Great scenery along the way from Puerto Princesa to Sabang
Great scenery along the way from Puerto Princesa to Sabang
Jan 022012

When we returned to civilization after our 13-day Mongolia tour, I was happy to hear that my friend Charles would be making a short-notice trip over to SE Asia and that his plans overlapped with ours in the Philippines. Charles is a fellow frequent flyer mile junkie and has completed two impressive round-the-world trips on his own. Neither of us had been to the Philippines before but we had all heard good things about Palawan.

For the most part, getting around the Philippines is cheap and easy thanks to a very competitive mix of low-cost carriers. We used one of the biggies, Cebu Pacific, to travel from Manila to the island of Palawan. Palawan is in the far southwestern corner of the Philippines and is one of the country’s least developed areas. The tickets rang up at an affordable $56 per person.

After a brief overnight in the town of Puerto Princesa, we boarded a bus for Sabang, a tiny village on the west coast of Palawan. The ride took us across mountains, rice patties and small farms – every once in a while we’d catch a glimpse of the beautiful coastline.

The main attraction in Sabang is the “Underground River.” The Underground River is a long water-filled cave which is navigable in small canoes and kayaks. The tourism board recently completely a successful campaign to have it listed as one of the “New 7 Wonders of Nature” against competition such as Iguazu Falls and the Galapagos Islands. I can’t say that I would rank it as such but it was an interesting and impressive sight.  As a tip to other travels, make sure that you are up early to catch one of the first boats into the caves as it can get very crowded and noisy with all the other tour groups.

To me, the real beauty of Sabang is how sleepy it is. The wide crescent-shaped beach isn’t bad either! Most tourists visit the Underground River by way of a day tour from Puerto Princesa and while the beach is bustling by day, it is almost deserted in the late afternoons and evenings.

Sabang offered up the whole range of accommodation options. At the low end were small bamboo huts and at the high end were two out-of-place and nearly empty high-end resorts. While Amy stayed with the backpacks, Charles and I scrutinized the options. At the far end of the beach we found a humble little place called Mary’s Beach Resort. Mary’s only had about 5 bamboo huts and two of them had prime location facing the beach.

We stayed in the hut on the right for three nights.  600PHP ($13.82) per night!
We stayed in the hut on the right for three nights. 600PHP ($13.82) per night!

We haggled a bit on the price but I think we were both of the mindset that we would take the huts at just about any reasonable price. In the end, Amy and I paid under US$14 (600PHP) per night for ours and Charles got a slight single-occupancy discount on his. The huts each had showers, a front porch, mosquito nets and electricity (6PM to 10PM only!) but really the best part was the view:

The view from our hut
The view from our hut
Sabang
Cebu Pacific flight 639: Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Cebu Pacific flight 639: Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Our bus from Puerto Princesa to Sabang
Our bus from Puerto Princesa to Sabang
Great scenery along the way from Puerto Princesa to Sabang
Great scenery along the way from Puerto Princesa to Sabang
Sabang's lovely beach
Sabang’s lovely beach
We stayed in the hut on the right for three nights.  600PHP ($13.82) per night!
We stayed in the hut on the right for three nights. 600PHP ($13.82) per night!
Another satisfied customer at Mary's
Another satisfied customer at Mary’s
Important traveling tools: laptop, mobile phone, mosquito coils
Important traveling tools: laptop, mobile phone, mosquito coils
The view from our hut
The view from our hut
The view of the beach from Mary's Resort
The view of the beach from Mary’s Resort
"Downtown" Sabang
"Downtown" Sabang

Nilaveli Beach

Asia, Sri Lanka Comments Off
Sep 152011

Nilaveli, one of the better-known beaches along Sri Lanka’s northeast coast is still trying to get back on tourists’ itineraries. The area was ravaged by the tsunami in 2004 and was a hot-spot in the Sri Lankan civil war for many years but things are changing now.

The biggest difficulty we faced in visiting Nilaveli was finding an affordable place to stay. Many of the hotels and resorts were destroyed in the tsunami and were never rebuilt, in fact you can see the decaying remains of many of them along some parts of the beach. There were a limited number of high-end resorts that were still operating but these were largely out of our price range. We were seeing rates of $100 and up per night – crazy expensive by Sri Lanka’s standards!

Amy eventually turned up a midrange option called the Seaview that had availability for our dates. We paid 3,600 rupees (US$34) per night for a fan “garden view” room. The room definitely wasn’t one of our best-value digs in Sri Lanka but it was adequate.

The beach itself was gorgeous. Nice soft sand that went on for miles and miles with hardly a soul. The area directly in front of our guesthouse seemed to be pretty popular with domestic tourists and, much to my surprise, there was even a lifeguard!

Pidgeon Island National Park, named for the birds which nest there, is just offshore from Nilaveli. We hired a boat and made a day trip out there for some snorkeling. I saw a black-tip reef shark, some lion fish and quite a few eels. The small harbor where most people snorkel was nice because the bottom drops away rather quickly and much of the coral hasn’t been trampled.

Seeing the sunrise was something we enjoyed each day of our stay. It seemed quite popular with the Sri Lankans as well. One morning while we were out for a sunrise walk a boy who was maybe 12 or 14 struck up a conversation with me. It quickly went from the usual “Where are you from?” to “Can I have you watch?” and I started to wonder if this little brat was going to rob me. Eventually some older folks walked over and I surmised that they were his family and they were all here on vacation on a village near Kandy. He behaved himself after that and the only other thing they asked me for was a group photo.

