The island of Palawan is a one hour flight south west from Manila. The north of the island is in the South China sea and the south the Sulu sea. This you need to experience if you love island life, island hopping, diving, nature and experiencing desert islands. Its relatively undiscovered but that is changing fast so the sooner you go the better.
The Provincial Capital, Puerto Princessa, a typical provincial town with a small airport, is the gateway to hidden treasures. Malls, lots of restaurants, a million tricycles and Jeepneys, and lots of local people about their business. Take tricycles, easy to find, quick to move and cheap. Not good for the lungs, but a perfect street level experience of life. Philippine driving is an experience in itself, highly aggressive but tolerated by all the drivers. Sit in a tricycle and watch the driver compete one on one for a small gap in the traffic with a lorry, a moving experience!! The Philippines is a land of negotiation and tips. Hone your skills and be prepared. If you can move around with local people so much the better or the cost of a tricycle grows exponentially each time you use it. Lots of restaurants, and bars but at the end of town is the Baywalk, at night the best place to eat with lots of open air restaurants set up as in a market, with great food, great atmosphere and a real slice of Phillippine life. A great one is Boyet, fish and seafood laid out for you to choose and have cooked while you wait, the price so good you can feel proud you are spening the money. The other end of town is Blessies Bamboo Huts, a small hotel, entirely ecologically made, where the rooms are bamboo huts with bedroom and bathroom built in a courtyard in which is a butterfly garden. Just opff the main road into town, pick up tricycles outide the front door to go anywhere and you can get a lift from the door to any excursion. Family owned and brilliant people.
Go island hopping. Pick up a boat at the harbour and take a day or more to visit 3 or 4 small islands, snorkling, scuba diving, sit on white sand by turquoise waters disturbed only by the odd wild pig running around. The boatmen make traditional Philippine food. It’s a languid lazy experience but allowing you to use as much energy as you feel in the water and exploring. Move from island to island and include a visit to an island only visible at low tide where any buildings are on stilts.
All Filipinos are curious, friendly, accepting and helpful. They are comfortable in their culture natural surroundings and love to show it to you. The experience of eating food is a highlight and Filipino food simple but really tasty. You have to enjoy rice!
The Puerto Princessa Subterranean River National Park is a must. A world heritage site, pride of place is the underground river, 24 kms of caves and 8 kms of a river that flows into the West Philippine sea. Take a boat and experience it, a world of huge caves rock formations, bats, echoes, and a softly flowing river carrying you along. The park is an hour or so from the city a drive through thinly inhabited hills, along empty white beaches, seeing birds, mangroves and rivers. The underground river itself is an introduction to real darkness, remoteness and silence and the rock formations and size of caves carved over millions of years just inspire awe. As you sit in the boat you are aware of the river beneath you, coursing endlessly to the sea, and understand this is something that happens whether humans are there or not. Nothing we can do except look and feel
Like any journey you arrive in a place and tell your self you will stay for 2 or 3 or however many days it is, but by the time you leave Puerto you are tuned to the island and the lotus life, and really want to stick around, but other even more fascinating places beckon.