Originally, I was supposed to go to Bali, but due to the sudden activation of the volcano, we had to cancel our trip and change our plans only less than 2 weeks before the departure.
We already had our first leg; Helsinki-Bangkok by Finnair (lovely business class of A350 of course) booked. It's the only pleasant way to travel long-hauls and especially if you have 2 more connecting flights after your flight!
We decided to book flights from Bangkok to Manila and from Manila to Puerto Princesa, in Palawan, of which we basically knew nothing about.
As if it would be as simple as that...
After the arrival at Bangkok, the 2 consecutive flights were both delayed for hours, in the end, it actually took 28 hrs to get to our hotel, which was way more than we anticipated. However, the funny thing is, we didn't even have a hotel until we were waiting at the Manila airport... Now that I think about it I can't believe we left it so last minute!
Well, we were going to be in the Philippines for the entire October so we figured we'd have time...
Tip No 1.
When you fly in Asia during the monsoon season, prepare yourself for delays, they are inevitable.
(There was a major thunderstorm in Manila, for which reason all flights were delayed), which leads us to
Tip No. 2.
Buy local SIM cards at the airport. Buy 2 separate cards from both operators as it depends on the area which car has coverage. It was really cheap so we ended up buying multiple cards during our stay.
So, we simply just took a leap of faith, which ended up being a good one. We booked our first night to Canvas Boutique Hotel (Link to the hotel's website: CANVAS BOUTIQUE HOTEL (click here) which is only 3 star hotel but seemed like a good bargain. Yes, you know me, not very typical of me, but this trip was going to be different, I wanted to experience shabby beach bungalows as well as 5 star hotels, so I reckoned 3 star was a good start...
|Hotel's exterior and the pool area|
Our room was surprisingly spacious and the pool area was nicer than in many 4 star hotels, which was a great bonus and yes, of course, I jumped in as soon as possible!
I loved all the artistic details they had in the hotel, in particular, all the murals they had all over the walls. We were told that they actually tell stories of villages and villagers' lives, how fascinating!
|The bar in the restaurant and our breakfast & dinner table|
|The reception and the restaurant patio|
Tip No. 3
Don't even think about a road trip in Palawan without a four wheeler!
|Our route map, white spot on the left lower corner was our departure spot, Puerto Princesa & our car|
The Road Trip Begins
While trying to navigate out of the city of Puerto Princesa...
|While in town, navigating the SUV among the local transportation.|
After exiting the town area enjoying the first part of the drive; lush greenery.
After we had done our last chores we took off around 4 pm and thought we'd reach our destination by 6 pm aka around sunset. It didn't take long to see that the jungle was right out there. That trip that was supposed to take about an hour turned out to be a 4 hour trip including a visit to a local, very small fisherman village and driving at times very carefully as there were so many dogs running around and they were like reindeers in Finland's Lapland, they couldn't care less if there was a car coming down the road - as if it was their kingdom and it's the driver's duty to give road to them. I am still up to date amazed we didn't hit any of them!
Tip No. 4
If you think it takes an hour to reach your destination, add two hours and that's more likely what it takes and always, always WATCH OUT FOR THE DOGS!
Again, we were naive and thought we can google a hotel while driving. Ha! After 20 min drive, we lost all our WIFI connections and we basically just had to trust our luck to find a hotel once we get to the town.
It was a lovely ride though, I love watching locals in their very own environment and that local fishermen's village, oh, so authentic and peaceful, filled with tiny, mean mosquitoes tho as the place was surrounded by mangroves, which apparently mean you get eaten alive unless you spray plenty of repellents - which I should've known, after all, we do have the insane density of mosquitoes in Lapland - but the difference is, you can see and hear them, these ones, you can't!
Tip No. 5
Make sure that you carry some mosquito repellent spray with you at all times! Where there are mangrove trees, there are sneaky little mosquitoes, that bite without you even seeing of feeling anything, but you'll feel it soon, trust me..
|On the left:Arriving at the village - On the right: Some gigantic roots!|
|A local fisherman (and his friend in a 3-wheeler) who insisted I take a photo of him and his fish,|
and how about that, the bird decided that it wants to have its photo taken as well!
We also got to see first Filipino sunsets along the way, too bad that lush jungle covered most of it.
Tip No. 6
Every now and then, take the Road Less Traveled #TRLT - you'll never know what you'll discover!
