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Palawan has almost no history of earthquakes (outside the main tectonic plates), not much history of typhoons (except in the very northern part and offshore islands), and no volcanoes. It is recognized internationally as one of the most desirable islands in the world – as it is ecologically protected by the national government and has a plethora of white sand beaches.
Puerto Princesa City has a population of about 250,000 and is the provincial capital. This city is usually the starting point to explore the north of the island (e.g. El Nido).
Near the city there are two places you can’t miss – the Underground River (near Sabang) and Honda Bay (10kms north).
If you are looking for a place away from the noise and pollution of the city, Puerto Princesa is the ideal choice. Lauded as the cleanest and greenest city in the country, this offers a relaxing and idyllic ambiance. The splendid blue waters and natural diversity found in the area plus in its neighboring towns will definitely appeal to expats.
Here you will find most of the modern amenities that we are used to in the western world including a full range of English language TV and high speed Internet (but it is not always high speed, and not reliable).
The flight from Hanoi to Manila takes about 2.5 hours. I had 5 hours at Manila Airport before catching my connecting flight. Manila to Puerto Princesa takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
The Puerto Princesa airport is a small airport that is only about 2 kms from the city centre.
As you fly into Puerto Princesa, you get a glimpse of the clear blue waters that surrend the island.
Tribikes charge PHP10 per person anywhere around the city centre. Bare this in mind when you negotiate the price of your Tribike… the airport is only 2kms from city centre (but, there is always a premium to pay at an airport). I would suggest that PHP20 per person from the Airport to your city centre hotel would be a good price.
My research on the internet indicated that there are 2 main providers in The Philippines: Smart and Globe.
At the Manila Airport you will find their kiosks next to each other competing for your trade.
I had heard / read that free wifi around The Philippines was not good and often unreliable, so I decided to buy an ‘unlimited’ 1 month data plan.
Both Globe and Smart offer such a plan for PHP1,000 per month; data only with no texts nor calls. I had also read that they both employ a ‘Fair Usage Policy’ or FUP. This limits how many MBs you can use each day.
I went up to the Smart Kiosk and asked their price (PHP1,000). I, then, asked what the max usage was per day. She said 800Mb and, then, you get dropped to the slowest data speed.
I did the same at the Globe Kiosk. She said that there was no daily limit. I bought the Globe package.
Both included a free SIM card.
On the first night in my hotel, there was an EPL football game that I wanted to watch (Liverpool vs Manchester City, I think)… The hotel wifi was useless, so I tethered to my new Globe ‘unlimited’ SIM card. I was half way through the 2nd half when I lost data speed and got an SMS from Globe saying that I had exceeded my allowance. So much for the ‘unlimited’ that was promised at the airport!
Oh well, so be it. I’ll watch the rest tomorrow… NOT! For the next 3 days my connection showed ‘E’ (for ‘Enough’!) and I couldn’t get any decent connection on my smartphone at all.
I asked some locals whether Globe or Smart was the best. The answer was Smart in Palawan but Globe (more generally) around The Philippines.
But, all of the locals said that both are bad.
I decided to stay with Globe, for now, and to see how things went.
The Globe signal, even in Puerto Princesa, goes in and out like a yoyo. One minute you have an H+ signal, the next 3G for only a few seconds, then an E. Frustrating.
Most of the time I had an E but I discovered that, if I rebooted my smartphone, I could get the H+ back. When I desperately needed to get online, I rebooted my smartphone. The H+ didn’t last long though – at most 30 minutes. Then I was back on E again for another reboot.
Puerto Princesa city centre is not the nicest place to be; this is ‘backpacker central’. The city centre is reasonably flat and easy to walk.
Tribikes rule the streets; they are everywhere.
For more detail, please read about around Puerto Princesa By Scooter. Scooters start at PHP600 / day. For this you get an old and tired machine. You can negotiate this down to PHP350-400 fairly easily by being firm.
You can rent scooters for PHP249 / day for 1 month near the airport.
Scootering around and near the city centre is not for the faint-hearted. The roads are chaotic.
