There are so many places in the Philippines called Sabang.
There’s one in Puerto Galera, and there’s another one in Camarines Sur. There are also Sabangs in Indonesia and in Malaysia.
Sabang means “a place that can be found at the mouth of a river” in the Indo-Malay language. And perhaps the most famous Sabang in the world is a small village in Puerto Princesa, and it’s at the mouth of the world’s most famous subterranean river.
When I first visited Sabang in the 1990s, it was still a quiet village with very few residents. You go there on a public jeepney that leaves Puerto Princesa very early in the morning. The 80-kilometer stretch was mostly unpaved. As soon as you reach Sabang, you go on foot via the Monkey Trail to reach the mouth of the subterranean river where you rent a paddle boat to take you inside the cave.
There’s no recorded history about when the underground river was discovered. But the locals living near the cave must have known about it for a long time but were just afraid to go further for fear of the spirits they believed are lurking inside.
The St. Paul’s Subterranean Park was finally established in March 26, 1971 by virtue of Proclamation 835. The park covered an area of 3,901 hectares. Experts later concluded that the size of the park was inadequate to protect the watershed of the Underground River and its significant biodiversity. And so on November 16, 1999, the cover area was expanded to 22,202 hectares under Proclamation 212, and the park was renamed Puerto Princesa Subterranean Rver National Park.
In June 2011, the Puerto Princesa Underground River or PPUR was entered by the Philippine government in the global search for the New Seven Wonders of the World. The winners were selected via online voting. The social media hungry Pinoysmade sure that PPUR will be included in the list. And so, on November 11, 2011, when the winners were announced, the PPUR was declared as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Today, the once sleepy village of Sabang is now filled with tourists all waiting to see this wonder of nature.
How to get there
The easiest way to reach Puerto Princesa is to fly either from Manila or from Cebu, where about a dozen flights a day bring tourists from all over. Those who wish to visit the underground river must visit the City Coliseum in Puerto Princesa to secure a slot as they are limited before heading to Sabang.
Go to the transportation terminal located at the compound of the city market and take either a van or a jeepney going to Sabang. Vans are usually air-conditioned and take shorter time (about an hour and 45 minutes) to go to Sabang. Jeepneys are cheap, but take longer to be filled up before leaving the terminal. Travel time via jeepney is about two hours and a half.
A short distance from the jeepney terminal in Sabang is the tourism office where the tour to the underground river is arranged. Total cost per visitor is P575 for foreigners and P500 for Filipinos. It includes entrance fee, environmental fee, boat ride and audio device.
What to see, what to do
The main highlight of the visit to Sabang is the tour to the underground river. As soon as one pays all the fees, he will be taken on a boat to the mouth of the underground river. To the adventurous, he can do the 5km trek thru the so-called Monkey Trail through the jungle. Either way, he will fall in line to join the people who will be taken inside the cave on a paddle boat. Each boat has a paddler and a guide. They take visitors to a distance of about a kilometer inside the cave (although the underground river is more than 24 km long). Guides speak good English and often entertain their visitors with their naughty interpretation of the rock formations.
Another activity to do in Sabang is to do a paddleboat mangrove forest tour being operated by a community-based Palaweno organization. As a protected area for more than 40 years, the mangrove forest remains well-preserved. The mangrove forest is home to endemic snakes and other reptiles. It is also here where one can try fresh tamilokor woodworms.
One can also try the zip line, or do some exploring of the Elephant Kast Mountain Cave and Ugong Rock. At the end of the day, the kilometre-long Sabang Beach is a nice place to cool down and watch the beautiful sunset of Palawan.
Where to stay, what to eat
For those with money to splurge, stay at Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa. It has all the amenities of a high-end resort. It has a nice swimming pool, and it serves the freshest and best seafood dishes in Sabang.
Right next to Sheridan is Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort. It’s a friendly family resort that has cottages made from native materials.
For backpackers, there’s the Mary’s Beach Resort, Dabdab, Blue Bamboo and Sabang Café, all offering lodging in basic fan rooms.
For dining, most of the resorts have their own restaurants. But for quick turo-turo style dining, there are a couple of carinderias near the jeepney terminal offering staples like adobo, fried chicken and occasional seafood dishes. There is also a Vietnamese restaurant there that serves delicious chao long noodle dish.
Sabang is also a good place to get pearls. Those selling souvenirs there are actually merchants coming from southern Palawan, where pearls are grown.
Beyond the underground river, Sabang is a good place to chill for a few days. But it’s still the subterranean park that makes it a wonder of nature.