- The Washington Times - Friday, January 12, 2007

Bohol is reachable by air and boat either from Manila or, more conveniently, Cebu (only limited international flights arrive in Cebu) on Silk Air, Malaysia Airlines and Cathay Pacific. Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Air Philippines, Asian Spirit, Astro Air and Grand Air offer connecting flights via Cebu, arriving in Bohol’s capital, Tagbilaran City, in about 30 minutes.

Transfer by taxi from the airport to the pier takes about 30 minutes in normal traffic and costs about $3.20. Flying costs vary, but it’s worth the effort to look for a promotional fare. Regular boats out of Cebu take about four hours to reach Tagbilaran, while a speedboat requires 1 hours. Overnight ferries offer the best deals.

Bohol Bee Farm (www.boholbeefarm.com) is a quaint boutique hotel with a stunning ocean view. It was built by native Filipina Vicky Wallace, who lived for years in the United States. The grounds and rooms were designed and decorated painstakingly, and the food is organic. All of this is encompassed modestly in a farm where organic vegetables, fruits, flowers and, of course, honey, are produced. Cost: $190 per night.

Panglao Island Nature Resort (www.panglaoisland.com) has well-appointed thatched cottages 15 minutes from downtown Tagbilaran or a 90-minute speedboat trip from Cebu. Rates for this oceanfront property begin at $187. The resort offers round-trip transfers from the airport and seaport, mountain biking, snorkeling, diving, kayaking and windsurfing.

The Bohol Beach Club (boholbeachclub.net), nestled in Panglao Island in the Central Visayas, is about 30 minutes by land from Tagbilaran. The hotel has pool and beach bars, a restaurant, swimming pool, outdoor Jacuzzi, scuba diving, tennis court, billiards, darts, backgammon and a glass-bottomed boat. Rates start at $107.

Finding potable water and good food in more remote parts of the Philippines can be challenging, but this usually is not an issue at major resorts and hotels. The Bohol Bee Farm has the best tasting and most original food on the island. The ambience — matched wooden and bamboo furniture, floral prints and colorful artwork — is unique.

Bohol has four major rivers, the Inabanga and Ipil in the north and the Loboc and Abatan to the south.

From Busay Falls, cruise down Loboc River in a pump boat. Take one of the floating restaurants through the seaside towns of Loboc, Loay and Bilar. At lunch, sample fresh lapu-lapu, shrimp, and squid to the tune of strumming guitars. The fish is named after Lapu-Lapu, the Philippines’ first national hero, who with the men of Mactan, fought Spanish soldiers in 1521, killing several, including their leader, Ferdinand Magellan.

The Bohol Museum: A showcase of the province’s exciting history, culture and natural resources.

The Chocolate Hills: The 1,268 haystack-shaped hills are considered a Philippines National Geological Monument. In summer, the dome-shaped, grass-covered limestone hills dry up and turn brown, transformed into rows and rows of huge Hershey’s Kisses. To get to the hills, take a bus to Carmen, from where you can hire a motorbike or hike the remaining 2 miles.

Heritage Tour: The province of Bohol is an early Spanish settlement filled with old churches, tree-lined plazas and ancestral houses. Visit the Bohol Museum in Tagbilaran, the Punta Cruz Watch Tower in Maribojoc (a wooden cross supposedly bestowed with mysterious powers), the Baclayon Church, and the marker commemorating Sikatuna and Legaspi’s blood compact.

Bohol’s numerous hills, valleys and plateaus are ideal for hiking and cycling.

In Bilar, a man-made forest gives sanctuary to the province’s endangered species, including the tarsier.

Hinagdanan Cave: About 1 miles from Dauis town, Hinagdanan Cave offers a stunning display of stalactites and stalagmites; a mountain spring for swimming is nearby.

Bohol is home to one of the Philippines’ oldest stone churches, the Baclayon Church built by the Jesuits. It has a rich collection of religious articles, from vestments woven in gold thread to Latin librettos printed on sheepskin.

Pristine white-sand beaches and serene dive spots are plentiful in Bohol. Balicasag is considered one of the country’s best dive spots. The waters of Pamilacan are brimming with schools of tuna, snapper, grouper, mackerel and surgeonfish, and dolphins.

Considering that 77 million people are packed into the 7,000 islands of the Philippines, the country is surprisingly laid-back. Filipinos seem to take adversity in stride, with relatively few displays of public anger or hostility. Patience and politeness seem to be the norm in most places.

Compared to other Asian nations, the Philippines offers some of the best bargains for travelers. Everything, including accommodations, tends to be shockingly inexpensive. You can get one of Asia’s essentials, a full body massage, for as little as $3 per hour. An 11-ounce bottle of premium San Miguel beer goes for about 40 cents (twice as much in bars).

This is definitely not a location for those who relish creature comforts. Premium service is available at a premium, of course, but only in pockets of Manila and other central tourist hubs. Generally, it will be up to travelers to figure out things on their own. The payoff is a more spontaneous, bargain travel experience. Although more unpredictable, it’s likely to be more authentic as well as rewarding.

Widespread use of English takes much stress out of Americans’ traveling. Not having to tote around a dictionary or phrase book means one less burden.

Visitors to the Philippines seem to fit in relatively seamlessly. They are not likely to encounter touts, beggars or throngs of curious children catcalling or following them down the street, and they are likely to be embraced warmly rather than regarded simply as foreigners loaded to the gills with tourist dollars.

Because of a travel advisory issued by the State Department as well as the distance in getting there and then getting around once you do, you’ll find relatively few other tourists with whom to compete. That means more places to choose from and lower prices to pay.

While some travelers relish the challenge of finding transportation in remote areas, others may be appalled at the gouging they may face, with not a lot of options in getting from one place to another. Make sure your travel plans are in order before venturing off the beaten path. Otherwise, you may have a hard time trying to sort them out. Even access to a phone may not be enough. The Philippines is bureaucratic, and someone on the other end of the line is more likely to pass the buck than offer meaningful advice.

Virtually every day, there is news about the killing of a policeman here, a pitched battle with guerrilla forces there. While at the Blind Massage in Cagayan de Oro, my masseuse mentioned that a number of foreigners had disappeared in the area over the past few years and warned me to be careful. The presence of heavily armed police and military helped quash such concerns, but caution is advised, particularly in remote parts of Mindanao, where terrorists are said to be active and supposedly have training camps. Stratfor Intelligence ranks the Philippines third in the world for terrorism, behind Iraq and Pakistan.

Travelers from abroad have nowhere near the same number of options to get to the Philippines as those headed for other Asian destinations, which tends to make international airfares relatively expensive. However, with careful planning, it’s possible to get reasonable fares on Philippine Airlines and a few other carriers that go there.

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