One of the Philippines most highly regarded tours — Tao Expedition has drawn thousands of travelers from around the globe to the beautiful islands of Palawan, a Southern Province in the Philippines.
Tao Expedition, while known for its tours, has also been very involved with local communities in and around Palawan. Tao considers itself a socially responsible enterprise that works with local communities in helping to preserve the environment and bettering the lives for the locals through educational programs and sustainable planning and immersion and awareness.
Climate Change and Tourism has drastically altered the delicate ecosystems of Palawan and the surrounding waters that the locals depend on for survival. The hundreds of dedicated people who are a part of the Tao Expedition or Tao Philippines have made it their life's work to preserve Palawan as best they can.
Coron Tao Office: Don Pedro St. Coron town.
El Nido Tao Office: Serena St. El Nido town.
Facebook: Tao Philippines
Here is a quick behind the scenes look into what makes Tao — not only one of the best tours in the Philippines but one that is also important.
This article is not about the actual tour that Tao Expeditions offers for their guests, this article is a glimpse into some of the background operations that make Tao such a successful and important enterprise.
If you'd like to know more about the actual island hopping tour, please follow the links bellow:
- TAO PHILIPPINES: How Tao Expedition Ruined Island Hopping Anywhere Else? (A Review) @TaoPhilippines
- TAO EXPEDITION: Coron to El Nido Expedition Pre-Departure (A Photo Essay)
- TAO EXPEDITION Day 1: From Coron to Patcy (A Photo Essay)
- TAO EXPEDITION Day 2: Patcy Breakfast, Maltayok Beach, & Buluang Karaoke! (A Photo Essay)
- TAO EXPEDITION Day 3: Cliff Jumping & Guinto Basecamp (A Photo Essay)
- TAO EXPEDITION Day 4: Linipacan Clear Waters, Tao Farm, & Tao Village (A Photo Essay)
- TAO EXPEDITION Day 5: Bacuit Bay, Small and Big Lagoon, El Nido Town (A Photo Essay) @TaoPhilippines
Tao Village Base Camp serves as the main hub for the Tao operation.
The largest of the Tao Camps that dot Palawan from El Nido to Coron, Base Camp is where all food production and preparation take place. Tao Farms is where food is grown and livestock raised.
The crew and Staff of Tao all live in the community which can also accommodate around one hundred guests.
Bamboo Architecture. Probably the most distinctive feature of Tao Base Camp are the Tuka huts which are made entirely out of bamboo.
Bamboo is lightweight, strong and extremely durable, making it easy to shape and cut. It is ideal for island environments that are frequented by tropical storms.
By utilizing the bamboo that grows in, or around the islands, Tao has been able to keep their operation from having too much of an impact on the surrounding environment.
(Tuka means Beak in Filipino and the huts derive their name from being in the shape of a bird's beak)
The simplest of materials have gone into building the structures around the Tao Camps. The inside of the Foundation Center (the largest building in Base Camp) is held together primarily with bamboo, nylon string, and zip-ties. Nails and other types of wood were added to support the main structure and hold it in place.
The structures themselves have withstood Typhoons and Gale-force winds.
Gener Paduga is the Engineer behind the structures of Tao. He based his designs off of traditional methods and combined modern know-how and techniques to construct buildings that are practical, functional, low impact, and blend in with the environment.
Engineer Paduga explained that his love for the environment helps drive his passion. He doesn't consider himself an expert but someone who is constantly learning his craft. He has a deep appreciation and understanding for natural materials and it shows in his designs.
Filipino Paraw. Of all of Engineer Paduga's work with Tao, he is most proud of the traditional Filipino Paraw.
A Paraw is traditional sail boat that was once used by Filipinos for thousands of years. They vanished from Philippine waters shortly after motor engines became widely available, and with that, the art of wind sailing has nearly been lost.
It took Paduga and a team of skilled carpenters 2 years to construct. The Paraw was adorned with tribal carvings from a local village.
The Tao Paraw is thought to be the only Paraw of its kind left sailing Philippine waters. Paduga's hopes that someday another will be built so the art of Filipino sailing traditions would carry on.
The Tao Paraw sails the waters of Palawan from El Nido to Coron regularly as part of their expedition package. For more info go here: Paraw
TAO Kitchen. At the center of any operation where guests are involved lies the kitchen. It is the heart of every resort, hotel, camp, etc. The Kitchen has a big responsibility keeping both guests and staff fed.
The most surprising part of the entire Tao Experience is how amazing the food is. No pretensions, just honest simple food that tastes amazing.
Chef Anne Pansinsoy is head of the cooking operations for Tao Expeditions. She is in charge of food management and preparation and responsible for putting the menu together – securing ingredients and making sure each boat is properly stocked for their journeys.
Chef Anne also oversees the crews main training. Each crew member starts in the kitchen first and will stay under her tutelage for a year or so before graduating to a crew member on a boat.
