I have always wanted to visit the Philippines because of how everyone said how beautiful it was, and I took the chance to visit one of the islands this time around. I chose to visit the city of Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan because it was easy to access from Manila, but also of the beautiful pictures of the island that I’ve seen. My experience was very unique with some highs and lows, but I would definitely want to visit another part of the island in the future!
However, if you're starting your journey in Manila or elsewhere, I would recommend branching out! Here are some recommendations below, scattered across Manila, Laguna, and Batangas:
In my blog posts, I don’t normally write a separate section of my accommodation but I decided that this time around, I had to write about it because it was such a unique experience. This time, I decided to stay in a treehouse that was on the edge of a mangrove in an eco-camp outside the city. I definitely got a little more than I bargained for, but my time there was extremely rewarding.
The treehouse is in a very secluded area, where there are also several bamboo huts and a few very small houses. A few families live on the property, and one of them showed me around when I checked in since my Airbnb host wasn’t there. To get to the actual treehouse, you have to climb some stairs into the actual tree. There is a very small balcony/patio which overlooks the mangrove, and a door to go inside.
When you open the door, there is a little living room which has a few chairs and a coffee-like table. To get to the actual bed, you had to climb the branches of the tree to get to the second “story” of the treehouse. This part blew my mind because I wasn’t actually expecting to climb any branches.
On the second story, there was a mattress on the floor which a mosquito net covering it. On both stories, there were electrical plugs and light switches. Overall, I thought that it was a very cute set-up. You are literally in the middle of nature, and it’s somewhat open in the sense that anything could possibly fly and enter any part of the treehouse.
In order to use the toilet, you have to climb down the treehouse and walk to the comfort area, where there is a small shack-like building where there is a toilet and two showers. it’s nothing like what you would expect in modern accommodation (no warm water in the showers).
I suppose the real shock of being immersed in nature didn’t really hit me until the first night as I was getting ready to sleep. Taking a shower in cold water wasn’t something I was looking forward to, and I had to sweep off ants on the mattress because the mosquito net had a few holes. In addition, it was quite hot at night, so I was just sweating endlessly. Towards my second and last night in the treehouse, I simply accepted the fact that I was going to be downright filthy and have bug bites at the end, which more or less happened.
However, despite all this, I wouldn’t have traded my experience with anything else. Staying in the treehouse really made me appreciate the modern amenities that we may take for granted in real life, such as warm water, walls around our house, and air conditioning. I knew I had a very fortunate upbringing my whole life, but it didn’t really hit me until I experienced living outside for a few days. However, I probably won’t be doing something like this again soon (I value air conditioning too much).
Also, the views of the mangrove and the camp were stunning. For the two days I was there, I would wake up to the sunrise, roosters crowing, and goats milling around. I would then spend at least an hour with the door open, staring at the sunrise and the high tide of the mangrove. That was definitely the high point of my stay, as it was just nice to get away from society and let myself take it slow for a few days! Also, having no WiFi only added to the “detox” from society.
Overall, I got more than I expected from this experience. If you are feeling adventurous, I would highly recommend staying here as you can really be one with nature - but it’s not for everyone. I'm definitely glad I chose the treehouse over some traditional hostel/Airbnb setting!
To start off the day, I landed at Puerto Princesa Airport early in the afternoon. First, I wanted to take a ride to the treehouse to drop off my bags. However, my flight was actually 45 minutes early and I couldn’t check into the Airbnb yet, so I just killed time at the airport by doing some research. I ended up just sitting outside because the airport is quite small.
After a while, I decided to hire a tricycle because Uber, Grab, and taxis aren’t available in Puerto Princesa. Now, a tricycle in Puerto Princesa is essentially just a motorcycle with a sidecar which seems to be the main type of transportation for hire. I did some research on the typical rates online beforehand. However, I was heading the opposite direction of the city center to the middle of nowhere, so I didn’t have anything to compare the actual rate vs. the foreigner rate with.
