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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

8 November 2018

Underground river

Entrance to the underworld

Entrance to the underworld

7 November 2018

The underground river is one of the main reasons to visit Palawan, and certainly the main reason we’re staying in Sabang. It’s 8km long and emerges straight into the sea, although in fact tourists only get to venture into the first 2km of it. This is a unique experience in itself, though I’d have loved to explore further.

The Sheridan Resort charges 1800 pesos for the underground river tour. Given you can take a 5 minute walk from the resort along the beach to the pier and ticket office, buy your own permit for 700 pesos and get on a bangka to ferry you to the river for 200 pesos, and thus have exactly the same experience for half the price, this is a bit of a cheek. But whereas a troop of about 50 people were shepherded down from the resort by the staff, we were one of only 3 couples staying anywhere in Sabang who had come independently. It just wants a little bit of research and confidence.

Though I must admit, if everyone decided to do it independently I think the ticket office and the whole operation might decend into absolute chaos!

Looks like a banana flower

Looks like a banana flower

So, the bangka with its deafening little petrol engine (reminder of longtail boats in Thailand!) takes you 4km along the shore from Sabang to a beach by the river mouth, and then a guide paddles a handful of tourists into the river in a smaller boat. You are actually given an audio-guide which tells you all about the cave – a really genius move, in spite of the cost and hassle, as otherwise the tranquility of the chittering bats and occasional paddle splash would be ruined by the echoing voices of the tourists in the various little boats asking their guide questions and chattering to each other. The audio-guide is super cheesy and over-enthusiastic. “These next cave formations all look like vegetables and fruit. Prepare to be amazed and impressed as we enter… the market garden!!! On your right you can see the peanut… next to it, a delicious looking corn cob… on the left, the chinese leaf… and overhead is a beautiful banana flower! And then…” Well, I guess at least they didn’t descend to smutty innuendo! This is a UNESCO site, after all.

All snark aside, it was beautiful and eerie inside the cave, it felt like another world and quite unique. I can’t completely gush with superlatives; I much prefer cave experiences where you feel like you’re exploring the underworld, rather than being paddled around in a loop like conveyorbelt sushi. But I’m glad we did it, and double-glad that we took the tiny extra effort to organise it ourselves. Also triple-glad that we decided to stay in friendly, quiet Sabang rather than stop in Puerto Princesa and do the caves via a 2 hour drive in a little white van.

We tried a bit of table tennis later, since the resort had a table (and a pool table, and gym!). It took about 10 minutes of moderate play to be completely bathed in sweat. Perhaps more of an evening activity?

Bangkas from the underground river

Bangkas from the underground river


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