Philippines: Puerto Princesa

I wasn’t taking any chances. My flight to Puerto Princesa was at 5.20am on 28th December. I arrived at Ninoy Airport at 9pm on 27th December. A gruelling 8 hour wait awaited me in an airport whose Wi-Fi takes slow to whole new levels. But I didn’t care. I was leaving Manila and it’d be two weeks before I’d come back. To not have to use the capital as a transport hub was incredibly exciting.

I did manage to claw back a final victory against Manila though. The only available buses to Manila from Alaminos went to Cubao in Quezon City, which sits right on the other side of Manila to the airport. As such, when I pulled into Cubao at 5pm, I had two options – get a taxi to the airport or make use of this advice and or walk 4km to try and locate a bus which would apparently ‘unofficially’ stop at Terminal 3 of NAIA, which was the terminal I needed. Any sane person would have just jumped in a cab.

So off I went, walking the 4km from Victory Liner’s Cubao terminal to Eastwood City from where this supposed CityLink bus departed. I knew there was a very slim chance I’d pull this off given my track record, but I had so much time to spare and the thought of paying 39php against the circa 500php a taxi would charge was too good to miss. Plus I wanted to get one over on Manila after it ruined my day three times in a row since I first arrived here.

The bus goes from behind the Eastwood Mall, just outside Mango and opposite Buffet 101. There’s a green sign which outlines the times and stops (which can also be found here). The bus’ last stop is actually Newport City. Nowhere on the sign does it mention the airport but I’d been assured it would stop there – you just have to let the driver know you’re going to Terminal 3. I waited around an hour until the bus finally pulled up – it’s a big white bus with CityLink on it. I asked the driver about Terminal 3 and he looked confused so I basically told him that he would take me to Terminal 3. With no choice, he nodded and let me on.

We set off and the ticket guy seemed a bit more convincing when I told him I wanted Terminal 3. I paid my 39php and got about 5 tickets in return for some reason. About half an hour later, it was just me on the bus. After it goes to Newport City, it turns to go back to Eastwood City and it’s whilst doing that it will drop you off near Terminal 3. It doesn’t go right in – it’ll drop you next to the McDonalds and you then have to walk into the terminal. Against all odds, I’d made it! Now just an 8 hour wait sat between me and Palawan.

After said agonising wait, I finally boarded my plane to Puerto Princesa, getting a spectacular view from the plane window as the sun rose over Palawan. I couldn’t believe how tiny Puerto Princesa airport was. The bus terminals in Manila were bigger! It was quite a refreshing change to pass through with no hassle and soon I was at my guesthouse (Puerto Bayview, Manalo Street) where I was able to take some rest after my sleepless night.

I woke up to clear blue skies and used the afternoon to wander round the very clean city (they’re very anti-litter), clocking the amazing cathedral and the baywalk which was completely deserted when I visited in the afternoon but I returned in the evening to find it full of life. I was also reunited with an old friend in the form of Vietnamese pho, which is oddly a signature dish in PP, though they call it chaolong. It was as tasty as I remembered it and was very cheap. There are a number of outlets down the main Rizal Street – Pham Chaolong in between Burgos and Valencia Street (opposite the AVON shop) was particularly yummy.

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After an expensive Christmas, I wanted to save money so rather than take the guided city tour (600php), I opted to do it myself (around 100php). I can’t recommend this enough – you don’t need to go on a tour to see the main sites as the public transport is easy and cheap, plus you can choose the sites you want to visit and you’re not having to wait for other people.

I’d already done the city sightseeing the day before so today I headed out. A main attraction is Baker’s Hill, which is just a bakery situated in lovely grounds. From Rizal Street, take a jeepney/multi-cab which has Irawan on the front. Make sure you tell the driver where you’re getting off. It should cost 15php to the intersection from which you can walk (10 – 15 mins) or take a tricycle down to Baker’s Hill. You can’t miss it as all the tour vans will be outside it.

The grounds are great and the front baker’s shop is stocked full of deliciously fattening goodies which I took full advantage of. An hour later, a much more bloated Jack stumbled out of the complex. If you take a right out of Baker’s Hill, you can head down to Mitra’s Ranch which is 5 minutes down the road. It’s not particularly exciting but there’s a field with horses grazing and some nice views – you can see Honda Bay from here. You can also pay to use the zip line.

DSC_0446After this, I headed back to the main road and flagged down another multi-cab heading to Irawan. This time I was heading for the Palawan Conservation Centre or, as it’s more commonly known, the Crocodile Farm. Again, make sure you tell the driver you’re heading there or he’ll skip it. It should cost 10php from the Baker’s Hill intersection.

The Crocodile Farm costs 40php to get in and for that you get a tour of the crocodile section of the centre (tours depart every half hour). I wasn’t expecting it to be so busy but there was a massive group of people at my 2pm tour. You visit the Hatchling Centre to see the youngest (but still pretty big) crocs, then through to see the bigguns. It’s only a short tour but it’s interesting and the crocodiles seemed to be happy and well taken care of.

After the tour, you can get your picture taken with a baby crocodile. Just queue up after the tour and give the photographer your camera. If you want one of their souvenir photos, you have to pay but otherwise the photo is free of charge. Perhaps worryingly, they make you pose as if you’re going to eat the crocodile…

DSC_0463The rest of the Centre isn’t quite as well-maintained but it’s still home to some interesting wildlife, many of whom I hadn’t heard of. All in all, it was a great visit and not bad for only 40 pesos. To get back to the city, just head out and turn right, then wait where the main road bends. A multi-cab should come up the dirt/stone track to PP and will cost 22php. Overall, transport and attractions cost less than 100php (£1.30).

I was going to get the 9pm Cherry bus to El Nido that evening so I could get there early the next morning. So, after checking out, I ate a tasty veggie meal at Irma’s restaurant down Fernandez (very tasty), enjoyed a beer on the promenade and then headed to San Jose bus terminal. The terminal is 6km out of the city. You can take a tricycle or the cheaper option is to take a multi-cab from outside Jolibee on Rizal Street. You want a cab marked ‘San Jose’ but double check beforehand that it goes to the terminal as not all of them did. The fare is 15php.

I was worried I would be there too early for my bus when we pulled up at 7.20pm, but was shocked to find my bus was already there and half full! I’m not sure if it’s because it’s peak season but I’d definitely advise getting there early. The bus pulled off at 8.20pm as it just departed when it was full. This was worrying for me as I knew I’d now end up in El Nido ridiculously early. As it happened, the bus was even quicker than I’d thought and I got to El Nido in the wee hours. I had over 7 hours of waiting before I could even get in my room. Looked as though paradise would have to wait even longer…

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