A Visit to the Underground River
Twice I've been to this site. The first time I left my camera in my hotel room! Stupid! Stupid!
Visiting the St. Paul's Underground River is a must when you are in Puerto Princesa. It is part of UNESCO's Heritage Sites List. The caves are made of white and black marble. Our guide told us that million of years ago the caves were formed by the acids that dissolved the softer materials that made up the St. Paul Mountain Range. The continous trickling of mineral-rich water have helped form curiously shaped stalagmites, stalactites and columns. The monkeys and the big monitor lizards that own the park are an added bonus that make visiting this Park worth your while.
If you are lucky enough, you might have Mang Totong for your boatman. He is a funny man and really passionate about his work. He's been interviewed in various shows and knows the caves really well. He can tell you a lot of stories about the river and share his knowledge about the little explored part of the cave that is off-limits to ordinary visitors.
It is better to take an organized tour to St. Paul's (P1,500). This includes transfers (a/c van and banca), lunch and park permit and the services of a tour guide.
BTW, be prepared to have your bones rattled as more than half of the 2.5 hrs. travel is over rough unpaved road. Better borrow a pillow from your hotel so you can have extra padding for your head and back. :)Related to:
- National/State Park
- Adventure Travel
Explore Honda Bay
Island hopping in Honda Bay is a popular activity in Puerto Princesa. You can rent a boat for P1000 (US$20) for the whole day. Snorkeling gear can also be rented for P200 (US$4) in the registration office at the Honda Bay Pier. If you're not taking an organized tour which costs P900/pax (US$17) you can go to the market to buy food and have it cooked (costs P50 (US$1) per dish) in Snake Island.
The whole bay is protected by the DENR and the local Bantay Dagat. It is very well preserved area and the local residents are justifiably proud of it.
Snake Island is a good place for snorkeling as the island is very rich in marine life. Kids and adults alike enjoy feeding the fish. Starfish Island has some coral reefs. Luli Island has a high diving board set up where swimmers can take a leap into the sea. Or one can just sit on the board to watch the millions upon millions of fingerlings swarming around under the water. Bat Island is so named because it is mainly composed of mangrove trees that serve as home to thousands of fruit bats that spend the day hanging around but turn active upon sunset. To watch these bats fly off to find food is an eerie sight worth waiting for!Related to:
- Diving and Snorkeling
- Budget Travel
Victoria's Secret and the Butterflies :)
I learnt a lot about butterflies during our visit at the Palawan Butterfly Garden where they feature not only different species of butterflies native to the area but also the plants that sustain them. Adults and kids will enjoy this place. But remember to thread softly as the butterflies are numerous and often land on places that unwary visitors might step on them!
BTW, When you go visit be sure to smother yourself in Victoria's Secret scents like Pear Glace, Lavender or Bath and Body's Lavender scented lotion/spray. The butterflies absolutely love those scents. They will flock to you and follow you everywhere!!!Related to:
- Road Trip
And I don't mean the usual mangoes, bananas and pineapples, although they do have good quality supply of those in the PP Public Market.
I mean the hard to come by/expensive fruits like the Marang (Artocarpus odoratissimus Blco., Family Moraceae) and Tuba-tuba (I can't find the latin name for this one). Tuba-tuba looks like a santol and tastes like a cross between santol (Sandoricum koetjape Merr.) and mangosteen (garcinia mangostana, family guttiferae). You can get a whole marang for P13 (US$0.25), but I'm sure a good haggler can get better price than me! :). A kilogram of tuba-tuba costs P35 (US$0.66).Related to:
- Budget Travel
When the war erupted in Vietnam in the 70's, thousands of Vietnamese fled their country and sought asylum in other countries. One of the "hospitable" ones who welcomed them was the Philippines where the "boat people or refugees" were given temporary living area in PP.
They were allowed to put up tents, and later build Vietnamese-style houses, near the airport. However, according to a VietVille local, these boat people were not allowed to stray away from their "camp" and did not enjoy the same freedom as the Filipinos (although some of them were able to marry Filipinos). In 1996, through the collaborative efforts of the Catholic Bishops in the country and the city & provincial government, the boat people were transferred to the present site of VietVille where they started building a community. Each family was given a small house on a piece of land and were accorded the same freedom as the locals.
Soon after however, their papers for migration to the US were processed and to date, only 6 families have remained. And as I moved around, I noticed that most of the houses were vacated and dilapidated. Tall grasses now occupy what used to be the basketball court. Still, the front area where the restaurant, church and souvenir shop are located is well kept and secured.Related to:
- Religious Travel
A new lease on life
Iwahig Penal Colony was established in the early 1900's and to this date is still operational. It is where criminals from other parts of the country were sent, jailed and forced to do hard labor while serving their sentence. Later on, the reformed ones are allowed to roam within the compound and mingle with the community while the "hard cores" remain in maximum confinement. Within the compound, there are farmstead tended by former prisoners who, after serving their sentence, have decided to stay in PP and start a new life.
