Philippines- Manila and Coron, Palawan - June 2023
The Philippines was the 2nd part of our epic trip across the globe to Japan. We had friends who had moved all the way from South Philly to Manila in December of 2022- so while over in their part of the world, we coordinated the 2nd half of our Japan trip to meet up and travel with them, and then go back with them to Manila to see their new digs, and then all go to an island called Palawan and stay at a private island resort called Club Paradise. Seems like the logical thing to do right? Yeah- it was. After the brutal 15hr flight to Tokyo, the 4hr flight from Osaka to Manila was a small time commitment to see even more of Asia, and to visit friends!
So that's where we'll start, where we left off in Japan- in Kyoto.
Saturday: We took a train for about an hour from Kyoto to the KIX airport and started our Philippine journey. 4 hours later, we arrived in Manila, a world of cultural difference from Japan. The views on the flight in were pretty amazing, tons of green hills forever and then boom- the biggest city that seemed to stretch on forever. That was Manila. Louder, busier, a little more chaotic. A van taxi picked up the 6 of us and we headed to the Rockwell section of Makati- a wealthy area in Manila. Their high rise condo had some ridiculous views of the absolutely huge city, the river, the malls, the highways and all the cars. The traffic here was brutal- and the highways seemed really hard to navigate. It didn't seem like everyone was actually following the traffic rules either? Glad I wasn't driving. Pack your patience in Manila, and if you aren't used to chaotic driving - hire someone to drive you. After getting settled at the Shrom's condo, we walked to a neighborhood restaurant called La Fleur which was super good for dinner, and then had drinks after at Run Rabbit Run. The heat here is something, it is super hot even at night, and apparently it's almost always like that. Places are definitely air conditioned, but not to the freezing point it can get in the states, so dress for the hot occasion. The nightlife was going off that night- plenty of places to walk to, Jeepneys crammed with folks heading out for the night, people on mopeds flying by, again big change from Japan but in a fun way!
Sunday: We explored Manila a bit- but first - to the Rockwell pool club for breakfast, maybe lunch too, we were there awhile, hard to leave the pool. My friend Ashley walked me around the neighborhood and into the huge mall right outside their community. Mall culture apparently is not only huge in Japan but also the Philippines. That night we drove to the IBSC neighborhood- which was also comprised of a ton of shops and a huge mall. We had dinner at La Picara which had really good tapas and amazing paella- after Japan I was really craving something other than skewers and chicken so this hit the spot.
Monday: Off to Club Paradise- we took a 45min flight on a prop plane from Manila to Palawan. I was super nervous at first since it was such a small plane and only went up to about 16K ft but it ended up being super smooth and the views were breathtaking almost the entire way. It was pretty clear so looking down on the ocean and all of the islands was so cool. If you do this flight- get yourself a window seat. From the plane it was a journey to get to the resort- it's an island on an island! The resort provided all the transport which was nice, so we were picked up from the airport, took a very bumpy van ride to a shabby dock, and took a small boat 45mins to the resort. Again, pack your patience. When we arrived, the rooms weren't quite ready, so we changed and got in the pool which was right outside check in. So so so friggin hot at this resort too. The heat you cannot escape in the Philippines. Even the pool was hot- and the ocean! But the ocean, the ocean was perfect. The clearest, calmest water I've ever experienced. We did a lot of snorkeling, saw some turtles, skates and amazing fish, but you didn't even need goggles to see all the marine life, just looking down you could spot all types of fish. For all of the things this resort had going for it- the stunning natural beauty, amazing ocean waters, and the rooms/villas ended up being huge and really nice, their were some misses. The pool was only open a few days during our stay, then they closed it, and the gym, for renovations (the gym was terrible, one treadmill, one elliptical, in a very small room- hopefully those upgrades were big!) It was pretty annoying having half the resort being under construction. Also, their was only one restaurant on the island, which you ate at every day. It did have a good amount of choices, and the food was pretty good. but of course after 5 days it got a little old. Breakfast was buffet style which was nice, lunch and dinner you had table service, and the staff was a little bit like a beat behind. The resort also offered free snorkeling gear, paddleboards and kayaks to guests which was nice- but no other real activities besides doing an excursion off site. They did offer a kids club which my friends were pretty happy with. I did check out the spa and did some treatments which were great and such a bargain, but the spa itself was not somewhere you would hang out to get zen. Felt a little like a doctor's office with tables separated by curtains. Again, I'm sure this will be upgraded during all their renovations- it needs it. Oh, and also something completely random at the resort- a few pet lizards of the owners that wonder around, and a fruit bat sanctuary on the property. The bats actually were super cool, we spend several nights watching the sunsets and the bats from the trees over the ocean. Plus they eat the mosquitos so bonus! In a nutshell our first day consisted of lunch at the restaurant, swimming in both the pool and ocean, paddleboarding briefly (it was so hot, hard to really do anything active in the sun), checking into our villa (which was towards the back of the resort, pretty private, had our own cove with just a few other villas around), hitting up happy hour at the lobby bar (5-7 everyday), and dinner to end the day.
