El Nido to Coron: Five Days of Sailing on a 74ft Paraw Boat with Tao Adventures

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El Nido to Coron in five days on a beautiful sailboat…prepare for lots of photos below 🙂

img_5703img_1843Lacy:  Well, I hope this post finds everyone around the globe well right now as we are in very strange times worldwide.  Rob and I returned to America just a couple of days after the sailing tour that is discussed in this post.  It wasn’t our intention to return back to the States prior to the end of April, but as more borders were closing we decided it would be wise to return “home.”  We didn’t actually know where we would go when we got back our country, but are very thankful and relieved to have a very comfortable place to reside in.  Sitting at 10,000ft in Colorado we are a week and a half into our self imposed two week quarantine.  Being in contact with so many tourists and travelers both while in Asia, and traveling back to the US, we felt it was the only responsible thing to do.  Rob and I had a really wonderful time on this sailing adventure and enjoyed our 3 weeks in the Philippines.  If anyone plans to travel there and has questions, feel free to reach out.  I hope that this blog offers you a small distraction from the current events and puts a smile on your face.img_1845

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Beautiful sunsets on white sand beaches bring smiles to everyone’s face.  The hut in the photo is where Rob and I happily slept that evening

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At the TAO Farm where all the delicious vegetables we ate were grown.  Even the little piggy that was roasted on a spit came from here.

Tao Experience & the Paraw Sailboat

Rob:  Ever since we took a full day Jetski tour along the Malaysian & Thai coast last year we have been planning to take a sailboat for an extended trip through the islands of SE Asia. The Philippines have a magnetic pull straight to your soul to get out on the water. We knew as we got closer to El Nido that taking a boat tour, even just for one day, would be a typical and logical thing to do.  The Tao Experience is well known as the pioneer of multi-day Eco tour island hopping here in northern Palawan. There is one particular boat that they hand built several years ago which is a 74 foot all wood and bamboo construction Paraw. It is simply a beautifully crafted old school, old world constructed trimaran dual masted sailboat. We were exceptionally lucky to get a ride on board at the last minute. All of our fellow passengers had booked many months ahead of time, some eve in a year in advance.  We managed to sneak on 2 days before departure.  Our best guess was that someone canceled their trip because of the coronavirus.  Excited by our good fortune and eager to explore the islands by sail, we traded in our Honda XR150 that carried us the length of the island from Puerto Princesa north to El Nido.  Aside from buying some extra sunscreen and long sleeve sun/rash/jellyfish guard shirts we were otherwise perfectly equipped for light packs and travel onboard. Especially Lacy who had brought 3 1/2 bikinis! 😁img_1700

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The boat is massive and has so many area to stretch out.  PS – having your hair braided on a boat is a HUGE plus.  Little did I know that this would be my last week without having to use a hairbrush or think about my hair.  Once I returned to America it was clear the braids were ready to come out…but at least I had some fabulous 80’s crimped hair for 2 days 🙂

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Group photo with our fellow travelers aboard

We met our fellow sailors early the following morning, 24 of us in total, and were quickly underway. It was easy to find a comfy place on deck to stretch out and enjoy the view out into the bay while getting to know everyone a little.  Being a trimaran, there was ample space aboard for everyone to stretch out.  Over the five days we wandered from the bamboo chaise, to the seats, sunbathed on the bow, lounged on the aft deck, enjoyed shade in a hammock behind the kitchen and everything in between.  The crew always took us to beaches and and areas away from the tourists to snorkel and swim. This was one of the best parts!   The first day we enjoyed  lunch of squid adobo, grilled fish, fresh veggie salad and rice. It was a great day until we pulled into a private little bay and discovered our cliff side private tiny bamboo nests that we would sleep in. Then, it became an awesome day! A thin mattress, mosquito net and clean sheets were inside our little bamboo and palm roofed sleeping pod. Outside, we had just the sound of waves and birds to lull us to sleep. Each of the next few days we followed a similar routine of being shuttled under sunny skies over turquoise waters via this amazingly crafted wood sailboat, fed like little baby birds when we were told to eat, swimming when we pulled up to a postcard white sand beach and being treated to lots of Rhum and Pineapple cocktails (Jungle Juice) each afternoon. One of our fellow travelers said it best to remark that he felt like a 5 year old child being scheduled and fed through the day and it was great!

