Thursday, July 31, 2014

Embracing Bohol in 3 days (Dec 2013)

A 3day-2night getaway to the island of Bohol before Christmas was all we could squeeze in to our busy December homecoming holiday. 

Bohol is one of the thousands of islands with beautiful beaches in the Philippines. It is famous for its beaches (of course) as well as the country's natural wonder The Chocolate Hills and is home to the Philippine tarsiers (one of the smallest known primates). We are a family of beach bums so this was a good way to spend a few days of our holiday. And what's more, it's with the company of other family members (some time for the kids to spend with their cousins).

My sis-in-law helped us prebook the airtickets, taking advantage of promo fares by Zest Air (which is now Air Asia Zest, so bookings can be done thru AirAsia website). Regular fares are from PHP600. If you're lucky enough, you can avail of super low promo fares at PHP199. Additional costs below:
PHP400 /sector (fuel surcharge) 
PHP200 (domestic passenger service charge) 
+ Value Added Tax
+ PHP 280/sector (20kg luggage)
This makes it to a total of around PHP680 to PHP1500 for a round-trip ticket (roughly S$20-S$45). 

Visit to check their current airfares and promos. Tagbilaran (TAG) is where the airport in Bohol is located.

Our flight was supposed to leave Manila Domestic Airport at 745am, arriving in Tagbilaran at 905am. Upon arriving at the domestic airport, we were shocked by the chaos. The lobby was packed with passengers, some confused as to which queue they are supposed to be in. By 715am we were still in line and were worried we would be left by our plane, but the flight was delayed (not news to us) and everyone was scrambling to get to the right check-in counter in time. To add to the confusion, no one from the airline or any airport official was there to assist the passengers until the very last minute. It was really frustrating. My brother-in-law had to squeeze his way amidst throngs of passengers to look for airport or airline personnel to get information. After what seemed like hours of waiting and lining up, we finally got our chance to be in the check-in counter and boarded minutes after.

We arrived at the Tagbilaran Airport shortly after 9am, safe and sound, delighted to finally be in town. My brother-in-law had a contact person, who was also our tour guide for the duration of our stay, to drive us around the island. There were 11 of us, so we needed a van. We quickly hit the road after boarding, off to our short Bohol adventure.

Day 1: Loboc River Cruise + Tarsier + overnight in hotel 

From Tagbilaran Airport, Loboc River was about 30mins drive. The drop off point was just across Loboc Church which, sadly, was destroyed by the recent earthquake the wreaked havoc on the island in October. From there, we had to cross the overhead bridge, to get to the cruise departure area. It was also affected by the earthquake with cracks visible as we walked cautiously along the bridge. Bougainvilleas lined the edges of the bridge creating a beautiful pathway overlooking the river in contrast to the aftermath of earthquake in surrounding areas. 

the lift tower at the end of the pedestrian bridge was leaning to the right,
evident of the recent earthquake that devastated the area.
views of the river from the overpass

Loboc River is one of the major tourist attractions in Bohol. And what better way to see the river than to take a cruise. We booked the Loboc River cruise + buffet lunch (Filipino food, nonetheless), for a relaxing trip along the river while appreciating the view and filling our stomachs. Part of our holiday trip was to indulge in Filipino food we so dearly missed.

the Loboc Tourism complex which leads to the Loboc River Cruise terminal. 
It has several tourist shops selling a variety of Bohol souvenirs 
from shirts to keychains to bags and other handicrafts.

As the boat started sailing along the river, we started filling our plates with delectable food. We couldn't wait to sink our teeth into the adobo or the bbq while the kids begged for more soda (they were intrigued with the Coke and Sprite glass bottles). 

The Loboc River Cruise starts from across the Loboc Church going upstream, with views of lush greenery on both sides of the river. The water was very calm as the boat cruised along. We were entertained not only by the surrounding nature but by the on-board group of local musicians. Along the way, we stopped by several floating platforms which housed local folk dancers and musicians. Tourists can go down and join them in their performances and also leave some donations for the local community. We also saw Busay Falls, a low waterfall which pumps in water to the river. This was also the turn-around point for the boats.

The 1hr cruise gave us a chance to enjoy nature at its simplest, experience and take part in local performances, and fill our stomachs to our hearts content. What a way to start our Bohol tour.

The Loboc River Cruise cost PHP 450 per person (PHP 350 + PHP100) - roughly S$13 -  inclusive of the boat ride and Filipino buffet lunch. 

Here are some of the photos we took during our Loboc River cruise.

Kainan na (eating time)! The kids were seated on a separate table. 
They joined other tourists who were happy to share the table with them. 

local folk dancers and singers

After the cruise, our tour guide drove us to the Tarsier Conservation in Loboc (less than 10mins).

Tarsier Conservation Area

Loay Interior Rd, Loboc, Philippines
Admission fee: PHP60 per adult, FREE for children

The Philippine tarsier is a species of tarsier endemic to the Philippines, living mostly in the southeastern part of the country - Bohol, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. It measures only about 8.5 to 16cms in height - considered as one of the smallest primates. They have excessively large eyes. For most of us, this was the first time we were seeing these cute and cuddly little creatures.

