Coron, Palawan, Philippines

It’s my last night on Coron Island. I’ll be leaving tomorrow afternoon, going back to Coron Town- Coron Town is on Basuanga Island. I’m currently sitting on Smith Beach, alone, waiting for the sun to set. A storm is rolling in, dark clouds over head, and the rain is starting to fall. I’m staying in another remote accommodation right around the karst rock formations to my right. IT IS THE ONLY ACCOMMODATION ON CORON ISLAND and allows complete access to the nearby lagoons before all the tourists come to visit from CORON TOWN. The accommodation itself is in the non-Icelandic Blue Lagoon. Tomorrow I’ll head back to Coron Town for a couple days and then I head back to Manila but only for the night; to be close to the airport. The islands of the Philippines are vast with lots of complicated logistics; it’s not a kind of country you can travel on a whim. Albeit I did a pretty fair job winging Coron.

A storm begins to roll in- sitting on Smith Beach off Coron. The small orange boat sits on the shore.

Navigating the Philippines like a local

Day 57, June 8: TRAVEL DAY; Romblon TO Coron VIA Manila.  
My initial trip to Romblon, Alad, was much different than the way back; they both started and ended in the same port- Batangas. Currently, the only ferry that operates this route is 12GOtravel- the average price being $26 USD pending cabin type. And just like the original trip to Boracay… then to Romblon, the ferry only operates on certain days of the week. This one operates on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday at 20:00. An overnight 9 hour trip; I’d arrive to Batangas on Luzon by 05:00. I did not sleep well on the ferry because the people in my shared cabin were quite loud, there were 6 of us,  with Delta ear plugs shoved into my canals- I could still hear them. I let the ferry rock me to sleep. I had only 4 hours of shut eye and this would be another long travel day for sure.
The ferries depart Batangas BTS/BTG around 10:00 so on my initial trip I had taken a cab from the airport- a VERY expensive trip because I was scammed. This time I was able to catch the bus, a much more affordable option, they only charged 197 pesos. Wow, I paid 6,500 pesos +tolls for that cab!! That is a $125 USD difference. I knew I’d been ripped off the moment I agreed. Actually I knew before that because I’d researched a fair fare. The supply was low because it was too early and I highly demanded a ride with no time to spare; and that’s the side of an economics equation that doesn’t favor the buyer.
This time I would be more efficient- I headed back to Manila with the locals. The duration was the same as a taxi cab. It would take 3 hours and I had 11 hours to get from the port to the airport. There is no direct bus to the airport from the port but it would be close enough. The buses go to LRT Buendia. From there I would be able to catch a shared ride to the airport for next to nothing. I was much happier with this new arrangement. I chose a seat in the far back, the bus was almost full and we would leave once it was. It was a comfortable ride, similar to a Greyhound bus. The bus said it had Wi-Fi but to save battery I kept my phone in airplane mode; I did not have a working outlet to charge my phone in my cabin from the night before and although the bus offered free internet there were no USB ports on the seats. The AC was cranked to the point of needing a sweatshirt, so I snuggled in for a nap to ward off all impulses to be on my phone.
Upon arrival to Manila- LRT Beundia, I prioritized finding an outlet as well as food. I walked in a few places but they were packed, then I took my phone off airplane mode and found a cute place I wouldn’t mind wasting a few hours in: ‘The Meeting Place, a meat place’.  The pictures and reviews drove my ultimate decision, I was not in the mood for a plate of meat and the menu was appealing, still. Actually finding it proved to be difficult. It’s upstairs in a shopping mall strip. As I was walking up a man was shouting at me to stop. I continued walking, not trusting this man, I wasn’t doing anything wrong. Turns out he was the parking lot attendant and the restaurant and shop upstairs were not open yet- another man behind me informed me of this soon after. I had hauled a heavy bag in the humid heat up the stairs and had two hours to wait until the doors would open. At least I could wait in the shade away from the chaos of the city; I explained this to the young man and he seemed ok by it. I later found out he worked there.
15 minutes later the boss came and unlocked the door to get started on the day and the young man invited me to sit inside and charge my phone and use the Wi-Fi. He told me food and drinks wouldn’t be available for a while unless I just wanted a soda or something from the fridge.
I was so thankful to be able to comfortably put my bags down and plug in somewhere. It was everything I needed in the moment. With a smile on my face I followed him inside. I camped here for a solid 6 hours. It was an impromptu café kind of day; I did a lot of bookings from here and organized a quick itinerary for the next week. I eventually ordered some food and drinks, too. And before leaving I checked out their attached store where I scored an awesome bikini- it’s emerald green.
I made my way to the airport where I’d catch a flight to Busuanga Airport, Palawan. From the airport I hopped on a public shuttle to Coron Town. I stayed 1 night, here in the town before hopping on a boat to get to my final accommodation, a house boat in the Laknisan Lagoon, Diwata Lagoon, or the (non- Icelandic) Blue Lagoon. I stayed on PAOLYN HOUSEBOAT.

