A DAY IN PUERTO PRINCESA, PHILIPPINES
So I had been jumping around South East Asia by myself for some time and just returned to Manila from China, and decided it is time we went on a family holiday. I booked a flight to go and check out the tropical Island of Palawan. It is hard enough taking 3 kids less than 6 years old to the local shops not to mention half way across the country. What was I thinking?
I was able to secure a great price on some flights during a ‘1 Peso’ sale (which is about 2 cents), but with all the taxes and fees they were more expensive, but still still managed to organise 2 adults and 3 kids to Palawan and return for about $80 (with luggage) What a bargain!
One of the boys undid his seat belt and stood on the seat during take-off, which was a bit dangerous, and then I had to take off my belt to get him to sit down. A lesson learned from that is to put one adult next to each child. It was their first time on a plane and all the kids loved it. It was very exciting for them all. Thankfully it was only 1 hour and 15 minute flight and before we knew it, we landed in Puerto Princesa. I had heard much about Palawan and had seen pictures of the beautiful beaches, but they won’t be found here. Puerto Princesa is essentially a small, provincial town.
There are no taxis on the island, but the tricycles are larger than those in Manila to be able to handle luggage and in a few minutes we were at the hotel. We settled in and head into town. It had also just started to rain, but the bikes are covered and it was only a tropical shower that stopped after ten minutes. We wandered around town seeing what was on offer.
It was nice enough but not the tropical paradise I had imagined. After living in Manila for a number of years I am somewhat used to the local people, markets and stalls. These markets however were much more rural, and by that I mean, there were all sorts of live produce, like ducks and chickens available for purchase. All the fruits and vegetables looked so fresh as well. Being so close, there was part of me that wanted to visit the ocean, it was only a small walk down a hill and in no time we were there. I was extremely underwhelmed. Google ‘Puerto Princesa‘ and you will see images of beautiful beaches and of the Underground River (which is actually 40 km away from Puerto Princesa town). However, without exaggeration, what I saw was the most polluted waterway I had ever witnessed. Old rotting wooden piers wasting away in the mud, combined with shanty houses built on stilts and the water was covered in plastic bags and other rubbish. It is a shame that such a beautiful Island has not been looked after.
We had organised just one night in Puerto Princesa before heading further up the coast to another hotel we had booked. Since we were in town we had decided to do a tour of the local sites. I had researched before we left and there are a few ‘tourist attractions’ that looked okay for the family. We had a quick talk with one of the local tricycle drivers and agreed at a price and before long we were at the Crocodile Farm. It is not the biggest place but was less than a dollar to get in so we had nothing to complain about and the kids thoroughly enjoyed it and was just refreshing to be away from the smog and confusion that is Manila. There is a quick tour every 30 minutes and they essentially let you go through their sanctuary. The first warehouse area is full of enclosures full of baby Crocs of various sizes.
Then we were outside where the adult Crocodiles lived. There are bigger concrete enclosures and we walk on a structure built above them and had a bird’s eye view. The only way to the top are thin metal stairs, so it is a little hard for parents with strollers or prams and would also be challenging for less mobile visitors.
There are a lot of Crocodiles and the children were fascinated and in awe of these prehistoric creatures. The tour seemed somewhat rushed and we were always lagging behind and not given much time to soak in the atmosphere. After about ten minutes the tour was over and were ushered into an area where visitors take their picture in front of a green screen holding a baby Crocodile and after a few minutes pictures are available. Like any tourist park the pictures are expensive (but less than $10) but also a unique opportunity, so we posed for a few happy snaps. The final part of the Croc Farm is an area called ‘The Nature Park’ that simulates natural wilderness. Wildlife rescued from poachers are brought to this area until they are strong enough to be released.
We walked around the area which was still a bit wet and muddy but is full on lush rainforest. We have a look at a Bearded Pig and some birds in an Avery, and then we are off to the next park.
Ten minutes down the road is a Butterfly Park. Once again it is smallish, and the entire place is enclosed in a mesh net so the butterflies cannot escape. There are many species of butterflies and the place is surreal. There is also a few other animals here to see. A Bear Cat, as well as some Scorpions and huge beetles. The kids really enjoyed it.
There is a wooden hut and a few men dressed in traditional clothing (some just wearing board shorts) and they showed us how they made tools and one even played a homemade string instrument for us as they sang us a song. It felt quite special to see it. I did feel a little uncomfortable though as though the guide there was making these guys perform especially for us, but I suppose that’s what they are there to do.
There was an area put the back that we were led to that simulated what it was like for the native people to live on the Island.
It took about 30 minutes to get back into town on the tricycle. For those not familiar with the Philippines the ride could be considered a bit hair raising, as my partner and the kids were in the cab, and I was riding side saddle behind the driver along the dirt road, trying my best to hold on and not fall off. The driver stopped for us to get a few supplies for back at the hotel and the kids had fallen asleep before we returned which is always good proof that they enjoyed themselves.
Tomorrow we are off up the coast out of the city and closer to the beach paradise we have imagined…