Amazing Beaches off El Nido

We began the second day at El Nido with a simple breakfast at our hotel, Greenviews. We booked an island hopping Tour A with them (it’s 1 type of tour a day, so you don’t really have much of a choice) for USD26, and breakfast and lunch is provided. The tide was low that morning, and the beach stretched far out into the horizon. So satisfying to begin a day with a view like that.

El Nido Philippines Greenviews
View from Greenviews’ breakfast bar.

El Nido Philippines Greenviews breakfast

El Nido Philippines beach

El Nido Philippines beach
So nice to see carefree pups mucking around the shallow waters.

Turns out that we were taking a slightly larger boat for the day, and this meant that it couldn’t come as close to the beach as the smaller boats, and we had to wade out quite a distance to reach it. The walk out into sea was stunning though, so we didn’t mind at all. Little did we know that this walking great distances to the boat thing was going to be a recurring and inconvenient routine throughout the day.

El Nido Philippines beach
Heading out to the boat.

I should also point out how useful it is to have a dry bag for beach holidays. We had to wade out to almost chest-high waters before hopping onto the boat, and those without waterproof bags had to hold their belongings above their heads while trying to balance in the water. It’s not very elegant, if you ask me. You can easily save yourself from embarrassment by getting a waterproof sling bag that most sport shops in Singapore stock. They only cost around SGD20+ for a 10L pack.

El Nido Philippines beach
The big outrigger boat skimmed across the choppy waters effortlessly, and the ride was surprisingly smooth.
El Nido Philippines beach
Palawan offers such rugged landscapes and dramatic colours!
El Nido Philippines beach
A diligent boatman preparing our lunch.
El Nido Philippines beach
Approaching our lunch spot.
El Nido Philippines beach
We’re going to have lunch on this pristine beach!
El Nido Philippines beach
But we’re one of the many tourists at this gorgeous spot 🙁
El Nido Philippines beach
The boatmen skillfully waded through strong waves to deliver freshly BBQ-ed meats and tropical fruits from the boat to us.

I didn’t get a shot of the generous lunch spread because I was too hungry and went straight into wolfing down the food. It was fairly good! It’s always lovely to have a picnic on a nice beach; it’s just a pity that this beautiful place is overcrowded with boats and people. Too hectic to really appreciate the gorgeous surroundings.

El Nido Philippines beach
Next stop, Big Lagoon!

The way in is flanked by soaring cliffs, which conceal the Big Lagoon and create a nice build up to the big unveil. Unfortunately, it was a painful build up. Cursed by the big boat, we had to dock much, much farther away than all the small boats, and had to walk the rest of the way on the rocky sea bed. At that point I sorely regretted leaving my Crocs at the hotel. It would’ve made things so, so, so much more pleasant. So, another must-bring for future island hopping tours: water shoes.

El Nido Philippines beach
Other casualties include fellow tourists from our boat.
El Nido Philippines beach
Finally arrived at the Big Lagoon. In my opinion, the journey in was more memorable.
El Nido Philippines beach
Deceiving shot without the 50 tourists, whom, for a few seconds, didn’t get in this shot.

We skipped the Small Lagoon, which is one of the standard stops for Tour A because the beach was just jam packed with boats, and we had to swim dangerously between anchored and moving boats if we were to get to the beach. We took a vote and everyone on the boat agreed that we should just skip it and spend more time on the next destination instead. Island hopping is a very touch-and-go affair, so more time at one spot is always a good choice.

El Nido Philippines 7 Commandos beach
Approaching the 7 Commandos beach.
El Nido Philippines beach
Still can’t get over the colour of the waters.
El Nido Philippines 7 Commandos beach
Very proud of this Conde Nast Traveller cover I shot of Priya.
El Nido Philippines 7 Commandos beach
We arrived at 7 Commandos ahead of schedule and avoided the convoy of tourist boats.

The snorkeling wasn’t great as there wasn’t much to see and we kept getting tiny stings, probably from small jellyfish. So we just rolled around in the fine sand under the shade, made friends with puppies, and drank fresh coconut juice from the fruit. Absolute bliss. The older I get the more I’m willing to settle for not-so-hyped places as long as they’re quiet. Done with all the wrestling with others to get the “perfect shot” of must-see attractions.