Staying on Coron Island

Paolyn houseboat sits to the left and the floating bungalows to the right in this private lagoon.

The houseboat has 3 floors all with amazing views. The main floor is the restaurant portion and from this floor you can see all the amazing fish and coral reefs. The boat is surrounded by beautiful crystal clear blue waters. The resort itself is eco-compatible. Not only do they require guests to use reef safe sunscreen, soaps and shampoos but they also have freshwater delivered and grey water removed daily; using only sustainable practices to intentionally care for the surrounding water and land. And they don’t stop there: they responsibly source power with solar panels and have invested in proper boats with Yamaha marine engines, not manipulated motors many local tours are operating with. A lot of the bangka boats use old tractor engines that leak oils into the sea. Paolyn also employs Tagbanua Tribe members, with ancestry to the land, providing private access to the lagoons and fair wages to the people the land belongs to.
The second floor of the boat is where the rooms are. I believe there are four total, I stayed in the ‘Unicorn’ room with a queen bed and 2 twins floating at about chest height. There is a fan and 2 sliding glass doors with views of the Jurassic aged rocks. Did I mention Coron Island has been protected by multiple foundations since 1967- both for its land and for it’s people? The entire biotic area is protected by several legal documents and foundations. It’s also currently on the UNESCO tentative list for World Heritage sites.
Finally, the top floor is a full sundeck with great panoramic views! The shared bathroom is on the main floor and the kitchen is across a floating pier. Only a few months ago (May 2018) Paolyn extended the houseboat to a group of floating bungalows. I stayed in a bungalow as well for 2 nights. The bungalow was my favorite- although it was much more room than I needed. I’m stayed in a massive bungalow with 2 queen beds and 2 sets of twin bunks, too, enough space for at least 8 people. The bathroom has a double vanity and the walls are covered in mirrors, even in the shower. Outside I have a lounging area as well as a private dining table under a roofed portion of the balcony. I also tied up a SUP and a kayak to the balcony post for my own private use. I still wandered over to the main boat a couple of times a day; I went to mingle and socialize with the locals and other travelers.
All of the watersport equipment and snorkel gear is free to use. Other than my transfer from Coron Town to Coron Island, all I really need to explore this area is a SUP or kayak; I’m specifically better on a SUP. Paolyn even provides dry bags, free, for camera equipment, phones, towels and sunscreen! After a few days I decided to hire a boat for a private 11 hour meticulously planned day to reach the places beyond my kayak/SUP comfort zone, mainly because of my first time wandering out alone and getting lost in the dark. Click here to learn more about the accomodations or to book your own stay- I highly recommend it!

