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The 8Km long Underground River is the longest navigable Underground River in the world (over 4Kms is navigable).
Many people come to Sabang on day trips from Puerto Princesa at, typical, costs of PHP1200 to PHP1500 (including the return minivan ride).
I decided to stay for 4 nights in Sabang to see what else this place has to offer.
Please Note: The tap water in the rural areas (of Palawan – and, probably, The Philippines in general) is, sometimes, not the best. I was advised by an expat (in Puerto Princesa) to use bottled water for cleaning my teeth. I would suggest that you buy big bottles of water for this and for drinking.
I made my own way from Puerto Princesa to Sabang by Lexxus minivan.
I still had my Globe SIM card that I purchased at Manila Airport when I flew in from Hanoi to Puerto Princesa.
If you want to be able to get online in The Philippines, you need to get your own smartphone data package; Wifi in The Philippines is poor and unreliable at the best of times – even on your own package.
A poor country like The Philippines finds it hard to make the sort of infrastructure investment that it needs to in order to provide decent cover across 7,000 islands.
If you rely on the Wifi in budget hotels, etc you will find that they too (usually) have a daily ‘data limit’ which gets used up very quickly in the mornings with tourists checking their face-ache. For the rest of the day, their Wifi can be almost unusable.
Even though I had my own SIM card, I still struggled to get a decent signal. Most of the time I was on ‘E’ for ‘Enough’… sometimes, you can go 1-2 days on ‘E’ and not be able to get an internet connection at all.
The best time to get Wifi is when the electricity is on. But, there are no guarantees… some nights you can get a strong signal but no internet connection at all.
IF YOU WANT INTERNET BE PREPARE TO BE VERY VERY FRUSTRATE,
You can walk everywhere in Sabang on foot; there is no need for transport unless you are going off on a day trip.
You can rent a scooter if you want to go off on a day trip.
WHERE TO STAY:
I had researched online beforehand but there aren’t any GRANDPAcking budget hotels listed. The cheapest one online was PHP1300 / night – more than I wanted to pay. I decided to take a gamble and see what I could find once I got there.
When you get to Sabang, you will find that there are many accommodation options that are not listed on the internet.
The Lexxus minivan drops you off on the Sabang waterfront in the middle of the beachfront.
To find the cheaper accommodation, turn right (heading east) along the waterfront sand path. The cheapest places are past the Sheridan Hotel.
Here you will find several restaurant / cottage options.
Alas, I was beaten to it by a group of young backpackers and ended up next door at the Tabori.
If you follow the beach to the end, you will find Mary’s Cottages which are one of (if not the) cheapest cottages on the waterfront; a room here is PHP500 (including breakfast).
I did not realise that this INCLUDED breakfast.
But the Room did come with a mosquito net.
Electricity was only on from 5-6pm to 11-12pm.
This was enough to keep my technology charged.
There was no-where to put your clothes – but I had my clothes line – so I was OK.
It had a cold water shower and a toilet that flushed (you had to use a bucket for the room at the back) but the hand basin was hanging off the wall and had no tap.
For some reason, there was no water in the mornings so each night you had to make sure that your water bucket was full so that you could flush the toilet after your morning ablutions.
Hey, who cares!
This is an Adventure trip anyway!
Prices are high here because of the Underground River trade.
What you can get for PHP90 in Puerto Princesa will cost you PHP140 here.
There is a burger kiosk down near the Lexxus Terminal where you can get an Egg Burger for PHP35 through to a Cheese Ham and Bacon Burger for PHP85.
There are 2 (very popular) all-you-can-eat buffets (both on the waterfront): one west of the Lexxus Terminal and one a short distance east.
They are open for lunch only.
The cost is PHP200 / person and they enforce a ‘no food left on your plate’ policy.
These sorts of places are no good to me… I can’t eat enough to justify them.
YOUR GUESTHOUSE / COTTAGES:
The budget cottages are all much the same.
My free breakfast each morning was a plain omelette with toast and coffee.
On their menu, a breakfast starts at PHP140 for something like an omelette with toast and coffee. An American Breakfast with Ham, Fried Eggs, Toast, Jam and coffee is about PHP160. A Tea or Coffee is PHP25. A fruit drink PHP40-60.
THE MAIN ROAD:
Walking back from the beach 20m up the main road, you will find where the ‘locals’ eat.
There is a local cafe on the left where you can get something like a Fried Egg, Fried Eggplant and Rice breakfast for PHP50.
A small dish of noodles is PHP40. Each of their buffet samples is PHP30-40.
A typical ‘meal’ (a selection of a couple of dishes out of their pots) will cost you PHP70-90.
If you read my post on Puerto Princesa, you will see that I suggest that you stick to eggs, chicken, vegetables, and fish… Alas, they do not have whole fish in this one.
A little further up on the right there is a Green Grocer. Here you can buy fruits and vegetables. Sometimes, for lunch, I just buy some fruit. A bunch of (about 16) small bananas is PHP50. A Water Melon is PHP95-125 depending on the size.
As with food prices (above), fruit juice prices are also high with prices ranging from PHP60-120.
A couple of the more up-market hotels have little bar huts where you can get a drink near the beach; you pay accordingly.
