El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers

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Image by Jdkoenig [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Jdkoenig [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

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I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person left in the Philippines who still hasn’t been to El Nido but it sure feels that way sometimes. Countless friends have gone and come back gushing about the paradise they found out west, in what’s been dubbed the Philippines’ last frontier. And it isn’t just Filipinos either — so many foreigners have found their way to this previously little known paradise that prices have, inevitably, adjusted themselves accordingly. Nonetheless, there are ways to vacation in El Nido on a tight budget — Rappler has a nice article detailing a 3D/2N stay for PHP 5,010 and Google will nudge you towards numerous other blogs’ budget itineraries.

This month I will finally get to visit El Nido myself. (Yay!) My Bali travel buddy Hershe and I were able to take advantage of a Cebu Pacific seat sale and bought round-trip tickets to Puerto Princesa for only PHP 1,322. (For those who don’t know, Puerto Princesa and El Nido are both in Palawan island. Flights to PPS are cheaper and more frequent, so most people fly to PPS and then take a bus/van/coach to El Nido.)

This time — cheap plane tickets aside — I’ve decided I’m not gonna be stingy. I mean, I’m not gonna go all out and stay in Miniloc or Lagen or even Vellago, but my theme for this trip will be nice, easy, and stress-free, even if I have to pay a bit more. That means, for example, pre-booking the van to El Nido and opting for hotel pick-up, even if I could presumably get a lower price if I go to the bus terminal and haggle. That also means, for example, booking a twin room with ensuite bath in the best hostel in El Nido, even if there are undoubtedly cheaper options. Again, the goal for this trip: nice, easy, and stress-free.

I’ve already crunched the numbers and will share my budget in the next article. First, let’s talk about what we will need to budget for. Here is our:

6-day Puerto Princesa and El Nido Itinerary

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Itinerary_Day1

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Our flight gets in mid-afternoon and what with possible delays (* cough * Cebu Pacific * cough *) and baggage claim, it might be late afternoon before we get out of the airport. Puerto Princesa to El Nido is roughly 6 hours by land. We could still get to El Nido before midnight but I figured it would be less stressful if we just spent the night in Puerto Princesa. It’ll be a good way to make the city’s acquaintance, however passing, and maybe try out one of Puerto Princesa’s best-loved restaurants.

I chose to stay at Orchid Lagan Place Palawan for several reasons. One, it’s well-reviewed at both Booking.com and TripAdvisor. Two, it offers free breakfast and a free airport shuttle. Three, it’s located in a street just off Rizal Avenue, which is where a lot of the good restaurants are; Kalui, for example, is only 450 m away and Kinabuch’s is even nearer (270 m). It seems Rizal Avenue is where it’s at, so to speak, so staying nearby will give us a convenient base for catching our first glimpses of the city.

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Itinerary_Day2

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El Nido Paradise is an incredible one-stop shop for everything El Nido. I was asking my friends for island hopping ideas and one of them mentioned El Nido Paradise. I checked out the ENP website and was impressed by their professionalism. With a lot of travel agencies, you’re immediately greeted by a busy, bold-faced barrage of all the tours they’re trying to sell you. In contrast, check out El Nido Paradise — you can tell they know what they’re doing and that they’re doing it in a classy way. They have a Blog section with a lot of helpful, practical articles about El Nido and their Activities section is extensive. Aside from the usual tours, they offer cool stuff like a cultural encounter, overnight camping at secluded beaches, and a drop-off/pick-up service where you can just pick an island in Bacuit Bay, have yourself dropped off in the morning, and then get picked up in the afternoon. All for reasonable prices too — read about the Combo Tour I booked later in this article.

Anyway, all that is a roundabout way of saying that I booked our van transfers with El Nido Paradise. The van transfer itself costs PHP 550 per person and there’s a PHP 50 surcharge for hotel pick-up. PHP 600 is pretty much the standard rate anyway, based on my research, though I suppose you can talk it down a bit if you want to go through the hassle of haggling.

