Puerto Princesa Underground River Vs. Kong Lor Cave
The Puerto Princesa Underground River
Something that isn’t talked about a whole lot (outside of when travellers share stories over beers) is when you spend a lot of time planning a big trip to a specific location for one particular travel experience only to be sadly disappointed when you get there. And for us this is exactly what happened with the Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Philippines.
The Puerto Princesa Underground River caught my eye while initially planning our round the world trip. Being a huge fan of Mother Earth and all of her awesomeness, I was looking through The New7Wonders of Nature list and planned on visiting as many of them as possible during our time in Asia. This list, which was voted on by over 500 million people worldwide, includes: the Amazon, Table Mountain, Ha Long Bay, Jeju Island, Iguazu Falls, Komodo Island, & Puerto Princesa Underground River.
We were fortunate enough to visit both Ha Long Bay and Komodo Island which were both spectacular for their own reasons so when we visited the underground river we had high expectations. Unfortunately, it disappointed from the start.
To start out, we spent $50 USD each for the tour, ridiculously high for just about any other Southeast Asian tourist attraction. We paid it though because hell, we had come all the way to the island of Palawan to see it.
Upon arriving I already had my doubts as the docking area for the boats was jam packed with people. It was a zoo. I knew it would be busy given its position on the New 7 Wonders list, but not like this!
After finally boarding our boat following over an hour of waiting around, we jetted off toward the entrance to the caves in a small boat of 8 or so people. Upon arriving at the cave we were even more put off as the entrance resembled more of the start of a theme park ride than a natural attraction.
There was a seemingly endless flow of boats entering and exiting the cave every few minutes. I felt like I was about to board a boat for the Jungle Cruise in Disneyland which wasn’t really what I had in mind when we came all this way to see it.
I told myself stay positive, perhaps the beauty of it would just blow me away and this would all be worth it.
Unfortunately as soon as our tour guide started talking things went even further downhill. I’ve never been so annoyed by a tour leader in my life. The guy repeated the same four tidbits about the cave over and over and again, finished every sentence with grating a “Ma’am Sir” and tried desperately to point out rock formations that resembled familiar real life objects.
It was so ridiculously bad it was actually sort of funny.
The tour guide aside, the underground river, although definitely a nice natural attraction, didn’t really impress us all that much. First of all it wasn’t a very long tour, we seemed to be in and out in ten or fifteen minutes and we were really put off by the fact that we didn’t go all that far into the cave as you need to get a special permit (i.e. pay even more money) to go further in.
I hands down preferred the Kong Lor Underground River tour in Laos and let me give you some reasons why:
- There were no other tourists when we went
- We had our own driver
- You speed through half the cave in the pitch black which is both terrifying and awesome at the same time
- You get to get out of the boat and walk around inside the cave for a while
- The whole tour takes well over an hour
- The river is still used by locals to transport products through the mountain
- It was only $7 USD per person including a head torch
I think after spending a year in Asia we have become a little spoiled by experiences like Laos’ Kong Lor Caves. So when we arrived at a place with so much hype like the Puerto Princesa Underground River, we were a little disappointed. And we’ve undoubtedly become much less patient with any spot teeming with tourists.
We don’t always bat 100% when we pick travel spots. So although we were disappointed with the underground river in Puerto Princesa, we didn’t fret about the money or time spent getting there, instead we just let it roll off our backs, had a good laugh about it and moved on. The good news is that the city of Puerto Princesa was charming and had a great vegetarian restaurant (I highly recommend the black bean burger) which helped fill the void before we made our way up to El Nido.
Life’s too short to get caught up the few disappointing travel experiences when we’ve had so many outstanding ones.
Funny shameless selfies also help ease the pain…
Ross & Alyse