A side story: according to my trike driver, there was a time when taking picture of Iwahig's recreation hall was disallowed. It was said that visitors who took pictures of the building were afflicted with serious disease. Hence, I avoided taking a photo but a "roaming prisoner" noticed my action and gave me the go signal to proceed.Related to:
- Historical Travel
Farther up from Baker's Hill is Mitra's Ranch. It is owned by the Mitra family, a known political clan in Palawan who also produced a one-time senator of the country.
The ranch is strategically located as it gives the guests a sweeping view of Honda Bay and its islands. The resthouse perched on the hill's peak is being rented for parties and gathering. At the time of my visit, refurbishing is on-going.Related to:
The blue and white cathedral
Our Lady of Immaculate Conception is the patron of Puerto Princesa. As such, the church's exterior is done in blue and white. I don't know but for some reason, its architecture reminds me of Manila's San Sebastian Church. I attended the English anticipated mass at 5:30pm on Saturday.Related to:
- Religious Travel
Crocodile Farm ... and more
It used to be known as the Crocodile Farm. However with the addition of other endangered species, it was renamed Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center.
The preserved skin and skeleton of the biggest crocodile captured in Palawan is on display at the Center's lobby which is where the farm tour commences. The next part of the tour is to a small museum where pictures and information on crocodile farming are on display. The most exciting part is the "hands-on" where you can see live crocodiles and can even have your picture taken holding a small one. The last part is the tour of the zoo where, aside from crocodiles, there are ostrich, eagle, mynah, turtle and others.
An admission fee of P40 per person is charged which includes the 30-minute guided tour. An additional P30 is charged for the photo opp with the crocodile.Related to:
In the outskirt of the city is a small house owned by an ordinary family and attached to it is a garden where hundreds of butterflies in different colors and sizes take shelter. The butterflies were "friendly and easy to capture". You may even take your picture with a butterfly at the palm of your hand.
A brief video presentation on the metamorphosis, care and handling of butterfly is available (but I skipped it) and family members are on hand to attend to questions by visitors. An admission fee of P25 per person is charged for the upkeep of the farm.Related to:
Snorkeling and Island Hopping in Honda Bay!
Day 3: Honda Bay
A trip to Puerto Princesa is not complete without island hopping in Honda Bay. If you've never snorkelled in your life, this is the best time to start.
Again, best arrangement here is DIY. We rented the same tryk for the day. Sonny picked us up at the pension at 7:30am. He agreed to accompany us in the boat so he can take care of our food and be our personal assistant. He brought us to the market to buy our lunch. We got squid, fish and eggplant (all for grilling). We also got a kilo of lobster for only P470! We bought bread also fish feeding.
[Update: If you're a big group that cannot fit in one tricycle, the other option is van rental since you'll be paying almost the same amount if you get 2 tryks. Van for drop-off and pick up is at P1,000. Check out Joseph's number in my transportation tips.]
We got the GASAM boat piloted by Mang Samuel. I suggest you request him if you will go there. He is quite helpful and nice [update: There are 2 GASAM boats now, 1 good for 6 and another good for 10. New boatmen but quite nice and helpful too]. They brought us to Pandan Island, Snake Island (where we had our food cooked) and Luli Island. Our schedule was quite flexible so it was up to us when to go where. Mang Samuel and Jess helped our group to snorkel (we brought our own, but you can also rent at the terminal for 100 each). Because the water is a bit rough, we were afraid to go on our own. So what they did was guide us individually. We held on to their hand and snorkeled to our heart's content! Mang Samuel even pointed out to me the interesting fish and corals. I had a great time taking pictures! And we did this in all 3 islands!
[Update: Boat rental depends on the number of people in a boat. Smallest is good for 6 at P1,000. The one good for 8 is P1,700. Add in the terminal fee of P30 per person.]
Tricycle rental - 350/4
Boat rental - 1120/4
Lunch (market) - 880/4
Rice, halo-halo, cooking - 462/4
Tip (boatmen) - 500/4
Tip (tryk Sonny) - 500/4
Total = 953Related to:
- Family Travel
- Diving and Snorkeling
Watch the Migratory Birds
While on Honda Bay you can watch the migratory birds taking a break on Snake Island.
