It’s the nth time that I’ve visited the Underground River in Palawan but it seems this time it’s quite different. It might be because I am with my whole family or this is the first time for me as an urban planner to go back there. I may have a new set of lens when I look at things nowadays. Lets see.
For four years in 2000 – 2004 I regularly visit Puerto Princesa, Palawan twice a month to promote and sell pharmaceutical products. I worked as a medical representative back then in a multinational company. I like the presence of trees on both sides of the road, the tricycles as a major mode of transportation, the local restaurants, and the proud and hospitable (I’ll explain this later) people of the city, among others.
I was surprised when I went down the plane. The airport now is different. It was a simple building with modest facility back then but now the design is modern. The driver of the van that fetched us told me that it is already an international airport and that it is a new building. The old airport building is now an airforce facility. There are also international direct flights available in the airport. Puerto Princesa is now readily accessible to other countries.
We only had four days for this vacation. We alloted the first day to the City Tour, the second day to visit the Underground River, and the third day to just relax and enjoy the hotel facility (pool). We went back to Manila in the morning of the 4th day.
The kids enjoyed the City Tour (1st day). The highlight was the visit to the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center locally known as Crocodile Farm. They get to learn more about crocodiles and had the chance to have a family picture with a baby croc (the kids were really scared when their picture was taken).
I would not discuss in detail our visit to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Underground River). There are many blogs and stories about the place that you can easily check. In 1999, the Underground River was declared by UNESCO as World Cultural and Natural Heritage. In 2011, (through global text voting) the site was declared as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in the world.
To get to the site, you need to hire a van to Sabang then ride a motorized boat at the shore near the mouth of the river. A paddled boat is used to explore the river under the mountain.
I remember the series of rough roads going to Sabang port (access point to the park) in the early 2000s. The road now is paved all the way from the City to Sabang. The travel time before was around 3-4 hours. It just took us 2 and a half hours to reach Sabang. However, we became religious during our journey because of how fast our driver was driving (haha). He is careful in driving. But he was driving really fast!
There is a good queing system in the port. Our travel agent asked for our IDs and bought the tickets. Each motorized boat can only accomodate 6 to 8 passengers. We are only 5 plus our guide so we fit in one boat. It took us around 25 minutes to reach the shore of the park. To cherish your trip don’t forget to take pictures inside the boat and the nice view in the shoreline.
The 6-8 passenger limit per boat ensures that the boatmen all have opportunities to earn from tourists/visitors. This system also ensures convenience and safety of tourists because they seem to have a quality standard for the boats.
Upon arrival at the park, we were given audio equipment that will guide us inside the river cruise. There was no audio equipment available for tourists in 2000. Our tourist guide told us that the reason for the audio is that there are tourists from other countries that do not speak English. The audio equipment is equipped with different languages for different nationalities.
Before riding the paddle boat (the paddle boat can accomodate 10 persons), we were given a hard hat and a short briefing. Even it is the nth time that I’ve been to the Underground River, I am still excited to see this natural wonder. You’ll be refreshed about Elementary Science specially on stalactites and stalagmites formation and amazed to see them in real life.
Now with regards to the audio guide equipment. I know that it helps other nationalities understand and learn more about the site (and promote international tourism). But I miss the conversation with the boatman while he paddled the boat. Mind you, they are trained to converse in English and they are really experts in the area. I deliberately did not use the audio guide. I casually talk to the boatman but the trip seems lull and eerie (really dark inside) without the conversation. It is probably my fault for not using the audio guide. I tend to enjoy conversation with spontaneous questions and answers (something you cannot do with an audio guide). I am suggesting that the Puerto Princesa City Government / Department of Tourism provide option for a tour without an audio guide like before.
The kids enjoyed the trip to the Underground River. I know they learned a lot from this experience. I am glad that the City of Puerto Princesa is helping preserve the area for the enjoyment of the future generations.
We are back to the city proper on the third day. We rode their tricycles to go around the city. I noticed that there are less trees in the city as compared before. We went to the local Pasalubong shop and bought cashew nuts and cashew-related products, abaca coin purses, fancy bracelets, dried fish, etc. You need to learn to ask for discounts when buying pasalubongs. Don’t forget to also try their chicken inato, crocodile sisig and tamilok (mollusk) local delicacies.
In early 2000s, local residents of Puerto Princesa City are proud of being local defenders of city cleanliness. The city is known as the cleanest city in the country. Upon disembarking the plane, the stewardess announce that littering is strictly prohibited in the city (they did not do that anymore). Tricycles have small garbage containers in their vehicles. Drivers proudly tell stories that cleanliness starts at the local schools (young students) and they have strict laws on littering. The city is still clean but the people doesn’t talk about their local advocacies anymore.
I am proud that the Philippines has an Underground River. I am happy that I got to spend quality time with my family visiting this UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage and New 7 Wonders of Nature. Thank you Puerto Princesa City for preserving the site. This is a must-see place even if you are not from the Philippines and even more if you are a local of this very beautiful and blessed country.
To Learn more about the place click the link: http://puertoprincesa.ph/?q=about-our-city/city-tourism-office-puerto-princesa