In the end, I decided to just take the first price they gave me and give them the benefit of the doubt. I flagged a driver down and he told me it would be 100 pesos to get from the airport to Clarkville, which was where the treehouse was. I agreed and hopped in. As I was in the sidecar, I could tell that colonialism definitely had an impact here as the area wasn’t very developed. The city center was filled with cars, smog, and trikes. But, as we drove away from the city, it got more rural and quiet.
To get into the eco-camp, we had to drive down a long, muddy road to get to the treehouse and at this point, I was worried that the trike was going to break down. The trike went through bumps and the uneven path, and at one point we had to wait for a few goats to cross the path! Once we got there, I realized that 100 pesos was more than fair - we had to drive a long way and on the dirt road. When I arrived, one of the locals was there to check me in. Her name was Noelyn, and she showed me around the site. Then, I spent a good hour or so getting myself settled, taking it all in, and walking around the site. Then, I decided to go walk to the city center to sightsee a little bit.
Now, I could take another trike or did the 1 hour walk into the city. However, I was feeling a little adventurous and decided to walk to the city center in order to see how the locals lived and such. In the end, this wasn’t one of my best ideas because it was raining pretty hard, and the road was a little muddy. However, it was very interesting to see how the locals went about their daily lives. I probably wouldn’t do the walk in the rain again, but I’m glad I did it.
Once I got to the city center, I decided to first visit the Baywalk, which wasn’t too impressive to me - maybe because it was very cloudy when I got there. However, I walked up and down and saw a few tourists here and there. Then, I walked to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, which a pretty looking cathedral. When I got there, a service was going on and I wasn’t sure if I was able to go inside. So, I just took a few pictures of the exterior and started to walk towards KaLui to eat dinner.
I was excited to try this restaurant because it was so highly rated online. However, I read that you must have a reservation to eat there. But, I just decided to go there anyways because it was just me, and they most likely have room for one person. However, it turned out that my intuition was right! When I got there, I asked the staff how long the wait would be for 1 person and it turned out that they could seat me right away. This was incredibly exciting, but I wouldn’t had minded the wait anyways - the waiting area is very aesthetically pleasing and is perfect for pictures.
When I got in, they made me take off my shoes and then took me to my table. I ordered a tuna steak combo, sisig, and jackberry juice. Everything I got was very tasty, and I could totally get why you would need a reservation. The best part was that everything I got was pretty unique as in I couldn’t get it at any other place! I would definitely recommend coming here.
After my meal, I hired a trike to take me back to the treehouse. The driver took me back for 100 pesos, which I was glad to pay because the dirt road that I went on earlier was now very dark and sketchy - which I didn’t want to walk through at night. After he dropped me off, I got ready to sleep after a long day!
Day 2: Day trip to honda bay
I woke up bright and early the next day, which allowed me to watch the sunrise from my room. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do today, as it was too late to join an underground tour, yet there was quite a bit I wanted to do. I decided to just walk into town and find a spot with WiFi to do some research. As I was walking into town, a trike asked me where I wanted to go and in that moment, I decided to throw my previous plans out the window and ask the driver if he could take me to Honda Bay.
If we go back into time (when I was planning for this trip months ago), I wanted to visit Honda Bay but I didn’t look too much into it because I was pretty set on going to the underground river. However, I was depending on my Airbnb host to book the tour but that fell through at the last minute. So, I decided to be spontaneous and go to Honda Bay because the driver I found was willing to drive me round-trip for 500 pesos, which was the rate I saw online on numerous blogs - so I took him up on it, and my plans for the day changed instantly.
Paul, my driver for the day, was very nice and took me to an equipment rental store on the way to Sta. Lourdes Wharf, which is where the boats depart. I would say that the only things you really need to rent are the aqua shoes and the snorkel gear - everything else you can do without or bring yourself. After that, Paul drove me to the wharf, where I had to register and pay the fees to rent a boat.
Before this, I thought that I would need to hire my own boat because I was doing this by myself and last-minute. However, I asked the staff if I could possibly join another group because it was just me and that I was relatively flexible on what islands I wanted to visit. I was pretty flexible at this part, because I didn’t mind which islands I saw. Usually, a trip to Honda Bay consists of island hopping. You could visit any of 5 islands, each of them requiring an entrance fee, with the more expensive islands being the prettiest.
