While the last update from my journey was about Manila and exploring the island of Palawan, for this one, I'll take you to the gorgeous island of Bohol.
GETTING TO BOHOL
My day began at 6 am with a five hour road journey from El Nido to Puerto Princesa, followed by a short one hour flight to Cebu. Next was a two hour ferry from Cebu to Tagbilaran city in Bohol and finally a 40 minute ride on a tricycle till Panglao, the final destination for the day. After the 12 hour long journey, and hopping on four different means of transport, here I was in Bohol!
Although the journey was tiring, it was made easier by the sound of music everywhere. What I've realised is that singing and playing basketball are two favourite pastimes for Philippinos. Whether you're in a busy urban city or a quaint rural village, there is always a basketball court around. For the ones in the villages, they use trees and other natural materials to construct a hoop and off they go dribbling and slam dunking all day!
About the singing, Whether you're walking on the streets, eating at a restaurant, waiting at the airport or ferry terminal, in a flight or on a boat, you will always either hear someone singing or playing their favourite English songs. 70's and 80's music is a big hit here and sometimes you catch the locals singing karaoke in their houses while eating breakfast.
I was supposed to spend only two days in Bohol, but that just wasn't enough time to explore its beauty. So I changed plans, shortened my stay at the next destination and instead spent four days in Bohol.
For starters, the place where I stayed was absolutely stunning! It was a homestay-retreat located in Panglao island, owned and run by a French - Philippino couple, Sylvie and Roberto and their three beautiful dogs - Chico, Zoey and Puto. From the moment I entered the house, I fell in love with everything! The beautiful Balinese style cottages, the batik robes provided for the guests comfort in each room, the lush garden and all the tasteful decor. Sylvie and Roberto met while working on a cruise ship and thanks to their travels around the world, their home is like a treasure trove of amazing artefacts from around the globe. Every moment spent with the couple and their sweet dogs was delightful and I sincerely thank them for welcoming me into their home with so much love!
DAY 1: BEACH BUMMING
On my first day in Bohol, all I wanted to do was be at the beach. But after the busy beaches of El Nido, I was really craving a quiet, secret piece of paradise. Sylvie guided me to Dumaluan beach located a few kilmoretes away from the main beach of Panglao called Alona. So I packed my day bag and off I went for a day of beach bumming and sun soaking.
I felt ecstatic on my first glance of Dumaluan Beach. It was exactly what I wanted. Sparkling clear water, even cleaner than the water we drink and soft, powdery sand. Within minutes of getting there, I was already in the magical water where I spent most of my day just floating around, spotting fascinating coral and schools of fish, and thanking the universe for letting me experience such pristine beauty.
DAY 2 & 3: ECO-TOURING AROUND LOBOK
The next day, I set out to explore the famous chocolate hills of Bohol. My tricycle driver, Ernesto who I met on my first day in Bohol, became my guide and off we went to explore the countryside. Unlike other places that I visited where tourism was more focused around water activities like diving, scuba diving, snorkelling and island hopping, Bohol offers its travellers various eco-tourism activities such as walking through the man-made forests and rice fields of Bilar, visiting the tarsier sanctuary, cruising on a boat down the Lombok river, stand up paddling and hiking along its various jungle trails. Due to the limited time I had, I chose to experience the chocolate hills and walk along the rice fields and man-made forest of Bilar.
The man-made forest consists of thousands of tall mahogany trees planted by the locals to counter the vast deforestation that took place during World War II. In 1947, the local government along with the people of Bohol began this reforestation project and thanks to them, the current inhabitants of the region and the travellers who visit Lobok get to breathe fresh, cool air and experience such beauty.
After spending some time being enamoured by the forest, we headed to see the magic of the chocolate hills. Once we arrived there, the reality of their beauty set in. Hundreds of small hills that looked like giant Hershey's Kisses, the only of their kind in all of Asia. People have the option of renting ATV's to wander around the hills with a guide, but I had just eaten a heavy lunch and the thought of bouncing on the ATV made me dizzy, so I just stood watching the hills for some time and then walked down the viewing point to find Ernesto again.
