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Discovering Filipino kindness in El Nido

It was about time to write our first travel blog, so let’s start with our latest big vacation in Philippines! We realize that people usually write these things rather sooner than later to remember everything correctly, but we always make pretty detailed itinery, writing everything down from the places we visited to how much we spent there, so let’s dive in.


Philippines were for a long time our no.1 destination to visit. Just google “El Nido“ and you will understand why – crystal clear blue sea, green palms everywhere and numerous beautiful islands, large waterfalls, you name it.


We fell in love with Philippines almost immediately, you probably see why...


The beginning of our trip wasn’t easy. First, short morning flight to Frankfurt, 3 hours waiting for a 10 hours flight to Beijing, then another 8 hours of waiting, 6 hours flight to Manila arriving there shortly after midnight and it still wasn’t over.


First thing you need to know is that Manila airport is huge and confusing. There are 4 terminals, each for different purposes. You can hop on a free bus, but it doesn’t have a strict timetable. Also, you can expect many taxi drivers offering you „cheap“ ride between the terminals. Do that only if it’s really the last option. Basically, always ask for the price first. Our guy wanted 20 euros!!!! for 10 minutes ride, so we kindly declined and waited another hour until the bus finally came. While waiting on our flight to Puerto Princessa we exchanged small amount of money (the rate was really bad) and got ourselves a prepaid SIM card for 1000PHP (about 18 euros) with 10GB data, which was more than enough for the month.


PALAWAN

After landing in Puerto Princesa, we were welcomed again by the crowd of locals waiting to offer rides to all the famous spots on Palawan. We asked several of them and chose the cheapest option (700 PHP for both). Generally speaking, Filipinos are incredibly nice and welcoming! Our guy, Mike, not only drove us up north, but also got us nice accommodation - Jhannas Inn, 1600 PHP per night, the best and the most expensive during our stay. The cool thing there was that they were prepared for blackouts. Blackouts happen often in El Nido, we had the same experience on Cebu, Siargao and in Legazpi too. Luckily Jhannas Inn has generators. We kind of thought it’s a standard equipment of hostels, we were so wrong, but about that later.


Mike also had no problem to make a stop at AS Money Changer on Rizal Avenue (in front of Budget Home Depot) to exchange all our money. We found this place in other travel blog and the exchange rate was even better than expected.


The ride to El Nido took almost 5 hours and we made a short break in the middle to have lunch, so we finally enjoyed local food and it was delicious!


You can probably imagine that after almost 36 hours of traveling, we were absolutely exhausted. Nevertheless, we only took a short nap and then went on Dao Beach to relax in warm sea, admire the nature and to eat dinner. Then, we felt even more exhausted and we dropped dead on the bed pretty early looking forward to the famous island hopping!


There are 4 different routes of island hopping (A-D) and we got lucky here. A group of young Filipinos from Manila shared the accommodation with us, and they had already booked all 4 routes for the next two days. We were able to join them and for the half price, plus they turned out to be fantastic companions, we had so much fun!


Good to know:

- People usually say that the routes A and C are the best

- These tours also include lunch, meaning huge delicious feast

- Normal prices are around 1500PHP (ca 27 euros) per tour per person

- At the lagoons, you can rent kayak for additional payment of 100-150 PHP per person (worth it!)

- We used Jhannas Travel Agency, the guides were nice and fun, food was excellent, and the boat seemed in a great shape comparing to some others

- Tip after the tour is always appreciated, we gave the guide 100 PHP per person


The island hopping takes you to beautiful beaches and lagoons, you can snorkel everywhere, and, in some places, you can also rent a kayak (100-150PHP/2-3 euros per person). Both days have been stunning, just enjoying every moment in the mesmerizing surroundings, chatting with the Filipinos, listening to nice music, what else could we ask for?


Lagoons of El Nido are mesmerizingly beautiful!


Well, the obvious problem is the high number of tourists. The places like Secret Lagoon or Secret beach are not secret at all. Moreover, to access some places during island hopping, you need to wait in line, because the entrances are small, just enough to fit one person at the time. So, if you add the fact that people must return the same way, the waiting time can be up to 15-20 minutes. However, while you wait, you can simply admire the surroundings.


The two days we spent with the Filipinos were also great bonding experience. They gave us lots of tips regarding food and we enjoyed amazing karaoke session together. In terms of food, we tried traditional adobo and sisiq. Adobo is basically meat, seafood, or vegetables marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, and black peppercorns, which is browned in oil, and simmered in the marinade. Sisiq is a bit weirded. It is usually made from parts of pig head and chicken liver, often seasoned with calamansi (tiny lemon/lime fruit), onions and chili peppers. Sisiq can be done from various kinds of meat. The name seems to be related to the ssssss sound because they will bring it to you straight from the pan, still sizzling. In our experience, they also give you egg which you crack onto the sizzling meal, so the egg gets cooked and mixed in.


Generally, the Filipino cuisine isn’t considered very good worldwide, which is something we don’t understand. Filipino meals were sooo gooood! They’re simple, but tasty.


