For the newbie local tourist who wants to travel, Palawan can be explored in stages. The initial stage and the most tourist-y, is visiting its banner city Puerto Princesa, Palawan. This is the most accessible area coming from Manila. There are a lot of flights from Manila going to Puerto Princesa daily.
The bread-and-butter of Puerto Princesa tourism is a package deal consiting of the following:
Puerto Princesa City Tour
What can I say about the City Tour? Well it’s pretty normal. If you have time to kill, then might as well explore Puerto Princesa. There’s the butterfly garden, the crocodile farm, the Mitra house, Bakers Hill. Nothing really out of the extraordinary.
When I first visited Puerto Princesa, I took the city tour for one delicious purpose– Vietnamese food. For those who don’t know this, Puerto Princesa was once the refugee camp for the boat people– as the Vietnamese, who took to the sea following troubles in their homeland, were known then.
I am a sucker for Vietnamese cuisine so I was under the impression that the city should still have a lot of Vietnamese influences in the gastronomical area. Unfortunately all the little restos I went to in search of traces of Vietnamese food were a disappointment. The French bread that I was served near the Vietnamese village was alright, but nothing worth jumping up and down about. Pho Hoa can kick anyone’s ass there.
Honda Bay Tour
The Honda Bay tour was/is fun. Island hopping and snorkeling. The beaches were normal but the depth is ideal for snorkeling. One of the guides led us to where a school of Talakitok fish were just circling around. I think each one of those fishes weighed at least 2 kilos and there were lots and lots of them. They were like a twister full of fish.
I’m pretty confident of my snorkeling skills but seeing the purplish blue see of Honda Bay had me donning a life-jacket just to be sure. It was crazy deep in some of the islands. Just a couple of steps from the beach and you’re like jumping off a cliff. Pretty incredible.
Now this river is a sight to behold. When everything is fine, meaning the weather is holding up, no rains or typhoons in the horizon, the river is jade blue. Really, really inviting. A lot of folks have their pictures taken at the mouth of the underground cave because of this beautiful site.
The underground river is dark, too dark for my taste. And very enclosed too, enclosed enough that my closet claustrophobia came roaring out of the surface. I think the underground tour lasted at least 30 minutes with the guides showing the various sculptures and rock formations done by nature.
Honestly, I never really liked that underground river. Sure it was awesome, but I was about to scream my claustrophobic head off. So if you’re suffering from the same disorder, better skip this one and content yourself to just taking pictures from the outside. Besides, there are a lot of monitor lizards outside (near the beach) to catch your attention.
Now this is worth talking about. Alright, so the Vietnamese hunt was a tad disappointing. However the rest of the restaurants offered sumptuous seafood cuisines at ridiculously low prices, relative to Manila of course. Heading the restaurant group is Ka Lui’s. I’m not sure what it is with eating barefooted that has people really enjoing their food. Oh well. Then there’s Lotus Garden– what can I say?
But my really good experience came from a more masa restaurant the name of which I unbelievably forgot. But it’s near Paradise Pension/Hotel and it has two branches in the city. The seafood is really fresh and very, very cheap that everytime we have a meal there, we order a feast!
Like I said, Puerto Princesa is good for starters, but when you want some really awesome eye candy, be prepared to have your butt whacked, for the budget traveller there’s no other way when you want to go to — El Nido.