I had gone to Bohol on a company trip about 4 years ago. As I was with about a hundred people riding a bus at that time (and the bus broke down at some point during the tour), I didn’t get to see all the sights that Bohol has to offer.
Fast forward — Bohol experienced a very strong earthquake about 3 years ago so many of the sights I’d seen were damaged or destroyed. Nevertheless, I was still interested to take another look at this charming town so I booked a trip on a long weekend of May with family.
Our itinerary for 3D/2N:
Day 1 – depart from Manila at 5:30 am and arrival in Tagbilaran at 6:30 am via Philippine Airlines, start of countryside tour
Day 2 – free and easy at Alona Beach in Panglao
Day 3 – free and easy till departure at 4:40pm via Philippine Airlines
It was interesting that even though Bohol is already highly visited by tourists there is no modern mall there – no SM, no Robinsons, etc. It’s still mostly small mom and pop stores. There’s the occasional high end restaurant but life there is pretty simple. Bohol seems set though to see a bigger boom of tourism in the future given that a new airport will be built (we saw an expansive field being cleared for it). It was also interesting to know that the current runway in the Tagbilaran airport is actually just half the length of a regular airport runway (which explains the rather hasty plane landing and braking upon arrival)!
We flew from Manila at 5:30 am and arrived at Tagbilaran at 6:30 am and immediately started the countryside tour.
The countryside tour was packed but I noticed some things I had seen before were no longer in the itinerary, such as the visit to the giant snake (I was told the snake had died) and the visit to the ancient Baclayon church (which was now mostly ruins and is no longer safe to enter).
The first stop was to visit the Blood Compact site (a commemorative memorial of the blood compact between the Spanish rep Jose de Legazpi and the city officials in introducing Christianity) marked by some beautiful metal statues made by famed sculptor Abueva. I’d seen this before but now I learned that this site was now considered a ‘fake’. This site had been built in 1999, but in 2006 the actual site of the blood compact was identified in a different place so a new set of sculptures was put up. Locals however believe the ‘fake’ marker looks a lot better than the ‘real’ marker.
On the way to the next site we went through a beautiful man made forest that was first planted in the 50s. Now why can’t we make such a forest in Manila?
We then visited the butterfly garden (where there were very few living butterflies) and to the hanging bridge which we crossed under heavy rainfall.
This was followed by a visit to a new forest site to visit the tarsiers, the smallest primate in the world not much bigger than a thumb (the old site was apparently damaged in the earthquake). Unlike in the old site, we could no longer touch the tarsiers, they could now only be viewed from a safe distance which is better for them since tarsiers tend to commit suicide if stressed out by people. Our tour guide even joked that if a person is very sensitive he probably has tarsier blood in him.
My favorite part of the trip was the offride driving of an ATV and buggy (taking turns with family) to the foot of the chocolate hills. For me, this is a must! Afterwards, we of course went up the viewing deck (partly damaged) to see the whole panoramic view of the famous hills.
Afterwards, we attempted to eat lunch at the famous Loboc river cruise (which I’d seen before) but with the gaggle of tourists, we backed out (after more than an hour of waiting in line) and just ate at a small eatery outside. The tour proceeded to the Bohol Bee Farm where we got to taste strange ice cream flavors (like durian, malunggay, etc), watched people go about organic farming and appreciated the honey products made by the bees that were nurtured by the farm.
Next was a visit to the Hinagdanan cave which was a hiding place of the locals during World War 2. The story was that no one knew of the underground cavern until one local accidentaly found it and created a makeshift ladder that served as steps into the cave (Hinagdanan comes from the base word ‘hagdan’ meaning ‘stairs’).
Free and easy was the name of the game but the key highlight of this day was watching the fight of the century on TV with all the hotel guests at the Alona beach — the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight! Unfortunately, my champion lost but it was still fun to see foreign visitors cheering for Pacquiao alongside the Filipino visitors.
The Alona Beach is one of the more popular beaches on Panglao. It is smaller than Boracay but not as crowded (yet). The sand was white and the water was clear. Ok to visit. Lots of restaurants and small bars around the hotel.
On the way to the airport for our return flight, we had a surprise stop at a Shell station which our driver said had the best comfort room around. Lo and behold – it really was interesting. The CR had airconditioning, expensive paintings, shell lamps, export quality bags on display and international magazines. Many people actually go there to take pictures!
It was a great trip for my companions who were visiting for the 1st time, and very interesting for me who visited a 2nd time. The earthquake damage was evident in most places but the Bohol residents (like most Filipinos) were cheerful and smiling.
For those planning to visit – a note on the hotel. We had taken the Lost Horizon hotel annex (versus the Lost Horizon beachfront hotel) since we were told the beach is just a 5-minute walk away. True, it was just 5 minutes away but we had not realized the road going there was narrow, full of jagged rocks, smelly and was used as a 2-way street by many vehicles. Would suggest just getting a hotel at the beachfront!
On this note I say – go to Bohol!