Palawan, Philippines (May 2016)
In the three months that we spent traveling through Southeast Asia, the Philippines would make its way in and out of our plans. It consists of so many islands, we couldn’t decide how to tackle it. In the back of our minds we had the recent news of the Canadians that were kidnapped from a resort by a group affiliated with ISIS – here they’re referred to as pirates. We learned that the southern part of the Philippines, close to where we were in Borneo, was home to these pirates, and they clearly aren’t fans of Westerners. As our time in Southeast Asia wound down, it ended up not making the cut.
Our path out of Southeast Asia was going to be through Taiwan, parts of China, then South Korea. Taiwan was locked in, but by this point in the trip we had learned that we tend to appreciate remote places over big cities. So, we played an audible and cut China in favor of the Philippines. It took some serious, quick research and chats with a few Filipino friends, but we eventually settled on Palawan, a long thin island that, ironically, stretches down to the eastern tip of Borneo. Pirates or not, Christine was pretty excited to not have to set foot in China! Woohoo!
Palawan is known as “the last frontier of the Philippines,” and was recently given the title of the number one island in the world by several travel associations. Information was sparse, so we locked in a two week itinerary that would take us to El Nido, Duli Beach, and Port Barton, with a one night stopover in Manila going in each direction. And we were off, back into the heat of Southeast Asia during the rainy season for one more time.
Had we gone to Palawan eight months ago, we probably would have been in for quite a bit of culture shock. It has a rawness that is very similar to Ometepe Island in Nicaragua. Many houses are simple shacks. Animals freely roam the streets, which are in various states of being paved and unpaved. Things like electricity, internet, and hot (and sometimes even running) water are luxuries. It certainly doesn’t sound like the number one island in the world. We’d figure that part out eventually though.
We started out in El Nido, which was just a short eight hour bus ride from the airport in Puerta Princesa to the northern tip of the island. We could have made the ride in five, but Christine was trying to be smart and save money and booked us on a local bus – 3 hours less might have been worth the extra $40. We spent three days here with Abs and Talia, a couple from the UK who are out on a similar trip as us, blog and all. We met them at the Elephant Nature Park and really enjoyed their company. It’s nice to have travel buddies to share the experience! We explored the El Nido area three different ways: by kayak, by boat, and by motorbike. We’d end each day with fresh seafood and beers, and occasionally a ride with the four of us piled onto a single trike. El Nido is an awesome area, with so much to see out on the water.
After El Nido, we said goodbye to Abs and Talia and headed an hour and a half north to Duli Beach. Duli Beach is an isolated area along the coast where people come to surf and swim during the day. A Dutch couple have put it on the map by opening a B&B right on the beach, which Christine found during her research. It had no electricity, and we liked the idea of getting off the grid entirely for a bit, so we locked in three days here. We passed the time by swimming, running on the beach, climbing coconut trees, watching sunsets, chasing a rodent out of our bungalow, talking with the Dutch couple about their travels, and enjoying the two 12+ hour thunderstorms that we got. Once or twice a day, we’d walk halfway down the beach to sit on the “internet log” and check in with the world.
For our last four days in Palawan, we took a four hour van ride (with nine people, which we thought was a tight fit, but we would eventually learn was empty by Palawan standards) down to Port Barton, a small coastal village. We stayed on another beachfront cottage a mile or two north of Port Barton itself, similar to Duli Beach. We swam, climbed more coconut trees, read, watched more sunsets, played with the resident puppies, and counted the minutes down to the next three hour period of electricity where we could lay in bed under the fan. We went on one boat tour where we got to swim with sea turtles, and in exchange got some sunburn. After doing back to back stays at places with limited or no electricity, we cut Port Barton a day short to head back to Puerta Princesa for some air conditioning and internet (which ended up not working most the time). The lack of internet had put us far behind on trip planning, and there was work to do. Our ride into Puerta Princesa was a laugh; that same van that held nine people was now holding eighteen!
Is Palawan really the number one island in the world? If your idea of the number one island in the world brings visions of luxury, or even comfort, absolutely not. But for a backpacking experience, it’s as good as it gets. Palawan is a place where you can hop on a motorbike and get lost in the large parts of it that remain unsettled. The islands just off the coast are absolutely gorgeous. It’s rugged, but the residents are super friendly. It’s inexpensive. It’s like stepping back in time by 100 years or so, with respect to how people live. And that’s precisely what gives it its charm, and in our opinion, the title that it deserves. So check out our pictures, then go there yourself!