I left my heart in Palawan

I finally made it to El Nido, Palawan after a 28 hour journey from Sagada. Although cloudy and a little rainy, I could tell I would love El Nido. Nestled around towering marble and limestone cliffs and green hills, El Nido (“the nest”) is a thriving tourist center, and probably the most popular destination in Palawan.

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As I arrived and met some people at the hostel, I was convinced to sign up for a boat tour the next day that would take us island hopping. I woke up the next morning to extremely heavy rainfall – seriously like a wall of water coming down from the sky – and was told that this was the first time in several days that the tour was not cancelled due to bad weather (go figure). Some places we saw on the tour included Helicopter Island, Hidden Beach, Star Beach and the Matinloc Shrine. According to legend, the beaches and islands surrounding El Nido inspired Alex Garland’s novel The Beach, which was written while the author was living in El Nido. Incidentally I read the book here before knowing that.

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That being said, you don’t need to do any of the tours to fully appreciate El Nido. In the 6 days I spent there, I must have spoken about those tours countless times, and with every single person I met (60% of the time, I was asked what tours I had done every time). Other possible non-tour activities include: renting motor bikes and driving to different non-tour beaches, renting kayaks and visiting different non-tour islands, and snorkeling (best snorkeling in Philippines – shout out to Isolde, pronounced Ees-old-dehh). There are plenty of great local places to eat (including a crepe stand with The. Best. Nutella. Crepe. Ever) and the two bars open at night are crazy fun.

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Next stop for about 11 of us from the hostel in El Nido was Coron, famous for its World War II wreck diving. In 1944, a fleet of Japanese ships ships hiding in the harbour were sunk in a raid by the US Navy. As a result, there are about 10 well preserved underwater shipwrecks that have spawned beautiful coral reef (shout out to my diving buddies/kings Edward and Henry).

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Apparently still tour crazed from El Nido, we hired a boat for all 11 of us one day and did our own island hopping, where we explored Coron Island and the Twin Lagoon (and plenty of snorkeling in between).

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After a quick stop in Puerto Princesa, it was time to head back to Manila.

Next stop: Saigon, Vietnam!

MellowYellow rating: 💛💛💛💛💛

Traveler’s tips: there’s a ferry to/from Manila to/from Coron, but from what I heard it can take up to 24 hours (even though they claim it takes 16 hours) and it isn’t too much cheaper than flying to Puerto Princesa. The ferry to/from El Nido to/from Coron is bearable in good weather but pretty horrid otherwise, its a pretty small boat so 7 hours of choppy waves can be a bit rough. You can always fly to/from Coron but its about triple the price. I stayed at OMP in El Nido and at Kokosnuss Garden Resort in Coron, both highly recommended!

Amed and back to Ubud!

And so the three musketeers became two. And off to Amed they went. We had heard that this was a really beautiful and serene place with great snorkeling, so we figured we’d head back to Bali with Amed as our first stop. After a 2 hour boat ride where we got to sit on the roof and sunbathe (why waste any time?), we docked in Amed. It struck me that, although so close together, Bali and Lombok look so different. While both are lined with volcanoes peaking over the clouds, somehow Bali seemed more green and wild. image image image image image The snorkeling was every bit as beautiful as we had heard it would be. Amed, once a small fishing town, has now become one of the best diving spots in Bali due to 2 shipwrecks from WWII that have spawned beautiful corals. As the US Liberty was deeper and better suited for divers, we headed out to the Japanese shipwreck not too far away, where we were able to see a large part of the boat in shallow waters. image image image image image image image image image After 2 nights in Amed, we felt we had our dose of quiet and serene (read: we were bored) and found a shuttle going to Ubud, so off we went! image

Ubud was just as beautiful the second time around. We went back to the market (obviously), and checked out some spots that we didn’t have a chance to at the beginning of our trip. We rented a moped and went to Goa Gojah, also known as the Elephant Caves, which date back to the 9th century, and the entrance to which is an ornately carved demon’s mouth. We then went to Tirta Empul, one of the holiest temples in Bali dating back to the 10th century and built around hot springs. The Balinese come here to bathe and purify themselves physically and spiritually, as the water from the spring is clean and is believed to have magical powers. image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image image The next day I stayed at the hostel and booked my accommodation in Philippines (yay!) while Fred went to go see elephants at the Elephant Safari Park. image image image image Next stop: Canggu!

MellowYellow rating (for Amed): 💛💛

2/5 (Unless you’re a diver or a couple, then its more like a 4/5)

Travelers tips: We stayed at Sama Sama in Amed, really nice accommodations and very close to where the ferry drops you off. The Japanese shipwreck was 15 minutes away by moped, the US Liberty is further away. Also make sure to go to Oops on the main road in Ubud, they have a really amazing band that plays on Thursdays and Fridays.

Gili Islands: Welcome to my paradise

Our reward after the grueling hike up Mount Rinjani was the paradisal Gili Islands. We headed to Gili Trawangan, the most popular out of the 3 islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air). After a wonderful night’s sleep we headed to the beach, ready to rest our minds, bodies and souls. Satisfied by a day lazing by the beach, but wanting to treat ourselves (again), we decided to get a massage before going for dinner. This was by far the most painful but necessary massage in my life – the Rinjani hike had left us unable to climb the dozen steps leading to our room. We headed to the night market for some de-lish local food (it was so tasty that I felt the need to accentuate the deliciousness) and then ended the night at the reggae bar (that’s not a typo – there’s only one reggae bar). image image The next day we headed to a beach close by that had some really great snorkeling (we saw a turtle!). image image image image After another trip to the night market for dinner (seriously, it’s that good), we had an obligatory party night at THE place to be (the island is so small that only one place stays open past 11pm). To get away from the hustle and bustle of the main village, the next day we rented bikes and rode out to the southeastern tip of the island, where we heard the sunsets were the most beautiful. After a bout of rain (and many rounds of bananagrams), we did in fact witness one of the most breathtaking sunsets. Then for dinner – you guessed it – we returned to the night market for yet another delicious meal, and ended the night at a shisha bar. image image image image image For our last day all together we did a boat tour that would take us to the two other Gili islands for some snorkeling. We had an exquisite banquet dinner (we felt the need to explore beyond the night market) and sent off Gabrielle back to London the next day. image image image image

Next stop (for Fred and I): Amed, Bali

MellowYellow rating: 💛💛💛💛 4/5

Travelers tips: We stayed at La Boheme hostel (we avoided Gili Hostel because we heard they had bed bugs). Nice hostel that’s about a 5 minute walk from the main street. We went snorkeling at Coral Beach II on the northeast coast, you can rent equipment there. Ombak Resort has the best view of the sunset and has swings in the water. We booked the snorkel boat tour from our hostel.