Wednesday 17 December 2014

Surviving The Philippines: Cebu & Bohol

The Route:
- Cebu (2 days)
- Bohol (2 days)

Getting to Cebu city from the airport:
The airport is located on Mactan Island where you can stay if you want to explore the islands around and there are A LOT. The islands are fantastic for snorkeling/diving and they all come with pristine waters and gorgeous beaches.

To get to the city, people normally take taxis. There are regular taxis and airport taxis, regular ones are cheaper.

Getting around Cebu:
Credit: Google Images

There are these colourful mini buses called Jeepneys running around Cebu that you can hop on and off. The numbers on top tell you their route (the pretty complicated route guide for your reference) but since all Filipinos can speak English having learned it in school, you will have a much easier time just asking the driver whether they go to the place you intend to go. The drivers have the freedom (I think) to decorate their jeepneys however they like to attract customers, it definitely worked because I really wanted to get on board. Squeezing with the locals while grooving to the music that the driver blasts, how fun! Try a Jeepney when you're in Cebu!

And did you know that you can tell the function of the vehicles in Cebu by the colour of their license plates?

Colourful license plates: Tourist vehicles
Yellow license plates: Public vehicles
White/Green license plates: Private vehicles
Red license plates: Government vehicles

Getting from Cebu to Bohol:

You can take a 2 hour ferry from Cebu Port to Bohol. The port in Bohol is called Tagbilaran. There are quite a few ferry companies at the port to choose from (Oceanjet, Weesam, etc) but as a guide, it should cost around PHP800 (SGD23.50) for a return ticket. There is luggage service too. They store your luggage for you on the ferry and drop it off at the jetty when you arrive in Bohol.

You can buy the tickets either at the Port or order it online at the respective website of the ferry companies. Ferry schedule can be found here.

Airport Tax when you leave The Philippines:
YES THERE IS AIRPORT TAX. Remember to set aside PHP750 (SGD22) for this. I'm not sure if they accept other currencies or credit card since it's a very small counter right before you enter the departure hall.

Saturday 13 December 2014

Bohol, Philippines II: Under the sea and stars

We had to wake up really early to catch the dolphins on our last day in Bohol. The beach at the back of our resort offers beautiful sunrises for early birds.

Jaslin and I sat right at the front of the boat and it was really fun riding the waves! Leonny was really worried that we might fall into the ocean, especially since we weren't wearing life jackets.


And one more benefit of sitting at the front, we were RIGHT beside the dolphins! If my arm was any longer, I could have touched them. When they told us we were going dolphin watching, I assumed that we'll be seeing one or two dolphins jumping in and out of the water from a distance. But nooo, there were at least eight in a school and I'm amazed that we managed to spot them so quickly without much wait. Hazel told us she had to wait two hours the other time.

We circled around the area clapping to catch their attention. Then Josh passed me his GoPro and I stuck it into the water. The current was super strong though and I had to hold it against my leg to keep it underwater but ALL WAS WORTH IT. We captured footage of the dolphins swimming in the ocean!!!! You can see it in the video at the end of this post. If you've been dreaming of seeing wild dolphins in action, you know where to go!

Then we came to a beautiful island called Balicasag Island where the seaweed is greener, the water is clearer and the sky is bluer. It's so picturesque here! We were supposed to go snorkeling but there were some divers with us who wanted to go diving. Since I have yet to get my diving certification, I was given the option to go for an experiential dive. And of course I went for it!

First time putting on the wet suit, wearing the weights belt, breathing in compressed oxygen. The instructor told me I only had to be aware of three things (hand signals, how to clear my goggles and how to get rid of the pain in my ears due to water pressure) and my dive master will do the rest. I waved goodbye to the others who went to a further place to dive while my dive was just near the shore.

Even though I was so near the shore, thousands of marine creatures greeted me once I submerged. Compared to the snorkeling I did two days ago, I was so much closer to the marine life! It was like having a front seat during a National Geographic movie screening, in Super High Definition. I was guided by my dive master who controlled my buoyancy, direction, descent and ascent. So I basically sat back and enjoyed the spectacular view being displayed in front of me.

I saw the trigger fish which I heard many frightening stories about (it bit off someone's earlobe, etc) but I was quite excited to see it in real life. Hope I don't meet it again though hahaha. I also saw coral nurseries, some giant clams, turtles and loads of fishes that I can't name.


These photos are taken by Kenny who went down to about 20m. The visibility is fantastic as you can see. Kenny said that the dive master told them that this isn't the best. I can't imagine what can be even clearer than this.. Now I can't wait to get my open water certification and explore the wonders under the sea!

We reluctantly said goodbye to this beautiful island and went back to our resort to clean up before heading out for lunch at Egay's Farm Restaurant. I remember the fried eggplant with egg being super good, it was gone within seconds. :d Others enjoyed the fried fish and the chicken soup. We had a tour around the farm where they grow their own vegetables and rear their own animals. Then we met the most adorable baby bunny!! At first it kept struggling then Smith said "It can tell you guys just ate rabbit meat!" So I coaxed it by telling it I'm vegetarian haha. Look at its hobbit like feet! Fur beneath its paws AWWW.

Next up was something that quite a few of us were looking forward to, doing some community work at an earthquake hit area. They first showed us around an organic farm where all the animals are vegetarian. The others asked if I would eat such animals and I've got no answer to that... They also grow herbs and we tried peppermint! Tasted like Colgate haha.