Please be considerate and don't go walking along the tail end of the islet as the birds consider these their feeding ground.Related to:
- Road Trip
Underground River tour
Day 2: Underground River
We woke up at 5 so we can have an early breakfast. They usually serve at 6am but we gave our orders the day before so that when we went up at 6, everything is ready.
We got a tryk to bring us to the San Jose terminal for the earliest trip to Sabang. We got there before 7 and took the first trip (jeep). Trip is supposed to be 2 to 2 1/2 hours. But because it was raining, we got stuck in the mud and had to hike 7kms to a ranger station. After that we hitched a ride to a passing Nissan Safari. But that is another story...
If you have time, I suggest you do the monkey trail hike going to the Underground River. But if none, just take the boat from Sabang - 15 mins. Once you're in Sabang, go to the tourist center and pay the entrance fees. After that you go to the boat terminal across for the boat rental. There are set fees so no haggling needed. We also brought bread and water so we didn't eat there anymore.
Costing below reflects a normal trip and does not include the hitchhiking we did!
You will take a paddle boat (with a boatman!) to the Underground River. Open to the public is 1.5kms but they said the river is 8kms long. The trip is about 45 mins round trip. You will be amazed by the stone formations.
After that, take the jeep/bus back to PP. Last trip is 1pm (or 2pm depending).
We rented a tryk to bring us to Badjao Seafront where we had dinner. The location is great because it's on water, middle of a mangrove forest. But the food is quite pricey and leaves much to be desired. But I guess you're paying for the ambiance :)
Tricycle to San Jose Terminal - 100/4
Jeepney to Sabang (r/t) - 260
Entrance to UG - 150
Boat rental - 700/4
Tricycle back to pension - 6
Dinner at Badjao Seafront - 1446/4
Tricycle rental - 100/4
Total = 982.50Related to:
- National/State Park
- Jungle and Rain Forest
Dolphin Watching in Puerto Princesa
Oh well, this is another exciting adventure in Puerto Princesa aside from snorkeling. Dolphin watching in the cold blue water is exceptional.
It was my first and will not be the last. We did dolphin watching by hiring a boat with a tour guide. We left our hotel early in the morning. Early means 6:00AM as you have to have a boat ride for at least half an hour to find the sea of dolphins. So we had the first sighting when fins popped out everywhere. I had to hold on tight my camera and make sure I won't miss a thing. I was lucky to have some good shots (considering that it was my first time, hehe), and I am happy to share this with you.
Our tour guide knows where to go to see the dolphins. We enjoyed very much his company and will definitely recommend him to my friends and other VT members.Related to:
- Diving and Snorkeling
- Sailing and Boating
Day 1: Crocodile Farm, Butterfly Garden, Baker's
For the city tour, we hired a tricycle to bring us to the Crocodile Farm, Baker's Hill and Butterfly Garden. We didn't go anymore to the Iwahig Penal Colony since it's a bit far. But below are details of each places even though we didn't visit the others anymore (been there during my last 2 trips).
Butterfly Garden - it's great to just sit here and have the butterflies fly around you. Some might even alight on you. Quite peaceful...
Baker's Hill - if you have time, you can go here but it's really not a must. It's just a nice garden with a bakery (but their bread is good). You can have your pic taken with snow white and the baker. It can be a good stopover for snacks trip. They have 'halo-halo' and all sandwiches in the snack bar at the back.
Crocodile Farm - if you want to see lots and lots of baby and mature crocodiles all in one place, this is it. You can even have your picture taken with a baby crocodile, for a fee of course! Can't remember how much. Make sure you join the guided tour so you'll be able to learn a little more about these 'gentle' creatures. But remember that this is a government facility so they close for lunch break and during Sundays.
Iwahig Penal Colony - this is quite far from the center. About 45 mins, I think. This is the prison area that has 'no walls'. The prisoners you'll see wandering around are the 'minimum security' ones (usually in brown) and have the run of the place. They have a nice souvenir shop where there are lots of items that can be bought. These are all made by the prisoners.
Mitra's House - it's just a house :) It's actually at the top of the hill. The main foundation of the house is the trunk of a tree that grew on that hill (used to be a hill with lots of trees according to stories). You get a 360degree view of Puerto Princesa up there.
Lunch - 220
Merienda - 265/4
Tricycle Rental - 400/4
Crocodile Farm - 40
Butterfly Garden - 25
Dinner KaLui - 950/4 (tip included)
Tricycle - 12
Total for Day 1 = 700.75Related to:
- Budget Travel
- Family Travel
- Theme Park Trips
Puerto Princesa City Hotels
National Highway, Brgy. San Pedro Puerto Princesa City, Palawan 5300
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