Sabang - now the most tourist unfriendly place in the world


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Asia » Philippines » Palawan » Sabang
March 4th 2009
Published: March 25th 2009
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It was that time of the year again - Donna’s birthday and she chose Sabang in Palawan as the place she would like to be to celebrate. So we got a flight to Puerto Princesa and decided to make it the same day to Sabang...problem is that the flights land at 9:30am and the jeepney doesn’t leave until 12noon (well sometime after, it depends on how the driver is feeling!) so cue Donna and Neil hanging around for a jeepney to leave for 3 hours!

Our time in Sabang didn’t start so well with the jeepney ride as the jeepney helper was overcharging the foreigners by 50 pesos each...eventhough we argued it and could see the locals paying 150 pesos he wouldn’t back down. This is one of those times we just had to give in and pay, yes people it’s not often this happens but Donna and Neil gave in after 30 minutes of arguing and paid the extra! As there is very limited room on the jeepneys (think knees around your ears!) we put one of our bags underneath our seat, it just had our snacks in it and an insect repellent can, so nothing of real value was in there but we were really annoyed when we got off the jeepney to find that one of the locals sitting behind us had stolen the insect repellent from our bag. Neil, particularly had bad luck on this journey...we were listening to some Radio One podcasts minding our own business then Neil felt something warm on his back. On inspection the little girl sitting behind him had thrown up...all over his back - nice! So a bit of nifty Superman style changing in a very tight space and the sicky t-shirt was relegated to a plastic bag and all was ok again. Remember fellow travellers, if the kid behind you looks a bit green in the face, move out of the way...fast!

On arrival we asked around the ‘resorts’, actually there are only 5 real places to stay and most of them over the last year have steadily been putting their prices up. Taraw cottages has put it’s prices up to 800 and 1200 pesos which is £11.50 to £17.50 which is reasonable some may think but what you are getting is a very basic nipa type hut with cold water and electricity running from 6pm to midnight and thats it! We stayed here in August last year and had to move out as there are lots of resident rats in the rooms which like to eat anything you have lying around! Roberts and Mary's cottages are in a really bad state with no improvements having been done. The other option is the new posher resort of Daluyon which at 4000 pesos a night is a little expensive. There was no negotiating the prices either with these ‘resorts’, none of the cottages we asked at would budge on price although most places were empty. These sorts of prices are extortionate, considering what level of accommodation you can get in the rest of SE Asia for those prices

There is a new resort being built where one of the restaurants (Villa Sabang) was located, it’s a mammoth 96 room hotel which is being built to cater for Chinese and Korean package tourists, so the locals told us...it really dominates the beach eventhough it’s only half way completed - it’s HUGE! The locals don’t seem too happy about it and there were lots of rolling of eyes when we brought the subject up. Both this resort and Daluyon have chopped a lot of the palm trees down next to the beach, so where there was once lush palms there are concrete walls and huge gaps where once there was green-ness.

The beach was dirty when we were there with lots of seaweed from the high tides and water buffalo shit from the 5 (yes 5!) water buffalo pulled carts which seem to be endlessly walking up and down the beach now - not sure why there are so many. There was also some patches of motor oil on the beach from where the locals had been driving their motorbikes on the beach. We chose a day where the beach looked nicer (ie there had been a high tide the night before and washed all the sh*t into the sea!) to take the pics. We have included a couple of pics which we took on our first visit in August 2007 to compare the beach then and now.

Supposedly the main draw of Sabang is the Underground River, the Philippines Tourism Board is touting it as a natural wonder of the world. Excuse us if this is complete bullsh*t - it’s a cave with some stalagmites and stalagtites and you are charged a hefty price to get there too! The Underground River is nothing special at all and it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to do the Underground River independently as the boat association in Sabang asks 700 pesos per boat (for a 45 minute journey at most - with waiting time included) and the day trip tours will not let anyone else join their boats. If you don’t want to pay this alone or even as a couple your other option is to walk as there is no negotiating the prices. The day tours which visit Sabang work out the same price as doing it independently as you have to buy a permit too. With what we know now we would advise people travelling to Palawan to do the day trip only, as the accommodation and restaurants are not good value in Sabang and the atmosphere for tourists is not too good.

The restaurant situation in Sabang has got really bad...Taraw’s restaurant only seems to care about the day trip people it feeds every day, we went in for lunch one day and they refused to serve us as they said they were too busy or didn’t have any veg for a simple veg curry - well we never really got to the bottom of the excuses it was just a lot of mumbling. It was the same for our entire stay there. Green Verde restaurant more often than not didn’t have any fish or chicken and took 2.5 hours to serve a meal most days but other than here and Robert’s restaurant (where the staff were really rude when we asked a question about a dish on the menu) you don’t have a choice of where to eat, unless you want to pay 300+ pesos for a meal at Daluyon - then again the price in the other restaurants was around 120 pesos for a very small dish plus another 20 pesos for rice (around £2) which for Asia is expensive. One day we had to survive on pot noodles, biscuits and crisps because the restaurants wouldn’t serve non-day trip people or they had no ingredients. That was a very bad day! Donna’s birthday went mostly without a hitch, although the planned birthday meal was a bit of a disaster as her first 3 choices on the menu weren’t available. The day itself was nice with lovely sunshine and a nice calm sea to splash in and a night of film watching on the laptop (with the limited power!)

