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Philippines & Japan 2023, Part Five: Bohol

Continuing my trip recap:

Wherein our steamer comes into port #

We arrived in Bohol in the early evening, the express ferry docking at the port of Tagbilaran. Or, as the sign said, the “Pot of Tagbilaran”:

A sign above an entry gate to a port, with a missing letter so it reads “Pot of Tagbilaran”.

We were picked up by a van and crossed over the bridge from Tagbilaran to Panglao right as the sun was setting:

A view into a sunset with outrigger boats silhouetted against the sun.

We had a late dinner and turned in, knowing that tomorrow we would take the day to recover. In the morning we took some time to check out the town around the hotel, stopping for lunch and ducking in and out of shops before cooling off in the hotel pool.

A hotel balcony view overlooking an irregularly-shaped pool partially covered by awnings, with coconut trees and the ocean in the background.

We decided on two planned excursions over the next couple of days, one to check out the famous Chocolate Hills and other sights further inland, and another to take a boat to Balicasag Island for snorkeling.

Inland #

The next morning we piled into a van and drove along the Loay Interior Road. We elected to drive straight to the Chocolate Hills in Batuan and then stop at a few places on the way back.

Chocolate Hills #

The Chocolate Hills are one of the most famous landmarks in the Philippines, so it was a treat to finally get to see them—even if they were a bit more green than usual due to the rains. We had to climb a number of stairs to get to the viewing deck.

A view up a steep staircase cut into the side of a hill, leading to an observation deck at the top. Tourists pose for photographs at the base of the stairs. At regular intervals along the way there are shaded pavilions where visitors can rest.
A series of small brown hills recedes into the horizon.
A series of small brown hills recedes into the horizon.

It was a hot day, and we didn’t last too long up at the observation deck. We did squeeze in a family photo at the base of the hill, though:

A series of small brown hills recedes into the horizon.
Photo © Joseph Llobrera

Bohol Tarsier Conservation Area #

The next stop was the Tarsier Conservation Area, where we got a glimpse of the tiny, endanged creatures. Most were asleep but occasionally you would see one with their eyes open. There were staff members along a winding path who would take a photo of them with your camera, so this was one recorded for my niece:

A series of small brown hills recedes into the horizon.
Photo © Melanie Llobrera

There was a small hut attached to the main area that served fresh buko juice, so we ordered a few for refreshment.

Buko bartender (no audio). Full version on Flickr.
A woman sips buko juice directly from a young coconut using a straw.
Mom with a self-contained buko drink

Once the juice was gone you could go back to the bar and they would cut the buko in half and give you a piece of the top for scraping out the meat:

Buko shavings (no audio). Full version on Flickr.

Xzootic Animal Park #

For our final stop along the Loay Interior road we went to the Xzootic Animal Park, where we got to see some reptiles and butterflies

Here’s me with the shed skin of a giant python:

A series of small brown hills recedes into the horizon.
Photo © Kristen Llobrera
Three girls pat a large, sleeping python.
The girls make a sleepy new friend
A butterfly perches atop a flower held by a woman.

Baclayon #

On our way back to Panglao we stopped at the Baclayon Church. Our friend Jill spent a lot of time with family in Baclayon so it felt right to drop in and pay our respects. While we were there we happened upon a wedding, and got to see the bride before her big entrance.

A bride stands just outside an old stone church.
A bride holding a bouquet waits to enter a church for her wedding.
After Baclayon we stopped for a quick lunch in Tagbilaran. Caught some traffic vibes here:

Tagbilaran City traffic (no audio). Full version on Flickr.

Panglao at night #

Panglao’s restaurant scene was interesting—it turns out that Panglao is a popular destination for South Korean tourists, so occasionally you’d see Korean signage for restaurants and shops. We had a few good meals with local seafood and various different halo-halo (and halo-halo-adjacent) desserts.

Halo-halo with two scoops of ube ice cream and flan.

We walked into a small town square and happened upon a performance by a troupe of fire twirlers.

A woman on stage twirls fire, creating two intersecting arcs in front of her.
A man twirls fire, creating a pillar of fire several feet above his head.

Balicasag Island #

The next day we boarded a boat to Balicasag Island, a popular destination for snorkeling. The bangka was loud! I recommend bringing earplugs if you’re taking these smaller boats around islands—some of them have engine mufflers, and some will absolutely shatter your eardrums.

A family boards an outrigger boat using a short set of wooden stairs.
Photo © Joseph Llobrera

I kept marveling at how deep you could see into the water even as we got into deeper waters.

Admiring the water (no audio). Full version on Flickr.

When we got to Balicasag Island it was a bit of a rush—we picked out a table for lunch after we got back from snorkeling and ordered some food, then were quickly led away to a set of three boats. We split our group up and our guides started taking us to different spots around the island.

Looking over the port side of an outrigger boat at two other boats carrying people on the way to snorkeling spots. The occupants of the boats wear orange life vests, on one of them is a bible chapter and verse number written in Sharpie™ pen.
Photo © Joseph Llobrera
Snorkel crew (no audio). Full version on Flickr.

My brother handed his camera to one of our guides and they were able to get some fun video, diving deeper than we could with our life vests on.

Fish whirlwind (no audio). Video © Joseph Llobrera.

We saw sea turtles! I got a really murky video from above one, but this one is the keeper, shot by one of our guides:

See a sea turtle (no audio). Video © Joseph Llobrera.

I wish we had been able to spend more time in each spot. Due to the large number of people coming to the island the guides moved people through each place very quickly. It felt like in short order we were back to shore and having lunch.

On the way back from Balicasag our boat stopped at Virgin Island, which is a long white sand beach that gets covered during high tide. During low tide you can get onto the beach itself.

A woman and a man stand under a wooden sign reading “Welcome to Virgin Island”. A white sand beach stretches behind them to the horizon line.

The island also possesses some weird temporal magic, apparently. This is one of my favorite photos, where my daughter appears to be slipping between realities:

A photo glitch splitting the frame in half vertically, so that a girl in the foreground looks like the two halves of her body are offset.

Getting three full days in Bohol felt like a luxury after the series of quick stops through Iloilo and Cebu. I’d love to go back again, this time with our friend Jill so she can take us to all the local spots she remembers from her childhood.

More photos on Flickr.