For accommodations in El Nido, Hershe and I agreed right away that we wanted to stay at Spin Designer Hostel. As its name suggests, it’s a hostel but an upscale one, offering both private rooms and shared accommodations. It’s ranked #1 in TripAdvisor and is very highly rated in Booking.com (9.1 out of 10). The hostel is in the center of town — the beach and wharf are a walkable distance away — but it’s not too central as to be utterly chaotic. We booked a Twin Room with ensuite bath for around PHP 2,600 per night (PHP 1,300 per person) and the price already includes free breakfast. They also have a Standard Room with a double bed for roughly the same price — great for couples — as well as 4-bed female-only and mixed-gender dorm rooms that are a wonderful option for solo travelers as well as families or friends traveling together.

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Lastly, after check-in, we plan to take a tricycle to Marimegmeg beach. It’s a west-facing beach 4-5 km from town and will be a great place to witness our first sunset in El Nido.

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8 Things Doctors and Nurses Need to Do During an In-Flight Medical Emergency

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Lazada Philippines

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In all the times I’ve traveled, I’ve only ever witnessed one in-flight medical emergency. A middle-aged businessman had temporarily lost consciousness but was okay within a few minutes; altogether, nothing too serious. Still, there was a moment of heightened alertness when we all heard over the airplane’s PA system, “Is there a doctor on board?” I wouldn’t want to get sick on a trip — especially not while 30,000 feet above ground! — but if I were to have an emergency, I would hope that a doctor (or two, or three) would be on board to help me out.

Here are the things doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals need to do in case of a medical emergency on the plane, as compiled from tips by the Aerospace Medical Association (AsMA) and two studies on in-flight medical emergencies published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

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Before every flight, keep in mind that you may be asked to provide medical assistance on board.

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In-flight medical emergencies are relatively rare — a 2013 study published in the NEJM estimates that 44,000 such incidents occur worldwide every year, or 1 every 604 flights — but you never know when that one flight will be the flight you’re in. Researchers found that during an in-flight medical emergency, assistance is often rendered by healthcare professionals who happen to be on board as passengers, usually doctors (48.1%) and/or nurses (20.1%).
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How to get a Japanese visa in Cebu, Manila or Davao (it’s very easy!)

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Although this article is mainly about how to get a Japanese visa in Cebu, Manila, or Davao — because these are the cities in the Philippines where Japan’s accredited agencies are located — the requirements and procedure are the same for anyone anywhere else in the Philippines. Those not living in the 3 cities mentioned above simply have to go through an agency affiliated with the officially accredited agencies. Scroll down to learn more.

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SGMT Japan Kyoto Gion 00

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Getting a visa to visit Japan is a very simple process. You only need to:

  1. Gather your requirements; and
  2. Submit them anytime to an accredited agency — no need to make an appointment, no need to go to the Japanese embassy for an interview or biometrics.

There is a Japanese embassy in Manila, as well as consular offices in Cebu and Davao; however, starting in 2007, they no longer accept direct visa applications (except in special cases). Instead, visa applicants should just submit their requirements to any of the agencies accredited by the Japanese embassy (see list of accredited agencies below).

Moreover, a Japanese visa is completely free for all Filipinos. Applicants only need to pay the handling fee (usually around PHP 1,000) of the agency processing the visa application.

There were rumors a few months ago that Filipinos might no longer need a visa to visit Japan. This is not true (not yet anyway). What Japan did was to relax the requirements for a multiple-entry visa. You can check if you qualify for a multiple-entry visa HERE. The requirements below are for a single entry tourist visa.

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How to Get A Schengen Visa Through the French Embassy (2016)

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SGMT France Paris Hotel de Ville

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The French embassy in the Philippines has just recently entrusted processing of Schengen visa applications to VFS Global. Here’s what you need to know about the NEW procedure for getting a Schengen visa through the French embassy.

See if you are one of the people allowed to apply directly to the French embassy HERE.

Want to know about my personal experience applying for a Schengen visa at the French embassy? Read this article.
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Basic steps
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  1. Prepare your documents.
  2. Schedule an appointment with VFS.
  3. Go to the visa application center on your appointment schedule to submit your documents and have your biometrics taken.
  4. Wait for the result.
one week paris_php50000

http://smalltowngirlsmidnighttrains.com/2015/05/25/7-days-paris-budget/

When should you apply?

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You can only submit your visa application within 90 days from your date of departure. For example, if you are leaving the Philippines on August 1, 2016, you can submit your visa application from May 3, 2016 onwards.

