Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Panglao Island, Philippines

Scott had Monday off for Memorial Day so we took advantage of the long weekend and headed to another island. Trying to decide which of the 7,000 islands to go to was a little hard but after a lot of research and talking with some locals, we decided on Panglao Island. The island is 80 square kilometers and attached, by bridge, to another island called Bohol. Panglao is similar to the popular Boracay Island with long stretches of white sand beaches, crystal clear water and also one of the best dive sites in the world. After booking our trip I came across an article by Travel and Leisure Magazine that named Panglao Island one of 15 "Best Kept Secret Beaches on Earth". So as you can imagine, I was very excited to head there for the weekend. Another reason we chose this island was to tour around Bohol. There is a lot of history in Bohol but the two main attractions I was looking forward to seeing were the Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers.  More on that later...

We arrived into Bohol's Tagbilaran airport mid afternoon and was greeted by Nito, the hotel driver. Our hotel, Linaw Beach Resort, is located in the southern end of Panglao Island so takes about 30 minutes to get there from the airport. The most popular beach in Panglao is Alona Beach. In this area, you will find numerous restaurants/bars, shops and hotels. When I say hotels, I am referring to places that have about 10 - 16 rooms. So not your typical American hotel. At first I planned on staying on Alona Beach but most of the hotel rooms along this beach looked pretty run down with little to no amenities included. I was also told if you stay on Alona Beach, you will get hounded by Filipino's selling day tours, asking for massages or selling some sort of product. So we decided on having a more peaceful trip and chose a place which was as little bit removed from Alona Beach; five minutes by car. 
Motorized tricycles are everywhere on the island and one of the main modes of transportation.  
A glimpse of the island while we drove to our hotel.
Linaw Beach Resort, is owned by a Belgian couple who bought it as their second home and then decided to convert it into a hotel. There are a total of 14 rooms in the hotel and they are currently adding 4 more. Our room was on the second floor with a very nice balcony and amazing views.  This hotel also had a swimming pool which is rare for the island unless you are staying at one of the more upscale resorts but spending $175+ a night.  For us, this was the perfect location and hotel for our weekend away from Manila.

I took this picture standing on the beach on the backside of the resort.  Our room is hidden by the cone-shaped tree.
One of the many areas you can relax during your stay.
The game room.
The restaurant had a very extensive menu and good food but the service was dreadfully slow. They definitely were on island time!
Could not ask for better views from our hotel room balcony.
Now it is time to relax on the beach!
We were told ahead of time that the beach might have a lot of seaweed which it did. 
We definitely saw some beautiful sunsets while we were there.
The drinks were very reasonable at the hotel so we would start our evenings at the hotel pool bar talking with Ray, the bartender, who knew a lot about American basketball and baseball.
 Two of the three nights we headed to Alona beach for dinner and listened to some live music. If you like seafood then this is the place for you. At most restaurants, you walk up to a seafood counter, pick out your fish and then tell them how you want it prepared.  
I went out of my comfort zone and chose the Lapu-Lapu. I had it in Manila, a mild white fish, but never in its entirety.
Steamed and ready to eat. First I had to debone it which was a daunting task because I have not filleted a fish in a long time and it was pretty dark outside. However, misson accomplished and I was pretty proud of myself since I only found one bone during my entire meal. I promise you, it tasted a lot better than it looks!
Several restaurants had bands performing.
 Nice ambience with the lights in the trees.
Both nights we took the motorized tricycles back to the hotel.  

Sunday was a full day of tours around Bohol. We had a private guide but he did not speak the greatest English so it felt more like a self-guided tour with a driver. The first stop was to the Blood Compact Monument, a very important event in Philippine history. The blood compact on March 16, 1565 between the Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legaspi and native chieftain, Rajah Sikatuna was the first treaty of friendship between Filipinos and Spaniards. As a native custom of that time, the two sealed their friendship through a blood compact where both drew two to three drops of blood from their arms, mixed it with wine and drank the cup. The event, called Sandugo ("one blood'), is celebrated in Bohol every year and the Sandugo is also depicted on Bohol's provincial flag and seal.
The Baclayon Church, built in 1595, is considered one of the oldest in the Philippines.
You can see an image on the facade. Our guide told us this was the face of Father Damaso but after further research I learned he is a character in one of Dr. Jose Rizal's novels. So I am not really sure who it is.
Continuing on with more churches, we stopped at the Roman Catholic church in the town called Alburquerque, Bohol.  
The town of Alburquerque, or Albur for short, has the longest (23 feet) and heaviest (660 lbs) python in captivity. I am NOT a snake person but the guide stopped so we got out of the van to take a look.
It definitely is big! 
Moving right along, we stopped at the Butterfly Conservation Center. We had a nice orientation from a local guide who took us through the life cycle from egg to caterpillar, pupa then butterfly.  She also showed us the biggest butterfly and moth in the Philippines and then escorted us into the butterfly garden.
Not sure of the significance of the lizard at a butterfly center but I took this picture exactly when it went for a bug. They sure have long tongues.

