In November, Evan and I made our first foray into Asia: twelve days in the Philippines. For all of our combined travels, neither of us had yet made it to that part of the world. Evan’s Aunt Vangie lives in Manilla, so we were quite overdue for a Philippines visit.
It’s been several months since we got home and we reminisce about it daily. Completing this blog post has been super hard for me: there is absolutely no way to authentically present the warm, lovely people, animals, countryside and experience that we had. I suppose that can be said of any immersive travel adventure, nonetheless I just want to do it justice.
How can I pack it all in a single, one-dimensional blog post!? I can’t offer you perfection, instead I give you: genuine, beautiful and authentic. So here are some photos that are close to my heart. I hope you enjoy them and glimpse just a little of the magic that is the Philippines.
Besides Evan and I, his parents, Kathy and Ed and Evan’s brother, Chris and his girlfriend, May were part of the trip. Though Aunt Vangie lives in mainland Manilla, Chris and May and Evan and I had plans to head to the islands upon landing and then reconnect with family after spending some time exploring. So shortly after arriving in Manilla, we flew to El Nido/Palawan.
There are a couple ways to do this, so I’ll keep it short and sweet: You can fly in to either El Nido or Puerto Princessa from Manilla. Flying into Puerto Princessa is the cheapest and longest way. The airport is quite south from northern El Nido, it’s in the center of the entire island. Upon landing, one must hire a bus for the ride north that takes between 5 to 6 hours. This option is around $65.00.
Flying directly from Manilla to El Nido is more expensive, ($250.00) but it only takes around an hour, and is far more time-effective and conveneint. This is what we did and would do again in a heartbeat. There is a small airline, AirSWIFT that does the short route between Manilla and El Nido. The plane is tiny, all bags need to be checked and the only way to book it was through the airline’s own website.
Cadlao, our first stay, was a bit out of town towards the north of El Nido. We quickly realized if we wanted any kind of independence at all, we’d have to get our own set of wheels. Cars are rare (and massive for their roads) so we rented scooters and joined in the mele that is driving in El Nido.
Rather than a Shell or Mobil, you’d see a home on the side of the road selling gas. I’d like to know where everyone is getting this stuff at.
One of our goals on this trip was to get out and explore some of the hundreds of islands in the El Nido area. There is a pretty standard tour set to see the islands. Almost every tour guide on the islands offers tours A, B, C, D. They all go to the same places in the same order… but not all are equal, which we found out the hard way.
So like I said, all tour groups are not equal. Let me tell you why. Our tour was advertised as a snorkel tour. This included stops at the standard places in tour C, as well as a catered lunch and snorkel gear. We disembarked at our first stop of the all-day tour and dutifully lined up for snorkel gear. Oh no! Looks like there isn’t enough to go around… like 4 people not enough! And at least two of the pairs were broken and didn’t have snorkels to go with the masks. It wasn’t a full tour and we had signed up a couple days ago, so really, no excuse at all. So there you have it. Do your research on quality companies before making your selection. Or even better, bring your own super awesome gear! Lesson learned. Moving on.
Where to Stay in El Nido:
We ended up booking our accommodation too late to get all 6 nights at one place. That turned out ok actually as we were able to move around the island and see where we liked it the best. The first two nights we had stayed at the Cadlao resort, to the north of El Nido. It is owned/run by a young Frenchman who is very involved with the property. The cabanas were beautiful, clean and comfortable and the setting was quiet and truly lovely. It is a little out of the way, so better for those who are ok with a some distance from the hustle and beats of the downtown beach scene.
Our second accommodation we stayed at was in the heart of El Nido. The Entalula is a family run business with individual cabanas as well as standard hotel rooms. We stayed in the most beachfront of all of them and it was a nice, clean, economical stay. There was none of the luxuries that the other two properties had, but it made up for it in charm. Such as this little mama cat who was giving me the eye for trying to feed her wee little baby kitten behind our cabana. One afternoon we managed to lock ourselves in the cabana and would have (hopefully) been found once we failed to check out the next morning. Thankfully a portly neighbor must have heard my banging and knocking and came over to release us from our self-made prison.
Also, the lobby doubles as the family’s kitchen/ living room, so coming home late one night we had to gingerly pick our way through an entire family watching a tv show. They seemed to not be bothered, like such things are a common occurrence. We were served breakfast every morning on our patio overlooking the beach and they did our laundry for some ridiculously low rate. Nothing was lost and it was very clean. Considering the price of this place was less than a 1/3 of what the other two places were, it was a steal. However, as we age, our threshold for luxury seems to be rising….
Puppies! Dogs! There are so, so many stray dogs on the island- it just broke my heart. They are everywhere. They are mostly all pretty thin, some more than others, but thankfully very few seemed to be actually starving. The dogs also seemed pretty content for the most part. If only there were some way to spay and neuter those dear little creatures! The puppies were irresistible, of course.
On another day’s adventure, Chris, May, Evan and I took our scooters out of town and hit the road. Our ultimate goal was a fabulous beach semi-nearby, but the joy is in the journey, right?
Once out of the city, rice paddies and water buffalo are everywhere! Rice is big business on the island and those buffalo are part of that trade. I didn’t see a single tractor, it was all done in the old ways: a farmer and his water buffalo. I feel a veggies tales joke would be appropriate here (any other 90’s kids know what I am talking about?).
Oh yes, the mud. It just so happens there was a very early morning deluge before our motorbike adventure. That rain hung around in the form of red mud and massive puddles on the back roads we happened to be traversing. So much mud. I laid my bike down unfortunately in the middle of one of those soup tureens. My poor camera and clothes have never been the same. It didn’t help things that huge construction trucks were also using the road, making the mud puddles worse and intimidating all the little motorcyclists.
There is another story to this whole adventure. Unbeknownst to May, Chris had been planning for some time on proposing to her while in El Nido . Evan and I were in on the surprise and were going to be backstage crew, helping to set it up without (hopefully) tipping off the bride. May swears she had no idea and it turned out perfectly. They went for a stroll on a secluded and deserted section of Las Cabanas and lo and behold, there was a message in the sand! Evan and I were smushed behind a rock wall in the sand, but we managed to capture the moment– she said yes!!
La Plage was our favorite restaurant on the island. They had a solid menu and rotating specials that did not disappoint. And their wine was actually good! Thank Heaven! Also owned and run by a Frenchman (these Frenchies are onto something!), the setting and atmosphere was just spectacular. You must go if you visit El Nido.
My favorite stay of the trip: Mahogany Resort. Out of all the accommodations I was most skeptical of this one and ended up loving the most! Isn’t that how it goes sometimes? Located on the Northwest side of the island on Corong Corong beach, it is a real gem. The staff were all amazing, and the cabanas themselves were clean, modern and luxurious. I loved the king bed and the hammock on our front porch. Lots of lush vegetation and a salt water pool, just feet away from the beach. Breakfast brought to our porch every morning and even a little resident fruit bat in the outside rafters! Truly a bit of heaven. The staff here gathered hibiscus from the property at no charge for Evan and I to use in decorating the proposal site. And it’s like two feet down the beach from our fav restaurant, La Plage. Win-Win.
I’m not including much from family time in Manilla, but this is a private beach about 2.5/3 hours outside of the city. Aunt Vangie owns some property on the estate so we were able to access the area. There are lots of people everywhere in the Philippines, but not here. It was so quiet and secluded.
We found so much to love in the Philippines and managed to leave a bit of our hearts in El Nido. There’s really nothing like it!
I’m never going to be completely satisfied with this post, so maybe I’ll just have to add to it as I get the whim. Just go there and experience it for yourself. It’s worth it, I promise.