(Disclaimer: My trip to Palawan featured in this entry was in 2011. Photos were taken in 2011.)
It’s been a while since we last had a travel entry in the blog. A day before this, I came upon the quote “There are some place in life where you can only go alone. Embrace the beauty of your solo journey.” I was reminded of that time in 2011 when I dared to go out on a solo trip that surprised me because never in my wildest dream did I ever think that I can go through it alone. But I guess that was that time when I just had to do it, to see how far I can go and how deep I can discover myself (may pinagdaraanan, as we Filipinos say). So ladies, allow me to tell you the story of my solo travel and why you should also go, even if it’s only once in your life. Also, for other nationalities, please allow me to introduce to you a special place in the Philippines that you can visit. It’s not as busy as Manila and not as crowded as Boracay. It’s paradise.
Have you ever looked at the Philippine map closely and noticed the long stretch of an island lying in the South China Sea? That is Palawan, the largest province in the country in terms of total area of jurisdiction. Also known as paradise on earth. And why not? With its beguiling seascapes and wide array of flora and fauna, Palawan should be one of the first islands that people visit in the Philippines. I did not heed that advice at first because before reaching Palawan, I already visited Bohol and Cebu, both wonderful places as well. But there is really nothing like Palawan, especially Coron, the third largest island in the Calamian group of islands in Northern Palawan.
Coron boasts of endless white-sand beaches, colorful coral reefs, dense rain forests and mangrove swamps, well-shaped limestone cliffs and crystal-clear lakes. It was an easy choice for me and my college friends when we were deciding where to go for our annual reunion trip. They were the ones who planned and scheduled everything. I was the one in Saudi Arabia just saying yes to everything, haha! They booked us on a tour that took us to the Kayangan Lake, Barracuda Lake, Twin Peaks and all the other tourist spots in the area. Before going home to the Philippines, an idea hit me. I will extend my stay in Palawan for three more days after the days I spend with my friends. So instead of booking the same flight going back to Manila with them, I convinced myself I needed some “me” time and booked at another resort for 3 more days.
Palawan is a 45-minute plane ride away from Manila. There are many domestic flights catering to this island like Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, etc. Fares are usually around PHP 5,000 (SAR 400) per person. It can get as low as PHP 2,000 (SAR 160) during flight sales. Weather all-year round is nice but as much as possible, avoid the months of June to August because it’s the rainy season in the Philippines. We went in December and the weather is nice! It’s not as hot as summer and there were a few drizzles at night which make the air cool and breezy.
I truly enjoyed the company of my friends in our island hopping in Coron but I felt a need to go solo traveling after our group escapade. There are many reasons why we feel this need to travel solo. What can be your reasons to travel alone? Why travel solo?
1. “Me” Time
After three years of working in Saudi Arabia, I just felt like I needed a well-deserved R&R looking at just the greens and blues of nature, instead of the usual browns here. Why travel solo? I asked myself that a hundred times and the one answer that just in popped in my brain is because I can and I want to and I will. I have never tried to travel solo before (unless you consider my bus trips from my hometown La Union to Manila as such, or my first time flight from Manila to Riyadh) and I just felt that it was the right moment. Solo travel, they said, can be delightfully self-indulgent. There’s nothing to do, there’s no others to think of. It’s just you and yourself. But it can also get worrisome. At first, I was fine with my plan but when my friends already left me at the Busuanga Airport in Palawan to wait for the people from the resort I booked separately to come and get me, I was already panicking. What if it’s not safe? What if I got lost? What if something happens to me? I’m a worry wart, yes I am. But I still went ahead because I have a reason to travel: I’m desperate for “me” time.
I chose to spend my me time in 2011 in an island resort called Chindonan Dive Resort. The resort was tucked in the hillside of the island overlooking Coron Bay. The resort is more known for its dive center. The underwater of Coron Bay holds wrecks of Japanese ships that were took down by the Americans in World War II. These wrecks are just 10-30 minutes away from the resort and Chindonan has attractive dive packages for those who would want to explore the area. They also have dive certification packages if you’re into that thing. I wasn’t interested in those things. I just want to relax and detox in their benches and hammocks under the shade. Be one with nature, something like that haha.
2. Take control.
I want to take control of my own life. Easier said than done especially with all the situations that are out of our hands happening and so traveling gave me that kind of feeling. I am the master of my own itinerary. I do the decisions on my own, I get to choose what to do, where to go, how to go. Planning a trip with anyone else is an exercise in compromise and negotiation and it’s no easy task if travel buddies change their minds many times and need to be sweet talked, cajoled, forced to go especially when packages and budget were already accounted for (I hate that with friends who change their mind like they’re the ones making the plan you know? When all they needed to do is pay and turn up at the airport! Lol.).
