Tao Experience: Best Week of My Life

Featuring… desert islands | coconut wine | killing a pig | spit roasting a pig
awesome people | jumping off boats | snorkelling | wrestling
charity | food | rum | drinking games

The Best Week of My Life.

That’s how I’ve been touting the Tao Experience on my social media. A week later and I stand by it. One of the first things our 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.

love life on a tao expedition

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

Loving Tao Expedition
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 boat

Boat from the Tao Experience

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, and 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

Tao expedition fish

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

eating crab 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.

Food on the Expedition

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.

Tao Expedition cooking

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.

Fruit on the Tao Expedition

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.

Tao Expedition Tuna

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.

Drink on the Tao boat

Tao Experience on the 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 boat

Tao Expeditions

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

Tao 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.

Tao evenings

night time on tao expedition

Evenings 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.

Stunning Tao Experience

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. Brilliant fun.

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

Tao Sleeping arrangements

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

Tao Expeditions

“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. As well as 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 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

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

Tao expedition

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

Loving 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.


On the Tao Experience Philippines


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13 Reasons Why the Tao Experience is SO Good
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31 Comments

  1. by Lauren on March 19, 2015  1:56 pm Reply

    Hey! Just reading this now and looking at the Tao Trips website. Which trip did you do?

    • by Vicky on March 26, 2015  2:43 pm Reply

      Hey Lauren, sorry I'm a bit late – bad Wi-Fi! I did this one: taophilippines.com/tao-trips/open-group-expeditions from El Nido to Coron. Let me know if you book on!

  2. by Sara on March 19, 2015  8:28 pm Reply

    This looks like so much fun! That food also looks so delicious, amazing that you had such a great week and are keen to do it all over again.

    • by Vicky on March 26, 2015  2:41 pm Reply

      Loved it! A few of us debated getting on the boat back again from Coron to El Nido, but then remembered we had travel plans...

  3. by Karina on March 20, 2015  4:19 am Reply

    Those are beautiful pictures! I hope to go ther one day!

    • by Vicky on March 26, 2015  2:40 pm Reply

      Thanks Karina – if you get the opportunity you definitely should. It's a beautiful part of the world :)

  4. by Leanne on March 21, 2015  2:07 pm Reply

    Wow this sounds like the most incredible experience ever. I hate that I'm starting too feel too old for these kind of adventures! x

    • by Vicky on March 26, 2015  2:35 pm Reply

      No! Well, I don't actually know how old you are but the oldest on our boat was 42 and there was a guy on the other one who I didn't actually end up speaking to but he looked even older. Fight, for your right, to Tao it! Never too old if you have the inclination.

      • by Leanne on March 27, 2015  11:24 am Reply

        42, really? Hmm... I wouldn't have expected that. I'm 29 in a couple of weeks and kind of feel I've let the whole epic travel thing pass me by my maybe not... x

  5. by Rachel on March 23, 2015  3:28 pm Reply

    Thinks looks amazing! I've wanted to do this trip for a while, the Philippines is a dream destination but I'm getting Vietnam out the way first!

    • by Vicky on March 26, 2015  2:25 pm Reply

      Oh I LOVED Vietnam. I think it's a great place and I'm debating going back in September actually. Hope you have fun there! And yes, go to the Philippines too!

  6. by Tor on March 26, 2015  4:31 am Reply

    I love this post Vicky! Brought it all back and once again I'm an emotional, nostalgic wreck. Lost Boys Forever #YOLO

    • by Vicky on March 26, 2015  2:15 pm Reply

      Aw, loved it! What a perfect week in our lives hey? Miss y'all. #Mikki4eva

  7. by Rachel on March 26, 2015  3:38 pm Reply

    I MUST do this! Looks amazing.

    • by Vicky on March 27, 2015  1:41 pm Reply

      Yes! Tell them I sent you :)

  8. Pingback : VickyFlipFlopTravels » Cool Festivals and Epic Holidays |When Travelling is Even Better than You Thought - VickyFlipFlopTravels

  9. by Tintin on March 28, 2015  4:23 am Reply

    Hi vicky,,,so glad you enjoyed the trip...

    • by Vicky on March 28, 2015  8:49 am Reply

      Loved it!

  10. by Sly Arinto on March 28, 2015  11:20 am Reply

    It's 25,000 PHP for the trip not 250,000 PHP and yes, it's so worth it :)

    • by Vicky on April 4, 2015  4:41 am Reply

      Ooops, thanks for that!

  11. by Jay Zee on May 31, 2015  6:23 pm Reply

    Very pleased I came across your article and photos, which brought Tao across as having the most rustic, eco-sensitive and socially-aware expedition experience. I've been researching on Tao and two other outfits offering El Nido-Coron expeditions, and this was the deal-maker. Their web 1.0-ish site was almost a deal-breaker though lol :)

    • by Vicky on June 3, 2015  3:59 pm Reply

      Oh yeah, love their website! Haha. Too busy spending their time sailing! I'm glad you decided to do it, it was brilliant. Love to know what you thought when you get back :).

  12. by Bernie on November 4, 2015  5:06 pm Reply

    You went from El Nido to Coron...do you think it would have been better going the other way around? Were you looking for civilization afterwards? Any pros and cons or preferences after being at sea for five days? I heard Coron is less busy then El Nido and I am not much of a diver. Also do you get any mobile signal? I don't really plan to use WIFI or mobile if I take the trip, but I would like to get a signal in case there are emergencies back at home with sickly family members. I need to get texts.

  13. by Danielle on November 18, 2015  4:42 am Reply

    Hi Vicky,
    Great read!!!!
    I will be traveling through El Nido in mid-January. My gf and I are really looking into the Tao experience however we both suffer from seasickness. How choppy is the water? Was anyone sick on the boat?

  14. by Valentina on November 9, 2016  3:47 pm Reply

    Hallo Vicky ! I'm planning the Tao trip by teh end of april....do you think is still of for the weather condition?....and one important thing... did you have problems with sandflies?.. I'm terribly allergic on them ( not mosquitos....but sandflies) Thanks a lot!!!!

  15. by B on February 16, 2017  5:41 pm Reply

    Hi, do you know if they get many cancellations on their sailing trips - the dates we're looking for are booked out but we're keen on going on the traditional sailing boat rather than the motor boat experience.
    Thanks

    • by Vicky on February 16, 2017  7:39 pm Reply

      Hi B, I'm afraid I doubt that very much, sorry. There are other companies doing something similar – maybe check one of those out? Yes, I'd definitely recommend sailing instead of an engine!

  16. by Verniesha on September 14, 2017  11:36 pm Reply

    I'm going to be in the Philippines in October and I've been reading a lot of blogs. We just emailed them for application and waiting for response. I can't wait and reading your blog is making me even more excited!

    • by Vicky on September 16, 2017  10:15 am Reply

      Oh how exciting! I hope you get on it. It really was an awesome trip. Definitely one of the best things I've done while travelling :).

  17. by sarah on October 25, 2017  1:45 pm Reply

    This sounds incredible! I will definitely look into booking it :-) Sarah

    • by VickyFlipFlop on November 1, 2017  8:41 am Reply

      Oh it was SO good. I think it has expanded quite a bit since I went on it, and friends that have done it said it’d got expensive. There are quite a few other companies set up with the same idea though so maybe have a little shop around of reviews and check that this one actually is the best before you pay out.

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