On Saturday 19th November we caught the fast boat with Jonny and Louise over to Coron island which takes 3-4 hours and costs between 1,600 and 1,760 pesos per person. The boat left at 6am so we arrived in Coron town about 11am. We had both booked to stay one night in Ricardo Valley Inn so we could find out if we liked the area, then we could extend our stay if we wanted. The hotel was a bit further out from the town (we had to go for something cheap) so once we arrived on the island, all four of us got a tricycle to our accommodation. We were ripped off with the price though. We think they charged us 150 all together, but short journeys after that were only costing us 10-15 per person. When we arrived at our accommodation we were pleasantly surprised at how clean and modern the communal area was, with comfy sofas and a flat screen TV. We had to wait about 45 minutes before we could check into our rooms, and as soon as we did, we dumped our stuff and went out in search of some food. Bare in mind we hadn't eaten anything since we woke up at 4:30am, so we were all pretty "hangry". After walking back into the town for food (it was only a 15 minute walk) we went in search of PADI certified dive shops so Jordan, Jonny and Louise could book to do some diving, and Natalie could do some snorkelling. We eventually found a dive shop that we'd seen online which had a good reputation for quality equipment and knowledgeable dive masters - Sea Dive Resort. They had many certifications from PADI and when they tailor made the dive site itinerary so Natalie could snorkel one of the many shipwrecks we knew we had made the right choice. We booked the diving for Monday 21st so we could have the next day free for driving about and finding some nice beaches. That evening Natalie wasn't feeling well - full up with cold and developing a cough - so she stayed in the cool air conditioned room whilst the other three went out in search of a nice dinner and somewhere else to stay for the next few nights (Ricardo Valley Inn was already booked up). The guys found a gem of a restaurant - Levine's restaurant which did amazing Thai green curries and had excellent wifi (something that is very rare in the Philippines). They enjoyed their meal while Natalie slept. They also decided that the next day we would move to the accommodation across the road from Ricardo Valley Inn, called Soria's Lodge, as it was by far the cheapest of all the others they had gone into in town. We were all knackered from the long day of travelling so had a chilled evening. Jordan uploaded some of our videos and pictures onto the laptop...again whilst Natalie.
The next day we had breakfast at Levine's restaurant as the guys had said they had a good breakfast menu, then we wanted to rent two mopeds so the four of us could drive around the island in search for some amazing hidden beaches. It was about 11am when we went to the bike rental shop in Coron town and they said they were sold out of bikes!! We had never had this happen before. Normally there are so many bikes to rent that you never have to book in advance. We saw a big group of backpackers at the rental place on our way to breakfast, so we could only think that they had taken all the bikes. There was one other bike rental place in town which had two automatic bikes available, but only two helmets, and we needed four. We asked around loads and no one knew anywhere else that we could rent bikes from. We were stuck. We went back to our hotel (now Soria's Lodge) and used the wifi to see what else we could do. We saw a few bloggers had written about getting a private boat for 1,500 pesos which then took them to the nice beaches on Coron island. It's at this point that we should mention that there can be some confusion around Coron - as in, you can't actually stay on Coron island. So when you book to fly to Coron, or get a boat there, you're actually booking to go to Busuanga island. Coron town is situated on Busuanga island, a short 5-10 minute drive from the boat port, but unfortunately you won't find those stereotypical "paradise" beaches that you think you'll find in the Philippines, and that Google images tells you you will see. For those, you need to do a boat trip to Coron island, just a short journey from Busuanga island. Of course we had no idea about this until we arrived on what we thought was Coron island, only to be disappointed with the beaches.