We also got our WIFI back about 3 min before we got to the town, which meant we were able to google some hotels. Well, it turned out that there were only say, 3 hotels that I accepted at that point.
Once we got to the town we realized that it's not actually a town, it's a small village with only a few street lights and a tiny little harbor for people to go to their underground river excursions.
The first hotel we saw was the Sheridan hotel (Here's a link to the hotel's website: http://www.sheridanbeachresort.com/
I've already written a blog post of the hotel, which you can read here:
My Lovely Stay at the Sheridan (click here)
Next stop - who knows?
After Sabang we only knew that we need to get back to the main road, and it was actually quite lovely to see the surrounding area in the daylight, it is surrounded by beautiful, rocky mountains. And that approximately 50 km was heaps faster now as we were actually able to see the road and all the animals on it: Dragon sized (like Komodo dragons) lizards, snakes, water buffalos, cows, chickens, dogs, a monkey... it was like driving around in a zoo - WOW! Cool!
During our ride, we also saw some interesting looking local transportation vehicles...
Tip No. 7
Don't rely on WIFI when driving around on an island, you may either have it or not!
Once again, we just went for it, no plans, no hotel booked, we just decided to keep on driving once our WIFI is on and then google the next hotel. We went to check out one hotel alongside the main road but no, I didn't feel it. So off we go to the next one. It was called Astoria Palawan Astoria Palawan's website (click here) which turned out to be one of, if not the best decision of the entire trip.
Once we went to the reception, I already had a good feeling about it. Hotel's GM, Joy Suarez showed up, I introduced myself, we made a deal (which lead me to cooperate with also 2 other Astoria hotels during our trip, those are in the island of Boracay, which is currently closed, but will open again soon, please read about them from my blog - you'll love them!) and we decided to stay there for 3 nights.
Check out my enjoyable Astoria Palawan, Astoria Current & Astoria Boracay blogs here:
(By the way, Astorias in Boracay had the most amazing sunsets I've seen in my life!!)
ASTORIA PALAWAN's blog post (click here)
|Whitebeach by Astoria Current|
Astoria Current served the best food (night after night) I've ever eaten, delicious!
Next stop, Port Barton - let the next adventure begin..!
Tip No. 9
Check out the actual location and how to get to get to your hotel when you book your stay, don't trust OTA's info!
Again, huge mistake, we trusted a) the location b) the driving time estimation given to us by Google Maps. Since it was a monsoon season the condition of this road was unreal, however, I'm pretty sure it may be even worse at times, which we thought was crazy, and we seriously wondered how an earth locals got through the thick, sticky mud with their tiny little mopeds!
There were so muddy spots on the unpaved parts of the road that I literally didn't know whether to cover my head from hitting the roof of the car or hold on to my dear life so that I don't hurt my head while going sideways when the car was just going everywhere uncontrollably (well, it wasn't but it certainly felt like it as you just couldn't drive slowly in those muddy spots otherwise the car ended up being stuck so all I could say was, hell yeah, step on it!) and you wouldn't believe how bumpy a soft, muddy road can be. I thought I could tell but no, nope to the nopest nope. Now I know.
Well, I wanted adventure, and that I certainly got!
|At least the road was wide here, there were spots our SUV barely could fit in as the road was so muddy & narrow!|
Ok, so it started to feel like we may be heading to town... and reading the famous Port Barton.. and based on Google Maps, the road to the Sunset Colors would actually go past the "town" (village, in my opinion) so, naturally, that's where we went. However, we ended up to the point where the road so narrow that I couldn't stay on it with a scooter, so there was no chance for us to go there with our SUV. Now what? There was no room to make a U-turn. For some reason, I love reversing cars and I'm actually really good at it, so we made it back to the spot wherein we were able to turn around and head to town, wherein we actually got our mobiles up and running again.
We decided to call the resort and turned out that we should have known to be there at the certain time, and they would have picked us up from the village's pier. It was already way beyond sunset and we had no idea where we were.
Well, we knew we were in the middle of the Port Barton village, a place that had maybe 20 "houses" (here they would be called something else, maybe a hut or something), a couple of bars (fit maybe 5 people), no supermarket, just some locals wandering around.
