Palawan, Exploring the Last Frontier: First and Last Stops: Food Tripping in Puerto Princesa

I got an email from Cebu Pacific informing me that our flight going to Puerto Princesa in December was reset… I would call them for our final sked moving an evening flight to a morning flight.  A welcome change actually as it will give us more time to explore the city.

The preparations for this trip had been long.  Starting from the time when I was scouting promo airfares to arranging a 6D5N itinerary.  I booked our flight in September.  There was enough time to save up for the trip and do my research.  I did a lot of blog walking to ensure that my middle daughter (MD) and I would have the best deal in what might be our last island hopping together for a quite a while.  She would be in her last two years in her medical study and she would surely be busy having more hospital-based tasks.  That is sad for me as among my children she is the one who takes after me in being a lakwatsera (wanderer).  I had to make sure that the experience would be something she would cherish during the time she can’t go places.

I got a lot of information for this trip.  I was weighing the pros and cons of doing a DIY and having the trip arranged by tour operators.  In the end, the best arrangement for us, being first timers, was a combination of both.  I made a lot of calls to tour providers, hotels, transport service.  I scrounge travel reviews, must visit places and restos, to-dos and a lot more.

My sources are:  The Pinay Solo BackpackerCORON VS. EL NIDO? WHICH ONE IS REALLY BETTER?, Palawan: Untouched Beauty In The Philippines , Palawan Travel Guide 

After looking at my options; considering sked and budget, our itinerary  would be as follows:

  1. Day 1:  Arrive in Puerto Princesa, Overnight Stay at Marianne Home Inn, Food Trip
  2. Day 2: Underground River Tour, Travel to El Nido in the evening, Overnight stay at Joaquin’s BnB
  3. Day 3:  Check out at Joaquin’s, Check in at Organic Spa BnB, Island Tour A, Dinner
  4. Day 4:  Island Tour C, Dinner at Art Cafe
  5. Day 5:  Check out at Organic Spa BnB, Check In at Joaquin’s,  Chill at Nakpan Beach, Dinner
  6. Day 6:  Check out at Joaquin’s, Travel to Puerto Princesa, Lunch at Ka Inato

In the morning of our flight, two wanderers set out early.  We made sure that outfits and apparatus were complete when we packed the night before.  It was easy getting a Grab car thankfully.   I made sure there will be no unpleasant surprises and told the driver to go through SLEX.  Traffic to the airport was pleasantly light.

Checking in, we were dealt with our first setback.  I wasn’t aware that Cebu Pacific has become more strict with weight limitations for hand-carried baggage and the baggage handlers wouldn’t overlook our 4 kgs excess weight even if I used all my charm in getting through.  I was made to pay a whooping P500 plus and I had to check in again.  I begrudgingly complied as I didn’t want to spoil our vacation this early.

Having surpassed our first hurdle, we got in the departure area.  Luck came back as there was no delay in the flight.  We boarded the plane and in about an hour we were in Puerto Princesa.

The van driver dispatched by the Marianne Home Inn had a placard bearing the hotel’s name.  We approached him and he led us to the van.  He immediately brought us to the hotel.  We checked in.  We were led to a room on the ground floor which doesn’t have a window.  I requested to be transferred and the receptionist readily acceded since there is also a vacant room on the fourth floor.  Unfortunately, the hotel has no elevator.  Well, it served as some sort of a work out for us but MD wasn’t happy….

We were assisted with our luggage going to our room which is not exactly how I pictured it to be.  In their website, the rooms look so sparkingly clean.  The air-conditioner is not working well as it couldn’t get to the desired temperature whatever adjustment was made. The bathroom is disappointing.  Renovation is long overdue.  The hotel management shouldn’t scrimped on maintenance because the returns from satisfied customers are multiplied manyfolds.  With the hotel’s booking rate,  it wouldn’t hurt to improve their facilities.  It’s a good thing we are staying only overnight.

Well, we cannot have it all.  There are things going for this bed and breakfast inn anyway… like the free airport transfer, the kind and helpful staff like Jonalyn, the assistance in our UR tour.  The hostel is also near tourist spots like the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral and the PPC Baywalk Park.

A bit of history ….

Puerto Princesa is a coastal city on Palawan Island in the western Philippines. It’s a base for boat trips through the massive limestone caves and underground river of the biodiverse Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.  Dive sites dot Puerto Princesa Bay, home to long-nosed dolphins, turtles and rays. Close to the port is the 19th-century Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral.

Legend attributes the name Puerto Princesa to a princess-like maiden who is said to have roamed the place on certain nights.  Others attribute the name to the geographical advantages of the place as a seaport naturally protected the whole year round and endowed with a depth that can accommodate any size of shipping, a haven for vessels or a virtual princess of ports as indicated by Spanish Colonizers on the country’s map.

Historically, the place was named after Princess Eulalia of Spain, born in 1864 to Queen Isabel II and her consort, Dr. Francisco de Asis. When the princess suffered an untimely death, the Queen changed the name to Puerto de la Princesa. Eventually, the name was reduced to Puerto Princesa as it is known today.

