I’m back to civilization after 5 days on the Tao boat tour. Tao is a popular tour among backpackers since there’s really nothing else like it. It takes you to remote islands in Palawan from Coron to El Nido over the course of 5 days and truly gives the authentic island experience. In my opinion, it was the best way to experience the natural beauty in Palawan while sharing it with a fun group of people, and it ended up being the highlight of my Philippines trip. 🙂
I’m going to structure this post differently from my usual day-by-day posts, since each day was largely structured the same way. Also it’s a bit hard for me to differentiate each day since time was such a blur on the boat. We would wake up everyday and decide where to go and what to do based on weather, and tell time based on where the sun was in the sky…truly living the island life :).
Mornings started with waking up in our bamboo huts, where we slept on mattresses on the ground in mosquito nets. The best part was that the huts were right on the beach – I did not hate waking up to this view 🙂
Breakfast with a side of recovering from the previous night (I’ll get into that in a bit ;))
Depending on the day, we usually had some time to hang out at base camp. We would relax and ease into the morning on the hammocks and soak in the last bit of camp before taking off.
Off to the boat! A LOT of time on this tour was spent on the boat, and luckily it was fairly large and comfortable.
I remember my first day feeling kind of bored since I was use to tours being full of activity, but I think the Tao tour forces you to slow down and enjoy just being. After I finally understood the concept of Tao and got in the relaxation mode, I actually really enjoyed reading, listening to music, sun-bathing, and hanging out with all the other backpackers on the boat.
I really enjoyed the group we had (24 of us total), but I was surprised by 1) how much of the group were couples or groups of friends (I was 1 of only 2 solo travelers), and 2) how the group was skewed towards an older backpacking crowd. I think the median age was around 30; I was the youngest one in the group!
The crew was a fun group of guys who grew up on the islands, who we called the “lost boys.” They made this trip super special. They were hilarious, light-hearted, and had awesome stories to share. My favorite was Aldren – when I asked if he could travel to one place where would it be, he said San Francisco because his favorite basketball team is the Warriors – needless to say, we got along just fine 😉
The lost boys would go fishing from the boat – we had the freshest sashimi and sea urchin!
Over the course of the day, we would stop by 1-2 islands to snorkel, kayak, swim, and lay on the beach. A lot of this tour was snorkeling, such that I was quite “snorkeled out” by the end. Nonetheless, I was blown away by how remote and beautiful the islands were; sometimes we would have the entire place to ourselves which was so special. ❤
Our group was quite the energetic one, and we would have diving competitions and float around when we didn’t want to snorkel.
The food on the tour was absolutely AMAZING. We had a chef on board who cooked authentic Filipino dishes with the freshest ingredients directly from the sea (like these cool sea grapes). When our group reflected on what dishes were our favorite…we honestly couldn’t pick just one since everything was to die for.
By early evening, we made it to the next base camp. We had a few hours to explore the area, watch the locals play basketball, and get situated. One evening there was a huge family reunion at base camp, and we all joined the locals in drinking and playing volleyball. I was amazed by how welcoming they were. That was a highlight for all of us on the tour – it really doesn’t get more authentic than that.
Time to bring out the jungle juice! I can’t count how many cups of jungle juice I had on the tour…it was so refreshing after a day of being in the sun, and a great way to kick off the night of partying ;).
Lots of amazing sunsets on the islands; I tried to take time everyday to watch the sunset fully since they are my favorite.
My best friend on this tour was Emmanuel. We were the only 2 solo travelers in the group and clicked instantly, so we naturally we spent a lot of time together. Emmanuel lives in Amsterdam and is traveling for a full year in SE Asia and South America.
When the sun went down, the relaxed vibes from the day lit up into party energy! We were all drenched in jungle juice and continued the fun through dinner. One evening the crew roasted a whole pig to make lechon – so freaking special. Have I mentioned how much I loved the food?!
After dinner, the partying continued well into the night. Even though there was no electricity, our group had a wild time hanging on the beach, gazing at the stars (the sky was full of them!), playing drinking games, and enjoying each other’s company. I honestly didn’t expect to party so much on this tour as I thought it would be more of a detox, but there wasn’t anything else to do at night other than to drink – I guess we had the authentic island experience? 😛
And then we went to bed, woke up, and did it all over again!
My heart was so full after the Tao tour. Between all the natural beauty, the fun-loving group of people, and living like an island local, it was truly one of the best experiences of my life. I also really appreciated shifting my mindset to slow down and just be, something I want to incorporate into my life back home.
I was originally kind of nervous for being off the grid for several days, but I just LOVED my “digital detox”, so much so that when we sometimes got phone service at base camp, I still decided to keep my phone off. It made me feel so much more present and able to slow down as I couldn’t even check the time! I really needed this as my head felt pretty cluttered after my first week documenting everything on social media. Tao has inspired me to do this digital detox more in my normal life as well.
I honestly cannot recommend Tao tour enough to anyone traveling to the Philippines. You definitely have to be able to rough it: the sleeping conditions are hot, there is no running water (I literally didn’t wash my hands for 5 days), and unexpected things happened like some rain and food poisoning for me. But what I got out of was appreciation for this island culture and simplifying life, as well as a wonderful new group of friends. ❤