Two of my life’s dreams have been fulfilled here on the island of Palawan in Philippines. The first was bat hunting in the underground river caves and the second was swimming with tropical fish on Star Fish Island on the Honda Bay island hopping tour. Do I agree that Palawan should’ve been rated the world’s top island? Absolutely. Here’s why…
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Our tour started around 7:30 AM and we were collected and greeted by the delightful and bubbly fluent English speaking Filipino guide VJ. He explained important principles of eco-tourism including which animals we could touch and which ones we could not. He explained the dangers of sea urchins and the importance of not stepping on or touching the coral (it can die if humans touch it). Out first stop was the hire shop to hire our snorkelling gear. The snorkel, mask and swimming shoes were just 300 Pisos for the day (Around $6 or £5).
What to Pack for Honda Bay
If you are visiting Honda Bay for the first time, no doubt you will want to know what you should pack. Here goes…
- Bikini or swimming costume or swim shorts (for men) – most of today’s activities will be water based.
- Flip flops and aqua shoes (so you don’t cut your feet on the coral when snorkelling).
- Snorkel and face mask if you have one, but if you don’t you can hire one.
- A sarong or beach cover up.
- A change of clothes eg. spare T-shirt, shorts and underwear in case you need to change after your swimming.
- Bug spray with DEET – I got feasted on during this trip because I forgot to reapply bug spray after my swim!
- Sun cream – at least factor 30.
- Camera or phone but kept in a waterproof bag.
Approaching the Port at Honda Bay
When we arrived at the port, an array of street sellers waited as we disembarked the bus, with highly overpriced shell and pearl jewellery. But VJ had already warned us of this tourist scam!
Here’s the Thing about Solo Travel
So here’s the thing about solo travel. Many people back home often ask me what? You travel solo in the Philippines? Well, the truth is, although I am travelling solo I am never really alone. There are always fabulous people to meet along the way. And today’s group was an inspiring and enthusiastic combination of Aussies and Filipinos. Zia and Ella two Young Filipino girls waited eagerly in their full swim wear. Then there was Dave, an Australian who met his Filipina wife Helen online. They now live together in Australia.
Star Fish Island
As the boat approached Star Fish island, we could already see enormous star fish in the water below. I couldn’t wait to get out and about to see them! I could easily see where Star Fish Island got its name! The star fish were large coral coloured ones with black spikes on them. They were bigger than my hand! Coming from Birmingham, I didn’t know that star fish this big even existed! You are allowed to touch the star fish on star fish island and pick them up out of the water. However, you must put them straight back in the water as soon as possible, because after 2 to 3 minutes out of the water, they will die. Respect the star fish! I then joined Ella and Zia for the snorkling activity.
At first I was scared of the sea urchins and slimey things, but then I remember that I was wearing the protective sea shoes, as recommended by VJ! But just as I went in up to my thighs, I felt something that I thought was touching or even biting my leg! ‘Aaaaah, aaaah, something getting me!’ I screamed! The girls looked at me, looked at each other and sniggered. I looked down and as the water was so clear I could see what it was…. a clear and grey fish about the size of my index finger thought I was food – he was bouncing off my leg like a kissing gorami! ‘Just move!’ the girls told me.
As soon as I did, they swam away.
The snorkelling got better as you Swam over the coral to the sheer drop into the deep ocean. This is why you still must wear your life jacket. The snorkelling at first, was scaring me slightly. I think it’s just the initial feeling of water around your face. When you learn to put complete trust in the snorkel and mask you are absolutely fine.
As soon as I put my head under I was amazed! Two ‘dories’ swimming in and out of the rock crevices. 3 large Angel fish to My Right. I’d seen them in aquariums, but thats nothing compared to seeing them in the ocean – their natural habitat. Then, something I didn’t recognise but that surprised me so much that I had to take my head out of the water to say wow! A large turquoise and orange fat fish about the size of my A5 diary! Stunning. There really is a whole new world under there.
Cool Camera Tricks
Before lunch, I stopped to see a guy who was taking photos with camera tricks. He made me stand way back behind a coconut, made me jump in the air and then showed me the picture that seemed like I was hanging off a giant coconut!
I also got consumed by a giant clam! I gave him 50 pesos for that – very entrepreneurial!
We were then cooked up an amazing seafood buffet with fish (sweet lips), crab and seaweed. It was so fresh and delicious.
The next stop was Luli island. This island is almost fully immersed when the tide comes in – the houses and bars are on stilts to accommodate for this!
Cowrie island is named after the cowrie shell. The quote ‘take only memories, leave only footprints’ again is relevant here. If tourists take the shells from Cowrie island, it can have a negative impact on the ecosystem, because there are sea creatures inside. Any tourists who try to take the cowrie shells will have them confiscated at the airport.
Cowrie island is full of coconut trees, and there are signs saying don’t walk underneath the coconut trees for your own safety. VJ told us that if one lands on your head it can kill you – death by coconut!
I met with a few other tourists and we took photos for each other on our tropical island paradise.
As the end of the trip drew near, a big black cloud started to move towards cowrie island. These islands are prone to typhoons and tropical storms, so it was time to make a quick getaway. And lucky that we did – look at the rain pouring buckets as we approach the port of Honda Bay! After returning our snorkling gear, we all swapped Facebook details on the way home. It’s always nice to make a few new friends along the way. Ella and Zia, if you are reading this, I hope that one day you do come to visit me in England!
Also, thanks to the one and only VJ!
The tour costs approximately 1500 pesos and is well worth it. I booked through Sheebang Hostel, but you can also book online with Viator Travel.
Further Reading on Palawan and the Philippines.
I would recommend incorporating Palawan into a Philippines 10 day itinerary.