Philippines - El Nido

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January 8th 2017
Published: January 10th 2017
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David here...

The minivan from Port Barton was hot and cramped with every seat taken, as is normally the case. We arrived after a 5 hour journey into El Nido at the bus station, just outside town. Our first impression was amazement as the backdrop to the main road was a big cliff face, more like Austria or Switzerland than the Philippines. It was a short walk to our hotel which we nearly missed as it was set back a little from the road and was surrounded by building work, much like every hotel we've stayed in on this trip. The Raje Residence is a little family run place that had fairly small rooms but they were clean and had all-day electricity and air-con. The main reception area was the family living room so everytime you left the hotel you had to walk through everyone's enjoyment of Dora the Explorer.

We freshened up and headed out to the main area of town for a late lunch. We ended up with tuna sandwiches at the Arthouse Cafe with a beer each. Nice enough but nothing special. We then walked along the beach, from one end to the other. It's only once out of the main strip that you realise why the place is such a tourist hotspot. We've honestly never seen a coastline like it. The back drop of the town is a massive cliff face covered in trees and you can see the archipelago islands from the shore. It is one of the most beautiful places we've ever been to, and the more we explored, the better it got. The town itself is nothing to shout about; busy and bustling with trikes and scooters everywhere, but you only had to look up to remember where you were and why.

We stopped off at the El Nido Corner bar, which gives you a good view of the town, for a couple of beers, though we were too early for their happy hour (16:00 - 18:00). We then made our way back to the hotel to relax in the room before heading out for the evening. Now the one issue with El Nido is that the wi-fi connection, much like Port Barton before, was awful. You are lucky to get connected at all. This is the whole town and not just our hotel. You could see people everywhere trying to use phones with no luck. Unfortuantely for us, Suzanne had just enough signal to get an email from Cebu Pacific informing us that our flight from Manila to Taipei had been pushed back 6 hours, meaning that we now had a 9 hour wait in Manila airport. It also meant that we would miss all the airport buses in Taipei as they stop at midnight and we would not be landing until 00:10.

We had a nice hotel booked in Taipei, which now seemed like a waste of money seeing as we wouldn't get there until at least 02:00 in the morning, and only then if we wanted to stump up the £35 taxi fare. We were not impressed but decided that we would use the time in Manila airport to do research and book travel around South America and back home as we knew the airport has good wi-fi. We also decided to amend our Taipei hotel booking, pushing it back a night. We would stay in the airport until the buses started again at 04:00 in the morning. However due to the bad wi-fi, we struggled to do anything. We managed to message the hotel who told us to contact to change the dates, as we had few days left of the free cancellation time. The messaging to and from the hotel took a good couple of hours, so after sending a message to and feeling less stressed and resigned to a, hopefully, productive, long wait at Manila and Taipei airports, we wandered into town.

We didn't get far... but in a good way. Near to our hotel we had already spotted Angle Bar, a small place stuck between two main road junctions, with chairs and tables made out of lorry tyres, it was our sort of place. After a stressful few hours looking into options due to the flight change we didn't fancy going all the way into town and trying to decide where to eat (we had no Trip Advisor access after all) so we just stopped at Angle Bar, ordered a chicken sandwich and fries for Suzanne and a Burger for me, along with beers obviously. The service was friendly and the food was pretty good. The music was a good mix from ambiant stuff to Brit Pop and included Thin Lizzy. We ended up staying for a few hours and had more beers. There was a power cut for about 45 minutes and the staff brought round candles to light the place up, though as it was partially outdoors, a lot of them kept blowing out. We enjoyed the evening very much and left feeling relaxed, happy and content.

After a hot and restless night, as it was quite noisy in the hotel and surrounding area (this did enable Suzanne to discover that the wi-fi at 03:00 worked pretty well) we were woken up for our 08:30 breakfast at 07:30. Oh well, it was still tasty. We got ourselves ready, booked our onward travel back to Puerto Princesa through the hotel before going into town to book an island hopping tour for our final day. We decided that even though we had done one at Port Barton, as we would not be here again, we should do another one as it might be different.

All of the tour operators offer the same 4 tours around the stunning Bacuit Archipelago at local government set prices. They try to lure punters in with the free added extras like soft drinks, rum, beach towels and snorkelling gear. The Rough Guide recommended the Artcafe as a reputable company to go with as they would be covered by insurance. You didn't get any extras though, so we would have to rent out snorkelling gear at 100 pesos each (£1.60). We wanted to do tour C which cost 1400 pesos plus an environmental fee of 200 pesos per person and was supposed to be the best for snorkelling. The staff member told us that tour C was unlikely to run and had not for the last 2 days.

We decided to do tour A instead that also included some good snorkelling stops and was slightly cheaper at 1200 pesos per person. The added benefit of going with Artcafe was that you could pay by credit card as most places only took cash. Although there are now 2 new ATM's in town (behind Artcafe) so we could replenish our dwindling cash supply.

Pleased that we had sorted out the next days activity we wandered round looking for a coffee, but failed. El Nido is crying out for a good coffee house. In the end we stopped at a convenience store and bought soft drinks and drank them outside the store in their shady seated area and watched the world go by for a bit, which was strangely relaxing. Then it was a short walk along the beach before a buritto at JC's Burittos where they really didn't scrimp on the fillings, very tasty.