Twin Lagoon, Coron, Palawan

Day 58, June 9th: Alone in the Twin Lagoon
I arrived to the Paolyn boat around 10:00 to a refreshing welcoming which included the freshest fruit. I took some time to get settled and learn about how my time here would work- meals would be picked a day in advance so the food could be gathered from the mainland etc. Then I learned about tickets required to have access to the lagoons, and all the amazing places surrounding these boats. I also learned the coast guard monitors the boat flow from Coron Town; meaning to experience the magic of these majestic secluded must-see’s I’d want to go either right at dawn to have a few hours or to leave after 16:00 to catch a gorgeous sunset. I stayed nearby the boat and snorkeled while I also read through options for boat tours. I first thought it wouldn’t be necessary. The waters were calm and I was ready to jump in the kayaks. First, I’d take my SUP out, I went to the Twin Lagoons, it was precisely 16:00.
It did not take long to arrive, 15 minutes maximum. It was easy to find- music was blaring, people were screaming and jumping off the stairs. I was too early. It turns out the coast guard makes all of the boats Basuanga return at 17:00. I sat on my board as I watched the boats slowly start to leave, the sound winded down and eventually I had the place to myself. It was stunning. I waited for the water to recede and allow access under the stairs into the second lagoon. The wait to get through the tunnel access proved long and within an hour the sun was falling. A couple from Paolyn joined soon after the boats left and the man forced my SUP and their kayak under the stairs.
I walked over the stairs to meet my paddleboard on the other side. This side was amazing. We swam around a bit, and then they left.  I’d remain on this side until low tide to avoid going the long way, a route I wouldn’t know. Therefore, I was left alone in the deep lagoon. I stationed my paddleboard to the steps to then make a jump over the board. I was quick to rush back on it though. The water seemed somehow scarier now. As I waited for clearance to pass under the stairs I paddled in circles. Earlier when I was waiting for the crowds to leave I’d seen small harmless jellyfish. As I circled the rim of the lagoon I found MUCH larger ones, with tentacles that were easily 2 feet or longer; they could wrap around my legs more than once. These guys confirmed the spookiness of the unknown, of the depths of the water beneath me. The tunnel showed enough space to squeeze under but the rock above was sharp so I waited even longer. Eventually the sky was turning pink. I knew it was time to go. I had to lay flat on my back against the board as I inched myself under the rock, guiding myself as I pulled along the rock above me. The sun was all but completely gone at this point. I stood on my board and began paddling; I had to find my way back to the boat- back to the Blue Lagoon, hidden in a cove among these karst rocks.
My fears suddenly became a reality as I turned from the lagoon to the open waters and could barely see. I remained calm and breathed as I tried to recount what I’d seen earlier that day. It was my first day so I’d remember things from the boat ride to the island as well as my paddle board journey. I needed to separate the memories and remember just the quick 15 minutes it took to get here. Again, these rocks are indescribably beautiful, but suddenly they became eerie, in the dark they became large shadows, giant rocks protecting me from the chop of the big sea but also hiding my accommodations. There was a moment when I had to contemplate if I’d be able to figure it out or if I would have to go to one of the random abandoned island beaches to sleep. I continued on afraid if I’d find my way.
I started to figure it out and came around another rock to find a pretty view of the city at the main island. I also recognized the local boat. These guys were in the lagoon earlier, harassing me. They recognized me too and tried to coerce me into going the wrong way. I knew they were trouble and remained calm so they wouldn’t realize I was confused. I continued on and recognized a few more rocks and continued that way- the first intersection behind me, I only needed to find one more!
I assumed I’d hear music and laughter from the dinner guests but I never did. Instead I heard a hum of a boat. I figured they might be coming to find me, how embarrassing- just then I turned in that direction. It turns out it was the generator. I followed the sound into the blue lagoon and arrived to the dining room wet and practically naked in comparison to the dinner guests. I saw the couple from earlier and they were so glad to see me. The man was worried I was stuck in the lagoon and blamed himself. Of course, it was not his fault- I was there to see both sides and I was there to watch the sunset. My host was happy to see me, too. I decided I would hire a boat at this moment- for sure, so I’d be able to go further and have no trouble getting back. Yet at the same time, the experience I had getting home strengthened my internal confidence- it strengthened my intuition and trust within myself. I needed that moment just as much as I needed the sunset and lagoon to myself.

