It's fascinating to see one's own country through another set of lenses. On this, my third visit to Bohol, I got to experience this enchanting part of the Philippines from the point of view of someone stepping foot in the country for the first time. A Filipino comes to Bohol and sees the highlights that we've heard about our whole lives: the sublime beaches of Panglao Island, the distinctive swathe of over 1,200 Chocolate Hills, and its famously wee marsupial resident, the tarsier.
Someone new to the country sees all that but also the character of the rural towns and its townfolk. My Dutch travel buddy noted that Boholanos seemed to always be productive. As we drove through the rural streets, the people we passed were walking to school or work in freshly pressed clothes, sweeping or refurbishing their homes, constructing new buildings, or selling homemade snacks to passing cars. To him, all the activity seemed indicative of a province on its way to better things.
I sure hope he's right. Bohol was dealt a difficult hand in 2013, when an intensity 7.2 earthquake rocked the province, destroying many of its prized historic landmarks. Not long after, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the region, disrupting relief efforts and further straining an already embattled province's resources. Eight months later, Bohol seems to have bounced back, though many of its prized 18th century churches are still slowly and painstakingly being restored.
One way of helping Bohol recover is to visit and revive tourism in the area. Though a part of what makes Bohol special was destroyed by the earthquake, there is still much left to enjoy. We chose to skip the typical countryside tour of Bohol and instead saw a few key sights at a relaxed pace. We walked into the forested area inhabited by tarsiers to peek at every little sleeping nocturnal marsupial perched on tree branches and undeneath canopies of leaves. We climbed up the steep vantage point from where there were Chocolate Hills as far as they eye could see. And we capped off our morning of sight-seeing with lunch at Bohol Bee Farm, which is was perhaps my favorite spot. Underneath the trees and with stunning views of this seascape, we dined on the farm's delicious organic fare.
We spend most of our time at our home base, Bellevue Resort Bohol, a relatively new resort that melds modern luxury with plenty of lovely Filipino touches, including indigenous instruments like the kulintang and toys such as sunka in the lobby. Distinctive Filipino textures abound in the interiors: capiz shells, banig weaves and abaca tapestry. The staff are very warm and professional, starting from driver who picked us up at the airport and gave us a friendly and informative tour on the way to the resort. Bellevue's beachfront is quite lovely, though the water recedes considerably in the afternoon, so unless you are a morning person, you will likely end up swimming in the pool most of the time. Not that that's a bad thing; the Bellevue's infinity pool is one of the most stunning pools around.
While the complementary breakfast buffet at the Bellevue was brimming with choices and generally excellent, I thought the a la carte choices can still be improved upon. My go-to dish was the grilled stuffed squid, which was consistently yummy—but I reckon I can make a much better adobo than their kitchen.
Bohol was a nice little getaway from bustling and rainy Manila, particularly at this off-peak monsoon period. We got a few full days of breezy sunshine, but generally the weather was sunny early in the day with some showers in the afternoon. For those visiting the Philippines at this time of the year and seeking a bit of sun and surf, Bohol is a good bet.