Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Christmas 2011: Palawan

"Maligayang Pasko", or Merry Christmas, from Palawan in The Philippines! 

Technically it's not our first Christmas abroad, but it is our first time spending the Holidays, well, on holiday! This year we went all tropical, trading in the fireside for the seaside, Christmas trees for palm trees and stockings for... well, actually we still had stockings... It was a nice change from the norm though. I'm sure every Christmas we'll spend for the rest of our lives will all be from the same mould, just like every Christmas we've celebrated thus far. So this will be a nice memory that we'll always have; the year we spent Christmas on the beach.

We flew out from HK to Manila on the 22nd, but we almost didn't make it... there's always something! We checked in online, got to the airport in plenty of time, went through immigration, baggage checks, grand, everything was fine, until we went to board the plane. Even though we had checked in online, apparently we still needed to check in at the desk... (it makes absolutely no sense...) and they said they couldn't let us on board! And nobody had thought to tell us this at any point before we got to the actual doors of the plane! In the end, we had to use our Irish charm and play the "we didn't know" card (we really didn't know! we still don't!) and thankfully they let us away with it. It was almost the worst Christmas ever...

We spent the night in Manila and got a few hours sleep in a cheap guesthouse nearby, as we were late in and early out the next morning, this time flying to Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan. Our travelling wasn't over yet though! As soon as we landed, we were off on a 5 hour bus journey up north to El Nido, finally arriving almost a full day after we left Hong Kong. Phew!

El Nido would be our home for the next four days, staying in a lovely little set of cottages called Treetops. On our first day, Christmas Eve, we went to a nice, quiet beach nearby called Las Cabanas. We pretty much had the whole place to ourselves and the sun held out for most of the afternoon thankfully, so we decided to head back there again the next day for Christmas!

Hmmm... I know what you're thinking - where have I seen that picture before...? Oh, I don't know, maybe page 9 of Cork's Evening Echo! December 29th! Bamm! Famous! 

It was funny reading through the article actually. We got a pretty big picture too (compared to those other losers at the bottom...). We weren't exactly in keeping with the other stories either. It talks about these poor students, forced to leave the country to make a living abroad, setting sail from Irish shores to find work... and then there's us frolicking on a beach! No recession here!!

And so, we had a lovely Christmas morning on the beach, exchanging presents and working on our tans. Sure what else would you be doing!? After lunch, we got a tricycle to some hot springs that we had heard about. It was a bumpy 30 minute ride and then a trek through a forest. The amount of crap we had to go through to get there though... and not in terms of hassle, I mean we literally had to wade through tonnes of crap!

Well, it didn't matter we thought, we can have a grand old soak in the hot springs and freshen ourselves up a bit. How wrong we were. The water was absolutely boiling! And I don't mean 'a bit too hot', I mean actually boiling. We should've brought a couple of bags of rice along with us, we could have at least had a meal for ourselves! This was meant to be our plan for the evening, maybe spend an hour soaking in the water, wash the sand out of our pores. In the end we just spent about 10 minutes standing there, looking at it. It was all we could do.

I don't even know why it's a tourist attraction...

That evening we had a lovely Christmas buffet dinner in Treetops, not exactly traditional but still lovely - spaghetti bolognese, noodles, rice, veg, roast pork... There were only two other people staying there besides us, so there was far too much food to go around. The staff had decorated the place up all Christmassy as well, and even gave us all little presents. They really couldn't have been nicer to us during our stay there, especially considering it was the Christmas holidays and I'm sure there were plenty of other places they'd rather have been. All in all, a very unorthodox, but still quite an enjoyable Christmas day.

On St. Stephen's Day (or Boxing Day, if you're into that kind of thing...), we decided to get active again and spent the day island hopping around Bacuit Bay. We had a great old time, travelling around to various beaches and lagoons with a group of Irish, English, Scots, Swedes and Estonians.

Our first stop of the day was to the Secret Lagoon - a sunlit pool, completely surrounded by rocky cliffs and only accessible through a small opening in the rock face.

It was a really beautiful place, and after a quick paddle around, we stopped for food along a nice, quiet beach. 

We hit up another few spots after lunch, the Big Lagoon (as featured in the latest series of Survivor France, apparently) and Seven Commando Beach, where we relaxed with a few drinks, a lovely way to round off the day.

And that was all for El Nido. The next morning we were back off down the road to Puerto Princesa. We were only in town for a day and a half as there was really only one thing we wanted to see - The Puerto Princesa Underground River, recently voted one of the new "Seven Natural Wonders of the World"! It's not every day that you see one of the natural wonders of the world, so on occasions like this, you need to take as many pictures as you can, and don't do anything stupid like forgetting your SD card... 

Yeah, I forgot my SD card. I couldn't believe it. I was inconsolable when I realised. My camera was effectively useless for the day, just a fancy paperweight. And I didn't even need to weigh down any paper, so it was doubly useless!

As I couldn't take any pictures for the day, I felt a bit torn - part of me, obviously, hoped it would be brilliant, truly a wonder of the world, and yet there was another part that secretly thought, actually I hope it's not that good, just so I don't miss out on some amazing photos. Fortunately (or should it be unfortunately...?), it wasn't that great at all! Phew! The picture above of the cave entrance (which I obviously just found online) isn't really that special, and that was about as good as it got! The cave itself was pretty mediocre too, especially compared to the ones we had seen in Borneo.

Looking at the list of nominees, I have no idea how it beat out places like the Grand Canyon or the Great Barrier Reef to become one of the seven natural wonders. Even the Cliffs of Moher are a more worthy winner!

