Southeast Asia is a paradise for beach lovers. Because in there, summer never fades.
No matter what traveling approach a beach lover select: luxurious or budgeted, active or chill, physical or spiritual, beginner or expert… Southeast Asia has plenty of options to offer! That’s true – the possibilities are endless, even better, it is of unbelievably great value. Swimming with dolphins, snorkeling in exotic islands, boat trips, local markets, cave-diving, yoga retreat, surfing, partying, paddleboarding, water sports, or simply just relaxing on a beach … how wonderful!
When I sat down recapturing some great moments of my trips in 2016, I realized that I visited quite a lot of Southeast Asian countries in the last few months! Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, and, last month, Vietnam and the Philippines… Although it was not my first time visiting these countries, it was a great year for me to see visit some new places across the region. Now that I understand more about the history and culture of these countries, the more I appreciate the uniqueness of each country; interestingly, their stories still intertwined like weaves and had inspired me to learn more and more every time.
To me, I find the Filipinos have different beliefs, values, and behaviors as compared to the other Buddhist / Hindu Southeast Asian countries. Unlike the mainland of Southeast Asia, the Philippines is a Catholic country with relatively less Buddhism and Hinduism influence (of course, there are subtle differences between each country; I was just talking about a very general feeling) – they are friendly, more open-minded, passionate, expressive and natural musicians. There are a number of churches in the country that are Unesco World Heritage, but not as significant and magnificent as the national monuments such as the Borobudur in Indonesia, or the Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Instead, the country has a great inventory of coastlines and natural wonders – the Chocolate Hills is one of them.
Comprised of over 7,500 islands (where 2000 of them are inhabited), the Philippine archipelago is full of surprises. Each island shines individually: Palawan, Boracay, Panglao, Cebu, and Bohol are some of the most popular islands in the country for travelers. It was not my first time visiting Cebu – yet I missed visiting the Chocolate Hills last time and I bookmarked Bohol in my plan this time around!
Bohol is located on the opposite side of Cebu, the Central Visayas region. The island is about 4, 800 square kilometers, making it possible to explore by car, but you will need a couple of days to cover them. We made it as a day trip from Cebu and so there are three highlights that you should take note of.
The rainy seasons, and how to get to Bohol
July is the rainy season in Cebu; therefore, the weather was not ideal. Sometimes it was sunny in the morning and then downpours came upon us when the dark clouds approached from the hills in the afternoon. The heavy rain caused flooding and blocked the traffic, I couldn’t even get a taxi from the Ayala Shopping Center back to the rented apartment! Before my day tour to Bohol, it had been raining continuously so I wasn’t even sure I would get to see the hills. But well, I booked it and I had to go anyway.
One way to visit Bohol is by taking a ferry from Cebu and to Tagbilaran City, the largest city in Bohol. There are quite a lot of choices and Bohol day days departing from Cebu. After some research, I found the Supercat2go a very nice pick as they have their own ferries (being the operator of speedboat services) For a relatively lower price the Bohol Day Tour Package includes speedboat transportation from Cebu to Tagbilaran (Bohol’s port), Loboc River Cruise (with buffet lunch), admission to the Tarsier Sanctuary, and visiting the lookouts of Chocolate Hills with a driver and an English-speaking travel guide. On top of these major locations, the tourist may also visit some attractions on the way, like the Blood Compact Monument, Baclayon Church and Museum, and more.
Some may plan to stay on the Bohol Island overnight (they have some nice beaches and resorts in the outlying islands), and it has the flexibility – there are plenty of tricycle drivers and tour operators gathering at the exit of the Tagbilaran pier, waiting to take tourist on a tour or to a hotel. But still, I find the Supercat tour quite easy and effective. When we arrived at the pier in the morning and only then did I have to pay for the tour and ferry tickets (Php 2980). Technically, the US$60 was all I had to pay for the tour.
So our 6-hour tour began. We had about 20 people in our group – 1/3 are Filipinos, 1/3 are Japanese, and 1/3 are the rest of the world. The tour guide was a middle-aged lady who had a lot of funny dirty jokes in her pockets. In about 45 minutes, we reached our first stop of the day.
