The Daily Decaf

taking a break from the buzz

Tag: Southeast Asia

One Week in Palawan; Travel Itinerary

Ranked as one of the best islands in the world, with crystal clear beaches, world-class diving and coral reef snorkeling, countless islands to explore and some of the nicest people in Southeast Asia, Palawan is a place you’ll never forget and forever want to come back to. Even if you only have one week in Palawan, we’ve got you covered with a day-to-day travel itinerary, money savings tips, and a general guide to help you get the most out of 7-days in Palawan.

Port Barton Sunsets

Breath-taking sunsets as seen from Port Barton each night.


What to expect from this itinerary: This is for travelers looking for a balance between the “authentic” Filipino experience, and those wanting some comforts while on vacation. You’ll spend a few days in Port Barton, far removed from common tourist traps, spending each day island hopping, snorkeling, paddle-boarding, shopping alongside local villagers in town, and sipping cheap beers by a beautiful beach. From there you’ll hop a 30-minute boat ride to an isolated beach, spending a few days “luxury” camping with a small group of other adventurous travelers from around the world. You’ll fish, kayak, hike, play volleyball, and enjoy the most pristine private beach you’ll see in Palawan, all while enjoying mouth-watering home-cooked communal dinners and firepit story-telling.  You’ll end your trip with a journey north to the limestone cliff town of El Nido for world-class snorkeling and island hoping before catching a flight home. It’ll be a short trip, but it won’t be one you regret.

What You Need To Know

Currency: 1 USD = P48.

Plan Ahead: Don’t expect the same conveniences you might be used to when you travel. Electricity is limited and unpredictable, and you may only have electricity for a few hours a day. Charge your equipment when you can!

Bring Cash: Limited to no acceptance of credit cards and no ATMs–bring cash. Even though El Nido recently got an ATM (as of late 2015), it’s known for running out of cash.  Put simply: plan on paying for everything in cash.

Travel light: Everything you need should fit in a backpack under 10kg. This won’t just make travel easier, it’s a requirement to fly from El Nido to Manila.

Etiquette: Tipping is not common in the Philippines, but typically you round-up on the cost of a taxi. Dress conservatively in town: bikinis are fine on the beach, but wrap a sarong around you when you head to restaurants, shops, or through town.

Days 1 thru 2: Port Barton

Travel from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton, a small coastal town halfway between Puerto Princesa and El Nido.  A rough 30-minute off-road ride from any major road, Port Barton was once imagined as the new, smaller El Nido, but tourism never really came. As a result, you’ll find much of what El Nido has to offer at a much cheaper price and without the crowds of tourists. Expect to walk the streets with locals (and many stray dogs) and spend your days relaxing on a hammock or exploring near-by islands. You will be woken up every morning by roosters or dog fights, so don’t count on sleeping in.

  • Getting There: Arrange for a Recaro van (+63 909 351 3037 or +63 905 485 8597) to pick you up from Puerto Princesa’s Airport or your hotel at 9am for P900. It’ll be a 5hr air-conditioned ride in a 12-seater van with one bathroom stop along the way. Expect an additional hour at start while passengers are picked-up and bags are strapped to the roof. Roads will be windy and bumpy: if you get motion sickness, bring your medicine.
  • Where to stay: For P1200/night, stay in the bare-bones cottages of Elsa’s Cottage and Restaurant right along the beach. While the cottages aren’t much, they offer some of the most consistently delicious food in town. For a little more, stay at Sunset Colors, which is also along the beach, and enjoy their morning yoga routines in a tree fort (P200). You can go cheaper by looking a block in from the beach for local rooms or homestays.
  • Where to eat/drink: For consistently tasty food with remarkably slow service, check Elsa’s Cottage and Restaurant. If you’re looking for somewhere to grab a drink, try the tree-fort overlooking the beach at Ausan Beachfront Restaurant.
  • What to do: Charter a boat from a hotel for P700/per and spend a day snorkeling and island hoping, your captain will also cook you a delicious meal of fish, veggies, and rice mid-day.

Days 3 thru 5: San Vicente

Remove yourself from civilization and stay on a private beach near San Vicente with a small group of other adventurous travelers. Spend your days borrowing kayaks, boating to rural villages, hiking to waterfalls, fishing with other travelers, sharing stories over campfire and home-cooked meals each night, or just enjoying the clearest, most pristine waters on Palawan. This will be the most memorable and special part of your trip, and you will never want to leave.