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Our beach hut the second night…and more views of the area below

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Jungle Juice time!

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Beautiful lunches on board

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Grilled fish for dinner on one of 4 remote beaches we slept on

Another privately owned beach camp, more bamboo beach huts perfectly situated for sunset and a soft evening breeze awaited us the next 2 nights as well. Huge grilled Jackfish, veggies and rice was becoming familiar for lunches and dinners, but something to be craved when the chef and crew called everyone together for meals.
On our 3rd day we pulled up along a rock faced island which was quite a sight. Sheer cliffs and deep blue water surrounded us. The crew quickly showed us a natural combination of “stairs” and handholds to pull yourself up to several high ledges. Everyone took a turn or two up the rock for their cliff jumps with everyone cheering or jeering along. My second jump was from a pretty high point that took a big leap outward and a big leap of faith from inside to be successful. Lacy may have held her breath for a moment, but a spike of adrenaline helped me clear the rock with ease. Next we all dog paddled through a small cave opening in the cliff face and the crew led us through a passage that brought us slowly and carefully through the dark and eventually out the other side of the island. It was a pretty long swim back around to the boat, but there was Jungle Juice waiting for us back on board. And the crew always graciously offered kayak taxis back and forth to any beach, snorkel or swim.  On our way into our docking for the evening, all 4 sails were full of wind that quietly powered our big trimaran along the tops of the swells. Pure magic for me.

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Approaching our first overnight beach of the trip (below)

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And what a way to start!

Lacy has been loving adding a little fish back into her diet after a full month as a vegetarian Yogini. One of my beautiful bride’s nicknames is Ikan (E-con) or fish in Bahasa. She has definitely lived up to that on this trip with lots of snorkeling and swimming opportunities.img_5720

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One of the crew members scaled this bamboo tree in what seemed like ten seconds.  He plucked a coconut and brought it back down.  We were all pretty impressed.  One of our fellow travelers is giving the climb a try in this photo while his wife looks on.

Our breakfast to start day four was light fluffy pancakes served with an awesome “Bananas Foster” topping. Who doesn’t like dessert for breakfast once in a while. Today we visited the TAO Farm where the organization grows much of its own food for the tours as well as raises pigs and ducks. It did make me wonder what might be for dinner that night. Sure enough, when we arrived for our last night of beach glamping, we were shown the whole young pig that had been slow roasting all day for us. I could hear the angels singing in the background and the cheers of my fellow shipmates drowning out my own. With full bellies poking out we looked forward to the evening activities. Karaoke is a way of life in much of SE Asia. On this, our last night together, both passengers and crew joined together to sing and howl the night away. We both took our turns encouraged by… you guessed it… more Jungle Juice!

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In the morning, our last day of sailing continued northward through what felt like 100 more tiny picturesque islands and brought us to a small reef called the Coral Gardens. It has been very well protected and was a jaw dropping display of coral in all shapes, sizes and colors. It was also teaming with colorful fish from tiny day glow blue to big multi-hued parrot fish and virtually everything in between including psychedelic colored clams. The crew really saved the best snorkeling for the last day. Just a short 20 minute ride away we dove into much deeper waters to swim above the wreck of a sunken Japanese gun boat from WWII. 75+ years of coral encrustation had transformed most of the boat into a haven for fish and created a little micro reef head. The sharp edges of the bow raising up from the sea floor and almost to the surface was really the only clue that it was once a warship. This was our last stop along the way to Coron City Harbor which was our end point of the sailing trip. Everyone on board seemed a little quieter than normal until we saw the harbor come into view. Hugs, thanks and pictures with the crew began the process of wrapping up a great journey.

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We had the option of getting massages on the beach 2 of the 4 nights.  Rob was relaxing with a massage under these palm trees when I came up to give him the good news that he would be enjoying the little piggy below for dinner.