It's a time-consuming job that Chef Anne has mastered over the years.
(Chef Anne started out working for Tao as a Therapist, she later took over the Kitchen where she prefers it.)
Keeping to Taos core principles of sustainability, what's used in the kitchen is mostly found on the island, either farmed or growing in the wild. Cashew Trees, for example, grow in abundance on the opposite side of the island. The fruit of the Cashew, are then used to make a type of vinegar, that is used for cooking and preserving.
The Main Kitchen itself is made from recycled materials.
The newer staff members prepare daily meals using fresh-picked ingredients.
The food varies by season and is a fantastic hodgepodge of Asian and Western cuisines.
A typical meal consists of fresh fruits and greens, brown organic rice, and typically fish or pork.
Meals are served 3 times a day.
Feeding a hundred people a day isn't an easy task. Sustainability has been key in keeping the quality of food production high.
Fresh Catch. Seafood is brought in fresh every morning by a local fisherman.
Purchasing from local fisherman helps the economy and has a lower impact on marine life.
(Commercialized fishing has taken a great toll on the marine ecosystem of Palawan, with fish populations seeing a sharp decline in numbers.)
Fresh Uni (sea urchin) are abundant around the islands.
Farm To Table. Livestock used for consumption are all raised in Tao Farm and surrounding communities.
Hormone free, they are fed coconut and kept in open spaces to reduce stress.
Piglets are kept in a special pen that is layered with sawdust and different types of soul. This keeps the pigpens cleaner and the animals healthier.
(There was almost no smell coming from the pigpens. The Sawdust and special soils that line the pens, kill bacteria that cause bad odor)
Ducks are also raised on the farm for meat and eggs.
Chickens don't fare well on the island because of the wet environment. After many unsuccessful tries, ducks were brought in as an alternative.
Fresh Harvest. Most fruits and vegetables that go into food production are grown on the island.
Careful planning goes into the farming operation. Plants that can cope with the tropical climate are monitored carefully to ensure a healthy harvest.
The idea behind producing their own food and "living off of the land," is to minimize their ecological footprint as much as possible.
They have been able to achieve all of this without the need for harmful chemicals that damage the fragile ecosystem of the island.
Helping the Local Communities
Tao also has reached out to the local island communities of Palawan. Outreach Programs help hundreds of families in the region. Digging wells, community planning, farming, etc., are some of the many ways that Tao has helped these communities.
(most if not all of the crew/staff come from the surrounding islands)
One of Taos most successful and most important projects has been to bringing education to the islands. Tao has built a number of schools in the main islands where the local kids can receive formal educations.
(A large Tuka Hut serves as the main building for one of the school.)
The Outreach Programs have so far been a success. There are plans to improve and expand their outreach programs as well as getting more locals and visitors involved to help secure the future of Palawan.
What the Future Holds
Palawan, like so many other places, is in danger.
Climate Change, Tourism, Commercialized Fishing, Government Neglect, and Poor Education, has put great strain on the environment.
Coral reefs have all but vanished and with it the fish that the locals need to survive. Coconut Trees have decimated rainforests, and in turn – fresh water is becoming more scarce on most islands. Stronger typhoons and longer rainy and dry seasons disrupt crop cycles.
It's uncertain what the future holds for Palawan. Bu tits nice to know that there are people out there who are doing their part to make a difference.
The most memorable part of the Tao Experience was seeing firsthand the positive impact it has on the people and the environment.
Tao is so much more than beautiful islands and picturesque scenery. When you're there, you don't feel like a guest or a visitor; you feel like a part of a community.
Tao Expedition should be on everyone's bucket list.
If you'd like to help out, you can always book a tour. Proceeds from the expedition go to their outreach programs. Or you can contact them via email below:
Special thanks, to all the awesome people From Tao Expedition, especially our amazing crew who put up with us through a typhoon!
Special Thanks to our friends Shera and Larmie from the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB) who put this awesome trip together.
And a very special thanks to our fellow bloggers and travelers, you can check them out here:
Czarina The Travel Junkie, Lena and David Divergent Travelers, Aleah Solitary Wonderer, Hendric The Travel Intern, Maria Maria Abroad
Live an Awesome Life!
Team Our Awesome Planet,
Disclosure: Our trip to Palawan was courtesy of The Philippine Department Of Tourism (DOT) and The Tourism Promotions Board (TPB). They sponsored our trip With Tao Expeditions for the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) convention held in Manila. We wrote this article with our own insights and biases
P.S. We arrived in Palawan a day before a Hurricane, this photo was shot on our first and only sunny day. But, despite the weather conditions, we all had a blast!
From left to right: Czarina The Travel Junkie, Shera TPB, Lena and David Divergent Travelers, Aleah Solitary Wonderer, Anton Diaz Our Awesome Planet, Larmie TPB, Hendric The Travel Intern, Boom Our Awesome Planet ,The Awesome Crew from Tao Expedition (The Boys in Yellow)