Like many Bruneians or other foreign travelers, upon hearing the word beach and Philippines, our mind instantly wanders to the sight of the beaches of Boracay, one of the famous coastal destinations in the Philippines. One day, however, I came across a photo of a person paddling in the turquoise blue, dreamy water, and it was then, for the first time I encountered El Nido, a placed tucked quietly in the northern part of Palawan Island, just South West from Manila. As a Bruneian who had yet to cross out the Philippines from my list of South East Asian countries to visit, I was determined that El Nido would be the first place I shall visit in Philippines. And just as first impressions can be formed in a mere 5 seconds, I fell in love with El Nido, the moment I saw the sun set across Bacuit Bay, from our bus.
El nido, situated in the Northern part of Palawan Island, can either be accessed by a more costly private plane that takes you directly to El Nido; or if you’re a student like me, it could be accessed via Puerto Princessa Airport, which is about 5 to 6 hours by van or bus from El Nido. The town proper of El Nido is dainty and a stroll with your friends or loved ones is enough to walk along all the small streets of the town. Unlike many tourist hotspots, despite being filled with rough music coming from the exhaust of tricycles, the town retains an air of coziness and authenticity, something I had appreciated after living in an urban jungle for some time. Aside from a few beach side bars with live bands that plays music till late night, the rest of El Nido town quiets down after 11pm, allowing you to get enough sleep before another day full of adventure.
Activities in El Nido revolves around island hopping tours. You can walk and browse around all of the tour booths, but all of them will offer the same menu (routes), perhaps with just slight difference in prices. What is quite interesting is that there it is a must for us to pay an environmental fee as a way to spread conservation awareness. Furthermore, the tour guides would cook the meals on board the boat, and lunch is served on the boat after a fun plunge into the beach or kayaking around the lagoon.
In an act of spontaneity, we decided to do a camping tour. Despite having suffered sea sickness the entire day due to rough seas and slight glitch in the journey, by the end of the day there was nothing we regret about that random decision to camp out on one of the many islets in El Nido, void of electricity and worldly worries. What’s best is that, food is served for you. Filipinos really know how to cook and meals are inclusive in the camping tour. Imagine, sitting on a log eating that delicious crab by the beach in the dark, lit only by kerosene lamp and the starry nights. Except it wasn’t an imagination for me, it was an experience I would never forget.
It was also the first time we saw glowing planktons by the beach and the night sky glow with glittering stars. I had not seen that much stars before and there is a sense of serenity staring at them, from our tent before we sleep. Then the next morning, instead of waking up to routine alarm clocks, we woke up to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore
While there, we also tried the many Filipino dishes and desserts like the Halo-halo, the Filipino version of Bingsu, and the Bibingka and Suman, both a type of rice cake and a specialty of El Nido, the Bird Nest Soup (El Nido means the Nest as it is famed from the Bird Nest). Not to mention the cheap supply of mango shake and Buko Shake (Coconut shake).
El Nido was the kind of place where, by the end of the trip and as you return back to your home, you’ll be wishing you would wake up again by the beach; to see the view of Bacuit bay, its islets and the clear blue waters. It is definitely fun in the Philippines! Next Cebu or Coron island, perhaps?
By Nur Atiqah Raduan, ASEAN Correspondent from Brunei Darussalam