see me navigating in the dark- last clip

I originally only booked 2 nights and 3 days here with no intention to extend. There was some miscommunication from the start, the food wasn’t very good and there were some power shortages in my room. Fortunately it got better. I had read through a tour binder earlier, combining places from each one until I had the perfect variety. I sat with a few guests at dinner that had completed their own tours, too and I became more excited for the following day. I was excited to give my host a detailed itinerary for my private boat tour. But before it got better, it got worse.

Snorkeling off Coron, Palawan

DAY 59, June 10: A PRIVATE TOUR CANCELLED
I woke up early the next day to rain. It looked like it was meant to clear so I assumed everything was still on. I got ready and headed down to catch my boat, turns out the tour was cancelled. This was upsetting because I only had today. I worked with my host and she said I could do it tomorrow still, and either extend my stay or take a late boat back to Coron Town- they could store my luggage and check me out of my room as scheduled. It looked like it was my only hope. The rest of the week would not be met with a bright forecast. The first day was absolutely the best for weather and tours. Nonetheless, I still had to stick to my menu schedule. I’d have ‘brunch’ at 10:00.
With the poor weather, I went back to bed and watched 2 episodes of Black Mirror. There’s not much to do on a boat in the rain. Of course if I’d had a book or the energy I’d have read or written. Alas it was time for breakfast. This was much better than my meals from the day before- it gave me hope. I mean it was actually delicious. I ate a cheese omelet, made with mozzarella cheese served with fresh mango and bacon; it hit the spot. This is when a new boat arrived with a couple guests. I heard one ask for the WiFi password and was surprised to find out there was one! I’d assumed there wasn’t WiFi on the boat and I wasn’t alone, all of a sudden we were all connecting. Well this would mean I could stay another day and get some planning done from here.
I told Ms. Young I wanted to extend and she said I’d have to switch to the bungalows. I was more than happy to, I’d pay the same room rate as the Unicorn room (as discussed with Paolo in advance). This required me to stick around for hours just paddle boarding in circles and snorkeling nearby. Originally I’d been so conflicted about staying longer because it meant I’d miss the ferry to Puerto Princesa but with the forecast it would likely be cancelled anyway. By now the rain had passed and I began sorting through the snorkel gear ready to jump in. This is when Katrina formally introduced herself to me, the British girl who’d just arrived and asked for the WiFi. She was on a vacation with her boyfriend, Lee, who I’d meet later. I respected how outgoing and polite she was. We shared stories and had great conversations over drinks later in the day, after I settled into my new space. We made plans to go to the Twin Lagoon and the Hidden Lagoon later that day. This time I would kayak and bring a head lamp. We also asked to have our dinner served an hour later in my outdoor dining room. These two saved my otherwise wasted day. They were refreshingly different than any other travelers I’ve met, in the best way! Hopefully one day I’ll run into them again.

Fresh beer at the table on my private deck, kayak tied in the distance.

Kayangan and Barracuda Lake

DAY 60, June 11: FREEDIVING CORON, PALWAN
The following morning I’d finally get to go on the tour I’d been planning on. I was worried when I woke up again to a cloudy day. I radioed to Ms. Young and she said we were still on and to come over when I was ready to go. Excited for the day I raced over there as quickly as I could on a paddle boat. I found out they made lots of changes to my original plan. They would attempt to make it to the far away destinations- but based on the swells they were warning me that it wasn’t likely. I started thinking they were avoiding the tour… until of course later in that afternoon when I experienced the swells myself. I still got to do quite a lot though- and happy I stayed the extra days.