Spanish Colonizers founded the settlement on March 4, 1872 in the course of their exploration of the province. As they scanned the Palawan shoreline for a capital site, they came upon a hill with steep declivity. Rowing to shore, they surveyed the hill and discovered an extensive plateau which they decided as ideal for settlement.

Soon after, Fr. Antonio Muro levelled a portion of the hill to make way for a chapel. (That section is now occupied by the Catholic Cathedral, the P.C. Barracks and the Rizal Park. The Old Municipal Building used to be there, as well as an Elementary School). The first mass celebrated in Puerto Princesa took place at a site where a marker now stands.

In May 1872, the port became the center of Spanish Naval Operations in the area because the few natives were peaceful and the Bay met all the Navy’s requirements. Royal Decrees later provided incentives to settlers, such that by 1883 settlement had flourished into a town of twelve roads, a hospital and well built port.

In 1894, Puerto Princesa was recognized by government authorities as one of the most beautiful towns in the country by virtue of the orderly distribution of streets, buildings and houses as well as the cleanliness of the community.

In 1911, the New American Administration made Puerto Princesa the seat of the Palawan Provincial Government with Major John Brown as Lieutenant Governor.

The town was converted into a city on January 1, 1970 under R.A. 5906 as amended by P.D. 437, through the effort of then Congressman Ramon V. Mitra, Jr. Feliberto R. Oliveros, Jr. became the first City Mayor.

Since its foundation, Puerto Princesa has been the nerve center of activities in Palawan. Aside from being the seat of public administration, it is the heart of trade, commerce, service, and industry in the province.

Under the leadership of then Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn, the City has gained the distinction of being a model city  in cleanliness, environmental protection and conservation, and local governance in general.

And so, with a responsive leadership and an inspired citizenry, the tradition of Puerto Princesa being a beautiful and clean city lives on.

Here’s our foodie adventure ….

Day 1

After resting a bit, we set out for a very late lunch.  I had already set my sight on Rene Saigon’s Vietnamese Specialty.  This is a lesser known Vietnamese resto in PP, yet some bloggers swear by the goodness of its dishes.  There were trikes waiting outside the hotel.  We hopped into one.  When I told him the destination, the trike driver suggested Bona’s Chaolong which is the more popular Vietnamese resto.  I told him that I read that Rene Saigon is better.

It was past 2:00pm and there were no patrons when we arrived.  The trike driver suggested that he waits for us because trikes are not readily available in that area.

There was no one around and I called out anybody who was inside.  A lady would soon emerge and give us the menu.  We asked for suggestions.  She suggested their best sellers, the beef stew noodles and the beef noodles and banh mi (French bread).  We ordered as recommended and also ordered iced Vietnamese coffee.  I had beef stew noodles while MD opted for the simpler beef noodles.  The difference between the two is that more flavors are added to the beef stew variant.  It wasn’t long when our order would be served.  Immediately,the aroma of the noodles sifted in the air and we knew we got it right.  The first scoop of the soup confirmed what our senses already knew.  The noodles were heavenly… specially to starving souls out on a limb.  We ordered the plain banh mi although the recommendation of the lady was the one with pork barbeque.  We thought that we’d be too full afterwards and we still have a much awaited dinner a little later. I couldn’t exactly tell what’s special with the bread.  Maybe, it would taste much better with filling.  MD and I exchanged bowls to see the difference.  We both leaned towards the simpler beef noodles as the taste appears more full-bodied.  The beef stew noodle which is actually their best seller is still a good choice.  For me, however, there is too much flavor which can be a bit of work-out for the palate when one just wants the real flavors of meat and basic ingredients to stay true to its the original concoction.  Well, what can be expected.  We scooped up to the last drop.

Phở or pho is a Vietnamese noodle soup consisting of broth, rice noodles called bánh phở, a few herbs, and meat, primarily made with either beef or chicken.

When we were done with our meal, we turned our attention to the Vietnamese iced coffee.  The lady told us they no longer serve their coffee in a dripper because it takes a long time for all of the coffee to drip and the ice would be melted by the time dripping is done.  MD actually ordered the coffee.  I sipped some just to taste.  It’s really good.

After paying for our meal which costed less than P500, we took some more photos.  As we were snapping shots, our trike driver appeared.  The driver was suggesting that we go to the nearby WWII Memorial Museum.  Both MD and I, however, were not in the mood for museum visit.  We were also budgeting our time as we intend to go to mass at 6:00 pm.  Such a pity because it was a few steps away from the resto.

We need to be within the city center and decided to try halo-halo at Noki Nocs where our trike driver brought us.  We were still full from our Vietnamese feast and I was just curious why the halo halo and palabok in this place are best sellers.  We met a winsome old lady selling hand towels.  We didn’t buy hand towels and offered her refreshments instead which she gladly accepted.  MD and I shared one halo halo which costs P85.   We fell in love with the flavorful and creamy halo halo on the first scoop.  It wasn’t much what was in it but the ice which taste like ice cream.  Even with full tummy, we savor the halo halo till the last scoop.  When we finished, we said goodbye to the old lady who thanked and blest us.

