It is hard to know where to start when writing about our five days with Tao Philippines, sailing from Coron to El Nido in the north of Palawan. The short version is that we spent the most magical days sailing through remote islands with a rag-tag bunch of fantastic passengers and crew, eating amazing fresh food (e.g., Tuna sashimi right out of the ocean!) and sleeping on the most beautiful and deserted beaches imaginable. So let us tell you a bit more about this once-in-a-lifetime-trip in this post.
How we ended up on a five day sailing expedition
We have been speaking about going to Palawan for years, but somehow we were actually going to skip it for this trip (so much to see in South-East Asia!). However, it seems that fate had other plans. A British couple whom we met in Myanmar told us about Tao and pretty much insisted we go. Thus we tried for weeks to get a spot on their popular sail boat and eventually succeeded! We are now forever grateful for Morgan and Will since the five days on this amazing boat were some of the best and most fun days of our lives.
Learing about Tao – a fairy-tale story of discovering lonely islands and creating and amazing business
We arrived in Coron on February 28, did a great day tour around the islands the day after and then joined the Tao briefing to get ready for the trip. We were told about the history of Tao. To be honest, it sounds like one of those stories that are just too good to be true – where everything was working out perfectly. A local Philipino and a British guy from London started exploring the islands north of Palawan in the early 2000s out of sheer curiosity. On their first trip they took two crew members with them. Apparently they had such a great time that they went out again and again, each time with more people and offering more trips. This is how the whole operation started and now turned into a profitable business with their sailing boat sold out for months in advance. The trips are very well organized by now. Still, they depend on the weather and the route can often change spontaneously. Bong, our tour leader, also told us that it is 50% up to us how we enjoy our trip and we should embrace “island time”. Tao translates to human by the way.
During the briefing we were also told about some of the dangers in the sea including e.g., jelly fish and about all the stuff we need to bring. The excitement in the room was already clearly visible – nobody could wait for the adventure to begin!
Amazing activities – spending five days enjoying ourselves
We boarded the boat the next morning and were immediately greeted by a warm-hearted and passionate crew on board. (They called themselves the Lost Boys.) We left Coron after the coastguard was checking that all passengers wore life jackets (we did not have to wear them later). After an amazing breakfast we arrived at the first snorkeling spot.
During the trip we were lucky enough to do an amazing variety of different activities including some of the best snorkeling we have ever done. The amount of different coral shapes and colorful fish we saw was amazing! Also many of the corals seemed to be very healthy, some even recovering after a period of heavy dynamite fishing in the area.
Apart from snorkeling we also visited sand bars, caves, small remote islands and many other beautiful exotic places that it is actually hard to remember exactly where we went… One highlight was definitely the visit of a rural village on one of the islands where we had the chance to visit the home of the ship’s captain. We also saw a (harmless) cock fight, how the crew got fresh coconut off palm trees and were able to visit the local school and chat with 12 year olds during their lunch break.
Camping in paradise
The nights we spend in beautiful Tao camps we slept in simple but beautiful huts and were able to take a shower either with buckets or sometimes even running water. What connected all camps was the serene beauty of the environment and the fact that there was often no single other person there. More about Tao camps below.
One highlight was definitely the first night where we slept in a very small village with just a few families. The villagers were all incredibly welcoming and friendly. We played with the kids and also had an interesting conversation with the older brother of one of the crew (while watching fish on a BBQ getting ready for dinner). He had a 17 days old daughter and his wedding was scheduled in a few days.
Eating in paradise
One of the countless highlights of the trip was definitely the food. I think we will forever remember catching a tuna on the open sea and then eating it as sashimi about 15 minutes later, the fish still warm. It does not get any fresher than this! We were spoiled by three outstanding main dishes every day plus an amazing afternoon snack including caramelized sweet potato and bananas, fried calamari, tuna spring rolls and more.
The main dishes usually included some very fresh vegetables, rice or “Philipino Power” and either fresh fish/sea food or meat. Breakfast was amazing as well with loads of fresh local fruits and even freshly baked bread in the basecamp. Once we ate porridge topped with banana jam out of fresh coconuts!
It was also great to always have access to drinking water as well as hot coffee and ginger-turmeric tea which is good for digestion and helps with avoiding becoming sea sick.
For the final night we had a whole pig on a grill. It is tradition on the Philippines to slaughter and roast a pig for special occasions and this was apparently one. We had taken the pig with us on the ship for two days already and the crew killed it very quickly and professionally on the boat. They explained to us that everyone in the islands grows up knowing how to slaughter and prepare animals. Contrary to us just going to the supermarket, families in the islands have to raise their own meat if they want to eat some. Very respectfully, the crew gave us the chance to either watch the pig die or visit a beach during this time. For us it was interesting and eye-opening to see the animal becoming food. The crew then very professionally cleaned the pig and used all of its parts in various ways. The pork was delicious to eat for dinner. However, we felt slightly strange and were asking us the question “Was this really worth killing a whole animal?”
Tao family and friends
What definitely made the trip so enjoyable and memorable was the friends we made along the way, not only with the other passengers but also with the crew. The atmosphere on the boat was really easygoing and everybody was having a good time. It was especially great to see the Tao staff having such a great time. Even though they worked incredibly hard day and night they always were enjoying themselves and kept laughing and playing around. Their positive attitude definitely spilled over to the passengers and made the whole experience even more positive and fun.
Since everyone one the boat was so easygoing we ended up chatting with passengers and crew most of the time when we were on board. We both brought our Kindles to read but never even touched them. Most fellow passengers were incredibly well travelled so we all shared amusing and interesting travel stories.
The amazing oragnisation of Tao
During every single minute of these five days we felt extremely well taken care of. It was all the small details that made this expedition such a great experience! The examples are countless but what stood out for us was that there was always Tao staff on kayaks accompanying us when we were snorkeling. This made us feel really safe when swimming in the ocean. Also our borrowed snorkels and masks were immediately marked with our name on day one to avoid confusion.
The Tao staff was working full time in the background and we never had to wait for anything to happen. They would tirelessly bring all the stuff we needed for the night to the camps and the next day while we were still sleeping already start to bring everything back to the boat.
Providing income for local communities
Tao did not only impress us by the great organisation of the sailing expedition. What is actually a lot more impressive is the way they organise themselves and how they involve the community.
Over the course of the last few years Tao has become a big local employer. Not only does it provide work for its employees, it also generates regular income for local communities, who are involved in a very respectful way. For example, some villages earn money by providing facilities in the camps. In the Tao Basecamp, several women are trained in giving massages and now earn an additional income by providing massages to incoming passengers. Other examples are cotton bags that all passengers receive for their bed sheets and very nice soaps and shampoos. These are all manufactured locally.
On top of all these direct revenue generating activities, Tao has set up a fund that can help locals in various ways including e.g. micro credits or grants for education.
Tao Basecamp – case study for sustainability and community involvement
The Tao Basecamp is an amazing example that combines the many beautiful elements of Tao. Not only does it provide work for the local community, it also includes a big farm that provides a lot of the fresh food that is consumed by the Tao staff and passengers. Whenever a Tao ship passes by they always stock up on the food they need for the next couple of days.
The farm, however, is not just a normal organic farm. A marine biologist who used to be one of the crew, but left to study, is doing a lot of research including how to best use worms for composting. The farm is a wonderful example to show that Tao is not ready to simply accept the status quo. On the contrary, this is an organisation that questions everything and is constantly evolving.
Well, it is hard to put such incredible five days into a blog post. I guess all we can do is encourage everyone to join a Tao expedition as well as to thank Tao again for such an unforgettable time!