See what I did there, with the title? Hilarious right? Sometimes I hate myself…
We left off as I made it onto a seven-hour ferry from El Nido to Coron in the nick of time… while suffering from a mild hangover due to the prior evening’s birthday festivities.
So actually, it wasn’t that bad. Yeah we were packed in there, but there was also plenty of room to sit and read outside, rest my head on a pile of life jackets functioning as a makeshift pillow, and (surprise!) lunch was included. It was a beautiful – and calm, thank god – day out on the ocean. Gotta love spending your birthday in transit!
But OH Coron, you were worth it. And I spent my birthday in luxury – because $90 a night in the Philippines will buy you quite a bit of luxury – with a king size bed, hot shower, and HBO Movies on TV. I mean I still didn’t have wifi, but ya win some, ya lose some, right?! I decided to treat myself to two nights in a real hotel with a pool and breakfast included.
And then I did what everybody comes to Coron to do…
^ Take this picture.^
Another Boat Cruise
After foregoing the scenic cruise in El Nido, it was time to really see the sights in Coron. Choosing another lettered boat cruise package and smuggling a pint of rum along for the ride, our tour took us out to see the famous bay, a freshwater lake, a lagoon, and several coral-filled snorkeling sites. All for $35.
There were like… I don’t know how many stops actually. Forgive me, I lost count. The rum and all.
At Siete Pecados, a protected Marine Park, we saw a brilliant drop-off, tons of coral and fish, and a sea turtle with the help of our guide. At a few other spots, we floated amongst fish who liked to nip at swimmers, and snorkeled around a small wreck. And well, at the last site I may have just bobbed up and down in my life jacket with my drink. Because you CAN have enough snorkeling, okay?!
We walked up to the famed viewpoint for photos before checking out Kayangan Lake. Later we swam through rocks to enter Twin Lagoon, and we had a lunch of grilled shrimp and accoutrements at Beach 91, one of the most picturesque white sand beaches I’ve ever seen. Somewhere in there, we also swam around Barracuda Lake, which is part fresh and part saltwater – you can also dive there to check out the different sea life that inhabits the thermoclines.
But seriously, the Philippines has the best beaches I’ve ever had the privilege of setting my bare foot on. That’s the real reason people take these island-hopping tours – to see beautiful things. For the photos, the beaches, the views, the underwater landscapes. The water is so clear and brilliantly aqua blue, the karsts are dramatic, and the sand is so white it’s almost blinding. You feel like you’re in a postcard. You really can’t beat them. Let me see you try. Send me the photos. Picture or it didn’t happen.
Another reason this tour was great? Our guide happily put the rum and cokes I’d packed on ice… and his knowing smile showed that this certainly wasn’t an original idea on my part. (But I could tell some of the other passengers on the tour were pretty jealous that they hadn’t thought to do the same.)
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Diving WWII Wrecks
One of the next must-dos in Coron is Scuba diving the World War II wrecks in the area. Most of them are Japanese vessels which were sunk by the U.S. during the war, so all of the history behind the dives is really cool. But you know me, I like the pretty stuff too, and I just wanted to see all of the coral and fish who’d come to make homes in the wrecks over the past 70-something years. Going inside the wrecks kinda scares me a little, but man, you’ve just gotta do it.
I only opted for two dives (three in a day just tires me out!), and using the recommendations of some of our Boracay crowd, I think I made it to a couple of the best.
The first – Olympia Maru – in particular was relatively shallow, so the sunlight made the visibility great and the fish really showed up in droves. Tons of scorpionfish, the most Nemos ever, bright coral, schools of large batfish, and a giant white, orb-like jellyfish (my favorite!) pulsing around amidst hundreds of tiny fish. Even the divemaster lamented not bringing his GoPro. Like, wow. This was one of the best dives I’ve ever done! Nothing crazy showed up, but oh ya know, just sheer beauty.