Hoping to save what seemed to be a doomed day, we made our way back into town to an area near the boat port where we'd seen people advertising boat trips. No one was going to let us have a private boat for 1,500 pesos (even though the blogs we had read were very recently posted). Everyone seemed shocked at us asking for that price and we soon got confused about what we should do. Our tricycle driver Marlon said he would drive us around to a few beaches and wait for us whilst we relaxed, then he would drive us back. He told us 600 pesos for all four of us to Bali beach, and 800 pesos to Cabo beach. This included the return journey and as it was split between the four of us we decide to go for it as we didn't know what else to do. It didn't take long to drive to the closest beach of the two, Bali beach, and the boys enjoyed having tricycle driving lessons from Marlon on the dusty dirt track roads. Jordan nearly crashed into a puddle but that's neither here nor there :-) Bali beach was a big big let down. Nowhere really to relax on the beach, the sand was a browny orange colour and the sea was very shallow with dead coral and stones on the seabed. The only beautiful thing about it was the incredible mountains from Coron island standing out of the water. We quickly decided to move on to Cabo beach (just past Maquinit Hot Springs) which wasn't much better, but now Marlon had driven us there, it seemed a shame not to at least sit down for a while.
Nearly three hours went by of us chatting about everything from travel to the law, to rehabilitation for drug users and alcoholics (we had some pretty in depth conversations). Our tummies were now rumbling so Marlon took us back to the town, not before another quick driving lesson, and we are at Levine's again. Natalie got to enjoy the Thai green curry this time, and it was delicious. That evening we chilled back at our room (we had one big room with two double beds for the four of us - 500 pesos per person per night) watching films and looking at our pictures and videos. Dinner was a light snack from the small shop at the hotel.
On Monday 21st November we got to scuba dive and snorkel around Coron island. The prices with Sea Dive Resort were 3,400 pesos for three dives (for Jordan) and 650 pesos for snorkelling (for Natalie) including lunch on the boat, free drinking water, and a beer at the end of the day. We got to the Sea Dive Resort dive shop about 8am to get measured up for all the dive gear and for a recap of who was open water/rescue diver qualified. Jordan is Open Water qualified (he did his course on Mabul Island in Borneo which you can read about here) which means he can go to 18 metres deep. Whereas Jonny and Louise could go to 25 metres as they were more qualified. In the end it didn't matter really as Jordan went pretty much as deep as them. Once the guys had sorted their equipment, we headed to the Sea Dive Resort restaurant to wait for everything to be put on the boat etc. Just after 9am we were off. The first dive site, Barracuda Lake took about half an hour to get to on the boat, including the time we had to stop due to the engine overheating. Barracuda Lake is a unique dive spot as it is a mix of fresh and saltwater. The fresh water is on the top, then the divers could see a film where the fresh water ended and the salt water began. We're not sure why, but the salt water in the lake is very warm at around 38 degrees, so the divers didn't need their wet suits as it was too hot. Our boat pulled up outside the entrance to the lake and the divers swam over to a decking area which separated the ocean and the lake. Apparently the lake was similar to the lagoons we have seen on this trip before - surrounded by limestone mountains with greeny blue water. The divers said it was cool to experience a fresh and saltwater dive, but unfortunately there was nothing really to see other than the impressive limestone formations. They were looking forward to seeing a variety of sea life during the next two dives.
Whilst the divers went off Natalie relaxed on the roof of the boat, taking in the views and working on her tan. The next dive spot was over an hour away on the boat, so it was the perfect opportunity to eat some tasty lunch made by the driver of the boat. We had grilled fresh fish which was delicious, with chicken curry, mixed vegetables and rice. All so good and just what we needed.
The next dive spot was the first of two shipwrecks. Olympia Maru sank on 24th September 1944 and is 18-24 metres long and 30 metres deep. The guys had an amazing time swimming in and out of the wreck and watching all the sea life around it. Jordan said it was like nothing he has ever done before. Sinking into the water then seeing this huge ship appear out of nowhere was mesmerising. Watching the GoPro videos back, it looks like something out of a film. The divers swam through areas of the ship such as the boiler room, ammo chamber and deck where the captain steered the ship. They saw artefacts such as a Japanese china bowl and the telescopes the crew would have used to keep a look out. Natalie had a swim at this dive spot but the water was too deep and the visibility was too poor to do any snorkelling.
It was just a short boat journey to our final spot so the divers had to wait a while to go back in the water - you're supposed to leave at least an hour between dives. Once a reasonable amount of time had past the divers started to get their gear ready and Natalie jumped in the sea to see the East Tangat Gunboat wreck as the highest point is only 3 metres from the surface. For someone who hasn't really seen anything big in the ocean, it was breathtaking to see a huge ship right underneath you as you swam in the slightly murky waters. The visibility was around 8-12 metres so not the best, but enough for Natalie to appreciate the sheer size of the wreck and some of its many sea life species it was home to, including a family of clownfish.
