The second major tour, of our stay in Puerto Princesa, was to the Honda Bay Islands. The cost was AUD$32/person, which did not include snorkel gear hire or the Puerto Princesa environmental fee. You may remember that we had to pay the environment fee in El Nido and it lasted for ten days. The ten days, though, was only at El Nido, so even though we were still within the ten days of paying the El Nido fee, to go to national parks, etc, we had to pay it again in Puerto Princesa. You could say the 150 Pesos (AUD$4) was a donation you have to pay wherever you go in Palawan.
Our group of six was again joined by Marcus and Emily for this tour, as well as an older Australian guy and, shall we say, his very young, bored-looking, female date.
Our tour group leader was a very extrovert ,young lad, that was very at home with his Prada handbag and outrageous giggle. His name was Jasper, and Jasper was a character indeed.
We set off at 8am.
To show what a small world it is; whilst we waited for our tour boat to arrive at the ferry terminal a guy from Batemans Bay was also at the wharf, and he was friends with Pete and Lynda. The wharf was pretty busy and Jasper said that the islands can get very crowded.
The journey to the first island took about 45 minutes. The island is called Starfish Island and is very beautiful to look at but is crowded.
There is a large area of benches and tables and it is all set up for an outdoor picnic or BBQ. We would be there for almost three hours and where we would have lunch made by Chef Jasper.
The snorkelling area, I think, is pretty small and should be made larger. From the lunch area it is a short walk to the snorkelling area and, with most tourists being extremely lazy, the initial part of the snorkelling area is extremely packed. If you have the stamina to walk another 50 metres the numbers quickly thin out and there is a lot more room. Please bear in mind that many Asians snorkel like they ride motorbikes so expect them to blindly snorkel through you.
The marine life on Starfish Island is reasonable and the water visibility is not bad. You can buy biscuits on the island to feed the fish with for a few Pesos. We actually did this and it did attract a lot of fish. Later we took leftover fish and rice from lunch into the water to see if the fish would eat that. It must have spooked the fish out because they wouldn’t eat the fish – perhaps the fish head resembled Uncle Charlie too much, or they just lacked the cannibal gene – whichever, the fish would not eat the leftover fish, no matter how much it is a healthier option, than the carb laden processed biscuits.
We stayed for nearly three hours on Starfish Island and it was a pleasant time, the only other thing of note was watching the Asians get their photos taken with sand castles, coconuts, beer cans, and whatever else they could find. There are also some ‘statues’ of famous people on the beach; by famous, I mean from yesteryear. There was Marilyn Monroe, OJ Simpson, Bruce Lee, and a few others, but we never took a photo of them all and I cannot remember who was there.
The next island was Luli Island.
This is a rather unique little island. Firstly, it is privately owned and the owners let the tourists visit. The owners’ house is on stilts on the beach.
The second thing is, that at low tide, the island is a small strip of sand; but at high tide the island is submerged in shallow water. There are flags all across the sand that will be below sea level at high tide so that it can be seen.
Again, the island is beautiful and it gets a fair crowd. The snorkelling area is even smaller than Starfish Island but the water is a lot deeper. What Luli Island does have is a diving board. It was kind of funny to see all these ‘young’ Asians get up on the diving board and then bravely jump into the water. They then watched as all ‘oldies’ went up onto the board and most of us dived off with dives that would score above 5 or 6, with generous scorers!
The young Asians, mainly males of course, then went up on to the diving board and you could see the intent on their faces that they too would dive this time – but alas once up there they all chickened out and did timid jumps. We oldies then got stupid with ‘dives’ and jumps and our reckless youth re-emerged. It was fun though.
We arrived at the third island, Cowrie Island, at 2.30pmish. This island is larger than the others and is a commercial island. There are bars, Spas, shops, restaurants, ……… whatever. We were all swam-out by this point, so we basically sat for an hour and had a couple of beers in the shade. Jasper said we were to leave at 4pm, but we all approached him at 3.30pm and said let’s go. There was hardly anyone in the ocean at Cowrie Island and most of the Asians from the other tour groups were doing what Asians seem to do so easily and that is sleep.
It is a simple ten minute trip from Cowie Island back to the wharf. I enjoyed the day, the company was great, but the snorkelling at El Nido is much better. We said our goodbyes to the very entertaining Jasper.
Puerto Princessa has several night markets which, strangely, are not open during the day because, of course, they are night markets. We, of course, went there during the day, which meant it was very quiet and closed. It is, apparently, a good market with lots of restaurants at night, when it’s open. Funny about that.
We said goodbye to Marcus and Emily who had practically joined our six-some for a few days.
On our last night together we booked into the ‘must be seen at restaurant’ in Puerto Princesa; the Badjoa Seafood Restaurant. This restaurant boasts the best sunset in Puerto Princesa – unfortunately a rather large clump of trees block the waterfront views of the sunset – but hey we were there!
The restaurant is hidden at the end of a long boardwalk.
We arrived at 5.30pm for sunset and pre-dinner drinks – the sunset was poor, but the dinner and drinks, of course, were great.
Throughout the night there was a constant queue of people to be seated – so it is best to book. The meal of choice was, of course, reasonably priced seafood. Michelle decided she just had to have the Blueberry Cheesecake for dessert, unfortunately it was the smallest piece of cheesecake that came in a tin foil cup – it looked like it had been bought at the supermarket in a pack of four.
Otherwise, the night was a fitting end to two wonderful weeks with four great friends in Palawan. Thank you, Michelle, Lynda, Peter and Steve for your great company.
The next morning we waved goodbye to the other four while Di and I headed to Puerto Princesa airport.
The other four had a later flight and a different airline. It was our daughter’s Graduation from University the next week. Charlotte, our daughter, asked us to attend the graduation and how could we say no. So we were heading back to Australia for two weeks to have a holiday from travelling.
Puerto Princesa airport is very small and is a crowded, chaotic mess.
Once you have queued endlessly to check-in for your flight, you then have to queue to pay the departure tax. The departure tax is 200 Pesos (AUD$5) each for domestic flights and 700 Pesos (AUD$17) for international flights – you have to love these little taxes!
After a six hour stopover at Manila airport we were on a Qantas flight to Australia. It was a magnificent trip back to Australia and we loved our time with Charlotte, who graduated with a double degree after six years at University. The double degree was Communication and Media Studies with Distinction; and Honours in International Studies. We are so proud of Charlotte.
Our son, Jesse, made lunch for us for Anzac Day; he did all the cooking and preparation for eight people – well most of it, his flatmates Katie and Claudia helped.
We returned to Batemans Bay – the house is still standing but the garden is a jungle and the less said about the pool the better.
We just loved catching up with the kids and are so pleased to see them thriving without us.
We stayed two weeks but missed the never-ending travel and we were ready to begin our push out of Asia to Europe. We resumed our travels in Saigon, Vietnam.
The adventure continues……………………