A family on vacation insisted that I take their photo.
A family on vacation insisted that I take their photo.

In the end we only stayed two nights at Nilaveli. The beach was really nice but food options were quite limited and, honestly, Amy and I aren’t the type to lounge for days on end at the beach. We return to Trinco on our third day and caught a bus back inland to Anuradhapura in the cultural triangle.

Nilaveli Beach
Crows are everywhere in Sri Lanka.
Crows are everywhere in Sri Lanka.
A family on vacation insisted that I take their photo.
A family on vacation insisted that I take their photo.
How about this stylin life jacket?
How about this stylin life jacket?
A dung beetle!  That's nearly a tennis-ball-sized ball of poo.
A dung beetle! That’s nearly a tennis-ball-sized ball of poo.

On the third day we decided that we had had enough walking and decided to rent a car.  In all honesty, we had seen most of the sights that are within walking distance of Hanga Roa.  The island’s other treasures are most easily seen by car.  After a quick car shopping trip along Hanga Roa’s main drag we scored ourselves a hansome 1976 Suzuki Samurai for a mere 20,000 pesos (approx. $40 US).  We actually picked up the car at 6PM on the second day, just in time to head out to some moai for sunset.  Ahu Akivi, our walking destination on day 1, was reached in a mere 20 minutes by car.

Sunset at Ahu Akivi
Sunset at Ahu Akivi

At 7am the next morning we woke up and loaded in the Samurai to catch the sun rising behind Ahu Tongariki, Rapa Nui’s largest restored ahu with 15 moais.  The drive from Hanga Roa was quite easy and we were able to find our way in the dark without any problem.

Sunrise over Ahu Tongariki
Sunrise over Ahu Tongariki
Morning twilight at Ahu Tongariki
Morning twilight at Ahu Tongariki

After sunrise we drove over to the nearby Rano Raraku which is the quarry where most of the moai were carved.  We rolled up at 9AM and found a locked gate.  After waiting for 15-20 minutes, one of the park rangers sauntered up in his truck.  The park opened at exactly 9AM, island time.

Amy with some pukao (moai hats), in the background Rano Raraku
Amy with some pukao (moai hats), in the background Rano Raraku

Being the first ones to arrive we had the added responsibility of dealing with all the cows that gravitate towards the lush grass at the visitor center.  One or two cows is not something that usually bothers me but dealing with an entire herd (complete with calves and their mommies) is a bit unnerving.  Amy was doubly-cautious as she selected her neon orange t-shirt for the day.  Cows love neon orange, I’m sure.

Once we navigated the bovine circus, we could enjoy the spectacle that is Rano Raraku.  A lush green mountainside absolutely littered with moai of all sizes.  Some upright, some face flat on the ground, others half-buried and many still attached to the rock face from which they were carved.  Add some soft amber lighting thanks to the rising sun and it was absolutely incredible.

Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy's favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)
Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy’s favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)

Towards midday we headed over to Anakena beach at the east end of the island.  It is the only large sandy beach on Rapa Nui and is absolutely stunning.  It is flanked on one side by an ahu with a few moai and at the other side with some coconut palms.  We grabbed a picnic table and dug into some tasty pasta salad with island-grown avocado and tomato.  Delicious!

Anakena Beach
Anakena Beach

An hour of lounging on the beach and swimming followed our late lunch and then we started to head towards Hanga Roa.  We dropped by Ahu Tongariki (where we watched the sunrise that morning) and snapped a few pictures in the afternoon light.  The remaining couple of hours of our rental car time were spent driving up the coast and enjoying the vistas.  All in all, a great 24 hours on Rapa Nui!

Our wheels.  1976 Suzuki Samurai
Our wheels. 1976 Suzuki Samurai


Easter Island – Day 3 (Ahu Tongariki, Rano Raraku)
Sunset at Ahu Akivi
Sunset at Ahu Akivi
Morning twilight at Ahu Tongariki
Morning twilight at Ahu Tongariki
Sunrise over Ahu Tongariki
Sunrise over Ahu Tongariki
Wild horses are all over the island
Wild horses are all over the island
Amy with some pukao (moai hats), in the background Rano Raraku
Amy with some pukao (moai hats), in the background Rano Raraku
Rano Raraku, also known as “the nursery”
Rano Raraku, also known as “the nursery”
A large unfinished moai still attached to the mountain
A large unfinished moai still attached to the mountain
It is hard to make him out but I am standing in front of a huge 60+ ft moai that is partially complete.
It is hard to make him out but I am standing in front of a huge 60+ ft moai that is partially complete.
Anakena Beach
Anakena Beach
Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy's favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)
Pasta salad at the beach along with Amy’s favorite snack: Cabritas (caramel corn)
Pink sand at Anakena
Pink sand at Anakena
Lots of wild horses means that there are also lots of wild horse skulls
Lots of wild horses means that there are also lots of wild horse skulls
Horse attack!
Horse attack!
Sooty tern
Sooty tern
One more (daytime) visit to Ahu Tongariki
One more (daytime) visit to Ahu Tongariki
All lined up
All lined up
Our wheels.  1976 Suzuki Samurai
Our wheels. 1976 Suzuki Samurai
Taking a break
Taking a break
Precise stone fitting at Vinapu
Precise stone fitting at Vinapu


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