Imagine this : Five days of discovering the most secluded, idyllic and exotic islands of Palawan. Cruising on the ocean in an amazing and comfortable boat with 20 like-minded people. Falling asleep with the sound of the ocean and waking up with the very first rays of sunshine in a hut only meters away from the shore. Being completely off the grid and getting a taste of the authentic ‘island life’. If this sounds like something you would do (and honestly, who whouldn’t?) keep on reading, because YOU CAN, if you join the TAO Expedition.
I build my entire trip to the Philippines around this expedition. I sailed from Coron to El Nido, but you can also do it the other way around. There are several expeditions to choose from, so be sure to take a look on their website.
What is the Tao Expedition?
TAO (meaning human in Filipino language) is a social company that works together with local communities on remote islands of Palawan and gives travelers the chance to experience ‘island life’. Joining the expedition is not cheap but you get a unique chance to view the non-touristy parts of Palawan. On top of that you get to give back to the local communities.
I chose the combo experience from Coron to El Nido which meant I would be spending two days in Camp Ngey Ngey (the base camp of TAO) and three days on a boat!
What to expect?
A typical day in the expedition (Camp Ngey Ngey)
You wake up at your own pace, but this will be early in the morning. I remember waking up at sunrise every day. And I was so grateful for it. There’s just something about that moment the sun appears for the first time again. After taking a refreshing outdoor shower, it’s time for breakfast! The food at the TAO expedition is delicious!!! I had some of the best fresh fruits and vegetables of my life over there; also I’m quite sure I gained some weight during the TAO expedition 😀 Big up to the entire cooking crew and also the other crew members. They really go all the way to give you an amazing experience.
After breakfast there are lots of activities you can choose from : from just chilling on the beach and swimming, to playing beach volleyball, snorkeling, kayaking, getting a massage… a few of my fellow expedition members just started drinking every day at 11h 😀 not for me, but hey, everyone is free to spend their days in paradise the way they want to!
So yeah, there’s a bar too! AND when you say Tao, you say jungle juice! Jungle Juice is a mixture of pineapple juice and rum and you will drink it every day on the expedition! It’s actually really delicious, but be aware, they put in a lot of rum! Every day before sunset everyone gathers together to watch the sunset while drinking the juice. It’s moments like these that stay with you forever.
After dinner, there’s time to chat, to play games, or to keep on drinking 😀 and I shouldn’t forget to mention the karaoke. In the Philippines people adore to sing karaoke. You’ll see it literally everywhere, even on regular cafés in the streets, they are addicted! So yes, also on the TAO expedition, you’ll get the chance to channel your inner Beyoncé!
When tired you go back to your hut and go to sleep. You’ll have a mosquito net so bugs don’t bother you. Another day in paradise well spent.
A typical day in the expedition (Boat days)
On the third day we left Camp Ngey Ngey; ready to explore some secluded islands of Palawan. There’s no set course, and you never know where you are going or when you are going to get there either. Because of the weather conditions, everything can change anyway, so it’s better to just go with it.
During the day the boat will stop a few times to snorkel at amazing places, you will even see shipwrecks! On the boat you can read, chill, or even help the crew prepare (and catch!) the meals.
On some islands you’ll also go on a little adventure! We went hiking to the other side of the island and ate some fruits we found on the way. Refreshment was served as we got to the camp cause the Lost Boys climbed all the way up a tree to get us a coconut!
In the evening you will reach a TAO base camp before sunrise so there’s time to prepare your hut to sleep in later at night. Not all base camps have electricity, but for me that was part of the charm. And like this, you really are ‘unplugged’ from the real world for a while. (little sidenote : when I did turn on my phone I got a ‘warning’ on my Iphone that told me to be aware of aftershocks.. apparently there had been an earthquake in Manilla! But luckily we didn’t even notice..)
Tips when joining the expedition
- This is not a luxury cruise or a booze cruise so don’t treat it like one. The trip is all about being in nature and enjoying the beauty of the Philippines. Be appreciative of everything our world has to offer and be respectful to the people living on the islands.
- You’ll have very little control over the course of the trip. So if you are used to arranging every little detail of your travels by yourself, you will have to let it go this time. This was actually quite a challenge for me.
- I booked the trip as a solo-traveler. Unfortunately there weren’t any other solo-travelers on my boat. Most people were groups of friends or couples and even though everyone was very friendly I didn’t feel like I fit in all the time. Luckily I met Njoek, a girl from the Netherlands, on the beach of Camp Ngey Ngey. We instantly got along very well and she switched boats so we spent the rest of the expedition together. But even if that hadn’t been the case, I would have been fine.
- You’ll be amazed on how quickly you’ll adapt to not having any luxury or electricity. Not seeing my face in a mirror for a few days felt quite good actually 😀
So if you are in the Philippines, and looking for a way to go from Coron to El Nido or the other way around, don’t look no further. TAO is the way to go.