Sporting my Lufty PJs
Sporting my Lufty PJs

About six hours in a cramped van brought us from Sabang to El Nido at the north end of Palawan Island. El Nido is a bit off the beaten track but it is well worth the effort to visit. It is a tropical paradise!

El Nido
El Nido

We rolled into town without reservations so while Amy watched our bags, Charles and I scouted out the accommodation options. The beach front was lined with a dozen or more guesthouses right up against one another. We had read in the guidebook that there were some more secluded alternatives just outside of town around the point. Makulay Lodge was the first place we found and we absolutely loved it.

The view from our room
The view from our room

The guesthouse was small operation. There were only three rooms in the original building where Amy and I stayed and we were lucky enough to get the top-floor room with a stunning view of El Nido’s bay. We negotiated a 1000PHP ($23) nightly rate for the room. Certainly one of the best room values of our RTW trip.

The main thing to do around El Nido is to tour the surrounding waterways and islands. Day-long boat tours are how this is done and the staff at Makulay helped us hire a boat on three separate days. On each of these tours, lunch consisted of the boat crew grilling up some fresh fish on the beach. Charles joined us on the first two tours and we were lucky to have a private boat just for the three of us. The boat tours averaged 600PHP ($14) per day per person.

I also enjoyed some of the area’s superb SCUBA diving during our stay in El Nido. I dove with Palawan Divers, one of the older outfitters in El Nido, for an affordable $65/day for three dives. Amy was also able to join the tours for a nominal fee to go snorkeling. We didn’t have an underwater camera with us this time around but we saw some spectacular sea life. The highlight for me was seeing a massive sea turtle at close range.

Given how cheap it is to reach Palawan I was shocked that there weren’t more tourists in El Nido. Everyone kept telling us that high season was right around the corner (Nov 1, to be exact) but we saw little sign of tourist hordes. I’ve spent a fair amount of time exploring SE Asia’s beach and island offerings over the past few years and I have to say that El Nido is one of the most idyllic tropical destinations I’ve seen. We liked it so much that we stayed a week in total soaking up the tropics.

El Nido
El Nido
El Nido
Makulay Lodge
Makulay Lodge
The view from our room
The view from our room
A nice lightshow one evening.
A nice lightshow one evening.
We had a massive foot-long gecko on the porch
We had a massive foot-long gecko on the porch
The fruit-eating bats would always leave presents on our porch overnight.
The fruit-eating bats would always leave presents on our porch overnight.
You definitely don't want to fall on these.
You definitely don’t want to fall on these.
Another day, another beach
Another day, another beach
Sand dollars
Sand dollars

Sep 052011
Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya Rock

The journey north from Kandy to Sigiriya was another arduous Sri Lankan bus ride. About four hours in length but long enough that we both felt exhausted when we arrived.

A nice lizard we saw along the road to the rock
A nice lizard we saw along the road to the rock

Sigiriya lies at one corner of Sri Lanka’s “Cultural Triangle” and is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site. The village itself is unremarkable and probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the nearby ruins. The mostly dirt road through the village is dotted with a handful of shops and guesthouses and that’s about it.

Sigiriya rock is a magma plug from a long-gone volcano and the ancient people took to using it for everything from meditation site to fortress to palace. Actually, from what I gathered all of those are theories about its purpose and there is very little evidence to support any of them. Regardless, most of it dates back to the year 500AD, give or take.

The remains of ancient fountains
The remains of ancient fountains

Just pass the entrance gate are gardens that are filled with the ruins of ancient fountains and ponds. The signs posted about also claim that there is a sophisticated subterranean plumbing system which I certainly believe, the Sri Lankans are masters of hydro engineering. They were constructing canals, dams and artificial reservoirs (called tanks) well over a thousand years ago! Many of these are still in use today.

The outer moat around Sigiriya Rock
The outer moat around Sigiriya Rock

After the gardens we started to climb. There are a series of stone steps, stair cases and ramps that took us to the top. At the base was this rather hilarious sign.

High quality signs at this attraction!
High quality signs at this attraction!

A short while later, we passed another sign and then another. They seem serious about this!

The final ascent starts between a pair of huge stone lion paws that once formed a gigantic stone lion. Half way up while jammed shoulder-to-shoulder with other tourists we saw what all the fuss was about. Meter-high hornet nests not too far from the stairs that were teeming with activity. I figured it was going to be just my luck that caused them to swarm when I am trapped on a staircase with a bunch of other people. Fortunately for us, they were calm that day. Later on, somebody pointed to a screened in room at the base of the rock and informed us that it was the hornet refuge.

Originally these paws were part of a huge lion
Originally these paws were part of a huge lion

The views from the top were worth the sweaty slog. To the north we could still see a good part of Sri Lanka’s mountains and in all directions there were lakes and grasslands.

The next day we got an early start and bussed it over to the nearby town of Dambulla which has some cave temples that are also listed as a UNESCO site. These caves are also near the top of a large rock but the climb wasn’t nearly as strenuous as Sigiriya.

Dambulla Caves
Dambulla Caves

The inside of the caves are meticulously painted and contain many many many Buddha statues. There are also a couple of Hindu gods mixed in as well.

Inside one of the Dambulla caves
Inside one of the Dambulla caves

Visiting Dambulla only took part of a morning and we were back in Sigiriya for lunch. We were staying at a very nice but budget guesthouse in Sigiriya – the Flower Inn. We read that it was possible to use the swimming pools (for a small fee) at some of the nearby 4 and 5 star resorts so that’s just what we did in the sweltering heat of the afternoon. We ate our lunch at the Sigiriya Village Resort (which came to a costly 1600 rupees, US$15) but they let us use the pool free of charge and even provided us with nice mattresses for the lounge chairs as well as towels. It was a great way to end two days of slogging through temples and ruins.

Sigiriya and Dambulla
Sigiriya Rock
Sigiriya Rock
A nice lizard we saw along the road to the rock
A nice lizard we saw along the road to the rock
I can also confirm that this was not an idle warning.
I can also confirm that this was not an idle warning.
The outer moat around Sigiriya Rock
The outer moat around Sigiriya Rock
The remains of ancient fountains
The remains of ancient fountains
High quality signs at this attraction!
High quality signs at this attraction!
Frescos inside the caves.
Frescos inside the caves.
Narrow stairway to the top - flanked by hornet nests
Narrow stairway to the top – flanked by hornet nests
Originally these paws were part of a huge lion
Originally these paws were part of a huge lion
Meter-tall nests seething with hornets!
Meter-tall nests seething with hornets!
The hornet refuge (in case of likely hornet attack, you know)
The hornet refuge (in case of likely hornet attack, you know)
I think this is a mountain hawk-eagle
I think this is a mountain hawk-eagle
Oriental Magpie Robin
Oriental Magpie Robin
A refreshing reward after climbing the rock.
A refreshing reward after climbing the rock.
Dambulla Caves
Dambulla Caves
Inside one of the Dambulla caves
Inside one of the Dambulla caves
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Red butt bird
Red butt bird

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