First impressions of Philippines: Starfish at Bohol Sea

Panglao Island, Bohol, 14-18 November

In under three hours we fly from Hong Kong to Cebu International Airport. After the fast pace we set ourselves in Sri Lanka, India and China, we’re ready to slow down and enjoy the amazing beaches of Philippines!

At midday we take a bus from the airport into town and then another bus to Cebu pier, where the fast ferry takes us across to Tagbilaran on Bohol Island. We try to use public transport as much as we can, which can take time getting used to, but things here run pretty smoothly from the get go. Though the traffic in Cebu city is painstakingly slow, we have no trouble finding our way to and getting on the ferry. We land in Tagbilaran by sunset and get a three-wheeler taxi (basically a motorbike with sidecar) to drive us to the hotel where we arrive in the dark.

We’re spending five nights on Panglao Island, which is a small island to the South of Bohol. Our hotel is located in a secluded area on the island and after arriving in total darkness we’re pleasantly surprised by the view from our hut when we wake up the next morning!

After the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, Philippines became a colony of Spain (1521-1898) until it was sold to the United States, which led to the Philippine-American war and finally the country’s declaration of independence in 1946.

Evidence of Spanish influence is mostly found in the architecture of old Christian churches (and a lot of inspirational biblical quotes found on buildings and cars) and also in the food. Not far from our hotel we find a great Spanish restaurant, endorsed as authentic even by the Spanish and Argentinian guests at our hotel. As for the American influence, besides Filipino pretty much everyone in Philippines speaks good English, which makes getting around easy, and you’re never far away from a fast food joint.

We rent a scooter from the hotel to set out exploring the island. It’s my first time riding one, but my initial nerves soon calm when the years of experience riding bicycles kicks in. It definitely helps that Filipinos appear to be considerate drivers.

Alona beach is Panglao’s main attraction but we last about 30 minutes here, as it’s pretty much overrun by tourists and touts selling boat tours and massages. On the bright side it has a good selection of restaurants and plenty of cheap boozers, plus a surf boarding dog!

Spending time at the hotel instead is hardly punishment though. The crystal clear, warm water is great for swimming and we can finally put the snorkel sets I have been carrying around for 3,5 months to good use!

Evenings at the hotel get pretty lively with staff, friends of staff and guests (including a Russian with his younger Filipino girlfriend staying here longterm) all gathered drinking around the Wifi area. Things get a little awkward when Lauren is on the phone to her dad and two of the local girls start shouting “Daddy! Daddy! I love you daddy!” while trying to take over the conversation. Think I’ll be giving the fermented coconut wine they are gulping down a wide berth..

We’re having a blast so far in Philippines and feel sad to say Bohol Sea goodbye, while at the same time we’re excited to visit Loboc next for a few days on the river!