The Wonderful World of Tao

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Published February 15, 2016

For 6 blissfully amazing days I floated around the South China Sea visiting some of the remote Palawan islands between Coron and El Nido with Tao Philippines.  It’s hard to sum up this experience – pictures and videos don’t do it justice! Especially since my gopro has been letting me down lately. But I’ll try in hopes that it will inspire some of you to travel with Tao in the future.  

Special shout out to Nikunj and Alex who inspired me to go on this trip after they went on it last year. 🙂

In 2006, Tao started as a simple boating experience traveling around the remote Palawan islands. The idea was to introduce travelers to islands off the beaten tourism path and show them a more authentic islander lifestyle. Ten years later, Tao is still immersing adventurous travelers into this islander way of life but has also grown into a micro-economy which supports 300+ local villagers. More on that in a bit.

For me, the Tao experience was incredible because of the people, the food, and the views.

The Views!

You spend every day on Tao boating around to 1-3 different snorkeling or beach spots that are epic. We stopped at 2 different sunken WWII ships, a bunch of coral reefs, some deserted islands, a cliff jumping spot, some caves and hidden lagoons. No day was the same. Every day beat the last one out. I became such a water rat! The sunsets and sunrises are always epic and usually viewable right from your sleeping hut.

 

Every night, you anchor at a different Tao Basecamp. There are no piers on these islands, so you would always have to either swim, or kayak into camp.  

Base Camp #3

Base Camp #3

Sleeping involved a basic hut on the beach (most which were recently redesigned to be more typhoon proof). This is a unique design created by Tao.

Tao Sleeping Hut

Tao Sleeping Hut

You get a mat, a pillow, some sheets & a mosquito net.

Sunset View From the Hut

Sunset View From the Hut

The views when you wake up are pretty epic.

View from the hut in our private lagoon (Base camp #5)

View from the hut in our private lagoon (Base camp #5)

This was an especially magical base camp where we swam into our own private lagoon where our huts were on the beach and we were surrounded by limestone cliffs.

Kayaking into Base Camp #5

Kayaking into Base Camp #5

There is no plumbing on the island so the bathroom facilities and “showers” that consist of a small bucket of fresh cold water make this trip a little more rustic. 🙂

The Food

Since I’m obsessed with cooking, I hounded PJ & Intoy who were the chefs on the boat to teach me how they make all of their amazing dishes. They were so sweet and came to get me whenever they were cooking a dish I wanted to learn and let me help cook.  

The food on Tao is AMAZING. And PJ and Intoy would always make fun of me for saying that so often.  “It’s AMAAAAAAAAAAAAZING” they would yell whenever I came into the kitchen. 

PJ, Me & Intoy

PJ, Me & Intoy

The ingredients are always incredibly fresh. Largely sourced from Tao projects or if it’s not then purchased from local fisherman and farmers.  There are very very few processed ingredients in the cooking. When the meal was ready it was served family style and we were told to “ATAAAAAAAAACK!” (and we did).

Attacking our lunch meal on the boat

Attacking our lunch meal on the boat

Here are some of my favorite meals & dishes from the trip. (Don’t view while hungry).  I’ll be sure to share some of the recipes as I get home and try them in my own kitchen. 

 

 

 

Sundowners and happy hour is part of every day on Tao. And we always got amazing snacks (usually fried bananas) and a pitcher of jungle juice was made up or you could crack open a San Miguel.  TAGAY! (cheers in Tagalog)

Fried Banana w/sugar + San Miguel

Fried Banana w/sugar + San Miguel

The People

I was so lucky to share this trip with 24 other amazing guests, 12 awesome crew members and 1 adorable little puppy (Bross “The Experience Dog”).

Bross "Bruce" loves to cuddle and bite your toes

Bross “Bruce” loves to cuddle and bite your toes

If you go on a Tao trip, you’re most likely to have a smaller group with 1 boat and up to 12 guests. But as it was Chinese New Year, we doubled up and basically did a floating flotilla around the Palawan islands. It was super fun to actually have such a big group and great to be sailing in tandem.

Last day on our Tao Flotilla

Last day on our Tao Flotilla

My fellow guests and new friends came from 7 different countries (Philippines, Scotland, UK, France, China, Israel, Russia, Canada, Switzerland, Poland, New Zealand and USA) It took awhile for us all to get through singing our national anthems to each other 🙂  I was the only one rep’ing the US!  We all got along so well – everyone was super chill – and had a blast.

Playing Uno in our Private Lagoon Basecamp

A Game of Uno in our Private Lagoon Basecamp

Our great leaders – the Tao crew – made every day so fun for us all. They have the best personalities and these guys can literally just look at each other and start laughing.   They are all funny comedians – always telling jokes and singing english songs to us and replacing words with our names – “I wanna dance with you Bonnie”. haha. I’ll miss their fun positive energy!  Salamat (thank you) guys!

Beyond just the people on the boat, everyone I met in the Tao community was very kind.  Tao is uplifting these rural island communities by introducing a new economy for villagers facing a declining fishing business. We saw first hand how difficult it was to find fish to eat in this area of the South China Sea. We had to eat pig and chicken the last two nights as we couldn’t catch any fish and no local fisherman had caught any either. 20-30 years ago this area was teaming with fresh fish that could be eaten as well as tropical aquarium fish.  But it’s really declined and is no longer a stable business for many on these remote islands. With tourism growing in the Philippines, large resorts are buying up the land from these villagers who are happy to sell it and move away to bigger islands. 

Tao is different in that for the last 10 years they have been establishing relationships with local villagers who directly support and work for Tao while still living on the rural islands. Tao employs 300 people who work on the boats and base camps to support the 13 boats that they have constantly sailing through the Palawan islands.

If you’re looking for an incredible tropical vacation that’s full of culture (and a little rustic) then sign up for TAO RIGHT NOW!

 

 

 

Additional Tao Tips

  • Tao offers trips going from El Nido to Coron or from Coron to El Nido. I went on the Coron to El Nido trip and I’m happy I did. Both places are great but El Nido is pretty stunning and so to have the trip end there was really special.
  • In terms of packing, I would definitely bring your standard swim outfits but also a quick dry towel and a dry bag to put all your stuff in (important as the crew kayaks in your stuff).  Having wet wipes as well was helpful as they come in handy when there is not a lot of fresh water to “Shower” with.  I also appreciated my back up power charger so I could charge my phone (for reading) and camera along the way.
  • This is NOT a glamping trip.  There is no plumbing and often no electricity. You may not have a conventional shower in any of the basecamps you stop at.  You will be totally offline from wifi or data plans. Although it’s rare, you may have to share a cabin with others – even if you’re a couple.
  • My group and I all ate really well – Tao does a great job of cooking just enough food so everyone is left feeling full and we aren’t wasting too much food.
  • Arranging travel to Coron and from El Nido was pretty easy. If you are flying out of Puerto Princesa on Palawan island, I would recommend just going to the El Nido bus station and you can easily get a bus or minivan last minute – they seem to leave often throughout the day.  I booked a minivan thinking it was the better option and I’m not sure that’s the best way to go. They pack you in so so so so so tight. And drive so fast around really intense curves that you feel like you’re going to die on the 5 hour trip. The buses I think move slower, but are cheaper and you get wifi and your own seat. So maybe that’s a better option?

Check out my Cebu Whale Shark Diving post which highlights another adventure I went on in the Philippines.

 

 

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