A year-ender trip to Bohol with my âwriting sistersâ, thanks to Philippine Airlinesâ Mabuhay Miles, re-introduced me to the islandâs many charms, as well as to the benefits of being almost obsessive-compulsive about tracking oneâs miles. There, I found the perfect place to let my hair down, catch up with friends old and new, and ground myself for the year ahead. As we begin another year of travel planning, Iâd like to share my list of personal favorites from this island getawayâbut donât take my word for it. Head out there to explore Bohol the way you want to, and make sure to bring along your favorite people for a truly soulful ride.
Bluewater Panglao's pool makes you want to lounge the whole day
1. Bluewater Panglao: The perfect backdrop for detoxing from city stress.
For three girls who had been working and beating writing deadlines all year âround (including weekends!), the accommodations and the ambience at Bluewater Panglao provided a fitting backdrop for stress-free mornings and all-night girl talk over wine and juicy morsels of gossip and life stories. A 30-to-45-minute ride from bustling Tagbilaran City, the resort is practically hidden from prying eyes and makes the perfect tropical retreat for couples, families, and intimate groups in search of some quiet time. The resortâs pool welcomes guests with its strategically situated lounge chairs, but what I enjoyed the most was waking up early in the morning to take a âZen meditationâ walk around Bluewater Panglaoâs manicured garden. If I were to go back, Iâd definitely try Amuma Spaâs Signature Hilot (Massage).
The author (center) with her writing sisters Nikka Sarthou and Ana Santos from Writer's Block Philippines
Taking a Zen meditation walk at Bluewater Panglao's lush sprawling garden
Bluewater Panglao Beach Resort
Address: Barangay Danao, Panglao Island, Bohol, Philippines
Phone: (+63 38) 416 06 95 to 96
2. Aplaya Restaurant: Gustatory indulgence, Bluewater-style.
From its honest-to-goodness smorgasbord of breakfast treats to its vegetarian-friendly dishes for the health-conscious, Aplaya Restaurant at Bluewater Panglao gives everyone a good reason to indulge and feed the tummy well. My healthy favorites were the Mixed green salad in guava vinaigrette and fresh fruits
and the Native fresh lumpia
, while the meat-eater in me enjoyed the Minute steak in herb red wine sauce
and the Pork roulade in cranberry sauce
. For breakfast, I indulged in Cinnamon-sprinkled French toast
; rich, dark Sikwate (Filipino hot chocolate)
; deep-fried danggit and dilis
; and all the other sinangag
(fried rice)-based goodies that Pinoys love to pile on their plate. For those with sweet teeth, you have to try (and bring home) some of the Double-chocolate peppermint
or the White Chocolate with pecan cookies
. Since we were going on tour for the rest of the day, we didnât mind piling on the carbs. The dishes and goodies were worth the calories!
Aplaya's Mixed green salad in guava vinaigrette and fresh fruits
Desserts at Aplaya make you want to indulge and forget your diet
3. Bohol Bee Farm: The healthy goodness of Mother Nature.
Although we werenât able to head to the Bohol Bee Farm early enough to see the bees, what we did enjoy there was a sumptuous, healthy dinnerâand pasalubong shopping for the folks back home. Dishes youâll love: Organic garden salad with honey mustard dressing
, Seafood lasagna
(which was quite a revelation and didnât taste âseafood-yâ at all), Honeyglazed chicken
, Baked spare ribs
, Baked tilapia
, and Organic red rice with camote
. We also got to sample the exotic, must-try flavors of Spicy Ginger
ice cream. While youâre there, make sure to bring home some of the Chocolate spread
(which has the rich, dark flavors of tablea tsokolate), Pesto spread
, and, of course, some honey.
Bee Happy at the Bohol Bee Farm
A healthy dinner at the Bohol Bee Farm
Bohol Bee Farm ice cream flavors
Bohol Bee Farm is also a bed & breakfast and offers charming, country-style accommodations with a quaint, semi-indoor pool.
Address: Dao, Dauis, Panglao Island, Bohol
Phone: (+63 38) 510 1822, (+63 917) 710 1062
Cafe Lawis' charming facade, behind the Dauis Church
4. CafÃ© Lawis: Perfect for soulful coffee.
conversations and romantic sunset strolls. As we wandered into the picturesque, tree-lined street right behind Dauis Church in Panglao, we chanced upon a 19th-century-inspired structure and realized that CafÃ© Lawis is one of those not-yet-popular pit stops that reflect the true, quiet charm of Bohol. Serving a curiosity-inducing fusion of European and Filipino flavors (Pork humba Panini or freshly baked Tsokolate eh soufflÃ© cake, anyone?), its interiors show Old World-Filipiniana details as well as a showcase of Dauis life and Boholano handicrafts. The real treat of this destination, though, is its expansive garden that opens up to a breathtaking view of the sea. The gardenâs focal point is a large acacia tree whose leaves form a laced canopy, andâsince we went there in Decemberâwas adorned with rectangular capiz lamps that gave the effect of large fireflies in an enchanted forest. It is best viewed at around sunset, with your loved ones (or at least the memory of them) by your side.
