The middle bit
The weather in Cebu was torrential rain and as the airport is about 45 mins from our hotel and the main part of the city, we got a Grab taxi and watched the city unfold. We passed high rise towers, posh hotels, corrugated iron shacks for homes and small children swimming in what must have been huge holes at the side of the road!
Our hotel was the Cebu Palm Grass hotel and the bed was soft and comfy, which is a rare luxury it would seem in Asia. Obviously, as only here 1 night we had to try the local speciality of Lechon (Suckling Pig) and I can recommend House of Lechon in the business district as being good value and tasty, just don’t leave your bag on the ground as rats are found everywhere.
Our next destination was Moalboal, which we’d heard was good for diving and had the world’s second largest Sardine bait ball just off the shore. A Ceres lime green bus will take you to the nearest bus stop for 156php each and then you negotiate a tricycle to take you the final 10 mins to the coast area, we managed to get one for 120php (I believe locals only pay 30php).
Moalboal is a small town but very geared up for tourists, there are loads of dive shops, bars, scooter rentals and places to stay.
There isn’t a beach as such but at a couple of places you can go down to the sea and literally a few metres from the shore, in-between all the dive boats, lots of people are snorkelling above thousands of sardines. It can be a bit of an extreme activity when the tour boats are leaving and coming in as they have to negotiate a safe path through you and if you aren’t listening for the shouts and whistles from the boat crew you will get a bump.
Our hotel for the next 3 nights was West Coast Beach House which was really cheap for good reason but we weren’t going to be in the room that much so it was ok.
A pre breakfast swim with the bait ball was amazing and possibly the best time to go for crowds and boat dodging. Literally thousands upon thousands of sardines all moving as one shimmering formation. It was staggering and to top it all off as we swam away from the other people in the water we spotted a green turtle coming towards us. We swam with her on our own for quite a bit until she was spotted by others and we left her to it.
After hiring scooters we set off to find some more snorkel spots and waterfalls. We’d read that the well signposted entrance to the famous Kawasan Falls wasn’t really the official entrance, so we trusted some blogs we’d read and google maps and went sailing past all the coaches and cars streaming into the one from the main road and turned up another lane. It would seem that this way has been closed for now though as we, and another couple on a scooter, were turned around at the top by a young lad because it was a dead end. Not sure how true that is but as we’d seen how busy it had been on the way in we decided to skip this waterfall and head to a quieter one.
Cambais falls was really pretty and as it’s a bit of a trek on unmade roads to get to, we mostly had it to ourselves. A 20 min walk through woods and fields and 50 php entry and you have a lovely little pool with a couple of waterfalls flowing into it. Recent rain had turned this normally aquamarine water into a muddy colour, but we still slipped in for a swim.
We’d also booked a dive for whilst we were in Moalboal and as our first choice of Cebu Dive Centre was fully booked, they recommended we go with Savedra Dive Centre. This would be Pauls first fun dive since taking his open water and the boat was heading to Pescador Island, which we’d read was a really good spot. It didn’t disappoint and we had a great dive with loads of fishes.
Early start for the bus to Bato as we were trying to catch the 10am bus from Liloan Port to Siquijor. We made it in time and us and lots of other backpackers got onto the old looking roll on roll off ferry (200php + 5 terminal fee) The crossing was very choppy and half the fun was watching the lorries strain against their rachet straps as the waves crashed against the side, most of these vehicles still had their drivers inside at the wheel.
We were greeted in Siquijor by Yoyong holding a chalk board with our names on it (yes, I’m Party) and he took us the 30 mins round to the hotel – Tagbaylo.
I’m afraid I mighty gush a bit about this island because it was my favourite place in the Philippines.
Everything from the hotel to the restaurants, bars, sea life and scooter trip was good, it wasn’t without its issues but in general nothing is, and I loved the relaxed feel of this island.
We hired scooters and planned to go around the whole perimeter road (which should only take a few hours) but stupidly we turned the wrong way out of one of the waterfalls and ended up going across the middle of the island. It didn’t matter as the views were stunning and we still went to all the places we wanted to.
