Ten Great Reasons To Take A Family Trip to Palawan

Ten Great Reasons To Take A Family Trip to Palawan

First question, I know you are thinking – Where is Palawan?  I pretty much had that reaction when my friend Sheryl told me she took her family there for vacation.  I had stopped by her home to catch up and found her cooking Chicken Adobo a traditional Filipino dish which reminded her of her holidays. So she tells me all about Palawan while we are eating and I learn all these great reasons to take a family trip to Palawan.

Where is Palawan?

Palawan is a province in The Philippines nicknamed its last frontier.  It is a UNESCO biosphere reserve consisting of 1,780 islands. Located on the Western side of The Philippines, the islands are sandwiched between the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea.  So expect lots of water.

Islands in the Palawan Province

Image credit: Storm Crypt

Sheryl took her family to the north of Palawan.  She stayed on Busuanga Island (a direct 45 minute flight from Manila via Cebu Pacific or Philippines Airlines) at the Busuanga Bay Lodge.

Why Take A Family Trip to Palawan?

My second question was “Why Take A Family Trip to Palawan?”  I’ve been to Boracay years ago and I’ve heard of Cebu as a major tourist destination.  I had never heard of Palawan, never mind considered it as a place for a family holiday.

Clearly, I am behind in my reading.  In 2014, Conde Nast Traveller voted it the best island in the world in its Readers Choice Awards. I am a big fan of the CN Traveler Readers Choice Awards for providing great optionsCN Traveler Readers Choice Awards for providing great options not pushed by the big names in the travel industry.  In 2013, Travel + Leisure, Palawan made its debut on the World’s Best Islands list.  These islands came out of nowhere to snatch the coveted top slots.  I bet Maui (Hawaii) and  Santorini (Greece) were mightily upset.

Lake in Coron Palawan The Philippines

Kayangan Lake, Coron, Palawan
Image credit: Bro. Jeffrey Pioquinto SJ

The reasons I found out to visit Palawan are very cool!  Here are 10 extraordinary reasons to venture out to visit this area of The Philippines. No need to leave the kids behind – take your family trip to Palawan!

1. You can go island-hopping on the local bangka boats.  Unleash your inner Robinson Crusoe on these sparsely populated islands.  With 1,780 islands to choose from, you really can tell your co-workers that you are not reachable by mobile!

2. There is great snorkelling easily accessible everywhere.  The Philippines is located in the Coral Triangle with great diversity of  marine species.  There are hundreds of types of coral and thousands of different varieties of reef fish.  It is a roughly triangular area located between The Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.

3. If you are feeling more adventurous, the island of Coron is great for scuba diving. Lots of Japanese navy vessels lie sunk of the coast of these islands.  It’s been listed in Forbes Traveler Magazine as one of the world’s Top 10 diving locations. (Tip: my diving friends tell me that diving with your own computer is always preferred, a dive watch computer is small enough to bring with you while traveling).

4. The natural beauty is astounding – clear water, white sand beaches, limestone cliffs – you get the picture!

5. The El Nido Resorts are an internationally known group of eco-resorts in Palawan.  The El Nido Marine Preserve is the largest in The Philippines.  There are rain forests, beaches, limestone cliffs, marine life as well as wildlife.

6. The Puerto Princesa underground river is the world’s longest navigable underground river.  The 8.2 mile river winds its way through caves before emptying into the South China Sea.  It is a UNESCO world heritage site.

7. Calauit is an island located northwest of Busuanga.  Off the coast of Calauit you may find sea cows, dugong, an endangered species because it has been hunted for hundreds of years for meat and oil.  Related to the manatees, they live off sea grasses in the shallow water.  It is the only completely herbivorous marine mammal.

8. Calauit island is home to the Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife National Park.  This park hosts a collection of wildlife rescued from Kenya by the Marcos’ regime in the 1970’s when Kenya was going through a drought.  As well as the local animals, the preserve also has groups of African wildlife – giraffes, gazelles, zebras, impalas etc.

Calauit Wildlife Reserve

Calauit Wildlife Reserve
Image credit: Roslyn

A less charitable motive is that one of the Marcos kids wanted to go hunting without journeying too far from home.  There was also rumours that Marcos got ivory from Kenya to make statues in exchange for housing the wildlife.

9. Visit pristine white sand beaches that inspired Alex Garland to write the famous book that was turned into a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, The Beach.  Well, according to local folklore anyway.  In the book and the movie, Garland claimed the beach was Koh Phi Phi in Thailand.

10. There’s lot of entertainment to ward off boredom on both land and water.  Have fun in the water with such activities as paddle-boarding, kayaking or fishing.  Spend your days on land with pursuits such as beach-combing, rock-climbing,  hiking and, my personal favourite, general lazing on a beach with a good book.

Pandan Island

Pandan Island
Image credit: Storm Crypt

See For Yourselves – A Family Trip to Palawan

To see how gorgeous this province is, check out this short video of Sheryl’s trip to Busuanga and its island neighbours.

The video is an excerpt of a podcast I have recently done asking her about the trip.  I created the video because know you like your photos. This place is exceptionally photogenic.

To learn more details about Sheryl’s trip, including her opinion on Busuanga Bay Lodge and her daughter’s encounter with fire coral, you can listen to the full podcast on iTunes under Just Go Places Podcast.

If you are visiting Palawan and want to see more of the Philippines, check out this comprehensive guide to Philippines travel.