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All smiles all the time with the crew lead, Jameson

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Docked at yet another beautiful beach…the water was like glass the morning I took this

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Sunset at the same beach

Speaking of our crew. Every single person onboard from the Captain, Hosts, Chefs, Guides and Barman were excellent and held the highest level of hospitality from start to finish. They were a huge part of the success of the trip. Last but not least, Amo, the ship’s mascot. Four stubby legs, a cold nose, black, white and tan all over. He swam with us to beaches, jumped from kayak to kayak, took shelter in the shade during the peak of the day, raced around the sailboat keeping the energy level up and alerted us to upcoming stops by running to the bow of the boat and getting ready to jump in the first kayak put in the water.

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There happened to be a lot of seaweed in the water where the boat stalled for lunch.  Jumping off the boat to enjoy a swim was common, but this time it was extra funny with this seaweed costume and accompanying dance!

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The crew was always laughing and was one of the best parts of the trip

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Everyone loved Amo

We could have taken 2,000 more pictures than we did, but selfishly just enjoyed the views in person and not so much through the camera lens.   Our sail group shared everyone’s photos on a WhatsApp group once we got back to land and service.  Huge thanks to everyone aboard whose photos are featured in this blog!61108513-db16-4eb1-9afd-29afe8bcf365

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There’s a first time for everything and this was the first time I saw Rob sing karaoke!

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Rob snuck this photo of me while I found a quiet place on the beach for a little morning practice

Little did we know that a day after of our arrival in Coron the Philippines would begin the process to close its boarders with travel restrictions protecting against the spread of the coronavirus. An early notice helped us get a regular priced flight out to Manila and a subsequent flight to Los Angeles via Tokyo. So many of our shipmates weren’t quite so lucky, but all eventually made their way out of the country AOK. This also prematurely ended our travels for this Spring as we were only six weeks into our planned three months. Bittersweet to be home, but glad we had, yet again, the opportunity to spend time immersed in the cultures of Cambodia and the Philippines this season. Lacy successfully completed her Yoga Teacher Training class and we both met new people and made great friends with like-minded travelers whom we will surely meet again soon. Country to be named later.

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Our TAO rash guards are our souvenirs from the Philippines.  They were good protection form the sun and jellyfish while playing in the water

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We never had rain even with a few clouds the first day.

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A lunchtime kayak…this isn’t us, but we were on another kayak at the same time with Amo

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Until we write again…XO

Port Barton & Taytay: Starfish, Sea Turtles and Spanish Forts

Port Barton
Rob’s crazy hair

Lacy: Our road trip through Palawan island continued to be a great one as we traveled north from Guru Beach to Port Barton. Riding past rice fields, water buffalo cooling off in ponds and sunlit shoreline made for a quick trip to the tiny port town. There isn’t much to do in Part Barton except sunbathe on the white sand beach, book an island hopping tour and watch a magnificent sunset. Check, check and check. Arriving to town at noon we parked by the bike and strolled down the beach to find accommodation.

Yes, please 🏝💙
This cute little bamboo and thatch beach hut was exactly what we were looking for. Steps from the beach and $20.
Beautiful views on the ride…

The water here is crystal clear and very inviting. It wasn’t long before we found a small bamboo hut behind a beachfront massage stand that would be our home for the next two nights. Kicking off our shoes for the next two days we began to explore the shoreline a bit further. The water here is the perfect temperature to spend all day in. After a couple of massages we watched an unbelievable sunset at Happy Bar. Happy we were so with huge smiles plastered on our faces.

…and an epic sunset to complete a great day.
Getting on the boat to begin a fabulous day of Island hopping from Port Barton.
Swimming area on the island we stopped at for the fabulous bbq lunch below 🐠🐙

The following morning we ate an early breakfast on the beach and couldn’t wait to start our all day island hopping tour. Six stops and 7 hours with a bbq on the beach halfway through made for an absolutely perfect day. Starfish, swimming with turtles, great snorkeling, swimming in turquoise water, enjoying the view of the surrounding islands from the boat and soaking in the Phillipino sun in a recipe for happiness. There were three other couples on the boat with us who all seemed to be enjoying themselves as much as we were. This was $24 each well spent, indeed.