The moment had finally arrived and we made it to the Tarsier conservatory. Tarsiers are very small fury nocturnal primates with long tails, enormous eyes, bat-like ears and long fingers and toes. They can also turn their head 180 degrees in both directions without moving its body. Tarsiers are roughly between 4 - 6 inches in length,  3-6 ounces and their top speed is about 24 mph. They are carnivores eating mainly insects, lizards and birds. Sadly, with their declining population, they are now considered an endangered species.

Declared as the country's third National Geological Monument, the Chocolate Hills is a must see attraction in Bohol. The dome-shaped hills are made of grass covered limestone. During the dry season the grass turns a chocolate brown and looks like a bunch of chocolate kisses; hence the inspiration behind the name. There is an estimated 1,776 individual mounds spread over 20 miles.

The plaque at the viewing area explains the formation.
"The unique land form known as the Chocolate Hills of Bohol was formed ages ago by the uplift of coral deposits and the action of rain water and erosion. The grassy hills were once coral reefs that erupted from the sea in a massive geologic shift. Wind and water put on the finishing touches over hundreds of thousands of years".

The last thing I wanted to do on a very hot and humid day was to walk up stairs, 214 to be exact, to reach a viewing deck. You would think there would have been some sort of breeze once you made it to the top but it was just stifling hot! I still can't wrap my head around all the women who wear jeans or long pants during the day.

It looked like it was about to rain but held out until we were back in the van.

There must be something about swinging bridges and the two of us because this is the third one we have been on together.  We stopped briefly at the hanging bamboo bridge which is about 40 meters long and crosses the Sipatan River.  Walking onto the bridge was a little frightening at first because the bamboo bends under your feet and there is side to side swaying and bouncing even with the support of steel cables.  
The last part of the tour is a buffet lunch on a motorized banca (outrigger canoe) down the Loboc River. Our guide basically dropped us off at the front entrance, pointed to the entrance area and said pick your boat and I will see you in one hour. Of the four boat companies, we selected the one with the biggest variety on the buffet and off we went. This is supposed to be a "must see/do" attraction while in Bohol and perhaps if it wasn't 95 degrees (fells like 105) and humid with absolutely no breeze I might have enjoyed it more, but all I wanted to do for the hour on the boat was get off it and into an air-conditioned car!  
 This women's main job on the boast was to swat away the flies who were trying to enjoy our buffet.
Loboc River
We stopped midway to be entertained by some local Filipino's welcoming us to Bohol with their traditional folk dancing.  
 The full day tour has ended and although I could have missed a few of the stops along the way it was a great overview of Bohol and would recommend it to anyone who visited this beautiful island.

For our last night on Panglao we decided to relax, have drinks by the pool and dinner at the hotel restaurant. I read they had an amazing seafood platter that you had to pre-order at least 4 hours ahead. Somewhat skeptical on how good it might be, Scott and I decided to take our chances and pre-order the platter before heading out on our tour.  

Drinks by the pool...
They set up a very nice table outside facing the ocean. We did not eat that much on the boat cruise so we were both pretty hungry and ready to dive into our seafood platter.  
YES, that is our seafood platter! Consisting of 4 crabs, 3 lobster tails, half a dozen oysters, half a dozen clams, a bunch of grilled and boiled shrimp, grilled squid, some sort of cold seafood melody, fried rice and a salad.  All for $30 US total.  
A closer look...
All gone! Remember, I said we were hungry. ha ha
Monday arrived and it was time to head back to Manila. Our flight was not till 3:30pm so we had time to head back to Alona beach to walk around since we had not been there during the daytime.
Our last motorized tricycle ride back to the hotel.
 Good-bye Panglao Island!  Thank you for a perfect weekend getaway!
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