I like planning the itinerary of our trips because I want making sense of the budget and the expenses (I know, I’m a weirdo) and I get high (really giddy) when I find ways to make our budget work for our plans. When I was planning my solo Palawan trip, I have a budget that’s less than PHP 10,000 (SAR 850) so I made that work. The price of my 3 days and 2 Nights accommodation in their budget hut which includes transfers from the airport to the resort and back, water, coffee, tea, set breakfast and dinner buffet was only PHP 6,000 (approx. SR 490). They no longer have the budget huts that I booked in 2011 but that’s what I chose because I was the only one traveling and I figured it’s enough for me, and it was! But the owners were so kind and generous enough to upgrade me to the Deluxe Room on my second day (they actually wanted to upgrade me on my first day but the rooms were still occupied). I deposited my downpayment from here in Riyadh before my vacation.
They now have Superior Rooms at PHP 3,750 (SAR 300) for a single person (PHP 6,000 for double occupancy) per night inclusive of the same service and amenities above. Less PHP 400 if you go on a low season (May-October). Their deluxe cottage which is really spacious and can accommodate up to five persons go for PHP 4,750 (SAR 380) to PHP 13,300 (SAR 1,050) on high peak season (mid-October to April). More on their rooms and rates here. What I really like about the rooms in Chindonan is the views from the terraces and the surrounding trees that provide fresh air and sunny spots in the morning. I also like it at clear nights when I just gazed at the black sky dotted with stars. Overall, the resort rates were inexpensive considering the service and amenities. And the feeling that you own and live in an island.
3. Gain confidence and courage.
It’s not as if this change happens immediately. You do not gain confidence in a blink of an eye but you can try and I did. I wasn’t the type to just head on to the unknown but I guess I want to try for once in my life to be confident of my decisions at the get go. After my solo trip, I felt like I can do things I haven’t done before. Okay confession, I don’t know how to swim and the beach as a destination makes me reluctant. I can just hang out in the seashore, yeah sure… when the blue waters of the sea is just there inviting me to take a dip. But where did my solo trip took me? To a resort in Chindonan Island which is 45 minutes away by boat from Coron town proper. I was flabbergasted when the guys from the resort met me at the airport and said we will go to another island by boat for 30-45 minutes. Uhmn what?! I knew that the resort I was going to was on another island but I didn’t know it was that far. All that I can hold on to that time was my little courage, confidence and trust at Chindonan Resort’s people. And you know what? I didn’t fail. Traveling solo is surely empowering.
4. Meet new people.
I’m shy around new people and strangers. It takes me months of seeing and knowing a person before I open up to them and show my witty, sarcastic, sometimes funny side. And so meeting people asap wasn’t my reason in traveling. The truth is, I wanted to see and meet as few people as possible. I want my me time, I wanted to do my own thing without getting into small talks and conversations. But you, you can go ahead and befriend people on your solo trip. It’s a great way to meet fellow travellers who’ve been to places you’ve never been to, exchange tips and stories, write emails to each other once the trip is done… yes, go ahead and expand your horizons, expand your list of friends.
During my stay in Chindonan, there were a lot of foreigners. They were mostly divers who I saw in the morning but were gone most of the day. They usually go to Sangat Island which is directly across Chindonan. There’s also a resort there that caters to scuba divers. The island of Sangat is where the Japanese Imperial took refuge in 1944 after 15 of their ships were already lost in Manila Bay. However, the Americans led by Admiral William F. “Bull” Halsey from the battleship USS New Jersey and Vice Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, commander of Task Force 38 aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington, made a surprise aerial attack on the Japanese fleet. More than 10 ships sunk in the area and their wrecks are the perfect spots visited by divers all around the world.
History and nature’s mystery, what more can you ask for from Palawan?
5. Just to enjoy.
When we’re always busy, we forget that we need to have fun and enjoy ourselves. Going on a solo adventure lets us discover something new about ourselves. Or it lets us improve ourselves. We gain new hobbies, do new activities, or just refresh our skills and creativity. Like I said, I don’t know how to swim but I found myself in the company of fishes and corals in this trip. I didn’t want to go snorkelling but my hosts in Chindonan urged me to do so. They even had one of their best lifeguards accompany me in the middle of the sea in a little boat just to help me swim and snorkel (he was literally dragging a life buoy where I’m perched haha, sorry manong!). They even tempted me to go diving and island hop to Culion but I said no and it was one of the biggest regrets I ever had in my life. I should have said yes and took the risk. Tutal andun na ako. And guess what, all the activities I did, they did not charge me extra. I’m not saying you should insist on not paying for these activities (just because they gave it to me for free) but know that there are people who are kind and nice and are just all around us.
