A Travellerspoint blog

"Come Back, Come Back to Palawan, Philippines"

"The Investments of the Local Government Units of Palawan on its Ecotourism Program"


I have mentioned in my previous posts that the 80 kilometer stretch of road from Puerto Princesa to Sabang (the take off point to the mouth of the underground river) is now half concrete (45 kilometers actually), 20 kilometers of rough road, and 15 kilometers of under construction road. The concreting of the road which is a city road as it is within the boundary of Puerto Princesa City may be considered as the biggest monetary investment of the local government o fPuerto Princesa City. It is a very important support infrastructure that definitely boosted the influx of both foreign and local tourists as it means convenient, fast and safe travel.

However, I would consider the investment of the City of Puerto Princesa in education as the most effective investment that would sustain the influx of tourists to the City and the Province. I am talking about the countless number of hours/months that they have invested in trainings for all of the important service providers in their tourism industry.

Take the case of the forest ranger/boat man/tourist guide rolled into one. Yes, he is only one person wearing tree hats! You have to experience it yourself on how you will be entertained as he safely and deliberately paddle the boat into the dark underground river. You will be impressed how all-knowing he is as he recites almost all the trivia and facts about the mineral formation inside the cave coupled with punch lines that would make an otherwise very scholarly scientific discourse a comic story telling! I compared notes with our van co-passengers since they rode a separate underground river boat. Indeed, the boatmen are a bunch of homogenous well-trained crew! The delivered same technical terms about the scientific facts of the cave, its formation, the bats, the swallows, etc…

Another group of service providers are the pump boat operators and their helpers. The City government requires that they undergo training not only in sea safety but also in courtesy before they are issued licenses. You feel safe while you are riding their pump boats.

Needless to mention is the corps of licensed tour guides who are likewise very knowledgeable about almost all topics about the current efforts of City Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn and his City Council on environmental conservation back ed by the entire community in a very systematic manner for the City to be able to live up its new label as the City in the Forest!

A strong, well motivated and active community engaged in tourism industry which is manifested by everyone is a product of a long systematic and conscious effort through regular community seminars/symposias, and trainings conducted by the local government. This spells the difference between Puerto Princesa and Palawan and the rest of the other tourist destination of the country. They are even disciplined! Here, you don’t litter even your cigarette butt, or else you will be fined.

Next post: the other tourist destinations in Puerto Princesa and the Province of Palawan.


Edgar Sandalo

Posted by E. Sandalo 18:52 Archived in Philippines Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

"Come Back, Come Back to Palawan, Philippines"

"The Economics of the Palawan Underground River as a Tourist Destination"


The same pump boat manned by a pump boat operator and assisted by a boat helper that took us from Sabang to the mouth of the underground river waited for us and ferried us back to Sabang. I asked the pump boat operator, how many trips had they made since morning until the time that we were his passengers. He sai that we were only his third trip and it was already 3:00 p.m. when we arrived Sabang. He confided to me that there were 43 pump boats that were ferrying the large volume of guests that arrived since early morning.

After disembarking from the pump boat, I went straight to the control table and asked the latest number of visitors that had so far registered. The lady told me that as of that time they had logged the 1,053th guest. There were less than 100 visitors that were still waiting for their turn to board the pump boat to take them to the mouth of the underground river.

We were already on board our van back to Puerto Princesa when I started to do my mental calculation on the economics of the underground river as a tourist destination. I started with the figures I got from the boat operator and the visitor control table.

I started to verify the accuracy of the figure of 1,053 guests. If there were 43 pump boats that carried only 6 passengers per trip and had made 3 trips, they had ferried 774 visitors. On their 4 trips, that would mean that they would have transported 1,032 which is pretty close to the 1,053 guests registered at the control table.

In terms of employment, directly benefiting from the influx of the tourists who want to visit the underground river are the pump boat operators, boat helpers and the forest rangers/boat men around 100 of them (43 pump boats multiplied by 2 crews each and the boat men that paddled the boat inside the river). Of course, the professional tourist guides, the cooks, food servers and the rest of the services providers in Sabang and at the mouth of the river depend on the tourist arrivals as the source of their livelihood.

Next, I considered that each van carry only 10 passengers. For the 1,053 guests, there were at least 100 air conditioned vans that were rented out by the visitors for that day! 10 years ago, only the staff working for the Second Palawan Integrated Area Development Project and first PIADP had air-conditioned service vehicles in Palawan. Even foreign tourists had to contend with riding non air conditioned locally assembled jeepneys! Van owners are not concentrated only in Puerto Princesa but are also from the nearby municipalities of Narra and Aborlan.

As I mentioned in my earlier article, we paid P1,200 per person for the underground river trip. Multiply it by 1,053 visitors, you had plowed in P1,263,600.00 to the local economy for just a single day. Definitely, it is not be the daily average because of the Palarong Pambansa that was held there at that time. But, even if only 1/3 of that figure will visit the river, it is still a significant figure to reckon with.