A great day for island hopping

With plans for the sail in place we knew we needed to get to El Nido rather quickly for an orientation at 6p on Thursday night before leaving port Friday morning. We were only two and half hours away, but decided to only cover half that ground the first day and stay in Taytay Wednesday night. Turned out to be a very good idea because the ride was really hot and by the time we arrived I was borderline overheating, but perked up when I realized that our accommodation for the evening had a real mattress!!! What?! For six weeks we have been sleeping on the very thin Asian mattresses that require you to turn throughout the night like a rotisserie chicken as your hips and and shoulders begin to ache. But tonight we had a proper soft thick mattress. Don’t have to tell you this was the best night sleep we had in a while. Hallelujah! Add in a great view from our patio of a Spanish fort on the edge of the sea, cheap local food and strong WiFi to catch up on life before disconnected for nearly a week and we considered this stop a major score. It was our most expensive night yet at $30 and well worth it.

Starfish sandbar – hundreds of these guys
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Taytay is a very small
town halfway between Port Barton and El
Nido, but worth a stop. The view from Casa Rosa was great.

While eating the largest pizza I have ever laid eyes for dinner we opted to take a five day sailing tour from El Nido (another town and hour north) north to Coron (another island in the Palawan province). Rob has been dropping hints about this sailing company ever since Cambodia, but since we rarely plan anything too far in advance I wasn’t ready to commit to anything. Sailing between El Nido and Coron is pretty popular here and there are many options by ferry, private tour or even flights. TAO company has an unbelievable reputation of being a top notch 3 or 5 day sail. While they do have other boats we were only interested in their handmade wooden sailboat option. Since they had a tour leaving in two days Rob initially emailed to see about joining and heard back that they were full. I suggested we add our names to the wait list which requires that you write a bit about yourself for an application. Within an hour we received a note and an invoice to join the sail!! We were numbers 23 and 24 of the guest allotment and snuck in. We took a guess that there was a coronavirus cancellation because we later learned from our fellow shipmates and crew that last minute bookings are nearly unheard of. Most people booked months to a year in advance. When it’s meant to be, it will happen either way.

Spoiler alert…the Tao trip was INCREDIBLE! Exceeded expectations in every way. Lots more in the next post.

The following day was a “town day.” Whether we are long distance hiking, spending a few months working in remote mountain towns or backpacking through SE Asia these days creep up as we find ourselves needing to take care of a small list of items. It only took an hour to ride into El Nido and settle into our hotel on the beach.

Giz enjoys the new scenery in El Nido

I was instantly surprised at how much the landscape changed on this part of the island. The surrounding islands instantly took on a much more mountainous aesthetic, begin far less flat than southern Palawan. Spending the previous twelve days motorbiking up the island gave us a really good appreciation of how varied the beaches and topography are from tip to tip. On the list for the day we’re checking into the TAO office, buying rash guards, sunscreen, aloe cream, another sarong and changing money. All done with just enough time to enjoy a happy hour cocktail before orientation. Successful town day!

Underground Rivers in Sabang Beach & Lazy Days on Guru Beach

We are definitely in our happy place here on Palawan 🏖☀️💕

Rob: Sabang is a quiet town on the western side of the island that thrives during the day as tour vans pile in from Puerto Princesa to shuttle tourists back and forth to the Underground River. As the sun sets, the beach becomes home to just the locals and a few travelers like us who enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.

As soon as we arrived at Sabang Beach we saw many signs for fruit shakes. After the warm bike ride I whipped off my helmet and ordered an avocado shake for myself and mango with rhum for him. Yeah, it was 11 in the morning, but that’s his style 😉. He is a happy man in this photo with his fruity drink and beautiful beach.

The first of two evenings in Sabang we stayed just above the beach on the edge of the surrounding rainforest. The sounds in this area have struck me as a standout feature that someone should put on a billboard.

Happy times on Guru Beach
A quiet evening in Sabang enjoying dinner and a sunset on the beach

“Laughing” ducks in the day time, 47 kinds of cicadas chirping and singing at night. Roosters, Monkeys and other assorted jungle creatures we couldn’t identify singing in the background 24 hours a day. It’s a great accompaniment to the sounds of the surf that we can still hear from our cabin in the hills.