Also, karaoke is BIG in Philippines! You can hear it literally everywhere, even the smallest village has some form of karaoke bar. Besides that, we partied in Filipino style sharing one glass so everyone drinks equally. Well, that wasn’t the best idea. One of the Filipinos felt sick and Míša caught it too. Thus, beginning the ups and downs regarding her health. More about that later, because the health issues followed us throughout the whole vacation.


Our Filipino companions, such a great and fun group of people!


Unfortunately, the Filipinos had to return home after those two days, but we are still in touch via social media.


We still got 1 day left so we decided exploring the area little bit. Luckily, the lady at the hostel had also spare scooter (500 PHP per day), so could enjoy the freedom of traveling on our own.


Note: The gas is cheap in Philippines, 50-60 PHP per bottle. Yes, bottle. You’ll see numerous wooden “gas stations” with old glass coca cola bottles filled with green or red gasoline. Pretty cool!

Note2: If you are in some touristy spot, there won’t be problem with renting scooter, you can ask. They usually require some ID or passport as deposit. Most of the times, the printed copies will do the trick. Rarely they ask for financial deposit.


The town of El Nido is growing in a fast pace, the number of hotels in construction was high. We haven’t really spent much time there, but what we can say there are restaurants and shops for everyone if you are in this sort of thing. What we missed was some nice street food, which we absolutely love. Luckily, other destinations on Philippines offer numerous possibilities to enjoy it.


We ride up north to visit the famous beaches - Nacpan Beach and Duli Beach. You can expect small payment for entry/parking (20-50 PHP; less than 1 euro). After arrival to Nacpan beach, we decided to skip Duli beach. Nacpan beach was probably closest thing to resemble European beaches – lots of tourists and lots of restaurants, not pristine anymore.


Instead of Duli beach, we went to Nagkalit-kalit waterfalls, which again required small payment for parking and for the guide. That’s also frequent on Philippines. If there is a nice spot, there will be many locals waiting for tourists to give them guide. You cannot avoid it, but first, it’s still cheap and second, the guide is usually outgoing person who can tell you lots of interesting stuff…or not. It depends on how lucky you get.


Nagkalit-kalit waterfalls aren’t anything special compared to waterfalls on Cebu, for example. Nevertheless, we rather take an average waterfall over Nacpan beach. The hike was easy, about 30 minutes long and the water was refreshing, we didn’t regret it.


And that was it in El Nido. Next day, we hopped on a bus to ride to Puerto Princesa. There, we used Couchsurfing and met with Jhon. We love Couchsurfing a lot. It gives you great opportunity to meet someone local and share stories. We discussed everything from traveling to politics while also enjoying delicious meal. I tried crocodile sisiq and wow, loved every bite.


Speaking of food, have you ever heard of balut? Well, it’s practically a boiled duckling still inside the eggshell. If you ask Filipinos, they either love or hate it. You can encounter in many places, Puerto Princessa is one of them, but we haven’t tried it then. We were not sure whether it’s worth it. We tried one at the mere end of our stay in Philippines, but that’s a story for later blog.


One thing that felt a bit odd were the Christmas decorations! Beside karaoke, Filipinos simply love Christmas time. They love it so much, that they celebrate Christmas from the beginning of September until the end of January. That’s almost half a year! The decorations feel out of place. They decorate the palms or often you’ll see a colourful tree made of plastic pieces. It’s cool to see and one can better understand better the nice and smiley attitude of Filipinos. You simply cannot be angry if there are Christmas for this long!


Colorful plastic Christmas tree and church of Puerto Princessa


After great time with Jhon, we spent a really sweaty night in his place and next afternoon we had a flight to Cebu City. Before that, we enjoyed few hours in town using motorized tricycles. They are cheap but be careful! Ask for the price beforehand, sometimes they may ask a ridiculously high price at the end. This way, we went to see local cathedral and park nearby. Last thing we did in Puerto Princessa was eating in the Filipino fast-food restaurant Jollibee. There isn’t much to say, it’s fast food, it’s cheap, nothing too memorable, but for completion, we had to try it.


At this point, it seems like enough for one article, don’t you think?


Next time, we’ll continue our journey and there is a lot to unpack! Cebu is coming up next!

Starting expenses:

SIM card: 1000 PHP

Trip from Puerto Princessa to El Nido and back: 2x 700 PHP

Food: 5085 PHP


Summary of our stay in El Nido:

Length: 4 night/ 5 days

Accommodation: 6400 PHP

Activities and places, we visited:

- 2 island hopping tours (3000 PHP + 650 PHP for kayaks + 200 tip for the guide)

- Dao beach (freeee!)

- Nacpan beach (100 PHP for parking)

- Nagkalit-kalit waterfall (540 PHP = parking, entrance fee, tip for the guide)

- El Nido city (just walking through) + beach and port

- Scooter rental 500 PHP

- Puerto Princessa (cathedral, port, market)



Result: 17 875 PHP = 315 eur*


*We spent bit more on other stuff like cigarettes, but that is different for everyone, we just wanted to show the basic expenses, so you have something to start with when planning trip to Philippines

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