playing in the middle of the casino. Cover bands are hugely poplular in the Philippines, and they’re very talented and precise.

After four days in Manila, Brad and Talitha flew in, and I met up with them at the airport. Flights from Manila to Puerto Princessa, the main town in Palawan, are cheap and easy – however since we were on our way to El Nido, it would have required an additional 5 hour bus ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. Instead, we decided to join a charter air flight operated by ITI directly from Manila to El Nido.

In El Nido, I stayed at a mid-range hotel on the beach called Islandfront, and B&T stayed at the newly opened Mahogany Resort, just down the road. Both places were excellent. B&T spent the week in El Nido training for their PADI Open Water SCUBA Certification. I spent my days running, swimming, sailing, and relaxing on the beach. We got together every night, as well as did a few day trips together.

El Nido was wonderful and beautiful. It’s relatively un-developed compared to other towns in Palawan, but has a certain charm to it. Unfortunately, I felt like certain essential aspects – connectivity, dining options, and staff training were a bit lacking, even given the somewhat remote location. For me, I felt like it simply didn’t have quite enough charm to make up for it’s backwoods, 3rd world location. I wouldn’t go back to El Nido, but I did have an excellent time there – especially with the two best travel buddies ever!

Brad, Talitha, and I flew from Manila to El Nido, Palawan on a charters ATR-72 with ITI Air, booked by El Nido Boutique & Artcafé. The flight was perfectly comfortable, and upon landing, the airplane was simple shut down on the uncontroled landing strip, and we all loaded onto a Jeepney for transport off the runway to the passenger terminal.
Brad, Talitha, and I flew from Manila to El Nido, Palawan on a charters ATR-72 with ITI Air, booked by El Nido Boutique & Artcafé. The flight was perfectly comfortable, and upon landing, the airplane was simple shut down on the uncontroled landing strip, and we all loaded onto a Jeepney for transport off the runway to the passenger terminal.
The local welcoming committee, waiting for us in the passenger terminal.
The local welcoming committee, waiting for us in the passenger terminal.
Trikes are huge in Palawan - in El Nido they seemed to be hand-built and somewhat rickety - but they got the job done.
Trikes are huge in Palawan – in El Nido they seemed to be hand-built and somewhat rickety – but they got the job done.
We got around almost everywhere via Trike.
We got around almost everywhere via Trike.
I stayed at the Islandfront Hotel, with a great spot on the beach. This is my sunset perch almost every night - beautiful!
I stayed at the Islandfront Hotel, with a great spot on the beach. This is my sunset perch almost every night – beautiful!
The dramatic walk into our favourite bar in El Nido, "La Plage". The swaying palm trees at dusk are dramatic and beautiful.
The dramatic walk into our favourite bar in El Nido, “La Plage”. The swaying palm trees at dusk are dramatic and beautiful.
The cutest little girl ever, riding with her father as he biked us around El Nido.
The cutest little girl ever, riding with her father as he biked us around El Nido.
Launching heart shaped hot air balloons - sort of. This one burnt up on the ground shortly after this picture was taken - but Brad and Talitha soar! :)
Launching heart shaped hot air balloons – sort of. This one burnt up on the ground shortly after this picture was taken – but Brad and Talitha soar! :)
We had a threesome Valentines Day dinner at a local resort, with ah complete buffet in the jungle clearning.
We had a threesome Valentines Day dinner at a local resort, with ah complete buffet in the jungle clearning.
Brad and Talitha play the dating game on valentines day.
Brad and Talitha play the dating game on valentines day.
Best couple ever!
Best couple ever!
Ready for a day of sailing!
Ready for a day of sailing!
During our day tour of the local area, we docked at an abandoned convent.
During our day tour of the local area, we docked at an abandoned convent.
Discovering abandoned religious statues at an abandoned jungle convent.
Discovering abandoned religious statues at an abandoned jungle convent.
Dramatic tides give way to hidden beaches in the inlets.
Dramatic tides give way to hidden beaches in the inlets.
Discovering yet another hidden beach - this one accessible through a hole in the rocks, dry during low tide.
Discovering yet another hidden beach – this one accessible through a hole in the rocks, dry during low tide.
One of the hidden beaches - this beach is only accessible by swimming through a small underwater tunnel.
One of the hidden beaches – this beach is only accessible by swimming through a small underwater tunnel.
Small fish swim in the shallow tidal pools of the hidden coves in El NIdo.
Small fish swim in the shallow tidal pools of the hidden coves in El NIdo.
The Filipino Navy, patroling the waters around El Nido.
The Filipino Navy, patroling the waters around El Nido.
Hiking through the jungle to a less than inspiring waterfall - we still had a great hike!
Hiking through the jungle to a less than inspiring waterfall – we still had a great hike!
Brad and Talitha strolling on local beach at sundown. The small waves were perfect for bodysurfing.
Brad and Talitha strolling on local beach at sundown. The small waves were perfect for bodysurfing.
Local kids playing on a dry docked boat on the beach.
Local kids playing on a dry docked boat on the beach.
Naturally, we had to relax in the pool at the Mahogany Resort, where Brad and Talitha were staying.
Naturally, we had to relax in the pool at the Mahogany Resort, where Brad and Talitha were staying.
Sunset in El Nido, with outrigger dive boats anchored in the shallows.
Sunset in El Nido, with outrigger dive boats anchored in the shallows.
Talitha and I charterd a small hobie cat sailboat - fun sailing for an hour or two.
Talitha and I charterd a small hobie cat sailboat – fun sailing for an hour or two.

