If you’re wondering why you’re reading this post after I’ve already returned from our travels, I’ll tell you. Let this be a valuable lesson, life proof cases are not always life proof. Or as Devan says, don’t buy a second tier brand of life proof case in hopes that it will work just as well, because they don’t. So, my phone was out of commission for a period of time after a swim on Virgin Island in the Philippines, making it difficult to post a recap of our time there. So without further adieu, here it is.
I have to say that initially I was looking forward to our time in the Philippines, more than our time in Thailand. Upon returning home, I’m surprised to say that my favorite place of the entire trip, still happens to be Pai, Thailand. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the Philippines, because I did. I think my problem was my expectations. Sometimes we can be so mislead by what we see in pictures or rather so set on a certain image in our minds, that we arrive in a country with a totally different impression of what it will be like, only to be somewhat disappointed. My expectations of the Philippines were long, clean, white sandy beaches, blue-green water and peaceful surroundings, which Google images portrays so well. What I encountered was a version of that, mixed with the reality of being in a third world country with less than desirable infrastructure. I know these places do exist in the Philippines, as I have had many friends come back and tell me about those experiences. The reality is the place we chose to visit had much more to offer than white sandy beaches.
We arrived in Cebu after a long night of travelling consisting of flights from Chiang Mai – Bangkok – Manila – Cebu. I was dying to get to a beach. The ones I had been dreaming about for months with white sand and blue/green water. A last-minute plan change sent us to Bohol rather than to El Nido were we originally planned on going. The idea of taking a 6 hour bus ride to get to El Nido was less than appealing after such a long night of travel, so we decided Bohol would be a better alternative as it involved much less travel time. I hate to say I regret this trip change, but a part of me definitely does, and I know one day I will have to go back to get to El Nido. After a 2 hour ferry from Cebu to Bohol, we were in a tricycle on our way to our hotel near Alona Beach on Panglao Island. The thing about tricycle’s is they are not meant for 2 average size North American individuals. For 30-45 minutes, we were thrown around in the passenger cart of the tricycle on a bumpy highway through traffic and 40 degree heat. Since this experience, Devan has sworn he will never ride in a tricycle for long distances again.
For our first two nights we stayed at a hotel near Alona Beach called KatChaJo Inn. It was nice enough, and for 30 bucks a night it provided a clean, air-conditioned room, with a private bathroom and shower and free breakfast. The owners were amazing and so helpful and friendly. Upon arrival, we stashed our bags and headed down to Alona Beach, which I had read was the beach to see when visiting Panglao. Picturesque white sand beaches with palm trees and beautiful blue water were what I had envisioned in my mind. As we approached the beach, it became clear that this was not what I had expected. Swarms of people covered the beach and bars and restaurants lined the entire shore. To top it off, there was so much seaweed and rocks in the water that it made it less than enjoyable to go for a swim. Frustrated we returned to our room for a much-needed nap.
On our second day, we decided to see what Bohol had to offer besides beaches and rented a moped from our hotel in order to explore the sights. This was my favorite day in Bohol, despite an aching but after 8 hours on a moped. We started the day off by getting lost in Tagbilarin city, where we were left to rely on the locals for direction. After getting back on track we were on our way to Loboc, about an hour away from Panglao.
Our first stop was the Tarsier sanctuary. Tarsier’s are one of the worlds smallest primates measuring around 10 – 15 cm in length with big googly eyes and long limbs. The sanctuary cost 120 pesos for two people (about $3) which despite the fact that the entire stop takes no more than ten minutes, was absolutely worth it. Throughout the walkway they have spotters along the way which will point out the Tarsier’s for you so that you don’t miss them. During our time at the sanctuary we saw around three to four tarsiers, which actually surprised me as I had read that you may be lucky to even see one. After a quick stop at the gift shop we were back on our moped, on route for the chocolate hills.
No, the chocolate hills are not made of chocolate, and actually have nothing to do with chocolate. They get their name from their colour, particularly in dry season when they turn brown. After paying the 50 peso admission fee and a steep drive up the mountain, we had arrived. We climbed the steps to the viewing point which provided a view of over 1300 hill formations. It was a pretty spectacular sight, and one that I would highly recommend making the trip to, if you ever find yourself in Bohol. Before returning to our moped, we sat down for some lunch in the restaurant on the mountain which provided us with some much-needed air conditioning and reprieve from the heat.
Slowly making our way back to Panglao, we decided we would stop at the Loboc Eco-Tourism Adventure Park to see what it was all about. If you ever find yourself in Bohol, this is a must. Do not miss this. For 350 pesos ($10) you can zip line across the valley over the Bohol river twice. I had never zip lined before, so this was something I knew I definitely wanted to do, and since it was so cheap, Devan decided he would as well. It was amazing. The most beautiful view and such a rush. I have to say the scariest part was at the end when I thought I was going to fly into the forest if they were unable to stop me. I’m happy to say that I walked away injury free, which is pretty impressive considering my track record.
Touring through the countryside on our way back to Panglao, we saw the man-made forest, which looked a lot like the forests in BC, except that it was man-made.