We stopped at the Sacred Tree which has a pool at it’s base with fish that will clean your feet, well worth the 10php entrance as the tree is stunning and the fish tickle.
Cambugahay falls which is a pretty aquamarine pool with waterfall and several rope swings that for a fee you can launch yourself off of.
Tulapos Marine Park is a great snorkel spot where if you pay a guide, he will take you to see schools of Barracuda, turtles and maybe sharks.
I’m not sure if we went on an especially rough day or time of year but we had to abort our trip as the waves were to much for us to battle through safely. I do put this down mostly to our un-fitness levels but the waves were big and relentless and after battling through the first lot, only to be half drowned by the second barrage we called it quits.
I wouldn’t advise trying to do this without a guide as finding a way through the shallow corals safely would be tricky, we came out with a few more scratches and scrapes than when we went in. He did show us some Giant Clams that we passed on our way back which was pretty cool.
We’d read that snorkelling at Salagdoong Beach Resort was worth a visit, so we paid the 100php each visitor entrance fee and went down hoping to grab some food whilst down there. If you are thinking of going here please don’t bother, we only stayed 10mins and left without snorkelling or eating it was that bad.
The Restaurant had piles of dirty plates on every table and half of them had dogs sitting on the chairs licking the plates, the other dogs were being goaded into a fight by a Russian woman that wanted to feed the runt but not the other 10 surrounding it, ugly concrete tables and benches everywhere some that you had to pay additional money to rent, a small crowded beach with a tiny buoyed off snorkelling area which was already full of people and all this topped off with moody looking staff. Although to be honest I’d be moody working there to!
Sunset at Paliton beach is gorgeous. We had wrongly assumed this was a built-up beach with bars etc but really it’s a small white sandy chillout spot, it has a few shacks selling beers and fresh coconuts and then you plonk yourself down in the sand to watch the sun disappear. I can recommend the Coco Loco which is young coconut topped up with dark rum. The more water you can drink before they add the rum dictates how much rum they can fit in!
We had two dives booked with Last Frontier Dive Centre for our time here and we’d decided to go out of our comfort zone and do a night dive for the second one. The first one was a boat dive just on the neighbours house reef, which was perfect as we got used to our equipment and our guide got used to our abilities and then after hanging out for a few hours we headed out for our shore night dive. The night dive was brilliant, scary but brilliant. I think I’d like to get a few more day dives under my belt before attempting it again but as we found out that we should have been advanced level before doing a night dive, I think it will be some time before we do it again.
All to quickly we were leaving Siquijor and Yoyong took us back to the ferry port for our 12:30 boat to Bohol. There was a slight disagreement with the shipping company as it doesn’t state anywhere that you have to pay a checked luggage fee, the T&C’s on the ticket state this is only for bags over 15kg, which ours weren’t. We didn’t have to pay in the end but having read the T&C’s on the actual website it does state that bags over a certain (small) size have to be checked in and subsequently paid for. Oops!
Alona Beach was our destination once hitting Tagbilaran Port on Bohol, which is another 30mins and 300php in a tricycle and technically its own island. Our hotel here was called Alona Katchajo and was only a 10 min walk from the busy beach ‘strip’.
Having gone from calm, tranquil, relaxed Siquijor to this was a bit of a shell shock for me, it was so much busier here.
We’d gone back to having a bit of the older western men with beautiful Filipino women, the beach area was just bars, restaurants and resorts and beer on the seafront had gone back up to 90+ for a bottle unless you found a happy hour. Best happy hour we found was Roderick & Vivien 5-8, beers at 50php each, but they only have 4 plastic tables in front of the Caluna bar so either hang about and wait or grab a beer and sit on the sand.
With only a couple of days here we knew one day was going to be out doing the traditional tourist route – Tarsiers, Bamboo bridge, Mahogany forest & chocolate hills but we’d decided to do this under our own steam on scooters instead of joining a tour. I also wanted to make sure we went to the Corella Tarsier Sanctuary and not the zoo like one all the coaches go to in Loboc.