Most people just have a couple on drinks in their cottages where they are staying. A small beer usually costs PHP60. The trouble is that, without electricity until 5-6pm, the beer is NOT COLD.
I don’t like drinking warm beer so I went to the shops on the main street. Here you can buy a 1L bottle of (warm) Red Horse (6.9%) for PHP80 or a 500ml one for PHP50.
I found myself buying a 375ml bottle of local rum (Tanduay) for PHP50. A 1.75ml bottle of coke is (PHP60). I don’t mind drinking warm rum & coke!
For my first 2 days in Sabang there was a storm out at sea and the water was too rough to swim in (with strong under-currents)…
But, it was obvious that, in good weather, the beach would be very nice. Sabang have coast guards who look after the tourists… they will stop you from swimming if the water is too dangerous.
After 2 days of stormy weather out at sea, the beach was covered in seaweed. Each morning (most) hotels sent people out to tidy up their part of the beach. It was simple, really, rake it into a pile, dig a hole in the sand, and bury it.
There is no reason to feel unsafe in Sabang (IMHO).
But, as with all poor places, be sensible. Don’t flash your wealth or leave things unattended.
I was already toting 30 sandfly bites from my Scooter Trip up the Coast of Puerto Princesa. Bites that I collected on a single beach within 30-40 minutes.
My next-door-cottage-neighbour had the same experience on Sabang Beach – also collecting about 30 sandfly bites in 1 day.
In Sabang, I was averaging about 3-4 new sandfly bites each day. You need to get onto sandfly bites immediately with a suitable treatment.
Given that the least ‘toxic’ treated bite takes over 1 week to clear up and that the nastier ones take over 2 weeks, you can expect to have about 30 bites at any one point in time. About 10-15 of them needing treatment every day.
WHERE TO GO / WHAT TO SEE / WHAT TO DO:
THE UNDERGROUND RIVER:
It wasn’t meant to be a trek but the sea was too rough for the boat to the River – so we trekked the Jungle Trek there instead.
Needless to say, there was no suggestion of a discount. 🙂
Your ‘target’ price should be PHP700 if you want to take a boat there and back.
Add anoth PHP200 each way for the guide that you need to do the Jungle Trek.
Walk west along the waterfront.
You walk pass some resorts and through a small village and soon come to the edge of town.
To get to the waterfall, they ask you to ‘sign in’. No problem there… but, then, they ask you for a ‘donation’. I had no money on me so could not donate.
Anyway, keep walking on difficult waterfront rocks and stones for another 30 minutes and you will reach the ‘waterfall’. When I was there, there was enough water flow to wash your hair… not the sort of swimming fun that I had in Phu Quoc.
GET A MASSAGE:
There are several massage booths to choose from so, when things are quiet, you should be able to negotiate prices down.
In the village on the way to the waterfall you will pass a little hut with locals singing Karaoke. I didn’t hear any English songs.
If you have the gaul, you could walk in and sit down and see how you get on. I’m sure that they won’t mind… especially if you walk in with a PHP100 bottle of rum!
There are several other tours and options available from taking a paddle boat through the mangroves…
GO FOR A WALK:
MONEY / PRICES / SHOPPING:
There are no ATMs in Sabang. Bring enough cash with you.
The up-market hotels will probably take credit cards, but you won’t be staying there.
Getting money out at a hotel on a credit card will be expensive.
Laundry: PHP100 / Kg (so get it done in Puerto Princesa before you get here for PHP25 / Kg).
Local Shops: 4L water PHP65. 6.6L water PHP100. Bunch of bananas PHP50. 1.75L coke PHP60. 750ml Bottle of Rum PHP100. 500ml Red Horse PHP50. 1L Red Horse PHP80.
My next destination was Port Barton.
You can charter a boat for PHP6000. If you can get a few people together, this would be a fun way to get there (in calm waters).
At the Lexxus terminal, you can catch a minivan for PHP650. They leave at 7:30am, 8:30am, 1:00pm, and 3:00pm. The trip takes 3.5 hours.
They also do minivans to El Nido (5.5 hours).
I booked my bus ticket in advance and asked if I could have the seat up front with the driver. My Lexxus Minivan trip from Puerto Princesa to Sabang taught me that, in these minivans, a big man like me needs some legroom.
You can pre-book a specific seat; and, he booked my seat accordingly.
However, he then informed me that I will change minivans 45 minutes out of Sabang (when we hit the main North Road). I will transfer to a Puerto Princesa to Port Barton minivan.
I asked if I could pre-book the same seat on the second minivan. He said ‘yes’ and that he would call them to reserve the seat.
I was dropped off at an office/restaurant on the North Road by the first minivan.
I waited 45 minutes for my 2nd one. It was full and my seat had not been reserved.
They moved a Filipino man from his seat and sat him next to the driver – where the wasn’t an actual seat… my seat had no room for my legs so I had to sit sideways all the way to Port Barton (another 2.5 hours).
The moment that I arrived and walked along the beachfront looking for somewhere to stay, I liked it here.
This is what other places in the world used to be like 30 years ago.
It is raw and charming… and, not too busy.
The day trippers leave this place alone… you can swing on the beach in a hammock and relax.
But, come well prepared for sandflies.
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