In the last couple of months with soaring air fare prices going to Coron, Palawan during the peak season from November to May, it made us wonder how we can travel to Coron with limited budget. Airline prices to Coron/Busuanga Airport from Manila are at a sky high at Php 7500 (USD 162) return per person. I remember Coron residents previously mentioning their frequent travel to Manila by ship for administrative purposes to save on costs.
The archipelago of the Philippines is made up of 7,500 islands. 29 years ago in the absence of budget airlines, the most common mode of transport to get to other islands is through water. The thought of it at first was a frightful one due to a terrible sea incident crossing Batangas and Lubang many many years ago aboard a very small ferry.
After having seen the price difference online with ship return tickets per person amounting to +/- Php 3000 ( USD65 ) which includes a free dinner meal voucher and a 75 kg luggage allowance per person, we changed our minds and we found ourselves en route to the nearest 2Go Ticket Booking Office a week before our travel date. Click 2Go Travel here.
When to Travel?
It is considered safe to travel by sea between the months of January to beginning of May, conveniently coinciding with the peak season. The sea is usually much calmer, away from typhoon season. The journey to Coron from Manila is 15 hours. Tuesdays and Fridays The same ship stops in Coron and continues on to Puerto Princesa. Return is on Thursdays and Sundays.
|North Harbor Pier 4|
The departure venue is at Pier 4 North Harbor. Outside the North Harbor gates, this area is notoriously known to be one of the most dangerous parts of Manila, so it is advisable to go there towards the gates directly by taxi or safely dropped off by a driver in a private vehicle. We tried Grab Car but there was no chauffeur available that Tuesday morning. We're based in the south of Manila and from Paranaque City, we took a cab. Meter down it would usually cost Php 350 one way, but due to the North Harbor traffic that cab drivers will face on their way back, they will ask for Php500-600. Feel free and have fun practicing your negotiating skills :)
As soon as we reached the North Harbor Pier 4, I was impressed. My memories of it 29 years ago was so far from this. It has changed beautifully well.
Where is North Harbor Pier 4?
The security team strictly implements that passengers cross those yellow pedestrian lanes. Don't be pasaway (stubborn) :) Oh, and I asked permission from the guards if I can safely take pictures first.
|Play Area for Kids|
Once we boarded, we were directed towards our designated classes. There's Super Value (Open Air), Tourist Class (with Air Conditioning), Cabin Class or Private Cabins perfect for family with kids (Beds of 4), Suite Room and Stateroom. We have Tourist Class Beds.
We were warmly greeted at the reception lounge and as soon as I entered the Tourist Class Hall doors, a cold air conditioning breeze with a tinge of smell of feet welcomed us with open arms. The last rows of bunks adjacent to us were filled with men who seemed to have been living there for months. They had their clothes on hangers hanging on the ladder steps, Some men were sleeping under their own blankets. An LCD screen was playing old Filipino movies on PBO Channel.
It was raining men on that side of the ship. At one point, it transported me back to a time I visited Muntinlupa Prison but this one on a much upgraded scale. The men were in fact sea men trainees on the ship so there was nothing to worry about.
|Tourist Class Bunk Beds|
The thing that bothered my husband and I was the cold. Yes it was freezing cold just like the cinemas in Manila, the kind that would give you bouts of flu if you don't cover up fast. One thing we didn't have was a good sweater. Something we would never wear in a tropical country outdoors. Here, it is mandatory.
We left our bags on the bunks to look for something hot to drink and to explore the rest of the ship. Though it is not advisable to leave your stuff unattended, I trusted the sea men next to our bunk bed so off we went.
|Super Value Class|
There's a spa, a salon, a chapel, a cozy Horizon Restaurant and Cafe with an a la carte menu and readily cooked meals in catering trays,
There is also Island Grill Bar, a terrace lounge at the topmost deck that has karaoke competitions at 3pm and acoustic night music at 9pm. They were selling yummy turon for snacks, burgers, sandwiches and pork and chicken barbecue. We were surprised to find a lot of foreign backpackers and tourists lounging at the deck enjoying the afternoon sun with a cold bottle of beer. The view up there is amazing during sunset and the natural breeze is inviting. If it weren't for our bags, we would have preferred to stay up there for a much longer time.
When we got back to our bunk beds that evening, we couldn't stand the freezing temperature so we asked the reception if we could go to the upper most deck's Super Value Class for the night. They agreed and we took our linens and found empty lower bunk beds and were able to enjoy a peaceful sleep with occasional swaying. Just imagine you're in a hammock ;)
Guess what, the time passed and before we know it, it was 4am and it was time to disembark. Hello Coron!
Our Return Journey
We booked Super Value Class spaces during our return. The departure time was 4:00pm on a Sunday and the ship came from Puerto Princesa.
One of the funny experiences we had was before boarding the ship, we were in line on our way to the ramp when the vessel security stopped us. We were asked to put our things down across from us while we stand "firing-squad" style on the other side. We were standing there for a long time waiting for the trained dogs to come out.
My husband bends his head sideways and asked, "Is there a dog?"
I looked and uttered, "There is a cat."
Yes, there was a cat that literally walked and started sniffing the stuff.
Apparently, the cat is not part of the security entourage so the big dogs made their appearance later. :)
The entire evening breezed by with occasional young French tourists who were drunk and making noises at 2am. There were lots of foreign backpackers. They found a really good means of traveling on the cheap.
As the morning prayers of gratitude for a safe journey echoed waking us up from our slumber, we docked at the North Harbor.
I was a bit anxious on how to catch a cab from the pier so we were one of the first passengers out of the ship. We found some jeepneys with marked destinations going to Lawton and Manila at the parking lot. Other backpackers took this jeepney.
There are official pier cab drivers in orange t-shirts who will usually charge Php 1500 for a cab. We declined at first to pay such an amount, so we ended up splitting the fare with other passengers. We negotiated Php 500 for Yohann and I and we shared the cab with a Canadian traveler headed to Terminal 3 and a seaman based in Palawan who's in Manila for a job application. Apparently, they charge this much to compensate for waiting from 5am and in order to pay for the parking fee. The cab drivers in orange shirts with membership numbers marked on their shirts are part of the association of pier's registered taxis. In this way, traveling with them is much safer than hailing your own cab outside the walls of the Pier. The cab ride allowed us to engage in conversation with the driver and fellow travelers.
The seaman in our taxi was a victim when he took a pedicab, a small bicycle with a sidecar. The pedicab charged him Php 20 which became Php120 at his drop off. When he declined to pay, other pedicab drivers started approaching ready to beat him up. He had no choice but to pay the latter price in order to avoid trouble.
We reached home safe and sound.
Will I travel by ship again? Oh yes.
Is it something you will consider?
Are you up for 15 hours of travel by sea?
Love & light,