After lunch we went back to our hotel, got into our swimwear and walked to the other side of our hotel to the recommended Corong Corong beach which is supposed to be better than El Nido beach. To get there though we did have to walk through a small scruffy village with litter, glass and barking dogs. Once on the beach though the view is amazing. You can see the sunset from this area, but we made the mistake of not taking any money with us so couldn't stop for a beer. So we walked down the beach and went into the sea. It felt like someone had run a big bath it was so warm. We then went back to the hotel to shower and to see if had got back to us. They had not, and with the free cancellation deadline looming we managed to cancel our booking. Wi-fi was not good enough to rebook anything so decided that we would set the alarm for 03:00 in the morning to see if we could do it then.

We knew that Una was heading to El Nido so messaged her using a three day SIM card that we got on our first flight into the Philipinnes, they were handing them out on the plane for free! We let her know where we were going to be if she fancied meeting up later on, although as it turned out she arrived in town too late. As we were ready to go out at 16:00 we hit El Nido Corner again to make full use of the happy hour offer of beers for 40 pesos.

We then walked along the beach to Marbers Bar. We had no intention of eating there, but the food looked pretty good so we decided to stay and order some Filipino dishes. All of them were decent, athough the portion sizes were fairly small. While in the bar, one of the staff was walking round with the cutest little puppy. He spotted me and said 'I like your hair' to which I replied ' Thank you, I like your puppy' which had Suzanne in stiches and must rank as one of the strangest exchanges in a bar we've had. Though that puppy was cute and had the softest fur. As we had to be awake in the early hours we decided to have an early night. We did manage to book hotels for both Taipei (the same one as before) and Puerto Princesa though even at 02:00 in the morning it still took an hour to do. We used other booking companies as we're not best pleased with and have subsequently complained to them about their lack of customer service.

The next morning we were up at 07:30 for breakfast and then on our way to the Artcafe for 08:30 were we paid the remaining balance and chose our snorkelling masks before waiting on their terrace for the tours to start at 09:00. We were worried that the boat we would be on would be rammed as there must've been about 40 people waiting. They did a roll call of all the tours and everyone on them, when we found out tour C was running after all, annoying. Anyway all of the tours only had 11 people on them maximum as the Artcafe boats have a capacity of 14 including 3 crew. We were kayaked out to our boat (when most other tours had to wade) and then we were off. Over the course of the day we chatted with the various people on the boat and got to know them a little. It was a pretty good group with noone spoiling it for the others at all.

Our first stop was Small Lagoon, which was already rammed with other boats so we were anchored quite far away. You had to swim to the entrance and then into the lagoon itself. A few people didn't feel that they were strong enough swimmers so stayed on the boat. Suzanne was worried about the distance so we also stayed behind, with me swimming round the boat looking at the fish there. It was good to be in the sea actually. The next stop was Big Lagoon, again which involved a short swim and then a wade to the entrance. The swim was good as it was over coral so we saw lots of fish, even getting bitten a couple of times. The lagoon itself was a nice view. Next was Secret Lagoon, though not so secret anymore. Again we swam to the shore before climbing over a small ledge into a hidden lagoon. It took a while to get in and out as there is only one entrance/exit. It did mean that Suzanne had a few moments in the lagoon all by herself before more people got in. Lunch was on the beach and was barbequed chicken, pork and fish, all cooked on the boat as we were moving between destinations. There was also rice, salad and fruit, it was all very tasty but the fish was the standout.

At Secret Lagoon we bumped into Una and spent some time with her chatting while in the sea. She was with another tour company that had left late and had a full boat with lots of people onboard. We organised meeting up that night for drinks and dinner, before moving onto another location with snorkelling and a beach, though the waters here were a little too choppy for a decent look at the fish, some people needed help from the staff due to the strength of the current. I did fulfil a wish of mine though by jumping off a boat into the sea, which was good fun. Doesn't sound like much but I've always wanted to do it and never had the opportunity.

Our final stop was 7 Commandos Beach, which had a bar and cabanas to sit in. We chatted with Mas from Denmark over a beer, then Suzanne went snorkelling and saw loads of fish, including Clown Fish. I got a few minutes to snorkel before we were on our way back to El Nido. Even though we had done island hopping at Port Barton, this was something else. The views as we moved around the area and at all the destinations were stunning and we are so pleased we decided to do it. Highly recommended and well worth the money and the time.

After freshening up we headed to Marbers again to meet Una. We got there early and bagged a table. This was a Saturday evening and the bar were barbequeing a whole pig outside, though we didn't end up eating here. Una turned up and we chatted about our day and our travels. Una is also moving onto Taiwan next so we are hoping to catch up there as well. As we finished our beers and were about to move on, 2 people who Una had met on her boat trip wandered in. The guy was Filipino but lived and studied in Nottingham and was currently living in Hockley! Such a small world. Anyway we all went for a meal at Beef Stew Houz, a little local place that did barbeque and Filipino food. The food was alright but the service was quite random at times. Very cheap though.

After ice creams we bid our farewells and headed back to the hotel to pack and get an earlyish night ready for our 08:30 minivan the next day. We'd had mixed expectations of El Nido. Many people had said that the town is dirty and noisy (like any Asian town really) and it is full on touristy with too many touts. While this is true to a certain extent, we felt it was no different from any other place we've been in this respect. We always found a quiet corner and didn't feel overly bothered by touts. What made it was the stunning scenery everywhere you looked. We felt we could easily do another night there, however we already had a hotel booked in Puerto Princesa so reluctantly moved on wanting more.

Finally, there is a new entry in the 'Suzanne's Random Thoughts' section, this one came while on the minivan from El Nido back to Puerto Princesa and was...

"I don't like seeing dogs on their own smiling. I feel like they are lonely and just masking the pain."

I'm hoping that we may also extend our strange Pringle flavour collection of photos while in Taiwan and South Korea. :-)

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