Visiting Ugong Rock, found at Barangay Tagabinet, North part of Puerto Princesa, Palawan is a little like visiting the Monsopiad Cultural Centre in Putatan, Sabah.
This area is very secluded and basic in its infrastructure and its not a surprise as this area has only been recently tapped as a tourism site.
The Ugong Rock, a limestone rock overlooking paddy fields and the usual village scenes, is actually a centre of the whole tourism package according to a tour guide, Lea Padayau, who is a local there.
Initially, it lost to the popularity of the Underground River and a kidnapping at the Dos Palmas Resort by groups associated to al qaeda, in the 1990’s did not help.
The Tourism Authority there then tried again to make it a success by making it into a community projects where the people are dealing with it personally, and to date it has thrived on even though the number of visitors fluctuate says, Lea.
The rock formation actually gets its name from rocks inside that makes a gong-like sound when hit.
Its quite eerie going into the caves and hearing the resounding tone.
Lea says the caves have its own history, and this made it an added attraction.
“In the olden days when the Moro was rampaging through the island, the natives of Palawan, called Tagbanwa and the Batak ran away into the jungle and hid in this caves. They hid here for months as they were scared of the Moro.”
“The Tagbanwa and the Batak went out to scour the seashore and mangrove for food and ran into the caves again until it was safe to come out,” she says adding that nowadays they live in their own village and do not interact much with the public.
According to her, they speak their own tongue and prefer to eke their own living from the land.
“They also speak their own native tongues,” she says adding that they are living according to their own culture and traditions.
Tagbanwas are found in the western and eastern coastal areas of central Palawan.
The Batak on the other hand are farmers, and often do interact with the public, mostly to sell their wares.
It is believed that they may have had trading relations with Chinese merchants as early as 500 AD.
Anyway, Lea says the caves were a good place for them to hide then.
Other than looking around at spaces once occupied by these people, there is also the flying fox line where one climb up through steep rocks, pass through narrow passages and zip down to the ground on a contraption.
It can be interesting for those who like an adrenalin rush even though it’s rather short. There are some shops around where one can buy trinkets for souvenir. For a Sabahan in Palawan, its like visiting a place somewhere in the interior. But its a great place to go for a visit.-Sayangsabah.