As a prospective investor who wants to retire in Palawan and have a good source of income, pick your choice: van rental business, pump boat operation, travel agency, food services?

Next post: the investments of the local government in their tourism industry.


Edgar Sandalo

Posted by E. Sandalo 18:45 Archived in Philippines Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

"Come Back, Come Back to Palawan, Philippines"

"Getting Inside the Underground River"


The fiber glass boat is allowed only to have 8 passengers who must wear helmet and life vest. It was manned by a boat man who, I learned later from our tour guide, is actually a forest ranger but was being pulled out to beef up the regular boatmen because of the unusual number of visitors for the past several days. The boat man doubled up as the tour guide giving us important facts and figures about the underground river as he paddled our boat. Not only that, he has a good sense of humor giving us a good laugh.

A passenger at the front side of the boat is designated as the light man, who has to hold a battery-powered flashlight to light our way inside the darkness of the cave. The battery is same as the battery of our cars so that it can give out a good illumination that would help us appreciate the formations inside the cave.

As we slowly get inside the cave, even if it was already my third time, I still felt that same old strange feeling of “the unknown”, of being unsure what is inside that dark place. I really believe that there is some truth to the mysticism of the place. According to our all knowing boat man, the entire mountain above us is made up of limestone. Thousands of years ago, the water current coupled with the rain water must have caused the “tunneling” of the limestone mountain creating the tunnel or the cave where the present river is now actively flowing. It is a cave with a river.

The boat man explained to us with all authority that just like an ordinary cave the flowing of water from the top portion of the mountain caused the stalactites and stalagmites formation. The formations range from mystical – there are those resembling the face of Jesus, image of Mother Mary, images of the three kings in the nativity to vegetative – there are images resembling to common vegetables like patola, pechay, cabbage, mushroom to animalistic – there are images of horses, dragon, eagle etc.

Moving further inside the river cave, the boat man pointed to us the guano deposits on the crevices of the walls of the cave produced by the thousands of bats inside the river cave. He also pointed to us the nests of the swallows – birds locally known as balinsasayaw. The nests are the source of the expensive nido soup popular among the Chinese. The balinsasayaw birds share the airways of the cave with bats.

On our way out of the river, I wonder if the river would be inhabited with snakes or other unknown creatures just waiting to make their attack. However, the boat man assured us that there are no unknown violent creatures lurking under the dark water or the creepy walls of the caves.

After getting off from the boat, we roamed around the forests near the ranger station where we had photo ops with the tamed monitor lizards (bayawak) and monkeys. We were warned by Ralf not leave our things unattended specially our cellphones because the monkeys are notorious of grabbing cellphones and taking it up the trees!


Edgar Sandalo

Posted by E. Sandalo 18:41 Archived in Philippines Tagged ecotourism Comments (1)

"Come Back, Come Back to Palawan, Philippines"

"Our Trip to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park"


The same motorcycle driver whom we hired for only P600.00 to take us around the Puerto Princesa (Iwahig, Crocodile Farm, RVM Racho de Sta. Monica) led us to a local travel agent office along Rizal St for booking a trip to the world famous Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. The leaflets I got at the airport from travel agencies priced this trip at P1,300.00 per person. Topstar Travel and Tours priced it for only P1,200! What are the inclusions in the package? Round trip air-conditioned van ride from Puerto Princesa to Sabang (distance one way: 80 kilometers), services of a trained and licensed tour guide through out the trip, entrance fee to the river, buffet lunch, pump boat ride from Sabang to the mouth of the river and back to Sabang, boat ride paddled by an experienced forest ranger/boatman/tour guide 1.5 km inside the underground river and back! Anyway you look at it, it is very reasonably priced!

The proof of the pudding is in the eating! Is it really a reasonable price? Come on, join me as I tell you about the trip! The appointed pick up time was between 7:00 to 730 am, and the air-conditioned van, a Mercedes benz, arrived at 7:10 a.m. at my brother’s home in Princesa Homes which is near the Wescom (Western Command of the AFP). A smiling young man get off from the van asking for my name. He was Ralf, our very knowledgeable tour guide. We shared the van with a Chinese couple from Mindanao, and a group of young girls and boys past their twenties (6 of them) from Cavite.

The ride from Puerto Princesa to Sabang is made up of 45 kilometers of first class concrete highway which according to Ralf was constructed by Hanjin of Korea, 20 kilometers of rough road, and 15 kilometers of under construction road. This is a great improvement since the last time I visited the river more than 10 years ago where the entire 80 km stretch was mostly rough road. We arrived at the river registration station at 8:30 a.m. But, we were informed that there were already some 800 guests ahead of us!