The view from my hammock on Day 2 at Sabang Beach as I waited for Rob to wake up so we could decide what the plan for the day was. Happy as a clam 🙂

The main attraction here is the entrance to a recently discovered underground river and cave system that is accessible via a little lagoon close to the town. From the cave entrance you can paddle 4 km in from the sea and under the limestone mountains. It only takes a few meters inside the mouth of the caves before everything goes dark and you are in a tunnel of rock stretching out in front of you. Our tour guide takes us 2km into the mountain which is as far as the tour goes. Areas past 4km inside really haven’t been explored due to the environmental sensitivity of the caves and river itself. From narrow passages to 30 meter tall chambers we glide very quietly through the very dim tunnels navigated by our guides headlight so as to not disturb the residents. Crabs, lobsters and 8 different species of bats, 3 of which are only found in these mysterious caves with a gentle flowing river as it’s floor. Stalagmites and stalactites abound as they should in these environs. The river itself naturally cleans out the cave so it doesn’t smell like there are about a million bats literally hanging over your head. “When you look up, please don’t open your mouth.” Pretty good advice from the guide, if you ask me.

To get to the Underground River we took our very first boat ride of the trip to this beach where we would enter the cave. The smile on Rob’s face during the boat ride was epic. He absolutely loves boats and the spray of sea salt on his face.
Heading into the Underground River. We both loved this tour. I have never seen so many bats before in my life. Maybe a hundred thousand or more.

We spent 2 days and nights in Sabang. We loved the peace and quiet at night, $8 massages with the sound of the surf and a few good Rhum and Mango Slushie Cocktails from the hawkers right at the pier. Lacy has also traded her beloved dragonfruit shakes for avocado shakes here. Simple garlic rice with cabbage and fried egg was one of the better meals we enjoyed. Keeping life simple is easy to do in Sabang. Tomorrow we set off further north to our ultimate destination of El Nido but we aren’t in all that much of a hurry. 🌺🌴🦜

We did two stints of an hour + on the bike today with lunch in the middle. Fully loaded with gear and the two of us at max RPMs for that length of time is enough to make me vibrate for an extra 30 minutes after getting off the bike. It has been worth it to ride from the western rainforest side of the island back over to the drier eastern side via the jungle road for the first 1/2 and coastal road the second 1/2 of the way today. The weather became hot and very windy as we made it near the eastern coast again. We got off the main island road that runs North and South about 5km from a little beach place we found online. We wanted to check it out in person before booking. Our last 15 minutes ride was through sand and palms parallel to the beach. A Water Buffalo, a few Cows and Chickens barely looked up as we passed by. It was a great little beach path road to get to Guru Beach – or – the Peace and Love Beach Club. Turning the engine off I could immediately hear Bob Marley playing on the speakers hung from the palm trees that surrounded the little bar hut and I could see chairs and hammocks in the palm shaded beachfront.

I have always wanted to try braids in my hair and at Sabang Beach I finally did. Jodi did a great job and said they should last about two weeks. Since we are a little behind on the blog I can report that a week and a half later they are still looking wonderful, even with swimming and snorkeling in the sea many times. I get quite a bit of attention from the locals who seem to really appreciate my new style ☺️

Later I relaxed with a cool San Miguel beer while Lacy practiced yoga in a bamboo Shala right on the beach while watching the sky turn purple and the water turn from aqua to dark blue and eventually black as the sun set behind me.

We might be here for a while.

The view on the road to Guru Beach
The final road to Guru Beach through a tiny village was lined with towering coconut palm and set the quiet vibe of what we were in store for.
Giz contemplates life from the comfort of his hammock.

