Time to head over to the Philippines for Christmas and new year and luckily, so far, no typhoons were due to hit. I left the hostel in Bangkok stupidly early and wandered over to the metro in time to catch the first train leaving at 6am. As soon as I got to the airport as I checked in they told me the plane was already an hour delayed. I should have seen that as a sign of things to come. Anyway, I was on my way to Manila and suddenly the stewardess comes over the tanoy to announce they were going to play a game...this consisted of her singing three Christmas songs and the first person to put their hand up won a pencil case! Yes, seriously! It was cringeworthy but certainly made me laugh. I arrived at Manila airport about 2 hours late, great as I had a connecting flight to Palawan to catch and also to find Jonny who had just flown in from London. It was chaos, my phone didn't work and there were 4 terminals. To cut a stressful story short the airport staff couldn't help me so I decided to head to terminal 4 for the connecting flight and hope for the best. Well, with one and half hour until check in closed that sounded simple enough until the shuttle bus took over an hour to arrive. The poor guy at the transfer area had to put up with me and a Swedish couple (who's flight was leaving in about half hours time at that point) pacing and asking 'when will it be here'?? Eventually it turns up and we pile on only for the driver to casually go missing...clock watching at a maximum now! He also casually reappears and finally en route to terminal 4, until we get stuck behind a luggage trailer who stops to let passengers from a plane cross the road. Argh. Luckily a Filipino woman starts to stress at the driver who's bullied into radioing the guy in front to put his foot down. With 10 minutes to go until check in closes and still got to find Jonny and just to add to the story in order to get into the domestic terminal you have to show security your flight details. b******s, I didn't even know for sure I was flying with Air Asia, but he accepted my excuse and waved me in. I saw the people on my bus jump the security screening queue so, sod it, so did I and just in time to spot Jonny on the other side looking a bit frantic. Finally in! Legged it over to check in desk and the relief hit me, my whole body was shaking. Whilst in the queue the screen flashes up saying 'check in closed' but as they were in no rush at all the woman let us check in. So not quite the relaxed reunion anticipated. It was then through to a manic and crazy packed departures lounge so I went and joined the queue for the ladies and as I came back I saw Jonny chatting away to someone...it only turned out to my great friend Fran and her boyfriend Paul! I knew they were in the Philippines but they were meant to be on an island by now but it turned out they had missed their earlier flight and were now on ours! Crazy small world!
Time to get to Palawan, maybe, well after sitting on the runway for an hour. Turned out every plane in the Philippines that day had a hefty delay. At last officially in the Philippines! The Puerto Princesa airport is tiny and can only fit in the luggage carousal so the room is packed with people waiting and grabbing their luggage, now I was thankful we were being picked up. We left the airport, said our temporary goodbyes to Fran and Paul and went in search of our names on a sign. It didn't exist. Just to top off the days event, so after frantically trying to find a number and being harassed by umpteen taxi drivers we found a number and a nice security guard offered to ring for us. Turned out our lift, Jessica, was sat there the whole time but hadn't held up the sign as she assumed our flight wasn't in yet. Panic over, we were on our way to our own little wooden hut for the next two nights and even managed to stop off and pick up some BBQ chicken and rice. We settled into our little remote hut with food and a few beers and collapsed.
It was a bit of a restless night due to constant dogs barking, cockerels crowing and the overall heat but the next morning allowed us to go explore Puerto Princesa. After a much needed coffee we had a nosy on the Pristine Beach but as you had to pay an entrance fee so we decided to visit that later in the day for the sunset. Puerto Princesa is quite a small city but busy and chaotic, trying to find an ATM that worked was tricky and everyone seemed to be out doing the last minute Christmas dash. But it was nice enough and managed to walk around the whole city in a few hours with a short stop along the sea front and a visit to the large blue and white Cathedral of Concepcion where a small quaint Filipino wedding was taking place. We made our way back over to Pristine beach for the sunset and in fact the beach and area wasn't anything to write home about. It was small and was mostly sea (even before the tide came in) and a scattering of mangroves. We didn't hang around that long, just long enough to lounge in the sea. Hungry, we decided to head back to town and whilst trying to wave down a tricycle taxi, a guy pulled up and told us to jump in the back and he'd give us a lift. He was the coastguard, I tried to give him a bit of change to say thank you but he wouldn't take it and told me it was all part of the customer service! Top bloke.
The following morning it was Christmas Eve, having slept in a bit longer than planned, we hunted down a motorcycle to hire for the next week in order to go and explore what else Palawan had to offer. So packed, loaded up and a brief stop at Jessica's shop to say goodbye we headed in the direction of the small village Buenavista. With Jonny riding and me pillion I could take in the beautiful scenery, a bright blue sky with the occasional wispy white cloud. The greenery of the rice paddies and the numerous coconut trees were a vibrant green and to add to the mix the locals who shouted hello and waved anytime we passed their simple but functional wooden stilt house.
We arrived at Jenny's Kahamut-An guesthouse and wow it was amazing. A large lawn with colourful tropical flowers, the entire garden lined by coconut trees and at the end of the garden...the beach and the crystal blue sea. Now this was a place to celebrate Christmas Day at. Jenny showed us to our wooden hut with it's own balcony which was comfortable and she sent her husband off up a tree to bring us some coconuts, yes a luxury I could easily get use to. Coconuts do not get much fresher than that. Whilst supping the coconuts on the balcony, two little girls came to the us lunch was ready, a feast of pork, vegetables and rice. Before wanting to explore the beach, we went off in search of a little shop selling beer and en route we passed the locals pastime.. c*** fighting. It's big sport on Palawan. That evening, after tempting to swim in the shallow and very rocky sea, we met the other guests and sat down to a big homemade dinner of chicken, rice, spring rolls and a singing / dancing show put on by the children. It was great food, Jenny can certainly cook, even if she is a big talker about herself. Christmas Eve is a big night in the Philippines and all around the village you could hear karaoke and fire crackers being set off all through the night.
