Wednesday, January 4, 2017

So, what else is in Bohol?

Some tips on places to see...

- Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (nicknamed CHAP) in the town of Carmen. There, you will have a good view of more than 1000 hills and you can do sporty things like ride a sky bicycle from one hill to another, walk on hanging bridges and ride a zipwire. There are two Chocolate Hills viewing areas in the town. If you take a bus from the "Dao bus terminal" at Dao District near Dao Public Market and Island City Mall (ICM), ask the driver to drop you off at CHAP and not to the old resort.

- Abatan River in the town of Cortes. There you will be able to do kayaking or do a river tour on a boat with a bigger group. If you come in the daytime, you can kayak the river and enjoy the view of palms, plants, houses and everyday life. If you come in the evening, you can kayak and watch FIREFLIES peacefully resting or dancing on some trees. It's a very surreal and magical experience for some. Ask for Sherwin or Beryl. They are the best guides there. If they are not there, all the other guides are also good. You may take a jeepney from Dao Bus Terminal near Dao Public Market and Island City Mall (ICM).

- Pahangog Falls in the town of Dimiao. A hidden gem in the mountainous parts of a coastal town in teh eastern part of Bohol. Take a dip at the fall-drop lake or climb the mossy rocks up the waterfall and get a massage from all the water rushing towards you. It's nice and serene and there are not many people since it is not yet well-developed and the accessibility is quite limited. It's quite an experience, really. To get there, go to the Dao Bus Terminal and take a bus or jeepney to the town of Dimiao. Ask to be dropped off at the main market near the old church. From there, take a hired motorbike and tell your driver that you want to go to Pahangog Falls. The fee is 80-100 pesos for a return trip for one person. You will be dropped off at a small single-ring make-shift basketball court. From there, you will need to hike the rest of the way. A little less than 2km. You can ask for directions from the people living in nearby houses. If they can't communicate well in English or you are concerned about a potential accent issue, just say "falls" and make the raindrops sign with your hands.

- Kawasan Falls in the town of Balilihan. When you are in Abatan River either kayaking or on a motorised boat, you may tell your guide that you want to visit Kawasan Falls if it's possible. On high tide, you can definitely go but it will be a bit difficult especially for a motorised boat to go if the tide is too low. Just try to ask. Water coming out of it will depend on the rainfall of the season. Sometimes it is strong when there has been a lot of rain, but sometimes it's also not so strong if the season has been dry. Also, it used to have very nice rock formation but it has been changed by the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck Bohol in 2013. It's still nice, though, so you may still want to try to visit. You can go swimming there in the pool near the fall.

- Mag-aso Falls in the town of Antequera (pronounced: an-ti-ke-ra). It's a beautiful waterfall where you can go swimming, too. Take a tricycle from anywhere in the city and go to the main terminal in Dao (pronounced: da-o). Ask for a bus or a shared van (called V-hire) to take you to Antequera market or say "Antequera proper" to take you to the town centre. The ride is approximately 30 minutes. Once you are there, look for a motorbike for hire called "habal-habal" and ask the driver to take you to Mag-aso falls. It's about 2km away from the centre of town on a rocky dirt road. Bargain the price with him but do not pay more than PHP 200 for a one-way ride on one motorbike. That is already very high. Try bargaining to pay for just PHP 100 for a one-way trip. You can ask the driver (or drivers, if you take 2 motorbikes) to wait for you until you finish swimming and enjoying yourselves or you can ask for his mobile phone number so you can contact him when you are ready to go back to the town centre. Make sure you are back to the centre before 4:30pm because it will be hard to find a bus or van back to the city after 5pm.

- The powdery white sand beaches in the town of Anda. If you enjoy a provincial setting where people from rural areas of Bohol usually go, you will enjoy Anda because not much is happening there except occasional family beach parties and some karaoke singing in the background. You can take a bus or a shared van from the main terminal in Dao and it will take you to Anda on a 3-4-hour trip. Ask to be taken to Quinale Beach (pronounced: ki-na-le). It is near the public market and free for the public. There are shops nearby where you can eat and order beer and there are also lots of cheap places to stay by the beach if you decide that you don't want to go back to the city on the same day. Aside from Quinale, there are other beaches in Anda which are more quiet and peaceful but they are privately-owned and they will be more expensive in terms of food and accommodation.