Things to take into account as you decide when to apply:

  • The processing time for a short stay visa is 48 hours from the time the complete application is received at the French Embassy, while the processing time for a long stay visa is 15 working days receipt at the French Embassy. If you are asked to submit additional documents, processing time may take up to 4 to 8 weeks.
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  • In 2015, the French embassy received almost 20,000 visa applications! (That’s actually why they decided to get the help of VFS for visa application processing.) Don’t take it for granted that there will be an appointment slot available anyday.

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Is personal appearance necessary?

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Yes! You will need to have your photo and fingerprints taken.

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Will there be an interview at the French embassy?

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Putting yourself out there

This is something I wrote last year for a fellow blogger — sharing it now to hopefully encourage anyone who wants to write but is too wracked with self-doubt to start.

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Gaya_LetterSizeWhenever people tell me that they want to try blogging but they’re not sure if they can do it, I always share this bit of wisdom from a very unlikely source: Ryzza Mae Dizon. It’s something she said in passing when someone complimented her dancing, and I don’t think she even remembers saying it now. But it has stuck to my mind ever since I heard her say it and I’ve always found it inspiring.

She said: “Hindi ako magaling. Makapal lang talaga ang mukha ko.” (I’m not good, I’m just gutsy.)

What I’ve learned about life is that talent will only ever get you so far. Conversely, a lack of talent will only hold you back for as long as you let it. What really counts is your attitude — your willingness to put yourself out there and work for what you want, even if you’re not sure what people are going to think.

In my blogging experience (such as it is!) “attitude” has required three things: courage, principles, and accepting who I am.

Courage. Blogging takes bravery! Many of my friends and readers have been to way more places than I have, and I know it’s presumptuous of me to ask them to read a travel blog by a person less-traveled than they are but…makapal lang talaga ang mukha ko! 😀 What have I got to lose, right? Also, I realized early on that I am not as good a writer as others — as much as I want to, I can’t do the sort of emo writing that seems to be popular with the artsy crowd. I can only do my style of writing and I have to be content with that. So, even if you think no one cares what you have to say, or you don’t write well enough, or, for travel blogs, even if you haven’t been to that many places, if you want to start your own blog then do it. Stop wondering what your friends are going to think and just do it. Anyway, it’s not like you’re holding people at gunpoint and forcing them to read your blog.

Speaking of which, it’s also important not to get discouraged if only a few people read your blog at first. I know it can be disheartening to put so much of your heart and soul and self into a post and have it be read by only a handful of people but…it happens. A lot. Unless you have the benefit of a popular last name, or you’ve got tons of friends (or people wanting to curry favor), or, I don’t know, you work the circuit really well, you aren’t going to automatically shoot to the top of the blogger Billboards. So forget all that for a bit and just write. Write and write and write, and eventually your efforts will start to pay off. (And in the meantime, if it helps your self-esteem, think of yourself as a starving artist. 🙂 You’re brilliant — the world just doesn’t know it yet.)


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Principles
. A lot of people have been very successful at making money out of their blogs and so many of us go into blogging hoping that we will also be able to earn from it. Certainly, that’s one of my goals (though honestly I haven’t quite figured out how to do that yet). But I think it’s also important to set standards for yourself.

I remember searching for printers in Cebu, and I came across a website for “Cebu Printing Services” claiming to be “Cebu’s No. 1 Printing Company” — only there were no printing services being offered, just printing-related blog posts with embedded hyperlinks to sites selling, um, PDE5 inhibitors (look it up). I don’t want to judge, and some people might argue that those links don’t hurt anyone, but — speaking for myself — that’s just not something I’m willing to do. As a blogger, you have to decide for yourself where you want to draw the line. In my case, I think it’s important that people who read my blog are able to trust me, so I decided very early on that I won’t allow misleading links, or write good reviews for bad services. And while I try to make my posts interesting, inspiring, and/or helpful to others, it’s a matter of self-respect that I don’t write, for the sake of going viral, what this article calls “aspirational porn.” I tell people they can make their travel dreams come true, but I also make sure to tell them about the work (and sometimes luck) that goes into it. The last thing I want to do is to raise people’s expectations only to let them down, or “inspire” them to be irresponsible and selfish.

