Sights and Sounds

Revisiting Puerto Princesa

My first travel of 2018 was a quick overnight trip to Puerto Princesa, Palawan last January. It was actually a business trip I took on behalf of C, and he suggested I take the second day for some much-needed R&R.

I always enjoy visiting Palawan. I haven’t had the chance to explore beyond Puerto Princesa and El Nido, but my previous sojourns were enough to make me fall in love with the place.

My first stop after landing was KaLui, an absolute must-try in Puerto Princesa.

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What I adore about the Filipino restaurant, perhaps more than the food (gasp!), are the interiors and the ambiance. Walking into KaLui always feels like entering a traditional Filipino home. The structure was built using natural materials and features distinctly Filipino decor. The warm lighting adds to the homey atmosphere.

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Guests are asked to remove their footwear (an old Filipino practice) upon entering the dining area. There are pops of color everywhere courtesy of Filipino-made artwork on display and for sale. There’s even a mini gallery inside.

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KaLui takes pride in serving the day’s fresh catch. They have a simple menu filled with seafood and vegetable specialties.

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For my lunch, I ordered the grilled squid with vegetable tempura and unpolished rice, plus cold calamansi juice. The food was delicious, but I enjoyed my meal more thanks to the elderly couple who sat at a table nearby. They were on a date, and their sweetness just lit up the room.

Diners always get free dessert – slices of fruit sprinkled with muscovado sugar served in half a coconut.

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After my meal, I checked in at J-Lais Balai Tourista. J-Lais provides simple and affordable accommodation ideal for budget travelers and those just passing through.

After a bit of rest, I went on to take care of some business for C. I also made a quick stop at the new SM City Puerto Princesa. At the time, there were many vacant units. Then, I had an early night to rest for my Honda Bay tour the next day.

I signed up for the Honda Bay tour via J-Lais. I paid PHP1,200 for the whole package, which included the van pickup and drop-off, boat rental, entrance fees to the islands, and buffet lunch. I also paid an additional PHP150 for the environmental fee. (I read that a DIY tour is advisable for big groups.)

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I was picked up at the pension house at around 7:30 a.m. We then fetched the rest of the group. After a few of the tourists canceled due to the gloomy weather, our group of six made our way to Honda Bay. A quick stopover at the rental shop allowed me to rent a mask, snorkel, and a pair of aqua shoes for PHP300.

The Honda Bay port is about 30 to 45 minutes outside of Puerto Princesa city proper. From the port, boats take the tourists to the different islands around the bay. Usually, the tour includes three to four stops. Our tour took us to three islands.

Starfish Island 

Starfish Island, we were told, was given its name because of the numerous starfish that inhabit the island, although I didn’t see more than two while I was there.

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Snorkeling is the main activity here, and tourists can only swim inside the designated area. I think I was in the water for about 30 minutes, maybe more. The rest of the time I spent exploring the island, taking pictures, and relaxing while waiting to leave for the next stop.

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While it was incredible to swim with all the different fishes, it was disheartening to see the terrible state of the corals. They appeared brown and dead. A lot of the tourists stepped on them, too.

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At the other end of the beach, eager locals took pictures of the tourists for a small ‘donation.’ There, I also saw cottages for rent, stores, funny decor, and rather odd statues.

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Luli Island 

Luli stands for ‘lulubog (disappears), lilitaw (appears),’ which refers to the beautiful sandbar of the island.

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The designated swimming area was too small and crowded. My attempts at snorkeling were unsuccessful since the water had already become too murky. A lot of the people had fun, however, jumping from the diving board.

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As for me, I opted to just sunbathe away from the crowd.

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We had lunch on the island, same with a lot of the other tourists. Lunch was served in the dining hall by the beach.

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The buffet included different Filipino dishes like pancit, adobo, and menudo. They also had drinks, vegetables, and dessert available. Nothing fancy but good enough to fill you up.

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I also spotted a small bar where beer and cocktails were being sold.

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Cowrie Island 

Our last stop was Cowrie Island. I found this to be the chillest of the three islands in our tour. Unlike Starfish and Luli, Cowrie had a more decent area for swimming. There was nothing much to see underwater, though, so snorkeling isn’t a must here.

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It was the perfect spot to wind down the tour. There was enough shade to squeeze in a quick snooze, and there were fresh coconuts available for refreshments, too.

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There were also henna tattoos and massages on offer. I decided to just sit by the beach and sip some coconut juice after swimming.

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We finished our tour at about 3 p.m. It gave me enough time to clean up before heading to the airport. The owner of J-Lais was very kind to let me check out late, so I could use the room to shower and get dressed.

Before making my way to the airport. I passed by Puerto Princesa’s famous Bona’s Chaolong. It was my first time to try the Vietnamese dish.

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In terms of flavor, I couldn’t complain. The broth had a strong umami flavor, with a hint of sweetness. The noodles were firm, and the dish was served piping hot. What I didn’t like, however, was the tough beef and all the oil in the soup. I also had the french bread with pork, which would have been nicer with fresher bread.

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I was, like always, too early for my flight. But the downtime allowed me to just sit, relax, and read. It was a quick trip, but I’m glad I went. I’m also grateful to C for arranging it; he knew I could use some sun, sand, and sea.

*

Tourism is a hot topic in the local news these days, with famous tourist destinations in the country like Boracay and El Nido in the spotlight. There’s news about shutting down establishments in these places to make way for environmental rehabilitation. But there are also talks of international players coming in to operate their big businesses.

I am not sure how Palawan, Boracay, and the other remarkable Philippine destinations I’ve had the privilege of visiting will look like the next time I stop by. There’s always some heartache whenever these magical escapes change for the worse, like when well-loved small businesses close, when marine life starts to suffer, when the local culture is neglected, or when Mother Nature is disrespected.

I can only hope that those with the power and means to change things for the better will be moved by their conscience to do so.

 

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