The second wreck – Morazon Maru – was more about the ship itself and we got to go inside and meander around, swimming through cargo holds and areas below deck, like the engine room that contained several bricks, which might not sound interesting, but they still had the name of the company visibly imprinted on them. I mostly spent this dive trying not to hit my head on any of the tight metal quarters I was swimming through. Banged my tank nearly every time though…
Goings On in Coron City
So, what ELSE did I do in Coron?
I had a birthday dinner – and if you can believe it, it didn’t involve booze (because of the election!) – at a local Filipino joint where I had some of the best, most authentic food of the month. Pork sisig can be great or terrible depending on how it’s done, but for some reason, the combination of all the fatty pig parts on a hot hot plate combined with the raw egg that you slowly stir in and cook with the meat, well, it hits the spot. Would’ve been good with a beer though…
At first I wasn’t that impressed with the town center of Coron. It took a little exploring, googling, and meeting people, but I did find some great spots. In the end, I definitely could’ve spent more time there – isn’t that always the case?!
After diving and cruising in Coron, there wasn’t much left to do but make friends and party. Having moved to a hostel (duh, my budget can’t withstand multiple $90/night hotel room jaunts), I luckily met some great new people on the first night. Charlotte, a new British friend, would stick with me for the next few weeks. And at No Name bar, I met up with a friend of a friend from San Francisco, where we talked round-the-world trip stories in between Joss Shots and Red Horse beers.
An Overnight Ferry to Manila
But alas, all good things must come to an end. And as my 30-day visa was winding down, I found myself purchasing (desperately, at the last minute) a ticket for the ferry to Manila. Yes, of course I waited until they’d all sold out online and had to go to the ferry office the moment it opened to beg them to sell me a spot. And yes, this was all on the day I’d planned to leave.
(Flights from Coron to Manila at the last minute were about $150 more expensive than travel by water, so I felt very lucky to get onboard, especially after being told by multiple sources that the ferry was sold out.)
But Charlotte joined me for that 13 hour (ish) ride, a couple of boat beers, and one of the sweatiest sleeps of my life. One free dinner, a couple forced conversations with fellow travelers (aka bed neighbors), and a little onboard entertainment later, we were in the capital city of Manila ready to catch flights to Bali.
Hey… it all worked out. And that’s what I’ve found usually happens while traveling.
And just like that, the Philippines leg of my trip was over. But I’m not finished with that country yet. There are many more of those 7,000 islands where I still haven’t been served a Red Horse. I’ll be back.
Where I Stayed in Coron: For a splurge option, I stayed at the Coron Westown Resort. They arranged our island hopping tour and we were even picked up at the hotel and taken to the docks. It’s a bit further from town, so it’s not walkable to the center, but they’ll call you a tricycle anytime and it’s cheap. After that I moved to a dorm room in Sea Horse Guesthouse, which was centrally located with great beds (only four to a room). Plus breakfast!
Where I Dove: On a recommendation, I dove with Neptune Dive Center and found them to be great. They picked the two best wrecks for me based on my experience and what I told them I wanted to do. Our divemaster was cool and let me stick close to him after I told him I was nervous about “penetrating the wreck.” They cooked us a GREAT lunch onboard (whole fish, curry, veg), which was a big perk after the lack of food on dive boats in Malapascua.
Where I Ate and Drank in Coron: No Name Bar seemed to be the spot to drink while I was in Coron. I also heard things about Hell Divers. We ventured to La Sirenetta for dinner, but most everyone got pizzas, so I can’t say much about the food. Bluemoon Restobar seems to be popular and has a variety of Western and Asian food, and I had a decent Indian curry (I have a problem). The best meal by far was Filipino food and pork sisig at KT’s Sinugba Sa Balay which was an open air restaurant filled with locals.
Coron to Manila Ferry Info: You’ll want to take the 2Go Ferry, which only leaves a couple times a week so check the schedule and plan ahead. You can buy a ticket online, from travel agents in Coron with the brand’s pink signs out front, or from their actual offices closer to the port. DO buy tickets a few days ahead of time because they will sell out! I went to their office the morning of (like and idiot) and felt really lucky to walk away with a ticket, because the conversation started with “It’s sold out.” I got the cheapest tourist ticket and yes it was hot, but it was fine.