Well Christmas Day in the Philippines, I don't think I would have guessed that the previous year! After a slap up breakfast, we decided to run up to Sabang to see if this underground river was open, bit of a risk being Christmas Day. We rode the 20km up there to find they had a half day but we had just missed the cut off point. Typical. Instead we plonked ourselves on the sandy Sabang beach in the sun and watched a couple of hours pass by followed by a viewpoint pit stop and a long meander along the beach and a dip in the sea as the sunset. The evening saw us eat another slap up meal and a few beers. So, not a bad Christmas Day.
The next morning we decided to try and cram in the visit to the Subterranean River National Park, essentially a river running through a cave for a few km, since it's been declared one of the new seven wonders of the world. It was carnage trying to arrange a permit and you have to join about 3 different queues and pay for things separately, the staff and tourists have no idea what is going on. Somehow we muddle through and manage to get an early boat over to the caves, here you get on a little boat that takes you through about 1.5km of the river in the cave...what can I say, it's a cave and it's kind of what you expect but we felt we had to tick it off the list since we were in the area. Then it was a quick pit stop at Jenny's for breakfast and collect our bags before hitting the road to El Nido. Couldn't help but think we had been massively ripped off for the food bill and I think she knew it, oh well what can you do? And we were off. The journey up was pleasant and sunny with the same views as a few days before and took about 6 hours to arrive at Corong-Corong, a few km from El Nido. We found an expensive hotel, Stunning Vistas Beach Resort, that had a spare basic room, as everywhere seemed to be full for holidays but at least it was on the beach front. Once sorted we dribbled into El Nido to explore the town, which took all of a couple of minutes. I was pretty impressed with the large town Christmas tree that was made entirely from plastic bottles, you got to love the way they can recycle anything. It's a small, dusty town with very little happening. Suddenly pretty relieved to be staying outside of it and only for 2 nights. We found the only packed restaurant, a pizzeria how traditional! So we headed there and so glad, the pizza was brilliant and massive. With nothing else to do, we headed back with a few beers and chilled in the hammocks down on the beach front.
The next day was another sunny beautiful day spent having breakfast on the beach front before spending the day walking up the beach and chilling out. It genuinely was like a picture on a postcard, crystal clear blue water, powdery white sand lined with coconut trees and piping hot. Perfect. Even managed not to get sunburnt! After several hours soaking up the sun, we headed back to El Nido, waste of time, for some food. But, oops, when it came to paying I realised that we hadn't bought enough money with us and with no ATMs in the town I had to sit and look like a pleb whilst Jonny headed back to the hotel to get some cash. Muppets. Later that evening we returned to El Nido for food and found the town to be more shut down and rubbish than the previous night but determined not to have another pizza we found ourselves in a fast food place selling Filipino food, it was anything but fast! Even the locals, who don't rush for anything, were getting annoyed at the slowness. After this and watching the locals and joining them bet on 'what colour will the basketball land on' kind of roulette, we called it a day in El Nido and headed back for a couple more beers.
The following day we were glad to be leaving El Nido and heading to San Vicente. Well, I thought it would be an improvement! There was even less going on here! The staff at Picardal Lodge acted like they had never had a visitor and didn't know how to act. The town had one restaurant, again a pizzeria.
We dragged out a walk around town with the highlight being 12 decorated Christmas trees that formed a 'best decorated tree' competition. We did venture into a small place for some food but one bite into the chicken told us it was a mistake, I could be wrong but I don't think bloody chicken is a good sign. So we scappered and found nothing else to do. Literally! Later that evening, we headed to the only 'resort' in town that also had a restaurant for food and a few beers over several games of cards. And hoping we might find something to do the next day!
So the next day, scratching our heads about what to do, we figured we would go and find the Long Beach. It felt easy to start with with a few signs showing the way until you get on to the main road that runs alongside the sea but the signs went and there were no obvious tracks or roads down to the beach. We took a punt on a track we found and rolled up into someone's garden. As with most Filipinos, they were very friendly and welcoming and told us to park up and explore the beach. They even went up a tree for some coconuts for us. The beach was incredible, it's 14km long and we were the only two people on it for almost 5 hours, apart from when a family turned up and were equally as baffled as us as to why no one was there. It was great albeit the tide was a bit too strong to swim in and the wind doesn't let up much so I didn't realise I was burning as much as I did! But what a find! And it killed the day quite nicely in San Vicente before we headed back to the resort place for food, cards and beers.
The following day was the long slog on the bike back to Puerto Princesa and it was raining. Marvellous! So after a quick breakfast we set off and it was cold and wet! A few hours later we had to stop for a coffee to warm up which didn't help too much. We passed several of the local buses and as they cram people and stock on them several people sit on the roofs of the bus. I couldn't decided which was worse either sitting on the roof in the pouring rain or blistering heat, both looked pretty horrendous. It took about 6 hours riding in the rain to get back and we looked like shivering drowned rats. We rode to the same place we had previously stayed at and was greeted by Jessica who laughed at the state of us. Then it was a much needed hot shower but even after that I was shivering away. We dumped the bike back and went in search of food, where we massively over indulged. It's hard not to when then the food is good and pretty cheap. That evening was the last one on Palawan before heading to Manila for New Year's Eve.