Identity. Figure out who you are and work with that. Me, I’ll never have the coolness factor of other bloggers. I’m not someone who quit work to travel all around the world. I’m not someone who has managed to make a living out of traveling. I don’t look good in a bikini, can’t even do a decent jump shot…basically, I don’t think people will want to be me. I’m just an ordinary person, so I’m sticking with that, hoping that my blog will somehow resonate with people who also feel ordinary and encourage them to do not-so-ordinary things. I don’t know if I’ve been able to accomplish that, but sometimes people tell me that my blog inspires them to travel, and that makes me very happy.

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Putting yourself out there in blogging
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Proud to be Pinoy, proud to support Northloom

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Northloom is the passion project of Dindo Llana, an award-winning illustrator and painter from Ilocos Norte. The Northloom tagline is “Carry Your Culture” — all their products feature the traditional handwoven Ilocano abel, which they combine with canvas or leatherette to fashion the most beautiful backpacks, yoga bags, totes, wallets, and…

Northloom_Passport Holder_Backpack

Passport holders! I got my passport holder today and it matches my backpack…yay!

Now, I know I’ve posted about Northloom a lot, so let me tell you why I’m such a proud Northloom supporter.

Abel weaving is a Filipino art that is unfortunately dying off because it is such a tedious and time-consuming process — a 50-yard roll of abel binakul usually takes a whole month to weave — and so for most Ilocanos it’s just not an economically viable endeavor. It’s a tradition that is close to Dindo’s heart, I think not only because he is an Ilocano himself but because he’s one of the most nationalistic artists I know. His love for the Philippines and the Filipino culture is palpable in his paintings and drawings, and his social media posts are often peppered with social and political commentary. Other entrepreneurs might shy away from politics so as not to alienate potential customers, but not Dindo — so you can tell it’s something he really feels strongly about.

Genuine — I think that’s the word that best describes Northloom. There is no PR person, no advertising campaigns (even though Dindo has a long experience as an advertising art director), no fluff. Just the products themselves and word of mouth from happy, often repeat, customers. It’s a cottage industry more than anything, and yet even the word “industry” is a stretch. Northloom sources abel directly from the weavers, employs a revolving group of underprivileged women in Manila to create the bags, and Dindo himself is (in his own words) “the management team, the finance team, the operations team, the marketing team, the messengerial team” all in one. When I say Northloom is his passion project, I really do mean it’s his passion project. And in a world of carefully strategized lifestyle advocacies and social media drives, a take-it-or-leave-it what-you-see-is-what-you-get passion project is just a refreshing thing to see.

Anyway, if you’re interested in checking out their products, Northloom has a Facebook page that you can browse and message for orders.

Review_Northloom_Miguee_Philippines_Cebu_Camotes_01

Fun fact: Dindo illustrated the beloved book You Know You’re Filipino If…: A Pinoy Primer, which is still available from Tahanan Books and Amazon.

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Paris. Is. Possible.

On the third anniversary of my first ever European trip, I thought I’d go back to the basic, underlying message of this blog: you can do it too. And what better place to feature than Paris, where this love affair with travel (and writing about it) all began.

Paris_Gaya_SGMTIt was exactly three years ago that I first stepped foot in Paris. Before that day, I’d thought European trips were only for rich people so I hadn’t even dared to dream of Paris or Rome or Venice. But one day my sister found a seat sale to Paris and, on a crazy impulse, we decided to go for it. In the months between the day we bought the tickets and the day of our departure, we scrimped and force-saved every extra cent we had. The day after every payday, once the bills were paid, I would literally have no money left for non-essentials. It was difficult to give up the little luxuries that had made ordinary life more enjoyable but in the end it was worth it: I was there, in Paris, on the 6th of October, breathlessly climbing up the steps of Champ de Mars station, and catching my first ever glimpse of the Eiffel Tower.

If there’s one thing I would like to share with anyone who also dreams of going to Paris, it’s this: it’s possible.

And not only is it possible, it’s very doable.

It starts with a dream. You have to tell yourself that you are going to Paris. And you have to set a goal date for it, otherwise it will remain one of those dreams that are always dancing just beyond the horizon of reality.

Next: you have to start. Now. Start saving at least for the airfare, which will probably take up the biggest chunk of your budget. Save for your airfare first because airlines regularly have seat sales and the best way you can snap up cheap tickets is if you already have the means to pay for them — luck favors the prepared. Once you have the tickets, you can slowly pay off or save for other travel expenses: this month, accommodations; next month, food; etc.