There was an on-going Department of Education Palarong Pambansa (National Games) in Puerto Princesa and the day we had our trip was the last day of the Games. It was the only opportunity for the delegates to visit the river! Whew! The number of visitors who intend to get into the underground river was overwhelming! When Ralf checked with the pump boat dispatcher, we were scheduled to take our turn for the pump boat ride after lunch yet possibly around 2:00 p.m. Meanwhile Ralf advised us to go swimming at the Sabang beach which is comparable to Boracay in terms of its white sand and “hindi kantilado” water depth. It was only 9:00 a.m. Buffet lunch was served at 11:30 a.m. Buffet was not bad at all with adobong native chicken, binagol na tinolang manok, grilled pork, adobong kangkong, cucumber salad and a young coconut drink.

Ralf called us to the landing pier for our turn to take the pump boat ride. He told us that Mayor Hagedorn is very strict as far as the pump boat ride is concerned. Only six passengers are allowed for the ride and we were required to wear life vest. They could not afford to have even just an accident, otherwise, the foreign tourists will be alarmed. The ride was only for 20 minutes. When we reached the mouth of the underground river, we have to fall in line for our turn to ride the boat going inside the underground river. Only 8 passengers are allowed for the boat ride again we were required to wear life vest and helmet.

Next, the underground river ride!


Edgar Sandalo

Posted by E. Sandalo 18:23 Archived in Philippines Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

"Come Back, Come Back to Palawan, Philippines"

"Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, Philippines Tour"


When my eldest daughter told her mama that she will give her the Philippine Air Lines’ rewards for a free plane ticket, her mama said she wanted to go to Palawan. It was her long time dream to go to Palawan. You see, from 1987 to 1999, I was a frequent visitor of Palawan. That was when I was with the Department of Agriculture and we were implementing the Palawan Integrated Area Development Project Phase II. As the coordinator of the implementation of the Agriculture components of the Project, I had to go Palawan often for the activities related to its implementation. However, during that long period, my wife was not able to join me even for only a trip to Palawan and thanks to our daughter she was now able to finally visit Palawan!

My wife planned to have her friend Ophie joined her for the trip but at the last minute, Ophie backed out. I have no other choice but to accompany her to Palawan. Good enough, there was still an available seat with my favorite airline - Cebu Pacific Air for Manila-Puerto Princesa-Manila. The arrangement was that I will have to take Cebu Pacific while my wife took PAL Business Class!

On the travel date, I arrived Puerto Princesa at 9:00 a.m., 10 minutes earlier than my wife. We immediately took a motorcycle cab from the airport to the house of my brother Ricardo. I asked the driver how much will he charge us if we will hire him to take us around the city for a site seeing trip. I told him after we will go to Iwahig Penal Colony, then to Palawan Crocodile Farm, then to the ranch house of the late Speaker Ramon V. Mitra and back to downtown. The driver charged us only P600 in addition to the fare of P70.00 from the airport to the house of my brother in Princesa Homes near Western Command. That was really cheap considering that the tourism leaflets I got at the airport showed that price for such trip will be P600.00 per person!

Iwahig Penal Colony is 13 kilometers from downtown Puerto Princesa. After only 9 years since the last time I was here, the entire stretch of the highway from downtown Puerto Princesa to Iwahig is now full of new business and residential houses! All the way from San Jose to Irawan and to Iwahig newly-built houses already transformed the land use for agricultural to residential/commercial!

I am afraid that soon, the Iwahig Penal Colony will have to be relocated. It will be very tempting for the "colonos" to escape and mix with the community as it is no longer isolated!

It was rice planting time at the Iwahig Penal Farm when we were there. The Penal Store was still selling the handicrafts made by the "colonos". We did not buy anything from the Penal Store but when we were taking pictures with the old recreation hall which was constructed during the commonwealth era as our backdrop, a visayan colono asked me to buy from him key chains made of "kamagong" as a way of helping him. We bought few key chains from him for pasalubong.

Next stop was the Pawalan Crocodile Farm. The farm which was a a brain child of former DENR Secretary and fraternity brod Teodoro Q. Pena has some 1,500 baby crocodiles in its rearing ponds. It is nice to know that the Crocodile Farm survived all these years after the foreign funding ended and after the local politicians could not agree what to do it. Its operation is now locally-funded.

We then visited the ranch house of the late Speaker Ramon V. Mitra in Sta. Monica. It is amazing to see that after the late Speaker had constructed his ranch house in that area, several other rich individuals had also constructed their mansions nearby. The view of Honda Bay from the ranch house is simply breathtaking! The ranch house is a tourist spot! The family of the late Speaker specially the son, Congressman Baham Mitra allows the tourists to visit the ranch house and even come inside for photo ops.

We had lunch in Balinsasayaw Grill. Late in the afternoon, we visited the Badjao Beach Front. The full-grown bakawan trees along the beach are very impressive!

We had dinner at Ka Lui Restaurant where we met Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn who asked us to vote the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park for the New7Wonders of Nature! You may also vote for it by logging on: www.new7Wonders.com. You can also visit www.puerto-undergroundriver.com.

Next post, our trip to the underground river.


Edgar Sandalo

Posted by E. Sandalo 18:10 Archived in Philippines Tagged transportation Comments (0)

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