SITANGKAI, Tawi Tawi: urban Waterworld

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.

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the EDSA of Sitangkai

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.

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Enjoying our lunch prepared by Dave Tumindig (@asa_na_pud_si_cocoy) inside the cabin, with Ronald, Sheena and Sir Ryan

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.

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Sheena enjoying the view at the roof deck, IG: @sheena_sanzie

 

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With Sir Ryan and Sheena at the roof deck, enjoying the ocean breeze!

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.

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He is the Captain of the Ship

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.

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the Sitangkai Port at our back, can you see the clear waters?

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.

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With Sir Jamil

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.

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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.

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buntings and bridges govern the top portion of the main alley way of Sitangkai

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.

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Seaweeds!

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.

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I will really survive with Halal Food!

 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.

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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.

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With Sitangkai Mayor Hadji Serbin Ahaja, such a privilege to talk with him

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.

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Our heartfelt thanks with Sir Jamil

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.

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Sitangkai is a wonderful experience!

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.

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Visual Guide of Route from Manila to Sitangkai

Expenses:

  • 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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Loading trades
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Local Store
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Busiest Lane
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Basketball still
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Dried Fish
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Dried Fish
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Locals playing chess
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Passengers
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Hall
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the EDSA
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Ice Cream!

SUGGESTED READING: How I set foot on all 81 provinces of the Philippines

 

40 thoughts on “SITANGKAI, Tawi Tawi: urban Waterworld

  1. I do not have any idea about this wonderful place. Your description and photos made me feel like I really went there. I hope to visit this if kaya ko ang boat trip. I always feel nauseous.

    Like

  2. this is the first time I have heard of this specific place in tawi tawi. and i fell in love instantly. you know how sometimes we perceive a place pero its just WOW ang ganda jan. yung water ba eh dahil nagbaha or water talaga sya?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. First of all, these are the kind of contents are worth reading from the beginning to the end. I love how bloggers like you blog about areas in the Philippines that are not commercialized and tourist spots. I love being in a place that is authentic and with lots of locals because you will learn more from them and will make your visit more memorable.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Now, you’re taking me way way way too far from Manila. The first time I heard about Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi. Looks like the life here is pretty simple, their EDSA looks like the floating market of Thailand. How I wish I could be able to pay a visit in a place like this somewhere in the south. San next destination natin? Excited na me, haha.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gustung – gusto ko ang mga travel blog mo especially that you are highlighting the ordinary days and making them special. Ganda. Keep it up!

    Like

  6. It’s an unusual place to travel to. Underrated but wow, I didn’t expect that it looks adventurous! I even thought this is not in the Philippines! It must be nice to experience their festival in September!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Enjoyed reading this. It’s such a unique place and I would never have though of going to as well. I like your pictures, it shows community and a certain lifestyle that the people have adapted due to their surroundings. Amazinggg

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Philippines really is full of gems up to the farthest corners (literally)! I’ve never thought of what Tawi-tawi looks like, it was always just a name of a place to me. I’m glad the place has a face now, thanks to your article.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reading this makes me miss riding the ferry / boat and being in the sea! That photo with the busy boats looks like the floating market in bangkok! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Your photography is superb! I have always wondered how it’s like at the Mindanao region. Thank you for these post, I was able to imagine how they cope with living and their cultural norms.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is my type of content! I was never aware of this place actually. Didn’t know they have this in Mindanao. This is very informative. Thank you for sharing! Definitely worth the read.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I thought this is more like the Venice of the south! It is a refreshing post about Philippine travel, and I rarely read travel stories about Tawi-Tawi.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Very detailed post. Thanks for sharing about what we can see in Sitangkai. Few bloggers rarely post this part of Tawi Tawi. Do they experience flooding in the area when there is high tide?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. this is beautiful. will i ever be able to go to this place, i wonder! i have a high school classmate who had to travel more than a day through connecting flights when we had our high school reunion last year. that’s how far we think Tawi-tawi is.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I found your blog by accident while searching for information on Sitangkai – I am studying a tiny fish species described from there. Just wanted to let you know I enjoyed your story about the island, very positive ! It is highly unlikely I will ever be able to to travel to Sitangkai but now I know what a lively place it is.

    Liked by 1 person

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