Preparing to Rough it Out in Puerto Princesa
Trip Start May 19, 2010
3Trip End May 23, 2010
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Several airlines fly to Puerto Princesa: Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Air Philippines , and Zest Air, all of which allow bookings through the internet. I've been able to get promo rate tickets from a travel agent too so after doing internet research on available promotions, I asked my travel agent for rates as well. When she told me that the cheapest available Air Philippines fare to Puerto Princesa was about P8,000.00 round trip, I left a meeting so I wouldn't miss the internet promo fares that I knew weren't more than P3,500 per head round trip. Aside from the more frequently lower rates, what I like about internet booking is you get to see the options that are available on different dates at different times. Air Philippines not only had cheaper rates, we could arrive in Puerto at 10:40 a.m. on our first day and leave at 2:10 on our 4th day. What a waste of time and money to arrive in the evening and leave in the morning.
Even so, I had many second thoughts before I pressed the first on-line ticket purchase button. For 10 paying seats and one infant, fares alone represented an investment of almost P35,000 just for the round trip tickets for Manila to Puerto Princesa. Package tours offered by the airline companies and by on-line travel agents (lots of them available if you do a search of Puerto Princesa) quoted prices for accomodations and local tours that were well beyond what I was ready to spend. The standard 2 1/2 days tour package with half day for a city tour, a day for the underground river in Sabang, and a day for Honda Bay island Hopping would have cost each person a total of P2,900.00, accomodations and meals not included.
Visit Puerto Princesa.com, the website that was my favorite reference for Puerto, has a list of hotels, inns, and resorts with addresses, short descriptions, range of room rates, hotel websites, e-mail addresses, and contact numbers (landline, fax, and cellphone when available). Before you contact any hotel, check Puerto Princesa hotel reviews through tripadvisor.com. I've been using tripadvisor since I did my first on-line hotel bookings in Kuala Lumpur and Chiangmai in 2007. The reviews are by unbiased people who've stayed in the hotels so you get a fairly good idea what to expect when you arrive.
http://www.visitpuertoprincesa.com/ not only has the usual 3 day itinerary for tourists, it also has features on Holiday Ideas (for those who want outdoor fun - jungle trekking, snorkeling and scuba diving, mountain climbing - because a visit to Puerto Princesa shouldn't only be about the Underground River) and Scenic Highlights. The website naturally also has pages on Puerto Princesa itself, on travel and transportation, dive shops, wining and dining, other facilities.
The family enjoys beaches and snorkeling but after baking under the heat of the sun while we went around handshaking during the campaign period, we were all looking forward to climbing mountains, trekking through jungles, and exploring caves, not betting sunburned in white sand islands. Furthermore, as Negrenses, we're proud of our own Apo and Danjugan marine sanctuaries (home is Negros island in central Philippines) so a tour of Puerto Princesa's Honda Bay islands wasn't our idea of a day well spent in Palawan.
Our number one must-see was of course the Underground River, which is part of the St. Paul Subterranean National Park in Sabang, Puerto Princesa. The Underground River is listed as a World Heritage Site and as of the time of this writing, is a finalist in the search for the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World (one of the world's best dive sites, the Tubbataha reef, also in Palawan was a semifinalist). First in the list of websites when I did a Google search for Sabang was A Travel Guide for Sabang and the Underground River. by Australian John Piechnick. Though I looked at other websites on Sabang and the Underground River, no site gave as informative and as up-close and personal write-up on Sabang's accomodations, things to see and do, Sabang without the day crowd, and getting to Sabang. Early on, Piechnick advises the reader that he'll be missing a lot if he just takes Sabang and the Underground River as a day tour. The St. Paul Subterranean National Park is at its best (most peaceful with the most wildlife) in the early morning. This a day trip tourist will certainly miss. Furthermore, according to the author, "There is plenty of accommodation to choose from and plenty of things to do and see to keep you here for at least a few days and more."
About that, he wasn't kidding. I can't find the website anymore, but when i saw tour packages for cross country (east to west) treks of 5 to 11 days through forest and tribal lands, I was sorry we only had 4 days and 3 nights in Palawan. The trouble with promo fares, if they're rebookable (the cheapest fares aren't rebookable or refundable), you have to pay a hefty fine (P600 or more) for the rebooking.
Being do-it-yourselfersand since vans for hire at P2,500/day within the city proper, P3,500 for a day trip to Sabang were available, I inquired about accomodationsand vans for hire from Dangkalan Inn, which is rated 3rd of 25 Inns/B&B's in Puerto and has good reviews in tripadvisor.com (links to tripadvisor's page on Dangkalan). Sheryl, the one who answers e-mail and cellphone inquiries always responded promptly and she was a joy to deal with. Dangkalan could give us two rooms that would accomodate the 9 of us, all for only P3,000 per night (breakfasts not include). Unfortunately, the Inn was fully booked on the day we were arriving. Dangkalan also didn't have a big enough van for us (9 adults, 2 little boys) so Sheryl suggested that instead of hiring a van through internet contacts, we get a DTI (Department of Tourism) accredited van at theairport. This way, we could select a van that would be comfortable for our big group. Van rental rates are standard in Palawan so visitors don't have to worry about being overcharged.
Most of the other hotels in Puerto Princesa were also full y booked on the day we were arriving so it was easy to decide to sleep in Sabang instead of in the city. Piechnick's (Sabang Travel Guide) description and tripadvisor reviews of Bambua Nature Park and Resort in Sabang were attractive so I made a tentative reservation for two non-aircon family rooms there (1,500 per room with 4 or 5 in each room). I cancelled that because we planned to do some not-for-little-boys trekking and climbing so the little boys with us would need sun, sea, and sand to stay entertained. Taraw Vista Lodge and Restaurant rates low as a restaurant in Tripadvisor (daily, at least a hundred tourists going on the underground river day tour eat here) and I didn't find any rating for it as an hotel or resort. On the otherhand, my Sabang Travel Guide Piechnick said that it is a good place to stay if one wants to stay by the sandy beach (Dabdab Cottages and Restaurant is his favorite. According to him, nothing in Sabang comes close to the beauty of Dabdab. Unfortunately, Dabdab's coastline is rocky, it doesn't have a website, and the contact numbers in other websites are old). You can bet that I was relieved to be able to reserve two non-air con family rooms in Taraw, P1,500 per room.
The last booking I made was for accomodations in Puerto Princesa. Since our Sabang rooms were non-aircon and very basic, I thought of getting nicer accomodations in the city. Texts, e-mails, calls, and on-line booking facilities told me that there was no space in the not too expensive rooms in the nicer hotels, however. Dangkalan Inn had room but I decided that for a day when we had to depend on public transportation, it would be easier for us to stay in the downtown area. Badjao Inn and Restaurant doesn't rate very highly in tripadvisor.com but not only did it seem to be the backpacker's favorite in Puerto, I liked the reviews in travelpod.com and free airport transfers was part of the package. When I got a quick confirmation that we could have 3 rooms at 1,003 per room plus P130 for each extra mattress, I was happy to think that we were finally ready to leave for our Palawan adventure.