Bye Cambodia, Hi Philippines

(We wrote this a few days ago but haven’t had decent internet to post until now.)

We left Cambodia just over a week ago so thought it was time to update the blog since it’s been so long. We’re currently in El Nido in the north of Palwan in the Philippines and we’d like to say the sun is shining but it’s pissing it down which gives us  a good opportunity to get caught up.

After teaching English in Cambodia for ten months we fancied (earned!) a holiday before heading back to the UK. As much as we wanted to head off to familiar places we thought we’d take the opportunity to explore somewhere new – with thanks to Air Asia promo fares.

From Cambodia we had an exhausting few days first flying from Phnom Penh to Kualar Lumpur where we stayed in an old favourite place, Raizzy’s, got reacquainted with proper shops and public transport and filled up on delicious, cheap Indian food.

From there we flew to Cebu City which greeted us with the worst traffic we’ve had the misfortune to sit in for a long time, the journey from the airport that should have taken 20 minutes took over an hour and a half in almost total gridlock due to bridge repairs so not the best introduction to the Philippines for us!

Our hotel, Anri Pension House, was fine and close to the IT Park area of the city which meant we were close to an array of bars and restaurants which was good we didn’t have to venture too far for some food. Luckily we found a street food market called Sugbo Mercardo which runs Thursdays to Sundays so we got to have our first try of some Filipino food and it was gooood! We tried the speciality roasted pork called Lechon which was delicious, it’s slow roasted belly cooked with herbs and spices, we also discovered a local favourite beer, Red Horse, which we didn’t realise until we’d bought two bottles is extra strong at 6.9%! Feeling like tramps in the park we downed them and got another each and then promptly had to go back to the hotel to bed.

The next day was our last full day in Cebu City and we had planned a city tour but decided to knock that on the head and go shopping instead as we’d heard that the Ayala Mall was fantastic, we went out intending to get there via jeepney which would have been really cheap and an adventure but the number our hotel told us to catch didn’t make an appearance so we jumped in an air-conditioned taxi which cost just over a pound.

The mall was as you’d expect a big mall to be be busy, bright and full of many of the brands and shops you see everywhere else, we even saw a branch of Etam which we didn’t think exited anymore. So after getting the essentials (adult colouring book and swimsuit for Sharlie) and a Filipino food court lunch of more pork, chicken and rice we headed back to pack for our (very) early flight then next morning.

We planned to go for a n early dinner at one of the posher places near us but the call of a Red Horse in the park was too strong and we went to the market again for some cheap eats (tacos, hot wings and roasted tuna belly)and a couple of beers to make sure we got some sleep before our 3am start.

Leaving at 3 am we thought everywhere would be really quiet but were surprised by how busy the area was, people eating, walking to and from work and generally going about their business, we presume it’s due to the call centre type businesses that are in the area.

Our short flight was painless plus we got bonus extra leg room not that Sharlie needed it! We’d looked at ways of getting from our destination, Puerto Princesca, to El Nido, we thought about pre booking a minivan but decided to wing it and make a decision when we landed which turned out well.

We were the first on the van so bagged the best seats and again had plenty of room, the journey to El Nido took around six hours with a couple of short breaks and despite what we’d read about the local driving our driver was good and the journey went by in a flash.

After being dropped just out of town we got to take our first tricycle ride, it wasn’t as comfortable or spacious as a Cambodian tuk tuk and felt like we were sitting in a side car but it got us there.

We’d booked a place called Cliffside Cottages which was just outside the main streets but only a five minute walk to the restaurants and shops. It’s a nice, family run place, very laid back and basic but was only 700 pesos (around 11 pounds) we had a short wander around to get our bearings and check out prices of trips but didn’t do much else as we were knackered.

El Nido is famous for island hopping trips and that’s what most visitors come for, the town itself is not the prettiest of places, it’s quite built up and reminded us of Koh PhiPhi in that respect.  We arrived on a weekend so it was especially busy with local holiday makers and to be honest we wished we’d done more research as it didn’t feel like the kind of place we were looking for but we booked a tour for the next day to see if that changed our minds.

Everybody can sell you one of several island hopping tours that depart each day, they have different names depending on the itinerary A-E and we decided to take tour A which promised a couple of lagoons, some snorkelling and nice beaches including lunch and masks and snorkels,

We left a little bit late  at 9.30 am the next day with only us and a grumpy Chinese man on board but then picked up a group who had been on an overnight camping trip on one of the nearby islands. This is something we were keen to do but had a romanticised idea that it would just be us on a secluded beach under the stars, turns out you’re grouped with another few people you don’t know with a boom box and lots of cheap local rum, ideal if you’re out to make new friends not so good if you’re looking for a more romantic adventure.

The scenery and snorkelling were some of the best we’d seen, the water is incredibly clear, but as it’s so popular there were many boats doing the same tour so it was a bit busy, we even missed one part of the tour as there was a big queue to get into the Hidden Lagoon, our trip ended early as one of the campers had to get back to town as she was having some sort of allergic reaction to bites and her feet were swelling up. We enjoyed the trip but not being bussed around so quickly so we decided to try to find somewhere quieter the next day.

Marimegeg beach seemed to fit our criteria of a quieter place to spend the day and it was only a short tricycle ride away. This was more like it! There were very few people on the beach so we enjoyed a lounge and a couple of dips before the heavens opened and we had to scarper to a local restaurant called the Beach Shack for a San Miguel and a sandwich. Incidentally there’s a zip line there which looked fun although Sharlie was perplexed at the lack of screaming.

We read about another nice beach about 45 minutes drive away we hoped there would be some kind of organised transport but we couldn’t find any so had to take a trike but it was well worth the money and bumpy ride.

We arrived at Nacpan beach early and only had to share the place with a few people, the water was amazingly clear, like being in a swimming pool and there were some wicked waves. There’s only a little shade so we had to pay for expensive loungers but it was worth it as we didn’t burn, we saw some very red people later on. It was a lot less cloudy so we got to see the beach looking spectacular in the sun.

It got a lot busier later but the weather took a turn for the worse too and it rained hard for around an hour but it was fun being in the sea in the rain.

We’d recommend taking your own food, we had chicken and rice from a local place and it was not good, the chicken was cold and somehow they’d burned the rice and used to much water so it was a smoky mushy mess and it took aaaages to come.

That brings us up to today which is another rainy one only we seemed to have skipped the part where it’s sunny in the morning, it’s giving us time to catch up with things and get some reading done though.

Some general notes, wifi is terrible everywhere, beer is pretty cheap (San Miguel Pilsen is our new friend), water is expensive and people don’t want to ell us where to get refills, the service here takes some getting used to, everyone calls us maam and sir which is a little strange, seafood is fresh, reasonably prices and abundant so we’ve really got our fish on whilst we’ve been here, from mussels to snapper and grouper, we may even have some oysters tonight!

We have two more nights in El Nido before heading south to Port Barton which promises to be a lot quieter and sleepier and hopefully sunnier!

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