Rico Marcelo Photography


Puerto Princesa, Palawan

After a couple days spent in BGC catching up with family and getting over our jet lag, we were off to start our journey to the island province of Palawan. When we flew into Manila earlier in the week, it was in the middle of the night and there was nothing but darkness out of our windows. For this trip we had an early morning flight and our eyes were glued to the window the entire time. The endless blue seas highlighted the thousands of islands that make up the archipelago of the Philippines - it was simply a sight to see. The short one hour flight was certainly not enough time for us to take in the beauty that 30,000 feet above the ground could provide.

We arrived to the City of Puerto Princesa or “The City of the Living God”. This was our first experience without the guidance of my parents, and without the comfort of the city life we got accustomed to in BGC. We touched down and immediately noticed the removal of the high rises, the bustling businesses and most importantly, the excruciating traffic of Manila. Just like that, everything was different - it felt like we were across the world in a completely new land. It was slow, the air was fresh and it felt like we traveled back in time. There were roads that weren’t paved, undeveloped areas, old buildings and lush greenery. We grabbed the first tricycle we saw (which is the best mode of transportation, by the way, and so much fun) and we took a short ride to our hotel, the Blue Lagoon, which was located right on the main street of Rizal Avenue. We settled in and immediately got right to exploring the city.

Rizal Avenue runs right through the city, it was about a 3 mile stretch from end to end. The day was absolutely beautiful and the sun was beating down. We walked the streets, observing all of the different businesses, local restaurants and people. We came across a few blocks of different markets and vendors. You could buy a fake Supreme shirt, freshly caught fish and freshly baked pandesal all at the same time. There was anything you could possibly need (and want!). We wandered over to the west end and found the City Baywalk Park. It was a beautiful landmark that housed a sense of eeriness. We couldn’t quite tell if the park was abandoned or just not open yet. Nonetheless, we had the entire park to ourselves to take in the views that overlooked the mouth of the Sulu Sea. There was nothing but silence, a light breeze and stunning views. What a blessing it was to be there, we were able to sit in peace and take in everything.


We walked back down Rizal Avenue and visited the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, where to our surprise there was a mass being conducted. We visited Plaza Cuartel, which was a Japanese controlled military fort during WWII. In 1944, American POW’s were tortured and eventually killed by their capturers, later becoming known as the Palawan Massacre. The Plaza looked like an ordinary park, but with its dark and devastating history, it was hard not to feel the overwhelming somberness.

We finally arrived back to our hotel for a quick nap and a refresh.

We only had one night to enjoy Puerto Princesa, for we had an early morning trek to El Nido the next morning. After doing some TripAdvisor research, we found our must go to’s for the evening. Our first stop was for coffee at Eightynine Cafe. What an awesome find. I think we missed it the first time we walked by. It was a small, modern cafe that could’ve been found in any big city, but instead was nestled in the small town of Puerto Princesa. I had to get the instagram worthy Rain Cloud Coffee. They bundled a cotton candy “cloud” above a hot cup of coffee where the steam from the coffee made it “rain” into the mug. It was awesome! We ventured a couple streets down to Haim Chicken for dinner. This was a large outdoor restaurant full of local art, with smoke from the kitchen grills flooding the air. We ordered Fresh Lumpia and the best Lumpia Veggie Shanghai I’ve ever had. We followed that up with the famous Haim Spicy Chicken Leg and Pancit Bihon. Absolutely delicious. It was the perfect way to end our short time spent in such a great little city. Day one down of our island hopping adventure, and we couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us ahead.

BGC, Manila, Philippines

We touched down around midnight Philippines time, a whole 12 hours ahead of the East coast, my body clock was just all confused as we literally time traveled into the future, lol. I was pretty delirious from the long plane ride and the whole day spent in Taipei. I was completely exhausted but at the same time so excited and anxious as I didn’t quite know what to expect. We arrived to the Manila Ninoy Aquino Airport and it was instant madness. It felt like every plane arrived at the same time and every single person had to go through customs and there just weren’t enough customs agents filing the crowds through. It was a lot of people and not enough space/help/organization.

We finally got through customs, got our bags and made it outside. We did it! After a short wait, my parents were there to pick us up. The look on their faces of pride and joy and pure happiness of me actually being in the Philippines is something I will always cherish. Being in my parents’ homeland was something I had only dreamed of and could only imagine; but there I was, finally in their home land and what I had only heard of for 34 years was now a reality.

We got into a chauffeured van and began our trek to Bonifacio Global City, or BGC for short, where my parents live. It was a short 20 minute ride. Our first encounter of Manila was through tinted windows at 1am. Everything was dimly lit except for the Resort World casino which was right next to the airport, and a spectacle in itself. Immediately following were slums, shanties and people just everywhere on the streets and sidewalks. Famous Filipino Jeepneys filled the streets, alongside tricycles and different street vendors. Every now and then a Jollibee was sprinkled right in between the streets. All these sights were brand new (except for the Jollibee’s - I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some chicken). Then everything changed. The slums disappeared and high rise after high rise appeared. The dim streets turned into a lit city skyline. We were in a foreign land completely across the world, yet it felt like we were right back in America. Suddenly there were Starbucks and Coffee Beans and McDonald’s. There were billboards and lights everywhere, restaurants and bars. The contrast of the landscape was just so drastic and mind blowing. We finally arrived to our high rise. Security led us to the lobby and the door lady greeted us with a warm welcome in the middle of the night and finally we made it to my parents skyrise condo overlooking Manila, just incredible.


After a short night’s rest we got to exploring BGC. What used to be an old Philippine Army camp was now transformed into a bustling rich district in Metro Manila. We explored High Street which was full of every business and restaurant you could imagine. We walked block after block until reaching Market! Market! which was a sight in itself. Market! Market! consists of an outdoor market with fresh produce and street vendors and street food. The outdoor market sat opposite of the mega mall where 100’s of people were shopping and hanging out.

We walked over to SM Aura which is a Super Mall that has premium and upscale brands. I don’t know why they need a Super Mall right next to a Mega Mall but we went anyway, it was literally a four minute walk. We explored all the different shops for a bit. I got to visit with the homies from Commonwealth at the first Manila location, it was awesome. SM Aura wasn’t as crowded as Market! Market! and was a little more enjoyable to walk around. We went all the way to the roof of the mall and visited the San Pedro Calungsod Chapel. The Chapel was amazing and the view of both BGC and the rest of Manila was breathtaking. From that vantage point you could look west and see all of BGC, with high rises and development. You then look east past the interstate and all you could see is poverty and miles and miles of slums. The difference was night and day and quite shocking to see.

For the next four days BGC was our home. We met with new family, ate a ton of amazing food, relaxed and enjoyed the lavishness of BGC. We got familiar with our surroundings and adjusted to the time difference, all while preparing for the next part of our trip to the island of Palawan.

Previous: Taipei, Taiwan


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Instagram: @stephanyymoreno @reclaimsole @ask_astrid

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