Time was up. Heather and I had only days left in the Philippines. Being a bit of a lazy traveler myself, I was more than content to beach-bum away our remaining days on Malapascua. I’m also pretty easily influenced, however, and so Heather didn’t have much trouble convincing me to add just one more destination to our itinerary — Bohol.
We were enticed for a variety of reasons. Bohol was a close jaunt from the Cebu airport we’d be flying out of a few days later, Lovely Planet promised us a “distinct traveler atmosphere,” and it had both a lush jungle interior and a happening beach scene — and neither of us had had a night out together since arriving in the Philippines.
After a near-disastrous day of travel that I promise to regale you with later (note to self: plan ahead when traveling in Christian countries during Holy Week), we finally arrived on Bohol and made it to our destination in Alona Beach. After yet another Holy Week mishap that almost had us sleeping on the beach, Heather saved the day by booking us into a hotel that far exceeded my budget, and we set out to explore.
To be honest, we weren’t wildly impressed. The beach had nothing on the fine sands of Malapascua, and there was none of the charm of dilapidated seaside Donsol. Mainly we found a beach packed towel to towel with families and domestic tourists. We did have a two fun nights out — one of which ended with a wildly successful four person, one motorcycle experiment, proving that good things actually do happen when you hop on the backs of strangers’ motorbikes — but that was more due to our own determination to have a good time than anything really exciting going on around us.
Not enticed to spend two more days paying for overpriced drinks on a so-so beach, we decided to use the rest of our time to explore Bohol’s interior. We snagged a rental bike (600 pesos per day) but were met with blank stares when we asked about map, so we stop at the Tourism Office in the capital city of Tagbilaran to pick one up. They do have a map, but when we ask for a breakfast place suggestion they recommend Jollibee’s, which is basically the Filipino McDonald’s. Next, they ask if we are Catholic, and giggle uncontrollably at our negative response. It is an appropriately bizarre start to another day in the Philippines.
We marveled at how quickly we transitioned from beach town to dumpy city to beautiful forest. We drove in silence, drinking up the cool, crisp air and the empty roads.
Can you even spot the tarsier in his habitat here?
Hopping back on the bike, we headed towards deeper into Bohol’s interior. I had read about a place called , a backpacker hideaway with a great view of the Loboc River. When we reached the rocky dirt path that led there, we almost called it quits a few times — we were on a rental bike in the middle of nowhere with no cell phone service, after all — but I’m so glad we forged ahead.
Nuts Huts was not only charming and idyllically located, but exuded a true backpacker atmosphere that I had found to be almost completely lacking in the Philippines. Rooms were basic but the setting provided great opportunities for unique adventures in the nearby area, all marked on a wall-sized map of the river. The only thing I didn’t like about the place was the fact that there was no wifi, and the somewhat pretentious note in the menu that explained that this was on purpose. Okay, I get it — you want me to commune with nature rather than update my Instagram feed. But not everyone can afford to go offline for a few days without lots and lots of preparation — I get that I’m the exception and not the rule, but don’t give me even more traveler guilt. Jeez.
We left Nuts Huts dreaming of having a few more days to spend there, swimming in the river and exploring the nearby caves. Ah well, hindsight is twenty twenty. Our next stop was spontaneous and unplanned — the best kind. While lazing around at Nuts Huts, we had heard the adrenaline-induced screams of zipliners flying over the river. Following the road along the river, we found Loboc Eco-Tourism Adventure Park. For just 350 pesos (less than $9), we were able to strap in and zip superman-style across the great river gorge and back.
To see us in action, check out my Philippines Highlights video, if you haven’t had the chance.
Photo by — can you spot me in the back?
Our next destination was the hyped up Chocolate Hills, prominently displayed on every other tourism poster ever produced in the Philippines. I was suspicious they would be a let down — it’s just a bunch of mounds of dirt, am I missing something? But as we rounded the side of the mountain viewpoint at dusk, I was actually impressed by the endless rows of perfectly formed hills. I was even more intrigued when I read that scientists believe the hills were formed by the
I’m sad to report that not even one person was selling hill shaped chocolates – hello, missed opportunities! However, it wasn’t exactly a serene scene. The place was mobbed with Filipino and Korean tourists who stared shamelessly at us, and a few brave ones asked to take pictures with us. Also, someone who I would really, really like to meet alone in a dark alley someday decided to build a massive gong at the viewpoint, which was rung with fervor and eruptive giggles every seven seconds or so.
Photo on left by
It was a very long drive home in the dark but a peaceful one as we listened to the sounds of the jungle, often the only ones on the road.
On the final day of our travels in the Philippines, we rounded up a bike for one last round of exploring. Driving through the small towns of Bohol, I noted how European they felt — most had grassy town squares lined with ornate official buildings and churches. The presence of Christianity and other reminders of imperialism are impossible to ignore in the Philippines.
For our final meal, we sought out somewhere by the sea, but away from the crowds of Alona Beach. We settled on , an organic farm with boutique accommodation and a destination-worthy restaurant. I’m going to give it to you straight and tell ya that from what I experienced, the stereotypes about Filipino food are true — I would describe the national cuisine as Burnt Meat Fat. So when I saw that Heather and I were due for a good meal, I mean that we had basically been living on the Filipino version of Saltine crackers for three straight weeks.
Wow, did Bohol Bee Farm deliver.
I’m not much of a foodie, and yet I’m willing to say that if you come to Bohol and don’t eat a meal here you are out of your mind. Every single thing that I snarfed into my face was fresh, flavorful, and delicious. While we were just moments too late for the last hourly tour of the day, we really enjoyed wandering the grounds as well.
Photo on right by
I really enjoyed Bohol, and not at all for the reasons I had expected. My advice to travelers is to skip Alona Beach entirely, and base yourself either at Nuts Huts if you want jungle or Bohol Bee Farm if you want ocean, and spend your days exploring Bohol’s interior. For beach time, head to other, much more beautiful islands like Malapascua.
Can you believe this marks the end of my Philippines posts? Onto Singapore…