Hiring a boat by myself would have costed around 2000 pesos, which wouldn’t had been a problem if I brought enough cash. I assumed that they would accept credit cards, but they didn’t! At this point, I decided to ask the staff if I could join a group since it was just me. I was relieved when the staff told me that I could join another group for 1000 pesos, but I just had to wait. The 1000 pesos included the environmental and terminal fee, the boat hiring fee, the entrance fee to 3 islands, and lunch! I was essentially joining a tour group at the last minute, but I didn’t mind because this was much cheaper and I had enough cash to pay for it. I didn’t have to wait long to join a tour, and then we went to the dock to board the boat.
The first island that we visited was Starfish Island, which was my favorite island out of the ones we visited. I was expecting some rain, but the weather was nice when we arrived! My tour guide said we had around an hour to sightsee and another hour for lunch. The island wasn’t very big, but I thought it was really pretty. There is a cool sand structure you could take a picture with. However, I decided to go snorkeling first and then go around the island and take pictures. When I was renting the snorkel gear, I was iffy on if I wanted to snorkel. However, once I got into the water I was glad I rented the gear. I was able to see lots of different fish swimming by, which I thought was cool! Once I finished snorkeling and taking pictures, it was time to eat lunch. After lunch, we started to head towards the 2nd island.
The second island we visited was Luli Island, which was even smaller than Starfish Island. There was another impressive sand structure to take pictures with, in addition to a designated swimming area with a diving board. To me, this island didn’t have much on it so I decided to take some pictures and then sit in a hammock until we had to leave. However, it started to rain pretty hard so I decided to run towards the closest shelter, which was a small hut selling concessions. I wanted to make a run towards the boat, but I didn’t want to get my camera wet. So, I wanted until it stopped raining so hard and then I ran towards the boat and got in. By this time, we had to leave the island anyways to go to the 3rd island.
On the way to the 3rd island, it started raining very hard again. At this point, water was spraying everywhere. I could tell that the visibility was getting bad because the the captain’s assistants and my tour guide were all directing the captain on where to go. All I really cared about was keeping my shoes and backpack dry, so I shielded it while I got soaked. Once we got to the 3rd island, the rain had subsided by quite a bit.
The 3rd island is called Cowrie Island, which was the biggest island we visited so far. I feel like if the weather was nicer, I would have liked this island a lot because there was a huge spot to snorkel, a massage area, a stall that painted Henna tattoos, and a bigger food selection than the 1st or 2nd island. I decided to just walk around, take some more pictures, and just relax. Overall, I liked this island but I feel like I wasn’t able to utilize everything because the rain closed most of the stalls. After an hour, we left the island to head back to the wharf.
Once we got back to the wharf, I realized that Paul was waiting for me. I was surprised at how well his timing was! I asked him if he could take me to the WWII Museum in town instead of taking me home and he agreed. I thought the WWII Museum was very interesting because it introduced WWII in terms of Palawan’s history. I had never learned it this way, so it was definitely an educational experience for me. When I went, the lady in charge was very friendly as she took a picture of me in the jeep and gave me a small introduction to the museum.
After the museum, I had Paul drive me to an ATM very quick before dropping me off to Kinabuchs to get some take-out for dinner. Then, he took me back to Clarkville. However, once we got there, he asked me for 300 more pesos because we went to more stops. I didn’t like how he told me this at the last minute, but it didn’t seem like a scam to me because he did take me to more places and the ride to Clarkville is out of the way. So, I was okay with paying him extra.
I walked back to the treehouse to eat my dinner while watching the sunset, which was a great way to end the day! I decided to sleep a lot earlier than I usually would because I had an early flight the next day. It was hard for me to fall asleep, but I eventually did fall asleep.
Overall, my experience in Palawan was mixed but I had a very nice time on the island. I definitely would do a few things differently for the next time I visit, but I’m glad I did things the way I did - it was different from what I had been doing so far. Until next time!
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