To me, The Philippines has always been synonymous with paradise. Long stretches of white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, palm trees and blue lagoons (the landscape, not the drink! But they are OK too…) are what I expected from the minute we touched down. Was this the case? Well, yes and no. Paradise is to be found but you have to make a few more journeys, avoid the tourists and learn to properly snorkel to really do it justice.
After a long journey back to Hanoi in Vietnam, another night, two flights and a ten hour stopover in Manila we finally arrived in Puerto Princess. We had a rather strange meal in a basement of a hotel that was decorated with bright fake neon plants dangling from the ceiling and had a video of a Spanish pop concert from the eighties playing on repeat in the background. My explanation of being vegetarian was met with disbelief, then hostility, so after we had finished our meal we made a swift exit!
Thankfully this was not our final destination, the next day we took a five hour bus to get to El Nido in Palawan (eventually, the bus remained in a stationary position for the first hour of our journey while we waited for them to fill it up) and were very grateful when we finally arrived. We had our first taste of paradise the next day at Marimegmeg Beach. It was stunning, the taste of heaven that we had been waiting for! The water was so shallow and crystal clear, and hardly anyone on it. We spent most of the day waxing lyrical about how beautiful it was, until it rained!
The next day we went on a tour of the nearby islands and lagoons which were all beautiful and did loads of snorkelling and swimming. We left slightly later than other tour boats, which is an amazing idea as most of the sites we visited were really quiet. The company (The Kraken) we went with provided beers all day and by the end of the day I must admit we were a little tipsy. The sun set while we were still splashing around in the sea, it was pure bliss!
A couple of days later we did another boat tour around the sights we hadn’t seen, which were pretty but in places very crowded: We swam through one lagoon that contained the dual threat of getting hit in the head by a kayaking paddle or stung by a jellyfish. I was glad to leave El Nido as the town was pretty polluted and noisy but the town of Coron turned out to be exactly the same. However the latter had the benefit of the policeman driving through on his motorbike every once in a while, calling through his speakerphone, ‘Good morning!’ And ‘Coron loves you!’ We had been told there was no crime in Coron and took this policeman as all the evidence we needed!
The main reason that we visited Coron was to go wreck diving. We were a bit nervous as this was our first dive after completing our certification, although there wasn’t much time to worry as our dive master wasn’t hanging around for anyone! Luckily as soon as we went under we remembered everything straight away. We didn’t do any ship penetration (going inside the wreck) but it was interesting to see how nature has claimed the ships since their wrecking. You could still identify them as boats but mostly were covered in vibrant coral and marine life. We saw spiky devil fire fish, batfish and schools of shimmering razorfish among the usual suspects! It was pretty crazy to think that during the Second World War they had been floating on the surface with people on board.
Other days we did two island hopping tours, one for snorkelling/lagoon seeing and one just for beaches. We fulfilled one of our travelling goals while snorkelling and finally saw a turtle! That was until someone dove down to touch it, needless to say it was scared and bolted. Which leads me to say, taking boat tours in the Philippines always came with mixed emotions- we were happy to be able to see such beautiful places but were always aware that so many tourists and boats are contaminating the environment and killing the coral. We had been taught through diving never to touch the coral or get too close to the wildlife, so when we went snorkelling were always frustrated to see tourists in sea shoes trampling all over it or scaring the animals. There are some absolutely beautiful places, but 200 people in bright orange lifejackets swarming everywhere isn’t really the recipe for serenity!
One of our final days in the Philippines we walked up a nearby hill and watched the sunset, then took a trike to the hot springs. They were painfully hot! The Philippines were a beautiful and relaxing break after the busyness of Vietnam but we were super excited to fly to Tawain and then… JAPAN!
Have you been to The Philippines? Did you find it to be paradise or a tourist nightmare?