El Nido Philippines beach
When we got back to our resort, the sun has set and another day in paradise has passed.

We deserved a massage after all that tiresome and grueling beach hopping, and there was a shack right next to our resort perfect for that. It had an open-air terrace that allowed us to look out into the sea and hear the waves crashing as we got our muscles kneaded.

After that, we headed back into town for dinner by the beach. Chose the slightly upmarket Atmosphere, where I had their signature stir-fried Udon with chicken, prawn, and carrots for USD8. I was taken aback by the generous portions, but surprised myself even more by wiping out the entire plate.

Diving in El Nido

Manila and Mt Pinatubo turned out to be so much more than we expected, and so was the crazy traffic, so we were more than happy to leave it all behind and head to El Nido to really begin our beach holiday! Even right up to the end, Manila had to remind us of how relentless its bad traffic is. Our flight to El Nido was at the private ITI hanger, and we had the misfortune of getting a taxi driver that had no clue where it was. So he just made circles around the international airport terminals which were already experiencing bad jams due to the major construction going on. It was a hair-pulling 1.5 hour taxi ride.

Because we were travelling from Manila to El Nido on a one way route, we went for the expensive USD130 ride with Island Transvoyager directly to El Nido, which Priya booked online via El Nido Boutique & Artcafe. A one-way ticket from Manila to Puerto Princesa would cost about the same. So why not save ourselves the 6-hour van ride? The more popular (and much more affordable) option would be a return flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa. But as we were hopping from El Nido to Coron, we didn’t have much of a choice.

So we got the first class treatment, with a table reserved for us at the exclusive air-conditioned waiting lounge, which had a free flow of food and drinks. But the best part was when they rolled out the red carpet leading to and from the plane!!! It was way too amusing.

el nido philippines
Already surrounded by lush landscapes.

el nido philippines

The airport transfer to Greenviews Resort was painless, and we were greeted by the many many doggies living within the estate!

Greenviews resort el nido philippines
I especially like this crazy-eyed one.

Although this place isn’t located in El Nido’s main town, we kinda like that it’s quiet and away from the crowds. It’s only a 10 minute, USD1 rickshaw ride away from town anyway. Our room cost us USD33/night, and it was clean, air-conditioned, and came with a large bathroom.

Greenviews resort el nido philippines
Managed to catch our first El Nido sunset from the resort’s reception area cum restaurant.

With just a few hours left, we ended our first day with a mandatory seafood dinner. We just picked a random one by the beach, called Aplaya Restobar.

I chose the squid, which turned out to be not so fantastic. Priya made the wiser choice with a grilled grouper, which was fresh, sweet, and super yummy. Along with drinks, the bill came up to USD17 in total. We kinda expected that it wouldn’t be cheap here.

cocobar el nido philippines
Coco Bar won us over with a fun live band that played a mix of raggae, Filipino, and pop songs.

Having a drink with our toes in the sand, and having puppies weave in and out of our chairs and legs, really put us in the mood for a quintessential beach holiday.

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[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]D[/stag_dropcap]oing 3 fun dives with Tabanka Divers for our first day in El Nido. Their package is reasonably priced, at USD85 for 3 dives, but it was their good Trip Advisor rating that convinced us. Corresponded with Oliver over email, and he was helpful, informative, and quick to reply.

el nido beach philippines

El Nido’s main beach, like most major beach destinations, isn’t fantastic. But its dramatic landscape made up for it.

Accompanied by dogs as we have our breakfast, before setting out at 9am.

el nido diving philippines
And, surprise, surprise! We have one on our dive boat too!

Our canine captain is Bronson, Oliver’s pup. Oliver runs Tabanka, and was one of the dive masters on this trip, so Bronson tagged along. He was so at home on board, and kept everyone entertained with his attention seeking antics. He would push and nudge his way in between people to demand attention, and plonk himself in the middle of all our diving gear when he’s feeling drowsy from the sun.

el nido philippines

It was a beautiful day out at sea, with the sun beating down on the deep blue waters. The funny thing was, the winds were slightly chilly. I never thought I’d feel cold on a Southeast Asian beach holiday, so it was quite surprising. The waters were also nippy at some parts, at 26°C during the first 2 dives, and 28°C on the last dive. It was a new experience for us, having only previously dived at Tioman and Perhentian, where we were submerged in 30°C waters.