Lacy: Guru Beach Resort is on an extremely quiet and local stretch of sand with the Sulu sea steps from our room. The rooms are clean and simple which is perfect because we are spending all day outside in the lounge chairs, hammocks, swimming or walking up and down the unspoiled beach lined with palm trees and mangroves. Herds of pigs kept by the locals come out at dusk to root around the sand for critters to eat…and even wade in the shallow sea to cool off. This sight made us both laugh. At the end of the day we get to enjoy fresh fish, garlic rice and vegetables by candlelight in the open air dining room. We have let the Chefs know that we would love to have the fresh catch for our next meal and we are enjoying our food here more than anywhere else we have eaten so far in Palawan. Of course, the sound of the sea follows us here too as we are never far from it no matter where we go. Shoes were taken off as soon as we arrived and not put back on for days. Add a lovely raised bamboo pagoda where I enjoy my daily practice on the beach and, well, we are in heaven. Did I mention it’s only $20/night?! We started for 2 nights and that quickly led to four. Onsite massages, a boat trip to surrounding islands with turquoise water and reading on the beach were added to our daily itinerary. The biggest responsibility I have felt is to brush my teeth each day. The staff here is superb and we really feel like we are on the receiving end of the kind of hospitality we were providing at the bed and breakfast we worked in for the last 6 months in New Mexico. Thoroughly enjoying everything about this place, we are so pleased that we found it.

Relaxing in the open air dining room in the evening.
These lounge chairs and hammocks beside the Sulu Sea were our home for four days. With plenty of shade from the swaying palms we were quite content.
Yep, pigs on the beach

The air in the mornings is still and calm with the wind picking up as the day progresses. Sometimes the wind makes a breeze cool enough for me to wear my shawl as I lay in the hammock or play cards with Rob. But by the time we order dinner, around 7p, the surrounding air becomes quite calm again and doesn’t threaten to blow away our 345th game of 500 rummy. It’s actually perfect because with all the shade from the palm trees and the refreshing sea breeze that is constantly surrounding us, we are never too hot at this beach.

A boat ride to a nearby island provided us with our first view of the crystal clear water on the northern part of Palawan Island.

We have become friendly with Jessica and Janie-Lynn, two of the girls who work at the hotel (and are essentially the Pinoy equivalents of Rob and I when working back home). Rob noticed them eyeing me during my daily yoga practice. When I asked if they were interested in trying a class they first asked if it was free and when I replied, “Of course,” I was met with an enthusiastic “Yes.” And just like that, I had my first 2 students! My teachers implored me and my fellow classmates to teach anyone we could after leaving so as to keep our skills sharp after the training course. Short of flagging down random people on the road this was the best option I could find!

Jessica and Janie-Lynn called Gizmo “puppet.”🤣

We know that as soon as we leave this bubble we will be thrust into the more densely tourist-populated areas so for now we are enjoying quiet mornings sipping coffee on the beach while watching the neighbors bring in their fishing nets from the sun-kissed sea. Even though we left America at the end of January our vacation together didn’t start until just this last week…and it couldn’t be going better.

These hibiscus are HUGE
I made this my yoga shala for four days and enjoyed many practices with the sounds of the sea
Mangroves on the beach
Guru Beach

All Smiles on Palawan Island

Sunset on Nagtabon Beach

Palawan (pa-Low-an) Island or (our translation) Land of big smiles. 

Final tuk tuk ride to the airport

Lacy: I’m editing this post while laying in a hammock on the beach, drinking coffee and waiting for my normal coffee emoji text from Rob that means he is waking up.  No matter where we are in the world, I nearly always start Rob’s morning with coffee in bed.  The constant sound of waves and kiss of sea breeze on my skin have become my new normal.  Today I look out on the South China Sea as we are on the western side of the island. Palawan divides this and the Sulu Sea on the eastern coast. We have been bouncing back and forth between coasts as the main road that runs south to north and circumvents the jungle mountains gives you great exposure to both areas. Life is good. 

Nagtabon Beach

After three + weeks in Siem Reap, Cambodia we finally decided on where to head next. I was itching for beautiful beaches, palm trees and snorkeling and Rob wasn’t saying no.  Thailand was originally on our list, but after looking into it a little more it seemed more touristy than we want at the moment. Northern Vietnam remains high on our list, but with the recent coronavirus quarantine of a village near the Chinese border we put that on hold until later in the trip…hopefully.  A lady staying at the same hotel as ourselves in Siem Reap mentioned that the Philippines has some of her favorite beaches ever. That was enough for us to do some research and after surmising that it didn’t seem overly touristy we booked one way flights to Palawan island. 

