How to Survive the Van to El Nido

2016 July 02

El Nido

The sharp, harsh, imposing limestone cliffs and the sparkling, placid, impossibly blue waters are just some of the reasons people are determined to visit El Nido at least once in their lifetime.



El Nido, Palawan is paradise on earth, but as with most paradises, it’s a little tricky to get to. Visitors with a generous budget can fly direct to El Nido via AirSwift; everyone else must fly first to Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan, and from there take a 6-hour ride by bus or van to El Nido. The long travel time in occasionally cramped quarters can test the patience of even the most motivated travelers, but survival — and even an actually enjoyable experience — is quite possible with a bit of preparation.

  • Book ahead and specify — insist! — that you want to reserve the seats in front, beside the driver. This way you’re likely to have more legroom and less likely to develop motion sickness. We were able to book our van transfer through El Nido Paradise for only P550 — we recommend them. Instead of you having to go to the bus terminal, El Nido Paradise can arrange to have the van pick you up at the airport (no extra fee) or at your hotel (for a P50 surcharge). They can also arrange your tours in El Nido and accept payments via PayPal, which rids you of the necessity to bring too much cash during your trip.
  • Sleep if you can. Most people do. Bring sleep accessories if you like, such as a neck pillow, an eye mask and ear plugs.
  • Alternatively, bring entertainment. A 6-hour stint in a van is the perfect excuse to finally read those books or watch those movies you’ve previously been too busy for. Make sure to charge your phone and/or laptop before boarding, and if you have a power bank, bring that along too.
  • If you’re prone to motion sickness, take your Bonamine an hour before ETD.
  • Bring water and food you can snack on if necessary.
  • Six hours can be hell on the bladder; take advantage of the pit stops. The van will stop 2 or 3 times during the journey so people can buy food and do their stuff. Fair warning: the bathrooms along the way aren’t exactly 5-star-resort quality but you’ll be fine.
  • All vans from Puerto Princesa stop at the Corong-Corong terminal in El Nido. A tricycle (tuk-tuk) can take you the rest of the way to your hotel for only P50.
  • On our way back to Puerto Princesa, the van we booked was scheduled to leave at 9:30 AM. We got to the terminal in Corong-Corong at around 9:10 AM, and an earlier van that was about to leave invited us to fill its last two seats. We agreed. Unfortunately, they were at the very back of the van — not even the last normal row but in the space where the luggage should have been — and we spent the next 6 hours in a very tight space. We could feel every bump in the road too. Don’t make the same mistake.
  • If you want, you can have an entire van all to yourself. You can arrange this with El Nido Paradise as well.

The van ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido won’t be the absolute best 6 hours of your life but it’s survivable and El Nido will be worth it.




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SGMT Japan Nara 01Dinner

On my second day in Kyoto, I was feeling rather uninspired. There were still many places I hadn’t visited — including the infinitely Instagrammable Fushimi Inari shrine — but I was already having second thoughts about everything. I’d been to two lovely temples and they’d had all the “right” elements, all the things I’d wanted to see — temples, maples, a rock garden, a moss garden. But it all felt a little hollow.

It was my fault, really. I hadn’t done my homework — hadn’t read up on Japanese history and culture before I left the Philippines — and as a result I was having a mostly two-dimensional experience in Kyoto. At that point in my visit, I just wasn’t sure what I would gain from a trip to another shrine. More pictures? If that was all — if I was only going just for the sake of seeing it and adding it to the list of places I’d been to — it didn’t seem worth it. I wanted to be moved, to be engaged. I wanted to be surprised.

Which is how I ended up, accidentally, in Nara.

When I left my ryokan that morning, I figured I might as well go to Kyoto Station as it was a good jump-off point for wherever I eventually decided to go. And then, after dawdling over a reasonably priced buffet breakfast at Portal Cafe, I figured I might as well go ahead and see Fushimi Inari, if only because there wasn’t really anything else that particularly appealed to me. The train station right beside Fushimi Inari was only one stop away from Kyoto Station on the JR Nara Line — and I had a JR Pass, and time — so I figured I didn’t really have much to lose.

I made my way to Platform 8 and noticed — in the vague way one notices things one thinks are important but not too important — a sign that said: “For Inari, take a local train.” I got off the escalator leading down to Platform 8, saw a Rapid train waiting with its doors open, and got in.

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The seasons at Kiyomizudera Temple

There are iconic images of Kiyomizudera Temple — images of the World Heritage Site’s wooden platforms and graceful dark roofs wreathed in cherry blossoms or maple leaves — but you will not find them here. Other things caught my eye, other markers of the passage of time, and although they can’t quite be called iconic, these are some of my favorite images from my entire visit to Japan last November.

Past customs, honored.

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 11

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 01 Ema

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 02 Omikuji

The delicate present, savored.

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SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 06

And the future

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 08

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 03

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 05

SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 04

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SGMT Japan Kyoto Kiyomizudera Temple 10

…savoring the present too. Because no one should have to pay bills before their time. And because a heart full of joy and laughter and love is the thing one will need most in the years to come.

Where to Stay in Kyoto

How to get to Kiyomizudera Temple

  • From Kyoto Station, take bus number 100 or 206 (15 minutes, 230 yen) to the Gojo-zaka or Kiyomizu-michi bus stop — 10-minute walk to the temple


The Seasons at Kiyomizudera Temple
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