- The white sand beaches of Panglao Island. If you like beach-side parties, having lunch beside the ocean or having dinner while watching people dance with fire, you will enjoy Panglao. It is the more touristy beach in Bohol where you will meet lots of expats, backpackers and probably Couchsurfers. You can take a tricycle or a motorbike for hire (habal-habal) and ask to go to Alona Beach in Panglao. 250 pesos is the maximum pay. Do not pay more than this. You can also take a jeepney near the President García House (Old Bohol Museum) that goes to Alona. Just go to the plaza and ask where you can find a jeepney that will take you directly to Alona. The fare is 25 pesos for each person. Alona Beach is the party scene in the island where there are many bars, pubs and restaurants, both local and international. There are also many places to stay there and nearby that range from cheap (PHP 300 in a backpacker hostel with hammocks and tents and complementary breakfast) to very expensive (PHP 15,000 in a 5-star hotel with everything you can imagine). I recommend NOT to stay in the expensive places because they don't feel like real life. I have stayed in a lot of them (just to try it) and they felt like a fantasy but they were not really good for my young spirit. They are good for people in their 60's who only want comfort in life but not for true adventure-seekers.

In Alona Beach, there are also lots of SCUBA diving shops where you can just try diving OR get your diver's certification license if you want (but it takes 1 week of training so maybe you will just want to try it without getting licenses). All of the dive shops there are legitimate and registered with international diving organisation. The most common and most trusted is PADI (the Professional Association of Diving Instructors), the biggest diving association in the world. I got my license from them.

- Balicasag Island off the coast of Panglao Island. Balicasag is a smaller island famous for its coral reefs and underwater cliffs. You may go there for SNORKELLING or for SCUBA DIVING. If you just want to snorkel, you can ask any of the tourist touts walking around and asking people "Island hopping, ma'am? Island hopping, sir?" They can take you to the island on a boat and you can go snorkelling there. But this is quite unnecessarily expensive because if you want to snorkel there, you will have to pay an additional fee for the boatman for small boats that will take you around the reef and another fee to rent your snorkels and masks. However, if you want to dive there, you may just go to any of the dive shops in Alona and ask if you could dive in Balicasag Island. Most likely, they will ask for a fixed fee per person and they will put you with a group of other divers or first-timers who will go there and you will dive together--with instructors and guides, of course. You will not regret it. Diving is one of the most magical experiences on Earth.

- There is another famous touristy river called the Loboc River. It's more famous to tourists than Abatan River but there is a clash of monopolies and political entities operating the boat and catering companies there. Also, they run a night cruise and they have installed lights on the riverbanks. Over the years, these incandescent lights have caused great stress to the riverbank ecosystem. The animals cannot sleep in the night and most of the fireflies have gone away already. It's not a healthy business. But perhaps you can visit Loboc River in the daytime when you are on your way to the Chocolate Hills.

- The tarsiers. Small primates. There are two organisations who are running a business to show tarsiers to the public. One in the town of Corella and one in the town of Bilar. They are supposed to be non-profit foundations and conservation organisations but they are really businesses. These two companies are not treating the tarsiers very ethically. It's not too horrible, though. I will not go into too much detail. It's basically about noise management, disturbances, proper handling and caring for their living environment... And a few other issues. Anyway, I think you should still go see the tarsiers because this opportunity to see them is rare. I recommend the Tarsier "Sanctuary" in Bilar. If you go to the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park, you will pass by it since it's just beside the highway. It is a few kilometres after passing by Loboc River and central town Loboc. It is more accessible to the public and the enclosure is bigger. The entrance fee is about 50-70 PHP. Like 1 to 1.5 EUR.

These are not the only things you can do in the province of Bohol. There are many others. But for first-timers who will only stay for a few days, this is a good list to choose from.