The Ride of a Lifetime: Chapter 2
I said goodbye to the wonderful staff at Ivywall Hotel in Puerto Princesa and started heading north toward the beach town of Sabang. Before I left city proper, I noticed Robinson’s shopping mall on the right. This is the best place to stock up before you venture out into the wilds of Palawan. Once you’re in paradise, options will be few and far between, and much more expensive.
Further up the road on the same side, you can find “Vietnamese Village”. During the Vietnam War, many refugees came to this part of Palawan, and a few remnants of their culture remains. There is a restaurant, a few bakeries, and even a Buddhist temple here.
This is a very worthwhile stop on the way to Sabang, because you can order some fresh baked Bánh mì (bread) and delicious phở gà, or chicken soup. The staff was very kind, and the decor and surroundings were quite beautiful.
Soon, I was well on my way through the fascinating jungles and limestone cliffs near Sabang. There is nothing quite like this region in the Philippines. Tall, elegant trees with beautiful white trunks provide ample shade along the way. If you happen to know the name of these trees, please let me know!
To me they make the area look reminiscent of an African landscape…I kept expecting to see giraffes as I turned each corner! You will also pass quite a few sleepy local villages and huts along the way.
After a while I noticed some fascinating limestone cliffs on the right, jutting up from the rice fields. I decided to stop and hike around a bit. A signpost read that this is the “Elephant Cave”, and the location of one of the Amazing Race episodes. Today there wasn’t a soul around, just a lonely carabao (water buffalo) and I.
This was also a great place to take a photo of my trusty traveling companion:
As you can see below, I trekked around here a bit. Sometimes, in the tropics, you have to take your flip flops off to avoid breaking them. They get stuck in the mud with each step, and when you pull your foot up, you can easily tear the strap. I've learned my lesson on previous trips:) Plus, it's nice to feel the mud between your toes sometimes.
What you don't see is the close up of all the bug bites I received on my feet during this trip. You're welcome.
Don't forget that insect repellent!
(Click photos for more info)
This is a great location to see the majestic limestone cliffs and mountains in the area. Just be warned, people familiar with the Rockies, Andes, or Alps might just call these "hills". Haha. Very beautiful, in any case.
Soon I was back on the bike and arriving at Sabang Beach in no time. It was about a 4 hour ride, including my photo breaks. This area is famous because of the Underground River, but scenically, it’s also one of my favorite beaches in the Philippines.
I love how the coconut trees and fishing boats line the beach, and how you can see lush, green mountains off in the distance. This is the rugged paradise I came for.
One reason you don’t hear much about Sabang Beach is because it’s steep, and has a strong current. This doesn’t make it well suited for swimming, but for taking photos or simply relaxing in a hammock, it’s just perfect. Watch out for sand fleas (locally known as nikniks). They tend to be along the water's edge around sunrise and sunset. I heard OFF lotion helps, but I can't confirm.
These bites are the worst! Like mosquito bites that itch for 2 weeks instead of 15 minutes.
My ultimate destination after this ride was Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort, which was kind enough to invite me to share the experience with you. What an incredible place to rest and relax after a full day of riding and shooting! I recommend reading the full blog post when you get a chance.
I enjoyed Sabang Beach on a previous trip, but what I actually came for this time is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. It's been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.
The next morning I woke up and met my guide Jay from 8 Dragons Tour Company. They were very kind to provide my tour as a token of thanks for promoting the Philippines. They even mentioned there was no need to promote their business specifically, but I honestly had a great time, and I love to share the best with my readers.
We ended up joining a boat with a family from the Bay Area in California, exactly where I’m from! What are the chances? Water was a bit choppy due to the windy season, but it was nothing we couldn’t handle. Within 20 minutes we arrived at the walkway to the world famous Underground River, one of the longest navigable water caves in the world.
On the walk to board the actual Underground River tour boat, you’ll have a chance to see some of the incredible wildlife you can find in Palawan.