As it’s only the very start of the dive season, the visibility wasn’t fantastic. We didn’t know how spoilt we were in Perhentian either. It was wonderful to be underwater again, but we didn’t see as much marine life.

el nido diving philippines
There were only 4 of us including the Dive Master. And here’s Priya and another Aussie diver.
el nido diving philippines
So thrilled to see a turtle stoning out under a rock at the Helicoptor Island dive site! The last turtle we saw in Perhentian was swarmed by tourists. To see one alone in its own world was amazing.
el nido diving philippines
The adorably ugly stone fish spotted at Palugan, our 2nd dive site . Our dive master had to fan off some sand for its entire form to be revealed. It was entirely camouflaged before, and it takes some sharp eyes and diving experience to spot them!
el nido diving philippines
el nido diving philippines
Clownfish families were a common site at all the dive sites.
el nido philippines
El Nido’s rugged island clusters set it apart from its Thai counterparts.

The best dive was at Twin Rocks, but it was also when Priya’s GoPro ran out of battery. Haha! If you use your imagination, you’d be very impressed that we saw tuna, mackerel, lionfish, barracuda, sea cucumber, stingray, and the highlight… poisonous jellyfish! They may sound scary, but are actually more mesmerising than terrifying. They were really large and slow, so you could spot them from afar and stay clear. As they were just drifting along, there was no fear of being targeted or attacked.

el nido diving philippines
So glad I finally took up diving. [Photo: Priya]
We were famished by the time we returned at around 5pm. Partly because the provided lunch was quite sad. They didn’t cook it on the boat itself, so the pre-packed fish and rice that I ordered was cold. So we had to have a feast for dinner. Oliver suggested that we have pizza at “this Italian place with a brick oven”. We didn’t catch the name of the restaurant at first, but found it easily enough.

el nido philippines
Altrove‘s huge oven is conveniently obstructed by the booth in this lousy shot of mine.
el nido philippines
Come way before dinner time to get a seat. This small space fills up very quickly, and there’ll be a long queue by 7pm.
el nido philippines
The pizzas were fantastic, and our 2 pizzas, salad, and drinks only cost USD25.7.

El Nido doesn’t have much of a nightlife other than a few bars by the beach, so we were sounds asleep by 9:30pm.

An easy adventure at Mt Pinatubo

Call time: 2:30am. But that ain’t gonna put us macho manly adventure dykes off! So we got a few hours of shut eye, and diligently got into a cab at 1:30am to head towards the meeting point in Quezon, which is a city out of Makati (where we were staying).

We were going on a day trip to Mt Pinatubo, better known as the volcano that erupted in 1991 and caused widespread destruction and the deaths of 847 people. After researching on the nearby mountains we could visit as a day trip out of Manila, we decided to go with a tour as it’ll be more convenient for us 2 adventurous but also slightly lazy girls. I found out about Majestic Mount Pinatubo Tour through a comment on Tripadvisor, and they were offering slashed prices for the day tour. They offered it at USD 46/pax, around half the price other tour groups were offering. We coordinated with Sonia swiftly over email weeks ago, and placed a 50% deposit to secure our place with them.

Our driver was all smiles at 2:40am when he arrived. I really love how all the Filipino staff I’ve come across seemed to genuinely enjoy their job. Either that or they have damn good PR skills. Our lovely driver took us and a bunch of locals on a smooth 3 hour ride towards Mt Pinatubo (it was a different story all together when we were heading back), much of which Priya and I slept soundly through.

The place was already buzzing when we arrived... Look at all the jeeps waiting to cart off the (mostly local) tourists!
The place was already buzzing when we arrived… Look at all the jeeps waiting to cart off the (mostly local) tourists!
Sonia herding all her sheep to brief us about silly things people do to make the hike "dangerous". Like jumping from one loose rock to another and bashing your face.
Sonia herding all her sheep to give a rundown on the silly things people do to make the hike “dangerous”. Like jumping from one loose rock to another, and losing your balance and bashing your face. (Yup, common sense can sometimes be a rare gem…)
My OOTD. Snood for the pretty chilly winds, a breathable top with long sleeves to prevent sun burn (most of the hike is unsheltered), black leggings in case I need to break out in an 80s aerobic dance during the hike, and (fake) crocs because there tiny streams to cross.
My OOTD. Snood for the chilly winds, a breathable top with long sleeves to prevent sun burn (most of the hike is unsheltered), black leggings in case I need to break into an 80s aerobic dance during the hike, crocs because there are tiny streams to cross, and a hiking stick just for the fun of it.

