I was very lucky that I was given a schedule that enabled me to visit the beautiful island of Palawan, voted number one island in the last few years from Travel surveys conducted by travel magazines: Conde Naste
& Travel + Leisure
. However as usual my time was very short, 2 nights but with awkward flights meaning I had 36 hours on the island in total. Unfortunately, the 8 hour drive to the most spectacularly beautiful spot of El Nido, mainly responsible for the awards, was not possible.
After some research & finding out that Palawan island has what they call the 7th nature wonder of the world : Puerto Princesa underground river, which is about 2 hours away. I decided to stay at the closet place to it, a small village called Sabang.
The best place in my price range was a large resort called Sheridan Beach Resort & Spa
in which they provide the 2 hour one-way van trip from the nearest airport Puerto Princessa International Airport) for 500 peso shared but they do offer the opton of a private van, in which I used on the way back. That costs 2800 pesos but negotiable with taxi drivers in area to 2000 pesos. The sunset drive thru the city of Puerto Princessa was interesting, a very clean city compared to the likes of anywhere else I’ve seen in Phillipines especially Cebu. However the drive though becomes progressively arduous after about an hour when the road has at least 100+ tight turns thru the mountains. I found it fine in the front seat, but recommend motion sickness tablets, if you dred such a journey.
That's the basic problem with Palawan, it's big and nothing beautiful is near the airport so long transfer times are required to the beautiful spots. There is though a small airport at El Nido (ENI) where small propeller (ATR’s) fly to, currently only Air Swift fly’s there from Cebu and Manilla.
So I arrived at the Sheridian resort in Sabang to a warm welcome & confirmation they had booked my underground river tour. (Please note you need a permit in which can be got in the city of Puerto Princessa but the hotel will process this if you email them in advance with your passport. Highly recommend you do this if your stay is short like mine- since a limited amount of permits are offered per day so it make take a few days to process if you just arrive and do it there & then.
Next morning I wake early and firstly enjoythe beautiful grounds and sunrise of the location I am at.
The underground river tour starts early at 730am in the hotel lobby. A group of about 12of us were briefed in the lobby about the process, the two boat rides, waiting time & warning of monkeys attacking you if you have plastic bag or smile - in reality I only saw one monkey so don't be too concerned just don't smile, as showing teeth is a sign to them that you want to fight.
We walked over to Sabang wharf & waited there for about 45 minutes dealing with the bureaucracy as they have re-register every visitor- though staff do this, you just sit & wait & watch the van loads of tourists doing the same thing coming from all over Palawan island. It didn’t seem staying at the closest major resort next to the wharf had much priority or difference in price from staying in the city of Puerto Princessa & doing it as a day trip. You just can wake up a bit later and don’t have that terrible drive both ways in the day.
The first boat is really cool, you go at an enjoyable speed & able to see the landscape of Palawan from the boat- which includes the sleeping giant - a mountain shaped like a man sleeping.
You then arrive at the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
on a beach before walking into the jungle a bit and again some waiting while they install audio kits. This is a result of the river experiencing a huge bat decline, which they relate to noise so there is no talking inside the river therefore this one ear piece audio does the tour for you. After this you walk thru some jungle before you see the lagoon area where the cave entrance is and paddling boats are.
So the UNESCO world Heritage cave river consist of 5.1 miles / 8.2km though you only travel thru 1.5 miles meaning the tour, in which cost me as part of a group; 1,800 peso actual inside cave time lasts about 20-25 minutes. Birds are flying small bats are everywhere but they never flew into you or boat. Many mentions of not looking up with mouth open for reasons of dropping bat urine.
There are some very alien wall structures, on which you are not allowed to touch as it damages them. It's a relaxing boat ride, but they cram you in & as a big fella I found the boat uncomfortable though luckily I got front seat.
The tour explain rock formation shapes that look like food & even they have found what they describe as the face of Jesus Christ. The guide in your audio goes into much detail about different parts of the cave such as St. Pauls area which is the largest open cave area, apparently based on the London cathedral that early explorers described it as.
