We only got a few hours sleep in ûthe Metro before having to leave for Puerto Princesa from our Hong Kong/Macau trip. Our flight was at 11:15 AM via Cebu Pacific so we arrived in Puerto Princesa City at around 12:45. I’ve been to Puerto Princesa before and while I would definitely recommend the Subterranean River I was a bit underwhelmed by the rest of the sights in the captial of Palawan, especially when comparing it to Coron. Having said that, this trip wasn’t about re-exploring the city but rather to arrange for the collection permit for my friend (who generously footed most of the bill for the trip) in the municipality of Rizal, 5 hours south of Puerto Princesa.
The last time I came here, the airport did not look like the sort of facility ready for hordes of tourists which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see that their airport had been upgraded significantly (in my opinion). Its now cleaner, larger and more comfortable.
We had lunch at Kalui, a nice restaurant where barefoot is in and the food was pretty good. Even though we were supposedly on a budget, we just had to eat here and it did not disappoint. After lunch we headed to the Charing Terminal to catch a bus to Quezon for our side trip to the Tabon Caves.
Tabon Caves, Quezon, Palawan
The historic Tabon Caves are found south of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan in the municipality of Quezon. While not as visited as the Subterranean River, its an interesting place to see if you’re in the area and have some time to spare. Quezon is around 3 hours from Puerto Princesa City and we were able to reach it through the Charing Vans that ply the southern routes of Palawan. The Charing Terminal is located near the Public Bus Terminal, easily reached by tricycle. The fare going to Quezon was 200 Php one way in an aircon van. Be warned though, if there are a lot of people the vans become quite cramped so you have to either get to the terminal early or make a reservation to get the choice seats.
We arrived in Quezon at 5:30 PM and checked in at Zambrano’s Restaurant and Lodging House (900 Php for an A/C room for 5). The rooms were pretty basic, and our companion the self-proclaimed Galactic Emperor commented that the walls were uninspiring, but it had cable tv and wifi so I wasn’t complaining. We had dinner and breakfast at Noc’s Grill Restaurant, a few minutes walk from Zambrano’s near the market. The food wasn’t spectacular and they served basically the same thing for dinner and breakfast (Bistek all the way!).
After breakfast we went to the local National Museum branch where we also arranged for our boat ride to Tabon Caves through the security guard. While waiting for a tricycle to take us to the dock we went around the small museum (entrance is 20 Php but since it was Museum Month we got in for free) where there were exhibits about the native Palawan culture and environment.
The Tabon Caves can be reached in 30-45 minutes by boat (800 Php). Although it is not on a separate island, boats are used since the isthmus separating the caves from the mainland are densely populated by trees and limestone hills. Currently, there are 7 accessible caves of the 200+ in the area. It took us maybe 2-3 hours to see everything including photo-stops. All along the trail there are signs posting information about the flora or fauna in the area. Most of the caves were burial grounds with only the Tabon cave being found to have been inhabited by man in prehistoric times. Our guide said there are plans to make 8 more caves accessible to the public if funding allows. This would make a cave tour a whole day activity since the caves to be added are not as close to each other as the 7 that are accessible now. Our boatman offered to take us to the surrounding islands for an additional 200 Php but the weather wasn’t really cooperating so we opted to return to the lodging house to check out and catch the next bus to Rizal at 3:00 PM.
We were dropped off around 4:45PM at the gates of our accomodation for the next 2 nights, the Lagoon. I was pleasantly surprised at the place! It was like a mini-resort with the main lodging and restaurant separated by a small lake/lagoon. We got a fan room for 600 Php since electricity was only from 5:00 PM -1:00 AM anyway. The food served was pegged at 100 Php per person with a choice of 2 viands. In fairness to the restaurant, the servings were large and included iced tea. Wifi was also available, along with FREE videoke use! Not a bad deal at all. After a hearty meal, we settled down for the night to prepare ourselves for the following day’s struggles with the red tape of the government.
I won’t go into the details of the process of obtaining a collection permit. Let’s just say we encountered the typical back-and-forth-pass-them-to-someone-else process involved in securing documents from the government. Only the Sangguniang Bayan Secretary seemed to know the proper process in securing a permit and he was very supportive at least. Anyway, this part of our trip proved to be the most challenging. We were walking/riding around the barangay for 5-6 hours before we finally made some progress towards getting the permit (nope, we couldn’t get the endorsements we went there for).
After the long day of walking around and dealing with beaurocracy, we went back to the Lagoon for some rest. We capitalized on the free videoke as soon as the power was on and had dinner afterwards. Since we couldn’t catch the 12:00 NN trip to Puerto Princesa, we opted for the 4:30 AM trip the following day.
The van arrived promptly at 4:30 in the morning and we arrived in Puerto Princesa at around 9:15 AM. Since my flight to Cebu was at 12:40 PM I couldn’t go around the city with my friends anymore. We just had our breakfast at Jollibee near the airport and parted ways after.