Lots of tips to improve this Palawan underground river tour experience
There are a few simple things you can do to make this activity so much more enjoyable. Firstly, the bunker boat on the way out there – The noise is deafening… my Decibel meter App it at over 110 DB, and what a horrible noise. Even the boat-boy had his fingers in his ears. The sides of the roof hung down so we couldn’t look out at the beautiful surroundings. Clutching our heads in our hands, fingers stuffed in our ears, beneath the hanging tarpaulin roof we could see a peak of turquoise paradise shooting past, but it felt like we were in a sort of concentration camp transport hell.
So what can you do? Here are my tips – I don’t know if you can take your own boat to the entrance, or find one with a muffler. Even the hotel bunker had no muffler. Sit up the front of the boat so the noise falls behind. Don’t worry about being under the tarpaulin roof so you can see the amazing surroundings, the wind will keep you cool.
When you arrive at the river entrance you will notice it is very busy. Even in off-season it was crowded. They fit you with a life jacket, a radio headset and helmet, which I think is a real over-kill and makes you feel removed from the natural paradise. I felt like I was dressed for a scuba dive before hitting the water.
Tip – Get in the front of the boat. If you cannot, then take another boat, just get in the front. People in the front are enjoying the cave. Everyone else has a forward view of the back of their helmets.
We headed into the amazing caves and I wanted to start enjoying it. The boat man, pushing us along with a stick wouldn’t shut up. He had rehearsed all the terrible jokes already on the audio tour and was competing with it. We had this guy banging on in one ear and the radio-tour in the other. But I was curious about the cave and wanted to learn so I pressed on. He constantly went on and on about how shapes in the cave looked like an upside down fruit, or a ladies body whatever… I wanted to enjoy the cave, not play a ‘I spy with my little eye’. The audio-tour jokes and sound effects were driving me balmy…. Like “this is the bat cave” and then blare batman music. These terrible jokes and sound effects…. ‘my little eye’ comparison game was irritating me so much I wanted to quit the tour.
Eventually I pulled my helmet off and ripped the speaker from my ear. Hey presto! Instantly I felt that I was in a cave, not stuck in a theatre with 2 different commentators. I could hear quiet, drops of water…. I felt like I was in a cave. I quickly told my wife to do the same and we felt we were suddenly having a nice experience. The boat driver carried on, but paused for a few seconds occasionally so we could hear the silence and feel the natural beauty of the cave.
Tip – take your own torch, a good one. When the driver is flashing his old worn-out torch around you are trying to chase it with your eyes. It would be so much better if you could control the torch and shine it where you want to see. Not at his ‘my little eye’ game show.
After the tour we wanted to sit down at the tables and relax. We found a nice table and sat down, we could see monkeys and it was nice and peaceful. Our infant son was asleep. Then some female tour guides abruptly came and sat at our table opposite us talking loudly while applying makeup… ranting on and on ignorant to our peaceful moment. It was like suddenly we were in the changing room of a strip show. We got up and looked for a new table but other tour guides were asleep all over them. We woke them up and shooed two of them off. One remained with his sandy feet in my face. We soon left.
I’d like to go back and do this again, only doing these things – Take earplugs for the bunker and sit in the bow at the front. At the cave, don’t accept the Audio-tour. Make sure you get in the front row of the cave-boat. Take my own good torch. Remove your helmet, you don’t need it. Tell the boat driver and tour guides to keep quiet and you should have a great experience.