I wanted to write a Tao Experience review, because, honestly, it was one of the best weeks of my life. The whole Tao expedition was just incredible from start to finish. I loved every minute.
The Tao Experience will stay with me forever, I hope.
Featuring… desert islands, coconut wine, killing a pig, spit roasting a pig, awesome people, jumping off boats, snorkelling, wrestling, charity, food, rum and drinking games.
This article will show you what to expect from the Tao Expedition. Here’s my Tao Experience review from food, to accommodation to the staff. Any questions, ask?!
– One of the islands you can expect to visit on the Tao Philippines experience.
My Tao Experience Review
One of the first things our Tao Experience leader Mikki said to my group of 13 on our boat, was that he was happy to be out at sea again and got landsick every time he moored.
I now know how that feels, as do the rest of my Tao expeditioners according to our new Facebook group.
I actually only discovered the Tao Experience a week before I went on it when I was looking at my friend Chris’s blog at Backpacker Banter. I wanted to know how to get from El Nido to Coron and he’d suggested the trip so I jumped on the opportunity to have someone else plan my days, accommodation, food and travel for 4 nights and 5 days.
Chris has officially achieved his purpose in my life.
I could separate the days out, tell you exactly what happened, where we slept and all the surprises that came along but one of the things I liked best about the Tao Experience was the mystery. So I’m just going to give you a quick overview of the incredible Tao Experience.
Tao Experience induction
– Hope my Tao Experience review helps you decide to do this!
The Tao Experience began at our induction at Tao HQ in El Nido, Palawan, the Philippines. We had a large group of 25 and so they decided we’d take two boats.
“Have you seen Hook? We’re like the Lost Boys” – Jem, the other boat’s leader, above.
After an introduction to each other, the beginnings, ideals, present and future of Tao we knocked back a few rum and coconut juices and agreed to meet at 8:30am the next day.
My new friends were from around the world and after having travelled solo for the last two months I was excited to have a whole bunch of people to travel with.
Our Tao Experience boat
The next day we sailed out from the harbour for our first taste of life at sea. Before long we anchored down for breakfast on the boat.
Our group had the bigger vessel of the two, with a lot more space. Over the next few days I sampled lounging on the bow for maximum tanning and that life-is-awesome feeling, under the canopy and around the table for feeding time and for getting out of the intense sunshine rays. My favourite spot soon became the cushioned area up top.
Not the very top though, that was where my fellow Tao Expeditioner Anton got burned to a crisp and was unable to move for three days.
Good one Anton.
We also had a toilet – prohibited while we were stationary and never swim behind it – and also riggers where you could hang out and sunbathe or just stand and feel like a sea warrior. This was also the location for the many wrestles we had too.
Snorkelling on the Tao Experience
– Tao Expedition review of the food? Amazing. And SO fresh.
Over the five days and four nights we went snorkelling so many times. To be honest they’ve merged but they’ve merged into a ball of awesomeness.
I saw more marine life around the islands and wrecks between El Nido and Coron than I have on many scuba trips, including my recent one in Malapascua. There was so much colourful coral reef and endless schools of fish swimming in and out. There was a particular pinky fish which would swim straight towards your face, menacingly, and then dart off the other way. I’ve officially stared out a fish – what a hero.
Over the days of snorkelling I saw loads of nemos, puffer fish, barracuda and plenty of fish I don’t know the names of.
It’s all sushi to me.
Food on the Tao boat
Our first breakfast was awesome, but it wasn’t until our first lunch that I realised that as well as an island tour this was going to be a gastronomical tour too.
That first meal we pulled up to an island with a long table. The Tao Lost Boys fetched some huge banana leaves, cleaned them up and set them down.
Then they spooned rice down the middle of the table and huge prawns and ratatouille down the sides. We all had to stand in a line, right hand behind our back and with our left hand we could shovel it in our mouths. And shovel it everyone did. The delights on that table were devoured in minutes.
As the bigger boat we had the kitchen where enough food was made for around 30 people, with extras, in case anyone was hungry. After tying our boats together we passed the food cooked on our boat over to the other one.
Every meal was a highlight. But one of the other highlights of the highlights included buying a pig from some islanders, bringing it back to the boat via kayak and spit roasting it for dinner.
A few of my fellow Taoers were all “I’m never eating pork again”, but come 9pm, when the pinky pig we’d nicknamed Sausage as it trotted around our boat kitchen started to brown, and look a bit more like the kind of pig we knew and ate, their attitude changed. They were last seen gnawing on the porky crackling.
