Category Archives: Philippines

One Night in Bangkok, Part I.

For those following the entire story, you’ll know that violent protests cut Thailand out of the itinerary for our southeast Asia trip. Nearly. My original plans awarded me one night in Bangkok. A night that, unfortunately, I’ll never forget. It’s tough to say what caused the food sickness, but math dictates that it was either the halo-halo from the American-style fast food joint or the sisig (pictured below) from a restaurant in Puerto Princesa owned, against the odds, by a couple from Arizona.

It started on the flight to Bangkok. After boarding, I sat down next to a chatty Filipina woman, and began to feel nauseous. I fled to the plane lavatory just as she announced to me that she was an evangelical Christian. Curled over in the tiny room—as we started our descent—I had visions of my body being jerked upwards with turbulence while simultaneously feeling horrible at the timing of my departure. I didn’t want my friend to think I was avoiding her because she was a Christian. With nothing accomplished in the loo, I headed to my seat to buckle myself in and apologize for leaving mid-conversation. “My stomach hurts,” I explained.

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Friday Five: Puerto Princesa’s Best Bites.

The great thing about doing the reverse commute from El Nido to Puerto Princesa, other than avoiding a repeat of that god-awful van ride? Everyone else had already been to Puerto, so we reaped the benefits of their experience: Within minutes of meeting new people, we were scribbling down restaurant recommendations for the next leg of our trip. Forthwith, five dishes we enjoyed in Palawan’s capital.

1. KaLui.

When our new British friends mentioned the set menu at the self-described “most famous restaurant in Palawan,” we called to make a reservation that same afternoon; less than a week later, we were in situ.

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Friday Five: Views from Sabang.

“Don’t let them put you in the back seat.” These were the last words we heard from our ride to the bus station. We’d hired an air-con 10 seater van to take us the half day ride on poorly- or un-paved roads from El Nido to Sabang. Spoiler: they put us in the back seat, which propelled us into the air or knocked us together at every turn, rock or dip in the road. Another spoiler: the air conditioning didn’t work. Third spoiler: we were three very hungover gals. (Drinking rum from a coconut will do that to you.) Our trip to Sabang was a luxurious and stress-free answer to one very long, very uncomfortable drive. It was also one of the highlights of the trip. Today’s Friday Five features five views from this leg of our journey. (It’s okay to be jealous.)

1. Daluyan Beach and Mountain Resort.

This is the view that welcomed us when we arrived at our resort – complete with real walls and floors, air conditioning and a bed that wasn’t made of foam, we were thrilled. Daluyan was the nicest — and, at $150 a night (or $50 each), the most expensive — place we stayed in the Philippines. It didn’t take long for us to decide to make this a two-night stay. We deserved it.

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In Search of a Cooking Class.

El Nido had plenty of things to fill our time, but one of the many downsides of not going to Thailand (as originally planned) was the fact that we’d miss out on the opportunity to attend a cooking class or two. Filipino cuisine is not as celebrated as Thai food, but that didn’t stop us from trying to find someone who would show us our way around some pork blood, belly or face.

After asking strangers, “Will you teach us to cook your food?” a few times, it looked like we might have someone say yes. There were two close calls, including this street food vendor. After buying a skewer of chicken skin (so, so, good) I asked for cooking lessons. She told us to come back the next day.

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Menus of El Nido.

When we weren’t laying claim to a bay-view perch in our favorite El Nido establishment, we did manage to squeeze in a meal or two elsewhere.

We had our misgivings about the El Nido Artcafé. The customer service, as Jill mentioned, was hit or miss. They were the only shot in town for cash advances, as well as the go-to spot for booking tours; clearly, they had a lock on the town’s tourism trade. Despite all that—and against our better judgement—we gave them quite a bit of our business. Between the free internet, the convenience of a quick breakfast before our boats’ departures, and the shaded, breezy patio for post-tour drinks, we just couldn’t help ourselves.