WHERE TO STAY:
There are a few hostels in Puerto Princesa, usually with better conditions than the average on the island – electricity here is available twenty-four hours a day and many have hot water showers. But, you do get the odd power outage and the cheaper places do not have generators.
Lodgings range from PHP400 (US$9) a night for a dorm bed to PHP1000 (US$22) for the cheapest double-occupancy Double Room with Ensuite.
I rented a scooter and went around Puerto Princesa By Scooter looking for the best value accommodation that I could find. I determined that there wasn’t anything better in the outer suburbs and that there wasn’t any nice beaches near the centre.
The place to be was within 2kms of the city centre / Rizal Avenue.
I found accommodation in Puerto Princesa surprisingly expensive for what you get (when compared to other S.E. Asia countries).
The price for a budget Double Room BELOW GRANDPAcking Standard is PHP900 / night… everywhere.
As I say in my Puerto Princesa By Scooter post, I did my ‘usual thing’ and booked the Pension Del Flora for the first 2 nights. I paid US$18 / night and I was disappointed.
None of the other Pensions that I looked at had as nice a setting.
The Casitas had a driveway down to a secure parking area (good for my scooter), outdoor seating everywhere, and a pleasant garden area.
It was PHP900 / night for a single occupancy of their standard double room with ensuite. It was PHP1100 for double occupancy.
I used AGODA.COM to book the room online for PHP670 / night; it was ‘on special’.
I would have had to pay PHP900 to go somewhere else – all of which were no better.
I would have had to get into the PHP1300 / night plus range to get to GRANDPAcking Standard.
Alas, I found the Casitas to be poorly run. On check-in there were no toiletries or toilet paper – so, I had to go to reception and get some.
The rooms are not cleaned daily by default. You have to display a ‘Clean My Room’ tag on your door knob. I didn’t notice this so, on my 3rd morning without a clean, I dropped off my keys at reception and asked if they could clean my room today; they said that they would.
When I returned at the end of the day, it had not been done; I had to go back to reception and ask them to do it. They made my bed and tidied the bathroom but did not change my towel.
The next day I dropped off my towel at reception and asked for a clean one. I returned 1 hour later to pick it up. When I went for my shower I found a thread-bare towel with a big hole in it. I had to go back to reception for a replacement.
There are several places on Rizal Avenue that do a breakfast for PHP69.
For a decent meal, you should budget PHP90… this will get you lots of different options around town.
You can spot them because they have a line of tin pots at the front of the cafe. Each pot contains a different dish.
You lift up the lids and go for whatever you fancy.
Prices start as low as PHP20 for a small ‘sample’ of each dish; most charge PHP30. Boiled rice, typically, costs PHP6-8.
At another I had fried Egg Plant and a piece of chicken with rice for PHP56.
At another, I had a whole fried fish with rice for PHP40. I went there again and had the same with a pork dish for PHP60.
I do not advise GRANDPAckers to frequent these buffets – the meats are poor quality and mostly fat.
I would suggest that, if you eat in a buffet, that you stick to Fish and Vegetable dishes only.
Down on the Baywalk you get a lot of more up-market stalls that tend to specialise in seafood dishes.
You pay for it though with prices starting at about PHP100 and going as high as PHP300 for the fancier dishes.
There are more traditional Filipino options too for similar prices.
And, the Baywalk is a pleasant place to spend some time in the evening.
THE FUJISAN JAPANESE:
On my first night I went out looking for somewhere to eat near the Pension Del Flora.
There aren’t many places to choose from on the best of days… and, this was Sunday night!
After wandering around for a while, I walked into the first place that I found that was still open: the Fujisan on Manalo Street.
I went for one of their set menu options (PHP180) that included a pork dish with rice, mussle soup, and something else (which I have no idea what it was).
I met an expat from Canada and his Filipino girlfriend. He has lived in the Philippines for 7 years and works in Port Barton. He comes to Puerto Princesa now and again for a ‘break’ from the constant beach life in Port Barton.
He reckoned that I ‘struck lucky’ and that the Fujisan is one of the best restaurants in town.
