Thursday, December 13, 2007

missing palawan


i wrote this for an inter-office magazine. methinks it won't get published, so i'll post it here. note that some of the places may not be around, or the prices may have gone up. for the past few days i find myself reminiscing about my NGO days in palawan. merry christmas to all!

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(photo from travelphilippines website)

A visit to Palawan starts as a visual treat as the plane hovers aboard islands surrounded by crystal-clear blue water. It then becomes a cornucopia of sights, smells, tastes and feels of the island considered as the last frontier. It is wrapped in a mantel of rainforests, outstanding dive sites, majestic mountains, primeval caves, and pristine beaches. It is surrounded by a coral shelf that abounds with varied and colorful marine life. It is home to two of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)-declared World Heritage Sites.

This is how many tourist websites have been advertising the province, but as an NGO worker assigned there for months at a time, Palawan offered more than that. For this writer, Palawan is home to the best island-hopping sites, the best seafood and Vietnamese food this side of the country and the most culturally diverse province in the country.

There are many unexplored and undeveloped beaches, apart from the famous Honda Bay, Amanpulo Island and the infamous Dos Palmas in Puerto Princesa City, and those found in El Nido and Coron. Some beaches I liked were Debutuna’ay in Busuanga and the Coco Loco Beach Resort in Roxas municipality—white sands, blue-green waters and cheap rates. Palawan is actually chock-a-block with resorts and unspoiled beaches. If diving is your thing, there is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tubbataha Reef in Cagayancillo, home to over a thousand species of corals, marine animals and plant life. Another good diving spot is Coron, where one can see sunken World War II ships along with the exotic flora and fauna. Diving fees range from around PhP5,000-10,000, depending on the area, the time and length of the dive. (photo at right from the Department of Tourism website)

For busy folks like this writer, there is island hopping. Rent a boat for around PhP800-1,200 and you can roam around Starfish, Snake, Luli (“lulubog, lilitaw”, since its appearance depends on the tide) and other islands at Honda Bay, as well as the Y Beach and Siete Picados in Coron. In Coron, too, would you get to visit Makinit Hot Springs, a nature marvel because it has salt water and considered to heal many bone and joint ailments. Another is UNESCO World Heritage Site, the St. Paul’s Subterranean National Park, or the Underground River.

On land, Palawan does not disappoint. For nature lovers, a visit to the Puerto Princesa’s Butterfly Garden, Crocodile Farm and Calauit Sanctuary in Busuanga allows you to see the island’s beautiful and unique plant and animal. Damage: around PhP100-800, depending on the area and how much you want to see.

After a tiring day of water and land adventures, food next comes to mind. Highly recommended seafood restaurants are Ka Lui and Balinsasayaw, both located in Puerto Princesa, where fresh seafood are served along with sumptuous fruits, good company and great ambience. Actually, seafood specialties can be found everywhere in the island, cooked fresh from the sea. Seafood restaurants charge around PhP200 for a meal, but trust me, it is well worth it.

Because Palawan became one of the destinations of the Vietnamese boat people who fled their country, it is not surprising that their culture were also integrated even in the food. Streets are teeming with chao long (noodle stew) places, serving great Vietnamese noodle stew and other dishes better tasting and way cheaper than Manila’s. A bowl of chao long (around PhP35) with garlic French bread (trivia: Vietnam was a French colony thus the transfer of cooking know-how), and coffee shake completes my Palawan visit. For a bit of culture along with good Vietnamese food, one should visit Viet Ville in Puerto Princesa. This village is home to several Vietnamese settlers who decided to stay in the country, purchased by the Catholic Church as a gift/aid to the Vietnamese settlers. After feasting on good Vietnamese noodles and other specialties, go visit homes making rice noodles and French bread (for sale), along with handicrafts and other items. My relatives usually compel me to bring a box of French bread (around PhP5/piece) and rice noodles (around PhP50-100/kilo) when I go home. Speaking of pasalubongs, they also have good cashew nuts, dried seafood, jewelry and handicrafts guaranteed to be appreciated by the receiver. (viet-ville pix from bambua-palawan website)

If seafood and Vietnamese food is not your thing, there is the chicken place in Palawan called Chicken Inato, which serves good chicken inasal, and Dang Maria’s, which serves a fusion of Filipino and Italian dishes. The pizza junkie in me totally adored their vegetarian pizza.

The island is also home to a diverse mix of people, from natives called Pala’wan, tribal people and settlers from around the country. All offer their unique brand of dialects and culture, but everyone can converse in Tagalog/Filipino (declared as their common language), as well as a dialect called Cuyunin (some words I got to understand and use working there) and smattering of their own dialects. I had a great time with these people and experiencing their culture, dreams and character in a land unique and exciting.

Palawan truly offers a diverse experience of sea, land and culture. Natives always talk of the so-called “come back curse”—once you were there, you have to come back once again. With an island like Palawan, who thought curses are always bad?

1 comment:

jsm said...

hey.. happy holidays!

i moved out from my old blog hood, you know why.. hehe..

i moved in to my new home, find me.. haha!

i'll link you up.. see you around!