The conservation area is located in the mountain side with surrounding trees as homes for the tarsiers. Some have nipa hut roofs to serve as protection. There were several of them scattered around the pathway. As we walked along the forested area, we challenged each other on who can spot the animal first. But we had to remind the kids to be quiet as tarsiers are nocturnal. We spotted some of the sleeping while others were awake and wary of the tourists walking around their habitat.

just before the exit, there were photo op areas
This one was supposed to make him a life-size tarsier

giant coconuts?

to quench our thirst on this very hot and humid day
They couldn't get enough of these glass bottles!

After ogling at the tarsiers, we drove to a souvenir shopping area. We were supposed to go see the Chocolate Hills but because of the weather (it suddenly rained heavily), we postponed our visit even if we were already at the entrance.

Souvenir shopping
clothes, food, handicrafts galore
Peanut kisses are highly recommended! And better buy it here in Bohol as prices tend to double when you buy it from Manila.

From the main island, we drove to Panglao Island where we looked for a place to spend the next two nights. Our tour guide recommended Dumaluan Beach Resort, a beach-front resort on the southeastern part of Panglao Island. 

Dumaluan Beach Resort
Panglao Island, Bohol, Philippines
Telephone #: (038) 502-9092

The resort has basic rooms with bathrooms (our had a big bathroom + bathtub). It also has a pool, a restaurant and a small souvenir shop. The resort also has several water activities to choose from. Unfortunately, most of their equipment were under maintenance. Some were damaged by the earthquake.

During our trip, the road going to the resort was not paved yet so it took us some time to get to the area as the road was quite bumpy. But stepping into the white sand and marveling at the sunset was more than enough to make it worth our while.

we couldn't stop the kids from enjoying the sand, sea and sun (till the moon was out)
and they still played in the pool after dinner!

Day 2 - sunrise walk + Island hopping + snorkelling

Hubby and I got up just in time to catch sunrise. We walked along the shoreline and saw neighboring (and I should say very classy) beach resorts.

My bro-in-law also got up early - to scout for competitively priced full day island-hopping tour. As soon as the kids were up (or as soon as we got them out of the bed that is), we headed out to sea. Island hopping - Balicasag and Virgin/Puntod Islands.

We went snorkeling first, then lunch after. We rented snorkeling gears and water shoes - there were rocks and some corals where we were going. The kids loved the snorkeling trip which was just a stone's throw away from the island. We took 2 smaller boats to get there. We saw several types of fishes. The kids were happy to see some "nemos" as hubby pointed to them. I'm a bit wary though cause I'm not really a good swimmer, and even with a life vest (I wasn't that confident that the one I got was really a good life-saving device) I was still apprehensive so I stayed closer to the boat. The kids, on the other hand, braved the tide and explored further - with hubby and my in-laws, of course.

For lunch at Balicasag Island, we chose from their catches of the day and had them cooked while we were snorkeling. So we were done chasing fishes around and looking for colorful corals, we headed back to the island for a much needed stomach-filler.

After lunch, we sailed on to the next island which was closer to Panglao - Virgin/Puntod Island. We were lucky it was still low tide so the sand bar was clearly visible, leading to the bigger part of the island. We walked back and forth and settled for a few minutes to let the kids play in the water while the adults check the buko juice and sea urchins on sale.

Island-hopping tour cost PHP200/adult, PHP100/child 
water shoes and snorkeling gear rental for PHP150/adult, PHP100/child (necessary to protect our feet from sharp rocks or corals)

Lunch cost will depend on the variety of food you want to have.

Day 3: Last day in Bohol + Chocolate Hills

Check out time and final day to walk/drive around Bohol. But not before last-minute shopping for food to eat along the way and bring home. We also found nice dresses :)

Of course, we couldn't leave Bohol without visiting Chocolate Hills. We prayed for good weather on our way there and we were blessed with a little bit of sunshine.

Chocolate Hills is a geological formation of at least 1,260 limestone hills covered with green grass which turns brown during dry season (thus, chocolate). They are cone- or dome-shaped and looks like chocolate kisses! This is the most famous tourist attraction in Bohol. Entrance fee to the viewing deck is PHP50.

Nature-lovers will definitely get a kick out of the scenery - a 360 view of chocolate hills when you are at the top of one of the hills (that's the way to get a view of the area). For those who are not that crazy about natural attractions, it is still worth the visit. It's not everyday that you get to see big chunks of chocolate kisses in your backyard (unless you are a Carmen local resident). There are also eco-adventure activities offered in nearby places.

A staircase leads to the viewing deck (which was destroyed by the earthquake). The authorities have cordoned off a big part of the deck. On the way down, we took the other route which brought us to the outer side of the hill. 

A few more hours and we were back to Tagbilaran airport (after having lunch at a nearby mall). Our 3day-2nite Bohol adventure was short but we tried to make the most of it. We crossed out the churches from our itinerary as most of them were destroyed or made unstable by the earthquake. 

Here are some of our last-day photos.

the part of the viewing deck that was destroyed by the earthquake


 That's the end of our Bohol short getaway.

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