23rd Jan 2012 - Fun in the Philippines!
The underground river...
The next day we got picked up at 7.30am. The minivan was full; us, a silent Korean couple, 2 Filipino couples from Manila and much to our disgust a ‘slug’ (old western man with exceedingly young Filipina wife who I swear flinched every time he went near her – poor thing)! So anyways, it is a 2 hour journey to Sabang, on the Western side of the island. We stopped at some impressive limestone cliffs for a photo opportunity and a stretch! We got to Sabang and headed for the beach! It was stunning! The mountains and the palm trees combined with the surf made us feel like we were in Hawaii (or how I imagine Hawaii to look like anyway)! Lunch was included and consisted of a local buffet on the beach, although we ended up feeding the stray dogs and cats with most of our fish – I can’t resist those sweet cat eyes and hungry faces!
We were told by our guide that we would have to wait a few hours for our permit to come through – the underground river is probably the biggest attraction in Palawan so they limit the numbers to 600 per day and a strict permit system is in place so that meant we had to wait! Oh well the scenery was amazing so we chilled on the beach chatting to the Filipinos from our bus.
Eventually we got on to the bangka; it is a 30 min boat ride to small cove on the other side of Sabang. Once there, we got to walk through the jungle, this part is ‘moist forest’ and has been protected. There were monitor lizards and monkeys strolling around on the floor which was really cool to see; the monitor lizards were huge – it was such a privilege to see them in the wild; they are amazing creatures and a lot faster than we thought which was quite entertaining when trying to take a photo! The walk through the trees was really spectacular, Ben was relishing the opportunity to see the things he studied about the rainforest; the different species of plants and trees and the animals; it was as noisy as I had imagined the jungle to be and just as humid too!
The underground river here is the longest one in the world and spills out into a small lagoon-like beach set back from the main beach – in an idyllic spot fringed by the jungle so it was really amazing to see. Again we faced a long wait as only small paddle boats were allowed into the cave. This time we got to wait in the jungle with our own entertainment – the monkeys! At one point I could spot about 15 hanging round in the trees and walking as close to us as they dared on the floor! There were some Korean tourists there who thought it was a great idea to feed them plastic bags and face lotion so we were getting quite angry with them! Korean’s are pretty rude and after being around such friendly Filipinos and other backpackers it made me realize just how rude Koreans actually are, we have gotten used to them but they are quite annoying actually!! Anyways! It was great to be there and see the wildlife, although upsetting to see how tourists can behave and ruin it for the future, oh well I won’t get started on that!!!
When we were called to go in we were given helmets and a lifejacket so we were looking pretty hot and feeling very hot and sweaty with extra layers on!! The river was cool, our boat man pointed out some snakes on the walls and we must’ve seen thousands of bats hanging from the ceiling (you had to remember to keep your mouth shut)! Quite an eerie experience, I certainly wouldn’t want to go through there alone that’s for sure!!
So yes, the underground river was a good experience and worth the day trip; it was quite touristy and a little bit tedious having to wait for most of the day but it was worth it! We got back to Puerto Princesa pretty late and went out for dinner and some drinks near the hotel. There is quite a lively scene in the city and it felt really safe there; most people use PP as a stopover for the Underground River and then move on to the north of the island. We sorted out some transport for the morning trip to El Nido; as it was Lunar New Year things were even busier on the island so we managed to find some accommodation to book for our stay in El Nido too; result!!