One day, as another trip to China was looming (I travel to China 3-4 times a year on business), I totally accidentally came across an Air Asia ticket from Shanghai to Manila for only $50. I didn’t think twice about the offer – the ticket came first, planning came second.
I did my “homework” on the Philippines by means of Internet forums, which helped me choose the Palawan Island as my vacation destination. I bought a round-trip ticket from Manila to Puerto Princesa for $60 (Puerto Princesa is the biggest settlement on Palawan Island) and booked a hotel – the only thing that was left was to wait for my departure date.
I flew to China, spent 10 days there taking care of business, and at last, the day of my departure for the Philippines finally arrived…
It took exactly 4 hours to reach Manila. I passed through customs easily as they didn’t ask for anything except for the visa, which I had secured while still in Tbilisi. It was terribly hot, January 24th – the best time to visit the Philippines. I only spent 1 night in Manila; and I must say I made the right call because one day is plenty for this city.
Manila is huge, chaotic and unorganized; with terrible traffic jams, exhaust fumes and smog. Everything is very cheap, and people are very jolly and kind. I spent some time strolling around parts of the city beyond the center, and in some ways, I was reminded of Georgia in the 90s: streets and yards full of people, with nothing to do at home, a population that is overwhelmingly poor, but joyful nevertheless. I had heard stories of criminal activity and that wandering beyond the city center was dangerous, but I neither witnessed nor encountered nothing of the sort.
Continuing on from Manila, I flew to Puerto Princesa in an hour, and rented a car, because the best place on Palawan Island is El Nido – which is 5 hours away from Puerto Princesa by car. Words cannot describe just how pleasant these 5 hours were; I had literally never encountered anything like this!
The road was basically cut through a tropical jungle full of palm trees and other tropical plants. I passed through several villages, witnessed how people lived in wooden huts, and stopped to take in the sights and sounds several times. After 5 hours of driving, I finally made it to El Nido, where I checked into my hotel (where I was greeted warmly with a glass of fresh fruit juice and a seashell necklace) and began planning my time there.
The hotel was beyond sufficient with its complementary breakfast and professional staff. Unfortunately there was no Internet in the room, and there was only one precise spot on the territory of the hotel that I could get Internet but it was worse than dial-up. Generally, Internet connectivity is a problem for the whole island.
El Nido is definitely an exotic place – no luxury five star hotels, no cutting-edge infrastructure, just natural awe. The whole village is comprised of only a few streets, mostly packed with cafes, bars and stores, and beaches as pristine as the ones you see in movies or postcards.
There were a lot of tourists, most of them fairly young. I stopped using the car because as soon as I left the hotel, I’d be greeted with a swarm of “tuk-tuk”-s taxis that would take me into the city for one or two bucks. The variety on the menu at local restaurants was fairly decent, and all for about five to ten dollars.
El Nido offers a handful of day-trips and they’re definitely worth taking. The one I chose was the most popular one – I paid $20 and at 10 a.m. the next morning, we sailed into the ocean. There were only about 15 of us on the trip. And I have to say that precisely on this day, I saw some of the most remarkable places that I have ever seen. I couldn’t believe my eyes! First we went through the Laguna, with its sharp blue water and surrounded by cliffs and palm trees, and eventually we went towards an island. I have never seen sand as gold as the sand on the beach of this island.
There was nothing on this island – no stores, no buildings, no cars; just nature and we. About five hours went by and I fell terribly hungry. Our guide grilled some fish and chicken straight on the ship, in terribly filthy conditions.
I noticed the unsanitary conditions the chicken was kept it at the beginning of the trip, thinking “my god who would ever eat that” but when you’re hungry, on an uninhabited island and 4 hours from the city, unsanitary becomes secondary… we dined under some palm trees and I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the tastiest meal I’ve ever had!
Its beyond difficult to convey the shock and awe that I felt during my trip in words; especially because writing isn’t my strong suit. So just trust me, and if you have a chance, don’t miss an opportunity to take a trip to the Philippines.
Despite the fact that I’ve been to Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Japan and many countries in Europe, the Philippines are my favorite and will probably remain so for a long time.
Author: Soso Nebieridze