Waves of Mirth in Palawan
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Waves of mirth in Palawan

By Erik Roque, Special to Explore
Published: June 07, 2008, 00:00

Dubbed the Philippines’ final frontier — Palawan is an interesting blend of exotic and wild, of nature’s gift to man and, in return, man’s gift to nature.

Palawan’s beauty overwhelms the senses and transports the physical to the spiritual.

It is blessed with wildlife, fertile landscapes, seascapes aplenty and a delectable cuisine that celebrates nature’s bountiful harvest.

With a long and narrow strip of land, the iconic shape resembles the entire arm of the Philippines archipelago.

The island province boasts myriad species that make it a dream come true.

Palawan is the Philippines’ largest province, home to diverse flora and fauna, and has been hailed as one of the most bio-
diverse islands in the country.

Basking in its glory

Flanked by the South China Sea to the northwest and the Sulu Sea to the northeast, the townsfolk bask in the glory of natural wonders.

The Clean & Green campaign initiated by the government has brought the island province in focus, at the local as well as the international level.

Over the years, Palawan has witnessed a tourism boom, with many visitors coming from Europe and the United States.

Palawan’s rugged topography is blessed from north to south: the exclusive resorts of El Nido; game reserves in Busuanga; the reefs of Coron; and the diving marvels of Tubbataha, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Palawan is accessible by land and sea. Less than an hour’s flight from the Philippine capital Manila, Puerto Princesa City is Palawan’s capital and a gateway to the rest of the island.

Major seaports in Palawan can be used as points of entry to the rest of the province. From Manila, ferry boat trips usually take about ten hours.

Puerto Princesa is teeming with local flavours and excitement.

The lure of the countryside is irresistible — the ubiquitous motorised tri-wheeled sidecars (akin to Bangkok’s “tuktuk”) as the main mode of transport, street food vendors (grilled specialties of the most unimaginable animal body parts), and best, the friendly locals who are more than willing to help.

Comfortable stay

Accommodation abounds in Puerto Princesa. The Legend Palawan is one of the better accommodations, offering excellent service and friendly, all-smiling staff.

A relatively small pool can provide a relaxing respite from the day’s stroll. At your beck and call, seafood dishes are cooked in many ways.

Alternatively, there are a number of seaside hotels that offer spectacular views of the Sulu Sea, a major body of water in the Western Visayan region.

The Puerto Princesa public market is a treasure trove of everything local and exotic.

Fish, squid and octopus are all sun-dried and sprinkled with island flavours.

Palawan is also known for its cashewnuts. The crunchy delicacy is toasted to perfection, some made into sweet brittles that are definitely a must-buy for tourists.

About an hour from Puerto Princesa City is Sta Lourdes Wharf, which serves as the holding area for tourists embarking on a cruise to Honda Bay — a controlled area that comprise a group of small islands.

A private motorised banca can be hired from the Honda Boatmen Association for a day at around $50 (Dh183).
Snake Island

The most frequently visited among the group of islands is Snake Island — a long and windy sand strip that resembles the coils of the reptile — which is best appreciated during low tide.

Another famous destination is Arreceffi Island, which houses the exclusive Dos Palmas resort. White sand finery, swaying palms, mangroves, the grand view of the distant mountain range — all make for a really magical island-hopping experience.

About two hours’ drive from Puerto Princesa, braving the combination of rough terrain, muddied chocolate road, and in some parts, a smooth newly-paved asphalt road, one reaches the district of Sabang, the playground of beachgoers and Lonely Planet travellers.

Sabang instils the veritable images of island living with colourful “sari-sari stores”, the local version of 7 to 11, selling virtually everything from chicken feed to motor oil in cola bottles, windswept cosy cottages and restaurants offering grilled specialties of the seas and land.

The vast expanse of beach meets the milky froth of waves as the powerful surge surrenders to the calm of the shoreline.

Sabang is the pit stop to the most famous attraction in all of Palawan — the underground river park.

Nature’s canvas

From the distance, amid the jungle backdrop, sharp edges of limestone cliffs virtually puncture the azure sky.

The turquoise sea pounds against the cliffs, carefully sculpts them and, over time, creates an artwork that only nature can conceive.

A guided banca ride from the Sabang Beach is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site — one of the two heritage sites Palawan is accorded.

The tranquillity, the profound stillness, sweetly interrupted by the chirping of birds and the hum of sea breeze, awaken one’s communion with nature.

Makeshift nipa huts serve as tourist holding areas, surrounded by forest trees, specifically the Bitaog (Callophyllum innophyllum), a wonder tree that provides cures to various ailments and also has some important industrial uses.

Wooden planks serve as catwalks leading to the opening where travellers can register and gear up for the underground river tour. About ten passengers can be carried by specially-fabricated fibreglass canoes that take them inside the cave.

Guided only by the battery-operated lantern held by the front passenger, the boatman can navigate and steer the canoe into the dark creases and bends of the underground river.

Limestone formations, the stalactites and stalagmites, leave one in awe.

The formations are cleverly named, such as “Sharon Stone” for a voluptuous shape; “Cathedral”, which resembles the dome of a church, “The Holy Family” that reminds one of the manger scene.

The river empties into the South China Sea. About 8.2km long, the subterranean wonder is reputed to be the world’s longest navigable underground river.

The site represents a complete mountain-to-sea ecosystem. In the landing, the water changes from moss green to turquoise, signalling the meeting of fresh and salt water — the serene river to the ocean flows.

Be it a lone traveller or a family adventure trip, Palawan truly lives up to its name as the Philippines’ final frontier — a nature trip beyond compare, a land gifted with sylvan splendour, surrounded by waters teeming with marine life.

Here, man celebrates nature, and Palawan celebrates in return.

Go there... Puerto Princesa

From the UAE ... From Dubai

Emirates and Philippine Airlines fly daily via Manila. Fare from Dh4,340

Philippine Airlines flies daily via Manila. Fare from Dh3,660

Qatar Airways and Philippine Airlines fly six times a week via Doha and Manila. Fare from Dh3,240

Etihad Airways and Philippine Airlines fly daily via Manila. Fare from Dh3,330

— Information courtesy: The Holiday Lounge by Dnata. Ph: 04-3166160

Did you know?

Philippines celebrates its Independence Day on June 12.
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