Our time was up in Sabang but leaving was not going to be easy. For anyone who wants to leave by boat - the boats some days were cancelled for no reason and we were told that they only stopped at Cacnipa island and not Port Barton on the way up to El Nido because there is a boat-mafia control going on at Port Barton. The jeepneys and buses are cancelled for no reason too and the Tourist Information office really don’t have a clue about anything other than selling permits for the Underground river. On the day we left, the 10am jeepney to Puerto Princesa was cancelled, there was another one meant to be at 12 midday and a bus at 2pm. So we approached a tour guide to see if we could pay to go in one of the minibuses back. We were quoted 150 pesos each for the journey which we were happy with so let the 12 midday jeepney leave only to find when the Topstar tour agency buses were leaving the drivers and guides had decided to up the price to 500 pesos each. So beware of Topstar travels quoting low prices and then suddenly raising them at the last minute to make a bit of money for themselves - rip off merchants! We ended up on the 2pm bus which actually left at 4pm and took almost 4 hours.

Do not believe what the Lonely Planet says about Puerto Princesa - it is not that nice a place and there are no fabulous restaurants, unless you count Jollibee (the Philippines McD’s equivalent) or Dunkin’ Donuts. The hotels in Puerto Princesa are rip offs too and because everywhere was fully booked - actually we had booked a place (sent 2 text messages and an e-mail) but the Duchess Pension (overpriced anyway!) had given the room away we ended up in the worst dump we have had in quite a while. It was 600 pesos (£8.50) for a room with two of the smallest single beds in history, an infestation of mosquitoes and a fan which only had one speed (fast) and the room was so hot with no curtains and a shared cold water bathroom! The woman who owned this place was a real ‘Madame’ type of personality who sat fanning herself courting (ie very rudely interrogating) the various guests who were grudgingly staying there.

It’s a shame that greed and rudeness have taken over Sabang. There has been a huge change in the attitude of the local people in Sabang and they just seem to be out to rip as many people off as possible...we wouldn’t say they were the friendliest of people to begin with but they would at least talk to you if you started a conversation. We found people ignoring us or walking away if we tried to talk to them!

Unfortunately Palawan is being touted as the next place to go...but with the higher tourist numbers the locals just seem to be getting greedier and more money grabbing. Gone are the times of people helping you for the sake of it, but they now expect something (money!) in return. We would say if you are thinking of doing a tour of Palawan we recommend that you just go to El Nido as there is much more selection (read competition) for food and rooms. It’s sad because Sabang was one of our favourite places in the world and after a pretty awful experience this time around it’s one of the worst places we have been. We definitely won’t be going back.



Additional photos below
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beach beforebeach before
beach before

there were so many more palm trees


25th March 2009

I feel bad now..
Greed is the culprit, I tell you!!! And to think you guys went back there.
26th March 2009

Sorry about that
Hi, I am a Filipina but no longer living in the Philippines. I am sorry to hear about your experience, especially for the rudeness of the people. Filipinos are supposed to be hospitable but I guess you're right about the greed part (it is such a shame). I can only imagine how the world economy is affecting the Islands. I have never been to Palawan and always wanted to go there but I am hesitant too because I am already expecting something just like your experience. I will be visiting the Philippines in May... but I won't be going to Palawan. Hope the rest of the Philippines will treat you better.
27th March 2009

Oh Dear
Hello you two, Where do you stay when you are 'living' in the Phillipines? as the level of accomodation is fairly basic most places we've been so far...do you stay in Cebu? Shame abourt Sabang..we swerved it as didn't fancy the river much. Puerto is nice though, got a good room with all mod cons and food is quite good in the canteen in the mall, pork tocino is my favourite so far, stacey likes the vege pinet bek (or whatever its called) ...livin the dream. Did some awsome snorkelling in El Nido... take it easy, Ross and Stacey
29th March 2009

Hi Guys, we've been following your blogs with much interest because we have visited some of the same places. Recently, we noticed a change in your writing (a decidedly negative slant). We understand the ups and downs of travelling and so we have this quick question for you: Are you guys still enjoying being on the road?? Sometimes, like everything else, it's just gets too much and you need to take a break. Hope you reconnect with the joys of travelling and recognize that people are people everywhere in the world.
29th March 2009

Still got the travelling bug
Unfortunately our negative slant comes from our recent trips being prety dire. We tell it how it is. We recently had a great experience in India and blogged a lot on it and loved it so much we will be back soon. The problem is in SE Asia at the moment there is the perception that people are travelling less when in this part of the world it isnt the situation on the ground (Philippines has more tourists than we have ever seen!), but some of the locals believe what they hear on the news that there are less tourists and it turns into a vicous circle of trying to milk the tourist. We have still got a positive attittude to travelling and are experiencing some really nice places at the moment and will blog on these. Watch out also for our upcoming blog of the UK (our first visit back home in 2 and a half years)!
7th August 2009

oh...sorry,,,
that was not a very happy birthday for you donna.yeah,,,i admit people are getting worst everyday.
25th November 2009

My god! It seems to me that you have had a terrible in time in Palawan... unlucky you!
31st March 2013

Palawan still one of your favourites?
Hi again Donna & Neil We are just deciding wether it is worth going to Palawan or not. We booked several months ago, but after the Boracay experience we are a little nervous about wasting our precious time in Asia on somewhere which may just be another let down. Have you been there recently? We were thinking of heading straight to El Nido for five days of r&r after China, but are really not so sure anymore.....any advice?

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