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Return to the Pod.

Jill: Though we were determined to try as many places as we could in El Nido, there was one restaurant that continuously beckoned us back into her arms. The Alternative, a restaurant resembling a treehouse with “pods” for resting, snacking and drinking, caught my eye on our initial walk down Población’s beach.

Maya: I was initially skeptical. The tree thing seemed gimmicky, and a restaurant that depends on a gimmick isn’t always a great one. However. I was quickly converted, as you just may be able to tell from the picture above.

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Tours and Travails.

Jill: We were one day into our stay in El Nido when we found out that our plan to meet back up with Bethany and head to Thailand together would not happen. While we had been traveling within the Philippines, a series of demonstrations by the Red Shirts in Thailand had led to the injury of more than 120 people and the deaths of at least six. The U.S. Government, the Peace Corps (Bethany’s organization) and several of Maya’s well-read relatives strongly suggested that we stay out of Bangkok and Thailand in general. We decided that if we couldn’t go to Thailand, the least stressful option would be, of course, to stay in El Nido.

Maya: This view, friends, helped us make that decision.

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On El Nido.

I spent an entire weekend reading about and researching each major island of the Philippines before landing on Palawan as our destination choice. (We had agreed to divide the planning duties—I was in charge of our time in the Philippines, while Maya handled our Thailand arrangements.) Why Palawan? Theoretically, we could see both the Bacuit Archipelago and an underground river, Palawan’s best known features, in our alloted three days. (We would wind up extending our stay, but that’s a story for another time.)

Our ultimate port of call was El Nido, the so-called jewel of Palawan. Although tourism is a major source of income for the area, I’d read that it was still fairly under-developed and great for island-hopping, with vistas that put Thailand’s legendary beaches to shame. And Bethany had heard that it was “pretty rad,” which just about sealed the deal.

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Death Plane.

Jill: I’ve mentioned my anxiety in another post about the Philippines. I think that one of the most terrifying moments of the trip – for me – was the process of flying to El Nido, Palawan, the western-most island in the Philippines. I typically have those paralyzing travel dreams prior to flights, the ones where you arrive at the airport with no passport or luggage, just a toothbrush and flip flops. My fear started there. We’ll call it Level Two. Maya and I would navigate a strange and busy city to catch a flight to our island. With traffic at a standstill, and our cab driver giving us two very different answers for how long the trip to the airport would take, I was mildly nervous about catching our flight.

Maya: My pre-trip state of mind is similar, but it’s rare that I sleep more than an hour or two the night before a big trip—I’d almost welcome a nightmare or two. Instead, I wake up in a state of panic every half hour or so, convinced I’ve overslept and missed my flight entirely. And once I’m en route, I’m nervous until I’m through the airport doors. Thanks to my poor time-management skills, I spend my transit time with heart in throat, checking my watch and trying not to snap at the cabbie (or shout obscenities at the MTA). For this particular transfer, our driver was happy to sit complacently in gridlock—he was used to it. It wasn’t until we mentioned that our flight departed in next to no time that he decided to change routes. A travel tip, free of charge: Don’t underestimate Manila’s traffic.

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Mall Food.

Jill: If we learned one thing about travel on our trip to the Philippines, it’s that plans don’t always work out. We did plenty of research prior to flying across the Pacific Ocean; sometimes that research aided us in our journeys, sometimes it didn’t. We planned to spend one day in Manila, guided by a friend of a friend of Maya’s, a foodie and filmmaker.

Maya: One of the occupational hazards of traveling in a less than organized fashion: As our itinerary was far from set in stone, the day we’d intended to spend in Manila shifted, and my friend’s friend wasn’t in town when we arrived. Thank goodness for text messages, though: He sent us numerous recommendations during our bus ride from Caba to the country’s capital. We chose Via Mare in Greenbelt—it had a nice ring to it. I envisioned a farmer’s market (the word “green” did it), or a collection of food stalls, maybe.

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