Chicken Adobo, the Filipino Comfort Food

Chicken Adobo, the Filipino Comfort Food

As I entered my friend Sheryl’s home, the smell of garlic and bacon wafted from the kitchen.  I am a lover of both and so I walked like a zombie straight to her stove.

“What are you making?” I asked, trying not to salivate.  My dog who had accompanied me on this visit had no such inhibitions.  He wagged his tail hopefully at the scent of fried chicken but was rewarded only with a bowl of water.

“Chicken Adobo,” she replied.  “It’s Filipino comfort food.”

Watching her as she finished cooking, we chatted about the dish she is making.  I also managed to get her recipe which I have shared below.

A Family Trip to Busuanga in The Philippines

Sheryl had just returned to London from visiting her widowed mother in Manila.  She had gone with her Israeli mother-in-law and her husband and children to the Philippines for about 10 days. They had spent a few days with her extended family in Manila.  They also had a few days of rest and relaxation at Busuanga Bay Lodge on the island of Busuanga in the Philippine archipelago which is famous for great snorkelling and diving.

I will write about Sheryl’s beach adventures on the island of Busuanga in a later post.  It sounded idyllic – white beaches, island-hopping and great snorkelling.  Of course, there were the usual family (mis)adventures too.  The children got to drink coconut milk straight from coconuts.  Her daughter stood on fire coral accidentally which really stung.  Her mother-in-law tried to pet a ‘cute’ puffer fish which promptly sank its front teeth into her hand.  Other than the minor mishaps, everyone loved the trip and came back happy.

Clearly, Sheryl was missing her Philippines sojourn and cooking up a sensory feast to compensate.

Frankly, I’d be missing this kind of beach holiday too!

The beach at the resort in Coron

the clear blue water of Coron, The Philippines

Sheryl’s Chicken Adobo

Although it seemed exotic to me, Sheryl explained that Chicken Adobo is a fairly standard dish in The Philippines.  For example, if you are interviewing a cook for your home, you will get her to make a Chicken Adobo.  If you like her version of that dish, then she’s probably a good fit for your family.

Every family has their own variation of Chicken Adobo.  The base for this dish is always chicken legs, thighs and wings (no breasts).  The chicken is cooked with soy, vinegar, onion, garlic and ginger.  If you travel to the south of The Philippines, the Chicken Adobo gets spicier.  It is commonly served over rice.

Sheryl’s version of Chicken Adobo is not spicy so it’s perfect for children.  Having tasted Sheryl’s Chicken Adobe, the flavours were a combination of sweet and sour with a hint of salt.  I know my children who are fans of sweet and sour  would love it!

browned chicken

Chicken, browned and ready

sauteed onions, bacon and garlic

Sauteed onions bacon and garlic

chicken ready for the coconut milk and ginger

All the ingredients ready for the addition of ginger and coconut

Ingredients:

  • 10 pieces of chicken thighs and legs
  • 2 whole red onions diced
  • 10 cloves of sliced garlic
  • 2 slices of diced Spanish panceta (similar to Italian pancetta)
  • 1/3 of a can of Stella Artois
  • 1/4 cup of palm vinegar
  • 5 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • Sprinkle of rock salt
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 8-10 whole peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons of crushed ginger
  • 1 carton (1cup/250 ml) of coconut milk mixed with hot water to create a pint (570 ml) of coconut liquid

Preparation

Fry the chicken on high heat until it is lightly browned on both sides and transfer to a dish.  Lightly pat the chicken to remove excess oil.  Transfer the chicken to a pot. Fry the onions, bacon and garlic on high heat in a separate pan and then transfer to the pot with the chicken. Combine the rest of the ingredients.  Cover the pot and simmer.  Stir once during the cooking process.  Cook for 35-45 minutes until the chicken is tender and falls of the bone.  Serve with steamed rice.  Serves 8.

Filippino Dish Chicken Dish from the makers of Hot Chiu

So, of course, I asked her about the inclusion of beer.  When did Stella Artois become a Filipino cooking ingredient?!  Sheryl laughed.  Traditionally, Filipinos use apple cider vinegar.  She prefers Stella because it’s pretty flat and when cooked, all that is left is the sugar.  (Doesn’t say much about drinking Stella does it?!).  She also uses a small amount of palm vinegar for the vinegar taste without the sourness.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yqr3QqniO94&w=560&h=315]

Chicken Adobo in The Philippines

A quick look on the internet showed me that Chicken Adobo is the national dish.  Although the term adobo is Spanish for cooking with a marinade, Filipinos were already cooking with vinegar and salt.  Vinegar acts as a preservative.  With the advent of the trade with the Chinese, the Filipinos used soy sauce as an addition to the dish or a substitution for the salt.

Adobo refers to a way of cooking a stew with vinegar and salt.  It’s commonly made with chicken or chicken and pork.  Muslim Filipinos make beef adobo instead of pork.  You can also the adobo method to cook vegetables (e.g., okra or bamboo shoots) fish and seafood (e.g., shrimp, squid, cuttlefish).  For the truly adventurous, there are adobo versions cooked with frog and snake.  I think I might just have to skip those last ones!

A recipe for Chicken Adobo the Filipino comfort food as created by the makers of Hot Chiu

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Hope you enjoyed this little foray into cooking traditional Filipino food for the modern family with Westernised tastes.  Sheryl is an amazing and creative cook who shares her recipes online at the Facebook page for her artisanal Asian condiments, Hot Chiu.  The set of sauces, sold under the brand name of Hot Chiu, is sold online and selected stores in England.  They are my children’s favourite stir fry sauce.