We were told by the resort manager (on the phone) that they would send someone to pick us up, and hey, we got lucky! That person who was supposed to pick us up with the earlier boat, had seen us and since our SUV was somewhat unusual sight there, he guessed that it was us! So we just decided to leave our car behind, trust this man with no English skills, and take our small bags (for 1 nights exotic stay) with us, and leave everything else behind into the car. So we followed him through the pitch black night with no idea what you're stepping on... My imagination was running wild, no denying.
Next thing I see (barely) was a tiny pier and a boat next to it. Ok, that's our ride but how do we get there? By taking our shoes off, walking there - and let me remind you, it was truly dark, for all I knew there could be any type of creatures on the bottom of the ocean, I can't believe I was so calm when walking there, I was the only one that had to take my shoes off as they were not meant to be used in water.
That boat ride, about 15 min in the middle of the night, in a moonlight was something I NEVER forget. At first, it was a bit scary but it soon turned into a fascinating adventure and I got excited. This was what I came to the Philippines for - to experience some real, local life. Boat rides in the middle of the night on a fishing boat, when we arrived at Sunset Colors, again, barefoot walk to the beach and to the "reception" which was also their "restaurant". This place was something else. It was literally just a two-storey hut made out bamboo and that's it. They had electricity on only twice a day when they prepared food, other than that, we were on our own. Quite a strange feeling to go to bed not knowing what's around you and not even a mosquito net around you. You were able to hear all the sounds of the jungle - WOW! And the room temperature was around 30-35 C - but to my great surprise, I slept pretty well.
|On the left: Single/double hut - in the middle: the OCEAN VIEW from the 2nd floor!|
On the right; "main house; the restaurant & reception downstairs and two rooms upstairs.
The stars? Don't know about the official rating but the way they showed hospitality and took care of us was 4 stars (I wish there were separate ratings for service & premises). Price? I think it was 25 Eur/night, so not the cheapest beach hut, but certainly the cheapest hotel night for me, probably in my life. (well, it's up to you if you want to call it a hotel, I don't really care. I'm just pleasantly surprised how much I loved this living right in the middle of nowhere. Stunning!
(Oh, by the way, this place is not in Port Barton, it's a bit further north, in a place called San Vincente, which again, we didn't know until the day we were leaving. Irrelevant for us at this point, but relevant info to you who may want to visit it one day!
Website? Well, couldn't find any, but just google Sunset Colors and you'll find plenty of info.
So above is a photo of our room, as I said, it was just a bamboo room with a double bed (with pillows and sheets) and a bathroom and that's it. There was a fan but didn't work. It might have been more pleasant if it was turned on, but we didn't bother, especially since the electricity was turned off, I think around 9 or 10 pm. That alone makes this a perfect place to enjoy outdoors, the ocean and just to get proper rest!
So, once we got to Port Barton we got to our car, and started heading back to the main road, meaning we would have to drive that muddy, bumpy road again! Luckily now it was a bright, sunny day so the road was more dry, less muddy and it was easier to see as the sky was clear. We were able to actually also focus on the surroundings a bit and we didn't even realize that the road was circling along the mountain's side. Now I realized why the road was the way it was. When it rains, all the water comes down the mountain, goes across the road, makes those unpaved legs muddy (and quite dangerous).
On our way we saw local kids walking home from school, they were all waving their hands, I heard "Hello" multiple times while we drove by. I started to film them and wave back, and what a joy it was for them, they were jumping up and down, I was able to see that from the rear mirror. Everyone seems really enjoying their lives here, which was nice to see as these people certainly don't have much, they work very hard, kids walk kilometers to get to school and back home, and the humidity is high as is the temperature. Their positive, happy, grateful attitude is something I certainly picked and want to carry with me every day for the rest of my life.
I say Yay! Adventure!!
Nature's phenomenon is something I've always enjoyed, whether it's a storm, northern lights, thunder, typhoon...
|Thunderstorm on its way...|
It was amazing how the colors of the ocean and the sky changes depending on the location, the number of clouds, the depth of the water, reflections... When I was watching photos that I took, I couldn't find two photos with ocean or sky having the same colors - literally, wonders of nature!
Finally, after driving hours and hours (felt like it), up and down the hills, we noticed that we are approaching our last hotel in the island of Palawan. This one we booked already while still at Astoria Palawan, and this one was basically booked only to stay overnight as we would get picked up in the morning from the El Nido pier and we'd get a boat ride to our next hotel. Wow, what an adventure that turned out to be. Well, I wished for adventures.
Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it!
|On the left: Our construction site view from the hotel|
On the right: Our paradise-like view from the boat the next morning
Tripadvisor says it's 4 star - well, I would've given it 2. First of all, the construction site noise is 24/7. Secondly, there were power failures all the time and it was very important for us to get all the appliances (phones & laptops charged, I'm a travel blogger, I can't work without them, although this trip was a combined work & leisure). Further, the humidity in our room was so bad that even our sheets were wet and we were told that there's A/C in our room - well, doesn't help much if there's no electricity. Despite the somewhat odd vibes that I got there, and despite all the fatigue, the positive side was, everyone tried to serve us to their best abilities.
It was time to return our rental car, which meant we had to carry all our luggage up to the top floor along those very steep, very narrow stairs. I'm quite short and those steps were literally up to my knees! Which would be fine without luggage...
We slept ok, after a long day and in the morning the sky had cleared up and it seemed like we were going to have an awesome weather for the boat trip to our next resort.
Again, all kinds of mix-ups... but finally, someone showed up and picked us up with a minivan. He drove us to the pier and told us to wait there with our luggage. This really started to show us that we are NOT in a well-organized place. I'm very well organized and always plan things ahead and one of my fortes is to take care of a hundred things at once, so for me, this was somewhat a culture shock. However, it was a nice day so no problem, we just wait and they will come - and they did, it just took a bit longer than expected...It was a long boat ride, probably about an hour, luckily the weather remained relatively nice until we got to our destination, Seahorse and Mangroves hotel's pier platform.
It was a jungle island with a hotel on it, no beach, no entertainment, but it looked like it has a nice patio/deck where one could relax, play cards, read a book and have some cocktails... Little did I know. Dream on, Mia, dream on - not happening in this place.
We had a welcome snack (I think it was pineapple and some juice) waiting for us, which was a pleasant surprise, except that we had to share them with flies and ants. Ok, now this is starting to feel like the tv show Naked and afraid, except that we weren't naked - thank goodness for that as those mosquitoes would have eaten us alive. They were just brutal. After the first day, I was unable to go outside, I was so badly bitten.
We were greeted by Layla, the resort manager and quite honestly, I think it's just simply too much for her to handle - she is kind but she lacks skills and authority, as well as energy and determination.
I can tell she tried, but it became obvious within the first 5 minutes that she is not trained and skilled to run a hotel.
I don't often do this but now I do:
+ When the weather is beautiful, the view is stunning and it's fun to go kayaking and to snorkeling tours around El Nido
+ Beds were quite comfy
+ Stunning sunsets
+ when in luck, they provide guests with fresh fish, which I heard was delicious (I don't eat seafood)
+ it has potential (but not until someone else owns it and a professional staff runs it)
+ the furniture and woodwork was beautiful, truly looked high quality and expensive, loved it
- The transportation process was very confusing both arrival and departure
- On stormy weather, the sewer system was not draining, on the contrary, and the smell in the bathroom was disgusting
- There's no bar or an actual restaurant, just some tables out on the deck (again, would have potential to be heaps better under a proper management and some major investments)
- got a stomach bug/food poisoning there (many guests have had that)
- when it's raining there's nothing to do there
- you can't get off the island without asking the staff to take you to other islands i.e. to Palawan
- communication is not working
Our room was relatively spacious, in particular, due to its separate dining space right when you step into the room. It had a separate sleeping area from which you have access to the bathroom.
At first, it seemed to be ok but once that horrible smell spread everywhere when there was a heavy rain outside I realized things aren't all right. After dinner that night I got a different type of adventure, a long night in a smelly bathroom, that was absolutely horrible, the worst experience of the entire trip! Thank god I didn't see that giant cockroach in the bathroom until later!
Had I seen that I would have probably swum my way out of there!
On our second day the weather was beautiful again, in the morning, however, in the afternoon I felt the thunderstorm of my life! I mean, I was sitting on a wooden deck built on a giant rock that basically covered half the island and a lightning struck somewhere behind me - that sound, I will never forget it, it literally scared the living daylight out of me!! I have always respected mother nature and its signs and I reckoned, this was a strong sign for me to get back to my room and stay there...
|On the left, minutes before the storm - On the right, sunset in the evening, after the storm had past.|
So we booked a snorkeling tour around El Nido area for a day and that was a superb experience.