  • Where to stay: Stay at Toby & Thelma’s Camping Adventure for P1600/person per day. No need to bring anything (except maybe snacks): they’ll set you up with a tent (a glorified tent at that, complete with a mattress), towels, complimentary on-site water gear, and three delicious home-cooked meals a day at a communal table.
  • Where to eat/drink: You have no choice, but you’d also have it no other way: you have to eat there. Expect three delicious home-cooked meals each day at a communal table.  Breakfast and lunch are small, so bring snacks if needed, but be prepared for a massive buffet dinner each night. For post-dinner, there’s a house bar powered by a generator and a firepit to trade stories around each night.
  • What to do: Kayak to a nearby village and hike to a waterfall, go fishing with Toby and island locals, swim to one of many nearby islands, play volleyball as the sun sets over the water each night, shower at the natural spring, or just relax on the beach. You will find no more peaceful of a stay than your time here.

Day 6 thru 7: El Nido

Ignore the hype and only spend a couple days in “top travel destination” of El Nido. Sitting on the northern coast of Palawan around massive limestone cliffs, you’ll find beautiful island hoping, the island’s best snorkeling, plenty of restaurants and bars, but also loads of tourists. If diving is what you’re looking for, hop a 5hr ferry ride to the quieter island of Coron instead, and fly back to Manila from there. El Nido is not worth missing, but it’s also not worth overstaying your visit.

  • Getting There: Notify your hosts at Toby & Thelma’s and they’ll get you on a 10am boat and 4hr air-conditioned van ride to El Nido. From the bus terminal in El Nido, hop a P100 ride into town.
  • Where to stay: Directly in the middle of town, and still quiet, crash at Shipwrecked Pension House for P3000/night and enjoy your first air-conditioning and reliable power (generator) of the trip. Request a 2nd floor room, just don’t expect hot water or water pressure!  For a much more affordable and also lively atmosphere, stay at HakunaMatata Hostel (P800 for private room).
  • Where to eat/drink:
    • Happiness Beach Bar: Excellent views for sunset, so expect crowds.
    • Sunset Republica: Beautiful sunset views from Corong Corong and delicious, though very small plates.
    • Habibi Restaurant & Shisha Cafe: Chill 2nd floor bar along the beach and a perfect place to relax end of night.
    • Atmosphere: A sushi restaurant that does not serve sushi. Get their house noodle bowl.
    • L’assiette: Get to the 3rd floor view amazing views of the harbor. Just be aware you’re going to be spending more for your meal as a result.
  • What to do:
    • Island Hopping via Tour C for snorkeling and private beaches. If you’re traveling with a group, spend the extra P500/per and opt for a private tour to skip on the massive amount of tourists you will run into during the day. A private tour can help you avoid a packed boat and some of the most crowded islands. Looking to do a second tour? Try Tour A to see lagoons.
    • See the best sunset view in town at the hip bar Sunset Republica in nearby Corong Corong, a P100 tricycle ride away. Get there an hour before sunset if you want a good seat (or a seat at all) and expect it to be crowded. Great food but small portions.

Getting Home

Catch a P150 tricycle ride to El Nido’s airport and fly directly back to Manila on a 50-seater for P6750. Note that there’s a 10kg weight limitation on all baggage, and they will search your bags to remove any shells you’ve collected. Once you land at ITI’s terminal in Manila, ask an ITI employee for the 20-minute shuttle to the main terminal for P120. These flights do book-up, so either book in advance or from ArtCafe in town to reserve your seat.  To book in advance, contact ITI via email. You will be asked to send them payment via PayPal, but rest assured it’s trustworthy.

Anything we forget? Ideas of other places to check-out? Things not to miss? Leave it in the comments!


  • Tao Expeditions: Got some more time? Do a 3-5 day boat trip between El Nido and Coron, living on a boat and stopping at uninhabited and tourist-free islands all along the way. Fly home from Coron. $550 USD/per.
  • Room Availability: If you’re booking rooms in advance, take hotel warnings of “only 2 rooms left!” with a grain of salt. Many of these places only have a few rooms, so while it looks like the hotel is filling up fast, in reality there’s just as much availability today as the next day.

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Dramatic landscapes, a long storied history, and some of the best food in Southeast Asia, Vietnam is a place that should not be missed.

Traffic rushes by the streets of Vietnam

Travel Itineraries

The Basics

Currency: 1 USD = 22,200 VND; 1 EUR = 24,100 VND

Accommodation: Hostels around 125,000 VND/night. Homestays are very popular and hotels are becoming more commonplace as well.

