I try to make a point of mentioning those moments of my trip that are WOW moments or top 10’s as it may help someone with an itinerary. Then Tao Philippines came along and cast shade on everything!
Before I get into detail, what you need to know is that Tao Philippines is a 5 day 4 night cruise around the remote islands in north Palawan. The cruise runs from El Nido to Coron, or visa versa but its focus is on trying to get to the remote parts where you won’t see many other tourists.
Have a look at their website for more detailed information – they have one of the best websites I’ve seen from a tourist’s point of view.
The cool bit is how Tao came into existence:
Two mates wanted to explore these remote waters whilst backpacking. They decided to try to build their own boat and sail around the area. Long story short, this idea was a difficult and expensive one to implement but after eventually sourcing the right people with the right skills, the idea was birthed. Needing money, they started to hunt down like-minded tourists to join their expedition. They did this by walking into bars and targeting who they thought were the sort of people they’d like to have on board.
Seeing growth, they slowly turned this into a business but with a focus of helping the local fishing communities that are now taking strain as there are no more fish.
Fast forward 13 odd years, Tao employs 300 people in small villages who assist with their operations, be it weaving, building, farming, etc. It’s all very sustainable but their focus is assisting the local communities and they make it clear that tourism is a good thing, and that more tourists should come to these remote parts because the local villages are helpless without tourism.
Tao almost has a cult following now and the operation is a well-oiled one. I felt as if the team was a family and that working for Tao was an aspirational goal for many. If you were a crew member aboard one of their boats, you’d made it and were treated like royalty in the villages. This made the crew the best sort of crew you’d want – qualified, skilled, fun-loving and all round amaaaazing (what they kept shouting at us).
One doesn’t just book a Tao trip. You have to apply to get onto it. Bianca, who booked it for us, pulled out all the stops and used Frank as her trump card to secure our spot 🙂 I think the reason Tao does this is to ensure that the people on board are all like-minded.
Tao isn’t a luxury cruise. Accommodation is basic and the ablutions are agricultural. Hell, we had a communal shower next to a water well! The point is, Tao isn’t for everyone and this application process serves as a filter for the Ritz-inclined.
Now for the trip:
We started in El Nido (getting here from the airport in Puerto Princessa involved the most life-threatening minivan ride of my life). The first thing you notice is our boat – a big crab-like boat that was once a fishing boat but now been converted for tourism. It’s bigger than it looks with more than enough space for everyone. The boat has character and after a few days, it felt like home. I do believe the homeliness stems from the remarkable crew – what champions!
Our leader, Olly, who is one of the original founders of Tao, is such a legend too. He has more energy than anyone I know, he never sits still and has the most infectious laugh I’ve heard. He’s an ex-fisherman so during down time on the boat, he’d cast a line. On day one he reeled in a massive Yellow Fin Tuna and proceeded to make sashimi for us – back home such a treat that is that fresh would cost hundreds!
Our days were filled with waking up at the Tao camp we spent the night on (typically a beach on an island somewhere), having such an incredible breakfast made by our chef in a kitchen no bigger than the average laundry room.
Thereafter, we’d board our vessel and sail around the islands to various snorkelling spots where we’d discover pristine reefs and chase turtles. It was tough, I tell you! Lunch and dinner where typically fresh fish with incredible local salads to accompany it – we ate like kings.
The evenings saw us dropping anchor just off the beach of our camp. We’d swim to our camp and then chill on the beach over a few San Miguel’s and Jungle Juice (local rum and pineapple juice – it can pack a punch!) The number of times I thought of the movie The Beach was ridiculous – all that was missing was Moby’s Porcelain playing in the distance!
The people – it’s rare that you join a cruise and all of the 24 guests are like-minded and so easy to get along with. I’m not naive enough to think that this happens all the time, maybe we were lucky, but this made the journey so much more enjoyable. Our last night saw us stopping at a village that had a karaoke machine. I HATE karaoke but too many jungle juices later I was killing it (or so I thought). I had no voice the next day but was comforted by the fact I was not alone 🙂
I could wax lyrical about Tao forever and a day, but I won’t subject you to that. What you need to know is that it’s an authentic experience where you get to see parts of untouched northern Palawan many people don’t venture to. In addition to it, the organisation does good and you joining it is helping out, giving back if you will. Hell, I am not even sure why I’m encouraging you to spend 5 days on a boat exploring deserted beaches, snorkelling in great locations and eating like royalty? Just do it folks!
On a random side note – as the cherry on the cake of our amazing journey, upon arrival at our hotel in Coron after Tao, we were upgraded to the Presidential suite of our hotel! Jacuzzi, staff, bedrooms (note the plural), lounge and dining room – living it up!!