Balabac: Expectation vs. Reality

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Photo by Sergei Tokmakov
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I’m publishing photos of how people really live in Balabac, instead of the usual Instagrammable white sand photos of uninhabited areas of Balabac. That’s because I want to bring attention to the locals’ issues that should be taken care of first, before tourists with too much time and money continue bragging about having visited uninhabited idyllic perfect beaches that do not represent the locals’ real situation at all.

Photo by Sergei Tokmakov

I’ve had a mixed experience in Balabac. This southernmost part of Palawan (close to Malaysia) has been making rounds on social media as a gorgeous undiscovered “last frontier” of the Philippines. It’s true that this frontier has undeniably beautiful parts, just like many other places in this country, especially Palawan, do.

For me, personally, the beautiful parts of Balabac were not worth the time, effort and expense of first witnessing the locals’ difficulties. Filthy areas with no septic, lack of electricity, cell signal and Internet, questionable security for foreigners. Let me explain.

After two days on a packed non-aircon bus and a packed little boat, I saw what you see in those pics. Only after similar sites you’ll be able to venture off to the beautiful uninhabited Instagrammable sites that will surely make all of your social followers envious.


Photo by Sergei Tokmakov

No underwater pics this time b/c many poor locals have had no choice but to use these beaches as their only toilet for generations. A local fisherman was killed by a crocodile a month before, and a high school student was attacked by one a month before that. It is now local saltwater crocodiles’ mating season, meaning that they are very protective of their territory.

Security for foreigners is another issue to consider. This area is well within the reach of various rebel groups, even though the last kidnapping of foreigners happened 4 years ago. All the foreigners I met and me personally “felt” very safe. But also barangay captain (village chief) at one of the islands told me I was not allowed to leave my guesthouse in the evenings, for my own security (even though the children’s curfew at that exact area is 11pm-3am).

Photo by Sergei Tokmakov

He also said that locals have been saying that I must be a treasure hunter and my little point-and-shoot camera must be a metal detector. California lawyer digging for treasures around the human waste at the beaches on the other side of the world at night! I appreciate his concern, everything looked so peaceful otherwise but, of course, local officials know best. I’ve followed his concerned advice and left Balabac the next morning.

Photo by Sergei Tokmakov

I think Balabac is mostly worth it for people with too much free time and extra money on their hands and/or those who want to brag about having visited some “last frontier” that most others haven’t. So what? In the Philippines (especially in Palawan), there are plenty of similarly gorgeous beaches which are more accessible, cheaper, safer, don’t have trash, feces, terrorists and malaria.

Photo by Sergei Tokmakov
Photo by Sergei Tokmakov

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