Tuesday: Hung out at the resort and got maybe the worst sunburn of my life. Snorkeled, pool, ocean, I spent almost the whole day outside and next time I go anywhere near the equator I am buying full length spf swimming clothes, wearing a hat, etc. I put on a ton of sunscreen and it just didn't seem to be a match for this sun. Heed my warning- it could happen to you.
Wednesday: This day we did an incredible all day excursion booked through the resort. It started pretty early, 7am, so after a quick buffet breakfast we hopped on the boat, 40mins later, dropped us off at the shifty dock, where we then climbed in a van and made a 45min journey to Coron town. Once at the town, we boarded a different boat (could have been the same one we just rode, who knows, they all seem the same here) and headed out in the open water. This was such a fun day. All my favorite things, exploring, natural beauty, a ton of swimming with no dangerous sea life, good food. If we had done a hike it would have been perfection. Our first stop was for snorkeling between some rock formations in the open water- spent about a half hour doing that. From there we headed over to a natural hot spring, and hung out there for another half hour. Even though it was super hot out, it was still nice to experience the hot spring. Then we started hitting up the real highlight destinations- like Kayangan lake. When you see pictures online of Palawan, this is probably where they were taken. We docked and then walked up a ton of steps, all the way up one of the limestone cliffs, to a breathtaking lookout point for the first insta-worthy photo opp. Then down the other side a few steps, we were finally at the lake and spent a good hour swimming, snorkeling, explored a small cave- it was incredible. After spending a good amount of time there, it looked like a storm was coming in, so we made our way back to the boat and headed to a small beach with a few covered huts on it for some lunch. This lunch was super impressive- a ton of fresh fish, chicken, sides, drinks- more than enough food for everyone. And the views from the beach looking out over the water with cliffs was so pretty! It was perfect timing, we ate as the storm passed, and then got back on the boat and headed over to the Twin Lagoons- another popular place on the gram. Again we got to spend a good hour swimming and snorkeling- which was super nice we did not feel rushed at all on this excursion, we really got to enjoy each stop. After the lagoons we headed back to Coron town and made another long journey from the boat to the van to the boat to the island. We made it back in time for happy hour, sunset and dinner. I can not recommend this excursion more, highlight of the trip, highlight of maybe my life!
Thursday: Club Paradise- pool and gym still closed. Made it a spa day, like I mentioned the spa was not a day spa that you want to hang out in, but the services, both the facial and the massage I got, were super cheap and really good. 2 hours- I think I paid like $85 USD? Incredible. At this point though, the resort was making me a little stir crazy. With the sunburn and the incredible day we had Wednesday, we were winding down.
Friday: Checked out of Club Paradise and took the boat back to the janky dock to the bumpy van ride back to the small ass airport, and we headed back to Manila. Another beautiful, smooth plane ride with all the views. We headed back to Rockwell, Ash and I had drinks and snacks at a cool coffee wine bar by her condo called Single Origin. We were exhausted by the time we made it back, we just ordered some delivery from Roti in the mall to the place, and the next day, the vacation was over and we made the long, long trip back to the states. Uneventful, which means no issues.
For all my photos from this amazing adventure- check out my instagram @everydayvacays