Tarsiers are not exactly exclusive in Bohol, but it’s a symbol there. Tarsier (They are NOT monkeys) is a primate that belongs to a more primitive family – they have signature big round eyes that are abnormally in proportion to the size of their head and body. It is an endangered species that could not be exported to other countries because of its shy and ‘suicidal’ nature. There is a high chance they would hurt or even kill themselves by hitting their heads to object if they were transported to other places! Even camera flashes or human touch might make them stress. Unlikely monkeys, tarsiers eat lizards, small birds, and small insects. The destruction of their habitat, introduction of house cats, and hunting have their number dramatically reduced over the past decades. The sanctuary was the place to protect and promote the preservations of such tiny and adorable creatures on the island.
It was a very simple site with a small exhibition hall and a short walking trail in the woods. There are a few (4/5) spots on the trail that a Tarsier was just attached to a tree – chilling, while visitors could quietly observe them up close and personal. The creature is very small and it’s difficult to take a clear selfie with them – but their big, round eyes were definitely the focal point of the shot.
What do you know about tarsier’s eye?
In terms of the eye-to-body-size ratio, tarsiers are 150 times bigger than humans! Although tarsier huge eyes are locked to the socket, their heads can rotate 180 degrees (each side) which gives them a 360 view of their surroundings. Tarsier ears could move in the direction of sounds, and their leg bones are elongated; they could jump up to 5 meters and used their long tail for balance.
Loboc River Cruise
The Loboc River is a major tourist attraction that flows through Bohol Island. Most visitors are brought here to the river cruise and floating restaurant. After a short wait at the dock, we boarded the cruise and sailed out to the muddy river; buffet lunch was served and a live guitar band was played. I have got to tell you that Filipinos are truly talented with music, many of them are amazing guitar players, and many of them can sing… that’s why I always listen to their music channels – there’s a YouTube channel called Wish 107.5 and they always invite musicians to perform live on the radio… and there are a lot of good singers that can’t be ignored. Apart from enjoying the breeze and palm trees on both sides, we were also greeted by the locals with a Kuradang dance show – a traditional folk dance of the Visayan People during special occasions, parties, and reunions.
The Chocolate Hills are a group of 1,776 dome-shaped hills located in the middle of the island. It was an unusual geographical formation. The hills spread across an area of 50 square kilometers and are covered in green grass that turns brown in a dry season. Imagine 1,776 Hershey kisses stand between farmlands and tropical forest, and that’s how the place got its name. Although when I was there it wasn’t exactly the dry season, I was thankful just because it didn’t rain (in fact, even with a little sunshine as it had been raining for few days in Cebu).
Mythologies about how the Chocolate Hills are formed
Through centuries, stories, myths, and legends are flying around about how the natural wonder is formed. Three of the most known stories are actually quite interesting, and they are all about the giants:
- Two feuding giants hurled rocks, bulders, and sand at each other. It was an epic fight and it lasted for days. Eventually, the giants were exhausted and they forgot about their feud and became buddies. However, they also left behind the mess they made and the pile of rocks and sand were just remained there, which became the Chocolate Hills.
- A giant named Arogo was a powerful and young giant and he fell in love with Aloya, a local girl. For being a human and can’t escape death. The giant was devastated and he cried for days, when the tears dried, the dirt on the ground formed the Chocolate Hills.
- A giant named Carabao ate all human crops and so the town was suffered from famine. To handle this, the townsman took all the spoiled food and piled them up for Carabao. The giant, of course, ate the spoiled food, and then he had the bad stomach flu – and as you can imagine, he had to get the food out and the Chocolate Hills are the poops of the giant that were left behind and dried.
As the bus stopped we had just about 20 to 25 minutes to climb 214 steps to the top of the lookout for a gorgeous view of the Chocolate Hills, take pictures, and then come down. Actually, it was a rather small observation deck, and now I understand why the tourist pictures of the Chocolate Hills are rather similar because they were all shooting at the same spot same angle!
Luckily, it was not so crowded and I managed to take a few nice shots of this world-class tropical nature wonder. If I really had to comment about the day tour, I would suggest a shorter time on the Loboc river cruise and leave a little bit more time for visitors to enjoy the views of the Chocolate Hills. Besides, I wonder are there any activities, hiking trails, or lookouts available for visitors? For an area over 50 square kilometers, I believe the Chocolate Hills definitely have more to explore.