Philippines | Travel | Life | Palawan

Philippines: Natural Beauty of Puerto Princesa

March 9, 2024 | 6 minutes

I kicked off this Philippine journey with cameras in my bags, ready to document every second. But guess what? I quickly realized that constantly looking through a lens wasn't how I wanted to remember or experience this trip. This realization hit me fast, from my experience filming Royal Family Kids Camp for the past 18 years, watching the everything through a lens definitely leaves you feeling a bit disconnected from whats happening around you.

Had this been a different trip, where I was just going to travel to see new places and documenting the journey, I think I would've videoed more and spent more time looking through the lens. But with finally meeting Mika in person and getting to know each other, I wanted our first interactions to be genuine, not filtered through a camera or hindered by talking to a camera.

I just really wanted to be present in the moments and places of the Philippines. And I didn't want to spend downtime in the hotel or AirBnB sorting through and editing pictures or putting together a video. So I apologize for not posting more often as I had originally planned, but I appreciate you understanding my perspective and wanting to be present for the trip. Plenty more is to come!

First Night in Puerto Princesa

We landed in Puerto Princesa as the evening started to set in, and our first stop? Getting settled in the hotel, a little bit off the main path, quiet enough to feel like our little oasis. We ventured out to Haim Chicken for our first meal – a delightful spot where we dove into beef kare kare (I know not chicken at a chicken restaurant), a Filipino specialty with a peanut sauce that was fantastic, and shared a bowl of halo-halo for dessert. The live music there? Just the cherry on top. After dinner, we strolled around nearby, taking in the nighttime vibes and picking up some essentials from the local sari-sari stores.

The Underground River Tour

Starting the next morning, we were picked up by our tour guide at 8 am to embark on the underground river tour—it was seriously cool. After picking up the rest of the tour group, we took off on a 2 hour drive to the launch location to get going on the tour.

While waiting for our turn at the underground river, Mika and I decided to hop on a mangrove river tour. It was this chill, peaceful ride on a small boat, gliding through the dense, green mangroves. Our guide was pointing out wildlife along the way—like playful monkeys in the trees, some sneaky snakes, and even a few monitor lizards lounging around.

It was pretty cool to just sit back, soak in the calm scene, and learn about the local ecosystem. The tour gave us a closer look at the natural beauty and biodiversity of Palawan. Plus, it was a nice, quiet moment for Mika and me to just enjoy nature's tranquility together before diving into the darkness of the underground river.

After the mangrove river tour, our group jumped onto a boat for a 15-20 minute ride along the coast to get to the underground river. There's no driving access as it's a protected area, so the only way to reach it is by boat and then a brief walk through the trees.

Picture this: we're in this small boat, cruising into this massive cave mouth, and it feels like we're entering a whole new world. Inside, it's like nature's own art gallery, with all these incredible rock formations everywhere you look.

Our boat operator was awesome (no motor by the way, just a long bamboo pole pushing us through the cave in silence), doubling as our guide, pointing his headlamp here and there, making the cave's features pop out in the darkness. The audio guide hanging around our necks was super helpful, giving us the lowdown on what we were seeing and the history behind it. It felt like having a personal narrator for our little underground adventure.

Now, imagine floating through this huge, 60m high cathedral-like chamber with all these stalactites and stalagmites around you—it was surreal. Some of them even looked like people or animals, sparking our imaginations and making us wonder if we were really still on planet Earth. I gotta think some Disney Park Imagineers have gone on this tour as, at times, it felt like I was on one of the rides at Disneyland with the similarities in look and texture.

We learned some neat stuff too, like about the swiftlets living in the cave. These little birds make their nests along the cave walls, and get this—they navigate in the pitch dark using echolocation, just like bats. And then there's their nests, which are a big deal in some cuisines. Who knew, right?

Emerging from the cave felt like coming back from a different dimension. It was an eye-opener, showing us just how amazing and intricate nature can be. That ride through the underground river wasn't just a highlight of our Puerto Princesa stay; it was a reminder of how epic and beautifully weird our world is.

So yeah, the underground river tour? Absolutely unforgettable. If you ever find yourself in Puerto Princesa, you've gotta check it out. It's one of those experiences that make you appreciate the wild, wonderful world we live in.

A Little Bump in the Road

Travel's not just about the sights; it's also about the shared experiences, right? Well, Mika and I had our first little disagreement, as every couple does. Post-tour, on our ride back, a friendly chat with our guide somehow led to a misunderstanding. Turns out, Mika was just being protective, worried I was oversharing about the rest of the trip with a stranger in her homeland. It was a moment for us to learn, communicate better, and understand each other's perspectives. Once we talked it out, it was all good – a small blip that actually brought us closer and something we joked about a few times later on during the trip.

Journey to El Nido

Our trip to El Nido was a 5-hour road trip through Palawan's heart, with every twist and turn revealing more of the island's lush beauty. The drive was a slow one, but who's in a hurry when you're surrounded by such stunning scenery? Lunch was a tasty pit stop where I got my first taste of chicken inasal – thanks to Mika's selection – and discovered my new favorite sauce combo: soy sauce, calamansi, and some sweet thai chili pepper mixed in. Simple yet so good!

Wrapping Up Puerto Princesa

Our time in Puerto Princesa was brief but packed with moments that reminded me why traveling is so special. It's about the places, sure, but it's also about the people we're with and the unexpected lessons along the way. And as we headed off to El Nido, I felt grateful for the chance to just be in the moment, to experience this beautiful place with all my senses and with someone truly special.

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