Kayangan Lake views from the top of the stairs.
Kayangan Lake sign at the start of the stairs. Approx 300 steps one way.

I was the very first person to enter both Kayangan Lake and then Barracuda Lake. Both are beautiful mostly freshwater lakes. The locals say its 70/20/10: 70% fresh water, 20% salt, and 10% pee; local humor. RJ, my guide taught me how to free dive in Barracuda lake. He was so good, he could go like at least 7 meters and would stay down for an inhumane amount of time. It must’ve taken a lot of practice to be at his skill level, he was amphibian-like. He showed me some rocks to dive through underwater. Here I’d see little fish and shrimps.
Katrina and Lee also did a private boat tour today and we’d meet up at these lakes before the tours from the mainland came over. Mario (their guide), RJ and Lee all attempted to dive to the depth of the underwater hot springs. I think only RJ could get close enough to actually feel them. We separated again as the mainland tourists began to arrive to Barracuda. I went on my own way to Vivian beach with RJ. There wasn’t a ton to do here, but I sat under a hut and watched as a few locals built a new one. I just relaxed a bit and practiced breathing for my next dive. Free diving was a completely new thing for me. I learned it would be more difficult as the salt ratio would be higher later.
THE TOUR CONTINUES
After the beach I stopped by the boat to have brunch. This is the point in which I saw the sea conditions begin to change. We switched to a bigger boat still hoping to attempt to reach the places I was most excited for. RJ really did try but the wakes were just too bad- the boat would be completely perpendicular to the surface as we tried to cross the sound, it was an impressive attempt nonetheless. The waves were bigger than the boat and eventually we surrendered and pivoted. RJ made sure to make the most of my time with new plans. We decided to just snorkel a few unmarked reefs and dive at a sunken WWII Japanese ship. By the time we arrived to the ship it was high tide making the free dive very difficult. I was happy to just be able to touch the boat, honestly. It was difficult- and I was sure that I’d be signing up to get PADI certified soon.

I had a new obsession: underwater exploration. There was so much more I needed to see and free diving was just the surface. After a while my stomach began to turn so I was taken back to the boat to rest a bit and take some medicine to help calm my stomach. The weather got much better while I relaxed. I went back out just after 15:00. We checked out more snorkel spots and stopped at a beach for sunset- Smith Beach, where I originally began this post.

My final days in Coron

sitting on my SUP in the strait between 2 lagoons- Blue and Green

RECALL:
I’m in another country now, weeks later, recalling the details of Coron Island. I was writing as I waited for the sun to set on Smith beach when it began to pour. I remember the rain coming in. It started lightly and I brought my tripod back to the hut with me to keep my camera from getting wet. I was sipping on a San Miguel apple. The colors were quite beautiful. Not typical of a sunset, no, it was still early. The multiple shades of blue with rain coming down and white clouds off in the distance without rain, it was very pretty. I watched the storm as it rolled in. I’d have a little more than an hour to write.
The rain kept up and I assumed I would be in for a beautiful sunset like the one on Phi Phi Island with the rainbow. However, about 20 mins later and 5 mosquito bites, the clouds opened and it poured. RJ said we couldn’t stay any longer. The ride back would be difficult, we ran to the boat. The ride was very wet but also quite fun. It all added to the experience for me. I’m usually very fortunate with weather on my trips, so having rain and such changes up the experience. It throws uncertainty into my plan and makes me adjust. I occasionally welcome it.
Later that night I spent more time with Katrina and Lee, we would both be leaving the next day. They were leaving first thing and I had time to spare. We shared another dinner together and I heard more of their stories over drinks. We also watched an eel right from the deck of the dining room. Then we said our goodbyes with no expectations to see each other again. Except we did; I caught them before they left. I was having breakfast as they were bringing their things down. Their taxi boat was late- I’d warned them about this, from observing it days before. Katrina was getting quite anxious. We talked a bit before their departure and Lee practiced his photographer skills a bit more while I paddled around the lagoon.