And then…you just gotta do it. Once you spot an opportunity, go ahead and grab it. Say YES to the dream and, if necessary, figure out the details of how you’ll do it later.

one week paris_php50000

The budget

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Some people say there’s no point in going to Paris if you’re not going to spend freely and enjoy — as if happiness is measured by the price you pay for it. Other people say that PHP 50,000 will only cover hotels — that it will not include food and certainly will not include airfare. And that’s fine if they think that way. (Ssshhh…the benefit of some people having that mindset is that the rest of us have less competition for the low airfares. But don’t tell them.)

However, if you’re willing to open your mind a bit, and you’re not too particular about the thread count of your bed sheets or the number of Michelin stars in your food, a 1-week Paris vacation is possible for only PHP 50,000.

Here’s the breakdown:

7 days in Paris for php 50000_updated 06Oct2015

The details

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Airfare
. As mentioned above, airfare will be your biggest expense and you will have to keep your eye out for promos and seasonal price drops. What I do is I check Skyscanner every now and then for low fares. Right now, for example, Skyscanner shows flights from Manila to Paris for only PHP 21,169 (via Oman Air). You can’t book flights on Skyscanner but they will give you links to the booking websites — such as Expedia or the airline website itself — that are offering that price. (See this article for other ways to stay updated on seat sales and promo fares.)

Skyscanner prices as of 06 October 2015

Skyscanner prices as of 06 October 2015

Schengen visa fee. This is a standard fee that the French embassy charges for processing your visa application. (See this article for a step-by-step guide in getting a Schengen visa at the French embassy.)

Travel insurance. This is required to get the Schengen visa you will need to enter France. The price of PHP 1,135 for a 7-day trip to France is offered by Blue Cross, which I personally use because it’s so easy to get (see details here). Other travel insurance companies might charge more or less for the same coverage.

Schengen travel insurance_Blue Cross_as of 06 October 2015

Blue Cross prices as of 06 October 2015

International travel tax. This is standard as well. Sometimes the travel tax is even incorporated into the airfare so that’s one less thing you will have to budget for.

Accommodations. It goes without saying that you can’t expect a 5-star hotel for this sort of budget but if you’re not too choosy, you can find fairly decent lodgings at this price. (A friend stayed at the OOPS! Hostel for only 30 euros per night, including breakfast.) What I do is I search for accommodations at Booking.com and filter the results based on my budget. Low-priced options with fairly good reviews include the Generator Paris and the St Christopher’s Inn Paris – Gare du Nord. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, I can personally recommend the Grand Hotel du Loiret, the Hotel Terminus Lyon, and the Hotel Le Notre Dame Saint Michel.




Booking.com


Food. Again, you can’t expect multi-course meals at Michelin-starred restaurants at this budget but you can still eat reasonably well. Of course, you’re in France and it would be a shame if you don’t get to try classic French cuisine at least once. What I usually do is I splurge on 1 or 2 good meals and eat frugally for the rest of the trip. See this article for tips on how to save on food while traveling. (Hint: supermarkets are your best friend.)

Transportation. Ideally, you should stay near the city center so you can walk to most of your destinations for the day. When you must take the Metro, you can save by buying a “carnet” — a book of 10 tickets — for €14.40. (A single ticket costs €1.80 so you save €3.60 when you buy a carnet.)

Miscellaneous expenses. You’ll notice that the PHP 50,000 budget does not specifically include things like admission to the Louvre or the fee for going up the Eiffel Tower. You can use the miscellaneous expenses budget for those costs. Do keep in mind, though, that there are many free things to do in Paris. Even the Louvre is free on certain days. (See: 3 Things That Will Surprise You About Paris.) A simple Google search could save you tons of money.

Entrance to the gorgeous Notre Dame cathedral is free

Entrance to the gorgeous Notre Dame cathedral is free

And that’s it

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…a one-week PHP 50,000 budget for Paris. Of course, it’s a very basic budget so it would be great if you can save more than PHP 50,000 for your trip. But definitely you don’t need to be wealthy to fulfill your Paris dreams. If you want it enough, and you’re willing to make a few sacrifices for it, Paris is definitely possible. Happy travels! 🙂

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Paris is possible: 1 week in Paris for only PHP 50,000 | This is an updated version of an article previously published in this blog. | © Small-Town Girls, Midnight Trains. All rights reserved.  

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