Boldly Going to Bohol, Philippines
An exploration of Bohol’s natural attractions was tempered by adventures in third world motorcycling.
Hot Take: Bohol’s interior was a taste of natural beauty and life in the country, well worth your time if you are in the area but nothing life-changing (3.5 stars)
Pro Tip: Rent a car (or leaving driving to the professionals) if you are an under-experienced motorcycle rider…things happen fast when there are no rules to the road.
Rested and relaxed from a couple lazy days at our 3 star ‘resort’ in Bohol, we decided to explore the countryside with decidedly mixed results.
Our exploration of Bohol (aboard a newish 15 hp Yamaha scooter) began well enough. We cruised through Bohol’s chaotic traffic from the Alona Beach area (where our resort was located) to the Blood Compact Site.
Back on the road, we motored off the coast road and through picturesque countryside that looks lifted straight from the pages of National Geographic. In particular, the alternating rice fields and mahogany tree groves were simply stunning and very enjoyable on a deliciously curvy road on the back of a well powered motorbike.
After 30 minutes of jungle cruising (amid light traffic), we arrived at the Philippines Tarsier Sanctuary. After a very modest entry fee, we entered into a fenced acre of jungle that held the world’s oldest primates, fist-sized little monkeys called tarsiers. However cute you might think these adorable little creatures are from the pictures, you are wrong…they are SOOO much cuter in real life. (Note: go to the Philippines Tarsier Sanctuary and NOT the Tarsier Conservation Center, as the latter is more like a cut-rate zoo where the tarsiers are tortured for the amusement of the mostly Chinese foreigners)
Another 15 minutes back on the bike brought us to the town of Loboc, where its eponymous river hosts lunch cruises that seem to be part of every Bohol tourist’s itinerary. A total tourist trap (high prices, bad food, too many noisy Chinese, and the worst karaoke-style ‘Engrish’ singing of every classic American song that ever mentioned a river), the natural beauty of the Loboc River made us with that we could just sit on some innertubes with a 6 pack of beer to lazily sip as we floated along.
Back on the bike, we headed further into the jungle to the a bamboo hanging bridge that stretched over the Loboc River. The bridge was really made of steel cables (with the bamboo as the walking surface), but it swung in the breeze and had a really good bouncy effect when Matt decided to scare a group of tourists! (for less than a dollar, it was great entertainment)
After that, we climbed back on the scooter for our 20 minute ride to our highlight destination…the Chocolate Hills.
However, after a few minutes, Kelly was tired of being the passenger and we switched positions. Unfortunately for us, less than 5 minutes later, a tourist van (driven by a local Filipino) had missed the turn off to the butterfly sanctuary) and decided to make a 3 point turn right in the middle of a 2 lane road. Despite Kelly’s best efforts to avoid a collision, at the last minute, the van lunged forward and struck our scooter (travelling at less than 10 MPH) knocking us over into a ditch. Fortunately, the ditch was grass lined and without solid obstacles, so other than a few modest scrapes, some nasty bruises and a torn shirt and bra (from the handlebars), we were relatively unscathed. As they say, there are only two types of motorcycle riders: those who have laid one down and those who have yet to. At this point, the very warm nature of the Filipino people took over as we were surrounded by locals who offered us aid (and a new t-shirt)…the local police and ambulance also made it within 5 minutes to tend to Kelly (who was really more shell-shocked than anything) and to deal with Matt (who wanted vengeance on the driver of the van). We won’t bore you with the next 3 hours of dealing with the police and vehicle owners but given all the potentially devastating outcomes of a motorcycle crash in a third world country, we are extremely grateful to have escaped with only light damage to body and machinery (the repairs ended up costing $120…mostly scraped fairings and a busted side view mirror).
After the mishap on the scooter, we were ready for the day to be done. Ironically, Kelly got a free ride from the driver of the tourist van back to the resort (over an hour away) and Matt enjoyed one of his favorite motorcycle rides of all time buzzing back through the jungle at top speed. (he claims that he needed to thoroughly test the bike)
But we still had sites to see, so the show must go on. The next day we rented a Ford Fiesta (for 3x the price of the scooter, but with AC and much better crash protection features) and set back out for the Chocolate Hills. A little over hour later, we were treated to one of the wonders of the Philippines…long ago formed coral atolls that had been revealed when the seas covering the Philippines receded and left domes of ancient coral that now supported much different vegetation than the rest of the Philippine jungle. The name (the Chocolate Hills) comes from the look of the hills in the dry season (when they turn brown). While we were there in the wet season (though it never rained even once one our trip), the hills were a pleasant green (so we termed them the matcha chocolate hills).
After the Chocolate Hills, we made our way back down to the site of our accident (which also happened to be the location of a terrific butterfly attraction). The Habitat Butterflies Conservation Center was a modest but enjoyable affair with a personal tour guide who led us through an enclosed space that held hundreds of butterflies. The butterflies were amongst the most colorful and playful that we had ever seen and we were delighted in our ability to interact with them in such a beautiful environment.
Having completed the highlights of the tour, we headed back towards our resort. There was one stop left (actually on Panglao Island), a limestone cave with a swimming grotto in it. Hinagdanan Cave was a nice chance to get out of the sun and the natural stalactites made for an interesting change of pace after all of our jungle explorations.
Exploring Bohol had been quite an adventure (far more than we had bargained for, if we’re honest). But we were glad to get to experience some of the countryside (as opposed to just sitting at the resort), even if won’t be remembered as our best time ever.