Food: The best food is also the cheapest: stick to street vendors and enjoy banh mi or pho for 20,000 VND. Restaurants will typically serve plates in the 30,000-80,000 VND range.  Beers for 20,000 VND and water for 15,000 VND.

Transportation: Public bus travel is extremely affordable, though expect language barriers. Write-down where you’re going to show the driver. Metered taxis are available everywhere; Mai Linh and Vinasun are the most common and reliable.

What to do: Get familiar with the city by hiring a motorbike for a personal tour. Spend a little more for one for one of the popular tour groups (XO, Back of the Bike) and have them bring you to the best street vendors as well.  Explore the endless rows of markets and bargain hard. Explore the local cuisine and share street beers with locals. In Southern Vietnam, hop a 120,000 VND ride to Mekong Delta to see the floating villages and travel the backwaters off the Mekong River.  In Northern Vietnam, visit the spectacular Halong Bay or the rice paddies of Sapa. In the central area of the country, see the picturesque roads of Hoi An.

Etiquette: Tipping is not common in Vietnam, though it may be expected by tour guides (50,000 – 100,000 VND depending on length of time spent). Restaurants will add a service charge in place of tipping.  Avoid insulting locals: do not leave chopsticks in the bowl at the end of your meal.


Barter: There’s no rule of thumb, but as a tourist, expect to have to bargain down at least 1/2 the quoted price, sometimes more.  Like any market in a new country, spend your first trip becoming familiar with the shops and determining what market value as best you can by seeing what people pay for items. When bargaining, don’t be afraid to use the walk-away method.

Eat on the street: Street food is always risky of causing an upset stomach, but on the street is where you’ll find the best food that’s also conveniently the cheapest.

Remember the visa: Most foreigners will need a Visa in advance and need to pay cash on arrival for an additional fee.  Get your visa acceptance form from: or, if your trip is more than 3 weeks away, contact your local Vietnamese Embassy or Consulate so you can skip the Visa On Arrival line all together (and save at least an hour of your time).

Use metered taxis: Stick to metered taxis, and avoid anyone that tries to recruit you as a passenger. Meter-fixing does happen, so keep an eye out: a 20-minute taxi ride is around 100,000 VND.

Take the bus: You can hire private vans/transport, but expect to spend considerably more than taking the bus, which itself is rather comfortable. If you’re taking an overnight bus, pick a top bunk as far from the bathroom as possible, as many bus bathrooms aren’t functioning.

Beware of local scams: If traveling by motorbike, keep all valuables locked in the storage compartment or in direct sight. Beware when leaves bars of a typical scheme whereby an attractive lady will distract you while her friend’s pickpocket you (sometimes aggressively).

Traffic: Vietnam is a dangerous place to test your motorbike driving skills, with accidents happening far too often. When crossing the street, do not expect walk signals or traffic to stop: maintain a slow and constant pace as you walk into traffic and have utmost faith they’ll safely weave around you.



Beautiful beaches, rice paddies, snorkeling, and diving: Philippines is not to be missed.

Banca boats at sunset

A traditional Filipino banca boat sits anchored off the shores of an island in the Philippines

Travel Itineraries

The Basics

Currency: 1 USD = 44 PHP. Carry cash. Outside of major cities, credit cards aren’t as widely accepted, and you’ll encounter many areas with limited power and no ATMs. Research where you’re going in advance to know what to expect. Best money changers are in shopping malls or other private money changers. Worst rates are at hotels and airports.

Accommodation: Private hostel rooms for $5-10, hotels for $30-70.

Food: Street food for 50-150 PHP, restaurant meals from 250-600 PHP. San Miguel or Red Horse beers for 45 PHP.

Transportation: Local buses for 10-20 PHP per ride and tricycles for 20-50PHP. Intercity travel by flight via Cebu Pacific, SE Air, or Air Philippines between islands for $70-150 USD. Longer bus rides available via Jeepney (cheapest) or comfortable shared vans.

What to do: Skip the tourist party town of Boracay (unless that’s what you’re looking for) and travel instead to Palawan, Baguio, Bohol, Camiguin, or Vigan.


No Bartering: Most places do not barter, but try in the area you are to see if it’s acceptable.

Bring cash: ATMs and credit card acceptance might not be found when you leave major cities or major tourist spots. Plan accordingly.

Safety: Stick to the tourist-safe zones. There are still active rebels to the South, and bombings and kidnappings do still happen.

Etiquette: Tipping is not common in the Philippines, but typically you round-up on the cost of a taxi. Be modest when in town: bikinis are fine on the beach, but wrap a sarong around you when you head to restaurants, shops, or through town.