The trip consists of 2 segments. First is an hour-long bumpy jeep ride towards the foot of Mt Pinatubo, then a gentle walk cum trek up to the crater lake of the mountain.

We got an open jeep! Which allowed us to really immerse ourselves in the environment.
We soon entered a barren landscape that was hauntingly beautiful.
We soon entered a barren landscape that was hauntingly beautiful.

It was hard to imagine that these large, dusty, arid plains which we rode through were part of a region that was once home to a million people. Their entire homeland was destroyed by the far reaching destructive power of lahar, (volcanic debris and mudflow) which came down upon them after the eruption.

You can see clearly where the erosion ended at some parts.
You can see where the erosion clearly ended at some parts.
The ride was bumpy, but in a really fun way. Halfway through, we got out for some photo taking.
Our sexy ride and driver peering out from behind.
Our sexy ride and skillful driver, who maneuvered the 4×4 across deep streams and rocky surfaces as if it was his extra pair of feet.
It's as if a giant came by and sliced up the hills with a sharp knife.
It’s as if a giant came by and sliced up the hills with a blunt knife.
The landscape changed dramatically as we neared Mt Pinatubo.
The landscape changed dramatically as we neared Mt Pinatubo.
After an hour on the 4x4, we had to traverse the rest of the way on foot.
After an hour on the 4×4, we had to traverse the rest of the way on foot.
After an hour on the 4x4, we had to traverse the rest of the way on foot. Here are a couple of guides carrying plastic bags containing our lunch.
Here are a couple of guides, having no problems at all trekking in flip flops while carrying plastic bags containing our lunch.
Priya working the psychedelic jogger shepherd look for the trek.
Priya working the psychedelic jogger shepherd look for the trek.
As we didn't expect lunch to be provided, we packed a bunch of meal bars and titbits. So despite the meager lunch of rice, hard boiled egg, and some processed fillet, it was a nice surprise to be served at all.
We packed a bunch of meal bars and titbits before setting off this morning as we didn’t expect food to be provided. So despite the meager lunch of rice, hard boiled egg, and some processed fillet, it was still a nice surprise to be served.
The beginning of our "trek", which was really just a walk in a park that had streams and loose rocks.
The beginning of our “trek”, which was really just a walk in a park that had streams and loose rocks.
Love seeing how humans were dwarfed by the lush jungle and looming peaks.
Love seeing how humans were dwarfed by the lush jungle and looming peaks.
Not much of an achievement, but we still gotta commemorate our journey with a group shot with the couple whom we shared the jeep with!
Not much of an achievement, but we still gotta commemorate our journey with a group shot with the couple whom we shared the jeep with!
I couldn't prevent the gasp that escaped me when I got my first view of the crater lake.
A loud gasp escaped me when I got my first view of the crater lake. Dramatic landscapes like these always make my heart swell.
Just to give you an idea of the scale of things, just look at the tiny human dots at the bottom.
To get an idea of the scale of things, just look at the tiny human dots at the bottom.
Down into the crater we go.
Down into the crater we go.
It was Valentine's Day after all...
It was Valentine’s Day after all…

And so it was here that we had an hour or so to have our lunch and soak up the magnificent lake in front of us.

Chose a spot beside someone with killer footwear to nap.
Chose a spot beside someone with killer footwear to nap.
The AMAZING stew made up of chicken, potato, and carrot that we had for lunch.
The AMAZING chicken, potato, and carrot stew that we had for lunch.

It got really windy and chilly after a while, and dark skies started to creep over us. So we quickly packed up and headed back. But not before one final touristy picture!


