Who needs Thailand?

Everyone’s seen pictures of the towering limestone islands of Thailand’s Andaman coast. It seems like most of the world has been there too. The similar landscape of Ha Long bay in Vietnam is getting almost as famous these days (in the UK at least especially thanks to the famous episode of Top Gear which ends up there). Before I arrived in the Philippines, I had no idea that a very similar landscape exists off the north coast of the island of Palawan – the many islands of the Bacuit Archipelago.

Getting there was a little bit of a mission – from Coron Town in Busuanga, there are supposed to be boats heading over virtually every day, but two of the boats were out of service. This meant rather getting a few days to relax and enjoy Coron, all I had time to do was a day of diving before having to leave the very next day, for fear of getting stranded. It turned out to be quite a journey – 45 of us crammed onto a pretty small outrigger boat, with no room to move around, for 8 hours. And a pretty choppy eight hours it was too, with every large wave showering all of us at the front on a regular basis. Yet again I was glad of my iron stomach, as others around me succumbed to seasickness.

The perfect way to see the islands

The journey was completely worth it though, for the Bacuit Archipelago more than lived up to expectations. The locals make it pretty easy to navigate around the many islands, by handily packaging them into three different tours, named A, B & C (and these are the same for all local operators).

Snake Island from above

First up was tour B, which started us off with a little spot of light snorkelling in crystal clear turquoise water just off one of the islands, which was pretty awesome. That was just a warm-up for the main event though – a stop for lunch at Snake Island, which is so named because of the thin serpentine slither of beach that winds its way out from the island towards its neighbour. It’s the kind of beach that looks like it could have been commissioned by the Philippine Tourist Board looking for perfect shots for postcards and brochures – and yet it’s 100% natural, and we had the place to ourselves to chill out for a couple of hours, while our boat crew made a delicious lunch of grilled fresh fish, chicken and pork – which was all a bit of a bargain considering the whole day-long tour including lunch came to around $10.

Snake Island

Lovely as it was there, we couldn’t hang around all day – after all there are hundreds of islands to explore – so soon we moved on to explore some fantastic caves on two nearby islands, each reached through a narrow entrance just off the beach, and then opening up to reveal huge, towering ceilings. Finals stop of the day was possibly the best yet – an island that consisted of a small beach clinging to the side of some imposing, towering limestone cliffs. The sand was the whitest and finest by far that I’ve ever seen, so much so that it was more comfortable lying directly on the sand than it was on a towel. With just the six of us there (oh, and the friendly island dog of course – even uninhabited islands have dogs here in the Philippines), it felt like we had a little piece of paradise all to ourselves.

Beautiful cliffs, clear water

After such a stunning day I was worried that repeating the experience the following day might disappoint – I needn’t have worried. For while Tour B gave me some of the finest beaches I’ve ever seen, Tour A took us to the best snorkelling I’ve encountered yet. Again and again we stopped at various spots with the clearest, brightest water imaginable, all framed beautifully by the sheer cliffs of the sheltering islands, swimming through narrow openings into warm, shallow lagoons crammed with coral and beautiful fish. All that snorkelling, swimming and generally gawping at the sheer beauty of the place can get a little tiring after a while, so the boat kindly took us to yet another perfect beach for a final bit of chilling – and even better, this one came with a nice surprise in the shape of a bar hidden away from sight behind the palm trees at the back of the beach. So the rest of the afternoon was spent sitting on the beach, sipping away at fresh coconut juice…and then moving onto the San Miguels.

Enrance to the big lagoon

The most amazing thing about the place is that for somewhere quite so stunning, it has remarkably few tourists (most of whom seem to be Swedish or Danish for some reason). I don’t mean it’s empty, but that there enough islands that it never feels busy in the way Thailand does. Get there soon before everyone else discovers it.

7 Commando Beach

You can see all of my photos of El Nido & the stunning Bacuit Archipelago here.

Next stop: Chilling out with a small monkey in Port Barton & exploring the Underground River of Sabang.


12 responses to “Who needs Thailand?

  1. 8 hours on a boat?!! we took a 2 hour ride between some of the galapagos islands and it was disgusting seeing the other passengers puking. thank goodness for gravol. but seriously, 8 hours?

  2. El Nido made the same impression on me. Isn’t it just magical?

  3. Yep, 8 hours. But worth it on my budget! (and the puking wasn’t that bad, and not too near to me thank god!)

  4. looks beautiful – we are off to the seychelles shortly, will post some photos on FB once we are back..

  5. I’m glad El Nido lived up to its hype, truly is a magnificent place, isn’t it?

    And without the Speedo-wearing tourists, without the crowds, without the long-tail boats.

    Who needs Thailand really?

    Great blog!

  6. wow – just wonderful H, beautiful pictures, and your writing is so elegant and constructive. very very jealous xx

  7. Pingback: Thom and Sean's world trip » Blog Archive » Travel blog recommendations

  8. Snake island looks incredible! Same with commando beach…

  9. I was in El Nido the week before you, and I’ve taken that boat ride, too. Honestly, I wouldn’t trade those 8 hours for the world. The sights are amazing, and it really makes you appreciate El Nido once you arrive. It’s a fantastic destination. Cheers.

  10. Thanks for dissing Thailand. It’s lovely. Good life, man. And your writing is fantastic!

  11. Just discovered your blog through Lonely Planet and have been reading on your Donsol trip (and the rest of your entries) as I’m making plans to go there in a few months and finally, finally see the whale sharks.

    El Nido, Snake Island and other islands surrounding Coron are really magnificent. Palawan is my favorite spot in the Philippines. Whenever I see the limestone cliffs of Thailand and Ha Long Bay, I think, we also have that back home! It just doesn’t get that much press. Thanks for your PH blog entries :)

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