Postcards from Behold Bohol, Day 1

I always treat Bohol an an important island, in terms of history, for many reasons, including the “Blood Compact,” Dagohoy’s 80-year revolution, Pres. Carlos P. Garcia, and Yoyoy Villame, who made recalling Philippine history easier by making a song out of it. In addition to these significant contributions to Philippine history, Bohol also offers one-of-a-kind experience with the best of stunning rural landscapes and pristine beaches.

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Port of Tagbilaran

I always drop by Tagbilaran City in Bohol on my way to Siquijor when I’m taking the long trip via boat. But I would only have two hours and my destination would always be the same — Buzz Cafe at Galeria Luisa to buy dinner and eat ice cream, and buy lipstick at Watsons in the same mall. Sometimes I eat at the restaurant, often times, I just go back to the boat as soon as my order is ready and eat in the boat. I have only toured our neighbor island twice, and every time felt like the island was not for me. But in February, I had a quick trip to Bohol with my husband’s family, and the whole time I realized how much this neighbor has improved, has matured.

Bohol is not very progressive in terms of modern industries. Most of the island is still agricultural and I have not glimpsed factories or processing zones despite the island’s huge tracts of land. I think this is one of the charms of Bohol. It has retained its “nayong Pilipino” environment despite the pressure to modernize.

Day 1

Morning

Saturday is the most ideal day for me to go to Bohol. If you are like me who prefer not to start your Saturday early, you can take the 10:40 A.M. Oceanjet trip from Cebu to Tagbilaran, Bohol. You will arrive there at 12:40 P.M., just in time for lunch. Book a room at one of the many resorts in Panglao Island. I highly recommend South Palms Beach Resort for value for money, but you can also splurge in Amorita Resorts. Arrange for a port transfer to your resort, if not you can hire one of the many vans that will be greeting you at the Tagbilaran port to drive you to Panglao for P600 one way. On your way, you can have lunch at the Buzz Cafe of Bohol Bee Farm.

We, this time, took the 9AM Oceanjet trip from Cebu to Tagbilaran. Our trip was booked via a travel agency and they already bought the tickets for us. An agent was waiting at the port for us. We arrived in Tagbilaran at 11AM and another agent and a tour guide, Ms. Dolly, were waiting for us. We were given tarsier leis. Because we are time pressed, we hopped on the bus and off we went to our first destination.

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Our first destination was at the Tarsier Sanctuary in the town of Corella, which was about 20-30 minutes ride from Tagbilaran. There is an entrance fee of Php60 that includes a 20-30 minute guided tour. The sanctuary tour guide said she spends time in the morning to look for tarsiers so that she can easily point them out to guests. The tarsiers get easily stressed, and they have a high suicide rate, which is why I think they should be left alone, like totally alone. I did not really enjoy this tour, especially because the tour guide was not very cheerful (probably hungry because it was lunch time already).

There is another tarsier sanctuary on your way to the Loboc River from the chocolate hills. Entrance fee is P50 per adult. This was a busier tarsier sanctuary but Ms. Dolly said this sanctuary is not affiliated with the DENR, and I take her word for it. Unfortunately, just like the sanctuary in Corella, which is affiliated with the DENR, the sanctuary near Loboc has unsmiling tour guides and staff. Maybe we humans should not mingle with tarsiers because it makes humans grumpy. We should leave the tarsiers alone.

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At the “other” tarsier sanctuary.

Lunch

A typical countryside tour would stop for lunch at the Loboc River. We arrived almost 1PM already and there was waiting time because, despite it being a Monday, there were still several tourists at the river. I could no longer recognize the Loboc I saw because it has improved a lot (and, I’m glad in a good way). There was a proper waiting area, and clean toilets, and covered walkways to the boats. The river cruise + lunch buffet is Php450 per person. The tour runs for about an hour. I loved that the boats were not crowded and the food was plenty. I also loved that the river was not crowded with boats. I found the lunch buffet delicious — not very special in taste but just right. I also loved that the people we were with in the boat were not rowdy. We all just enjoyed the scenery and waved to people in other boats. What I didn’t like was the presentation of the town’s people in one of the kiosks in the river bank. The town’s people were no longer smiling (maybe they were tired).