Puerto Princesa Baywalk

The next destination is within walking distance from Marianne Pension Inn.  It used to be a squatters’ area but after a fire gutted the houses of the residents, they were no longer allowed to build houses. The city turned it to a tourist attraction to unwind and relax and developed it to a Baywalk.  There are numerous food stalls and souvenir shops.

We walked around the area and took shots.  A nice lady offered to take a shot of MD and me and we returned the favor.  We posed beside the big imposing Christmas tree that seems like a permanent structure.

Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral

We walked back to our hotel.  We rested first before going to the nearby  Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral for the 6:00 pm mass.

This blue-colored cathedral church is a century-old historical landmark which was built as a small church during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines and was only reconstructed into a cathedral in 1961.  It is an eye-catching structure due to its unique architectural design. The pointed arches of the church will remind you of the structures built during Medieval Europe.

After mass, we boarded a tricycle going back to the hotel as we were tired from all the walking.  We freshened up and rested more before going to dinner at Kalui Restaurant set at 8:00 pm.  Our contracted driver is bringing us there.  On the way, MD and my attention was caught by the festive lights at the municipal hall and requested to look and take some shots.   Kuya driver obliged reminding us to make it a short stop because of our reservation at Kalui.  We made a dash for it and enjoyed the blinking lights and took pictures.

We got back to the trike and made our way to Kalui.

When we got there, we approached the staff at the reception and told him we have a reservation.  He led us seats at the waiting area where we removes our footwear to wait for an available table.  The place looks awesome and we couldn’t resist taking pictures while waiting.

Soon, we were ushered to our table…. more pictures 🙂

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We ordered what everyone else recommends… the Special of the Day which consists of Fish Steak, Prawns, Veggies of the Day, Chili Crabs, rice, starters and dessert priced at P495.00.  It’s good for two.  The food styling is picture-perfect much like the place.  My review of the meal would be mixed.  I like the fish steak, the veggies and the prawns.  The rest are so so.  Maybe, I expected so much.  Still, the experience of dining barefoot in a tropical, idyllic setting is a must.  The meal is reasonably priced.

More pics of the awesome place…

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We went back to the hotel for a much-needed shut eye since we are going to our Underground River tour the following day.

Day 2

After the enthralling, mystical Underground River tour which will be talked about in another post, we went back to the hotel to clean up and wait for the van arranged by Joaquin BnB, our tour agency for the remainder of the trip, to head for  El Nido which is the main event of our Palawan adventure.

I remembered the Felicidad Espesyal Puto Bungbong and Bibingka stall we passed by after coming from the PP Baywalk and Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral.  MD and I decided to buy 1 bibingka and 1 puto bungbong to tide us during the five-hour trip to El Nido.

We ate the bibingka a few minutes after we started our travel.  It was so good.  I regretted not buying more.  MD and I took turns biting into the bibingka.  The puto bungbong is supposed to be dessert after dinner which was in a roadside eatery.  When we opened it, it doesn’t look appetizing anymore and it actually turned bad that we had to discard it.  It probably tastes good.  But after a few hours, it can spoil.

Last day

With time to spare before our flight back home, we asked the van driver to bring us to Ka Inato for our final foodie adventure.  There are two branches in Puerto Princesa, one is the main and the bigger branch in Barangay Bancao Bancao which we passed by on our way back to the city.  There is the smaller branch along Rizal Avenue which is near the airport.  We decided to go the the Rizal Avenue branch as it is more convenient.

We were served by someone using sign language and we realized that they employ PWDs.  It was indicated in their menu actually.  It was interesting but at some point there was difficulty in the server understanding what we needed and another waiter intervened.  No hassle though.  It’s a small thing.  I admire the management of the resto for doing their share in making a marginalized sector of society productive.

We ordered their signature Inasal Chix and the exotic Crocodile sisig.  The chicken is good and the crocodile sisig is ok.  The crocodile sisig is available in portion for sharing only.  We brought home our leftover.  There is nothing outstanding about the sisig except that it is crocodile meat.  It taste much like pork with slight difference in the texture.  Again, I would recommend that one visits this place when in Puerto Princesa for the experience.

A food trip can turn out to be punishing if one is not allowed to savor the food long enough.  There are so many food havens in Puerto Princesa that one day may not be enough to satisfy one’s palate with all the options.  Next time I visit, I would be trying  other much raved about restos like Kinabuch Bar and Grill, La Terrasse, Badjao Seafood Restaurant, Balinsasayaw Restaurant, Baker’s Hill ….. maybe, I will be brave enough to try a tamilok 🙂

Other posts:

  3. Kalui Restaurant: Excitement for the Eater

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