Amazingly none of our group of 25 were vegetarian – something they said had never happened before. I’m not sure how a veggie would’ve fared on kill-a-pig-day – I’ll never forget those squeals, or even worse, when they eventually stopped.
– Tao Philippines review for food? AMAZING.
After failing at trying to catch fish on the boat we bought some from another island and cooked them up in our boat kitchen. I can’t believe the incredible food that came from that tiny stove. We had more fish than you could think about eating along with rice and delicious veggie sides.
And a new for me, one day we were even served Stingray. We took a few seconds to remember the late, great Steve Irwin, before scoffing the plate full.
In the afternoons they gave us some welcome snacks – banana fritters and then desiccated coconut that they had a special machine to extract, and on the final day, chocolate donuts.
My absolute food highlight – stop reading if you’re going to go on an expedition – had to be the third day breakfast.
I awoke to see the Tao Lost Boys climbing coconut trees and creating a pulley system to bring the coconuts down. Awesome, I thought. Then I saw them bring out a massive vat of porridge. Awesome again, I haven’t had porridge for ages. Then, I realised they were going to bring the two together.
I sat and ate my porridge – complete with a squirt of honey on top – from a fresh coconut sat on a log on a desert island.
Life doesn’t get much better my friend.
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Drinking on the Tao Experience boat
“This is not a booze cruise.” – Tao Lost Boys, repeatedly.
So we’d been told many times, and the statement was usually followed with a “Or a yoga retreat”, but we managed to make it both on our boat.
The guys told us tales of past Tao expeditioners who’d got through tens of crates of beer every day and started as soon as they woke up. I enjoyed how much our group drank, no one was ill, but 90% of our boat were at least tipsy after lunch which slowly progressed until the stragglers (me included) went to bed at around 4am every night.
At the induction night you’d buy the crates you wanted and then it was pretty much a free for all from the cool box during the day. Apparently there are always beer wars when someone drinks too many but everyone was too cool on our boat for that kind of negative shenanigans.
Days on the Tao Experience boat
Whenever we anchored down for snorkelling it was a chance to jump and dive off the boat, or to wrestle on the rigs. Sadly I think I only won twice out of all the matches I had, but it was a lot of fun.
Of course we also spent a lot of time sitting around and chatting. The beers would be popped after lunch and one of the girls had an awesome sound system on our boat. The day she played a cool, dirty house remix of ‘Sunny’ as we cruised along the waters beer in hand will stay with me forever.
On the final day Mikki bought out his guitar and played One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful to us. Again, could life get any better?
Days on the islands
On every island we met with some of the local villagers. Not in an artificial, ‘now’s the time to meet the villagers’ kind of way, but in an actual we went over to say hi, or they said hi to us. On one of the islands three little girls were quite taken with my friend Tor. She’d been playing chase and hi fiving them, and they just kept coming back for more. So cute.
On another island, a fellow Tao expeditioner Jouzas was chatting to a little boy. Then 6 ft something Jouzas decided it would be a great idea to throw the little boy in the air, in the way kids usually enjoy so much, but apparently this one didn’t and burst into tears. Just before we left the tears subsided but the little kid still wouldn’t say bye. Poor child.
On another note, this child’s mum looked at my friend who had huge boobs and was totally awestruck – she slowly managed to get out that they were ‘so big’. And then she tried to marry her off to her other sons.
Evenings on the Tao Expedition were spent playing card games.
The first night was Ring of Fire, Slaps and Arrogance. Although I didn’t quite make it as far as Arrogance as I was so useless at Slaps I had to keep downing my drink and amazingly, for me, had the compos mentis to excuse myself to bed.
I also saw the most brutal game of UNO ever, which I wasn’t actually involved in but seemed to always end in someone drinking rum from a snorkel.
The best night was the night we deemed ‘Tor’s birthday’ even though it wasn’t for another 10 days. Three of the usual 4am suspects crew (me, Tor and Juozas) watched the moon rising – I’ve never done that before – and then came back to the group to eat the aforementioned spit roasted pig.
It takes a long time to spit roast a pig when you have to manually turn it and it was probably about 10pm by the time the food came round. This meant everyone had had a good 3 hours of rum drinking time already. Let’s just say we were in good spirits.
That night we had karaoke. Desert Island karaoke. Of course the girls on my boat got together and belted out ‘Mickey’ at the top of our voices.