The East Tangat sank on 24th September 1944 and is 35 metres long and 19 metres deep. The divers soon jumped in and Natalie watched through her snorkel as the divers descended in the depths of the wreck. Again they all said how fascinating it was to be swimming through a huge war ship, discovering the marine life and imagining what the ship would have looked like in all its glory. That concluded our day of diving and snorkelling, and on the way back to shore the staff members gave us a beer each to enjoy whilst chilling on the roof of the boat and chatting about all the amazing things we had seen that day. That night we had dinner in a different restaurant just to mix it up a bit. We went to Blue Moon restaurant and enjoyed a game of cards whilst we waited for our food. The food wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good as Levine's.
On Tuesday, Louise and Jonny left on the fast boat back to El Nido so it was time to say our goodbyes. We'd been with them for the last week so it felt strange to go our separate ways, but they had more of the Philippines to see and we had already been to the places they were going. After they left we decided to rent a moped from Angel rentals (500 pesos to have the bike for 6 hours) and try to find some nice beaches on Busanga island. They gave us a map which had a few beaches marked on it so we headed to one that was about 69 km away called Rio Playa. We used our trusty Maps.me app to navigate but got a bit lost as we turned it off to save battery. We realised we had gone wrong and quickly went back on ourselves. Turns out that Rio Playa beach is in a very small village called Old Busuanga and is not as beautiful as we had hoped. It was deserted which we often like, but it felt a bit eery as you could tell there either used to be a resort there, or they started building one then stopped half way through. The sand was again an orangey brown and the sea bed was rocky. There were a few good points though - the sea was very clear, there was a small sand bar and we could tell there were lots of big crabs due to the huge holes in the sand.
As the battery was already going on our phone, we didn't want to venture on any further, so decided to go back on ourselves and go to one of the waterfalls on the island called Concepcion Falls. Unfortunately the weather wasn't kind to us and it hammered it down whilst we were driving. We pulled over to wait for the rain to pass over us but got stuck in some mud as we were slowing down and the bike fell to one side, causing us to fall off. Jordan managed to jump over the handlebars and land on his feet but Natalie was on the back and not in a position to do the same. She luckily only had a small graze on her knee and foot so nothing serious. It does shake you up a bit though and as the rain didn't look like it was stopping anytime soon, we decided to give the falls a miss and drive straight back to Coron town. We got off the bike to wait for the heavy rain to pass and a man saw us and beckoned us to come inside his home where we waited for about 15 minutes. It was lovely to briefly watch a local family go about their daily life. The father started up the BBQ ready to cook some fresh fish, and the mother tended to the three children who were all fascinated by us, giggling and laughing to each other. It took us over an hour and a half to get to Rio Playa beach and the rain meant we had to drive more slowly, so we didn't get back to Coron town until gone 5pm. We had a very late lunch/early dinner at a restaurant just up from Blue Moon that did bagels which were actually quite good. Then after a shower and looking at the GoPro videos of Jordan's dive, we had Thai green curry again at Levine's restaurant to finish our time in Coron/Busuanga.
The next day we caught the fast boat back to El Nido where we would spend our last few days in Philippines. The boat left at midday and cost 1,760 pesos per person. We had time to have breakfast at Sea Dive Resort restaurant as we'd seen that they did proper crispy bacon which is very hard to find in South East Asia. The boat journey took 4 hours and we passed the time by sleeping, writing up this blog and watching the films they were playing on board. That morning we had booked to stay in Lualhati Garden Cottages again for 3 nights until we worked out if we would do an extra night in Puerto Princesa or Manila. Unfortunately our fan room wasn't as nice as last time - dirty sheets and dirty floor, and the whole room just felt sticky when you were inside it. At around 695 pesos per night it was the cheapest by far on Booking.com and Agoda, but the quality you got for your money was terrible compared to other places in South East Asia such as Vietnam, Thailand and Bali.