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Philippines & Japan 2023, Part Three: Puerto Princesa and Iloilo

Continuing my trip recap:

Puerto Princesa #

Puerto Princesa was a five-hour van ride from El Nido. We were scheduled to dipart midday, so my brother and I went to downtown El Nido to grab coffee and sandwiches for the trip. Then we clambered into a van with a driver and drove south. We traversed some hills and lots of rice fields, with the occasional curiosity in the next lane over:

A truck carrying pigs with a pair of goats on the roof
Double-decker animal transport

Really, Puerto Princesa was a chance to catch our breath as well as get better flight options to our next destination. We didn’t really explore the city too much—our hotel was by the water and it was about a ten-minute tricycle ride to the center of town, so we mostly stayed at the hotel. That first night we did venture out to the nearby mall for dinner.

A bowl of halo-halo (Filipino dessert with shaved ice, sweet beans/preserves, and ube ice cream)
Mall train (no audio). Full version on Flickr.

The hotel itself was…ok. It was right on the water but there wasn’t really much of a beach to speak of. Nice view, though:

A palm tree extends over the water at the edge of a beach

The rest of the time we hung out in the pool. On our last night we ordered the hotel’s special boodle fight for dinner, but even though it was quite pretty to look at it was pretty underwhelming for a party of 9.

A boodle fight spread with shrimp, crabs, barbecued chicken, and fried rice
Boodle fight(let)

A few more from Puerto Princesa:

Iloilo #

We made our way to Puerto Princesa airport in the morning to catch our flight to Iloilo. Most of the flights were headed back to Manila1. The airport itself was surprisingly large and a definite contrast from the smaller ones in Coron and El Nido. I particularly enjoyed the interior:

Two pillars with wooden decoration extend to an airport ceiling.
Puerto Princesa airport

The flight was a slightly larger jet, too, compared to the smaller propeller plane we rode between Coron and El Nido.

A winding ramp leads up to a small jet airplane.
Cebu Pacific’s tagline was “Let’s fly every Juan”, why are we like this?

Going home again #

If Puerto Princesa held no great appeal, Iloilo was the opposite. Iloilo was the first place we lived when my parents moved back to the Philippines after finishing their Ph.D. work at Texas A&M. As a result I have vivid memories of the place, probably because everything was so different from College Station: the language, the heat, the food.

After arrival we immediately went just outside Iloilo City to tour some of the places where we grew up. We went to Tigbauan, where we lived, and the neighboring towns of Guimbal and Miagao.

A Catholic church from the 1500s with a sign “Tigbauan” in the plaza in front of it.
Tigbauan Church

With each new place on this trip we added to our taxonomy of tricycle styles. Each town seemed to have its own specific form, possibly owing to whatever basic style of frame that local shops used to build them. Typically they’re powered by gas-fueled motorcycles, but in Iloilo we noticed e-bike variants. My brother speculated that maybe this was due to the power infrastructure being better in a big city.

A small tricycle powered by an e-bike. “Always Somewhere” emblazoned on a sunshade above the driver.
Always Somewhere, indeed

We stopped in at Miagao church—my dad kept repeating that it was designated as a UNESCO heritage site. I don’t ever remember visiting it as a child.

A Catholic church from the 1700s. In the center of a small rotunda in front is a statue of Christ atop a pillar.
Miagao Church


After Miagao we spent some time on the campus of SEAFDEC (Southeast Asian Fisheries Development Center), where my parents worked on their return to the Philippines. I have so many vivid memories from growing up here—my brother and me climbing trees and riding bikes along dirt paths betwen rice paddies, up hills.

Everything was small,2 except for the trees we used to climb. Those were huge.

A family of four stands in the driveway in front of a low-slung red house.
In front of our old house. Photo © Joseph Llobrera.

Our elementary school was still there! Albeit renamed from West Visayas State University Laboratory School to Kinaadman Elementary.3

Two men stand in front of a gated entrace to an elementary school called Kinaadman.
Elementary school. Photo © Joseph Llobrera.

We eventually made our way back to Iloilo city, stopping for lunch at a batchoy restaurant. Batchoy is a pork offal noodle soup that I’ve missed so much, it got its own bullet point on our itinerary.

Closeup of a bowl of soup with noodles.

It was cool to see jeepneys on the streets, even though there’s apparently an ongoing effort to phase them out in favor of more fuel-efficient minibuses. I get the reasons, but I will miss their colorful decorations and character.

Side of a jeepney carrying a few passengers.

The scale of Iloilo City baffled me. This was a city that had terrible roads, maybe one intersection with a stoplight, and now it’s a bustling metropolis with a self-proclaimed goal to be the third-biggest city in the Philippines by 2028. You could tell a ton of money had been poured into infrastructure and development, in a surprisingly coherent fashion (unlike more chaotic development in other Philippine cities). The road from the airport was a wide, multi-lane road with different lanes for slower vehicles like tricycles, something that seems so obvious in retrospect. A great impression for our reintroduction.

A massive canopy over an outdoor shopping mall patio. In the distance is an elevated crosswalk connecting it to another mall.
Megaworld Iloilo. Pinoys love a mall.

Finally, this. If there’s one thing that Filipinos can’t resist, it’s a punny business name. But I still have no idea what they were going for with this one:

A coffee shop with the unfortunate name of “Choking Grounds”.
I…think I’ll pass

More photos on Flickr.

  1. Philippine Airlines kept paging a couple and whether they would make their flight generated a small bit of excitement in my brain. They did. ↩︎

  2. I remember a row of houses with steep driveways, where I once skinned my knee riding my bike. The driveways were…short, with a gentle grade. Memory is so malleable. ↩︎

  3. Knowledge/wisdom ↩︎