“Oh Mickey, what a pity you don’t understand…”
Mikki was mortified. Then I joined forces with Anton for True Colours, gave it some welly in Wannabe and went all out on Macarena too.
There was another evening where we watched the sun set from a hammock and got excited every time we saw a firefly.
For a chronic FOMO sufferer like myself I was up every night, and there were another 5 or 6 others who always seemed to be left when the rest of the group had gone to bed. I loved these guys. We talked about things you’d never discuss with anyone – deep chats, stupid chats, rude chats – we had it all covered in the hours we spent together after hours.
Sleeping on the Tao Expedition
Every night we slept in beach huts, some with sides for protection, others without. We put up our mosquito nets and slept on sun lounger mattresses with a pillow under a sheet. I never had any trouble going to sleep, usually because it was more of a pass out after all the excitement, and copious amounts of rum, rather than ‘falling asleep’.
Camps were basic. Think bucket toilets and bucket showers, and you’d be grateful for that.
Being a Tao Lost Boy
“It’s the dream of every guy in Coron to become a Tao Lost Boy” – our guide Mikki.
On the final day Mikki told us how it’s what he’d always wanted but that the training was really difficult. As a leader you needed to be ready for anything. In addition to being a personable and awesome person – not hard for a Filipino – you needed to know the boat, the area, and how to deal with large groups of crazy Westerners.
As a Tao Expedition leader they get to sail to islands none of their friends will ever see, and have fun along the way.
The Tao lost boys were one of the many reasons the trip was so good – obviously best friends with each other, they also made the time to get to know us. They encouraged us to have a go at everything – including egg bombing the other boat on the final day. Just like the Lost Boys on Hook.
Tao Experience charity
The Tao Experience is also a social enterprise. For the past 7 years the founders Eddie and Jack have invested their money in educating the local community in sustainable living, in needed trades like massage, and in speaking English.
They’ve set up enterprises on different islands to show the locals how they can use their skills to make money and do something to be proud of. We visited one of the farms that Tao owns to see how they’re working the land to provide an income for the islanders.
My fellow Tao expeditioners
One of the many, many best aspects of the trip were the people I shared the boat and the experience with. I had such a good time just sitting around chatting and learning about their lives.
Mix 2 Swedish, 4 Brits, 3 Americans, 2 Dutch and a Lithuanian and you’ve got yourself a good time. We entertained ourselves with games of Snog, Marry, Avoid, an attempt at boat yoga and by getting Juoazas from Lithuania to sing and play us Lithuanian love songs on the guitar.
We also had a pet dog, Fatty, on board, who the other passengers fell in love with.
As you know I’m not one for dogs and I think he sensed that. I enjoyed / felt slightly disturbed at my fellow Taoers spooning him and at one point one of them even pretty much snogged him. Eugh.
The other boat leader had also been given a dying puppy one of his guests had found who was now leaving and during the course of our expedition he nursed him back to health. Bless.
Money on the Tao Expedition
I paid 25,000 PHP for the Tao trip, around £400. I was a bit worried at first it was too much, but as you can tell the experience, the food, the travel, the people – it was worth every penny. I’m actually planning on going back in February next year to relive the whole thing. The Lost Boys said it was perfectly normal for Tao expeditioners to get to land and then book the next return trip they can. Apparently one guy went back and forth three times, and I can see why.
Take a look at the Tao website for more information and if you have any question about it all, just let me know in the comments box below. As you can tell, I love to talk about it!
Best. Week. Ever.
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13 Reasons Why The Tao Experience Was SO Good
1. No Wi-Fi
I never knew how freeing having no Wi-Fi would be until we got back to it in Coron. The fact we’d all just gone 5 days cold turkey meant we were all sat around in the bar scrolling up and down Facebook at the first opportunity. So sad.
On the trip there was no Wi-Fi, no 3G and so no online distractions. This meant that we all talked to each other, really talked.
As a freelancer I’m obsessed with checking my emails and having this taken away from me was so freeing. You could actually concentrate on the here and now. The Tao expedition is a great idea if you’re looking for a digital detox with a difference.
2. No electronics
For me it was also a massive relief to hand over my laptop for this unintended digital detox. Before the trip I’d been trying to do daily vlogs and to do enough work to tide me over for the week, so I’d been on my laptop quite a bit during the preceding days.
It was liberating to give it away for 5 days to the safety box and barely even think about it. Anyone who knows me will know how unbelievable that is.
Amazingly there was no separation anxiety for me and my ‘Lappy’ as I like to call him.