6. Answer a life question.
The first reason why I wanted that solo trip was to let go of someone I loved (okay fine, it was a break-up that caused me to go on my little adventure in 2011) and so what right? I have the right to cope with my sadness and answer the question to my whys and hows in life. The only person who can do that was me and I needed to dig deep and detach myself from familiar surroundings to regain myself. I needed a good cry on a place where no one knows me. I needed to throw things that were memorable to me to a place where there’s no chance of finding them again. (Don’t worry, I didn’t litter in the sea or in the shore.)
Writing about it now, ang drama ko pala that time. Haha! But who cares right? At least I got the answer to What Will I Friggin’ Do With Myself?! I went snorkelling and I read books in hammocks by the sea and ate breakfasts while staring at marvelous sights and saw the rain coming down to another island from our island and contemplated on buying the island next to Chindonan (rather, daydreaming) and went on a short fishing trip and trusted strangers with my life. I found out that I can do a lot with myself. And I also found out that I’ll live after a heartbreak. And I can find love and happiness again. And that I get to have my teleserye moment. Ng slight lang, haha!
Of course, solo traveling can get a bit daunting for first-timers. Here are my tips based on my experience.
1. Be aware, not afraid.
Act confidently, brave and friendly. Remember my entry on How To Fly To Riyadh and I mentioned there that you should look like you know what you’re doing? It applies to every travel because you can’t let others see you as fearful and worried. Looking like you’re lost (even if you really are lost) and panicking will make you a target for those who prey on the weak. Remain attentive and assertive. Don’t lose your bearing and remain focus at the task at hand. Be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Smile more and be friendly because people will help those who put forth kindness. You can do this!
2. Have a backup plan.
In life, there should always be a backup plan. Plan A didn’t work? Plans B to Z should do the trick. You can only wing it when you already trust your instinct.
3. Know that you will get lonely.
On my first night alone, it was raining hard on the island and I was in my little hut with only a big lizard on the wall to accompany me. The layout of Chindonan then was the huts were separated a few meters away from each other with the deluxe huts in the higher area while the nipa huts, where I was at, was nearer the main house but mine was in the edge nearest the forest. I felt like crying and chastised myself for going solo. Why do I have to go solo when I have family and friends who can accompany me! I texted my older sister and informed her that it was crazy dark and stormy and scary where I was at. She suggested I breathe in and out and coach myself to sleep so that I won’t get paranoid. If I’m still panicking in the morning then I should ask to be brought to Coron but if I’m feeling better, I should stay put. Just having her texting me kept me calm. I was pretty sure she was laughing silently at my predicament not because she was mean (actually, she’s the kindest among us) but because she couldn’t fathom the coincidence of a bad weather on my “me” time.
4. Stay safe!
Research prior to your trip and book known hotels or at least those which are recommended. Research on the place you’re going and know the crime rate in Coron, Palawan (which is almost zero, I believe). There are a lot of good resorts and guesthouses in Palawan. If you’re on a budget, try Ralph’s Pension House, Coron Sunrise Pension House, and Coron Vista Lodge. If you’re just in the middle looking for inexpensive accommodation with fantastic island experience, try Chindonan Resort and Sangat Island Resort. Not going for that “Survivor” experience and just want to stay in Coron town proper? Try The Funny Lion Inn, Sunz En Coron, and Coron Hilltop View Resort. But if you’re dreaming of luxury then try Club Paradise, El Rio Y Mar Resort, and Two Seasons Island Resort and Spa. Read on reviews of the hotels. It will also be good to bring a can of pepper spray, Swiss knife, etc.
5. You’re traveling solo but you’re not alone.
Yes, you’re traveling solo but that doesn’t mean that you won’t think of your families and friends who care about you. Let them know where you’re going, what time you expect to arrive and leave, and where you are staying. Give them copies of your flight details and itineraries. If something happens at least they have a basic idea on where you might be exactly. You don’t have to shut out the world just because you found the courage to go on your own. Being brave doesn’t mean being alone.
This is quite a long entry already and it took quite a long time to write. I should have written this in 2011 or at least in 2012 but life happened because once upon a time, I had the courage to go on a solo trip. This trip has taught me a lot of things and gave me experiences that changed me in ways I didn’t know it did at first. I am always grateful for these opportunities. Grateful more to the Lord because He kept me safe. If you have the chance, go! Travel solo!