Coron, is the main town on the island of Busuanga and is one of the top tourist places in the Philippines, best known for World War II-era wreck diving. But in addition to this, there are heaps of limestone karst landscapes (almost identical to the Chinese Stone forest), some nice beaches, crystal-clear freshwater lakes, and shallow-water coral reefs.
Error number one: We met up with good friends Brad and Nora. Now, while Nora is lovely, Brad has been variously described as a marsupial beer sponge, a Japanese game show contestant and many more and worse things. Unfortunately, Brad and I feature strongly in each other’s (acts of stupidity) stories, going back many years. Whenever something stupid occurs, invariably, Brad and I are somehow involved and there was no responsible adult there to supervise us. I am certain that Brad is to blame for all of this, however, he may have a different opinion.
But to make a point, Brads first act when we met up was to introduce us to a local cocktail known as the Weng Weng. This is, in essence, a shot of all of the bottom shelf spirits mixed with pineapple and orange juice and the name roughly translates to shitfaced. The official ingredients list is vodka, tequila, brandy, bourbon, scotch, rum, cubed ice, orange juice, pineapple juice and a dash of grenadine. And they come in 1.5 and 3 litre towers (pictured above).
The second thing he did was bring into play both towers and buckets of beer. We had been happily sipping away on the local Pale Pilsen (at 5% abv) but once Brad arrived this quickly got swapped out for the 8% Red Horse and Weng Weng (of course). On the up side it did come with some pretty amazing sunsets.
Coron Bay is a famous dive location as it has the remains of ten Japanese WWII shipwrecks that were sunk on 24 September 1944. These ships (according to wiki) were the Akitsushima, Okikawa Maru, Irako, Kogyo Maru, Olympia Maru, Taiei Maru, Kyokuzan Maru, East Tangat Gunboat and Lusong Island Gunboat.
While everything is really close, you still need to hop on a boat and head to the islands for quality snorkeling, scuba or wreck diving. The boats are a type of motorised outrigger and the cost to get to these (as part of a tour) ranges from around 1000-1500 pesos ($28-42) with the cost of hiring snorkel gear (150 pesos pp) on top. They also offer the hire of plastic canoes/kayaks for 1500 pesos).
So we hopped on our first Coron Island Tour (B), as the A tour was overly busy that day, and took off to the twin lagoons (these two lagoons are separated by a narrow cliff and you can get between them by either swimming under the cliff (on low tide) or climbing some narrow wooden stairs (on high tide).
Major disclaimer here: Before leaving Australia I was given access to a GoPro with very little knowledge, handover, idea about what I was doing, or ability to edit videos. The abundance of underwater action and a fear of damaging expensive phones, saw the GoPro make its debut. The images and videos are likely to be terrible but if you bear with me I may get better over time.
The next stop was at skeleton wreck which was a 25m long Japanese supply ship that was sunk during WWII. The highest point rests at 5m with the remainder as deep as 22m. This means that s surface snorkel will get you a good view, and those able to free dive can get down and close to the wreck.
Being a wreck it has turned into a mini-reef with tons of fish life around to see and photograph. Reef garden was next and as you may have guessed, it is a reef where you can snorkel.
The next stop was at a beach (which particular beach varies every time, depending upon how many boats are around and how busy each beach is) for lunch.
Closely followed by a trip to Barracuda lake. The lake contains both salt and freshwater and these create large temperature differences (particularly for divers). This is known as thermocline and halocline, however the guides claimed the temperature difference on the surface was more likely due to urine.
The climb to get in is hellish, on possibly the dodgiest set of stairs ever made. The stairs were steep, narrow, wet, mouldy and with cut up car tyre strips for grip. The water for snorkelers is cloudy and the depth makes it hard to see much, but it was a nice place to float along in the water. And then, all of a sudden, BAM, out of nowhere, a one meter barracuda swims underneath you. I thought that barracuda lake was just a name, until it swam past, Jill reckons she saw two of them.
After such a big day on the water, we were relatively well shattered. A quiet night was followed by a day off the next day, with the exception of a late afternoon trip to the Macquinit hot springs. These are about 30 mins out of town and is one of the few saltwater hot springs in the world.
The trip is a very tough, dusty and uncomfortable ride on a tricycle (tuk tuk) so we opted for the hire of a bongo van instead. Once there, the thermal pool temperature is between 37° and 40° Celsius and is supposed to be more soothing and more therapeutic the longer you stay in there. That said, they also tell you not to stay in for more than 10 mins at a time.
The next day we were back in tourist mode hitting the Coron Island Tour (A). The first stop was at Quin Reef which was pretty much the same as the Reef Garden, but the snorkelling was nice and we saw nice coral, fish and starfish. Then on to CYC beach (Coron Youth Club) for a look and a paddle about.
The next stop was Las Isla de Coral, another good snorkelling spot followed by a beach for lunch. Lunch was identical both days, and from what we could see was identical for every boat. It was fairly simple but consisted of grilled fish, prawns and chicken coupled with seaweed, rice and veggies and capped off with fruit. After lunch, it was on to Green Lagoon, which we had driven through the day before as it was the area surrounding the twin lagoons. Needless to say, this is an area with clear green waters where you can swim and snorkel.
The last stop was Kayangan Lake which is a crystal-clear freshwater lake that has underwater rock formations, caves and islets. It’s a popular spot for photographers, for fairly obvious reasons, and is said to be the cleanest lake in all of the Philippines.
Another day off and the departure of Brad and Nora left us to take the final tour, being the reef and wrecks tour. There are in fact other tours but one is a town tour, given that the main town is a 3×2 block we figured we could explore this ourselves without having to pay 600 pesos per person. The last tour took in the East Tangat Gunboat and Lusong Island Gunboat, along with the Lusong Coral Garden and lunch and snorkelling on Pass Island.
The snorkelling was good, the wrecks were the closest to the surface so far and therefore were the easiest to access, and the beach was the best we had visited since arriving.
Bringing Coron to a close, I stopped in for a well overdue shave and a haircut. Total price 120 pesos, this is under $4 for a haircut and a straight razor shave. Those that have been reading along since the beginning may recall that I fell in love with these in India and have consistently attempted to find and have these shaves. Jill tells me that I am ‘manpering’, I am OK with this.
Leaving Coron, we did a quick hop over to Manila for an overnight before heading on to our next port of call.