Monday, March 29, 2010

Puerto Princesa 1 - Underground River

On 3rd week of April 2009, my wife and I were finally able to experience what Puerto Princesa offers to its visitors. Normally, people just book tour packages with travel agencies, especially for tourists who are unfamiliar with a place (like us). But as a frugal person who wants to visit places at our own time and pace, I researched the net to come up with own budget-friendly Do-It-Yourself (DIY) tour itinerary.

Upon arriving by 10:15 am at Puerto Princesa airport, we proceeded to the small city museum. Nothing much to see there so we left after half an hour, rode a multicab going to San Jose Market for a jeepney ride to Sabang port, the jump off point to the Underground River. Since the 12:30 jeepney trip is still waiting for passengers, wife and I decided to have a quick cheap lunch at a market carinderia plus bought some snack food and drinks as well.

The jeepney was already full when we got back, but the very kind locals made space for us. Like I was surprised to find out that the man sitted beside me who was carrying a kid on his lap, turned out that he doesn’t even know the kid’s mother who also has her 2 other kids on that row.

The jeepney has the power of a truck with double the usual seating capacity of a Manila-based jeepney, excluding the unlimited capacity of the jeepney’s roof. The bumpy jeepney trip on itself is an adventure, as it offered a glimpse of the locals’ culture. 

Passengers could ask the jeepney driver to stop for a snack, buy kerosene at a gas station, pick up a sawali, a short side trip to deliver a farm motor on someone’s house, etc. So the supposed 2-hour trip takes 3 hours or longer.

Last quarter of the trip going to Sabang port, the driver stopped the jeepney on a deserted road with old bamboo poles on the roadside. While the driver’s helpers are loading the bamboos on the jeepney roof, I asked the driver the whereabouts of the bamboos’ owner. He replied that its been months that he’s supposed to get those bamboos as payment of its owner for a chartered trip before, and its only now that he has roofspace to load them up.

When I came back at the driver’s house near Sabang port to get my forgotten bag of food and drinks, he was happy to give back my bag as he was expecting me to come back for it. Such acts of honesty and kindness are common in Puerto Princesa, unlike in Manila.

Arriving at Sabang port’s tour desk, we paid for the Underground River tour fee and boarded the boat of Panaguman Resort to take us to the river. The limestone cliffs during the boat ride are stunning. At this late hour, we don’t have to fall in line and wait for our turn for the paddled boat tour, as there are only a few tourists, unlike in mornings. 

The views inside the underground river are testament to the power of water to carve those spectacular stalagmites and stalactites over thousands of years! Its just hard to get decent photos of the cave formations with preset light settings of a point-and-shoot camera, while the paddle boat is moving.

After photo shoots on the Underground River beach, the Panaguman’s motor boat took us to the Panaguman Resort in Marufinas, farther away from Sabang. Since we are the resort’s only guests that time, its like we own the resort and the beach. I took a short dip in the sea with somewhat strong waves as its late in the afternoon. 

The resort’s staff roasted cashew nuts for us along the beach before serving us dinner of chicken soup, fried fish, and coconut juice. We slept at past 9 pm under mosquito net, before they turn off the electricity from genset at around 11 pm.

By 6:00 am, we left the beach to try hookline fishing at the sea. It was fun to catch bisugo and galunggong (mackerel) fishes, although I experienced a bit of seasickness during the time we are anchored and waiting for the fishes to take our baits on the middle of the sea. 

When we returned to the resort after 1.5 hours, the bisugo were then cooked as part of sinigang soup in our breakfast with dried squids and corned beef. By 9:00 am, we checked out of the resort and rode their boat again to Sabang port. The resort’s caretaker Evelyn gave us free honey on a bottle, collected from their surrounding area.

Panaguman Resort’s budget-friendly boat rides, fishing, board, and lodging package rate allowed us to save at least a thousand bucks as compared with availing the usual P 1500 river tour and spending an overnight stay in Puerto Princesa. Panaguman’s contact numbers are 0929-8334232 or 0921-7850342.

We arrived at Puerto Princesa city by past 12:00 noon, after boarding the 10:00 am trip of bumpy jeepney ride, which was faster this time as there were less stopovers. We've had lunch at Balinsasayaw restaurant with very good food (nilasing na hipon, mango shake, etc.) at very reasonable price. Afterwards, we checked-in at Legend Hotel and freshened up for our upcoming city tour in the afternoon.
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  1. Noel thanks for your posts on your Palawan trip, it's very helpful because me and my fiancee are going to palawan on august 2010 for our honeymoon. Would you mind if I ask how much did you spend for the Panaguman overnight accomodation, food & fishing trip? Thanks again. - Ian

  2. Ian, Panaguman offers spartan amenities. No TV, no aircon, no refrigerator, no hot shower in the room. But if you want to get away from the bustle of the city and hear the waves and a bit of forest sound, below is a copy of their email to me last year:

    1. For overnight stay in cottage w/ private bathroom inclusive of meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) is P1,890 nett rate for two. If you will not avail lunch, it will be P1,500 nett rate for two.

    3. Sir, normally we don't charge for boat rental from Sabang to Panaguman/panaguman to sabang if we have min guest of 6 pax. If less than 6 pax we usually charge P400/couple back and fort (Sabang-Panaguman, Panaguman-Sabang). While for the boat rental to Underground River we normally charge P700 back and fort (Panaguman-Underground-Panaguman). I may suggest you may go fishing after Underground River for 1hr without extra charge.

    4. Sir as of now, we don't have available kayaks and it’s not advisable to kayak from Panaguman to Underground coz its not safe.

    5. For reservations you may e-mail us or text thru Mr. Jojo La Madrid 0921-785-0342

  3. ano po email add nila?

  4. Try these 2 email addresses by Panaguman:

    Enjoy your vacation!

  5. -hi! all of a sudden i want to change our iterinaries in our frst trip in puerto princesa..we're only 2 pax, that's why i'm rellay having a hard time maximizing our 3d2n stay considering our eta is 5:10 and eta is 5:50..i want to ask you if this iterinary is feasible. suggestions??
    oct 01, eta, 5:10 pm
    firefly watching, overnyt somewhere..hehe
    option 1,
    oct 2,
    morning, city tour
    afternoon, i'll copy your iterinary, going to sabang for underround river and stay overnight in paraguman
    oct 3,
    honda bay
    back to puerto princesa airport, etd, 5:50pm
    or option 2
    oct 02,
    honda bay
    then catch the last trip going to sabang, stay overnight in paraguman
    oct 03
    underground river
    back to puerto princesa, etd 5:50 pm

    -thanks a lot!!:)

  6. Both options have tight schedules, and it looks like you won't be able to maximize Honda Bay. If I we're to choose between the 2 options, I will choose option 2 as I don't want to keep wet clothes in my luggages.

    But you want a more relaxed pace and enjoy snorkeling/beach bumming at Honda Bay for whole day, get packaged tour of Underground River and forego staying overnight at Sabang or Panaguman.

    Enjoy PP!

  7. hi noel my husband and I will visit palawan this coming October how much is the Underground river tour?? thank you in advance

  8. Hi, Ellen. Normal rate for UG River tour is P 1500 per person, inclusive of aircon van transport, lunch meal, boat and entrance fees. Get it if you don't want the hassles of planning. If you're a large group, I recommend Ellen's Travel & Tours which dove down the rate for a 30-pax group I booked with them at around P 1250 per person.

  9. Wow, you took the jeepney there. What an experience. I had a great time there too, even if i took the more expensive tour package. But it certainly is a great place...