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Passing through local villages as we discover waterfalls, jungle farmlands, and hidden beaches.
Passing through local villages as we discover waterfalls, jungle farmlands, and hidden beaches.
The tides in Palawan Island are dramatic, and the area outside of where we were staying drained completely during low tide.
The tides in Palawan Island are dramatic, and the area outside of where we were staying drained completely during low tide.

Our final stop was in Coron. This small town is a bit closer in to Manila, and is a hub for tourism and scuba diving. The main draw of Coron is wreck diving on the multitude of Japanese military shipwrecks – the aftermath of an ambush by the USA during WW2.

In Coron, we stayed at the Coron Ecolodge, and dove with Neptune Dive Center. In Coron, we enjoyed boat trips, tasty dinners, views from the top of the mountain, massages, and lots of cafe sessions.

Barracuda Lake Diagram, from AsiaDiveSite.com
Barracuda Lake Diagram, from AsiaDiveSite.com

By far the best dive of the week wasn’t a wreck dive. It was a lake dive, in Barracuda Lake. Barracuda lake is a brackish lake that’s unique for it’s geothermally heated layers of water, with extremely dramatic thermoclines. The most interesting part of the dive was transition between layers of water, and seeing the shimmering boundaries of each layer approaching, and then traveling between the layers.

In Coron, we dove with Neptune Dive Center, which was great. Highly recommended!
In Coron, we dove with Neptune Dive Center, which was great. Highly recommended!
Fish at the local market
Fish at the local market
We had a great dive!
We had a great dive!
Getting ready to dive Barracuda Lake, Philippines.
Getting ready to dive Barracuda Lake, Philippines.
Me descending into the hot, salty bottom layer of water in Baraccuda Lake. You can see the visual distortion of the hot water I'm descending into.
Me descending into the hot, salty bottom layer of water in Baraccuda Lake. You can see the visual distortion of the hot water I’m descending into.
Tracing the wall around Baraccuda Lake, in the middle-layer of water.
Tracing the wall around Baraccuda Lake, in the middle-layer of water.
After a day of diving, we decided to get some fresh air on the jeepney ride back to town.
After a day of diving, we decided to get some fresh air on the jeepney ride back to town.
Checking out the hot springs in Coron. These geothermally heated waters spill from the pools directly into the ocean.
Checking out the hot springs in Coron. These geothermally heated waters spill from the pools directly into the ocean.

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Fish at the local market
Fish at the local market
Our divemaster on the bow of the dive boat. Dive boats in the Philippines are typical double-outrigger boats.
Our divemaster on the bow of the dive boat. Dive boats in the Philippines are typical double-outrigger boats.
An incredible amount of fish swim on a the wreck of a Japanese battleship in Coron, Philippines.
An incredible amount of fish swim on a the wreck of a Japanese battleship in Coron, Philippines.
Diving in Coron.
Diving in Coron.
Ending a great dive in Coron.
Ending a great dive in Coron.
Triking around Coron.
Triking around Coron.
Departing Coron for Manila, and then on to Japan .
Departing Coron for Manila, and then on to Japan .

 

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