El Nido Tour A (click the link open) - which was exactly what I was hoping to experience while on El Nido area. Unfortunately, I didn't have back then a waterproof camera so I don't have underwater photos. However as you can see, I have photos of some spectacular scenery along the route. Snorkeling was fun, the only downside was that the Big Lagoon had way too many people with kayaks in it, you really had to be careful as they seemed to be thinking that ones in the water should give them the way, which is totally odd as when you snorkel you watch the water, not above the surface! But overall, worth every penny, I absolutely loved it and can't wait to go on a snorkeling trip again in a place where they have warm, calm waters!
Tour A included masks, snorkel, fins, lunch, soft drinks and transportation and some guidance along the way. We got to see the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon (which literally was huge!!), Secret Lagoon and the Commando Beach, which I particularly enjoyed as it was all for our group of 3 for a while before another boat showed up (the photo in the middle). Loved the calm water and there were so many fish there, just beautiful, I wish I could stay in a place like this one day. (It actually reminded me a bit of the place in Koh Tao, about 10 years ago.)
After all of this, we were quite ready to leave and pamper ourselves with a nice, luxury hotel, so we booked a night at Matinloc Resort, located on Matinloc island.
On the day of our departure, there were some problems with our invoicing, which is not uncommon in this place based on other people's experiences. We got that sorted though, finally and then we (so) ready to check out.
We got driven to a different beach than where we got picked up, which totally confused us, especially since we had set up a pick up for our next hotel already. The staff (aka boys) took our bags and led us to walk across the muddy wasteland to the side of a very busy road, from which we had to drag our bags to the car, which would supposedly take us to this El Nido beachfront hotel, Matinloc's pick up spot. Thank goodness it actually happened.
I was pretty much done with all the next to none communication, I don't mind walking around, I don't mind taking care of my own belongings, I don't mind the adventure etc. - on the contrary. But what I mind is when things don't happen how they were said to happen or when someone tries to charge us extra for pretty much everything.
Anyway, that was it, we were waiting for our Matinloc boat to arrive, and once we got into that one it immediately felt like luxury. It was a speedboat so it only took like 15 minutes to get to Matinloc, YAY! Service, luxury, proper food, clean environment, beautiful beach and pool area... The sad part was that the weather wasn't that good on the day of our arrival but of course it was perfect when it was our time to leave on the following day!
This was a beautiful resort, we could tell. Not quite the 5 star luxury I experienced, for example at Astoria Hotels or Grand Hyatt's etc. but certainly luxury compared to what I had just experienced for the last couple of nights! MATINLOC RESORT's website (click to open)
|Arrival pier of Matinloc Resort|
|On the left, reception desk & on the background the restaurant|
On the right, the building wherein our room was
Well, that was basically the only downfall at that point, I was so happy we got out of the smelly place. I had to wash some clothes as even my clothes had an unpleasant odor in them!
It was a lovely resort to wander around, take photos, just enjoy the view and lush gardens. Its beach was nice, beautiful sandy beach and the water was excellent for snorkeling during the high tide, a lot to see in the sea!
Always check if there are some construction work happening at the hotel, as they often do that when it's not the peak season!
I wish we had more time there but unfortunately, it was only one night, as the following day was our time to leave El Nido and the island of Palawan and head to lovely Boracay, which turned out to be much more stunning than I ever anticipated!
Tip No. 12
Don't bring your fanciest suitcases, you'll never know how they get treated, my brand new suitcase was carried most of the time but this last drop off was a completely different story, those guys literally dragged it in the sand!! Those wheels didn't roll at all after that, I had to rinse them before trying to use it as a rollable suitcase. (It was heavy, about 25 kg so I couldn't carry it and there was a reason I bought a suitcase that can be easily rolled around.)
|Our plane to Caticlan from which we had boat transportation to Boracay|
I felt so blessed that I got to do this trip, it was one of my long-time dreams, now I can tick that off my travel goals list and start to plan my next adventure!
The most important tip of all:
ENJOY THE MOMENTS, they are always over sooner than you can imagine.
Thank you my dear #TravelTribe for reading and sharing the link to my blog to your followers, your support means a lot!
I hope you enjoyed my Asian adventures!
Live, love, laugh and get connected, the world is filled with wonderful people!
P.s. Have you been to the Philippines? What did you like most about it?
If you haven't, would you like to? What in this blog was the thing that makes you wanna go?
Feel free to comment, would love to hear your input!