You can join the dancers and musicians. After doing the Loboc River cruise twice, and dancing the tinikling, I think it is already cliche, I don’t to do it again for the next decade. But the Loboc river, it is always beautiful all the time. I hope they don’t cut down the trees and clear the lands to make way for concrete riverside resorts. I hope they continue to let locals wash their clothes, and let children swim naked in the riverbanks.

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Afternoon

Our next stop was the Chocolate Hills in Carmen. We passed by the manmade forest in Bilar for about 10 minutes just to have a picture taken. I also was unable to recognize the chocolate hill at Carmen. It seemed bald. I took the time to climb the 200+ steps because I know the view would not be the same as the last time I was here, which was 13 years ago. And, I was not wrong. Because at the time we visited last month, it was foggy and the fog added drama to the small mountains. Entrance fee at the Carmen chocolate hills observatory is P50 for adults and P15 for children (as of July 2017).

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Our last stop was the Butterfly Sanctuary in between Chocolate Hills and Loboc River. We paid an additional P50 per person as entrance fee because it was not included in the tour. Our nephew enjoyed the mutated butterflies and I highly recommend their guide because he was very lively despite it almost closing time. The guide’s name is Delfin. The sanctuary had a resort-vibe and I loved it especially their huge outdoor swings. My brother-in-law also bought ice cream and it was delicious, more delicious than Buzz Cafe’s ice cream. Although I would still choose Buzz Cafe’s malunggay ice cream. I  forgot to take note of the entrance fee at the Butterfly Sanctuary but I would say it was worth it just for the tour guide

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We came full circle in Tagbilaran at around 7PM, stopping for a brief moment to admire the sunset nature treated us that day. Over all, it was an enjoyable trip, although I found the route of the tour guide dizzying as we passed the same roads twice and I think we wasted time there. The next time I visited Bohol, we rented a van with a driver and I just instructed the driver to take the most convenient route that will not pass the same way.


Where to Stay in Bohol


 

Belian Hotel was booked by my in-laws (thank you so much!). It is a relatively new hotel that is located very near the port. I found the hotel’s distance to the port very convenient because it is a hassle to ride Tagbilaran’s tricycle (they are cramped). The hotel does have its own van shuttle and you can request to use the shuttle services ahead of time. What I loved about this hotel is its elevator, which is very convenient for elders and people with disability. The hotel also has a buffet breakfast. On the day we stayed, I remembered eating congee, adobong manok, scrambled egg, and toasted bread. We also had coffee and pastries there, and all I loved among the many cakes we tasted was the mango crepe cake. Because the hotel is located near the port, it was trying to save on space so the hallways are dark and smaller compared to many hotels. The room that we stayed in, which had two queen-sized beds, and the bathroom, are small as well, with barely a foot between the TV wall and the bed, and no windows.

Some years ago, we stayed at the Dao Diamond Hotel (a hotel that is operated for the benefit of deaf children). We have also booked a very spacious family room with 717 Cesar Place Hotel, and slept at a cottage in Alona Kew Beach Resort in Panglao courtesy of my in-laws.


Travel Agency vs. DIY


My in-laws booked the countryside tour with Metroland Travel & Tours. I have tried touring Bohol once by the graciousness of a friend, and another time by doing it myself. Booking a tour with a travel agency can save you time, but I find that Bohol’s tour suppliers are very convenient to find, easy to talk with, and are true to their words, that time is not an issue at all. The table below is my attempt at comparing the cost between booking with a travel agency and a DIY tour:

Expenses Travel Agency DIY Tour
P3,500
Oceanjet Included P800
Van Included P3,000/9
Tour Guide Included None
Chocolate Hills Included P50
Manmade Forest Free Free
Tarsier Sanctuary Included P60
Loboc River Included P450
Butterfly Sanctuary P50 P50
Baclayon Church Included P50
Blood Compact Free Free
Total P3,050 P1,794

The above calculation is based on a 9-person group. Travel agencies offer lesser per person if the group is bigger. The tourist van that we hired at the Tagbilaran port can accommodate 10 persons comfortably.

Oceanjet has a balik-sakay promo for Cebu-Tagbilaran trips. It costs only P800 round trip. Also, booking Oceanjet tickets is not difficult. You can purchase directly at the Cebu City Pier 1, or at many ticketing outlets around the city.

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