We also stopped at the Loboc river to take a few pictures. This river is beautiful. They have river boats you can ride on to take a cruise down the river, and also offer dinner cruises if you feel inclined. We decided to opt out of this as it was already getting late, and we were struggling in the heat of the afternoon sun.
Our final stop was at Dumay beach on Panglao Island. This beach was definitely more my style. White sand, no rocks or debris and far less tourists. We walked out into the ocean and laid on a sand bar in order to cool off, as the sun set. This was by far my favorite beach on Panglao and probably the only beach I would recommend seeing if you’re looking for relaxation on Panglao. In fact, I wish we would have spent more time on Dumay beach as it was exactly the relaxation spot I needed.
The next few days consisted of touring around Alona Beach, drinking red horse beer and banana rum smoothies. We stayed at a number of hotels including Ashiyana Beach Resort and Twin Tides Panglao. One day we decided to take an island hoping tour from Alona Beach in which we hired a private boat to take us to Virgin Island and Balicasag Island. In hindsight, I wish we would have taken a group tour rather than a private boat, as we didn’t really get a good grasp on what the islands had to offer, and missed out on some cool snorkeling opportunities. Nevertheless, it was cool to see. Virgin Island consisted of a sand bar in the middle of the water where the water was no more than three feet deep. The water was clean and warm and several little huts were set up selling drinks and food to tie us over. This was where my phone decided to go for a swim leaving me phone less for the remainder of the trip.
The next stop was Balicasag Island which apparently is a snorkeling hotspot where you can see lots of marine life including sea turtles. Unfortunately, Devan and I did not get to see any marine life but instead got to explore the beach and drink overpriced beer and eat overpriced food. The perks of island life!
After returning from a day of island hoping, we set out for dinner on Alona Beach. The food on Alona is amazing. Several restaurants set up beach front tables and BBQ’s along the beach with tables of pork, chicken and seafood for you to choose from. We had BBQ pork chops, pork skewers, and lapu lapu grilled to perfection. Cheap drinks, great food and free live music under the stars, it was definitely a date that I won’t forget anytime soon and an absolute must for any couples travelling in the Philippines. Oh and if you’re not a beer drinker like me, you have to try San Miguel apple flavoured beer. Trust me, you will not be disappointed, and for 50 pesos a beer (around $1.30), you can’t really go wrong.
On our final day in Panglao, we decided we would explore Dumaluan Beach, not to far from Alona. We had heard that Dumaluan was a slightly more laid back beach with far less tourists, which sounded exactly like what we needed to end off our vacation. Again, to our disappointment, it was crowded with people and the beach had even more debris than Alona. We came back to Alona earlier than expected and decided to get a drink on the beach. Unfortunately, all bars and restaurants had an alcohol ban for the day, due to the upcoming Presidential election the next day. Defeated, we returned to our hotel to relax in the air conditioning.
Our final night in Bohol was perhaps my favorite night of the entire trip. We took a kayak tour with Kayakasia on the Abatan river in order to see the fireflies at night. The tour guide picked us up from our hotel around 4:30 p.m. And we drove into the quiet, rural areas of Bohol. After a crash course on kayaking, we were on our way in our tandem kayaks. As it started to get dark, the stars and moon began to shine bright on the river, leaving me with the peace and quiet I had been searching for all trip. We paddled for about 2 km as we waited for it to get completely dark before turning around at the end point. It was now dark enough to see the fireflies. As we paddled back through the mangrove, the trees began to light up, sparkling and flickering like they had little white Christmas lights. As we sat in the kayak looking up at the trees, we noticed the plankton sparkling in the water as our paddles brushed through the surface of the water. To top off an already perfect night, a meteor brushed the surface of the atmosphere lighting up the entire sky in a sight that is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Our tour guide called it a “triple threat”, dancing fireflies, sparkling plankton and the most beautiful shooting star I have ever seen. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures of this night, as it would have been impossible to capture the beauty of the fireflies in the midnight sky, but I will always have the images in my head of my perfect night under the stars. After we returned from kayaking, the locals made us a delicious feast of Filipino cuisine, which I have to say was the best meal we had in the Philippines.
I am so thankful for the experience I have had over the past few weeks. Even though the Philippines was not exactly what I had envisioned, it was beautiful in its own way and I would highly recommend anyone thinking of going there to go now, before everyone gets in on it. It may not be exactly what you picture in your mind, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t entirely beautiful, fulfilling, relaxing and worth every moment. As I sit back and reflect on the ups and downs, the laughs and the woes, I know that every moment of this trip has been exactly what I needed. It challenged me and pushed me beyond my comfort zone and opened my eyes to an entirely different culture and way of life. Not only that, it strengthened my relationship with my husband and my best friend and introduced me to many new amazing friends along the way. What more can you ask for in such a short trip. So even if you only have a few weeks to get out and see a part of the world, I challenge you to push yourself and explore an entirely new country and maybe even an entirely new continent. Those experiences will be much more fulfilling than a quick trip to somewhere you know so well and will leave you wanting more. You’ll develop new relationships that will make you laugh and sometimes even cry and give you the desire to visit somewhere new. That’s the price you pay for the richness of knowing people in more than one place. You will never feel completely at home again in one place because a part of your heart will always be somewhere else.