Also, considering we left our hostel at half eight and didn't get back again til after six, it certainly isn't worth spending an entire day just for a 45 minute boat ride through a less than impressive, badly-lit cave. Maybe if you happened to live next door to the cave, then I'd recommend taking a look inside, otherwise, don't waste your time. That was all we did really in Puerto Princesa. The next day we flew up to our final stop, Coron, on the island of Busuanga. 

Being honest, we were two thirds of the way through our holiday and I was a bit disappointed. Yeah, El Nido and Puerto Princesa were nice, but (and I don't mean to sound arrogant or snobbish) we've seen so much of South East Asia, so many incredible sights, that "nice" just doesn't cut it anymore. This holiday was rather unfortunately lagging way behind our other trips away and then, out of nowhere, Coron came along and firmly put The Philippines back on the map!

It was paradise. The town of Coron itself was nice, just a small, seaside town, but it was the outlying islands, the dive spots, the beaches and the lagoons that really made the place so special.

We flew in from Puerto Princesa and were collected at the airport by our accommodation, the Coron Village Lodge. I had made the booking myself, and so I knew there'd be someone at the arrivals area with my name on a board. I know it's just a little thing but I was all excited!

Yep, there I am, Marko Liary... 

And the thing is, I made the booking online. I mean I could understand if they got my name wrong over the phone. On the ride in from the airport, we met the nicest French family too. Unfortunately they were staying somewhere else, but we did bump into them a couple more times over the next few days. 

We had signed up for a tour package, so it was nice to know everything would be taken care for us for our stay here. As soon as we arrived and got settled, we were whisked off to Mt. Tapyas, where we made the steep climb up to the top just in time for sunset. The views over the town and harbour were really lovely.

And our day wasn't done yet. After sunset we were taken to the Makinit Hot Springs. We were dreading that they'd be the same as the ones in El Nido, but they were really beautiful. They were just like a really warm outdoor swimming pool, and all nicely decorated too with trees and nightlights all around. So, we relaxed for the evening with a nice dip under the moonlight (and starlight).

The next morning, we got up for an action-packed day of activities. First off, (after our boat eventually started) we went to the Siete Pecados, or the "Seven Sins", a group of seven small, rocky islands - a great diving spot with beautiful fish and coral.

Next it was onto the Twin Lagoons, where we had a nice swim around. The lagoons are made up of warm sea water and cool fresh water from the hills, so it was a strange sensation swimming around, going from pocket to pocket of hot and cold water. And just look at the colour!

We then stopped for lunch (and another swim) along Atwayan Beach. Sorry, I'm skipping from place to place so quickly, but there isn't a whole lot to say of interest about each one, and I want to show as many pictures as I can!

We did another spot of snorkeling and fish feeding, before ending our day in Kayangan Lake. We had some bread and rice to feed them with, and as soon as you produced it, you were surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of zebra fish, angel fish and countless others that I don't know the name of. It was like being in the middle of Finding Nemo.

That evening we took a stroll down into the town centre to watch a mini parade. All the tricycles were decked out in Christmas lights and decorations, and were driving around the town, waving and throwing out sweets. It was actually really fun!

We went shopping in the street markets too, and got some great bargains for ourselves! Things are ridiculously cheap here! I got a pair of flip-flops for €2, a t-shirt for €5, and all good quality ones too. And this was without even haggling!

The next day and our last, we had another activity-filled day. Our first stop was Lusong, to go snorkeling around a Japanese shipwreck from WWII, which was an amazing experience. The ship is now just part of the underwater scenery, encrusted with coral and home to countless numbers of tropical fish.

We also went snorkeling later on in the afternoon in the Coral Garden, another lovely coral area with giant clams and tiny jellyfish.

We spent most of the day though in a place called Pass Island, not a very exotic name, but it's the nicest island we've ever been (not including Ireland, obviously). Forget all I've said in previous blogs about beautiful beaches, I didn't know what I was talking about back then. Ko Phi Phi, Ko Tao - don't bother with them anymore, all piles of crap compared to this place!

Palm trees, warm turquoise, yet perfectly clear water, a spotless white, sandy beach - and I mean a big proper beach, not just a tiny little strip of sand - it's the perfect desert island to find yourself stranded on! It's only small too, maybe about two acres, and there's even a nice little hill with a lookout point. If I ever become a millionaire, I'll definitely buy the place.

We made a video diary here too (of course, it was the perfect place). Even if you don't to want hear us blabbering on about the holiday, have a look just to see the place.

That evening, seeing as it was New Year's Eve, we went back down into the town centre to see what kind of celebrations they'd have. We weren't expecting much really seeing as it's only a small place, a countdown, maybe a few fireworks, but we were pleasantly surprised! They had a great big fireworks show, and good fireworks too!

No countdown though... that's two years in a row now that we haven't had a new year's countdown!

And so, just like 2011 our time had also come to an end. The next morning we flew back to Manila and back home to HK. So, after a nice but unspectacular start to the holiday, Coron came in at the death to save the day. Even though we've only seen very little of it, The Philippines seems like a lovely country, and the people are among the nicest we've met anywhere, so hopefully we'll come back here again some time and see a bit more of the place.

As for now, it's the 19th of January and we're flying out tonight to spend the Chinese New Year in Myanmar (it's a tough life...). And so, that'll be the next blog entry in a few weeks time. Until then, peace out for now!


  1. hi uncle mark that trip sounded like so much fun happy new year marko liary !!!


  2. Thanks Doireann! If only my blog was as good as yours! :)

  3. NATURE FOR PASKO! HAHAH OKAY DITO PWEDE RIN NAMAN SA Resort and Casino in Manila if gusto niyo hehe