It did drizzle just a little on the trek back, and the winds blew up sand and dust into our mouths, eyes, and hair during the ride back in our open 4×4. But it was all part of the mini adventure, and I’m so glad we decided to stay an extra night in Manila to experience this.

The thing that wasn’t so fun was the van ride back into Manila. We got swallowed up by the traffic, and it only spat us out at Makati Avenue 5 hours later.

Señor Pollo Makati Manila
So we ordered a Mexican feast at Senor Pollo to make ourselves feel better.

What to eat in Manila

First impression of Manila? “Wow, it’s 5am and there’s a slight jam.” As our Tigerair flight from Singapore (SGD 244) landed in the city before the day broke, we arrived at Makati Riverside Inn (ironically no river view) hours ahead of the check in time. I already had a great feel about the accommodation because the staff replied very promptly to every query I presented to them, and it was great to meet them face to face that morning. They were all smiles even at 6am, and kindly showed Priya and I where to have breakfast nearby while they prepared our room.

Our first meal in Philippines, however, turned out to be the worst one of our entire 9-day trip. Haha… So when you’re in Makati, don’t go to Gabs Good Grub unless there’s no other choice. I had mac and cheese (USD 1.8) which turned out to be too salty. The place had a shabby appeal though. A friend of mine has been to Manila, and he warned me about how terrible Manila’s food is. So I wasn’t expecting much initially. But after 2 days here, I’m certain that my friend has been eating at all the wrong places!

We headed back to the hotel with the intention of washing up a bit, and was surprised with a ready room instead, hours ahead of schedule!

Makati Riverside Inn Manila

Very impressed with how efficiently the place is run. And the USD 30/night room is lovely! Mostly because it had an amazing king sized bed.

We did a quick search online for places around our neighbourhood to eat at, and Dutch Bread Hauz came up so we made our way over on foot.

It seems like we were staying in a wholesome local residential neighbourhood. The school day just ended, so we were caught in the hubbub of school kids either strolling or scampering on the streets as they made their leisurely way home.

We spotted a bunch of school kids crowded around a street vendor munching on some deep fried bites, and we just got to get in on the action. It turns out to be fried squid! Dipped in chili and vinegar, it was simple, fatty, oily, street food at its best. And this flavourful snack cost close to nothing. Stumbling upon dubious looking but utterly tasty street food is always a sign of a good South East Asian holiday.

But we were very turned off the moment we stepped into Dutch Bread Hauz because it was obviously made for white people. It looked like a cheap imitation of a Western cafe that served Western food that’s probably three times more expensive and a lot less tasty than what’s offered in the local stores a stone’s throw away.

So we gave our surroundings a quick glance, and soon found ourselves lured, like moths to a flame, towards the smoke that was emitting from a BBQ grill a few steps down the street.

Filipino street food in Manila
BBQ saves the day!
Filipino street food in Manila
We had 2 portions of the most beautifully fatty and sweet BBQ pork (I thought it was honey glazed at first by my Filipino friend said that it’s probably coke or sprite-marinated!) with rice and vinegar, and it cost us a mere USD 2.6 including a glass of Pepsi!

What made it more fun was that every one at the stall seem to be friends with the owners, and they were all taking turns to practice their English by mocking each other in English about their subpar command of the language. The convivial energy kept us amused as we quivered silently from the food orgasm. Loving the collective joy around the neighbourhood as people got into their TGIF mood.

After the excellent meal, we walked over to the Power Plant Mall which was just round the corner.

Manila cat street scene
One of the many pet kitties spotted in the neighbourhood.

It was an upmarket mall within a strangely manicured neighbourhood with high security. On the inside, it was just like the 101 malls we get in Singapore, so we weren’t very impressed. But we settled into what city people do… Which is to have a coffee break at a hipster joint.

My latte at Hatch 22 cost USD 2.6, the price of our entire meal. Look at the globally hipster-ish branding and decor! It’s scary how similar cities all over the world are.

Before things got too uncomfortably familiar abroad, Priya and I headed back out onto the streets and decided to check out the commotion we were hearing from across the river. Turns out to be one big amusing street performance party to welcome some politician to the ‘hood.