The Tourist Nightlife is mainly found on Rizal Avenue between the airport entrance and the North Road junction.
There are 2 ‘girly’ bars: the Phoenix and the Equus. These are not GRANDPAcker places.
The Puerto Princesa City Centre doesn’t have many bars to choose from.
There is a bar on Fernandez that turns into a Karaoke later at night. A small San Miguel is PHP50.
There is, also, the Tom Top Bar / Club down a side road off of Manalo.
This is a big bar with 4 pool tables at the back.
Beer prices start at PHP55 for a small bottle of San Miguel. PHP60 for other beers. More for premium beers. Get into cocktails, and your money will go fast.
The first night that I was there, they had a live band who were excellent so I decided to stay for Dinner. The cheapest main starts at about PHP160 with their more exotic dishes PHP250-300.
I had a quarter pound bacon burger with french fries for PHP190 washed down with 4 small San Miguels. Total price PHP410 (about US$9) which is not bad really.
A popular place in the evening is the Baywalk.
Here you can get a 500ml Red Horse for PHP45 or a small San Miguel for PHP50.
Petty Theft seems to be a problem; do no leave anything around or it will go ‘walkies’.
Do not leave your helmet on your scooter and make sure that your seat compartment is locked if there is anything in it.
Otherwise, Puerto Princesa appears safe and I had no concerns walking or driving around at night. But being careful is always a wise option… do not put yourself into potentially unsafe situations.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
THE UNDERGROUND RIVER:
The underground river, officially named Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
This is one of the longest underground rivers in the world – more than eight kilometers – with caverns full of stalactites, stalagmites, and natural pools.
You can simply book a tour for a standard price in the city or make your way to Sabang after getting the permit in Puerto Princesa. If you stay at a hotel in Sabang, you can get a permit there; but you must stay in one of the hotels to do so.
The Pension Del Flora offered me an all-in day trip for PHP1200.
Honda Bay is just ten kilometers north of Puerto Princesa; it’s easy to arrange day trips.
Honda Bay has amazing islands, nice for relaxing and with good snorkeling – although if you take a tour, you can expect the islands where you stop to be packed with tourists.
If you like, you can go independently.
To make your way you will need to catch a jeepney and, then, negotiate a bangka to get to one or more islands.
EXTEND YOU VISA:
I wanted to extend my visa and there is a Bureau Of Immigration on Razel Avenue near the airport. I had read online (and on the Philippines Government site) that I could extend for 59 days. I jumped on my scooter…
On the door it, basically, says don’t bother unless you have (1) a photocopy of your passport photo page and (2) a photocopy of your entry visa. You need even more if you are extending for a second or subsequent time.
I jumped on my scooter and headed off to my scooter rental place (who were holding my passport as security). I temporarily exchanged PHP3000 and my driving license for my passport and headed off to find a photocopying shop.
I duly found one and got my photocopies. It cost me PHP1 per copy.
I headed back to the Bureau Of Immigration. They were helpful and I filled in the form and presented my materials along with a passport sized photo.
However, they told me that I could not extend for 59 days. I could only extend for 29 days this time. Next time, I could extend for 2 months.
They processed my visa and charged me PHP3130. I paid and they gave me my documentation, passport and invoices.
They had charged me PHP1000 for an ‘express lane’ service. I was the only one there! Cheeky sods.
Shopping in Puerto Princesa is good… especially for clothes.
You will, also, find a couple of big Supermarkets.
The streets are busy at the best of times and chaotic at the wrong time of day and / or at weekends.
Here you will find all of the banks and ATMs as well as places to eat (like McDonalds!).
Clothing starts as cheap as PHP50 for blouses and PHP100 for jackets. But the quality is not the best.
You can find Nike and Adidas and other brand ‘knock offs’ with sports tops for as little as PHP109.
For more ‘up-market’ shopping head out 4-5kms on the North Road to Robinsons Mall. Here you will find the good brands (like Adidas and Nike) and brand shops (like Wrangler).
These brand shops are, still, reasonably priced with (say) a Wrangler Shirt for PHP1500 and Nike / Adidas Sports Tops for PHP1000-1300.
