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.
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!
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.
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.
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 local welcoming committee, waiting for us in the passenger terminal.
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.
Hiking through the jungle to a less than inspiring waterfall – we still had a great hike!
Passing through local villages as we discover waterfalls, jungle farmlands, and hidden beaches.
Brad and Talitha strolling on local beach at sundown. The small waves were perfect for bodysurfing.
Sunset in El Nido, with outrigger dive boats anchored in the shallows.
The tides in Palawan Island are dramatic, and the area outside of where we were staying drained completely during low tide.
Ready for a day of sailing!
The Filipino Navy, patroling the waters around El Nido.
Discovering abandoned religious statues at an abandoned jungle convent.
Dramatic tides give way to hidden beaches in the inlets.
We got around almost everywhere via Trike.
The cutest little girl ever, riding with her father as he biked us around El Nido.
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.
Best couple ever!
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! :)
Fish at the local market
Fish at the local market
In Coron, we dove with Neptune Dive Center, which was great. Highly recommended!
Our divemaster on the bow of the dive boat. Dive boats in the Philippines are typical double-outrigger boats.
Departing Coron for Manila, and then on to Japan .
Local kids playing on a dry docked boat on the beach.
During our day tour of the local area, we docked at an abandoned convent.
Small fish swim in the shallow tidal pools of the hidden coves in El NIdo.
One of the hidden beaches – this beach is only accessible by swimming through a small underwater tunnel.
Discovering yet another hidden beach – this one accessible through a hole in the rocks, dry during low tide.
Triking around Coron.
Checking out the hot springs in Coron. These geothermally heated waters spill from the pools directly into the ocean.
An incredible amount of fish swim on a the wreck of a Japanese battleship in Coron, Philippines.
Ending a great dive in Coron.
Diving in Coron.
After a day of diving, we decided to get some fresh air on the jeepney ride back to town.
Getting ready to dive Barracuda Lake, Philippines.
Tracing the wall around Baraccuda Lake, in the middle-layer of water.
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.
We had a great dive!
Talitha and I charterd a small hobie cat sailboat – fun sailing for an hour or two.
Naturally, we had to relax in the pool at the Mahogany Resort, where Brad and Talitha were staying.
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.
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.
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.
Brad, Talitha, and I flew from Manila to El Nido, Palawan on a charters ATR-72 with ITI Air, booked by El Nido Boutique & Artcaf
Trikes are huge in Palawan – in El Nido they seemed to be hand-built and somewhat rickety – but they got the job done.