How Bohol Became My Unexpected Happy Place

When I was a kid – just like almost any other child – I used to absolutely love going on holiday. More often than not, I would spend all year looking forward to three things: my birthday, Christmas, and a summer holiday.

It didn’t matter where we went; it could be Spain, Greece, the States or Cornwall – I would count down the days without fail. Just like everything else that I enjoyed though, it was always over too quick. For me, the end of our summer holiday signalled only one thing: back to school. The fun was over and the end of the six week holidays was already in sight.

Cue tantrums. I would sulk, complain and even cry when it was time to go home (I wasn’t a complete brat…honest). It wasn’t that I hated home – far from it – it was just that I absolutely loved my holidays.

Fast forward 15 years (give or take – I still sulked when I was 10) and I’m sat in Tagbilaran airport on Bohol and, for the first time in what feels like forever, I’ve got that sinking feeling in my stomach again. It made a nice change to be upset at the passport desk for reasons other than fear of not being let into the country.

Bohol

I arrived on Bohol with very few expectations. I didn’t really know much about the island, so decided to just turn up and wing it. Doesn’t sound like me, does it?

Perhaps the most valuable thing I’ve learnt throughout my travels is not to have too many expectations. I’ve found that a lot of the places I had heard the most about – Chiang Mai for example – rarely seem to live up to the hype. The places I visit with lower expectations often turn out to be some of the most enjoyable. Sri Lanka is a perfect example of that.

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Sometimes, knowing nothing about a place leads to unexpected discoveries; like this church destroyed in an earthquake a few years ago.

The Philippines very much falls in to the category of somewhere that I didn’t have many expectations of before visiting. I booked the flights on a whim, and at the time I probably couldn’t name any destinations other than Manila and Boracay. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of Bohol until a few days before I booked my flight there.

It’s funny how these things work out. I met my friend at the awesome Coco Farm guesthouse and it was pitch black, but already I could tell I was going to like the place.

What’s to love?

A lot of people I’ve met since Bohol have asked me the same question: What did I love love about Bohol?

It’s a question I struggle to answer. There’s not really one particular thing that made me have such a good time – more a combination of things.

There’s the aforementioned Coco Farm, which has to be one of the cosiest guesthouses I’ve stayed at in a long time. As the name suggests, it’s a coconut farm which also grows all its own produce which, in turn, makes the restaurant there one of the freshest (and nicest!) places to eat in the area. The rooms are reasonably priced for the area and the owner will always go out of his way to give you a tour of the farm, which also has a lookout built by hand out of bamboo. Pretty awesome.

The rather questionable looking bamboo lookout!

The rather questionable looking bamboo lookout!

Accommodation is rarely the sole reason I enjoy a place though, and Bohol was no different. I had a couple of friends who I met earlier on my travels to catch up with on the island, and the combination of late night storytelling and 70 peso (£1) Tanduay rum and Coke helped ensure many heavy nights were had! In fact, I’d go as far as to say my first four nights on Bohol were some of the heaviest I’ve had in a long time – I didn’t get to bed before 5am until my fifth night on the island! It was at this point that I realised I wasn’t 18 any more. At least Coco Farm had hammocks for recovery days…

Sightseeing

Siquijor really made me realise how silly my promise to not ride a scooter again after Vietnam was. Not only do I really enjoy it, but it actually gives you so much freedom and you can end up saving money on sightseeing tours too. Bohol just happens to be a very nice island to ride around too, so it was a win-win situation really!

If you’ve heard of Bohol then it’s probably for one of two reasons.

The first being the iconic Chocolate Hills, which feature on just about every tourist leaflet for the island. These are a collection of lump-like (yes – that is the best way I could describe them) hills that can be seen for miles. The name is derived from the fact that the grass on the hills turns brown during the dry season. As you can see from the picture, we appeared to visit them right in the middle of the wet season!

The famous Chocolate Hills!

The famous Chocolate Hills!

If it isn’t the Chocolate Hills, then the other reason you may have heard of Bohol is for the tarsier monkeys. No, I’d never heard of them either.

Upon seeing pictures of them though, I was very keen to visit the sanctuary. They’re apparently the world’s smallest primate – and they really are tiny! Their rather large eyes give them a very strange look and makes it hard to decide whether they’re cute or ugly little things. I’ll let you guys be the judge of that one.

Cute or ugly: what do you think?

Cute or ugly: what do you think?

Diving

Regular readers will know that recently I’ve been somewhat bitten by the diving bug. I did my first dives since my open water course whilst on Siquijor and – you guessed it – couldn’t wait to dive again once I got to Bohol!

Having booked a couple of dives that were due to start at 9am, I headed back to Coco Farm ready to settle down for a quiet night so I’d be fresh for the morning. Easy peasy, right?

Wrong.

My mate Brian and I popped down to Alona Beach for a spot of dinner and, before we knew it, we were stumbling home again at 5am. I’m my own worst enemy sometimes.

Three hours later, I crawled out of bed still feeling incredibly lightheaded, half asleep, and ready to puke at any given moment. I genuinely considered just not bothering with the dives, but having paid a deposit I decided it would be a shame to not at least go along for the ride and see how I felt.

A few coffees, bananas and mangos later and I soon forgot about any drunken lightheadedness. I guess you could also say these fellas who we stumbled upon on the way to the dive site may have helped a little.

Yep; an absolute shitload of dolphins were swimming along with our boat! Simply awesome.

The diving itself was fun too. I felt a lot more confident than I did on Siquijor and I also managed my breathing a lot better. In other words: we didn’t have to surface early because of me this time – result!

One thing I didn’t manage very well, however, was my Go Pro battery which ran out towards the end of the first dive. Thankfully, the second dive was more about coral than marine life so I didn’t really miss much. Plus, I managed to get a nice shot of one of the many turtles we were swimming with which you can see below!

I arrived on Bohol with no expectations and no plans. A whole week later I left with a new found love for the island. Sometimes the best things in life truly are unexpected.

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7 responses to “How Bohol Became My Unexpected Happy Place

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