A romantic twilight view at the garden behind Cafe Lawis
Address: Poblacion Dauis, Bohol
Phone: (+63 38) 502 3016
A portion of the Dauis Church complex
5. The churches of Bohol: Culturally, historically divine.
Boholâs many churches are not only testaments of the island provinceâs deep connection with the Christian faith, they are also, in themselves, cultural gems that give us a glimpse of the Philippinesâ architectural past. The Baclayon Church, for instance, is considered one of the oldest churches in the Philippines and was completed in 1727. Its main structure was built with coral stones that had been crushed and made into building blocks, while its cuadro paintings were made in 1859 by a famous Filipino painter, Liberato Gatchalian. The Dauis Church, meanwhile, has evolved from light materials such as nipa into its current Gothic-inspired structure, and features a ceiling that has been painted to give the illusion of having three-dimensional coffer designs. The Dauis Church is also home to âMama Maryâs Wellâ, a deep well located right below the churchâs altar, from which Holy Water may be obtained and bought for a small donation.
A portion of the Baclayon Church which, according to locals, shows a miraculous image of Padre Pio... Do you see it?
Bohol is home to several other churches, each with their own interesting story to tell and their own contributions to Philippine history, culture, architecture, and faith.
The Blood Compact Monument
6. The Sandugo: A proud tribal tradition and a symbol of Filipino diplomacy.
The sandugo, literally meaning âone bloodâ, was a tribal tradition that involved two equal parties drawing blood from their wrists and drinking each otherâs blood to seal a treaty of friendship. In the Philippines, the most famous blood compact is that between the Datu Sikatuna of Bool and the Spanish explorer Miguel LÃ³pez de Legazpi, which occurred in March 1565. This historical event and the first instance of Philippine diplomacy is commemorated through the Blood Compact Monument sculpted by proud Boholano and National Artist Napoleon Abueva, located in the capital city of Tagbilaran. I had been told by a mentor in the cultural scene that an important meaning of the blood compact is the fact that, in contracting it with LÃ³pez de Legazpi, Datu Sikatuna and his party saw themselves as co-equalsânot conquestsâof the Spaniards. Unfortunately, there are no tour guides present at the site to explain the significance of the blood compact to visitors.
Blood Compact Monument
Address: Barangay Bool, Tagbilaran City, Bohol
7. The Chocolate Hills, the Loboc River, and the Bilar Man-Made Forest: Some of Natureâs most awe-inspiring gifts. Whose grand design was it to sprinkle Bohol with over a thousand conical karst formations that someone would eventually name after chocolate? And whose idea was it to give Loboc a long stretch of tranquil, emerald-green waters that are now perfect for the highly popular Loboc River lunch cruise? And while the Bilar Man-Made Forest is, as the name suggests, man-made, it certainly isnât Man who made mahogany the majestic tree that it is, giving the two-kilometer stretch its almost-mystical quality. When you get to Bohol and behold these treasures from Mother Earth, remember to say a prayer of thanks and make earth-consciousness and conservation a part of your agenda for 2012.
The view from the emerald-green waters of the Loboc River
Bilar Man-Made Forest
The Tarsier Conservation Area in Loboc, Bohol
8. The Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary: A great reason to be proud of Boholâs conservation efforts. Speaking of conservation: the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary in Corella, Bohol is a 167-hectare sanctuary housing over a hundred of the worldâs tiniest primates, known for their cuddly appearance and their unique combination of bat ears, owl eyes, monkey hands, frog feet, and mouse tails . Built through partnerships between the Philippine government and the private sector, the sanctuary offers the tiny tarsiers a secure environment in which they can live, move, and reproduce freelyâsafe from the hands of greedy poachers. Aside from research, conference, and some basic tourist facilities (including clean restrooms!), the sanctuary features a âTarsier Trailâ where visitors can safely view the tarsiers in their natural habitat.
Meet the tarsier, the world's smallest primate and a source of Boholano pride
9. The Loboc Childrenâs Choir: The most angelic voices in this side of the world. Another source of pride for Boholanos is the Loboc Childrenâs Choir, a group of pre-adolescent singers who are renowned in different parts of the world for their stirring, haunting (and, for me, spine-tingling) renditions of some of the worldâs most popular choral songs (such as Ave Maria and Panis Angelicus), Filipino folk favorites (such as Leron Leron Sinta and Sa Ugoy ng Duyan), and even political anthems from the 1986 EDSA Revolution (such as Bayan Ko and Handog). Their latest album, âRiver of Songsâ pays tribute to the equally renowned Loboc River and is available at the river terminal, just before you board the boat for the cruise.
For more information about the Loboc Childrenâs Choir:
10. Traveling for free (through airline miles) and with your dearest friends: As a famous TV ad goes, âPriceless.â There is nothing better than enjoying a pampering vacation with the help of your airline miles, especially when youâre in the company of some of your dearest friends and other newfound traveling buddies who can make the trip even more worthwhile. More than Boholâs natural wonders, sumptuous dishes, and quaint pit stops, what made this trip truly soulful for me were our long conversations, late-night wine sessions, inside jokes, and freshly made memories. Like life itself, this trip to me was more about the journey than the destination, and I look forward to having more of this in the months ahead.
Photos by NiÃ±a Terol-Zialcita and Nikka Sarthou. Additional photos by Bea Acosta.