Katrina and I the morning she was leaving- I paddled over to have breakfast.

DAY 61, June 12: MY LAST DAY IN CORON, PALAWAN
It was bittersweet to see them leave but I was happy they were able to get to Coron Town with enough time to continue to El Nido. The weather on this day actually turned out to be the best from the four days I was there. I continued to reschedule my boat taxi- pushing it back more and more to enjoy my time. I’d paddle over to the shallow reef and just sit on my board looking at all the fish and corals. I woman paddled over to me asking if I saw anything other than urchins. I showed her many more things: clown fish, clams, plankton, starfish, and things I don’t have names for. I told her to just sit still and stare beneath hear and surely she would see more than an urchin- the ocean is full of fascinating animals, you just have to really look. We also discussed some other nearby things they could do. Eventually Ms. Young called me in, I’d join her and a few others on their way back to town to run errands.

On my way back to the bungalow from a quick snorkel outing- kneeling on my SUP

CORON TOWN
It was 15:00. I needed to drop my clothes off and find a place to stay for the night anyway. I quickly located a laundry drop off place and then walked a little farther to find a smoothie café, from there I booked a hostel and drank a smoothie. The smoothie place was rather crowded with spotty internet but I managed. I booked my hostel on AirBnb and followed the mapped instruction. It literally was across the street from my laundry drop off. This would make the early morning simple. I’d booked an all-female 4 bed dorm but was placed with all guys in an 8 bed dorm. Apparently they needed to save money on the utility expenses, they also didn’t have running water. Sometimes the water would work and sometimes it wouldn’t; I think that is mostly normal for locals although not for hotels and hostels. No one was in the room, but the beds were marked- I picked a top bunk and settled my things. There were no lockers so I just locked my bag.
It was hot here, the AC was unplugged. I took my charger and went to the common room. I met Max here. He then introduced me to Jay and Dan. They’re from the UK. Jay kept talking about our other, final, roommate. His name was Christian and Jay wasn’t telling me everything- just talking about him in a weird sense. I wasn’t sure how to take this. All three guys were on the same page and warned me I’d meet him soon enough. After Jay and Dan left I did meet Christian. He’s really smart and well-traveled but he has a stutter. He is from Norway and works all over the world. He might be on the autism spectrum, it’s hard to tell. The three of us shared beers and then Max left. That’s when things got weird.
In the end, I was safe. I pretty much made sure Max was around at all times because I honestly would have had some words with management otherwise. I definitely was in an unsafe environment and would’ve demanded another room or a refund had he not been so kind. I still am unsure as to why they actually couldn’t put me in the room I’d booked, everything about Coron Town felt off. I’d spent two separate days there in 2 different hostels. The first day I stayed in a private room on the top of the hill, and the second one closer to the main attractions. I even had difficulty getting my clothes back. I HIGHLY recommend staying on Paolyn or staying on a live aboard boat… I DO NOT recommend staying in Coron Town.

Philippines

FINAL THOUGHTS:
There are many places I still want to see in the Philippines, if I could go back I’d start with Cebu and skip Manila completely. I stayed in the country for 2 weeks and that really isn’t much time at all. The best places I stayed were either the ones specializing in tourism, like Boracay, or the remote places untainted by money and mass tourists, like Romblon. With eyes set on Palawan, I’d only make it as far as Coron Island, Palawan. I was looking to stay on Liveaboard originally but couldn’t coordinate my arrival due to the complications on ferries and island travel. My next stop is Malaysia.

Kaitlin

A traveler who has allowed the World to show her that extreme posing beliefs are necessary to find the sweet spot that is revolutionary. Because life is too complex; it’s a balance of black and white; we need to blend the two so we can live in the grey space of an Open Mind. Currently finding a balance in exploring the World and being sustainable everyday.

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