DAY 4: TAGBILARAN CITY
Today was about urban exploration and saying hello to everyone who crossed my path. The idea was just to observe how the locals spend their day in Tagbilaran City. I started my day with a quick Jeepney ride arounnd Paglao. It was the funnest ride of my life! Soon, Ernesto arrived in his tricycle and off we went to explore the city. We started by first visiting the beautiful bridges that connect Tagbilaran City to Bohol. The views were spectacular and I just sat there for a few hours soaking in all the beauty around.
Next stop was the main city plaza, which was buzzing with activity - teenagers rehearsing dance moves, cute little kids running around chasing pigeons, men and women getting foot massages and ladies getting pedicures!
The beauticians offering the pedicures carried all the essentials with them. I was really tempted to get one, but all of them were occupied by elderly ladies who seemed to be enjoying it too much. So I let go of my pedicure and went to the beachfront in Panglao for my last meal on the beautiful island f Bohol.
As with most meals in the Philippines, vegetarian food is a distant dream. I have never craved vegetables more in my life and I am seriously contemplating turning vegetarian for a few weeks once I return to India. My stomach is now full of pigs, chicken, cows and crocodile! Crocodile meat is popular in the Philippines and after ten days of staying away from it, I finally decided to try it. I can still feel the crocodile swimming in my stomach and creating havoc, but I'm happy I tried it for the sake of 'cultural immersion'
WHAT I ABSOLUTELY LOVED ABOUT BOHOL
Apart from all its stunning natural beauty, the one thing that I absolutely loved about Bohol is the beautiful integration of the visually challenged in society. Wherever you go, you either find the blind singing and playing instruments or offering therapeutic massages. The masseuses are certified and provide quick and relaxing massages to stressed city dwellers, travellers in transit at ferry and bus terminals and at the busy beaches where all tourists want is to relax and unwind. The musicians on the other hand can be seen singing and playing their instruments at the beach while you're dining, or at the ferry terminal or even at the city plazas. It's lovely to see how the visually challenged have adopted these creative ways not only to make a living but also to help others.
The other thing I loved about Bohol was that despite the devastating earthquake in 2013, the people of Bohol, have kept it alive and have done everything possible to restore happiness to their lives. The clearest signs of the devastation caused by the earthquake are the damaged churches in Loboc, Tagbilaran city and Barclayon. Although the government is working to restore the churches, the children in the mean time are using the iron construction rods to beep box and make music.
People have carried on with their lives since the devastating earthquake and the churches stand tall as great reminders of the calamity, but the locals have figured out a way to embrace the past and move on.
THINGS TO KNOW
Getting to Bohol:
There are sevaral direct flights from Manila to Tagbilaran City , the capital city of Bohol. Cebu Pacific, Philippines Airlines and Air Asia operate on this route. Alternately, you can fly to Cebu city and take a 2 hour ferry from there to Tagbilaran.
Some tips from my experience:
- While Alona beach is the most popular beach in Bohol, I highly recommend visiting Dumaluan beach for a quiet, relaxing beach day. If you want a luxe beach day, head to the nearby Beach Club where you can pay and get access to the private beach along with some yummy drinks. If you just want to chill, then head towards the end of the beach and find your little spot for the day.
- Linaw Beach Resort near Alona beach is a beautiful spot for sunset drinks followed by dinner. The crocodile lumpia is excellent!
- Instead of flying directly to Tagbilaran, I highly recommend the ferry from Cebu City to Tagbilaran. The views are absolutely stunning and you have the option to sit on the upstairs deck where you can enjoy the sea and sky.
This is it from my end. Next stop is Boracay, the island that was my inspiration behind my journey to the Philippines.. Next update from the Philippines will follow soon :)