First stop, because it was the closest, was the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella. These critically endangered primates are only found on the islands of Southeast Asia but as they are only the size of your fist and nocturnal seeing them in the wild is impossible. They also commit suicide in captivity if they are stressed to much by handling or loud noises so it was really important to us that we went to the best sanctuary, although as they should be sleeping during the day my guilt levels were already high about seeing them at all.
This sanctuary is attempting to educate people about them and trying to restore populations by giving them a safe space to be in, it does have a high fence around it but this is just to keep predators out as the Tarsiers could leap out if it wanted. I’d read a lot about this sanctuary and it’s not without its bad reviews online but I’m glad I went to see for myself and in my opinion, it wasn’t too bad, not perfect but not that bad. The enclosure has staff posted next to where the Tarsiers can be seen and we saw about 4/5.
The rumours are that these have been placed strategically so people can see them, but I have my doubts about that, although I will admit all but 1 were at head height and all were obviously awake. We did see trails that weren’t being used that day, which implies that they do move about and there was a lot of forest with no trails at all which again says they could move to more secluded spots if they wanted. They are unbelievably cute!
Next stop was the bamboo bridge. This isn’t that exciting and as we’d done one in Cambodia we didn’t stop and pay for the admission to cross it, plus it was swamped by hundreds of other tourists.
Onwards to the chocolate hills, which was still over an hour ride away but takes you through a gorgeous Mahogany forest. The thing to do here apparently is wait until the road is clear and then attempt to get a picture of you and family in the middle of the road before you are run over by the next vehicle. Not a game I fancied playing but it is a lovely winding road under the trees.
The chocolate hills are a strange geological formation of over 1000 small hills that turn brown in the dry season and hence got their name. I’m not sure about the scientific explanation of how these formed but I love the folklore idea that these were rocks that two Giants hurled at each other during an argument, either way the views are breath-taking.
We were going to go on a dive the following day but instead we had a lazy day of reading, eating cake and sussing out our next moves as the next stop I’d picked to visit was proving very awkward to get to.
We’d heard that there is a place you can see Whale Sharks in a really natural setting and as this was way off the normal tourist route it was going to be much quieter than the other options. The diving is also fantastic and as such it’s only really divers that go there.
Padre Burgos in Southern Leyte was the place but to get to it you had to travel to the far end of Bohol (3 hours), catch 1 of two ferries that you couldn’t really find much info on (3 hours), then depending on where your ferry docked you had another 2-5hrs journey by jeepney or van. You could always go back to Cebu and get a ferry from there but both ways seemed complicated and expensive, I was beginning to wish I didn’t want to go here so badly.
With a bit of help via WhatsApp from the hotel owner in Padre Burgos, the hotel owner in Bohol and google we knew that there was a ferry from Ubay at 1pm (maybe 2pm) and we could get a bus all the way to Ubay from town at around 9am, so this should all fit in nicely. We’d suss out the other side when we got there!
The bus to Ubay is run by Southern Star and the aircon bus that was to leave at 9am was only 169php each although there were other non-AC ones leaving before that. We didn’t end up leaving until 9:25 which meant if the boat was leaving at 1pm we’d be cutting it fine but we needn’t have worried because the bus got in 12:30 and today it seemed the boat wasn’t leaving until 2pm anyway!
The boat company we went on was Medallion, cost 350 + 12php terminal fee and it went from Ubay to Bato, but we also noticed a sign advertising Leopards Ferry that might have gone a similar route faster. How I wish we’d paid it more attention!
Eventually we were ushered onto the ferry and upon seeing our tourist class tickets they ushered us to a top small room that held around 8 bunk beds in it, it was supposed to be air conditioned but that doesn’t kick in until the ship leaves port and as it didn’t leave port until gone 3pm it was just a dark, smelly sweat box until then. Downstairs was another AC tourist class seating area; in hindsight we should have gone down there.