Time for a diving holiday! Well, a city break to Singapore, followed by a trip to the Phillipines, with a few days muck diving around Anilao, before picking up the Philippine Siren for a trip to the Tubbataha Reefs.
This trip had been booked before we bought DT, but given the fact that we were stuck in a marina, waiting for new batteries and solar panels, it came as a welcome change of scenery.
Flying into Singapore is really convenient from Brisbane. Rob had been to the city a few times for work, so was down as the official tour guide. There was a pretty busy itinerary planned, primarily based around food (how unusual for us, I hear you say!)
We were staying at some serviced apartments just near the Arab quarters. They were handy for almost everywhere so we ended up walking to most places. It’s a very easy city to get around. We visited the Masjid Sultan Mosque, Malay Heritage centre, Raffles Hotel ( but at $40 a pop. we didn’t partake of a ‘Singapore sling’ ) and off course we sampled the delights on offer at a number of the Hawker stalls.The hawker stalls and food culture is massive in Singapore – as one of the locals said, the food is so good they never cook at home!
Singapore was a great start to the trip, the city is clean, compact and easy to navigate. It has a fabulous multicultural vibe, from the Arab quarter and Chinatown to the shiny modern Downtown Marina Bay Sands complex.
While we were walking around ,we happened to chance upon a shark exhibition called ‘On Sharks and Humanity’ being held at the imposing Parkview Square building. It was a touring exhibition that highlighted the importance of sharks in our oceans and the needless and brutal ‘finning’, that takes place simply to make shark fin soup. It was well worth the three hours that we spent there, but a great shame that it didn’t seem to be advertised at any of the tourist centres.
After a whistle-stop tour of this exciting city, our next stop was the Phillipines. We took a flight into Manila, before a four hour road trip down to Buceo / Anilao. Manila was as busy as ever and the long drive was not quite as nerve racking as we were expecting. Ahem…
The resort we were staying at had no access to the road, so we were dropped off by a small bay and took a short boat ride to our resort. Before too long we were relaxing with a refreshing fruit juice (yes really) and watching the sunset.
We had five days of great diving here. It was all shore based dives, with most sites focusing on muck diving, but there were a couple of nice reef dives as well. Fish life was excellent with leafy sea dragons, frog fish (large and small!) and lots of critters. The diving was pretty straightforward, with the boat typically returning to the dive shop between dives. There were lots of dive sites just a short ride from the resort. For any that were further afield, there was a rest stop made for tea and biscuits as part of the surface interval.
All in all the diving and dive facilities were excellent. The resort was clean and tidy and the staff were really welcoming and friendly in the typical Philippine fashion. Food wise it was a little disappointing (we do like our food!) and we had to make some compromises in our diet (or go hungry!). We had pretty much exhausted the menu within 2 days! Most of the menu was meat and rice, which did not suit us, and there were some comments from the other guests that there was a fairly limited choice – including some that had booked a couple of weeks on the resort. However when you look at the location and the overall resort cost, there are bound to be some compromises…
We had a lovely time here, but five days was enough – we boarded the taxi to Manila with mounting excitement as we prepared to meet the lovely crew of the Philippine Siren in Tubbataha.
Flying from Manila to Porto Princessa we had booked a lovely room at a small hotel about 5 minutes form the airport. After a long day we had a quick green curry and retired for the night.
After a very restful night, we discovered a local food and bottle shop over the road. We thought we would stock up on some local rum – we had heard good things about it from when we were in Anilao. So purchased a litre bottle for $4 AU – bargain!
We got picked up at ten by the Philippine siren taxi and met at a local hotel where we all made our introductions. We then convoyed over to the docks and boarded the lovely Philippine siren – it was lovely to see the crew and Ed and Schu the trip directors again.
Once all the boat briefings and unpacking had been done, including a very informative talk from the Tubbataha reef management staff we set sail for the long overnight trip to Tubbataha reef. For the first time ever Jo and I felt a little queasy. We put it down to the curry from the night before, but pretty much the entire boat (crew included!) all retired early due to the rather rough crossing.
The following day we delayed the first dive slightly due to the weather but it was a great introduction to what we feel is one of the best dive areas we have visited. One of the reasons this trip was recommended was because it was focused on shark research and we were joined by Gonzo and Simon who were tasked maintaining and adding listening equipment at key points on the reef to track the resident and non-resident pelagic fish. There were also a number of interesting presentations over the course of the trip highlighting the research being undertaken.
The Tubbataha reefs are situated in the Palawan region of the Phillipines and cover an area of 130,028 hectares. The location is remote and quite unprotected, we had one of the roughest crossings to get to the park and over the course of the trip the seas were always a little choppy. This did make getting on and off the dive tenders slightly more challenging but with the excellent attention from the crew and a little patience it was still very safe. After a day or two of getting our sea-legs, we were pretty used to the boats pitch and yaw.
The heritage park is extremely well managed with local rangers introducing the diving rules and conservation efforts underway in the park before we departed. Within the park we also visited a small ranger station on the South side of the North Atoll. Ranger staff man this for a month at a time, from here they proactively monitor and police how park visitors are using the area. We saw them a few times over the course of the trip, either to help Gonzo and Simon maintain the monitoring stations or confirming that our and other dive boats were following the park guidelines. It was really pleasing to see such a proactive conservation effort in a fairly challenging, remote location and we would say the diving and our visit was all the better for it.
One of the primary reasons of this trip was to dive with sharks and I am pleased to say we were not disappointed. On our previous trip to the Phillipines we visited the Visayas and Malapascua region and while the diving was equally as good there was a noticeable lack of larger pelagic animals. This is definitely not the case here, with every dive seeing at least one or two sharks, predominantly from the white or black tip reef sharks but with guest appearance from silver tips or scalloped hammerheads.
The true highlight of the trip was our first ever whale shark encounter, with a perfect, slow swim-by at 15 metres. Our dive group were perfectly lined up, so we all just stopped swimming and hung in the water and watched the show. A truly magical experience. We also had the honour of naming him as, based on the pictures, the distinctive spots and rather large bite out of his rear fin it turned out he was a new visitor to the park, we wish ‘Ed’ safe travels and hope to see him at some point in the future.
This trip was everything we hoped it would be, the diving was a little challenging, but still manageable, we are fortunate that we are used to rougher seas and diving in some current. There were a few people that had to manage their queasiness and the accidental bumps and scrapes over the course trip. The return trip was the roughest point, but we comforted ourselves with gin and tonics, safety braced around the bench seating. The main challenge was opening the drinks fridge at the right time so the cans did not fly around the deck! A number of guests and most of the crew were queasy for the trip back, including both chefs! But the awesome siren crew rallied around and prepared a lovely meal for those of us that had not retired to their cabins.
This is our second trip on the Philippine Siren and we have already got a return trip booked. As always the service, accomodation, catering and diving was some of the best we have experienced. This trip and the Tubbataha reefs was some of the best diving we have done, highly recommended.