3. The endless rum
At the induction they’d told us we’d have a few sundowner rum cocktails at night but in fact the rum was pretty much free flowing every night. Straight up, with coke, or with pineapple – no one minded.
There were a few times when me or one of my fellow expeditioners would feel totally exhausted – a rum punch served up by the Lost Boys and we’d be good to go.
4. The delicious, distraction free food
Meal times were all consuming. In fact they’d often be silent, at lunch anyway, as we were so ready for a feed and it was so good. There was no phones going off and no TV flickering in the background.
The food over the five days was basically lechon (pig), fish, rice and veggies. It was all nutritious and delicious and there was plenty of it. I don’t think I’ve ever had a fish meal I haven’t been able to finish but there was so much at our meal times it was impossible. I miss it.
5. The scenery
Every hour on the Tao Expedition the landscape would change. Whether it was a different tone of blue, or a whole new view, the fact we were on the move meant it was always evolving and there was always something new to look at.
Sitting at the back of the boat just watching the limestone cliffs and disappearing islands go by was incredible. And when we got to the islands it was time to make the most of the hammocks and just admire the horizon in front of you.
6. The people
Aww I loved my Tao group. I really hope we stay in touch. It was like a group of the most awesome and interesting people came together to live on a boat in the Philippines for 5 days. I managed to have some good chats with almost everyone on my boat and a few of the others off the other one. I loved the honesty and opinions of everyone – from Burning Man to BDSM!
If you need to get from El Nido to Coron quicker, check out the El Nido to Coron ferry.
7. The boat
I also loved being on a boat. Sailing was on my list of things to do now I’m 30 but I envisioned it in Croatia or somewhere in Europe, never the Philippines. As I’ve said the whole Tao Experience trip was all last minute, and the better for it.
I loved how basic and functional the boat was. It was big enough for all of us without getting in the way of anyone. There was only one person who earned the nickname ‘Space Invader’ but apart from that everyone respected each other’s personal space.
It was also small enough to always have someone to talk to if you needed, like I did, constantly.
Read more about travel in the Philippines
8. The Tao Lost Boys
Our group leaders Mikki and Jem were awesome. It must be such a hard job keeping control of everyone and planning the trip on the fly. Their whole teams were great too – good fun, as professional as they needed to be and totally in control.
One of my favourite moments was on the last morning when I was awakened in my beach hut by Mikki slurping noodles and laying next to me where Tor had been. I was the last one up and it was time to go – this was his subtle way of waking me. I just looked at him, laughed, realised the boats were getting packed up and got up to pack my stuff away.
No need for alarms in paradise.
“No hurry, no worry!” – mantra of the camp
9. The base camps
Not knowing where you’re going to sleep, but just knowing it would involve sands, sea, a beach hut and a mosquito net is a pretty cool way to live. When we spotted land from the boat we’d be eager to see the island we’d be spending the night on but at the same time not want to leave the comfort of the boat.
All 4 base camps were incredible, and all very different, from karaoke island to arriving to see four massage tables set up, they were all amazing.
10. The unknown
We never knew what would happen next and the guys were pretty vague. They told us in our induction that a day was only divided by breakfast, lunch and dinner. No hours, no time, so don’t ask.
It was so relieving to leave this in someone else’s hands – I didn’t have to plan or think about a thing. You never knew what would happen next on the Tao Expedition but you always knew it would be awesome.
11. Meeting real Filipinos
On the islands we were free to do what we wanted, and that could involve hanging out with the locals. The photo above is from when we went with Jem to buy some fish for our lunch. A special Filipino dish involves drying out the skins, like above, in the sun, then serving with rice and egg.
All the islanders we met were so nice and friendly. They must think we’re crazy though…
12. The money you pay goes back to the community
The Tao Experience is a social enterprise.
The money you pay to join the tour goes back into making life for the locals better. From teaching them special skills like massage and farming, to building houses and learning about sustainability. We visited one of the organic farms and it was so good to see where some of the £400 I paid for trip went.
13. The basic living
All you need is somewhere to sleep, some food and some friends – the Tao Expedition was a definite reminder of this. We could take a small bag into the island with us but our backpacks stayed on board. As backpackers we were all living pretty simply already but this forced us to downsize even more.
I had my phone for photos, change of bikini, sarong, tooth brush, face moisturiser and that was it. Living so basically among others that were doing the same just shows that you don’t need as much as you think you do, and it’s these possessions and expectations that weigh you down.
What do you think of my Tao Expedition review?
Reckon you could handle it?
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