Years after my brief tryst with the Philippines, I revisited the country in March, hoping to discover its pristine islands. I sampled city life in Manila, rowed into an underground river in Palawan, walked on the edge of Cebu’s tallest building, and went deep sea diving in Negros. But it was with the island of Bohol that I fell in love. This is why:
1) There is a pool table and hammock in every village house!
I’ve witnessed laid-back island life in many places, but Bohol’s refreshingly relaxed vibe is different. You don’t need to go to a beach here to see people lazying on the sand with beers and music. Most houses on the island, whether by the farms, along the river, or in the hills, have pool tables and hammocks in their backyards. Driving along the island’s lush interiors, I saw locals swinging on hammocks outside their houses, and entire families (often the mothers leading the troupe) bantering over friendly games of pool. C’est la vie!
2) The Chocolate Hills are as fascinating as their name.
Witnessing the Chocolate Hills of Bohol is the next best thing to actually being covered in mounds of chocolate – a cluster of thousands of limestone hills perfectly carved by the wind in the shape of Hershey’s kisses, from which they get their name. A volcanic eruption many years ago made these hills surface from below the water. We climbed up to the peak of one hill, and found ourselves surrounded by a mesmerizing view of countless life-size Hershey’s kisses at sunset. I only wished they would melt at my touch.
3) It is the only remaining home of the Tarsier.
Meet the Tarsier, one of the smallest primates on earth, which has been wiped away from parts of Indonesia and the Philippines, to only be found in two wildlife sanctuaries in Bohol. This fascinating alien-like creature sleeps during the day, crawls in the forest to look for insects at night, lives up to 25 years in the wild, and is close to being endangered. Go before its too late, and contribute to its conservation efforts in the village of Loboc.
4) A massive earthquake rocked Bohol, but the locals have moved on.
It’s the job of media channels to show you devastating images and convince you that Bohol is out of bounds after a major earthquake hit it in 2013. They’ve done their job well, because tourism on the island has suffered terribly in the last few months. But it’s my job to tell you that Bohol is indeed, safe to visit. As safe as the rest of the Philippines anyway, because the entire country falls in the Pacific ring of fire and is prone to earthquakes. We saw churches that took 5 years to build, 500 years ago, broken in half by 15 seconds of the earthquake. And we admired the spirit of the locals who rebuilt their lives and moved on, even renaming the earthquake-affected chocolate hills to “vanilla hills”.
5) You can go stand-up paddle boarding along a river full of fireflies.
One awesome thing at a time. I went SUP-ing (Stand Up Padding Boarding) for the first time on the Loboc River in Bohol. I traversed this vast expanse of gentle backwaters, surrounded by coconut and banana trees and quaint village homes, in the dark of the night, under a starry sky. And surrounding me were trees laden with fireflies, shimmering brighter than the stars! It was an experience I’m never going to forget.
6) They actually offer local vegetarian food.
Bohol gave me my first taste of delicious local vegetarian fare, cooked with much love and creativity. Appetizers rolled with eggplants, seasonal sauteed veggies, and delicately spiced local noodles awaited me at meal time here. Then, as luck would have it, SUP-ing led me to a small guesthouse run by a Dutch-Filipino couple, who actually offer local vegetarian food as part of their menu! If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know that I was subjected to some nasty food experiences during the Philippines trip. Bohol made up for it with dishes like the mongo and sumptuous veggie curries. Also don’t even get me started on the mangoes in Bohol.
7) The underwater world is stunning.
I suppose that’s true for most of the islands that make up the Philippines, but Bohol is where I could drive a two wheeler from the lush hill countryside, to the Loboc river, down to a pretty white sand beach for snorkeling among colorful corals and fish. I didn’t get to do it myself, but I hear that the island is a haven for dolphin and whale watching. Oh well, I’ve found my excuse to go back to Bohol soon.