Sadly, we only spent half an hour trying to help out. In fact, I'm not sure if we did more help than harm.. the locals looked on with a bemused expression as we tried to cement the walls. Even the town mayor joked with us that the families must be crossing their fingers, praying that they won't get this house that we worked on haha. One house takes them a mere 15 days to construct and they're all villages who help one another out. We took a photo in front of one conpleted house, it has one room separated by curtains. Base is cement and halfway up is wood. We were all pretty regretful that we didn't do anything more useful but the mayor assured us that by spreading word about this community project and also boosting Bohol, we're already helping them. :)

Dinner was at Bohol Bee Farm where we had awesome Ube ice cream!!! Highly recommended. The other flavours are great too, I was spoilt for choice. They have various jams on sale and we got to sample honey, mango and a herby one during dinner. They were really rich and I liked the honey one a lot. I love the bread too! I'm a big fan of delicious carbs bread. Everything was delicious and I was stuffed to the brim...


Some of us were much too excited to sleep on our last night so we went to star gaze at the beach behind our resort. It was nothing short of amazing..

It has been a memorable trip to The Philippines and I can't ask for better company. Thanks guys for being awesome!!

And now... here's your chance to win SGD2000 to The Philippines to create your own dream adventure! Click HERE to vote for your favourite blogger out of the nine of us and fill in your details, the more you vote, the more you stand to win! :D I'll be really grateful if your vote goes to me of course hehe. :p

Meanwhile, enjoy our Bohol video!

This trip was made possible by the lovely people from Philippines Tourism Promotions Board, SilkAir, and Singapore Blog Awards 2014.

Saturday 6 December 2014

Bohol, Philippines I: Around Loboc and Chocolate Hills

Goodbye Cebu and Hello Bohol! :)

We had lunch while cruising down Loboc River. I especially love the salad because of the ube bits. See the bowl with purple stuff? That's ube, purple yam which is not purple potatoes nor purple sweet potatoes (which I thought it was). And it's ubiquitous in Filipino desserts! Ube ice cream, ube rice cakes topped with grated coconut, ube with halo halo (Filipino dessert with mixtures of shaved ice and evaporated milk to which are added various boiled sweet beans, jello and fruits), and many more. Yummmm. Apparently the colour purple also symbolizes prosperity because it's the colour of 100 peso bill.

We made two stops along the way, first at a waterfall and then another at a floating platform where locals sang with ukeleles and danced. They danced the bamboo stick dance at an amazingly fast pace and invited us to join in, at a much slower speed of course. It was a really joyous atmosphere, channelling a rather Hawaiian feel.

Then we headed to the Tarsier Conservation Area to see the tarsiers. Philippine tarsier measures only about 85 to 160 millimetres in height, making it one of the smallest primates.Compare it to the surrounding leaves, it is around the size of two or three leaves. You will easily miss it if you don't peel your eyes wide open!

Their huge eyes are actually fixed in their skulls so they cannot turn in their sockets but a special adaptation in the neck allows the tarsiers to rotate their heads 180 degrees. These huge eyes allow the nocturnal animal to have excellent vision at night. When we visited them in the day, some of the tarsiers had their eyes closed. We were told not to take photographs with flash because it would damage their eyesight.

Besides using urine to mark their territory, urine is also used in the mating process. When they are ready to mate, female tarsiers will urinate on the tree branch for males to smell. If he likes it, they will mate and only one offspring is produced after each mating process.

P.S. don't you think this creature looks awfully like Master Yoda of Star Wars?

Finally we arrived at one of the most famous attractions in Bohol, the Chocolate Hills! We had to climb up a flight of stairs to get this view of the chocolate hills and we were all amazed by the seemingly endless hills. There are 214 steps to the top where a bell used to be (it fell during the Bohol earthquake) and couples would climb up to ring it. 214 because... February 14th is Valentine's Day.

Approximately 1,268 to 1,776 individual mounds spread over an area of more than 50 square kilometers. These dome-shaped hills are actually made of limestones covered in grass. The grass turns chocolatey brown during dry season (May, June), hence giving the place its name.

There's a legend behind the formation of Chocolate Hills. There was once a giant named Arogo who was extremely powerful and youthful. Arogo fell in love with Aloya, who was a simple mortal. Arogo kidnapped her and locked her in a tower but Aloya died. Her death caused Arogo much pain and misery, and in his sorrow he could not stop crying. When his tears dried, the Chocolate Hills were formed.

Next up was a ride on the ATV (All Terrain Vehicle) around the chocolate hills. I was really looking forward to it. I started off alright but suddenly I lost control over the bumps on the road and was driving towards the bush beside the road. I immediately pressed down on the brakes but my ATV refused to restart. Thankfully the staff drove along with us, so I had to signal for help. I think after the traumatic fall off the mountain in New Zealand where I broke my arm, whenever I feel slightly out of control, I stop. There was some trouble with my ATV too because after it stopped, it couldn't restart. Finally after about 2/3 fixes (meaning I stopped by the edge of the road 2/3 times), it could finally go and stop normally.

Knowing that my ATV worked okay, I relaxed and the ride was much more enjoyable. I was lagging behind the group and Smith and YM decided to follow me so that I would be safe. So touched :') The scenery along the way was gorgeous, especially because the sun was setting gracefully behind the chocolate hills. I wish I had captured it but I didn't bring my camera along.

As night fell, we dragged our tired bodies to Bluewater Panglao Beach Resort where we were staying for two nights but one look and we were all jolted awake. It was aaaaamazingly beautiful!! We couldn't stop exclaiming at how stunning this place was. My goodness. TWO queen sized beds in one room, Jaslin was like "I can't decide which bed to sleep in!" LOL. Thank you omy and Philippines Tourism Board for this. :') I... might never want to stay in backpackers again... HAHA.

This trip was made possible by the lovely people from Philippines Tourism Promotions Board, SilkAir, and Singapore Blog Awards 2014.