Overall it's very interesting but it is a relief exiting the cave as it can feel a little claustrophobic at times. One of the annoying things is the boat paddler handles the light and he moves around frequently which makes it hard to film as you will notice on my you tube video. I would recommend bring a nice powerful torch like a LED tactical tactical flash light. I wish I had brought mine but didn’t think of it at the time.
After disembarkation I was lucky enough to see this huge lizard called Asian Water Monitor in which looks like a baby Komodo dragon but it is not harmful to humans. Unfortunately, the minute he spotted me he legged it so ended up with a poor shot.
So back to the wharf where the tour ends. Here your find some amazing fresh fruit juice stalls which was great before I headed back to Sheridian Resort to relax and sunbathe, though 30 minutes in April (the hottest time) on the boiling hot beach sand sent me to my room for an hour after nearly suffering sun stroke- yeah it's that hot. The beach is clean though as is the sea but you it is cloudy. There is many boats chugging along to the river tour, which isn’t too noisy but it affect the otherwise idyllic ambience.
So my second tour occurred a few hours later, the mangroves & zipline. I was so tired I decided on chill out & do mangrove tour first. The highlight though was my transportation to the sight - an original 1942 American world war 2 jeep picks you up on the beach & drives you to the sights- it is awesome.
The mangrove tour includes a paddler & tour guide, the tour guide emphases at the start that they are volunteer in which I got the assumption that get ready to tip at the end - no problem. The tour is very relaxing you just go deep into swamp land with huge roots shooting out of the small river occasionally seeing small Gold Ringed Cat Snake circled up on tree I which the guide will spot for you. They sleep during the day circled up on branches but it’s not something you want falling in your boat.
I got to climb up on this huge mangrove tree as a photo opportunity and that was fun.. The guide also explains the trees and on the way back of the 30 minute boat ride, the paddler and guide sing a song for you, about preserving the natural habitat- it was a bit cringe to me but nice for a family with kids. They were really nice people though and I found the paddler in particular more interesting talking about the Japanese occupation during WW2 and how the locals hid in the Jungle.
After this an adjacent bridge follows signs to the zipline which then leads to a 10 minute walk down the beach before you climb a steep hill which is quite tough for the unhealthy and the path seems to go on forever thru the jungle, about 25 minute walk from entering the beach. I guess no one really does the zipline twice because of this. At the Zip Line you have 2 options sitting zipline (500 peso) or superman zipline (750 peso) which is lying flat - highly recommend the latter as the sitting down one I noticed people were spinning around a bit. The superman is so amazing it like you are coming to land as you launch of a mountain side over the sea to the island. It was awesome - again see my video to view it.
After all this my body aches from jet lag plus climbing the zipline mountain so straight to the hotel spa, which I was incredibly impressed with. The masseuse fully unknotted my back, I used the Sheridian Spa which is more pricey than the open beach ones but it was meeting an excellent standard.
After I did what would become my favourite thing to do on Sabang, lying in the hammock between trees listening to sea & watching the sunset was about the most relaxing thing I've done in a long time. I could of slept there that night. A stray dog joined me underneath.
Next morning before my lunchtime departure, the hotel was kind to offer me a snorkeling tour following some advice I offered their corporate marketing management. The snorkeling tour as a private boat is costly at around 3000 peso. You get taken with one of the hotel guide and snorkels by private boat to a random small island with small amount of coral surrounding it.
There you board a floating bamboo hut and you launch into the sea from it. Initially as you see in my video there is the odd fish all small & not as special as I've seen in Fiji & Indonesia but the nonetheless the guide caught a sea turtle, which I felt seemed a bit harsh to pull him out from under the sea rock as it was struggling, he looked scared so I told him to eventually let it go. I also saw prongs of a lobster poking out if the coral sea terrain & finally I actually found Nemo which was awesome highlight to end my video on. It was fun and overall worth a snorkel the people at the place also swim about on the look out for you in which was helpful.
Back to hotel & off to the airport completed one of best 36 hour visits anywhere I've been to. Tiring but well worth the fun. Sabang offers a good amount of activities & Sheridan resort was so chilled out - they even have outdoor movie night by the beach. I would say for short visits to Palawan without enough time to El Nido, Sabang is an excellent alternative.
Hotel website link: http://www.sheridanbeachresort.com
Please check out the first Travelman video
which films my experience.