Nagtabon Beach

Before departing Cambodia I was able to celebrate my Yoga Teacher Training with my amazing teachers and fellow classmates. It was such a special experience that I will hold with me forever. I am using my newfound knowledge and skills for my daily self practice on the beaches and in the jungle gardens of Palawan. 

This island had me smiling from the moment we stepped off the plane and onto the tarmac as the sun was rising and illuminating a lush tropical paradise before us.  We did very little research before arriving to the Philippines, which is pretty typical of our travel style. I like figuring things out as we go and being surprised. Our first few days here were no different. The only planning we did was determining the best place from which to rent a larger motorcycle. We didn’t even book a hotel for the first night. We arrived at 6am so we figured we would immediately go to a coffee shop and after seeing the vibe in Puerto Princesa, the gateway to the rest of the island with a major airport and harbor, we would decide if we wanted to stay there or hop on the bike and travel further north. In our experience, port towns aren’t always the nicest.  Glad we waited to decide because Puerto Princesa was a complete surprise in how clean and welcoming an area it is. We have been in the Philippines 4 days now and you would be hard pressed to find any littler on the road, sidewalk, waterways or anywhere on this island. This is nothing short of shocking to us because Asia is not typically known for its well maintained trash infrastructure.  That and the more recent introduction of disposable plastic products to these locations usually result in the constant presence of trash.  How could this be?  I asked myself this question and upon a little research learned that as early as in the 70’s there was a big environmental initiative put forth by the government.  A list was published of the cleanest islands in the Philippines and the locals felt a certain prestige to be on it. Palawan island has been known for being one of the cleanest and safest islands in the country for quite some time.  Additionally, they have a reputation as being the most friendly to tourists.  People here are incredibly kind and welcoming, with nearly everyone speaking English with an American accent.  All this combined with well paved roads has made our first few days a breeze and notably one of the easier places we have ever traveled in SE Asia. I am quickly falling in love with the Philippines. 

A food truck we thought was clever in Siem Reap

Our first day here had a few hiccups, but they were completely self-inflicted and the island vibes had already permeated through our Cambodia-toughened skin making us much more laissez faire about losing both my phone and the motorcycle key. Well…at least thinking we had lost both.  From the airport, we took a tricycle ride (this is a motorbike with a sidecar and a roof that is the equivalent of a local taxi) to a coffee shop where I immediately thought I had left my phone in the tricycle taxi.  What I didn’t realize was that I had stuck it in an infrequently used pocket of my backpack that I only realized an hour or so later when I put my pack on to leave the shop.  Rob was surprised at how little I seemed to care about losing my phone. These days everything is backed up to some cloud-like storage so the only thing that would have been lost was the device itself and I could buy another one here at the mall. I wasn’t ready to let a lost phone get me down. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t lost! I’ll let Rob tell a similar story of an infrequently used pocket that thwarted him!  

Tricycle taxi
Nagtabon Beach

From the coffee shop we walked across the street, picked up our new wheels and set off for our freshly booked guest house. Keep in mind it’s still only 8:30 in the morning so we could only drop our bags off. The all night flights were beginning to catch up with us so after lightening our load we went to the closest beach, had breakfast and found 2 lounge chairs in the shade where we relaxed and let the incoming tide lull us into some much needed naps.  The shores here are lined with towering coconut palms, sprawling mangrove and blue sand crabs that we have never seen before here. We are really beginning to love the island at this point as the pace and scenery was a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of Siem Reap. 

New wheels!

We opted to stay a second night in Puerto Princesa so that we could ride out to Nagtabon Beach without packing up the bike and have a relaxed day on the sea. It was PERFECT!  The beach was beautiful with just a few people enjoying its waves.  The local beach shack served up great barbecue (rice, veggies and eggs for me. I haven’t had any meat in a month and really not missing it) and played fun Spanish and Pinoy (Filipino) music that complemented the sound of the surf. We stayed from lunch until sunset, fully enjoying having absolutely nowhere to be and nothing to do except make an 8pm dinner reservation at what we heard was the best place in town.  I took a walk down the beach and when I returned to Rob I said, “If I could do a cartwheel now I would!!”   That really sums up how I felt at the moment. Total peace and happiness. And it has lasted throughout the week. 🥰

Kyona and I hit it off at our first island hotel.

