BOHOL, PHILIPPINES: More Than Just Chocolate Hills
January 1, 1970
by Rochelle Divina
“It’s More Fun in the Philippines”
That was the 2015 campaign of Philippines’ Department of Tourism. And with good reason. There might be hundreds of other destinations for travelers and beach goers such as Maldives, Santorini and Saint Tropez among others but with a country of roughly 7,107 islands, there are delightful places to travel around the Philippines. Bohol is one of them.
A hidden gem that is slowly becoming more popular by the minute due to its beautiful and warm people and pristine beaches that could rival that of Boracay’s, Bohol is a neighboring island of the also popular destination, Cebu City accessible via one to two-hour ferry ride. Not only is it full of amazing beaches, but it is also an island full of history dating back to the Spanish occupation.
And this is where I was born.
Sadly, my parents migrated the whole family when I was just two years old so I never get to grow up in the island. Instead, I would hear stories from my parents when they were younger: how they cut classes to swim in Panglao etc., or see baby photos of mine. And we would go back to visit my cousins and grandparents every once in a while.
Every trip to Bohol was filled with many different memories like the time we went there via road trip from Manila to Bohol (it took us about three days!). My most memorable trip to Bohol though was when my mom decided we should visit the hot spots and visit like a tourist. My mom, having grown up there and knowing the ins and outs of almost everywhere, served as our tour guide.
Bohol is most popularly known for the Chocolate Hills which was voted as one of the seven wonders of the world. But Bohol is not only about Chocolate Hills. With it’s rich history and untouched wonders it has a lot more places and things to offer. For now, I’ll share necessary tips on getting there and moving around the city.
There are several ways to reach the island:
For locals coming from any point in Luzon, the easiest way is to book a flight from NAIA to Tagbilaran Airport which is roughly an hour and a half to two hours. You should also note the traffic within Metro Manila so make an allowance on your flight. There are a total of eight flights per day from Manila to Tagbilaran and usually cost Php 1,500 and above during non-peak period. Airlines such as Philippine flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL), Cebu Pacific and the cheaper alternative AirAsia.
For international travellers who want to visit Boracay at the same time, there are no direct flights yet from Boracay to Bohol. What you can do, however, is take a plane from Boracay to Cebu and from there you can take a two-hour ferry ride to Tubigon pier/port. We usually take Supercat which is cheap and fast. There are also other ferry options. Prices for the ferry ranges from Php 500 for adult and Php 300 for kids and they have daily ferry schedule as early as 6:30 am to 8:00 pm.
Third option is to take a road trip from Manila to Bohol. This is a fun adventure to take with your family and friends but could take a few days as you will still be going through almost six provinces to reach Bohol and taking a RORO (Roll on, Roll off) ship that allows you to transport your car. This option is recommended for those who want to maximize bonding time with friends and family and wants to cross off certain localities in the Philippines off their bucketlist. However, I do not recommend such for tourist who only have limited days to spare.
As Bohol is one of the first few islands in the Philippines that the Spaniards reached by ship, the island is heavily influenced by Spanish culture though American influence and Japanese influence are still slightly visible. Most of the locals (especially during the time of my grandparents) are descended from the Spanish Mestizos and practice Catholic faith. Almost every municipality in Bohol have their own church and some even dates back to the Spanish era.
And lots of families, up until this day, still practice siesta, which is an afternoon nap. I heard stories from my sisters and older cousins where they were forced to take a nap during the afternoon. But kids being kids, they would sneak out as their parents take their siesta. Of course I was still a baby then so I slept.
Most locals of the island uses the Visayan dialect to converse with each other. Very few locals know how to speak Tagalog, the nation’s official language. The elder ones’ primary language, however, is broken Spanish, English and Bisaya (Visayan). The Visayan language of Boholanos have a distinct sound to it because most words use ‘j’ and certain english words such as handle and ladle are pronounced by Boholanos as ‘han-dol’ and ‘la-dol’ which is pretty funny (hello, mom!). However, good news for foreigners, is that most locals, especially the younger ones speak English quite well as English is also a secondary medium of instruction in school. Due to the welcoming nature of Boholanos, even those who are not as good in English tries their best to converse with foreigners. Add to that the growing tourism in the locality that most Boholanos try to learn English (especially cab drivers and habal habal drivers).
GETTING AROUND THE ISLAND
When in Bohol, there are several ways to get around. All of which will take you to your destination in style:
The king of the road, Jeepney (or locally known as jeep) is one of the main public modes of transportation in the Philippines. Fares vary per ride but start at the government-mandated nationwide minimum fare Php 8.00. For foreign tourist, I suggest you take a jeepney at one point in your vacation because you cannot find it screeching on the road anywhere else in the world. A jeep can usually take in up to sixteen passengers although I was surprised that in one of the trips toward Dimiao (a small municipality up the mountains where my mother’s family used to live), the jeep has a makeshift stool in the middle and some locals are sitting on the top of the vehicle!
RENT A CAR
Popular with a bigger group of tourist is renting your own car. There are a lot of Rent a Car services in Bohol all with such competitive prices. For some, you can also rent one with a driver which is good for people unfamiliar with the place. My last visit to Bohol, we rented a van.
A motorcycle with a sidecar, tricycles are also a norm in the Philippines. It was a bigger tricycle in Bohol though and relatively more expensive.
Another local delight in terms of transportation, Habal Habal is simply a motorcycle. It is used as a public transport for longer rides and those remote areas that cannot be reached by bigger vehicles.
A FEW REMINDERS
Travel safe! Make sure you have all your documents safely tucked away. There are a few people who might take advantage of tourists especially Europeans and Americans.
UP NEXT: 5 Adventures in Bohol, Philippines (Other Than Chocolate Hills)