You will probably see large monitor lizards along the sides of the trails. They are harmless, unless you push your luck and get too close. These are relatives of the giant Komodo Dragons of Indonesia. These guys are definitely not that large, but they probably weight up to 25kgs, and for a lizard, that’s pretty massive.
Monkeys can be found scavenging around the site, and if you’re carrying a plastic bag or snacks, they might come right up to you and swipe it out of your hands! They do this in other countries as well. It’s best to avoid carrying anything they might be interested in. They can be surprisingly aggressive if you challenge them, and you don’t want to cut your trip short because of an infectious bite or scratch from a monkey.
I boarded the boat with the same group, but an elderly couple joined us and sat in the very front. I’m not sure if they were elder missionaries, or just a young-at-heart, but I loved the fact that they were on the other side of the world taking a boat tour through a mysterious jungle cave together at this age. Life goals!
The Underground River tour now includes an audio accompaniment. They provide headphones, which you can keep afterward. This was one of my favorite things about the tour, so kudos to whoever thought of it. Somehow closing yourself off in your own little “headphone world” makes it feel more personal and intimate.
The narration is quite fascinating and informative…my only suggestion is that they consider having a Filipino English speaker do the narration next time. It’s a bit odd to be in the Philippines, a very capable English-speaking country in SE Asia, and hear the narration done by a British person.
Just as many others are, the cave itself is home to thousands of bats. You can see them peppering the ceiling along the way, assuming your guide has his flashlight aimed correctly. If you’re lucky, you might see a snake or two as well…they climb high up on the walls and snatch bats right out of mid air!
Along the way, the narrator will point out plenty of formations that resemble various animals, objects, and in a highly Catholic country, religious figures. Of course, there are plenty of stalactites and stalagmites as well. The scale of this water cave really is just massive. It’s no wonder it’s been named one of the world’s “New 7 Wonders of Nature”.
I don’t recommend using your camera flash here, so it helps if you have a very fast, low-light lens. Mine has an f1.8 aperture, so it worked pretty well to capture the enchanting scenes along the way. A piece of advice, though: Water drops fall from the cave ceiling every now and then, so be mindful of that. I had one hand covering my camera for a good portion of the tour, just in case.
Now that I think about it, a very good camera for this tour would be the Olympus TG-4, which I have previously reviewed. It has a fast f2.0 lens, and is completely waterproof! This is also a perfect underwater camera for snorkeling and diving in the Philippines.
After our tour, the American group decided to do the jungle hike on the way back (instead of returning in the boat). That is another option, just so you know. I caught up with them later on the beach in Sabang, and they said they quite enjoyed it.
(Continued below...but I'd be honored if you follow along with me on FB)
My guide Jay and I took the boat back, and then walked to the far end of Sabang Beach, where a nice buffet of local Filipino food was waiting for us. Your guide can help make recommendations or answer any questions you might have about the food.
This is something interesting: At many buffets in the Philippines, they will actually charge you extra if you don't finish all your food! This must be to keep people from feeding their friends with their single purchase:)
It's a steep penalty, too! 200 pesos is equal to $1,000USD. OK, OK....just kidding. It's actually less than $5, but still! Haha.
If it's available, you might be able to try the infamous “tamilok” or giant “wood worm” here. You may have seen it on TV. I was able to try it at Daluyon Resort where I stayed. They made "kinilaw", or Filipino ceviche with it. I guess that's kind of cheating, but at least I tried it! Haha.
All in all, the Underground River Tour was much better than I expected it to be. It can book up quickly, so try to make your reservations as early as possible. You can contact 8 Dragons Tour company HERE.
You can check hotel rates and reviews in this area HERE
Big thanks to Jennifer & Jay @ 8 Dragons, and Kimberly @ Daluyon for making this leg of my trip possible. Next episode is the adventurous off road ride to the beautiful and sleepy beach town of Port Barton...
*Motorbike for this trip was graciously provided by www.rent-a-bike.ph.
If you notice any misinformation or something that needs correcting, please don’t hesitate to let me know!
- Nathan Allen
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Related blog: Goodbye, Gopro...I Finally Review the TG-4 Underwater Camera
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