I couldn’t resist and bought myself a 4-way stretch UPF50+ sleeved top for PHP830 in Robinsons Department Store (not on sale). I just loved it.
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
The ATMs are usually limited to PHP15000 per transaction and charge ‘overseas cardholders’ PHP200 for the privilege (of course, you still have to pay your home bank’s Foreign ATM Transaction Fee).
I checked out a few of them to check each ATM transaction limit. In the end, I went to the Business Bank ATM in Rizal and pushed my luck… I typed in PHP30,000… It said that the transaction would cost me PHP200. I agreed and it delivered the cash! All in PHP1000 notes!
However, when I got back to my hotel and checked my bank account, they had charged an exchange rate of NZ$1 = PHP29.50 when the online rate was NZ$1 = PHP31.50.
As I understand it, this is typical all around The Philippines outside of Manila… you get hit hard! They take a big percentage. You are advised to stock up at ATMs in Manila (especially at Manila Airport) where you get the normal / best ATM rates. Outside of Manila you a ‘hidden’ percentage fee on the exchange rate.
I thought that I would try a ‘trick’. As I suggest in my Travel Money Review, you should take 2 visa cards just in case you lose one. Obviously, you are using one but the other should be sitting ‘idle’. I transferred NZ$1100 onto the ‘idle’ card so that it was in credit and went back down to the Business Bank. My plan was to take out PHP30k on my ATM card and the same out on my credit card to see if there was any difference in the exchange rates (on credit cards, the banks HAVE TO follow international exchange rate rules)…
I took out another PHP30k on my ATM card but it wouldn’t allow me to take out the same on my credit card. Bugger.
So, I took out another PHP40k on my ATM card – and it paid out!
I don’t know what the Business Banks maximum is but is at least DOUBLE that of other banks. If you need large sums, go to the Business Bank.
I needed the cash for my trip north to El Nido, Coron, etc – where there are no ATMs.
Another surprise was trying to change cash.
I had quite a lot of Vietnamese Dong left from Hanoi.
I couldn’t change them at Manila Airport because I landed at 5am on a Sunday and the banks were closed.
In Puerto Princesa, the banks only change US$s. there are no Bureau De Changes.
For any other currency you have to go to the Pawn Shop! God knows what exchange rate you’ll get there! I didn’t bother and decided to keep my Dong for another place and another day (and, probably, another country).
Laundry: The lowest rate is PHP20 / Kg. Your hotel will, probably, charge PHP30 / Kg. However, there’s a ‘catch’… the minimum at my hotel was 3Kgs. Another ‘catch’ is that turn-around is 2 days (not the normal 1)… if you want them done by tomorrow, the price doubles. this isn’t confined to hotels, it is the same at Laundry Shops on the streets.
Local Shops / Street Stalls: Big Water PHP17-25. 6L bottle of water PHP70-90. 630ml Bug Spray PHP215. 160gm Sensidyne Toothpaste PHP165. 500ml Listerine PHP90.
I decided to make my own way to Sabang by minivan.
My hotel receptionist advised me to catch the Lexxus minivan.
The price to Sabang is PHP200 and takes 2.5 hours. Minivan leave at 6:30am, 8:30am, 10:30am, 1pm, and 3pm.
I caught the 10:30am so that I could get to Sabang in time to find a reasonably priced hotel. Online options were few and the prices were high – starting at PHP1300 for a Standard Double.
I decided not to book online and to take a chance…
I read that ‘The cost of living is very low here and you can live quite well, with servants, on an income of $1,000 a month. Another great reason to retire to Palawan‘.
But, Puerto Princesa is not for me.
The expats mostly hang around the ‘westernised bars’ drinking higher-priced beers, shorts and cocktails eating PHP250 burgers.
The centre is bland and chaotic.
There are no nice nearby beaches. Once you’ve done Honda Bay, you’ve done Honda Bay.
Puerto Princesa may appeal as a retirement location to some. But, I will not include it in my Reviews. I’m looking for something nicer for my Reviews.
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