I feel like we should mention the coronavirus and it’s impact on travel through Asia. It’s effects were palpable in Siem Reap.  Asian countries rely tremendously on Chinese tourism and when the entire country is not traveling the trickle down effect is huge. There are  tour companies and hotels that cater only to the Chinese tour groups. Some of these  hotels had already permanently closed by the time we left because they couldn’t afford to stay open without guests. Other hotels catering to non-Chinese tourists had dropped their prices significantly just to attract guests and the streets were oddly quiet for high season.  The hotel where I did my training felt it just like everywhere else as they experienced many cancellations from people who all over the world don’t want to travel right now. Filipino locals are telling us the same. This is their high season too as it’s the drier and cooler season, meaning they too would have a mass of Chinese, Korean and international tourists.  Their absence reduced their tourism by nearly 25%. nationwide. That’s a big hit for people who really depend on the tourism economy at this time of year for their livelihood.

Geared up and ready for three flights from Siem Reap
to Palawan.

Rob: Freedom to get off the tourist track, or to just own our schedule, as we see it, means getting a motorcycle. We are traveling this year with trimmed down packs, but still have about 35 pounds of gear between 2 backpacks and 2 yoga mats. We are just able to squeeze it all onto the back-rack of our little Honda XR 125 Enduro motorcycle.  We have a little bamboo added to the stock rack for stability. It’s not a lot of horsepower, but so far so good as it is getting us from beach to beach AOK. 

Passing the day away at Nagtabon Beach

Riding in the Philippines is another chapter in my how-to guide of taking a motorcycle around Asia. A lot is the same as other countries with the local added feature of overly-polite-yielding that constantly happens. If someone is slowing down in front of you, it means you should as well because either a car is backing out into traffic, a bus is hurtling toward an intersection a little too fast or a Tricycle or Jeepney (more on these later) is starting to make some sort of U turn.  Could even be a pregnant dog waddling across the road. All of these things are totally fair, legal and above the yield demarcation line for a motorcycle, so it would be your fault if you hit them or let them hit you! Traffic in the city center is a headache like most Asian cities and the fastest way from A to B may include cutting a few corners, hopping a curb or two and a short trip down a sidewalk.  The presence of concrete roads, so far, has been a huge surprise.  Outside the city, we find ourselves on very well built roads and winding along mountain roads in between beach towns. We are totally in our happy place. Like the balance of Asia we keep a sharp eye out for monkeys, children and goats, but dogs are really to be watched out for here as their favorite place to sleep, sniff and play is the middle of any road. 

Beautiful Nagtabon Beach

Fully loaded we have a top speed of 80 kph , but the engine seems happier going 70-75 kph.  It struggles up some hills and I keep reaching for 1 more gear or a few more hp over the 12 it comes with, but it’s relatively new and in good condition thanks to the Father & Sons team at Palawan Peter’s rental shop.  <— Non paid endorsement. 

Relaxing on Emerald Beach just a couple hours after arriving on Palawan island.

Puerto Princesa is mostly supposed to be a gateway town, but we enjoyed 2 days and nights there doing a little shopping, testing out some restaurants and getting our bearings of the town and local beaches.  I think I’ll be eating a lot of seafood and Piggies in the Philippines. One dish stood out that was a fruit / tuna poke’ bowl and had the craziest, tastiest seaweed in it. 

This dish is tuna, mango, papaya and the most delicious seaweed that pops in your mouth…all smothered in a Palawan dressing. So different and delicious!

Day one in town I lost the motorbike key. Maybe it was the least aggregious thing I could have done because the guys back at the shop took it in stride and were very helpful to get me a spare. As it turns out, my shorts have a little secret pocket that was a little more secret than it needed to be and I “found” the key exactly where I put it, albeit 2 days later. Picture Lacy and Gizzie eye rolling me.  😬

Beachside goodies