PALAWAN AS A TOURIST DESTINATION is the one bound to give Bohol a run for its money. Not Boracay or Cebu that many once imagined. Palawan is building an international airport, too.
Bohol records 500,000 tourists a year and aims at 1.2 million with the new Panglao international airport in place. But Palawan has already registered 2 million visitors a year , doubtless, enamored by two Heritage Sites of the United Nations there. Naming them.
One is the Palawan Underground River, the world’s most beautiful subterranean river , stretching to over 5 kilometers and rushing into the arms of the South China Sea; the other is the Tubatahha Reef, one of the best diving sites in the globe.
The 2 million tourists in Palawan can savor the delectable tour sites in Puerto Princesa, one of the nation’s largest cities, or else go on a 5 hour land ride to the more high- end resorts and islands in the Coron Island and El Nido places.
But Puerto Princesa , the city within a forest (75% of its land area) is no longer just a “stop over stay” for Coron and El Nido (final destinations) but already a final destination by itself., says the amiable Rene Suarez, the General Manager of the Microtel Hotel in the city.
Just seeing the 7th Wonder of the World – the Palawan Underground River- is a totally enchanting feeling (already) that by itself stand- alone can justify one’s costly visit to the last frontier of environmental protection.
First it was former speaker Ramon “Monching” Mitra , then the indefatigable many-time mayor Edward Hagedorn of the city who transformed it into a world-class tourist destination.
Aside from the bats, sea snakes, monkeys and other birds inside the cavernous structure housing the river, one gets blown over by the magnificent rock formations surrounding the river. What one sees in the formations can be as fertile as one’s imagination can muster.
An audio taped description of the structures being passed by in the river trip is an exercise in clear fact-telling . And the silent journey kind of brings the spectator to quite another planet and the silence that engulfs all makes the trip seem like a holy ritual.
The boats bringing the 900 a day souls (maximum for a day) are routinely disciplined giving velocity , order and class to the exercise. Unlike the chaotic colorum bancas proliferating in Panglao where every beach head is a docking point, there is only but one docking station for all boats going to the underground marvel.
The Tubatahha Reef is another such of a darling site- for which the country legally pressed a United States vessel for damages for once encroaching on the reef and destroying some of them.They paid in cash – especially after a long discussion.
With these two sites alone, Palawan is already hard to beat,
There is discipline -likewise- along the wide city streets and a biggie- the Robinson department Store of the Gokongweis has a branch in the city and the billionaire -boxer Manny Pacquiao allegedly teamed up with former Ilocos Sur Governor Luis Chavit Singson to erect the Canvass, a boutique hotel in Puerto Princesa. Notice in contrast -the Tower of Babel governing part of the city traffic here.
There are no impolite, overcharging public conveyance drivers in the city- City Hall cracks a giant whip on them. Attention: Tagbilaran city transport drivers. Take a cue- and think as one with the tourism goals here.
Palawan has a very adequate source in power coming from its own geothermal sources. Palawan also has a strong provincial budget sourced from its financial share it gets in the exploration of the Malampaya strait for commercial gas and natural liquid gas.
There are many good restaurants in town but if one insists in getting to know the two- the best should go to Ka Lui (owned by Louie) and then the Badjao Inn and Restaurant fronting the mangroves and the deep sea body of water. If for nothing else- try their crocodile tail sisig in the city restos , a pleasant discovery for all new first -timers.
Ka Lui is being recommended by most well-traveled folks in all cities and provinces anywhere in the country for its artistic ambiance, warm hospitality, excellent fresh sea food and the inimitable Mr. Louie. The place can only be had- done through reservation . And while the food choices are limited, nonetheless they are all prepared like none other to make all of them differently delicious.
Honda Bay, on the other hand is a sheer delight to see : of resorts fronted by white sandy beaches and possible trips- including a sneak visit recommended for the Snake Island (sandbar), the Bat Island and Dos Palmas Resort.
People are generally friendly and uniformly drivers, waiters and beauty folks are well versed in the history and significance of places and events in the city of Puerto Princesa and the province. It is a matter of training.
Bohol should have one similar as Baker’s Hill where a hill was converted into a station stop for a host of native pastries and the like in excellent packaging, children’s playground and covered by flowers and plants. Why not something like this on top of the Banat-i Hills? Same with the Mitra Ranch which accords one a panoramic view of the city coast and bay?
Or within the Friendship Park fronting the azure blue waters of Bool?
Prices all around are all seemingly affordable. A clear sign all establishments are out for volume sale in exchange for smaller margins catering to the throbbing 2 million guests yearly.
Palawan is one province with superb direction and takes its tourism industry in all seriousness. We are mesmerized as well as challenged by what this environmentally conscious province has done with its homework. No sloppy work, disregard for customer’s preferences or pure lazy talk in lieu of public service can be found.
Taking a study group from Bohol to study how Palawan has transformed itself into a globally -renowned destination is necessary. Bring notebooks (electric and old fashion) and pens while being there.
They respect Nature first, paddle their canoes in one direction and they never learn to rest on their laurels. We can learn from our rivals. Palawan is one great model Bohol can emulate.
Nothing wrong with benchmarking Palawan’s best practices. It’s never too late.