At the southernmost edge of our archipelago lies this quaint town, the far-flung SITANGKAI. Majority of its urban area is over waters and main thoroughfares and arteries are seemingly rivers ending to the sea. It is in this town that boats rule the transportation scenery.
Not in our original plan to set foot to, but changes with travel plans will really lead to an awesome and exotic destination. Not able to join the group tour to Panampangan Island on our arrival in Tawi Tawi, we are lucky that there is a passenger ferry boat leaving for Sitangkai at around 11:00AM. Upon finally deciding, we are whisked to the port and lucky enough to secure tickets and seats, or should I say beddings, at the Airconditioned cabin of the ship. We have one problem though, our companion, Sheena is still in the midst of her flight, taking the second trip bound to Tawi Tawi. Shortly before the ship doors are sealed, she was able to set foot inside and pay for her ticket. It is one of the stressing moments, however, she still made it.
We are now aboard for a 4-hour sailing trip to the farther edge of the Philippines. We sailed in a seemingly calm sea. We ate lunch inside the cabin. During boring hours, we hailed ourselves to the roof deck. The island far away seemed to be a perfect background, and I asked Ryan to give me a pose at the railings.
Ronald was able to connect with a man in basic wear. He is no other than the Captain of the Ship. With Ryan, they immediately connected with him. As I spent my afternoon peering through the horizon, I was actively listening with their conversation.
Fours hours passed and we felt the ship slow down, and slowly docked at the port, which is actually more than a kilometer away from downtown of Sitangkai. You need to take another boat ride to set foot at the town. The transit boat roared peacefully above the clear waters of Sitangkai, taking safe turns to avoid the shallow portion and hitting coral reefs.
The Captain was with us and he personally led us to the Mayor’s Office. Mr. Jamil Caril, the Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator, welcomed us in and took charge in bringing us around the town.
Sitangkai seemed to be just a usual town in the Philippines, except that its urban area is built above seawaters. Main transportation is boats, of different sizes.
The market place seemed to be very busy at the time of our visit. We walked around the town, we saw people doing the usual routines of their daily lives. The difference is the prevailing faith in the land. 90% here are Muslims, so be ready with their customs. Goods and trades are transferred through boats, as well as passengers, and even patients to be sent to Bongao for treatment.
Numerous bridges connect the two main aisles and are filled with people. Locals seemed to spot easily visitors. Their skeptical stares are ever-present. However, Sitangkai town is generally peaceful and safe. Some of the vendors would really smile and pose whence lenses are pointed at them. The Philippine Navy has usual patrols around the island.
The main income of Sitangkai is coming from seaweed farming. Blessed with shallow waters and almost constant climate. They experience rarely typhoon onslaughts because of their location.
Like with other towns in the Philippines, Sitangkai has its own struggles. Since they are surrounded by seawater, freshwater supply is a bit limited. So they really have to control consumption, especially during the dry season.
Our tour ended with sumptuous snacks back at the Mayor’s Office. We are lucky that Sir Jamil will also be traveling to Bongao, hence, he will join us back to the port.
With the last rays of the afternoon sun waning, the blue hour sets in, and we have to sail back. The expert eyes of the boat staff steered us through the creeping darkness.
Cool fresh ocean breeze splashes onto our faces as we docked to the port. Still, a long time to wait, we hurried to buy tickets hoping to have good spots in the Airconditioned Cabin.
It was before 7:00PM when we are settled. I got easily bored inside the cabin and invited Sheena to walk around the port. We sat at the edge, enjoying the fresh salty breeze, and the clear waters below illuminated by the lamp post above us. We shared stories about our lives as if we are friends ever since.
We saw stores still operating and purchased snacks and instant noodles from Malaysia, the Sandeep and Mi Goreng. Have you tried one? Such an awesome gastronomic experience.
Sitangkai boasts its culture and unique urban vibes. Its stilted structures, the water alleyways, the predominant Muslim culture, and the unique scent of seaweeds are the experiences you will enjoy. Should I be back? Yes! I want to stay for a day longer. Hoping that I could experience its annual festival – the Kamahardikan Festival celebrated every September.
How to go to Sitangkai:
Fly: Fly to Zamboanga then to Tawi Tawi. From Sanga Sanga Airport. Take a trike to port. Make sure to take the first trip from Zamboanga to Tawi Tawi. As of writing, only Cebu Pacific has direct routes to Tawi Tawi from Zamboanga.
Sea: You can take the 18 hours ferry from Zamboanga to Bongao. Aleson Shipping Lines sails bound to Bongao Tuesdays-Thursdays-Saturdays leaving Zamboanga 6:00PM and arriving 12:00Noon the following day.
Zamboanga bound ferry sails every Monday-Wednesday-Friday, leaving Bonga at 6:00PM and arriving at 12:00Noon.
Ferry Schedule: Bongao to Sitangkai: Monday-Wednesday-Friday 10:00AM-11:00AM 4-5hours, then leaves Sitangkai at around 9:00PM-1:00AM, depending on cargo loading. Arrives back in Bongao at around 4:00AM-6:00AM.
- Tricycle Ride from Airport to Port: Php100.00
- Ferry Fare: Php560.00 per way (Aircon cabin) x 2 = Php1,120.00
- Boat Transit (Timpil) to Sitangkai: Php100.00 per way x 2 = Php200.00
- Snacks purchased at the port: Php45.00
- Meals in Sitangkai are shouldered by the LGU
Here are some photos of the usual scenario in Sitangkai:
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