The traffic was peaking from the after work crowd, the tricycles refused to take us out of the vicinity, and there weren’t any free cabs available. Thank god for taxi apps! We tried a couple, but Uber emerged as the winner and we we got a cab within 10 minutes. The thing was, traffic came to a hair pulling crawl a few hundred metres away from our destination, so we decided to get off and walk the rest of the journey towards The Collective. The 40 min ride came up to USD 9. Pretty pricey for Manila, but it seems to be the only way around the impossible traffic. If this city can sort its traffic out, it’ll be so much more pleasant to explore.

The Collective Manila
Guess we arrived a little too late… All the cool cafes and shops that we read about online were closed.

The entire warehouse is filled with cafes, bars, art galleries, and urban retail and bike shops… and it looks like an awesome music venue! Too bad there wasn’t anything happening the Friday night that we were there. So we just popped into Padre, the only busy bar that was opened, to have beers and bar grub.

Really love the apple flavoured San Miguel beer (USD 1/bottle) because it’s just so easy to drink. The staff also recommended chicken neck (USD 1.7), which came with a mash potato gravy-like dip. The neck snack was basically deep fried skin with just a little meat clinging on to the bone. I liked it though! Especially with the salty creamy sauce. It was delicious but a little too rich for just the 2 of us. Had some massive onion rings (USD 1.8) too. Felt pretty sick from all the fried food after that.

After our traumatising experience with trying to get a cab and getting stuck in traffic, we decided to brave the streets and walk to a bar that Priya’s colleague recommended. Google maps said it was only 20 mins away on foot. Sounds pretty OK right? Little did we know that Google maps was to lead us across train tracks, right into the middle of busy junctions, roads without traffic lights, streets without street lamps, and dodgy back alleys. It was quite an adventure.

Makati Manila traffic
One of the many ways we survived road crossings was by shadowing brave locals.

We arrived an hour before Finders Keepers opened, so we waited at the food stall in front of it like real dorks. It’s a laidback bar with good drinks! I had the Tanqueray basil, while Priya took the Caipirinha (the alky gave her drink 2 thumbs up). This hipster bar had hipster prices too. Our 2 drinks cost us USD 12 in total. Still cheap by Singaporean standards! Thankful for our strong SGD.

If we didn’t have to wake at 1am for the trip to Mt Pinatubo that night, we’d have stayed to party at Black Market, this grungy, open air, Berlin-like club behind Finders Keepers. We only had a few more hours to get some shut eye, so we Ubered our asses back home.

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[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]J[/stag_dropcap]ames is my ex-colleague who’s Filipino, and as the Editorial Director of Coconuts media, I trusted his recommendations. He said that I should try Señor Pollo, and so we did! The best part is that it’s around the Makati Avenue area, which is also just a short walk from where we stay. The food was great, and so was the vibe. Plenty of well dressed, well behaved locals. The service here, and at every place that we’ve visited in Manila so far, was excellent. It’s nothing but genuine smiles and just the right amount of enthusiasm from all the service staff. Singapore definitely has a long way to go.

Priya’s all sportied up because we were at Mt Pinatubo the entire day (that’s another story for another time). We shared their signature half chicken with garlic rice and coleslaw as the side dishes (USD 7) and a massive plate of nachos (USD 7.9) that I was disappointed in because it didn’t have guacamole.

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[stag_dropcap font_size=”88px” style=”squared”]J[/stag_dropcap]ust before our flight to El Nido, we had a hearty local-style breakfast in a Western-style cafe called Early Bird Breakfast Club located in the snazzy Century City Mall just off Makati Avenue. Walking amidst the staggering amount of skyscrapers, it was hard to believe that we’re actually here for a beach holiday.

Our colourful neighbourhood is in fact very pleasant to walk around in the day, when it’s bright and the traffic is not insane.

We had to go around the back of the mall to get into this cute little cafe. Love the quaint, girly decor! I went for the staff’s recommendation, which was the Adobo Sunrise (USD 7.3) that consists of dry chicken flakes with soy sauce. The first few mouthfuls were amazing as it’s bursting with flavours, but it got kinda dry as I worked my way into the meal. Priya had the Lemon Butter Bangus (USD 7.3), and the fish tasted a tad, well, fishy.

Aside from the crazy traffic, spending a couple of days here proved to me that there’s indeed quite a lot to love about the flavours of Makati!

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