Islands in the sun
I was pursuing an MBA at Asian Institute of Management, Philippines, and just around that time, the campaign #ItsMoreFunInThePhilippines was gaining momentum. I can vouch that it is a completely justified promise! What I love about the Filipinos is that they are very happy people. Despite numerous natural calamities like typhoons and earthquakes that have struck the country and posed problems, the people there have a pleasant disposition.
Six of us from our MBA class went on a 10-day trip across the Palawan Islands which houses wonders like El Nido, Coron and Puerto Princesa. We set out on a student budget of Rs 20,000 per head (apart from the flight cost). We took a budget flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, which has a tiny airport that immediately makes you fall in love with it! After landing, we were taken to our accommodation, Ysabelle Mansion, by the friendly owner of the cottages. We had lunch at Ima’s — one of the top 10 vegetarian restaurants in the Philippines — run by an old friendly couple.
The next morning, we set out early for the world famous Subterranean River National Park which houses caverns as high as 300 metres at certain points! The bats make the boat ride inside the caves smelly, but it’s one of the seven new natural wonders of the world and worth a visit once in your lifetime. On the return path, we took the zipline, which is one of the longest in the world and is set very high at over 200 feet above the sea. We were all screaming with delight as we zipped across the open seas.
Later in the evening, we went to the Iwahig river that flows through mangrove forests. The night air was silent and dark, being a new moon day, and just as the guide in the boat shone his IR torch on a bunch of bushes on the riverside, it lit up with millions of fireflies! It glowed like a Christmas tree with millions of lights strung all over.
The next day, we left for the famous El Nido. This place has numerous restaurants on the beach with a view of the sea.
Island hopping tours organised by local operators took us on an experience that spanned snorkeling, beach barbecue, scuba diving, lagoon swimming and a lake within a volcanic crater! One of the best experiences on this tour was the Twin Lagoon where you dive under a rocky wall that connects the two lagoons. However, when you emerge on the other side of the underwater entrance, you feel warm water on one side and cold water on the other — an inexplicable phenomenon!
The next morning, we went for open sea kayaking and suddenly, in the middle of
the sea, we saw a school of flying fish emerge from our left and go over us onto the other side within a matter of seconds. Our next destination was Coron, a lesser-known jewel that offers wonderful scuba diving spots. A couple of American marines have set up a scuba diving operation and a wonderful World War II themed restaurant.
It has World War II junk collected from the seabed where numerous world war boats of the Japanese were sunk by the Americans. In the evening, we sat on the deck over the sea, sipping drinks and savouring potato wedges, and watched the sun set across the sea over the hills. This moment defines the entire experience at Coron — a blissful escape!
We welcomed the new year at the Coron harbour, where the naval boats fire crackers into the night sky and a huge Christmas tree lights up the centre of the place, with everyone cheering and dancing. It seemed like a perfect adieu to us, after a 10-day magical experience.
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How to get there
The round trip cost for an AirAsia flight from Bengaluru to Manila is around Rs 20,000 per person. From Manila to Puerto Princesa, the round trip flight cost is around Rs 10,000 per person.
Places to stay
Every place in Philippines offers a range of accommodation options from budget to luxury. We stayed at Ysabelle Mansion in Puerto Princesa for which the tariff was around Rs 1,200 per night for a twin-sharing room. In the other places, we stayed in homestays that can be easily found online.