Palawan, the most beautiful island in the Philippines
For months leading up to our trip people would ask about my itinerary and I would often get looks of shock when I mentioned the Philippines. I think Manila is the first thought to come to mind. I will admit that I didn’t research the Philippines at all and just knew/hoped that it would be beautiful.
Years ago, Scott watched a GlobeTrekker show on the best beaches in the world, and decided that one day he would go to the island of Boracay in the Philippines, so it was really a surprise when he decided to give up Boracay for another island, Palawan. Sidenote from Scott: he wishes he could thank his Filipino clinical trials patient who told him to go to Palawan, but unfortunately that patient died late last year. Scott still says thanks and Rest in Peace to R-M (initials only, confidentiality continues even after death).
Our first stop in Palawan was Puerto Princesa, the second largest city (by land mass) in the Philippines. We arrived in the evening and our hotel picked us up. The drive was pretty eerie because there weren’t many street lights so we couldn’t see a thing. We went to sleep and figured we would see what this place looked like in the morning.
We woke up to the sounds of roosters and cars blaring political jingles from their stereos, since the election season was in full swing. Walking outside my villa, I looked up and was in awe of blue skies and perfect clouds. I can’t even put into words how great this town was so let me just show you in pictures.
We then went to a park that was once was a former prison in WW2. Some terrible things happened there including the gruesome massacre of 143 American POW’s. Japanese soldiers told the POW’s to hide in the air raid shelters. The guards then doused the shelters and the POWs with gasoline and set them on fire with torches and grenades, and fired upon them as they tried to escape, killing all but 11 Americans.
A survivor of the massacre wished to commemorate the incident in some way. His wish came true and the place is a beautiful park dedicated to the victims. All that stands now is the prison gate.
We also saw a beautiful church!
We then went to the Puerto Princesa Pier. It was a pretty cool pier. And look at those clouds! They are perfect!
More perfect clouds
Perfection. I love it.
We ended the day with an ocean cruise and firefly watching at night! We hopped on a boat around sunset and headed out to a river surrounded by mangrove forests. Here is a picture of our boat:
See the sides of the boat? The crew actually attached benched picnic tables to the sides of the boat and we were able to eat dinner while dangling our feet over the water. It was quite the feast:
Unfortunately I do not have pictures of the firefly watching because it was pitch dark out in the river. They apparently just discovered the area in November of 2012 so we were the only boat out in the water and it really felt unique – it was one if coolest tours I have ever been on. The tour guide would flash a red light into the mangroves and it would light up just like a Christmas tree. The trip was really peaceful and I have never seen so many stars in my life. Peaceful that is until our boat’s engine died in the middle of a pitch black mangrove swamp and we had to spend an hour paddling our way out. I found it added to the fun =)
The next day we went on a full day tour of Puerto Princesa’s underground river. Recently, it was named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature and tourists must book a tour months in advance. Our hotel pulled some strings for us and we were able to get a spot (Thanks Villa Saturnina!)
PP’s underground river stretches for 8.2 kilometers under a massive limestone karst mountain and out to sea. Only 800 people are permitted to visit each day and we had to wait on this beach for our turn. I didn’t mind at all, the view was spectacular!
Finally it was our turn, we put on our gear and went in!
The cave was dark and full of bats, but we got some great photos! Check em out!
This picture is amazing, I can’t believe I captured this shot so perfectly:
Okay okay, I didn’t get any good shots there either. But the cave was pretty cool!
On our last day we went island hopping in Honda Bay. Filipinos call Honda Bay “The Last Frontier”. Again, pictures are the best way to describe the beauty:
We took some fun photos:
Scott walking on water
Finding peace in Palawan:
What a great day!
But one night, we took a very unique way to get to town. I will hand it over to Scott to describe the experience:
When Kiran and I were in Phnom Penh Cambodia, we saw a television show on Nat Geo about a group of tourists, including three Americans, who were abducted from their Palawan resort by the Filipino terrorist group Abu Zayef back in 2001. The resort was called Dos Palmas. Up to 100-200 people ultimately would be taken hostage throughout the entire 14 month ordeal. One American was ultimately beheaded; numerous Filipina women were gang raped until each woman agreed marry one of the terrorists.
Fourteen months later, the captors were still on the loose, but only a handful of hostages remained alive. The hostages were being forced to trek and hide in the jungle with little or no food, no shelter, and near constant diarrhea. Two of the hostages still alive were an American married couple named the Burnhams. For months throughout the hostage ordeal, the Bush administration pleaded with the Filipino Government to let us send in a SEAL team to rescue everyone; however, the stubborn Filipina president did not want to appear weak by accepting American help. Instead, finally, she sent in her own Filipino commandos to the rescue. During the rescue, Mr. Burnham was accidentally shot three times in the chest by the commandos and was killed. Mrs. Burnham was also shot in the leg during the ‘rescue operation,’ however she survived. Kiran considered not going to Palawan after seeing that show, but I assured her all the terrorist issues occurred in the far south of the Philippines.
So, Kiran and I were standing at the side of the road one evening trying to hail a motorcycle taxi into town. A black SUV with blacked out windows passed us, stopped, then slowly started reversing back. I had inadvertently pointed at the SUV while pointing at a sign to Kiran as the SUV passed us. As it approached us, I could see the passenger side window rolling down. Scared, I prepared for any number of situations that were about to occur. Before I even looked into the window, I started time explain that I wasn’t looking for a ride, I was just pointing at something to my wife while he drove by, and apologized for any misunderstanding (and secretely hoping I wasn’t about to get abducted or shot). The guy inside the SUV politely asked us where we were going. I tried again to decline any assistance he was offering, but then I finally realized the guy was white and spoke English with a slight southern drawl. He said, “Hop in, it’s a long way to town.” A white guy with a southern accent and a nice SUV offers you a ride in a foreign country? I thought, why not?
Turns out it was one of the best ‘taxi rides’ ever. Our driver, who we’ll call Todd, was a former DEA agent who first worked with the NCS (now called NCIS), and is now a contactor for naval security services. He works with the Filipino Coast Guard to develop and maintain suitable naval responses in emergency situations, and most of this stems from the Burnham kidnappings. Todd and I talked a long time about the incident, and I finally asked him where exactly was the resort located. He said, “Just down the road from you guys.” Oops. Sorry Mr. Makhani. Your daughter was the one who booked our resort if that makes any difference.
The former DEA agent chose for us and dropped us off at one of the BEST restaurant/bars ever, called The Wine Cellar at Deep Forest Garden Resort. The place is run by a gregarious Swiss man who loves American music. We walked in and Roy Orbison’s famous TV special was playing on the big screen and awesome sound system. Then we dined and watched two hours worth of the Willie Nelson Outlaws and Angels special with Merle Haggard, Al Green, Carole King, Toots, Ben Harper, Keith Richards, Jerry Lee Lewis … a taste of home, it was so great. We left as the Swiss guy was rocking out to an awesome live Coldplay concert on the big screen. So thank you ‘Todd.’ Lastly, I loved telling my mom I was picked up by a (former) DEA agent. “Damn you Scott Michael! You almost gave me a heart attack!” I think were her exact words. I’ll hand this back to Kiran now.
Puerto Princesa was a beautiful town and gave us a great taste of the Philippines. Of all the countries we have visited, I like the Philippines the best for so many reasons.
We had a great time in PP, but we had saved the best for last and we headed North for El Nido!