Celebrating Tet (Vietnamese New Year) in Vietnam is exhausting, so this year, we decided on a quick getaway to the Philippines. Cebu Pacific offers daily flights and after narrowing down our short list to include Cebu and Bohol Islands, we created an itinerary in Vietnamese (for our family of 9), packed our bags and were off. After landing in Cebu, we zipped down to Oslob, which has been on our radar for a while because of the whale sharks. While we much prefer to see whale sharks in their natural environment, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for our Viet relatives to see these magnificent creatures up close and in person. After a thrilling 30 minute swim with the whale sharks, we boarded a Bangka outrigger boat to Bohol Island where we made our way to Tagbilaran City, our base of operations for nearly a week. Bohol was full of pleasant surprises, with some highlights including a visit to the elusive tarsier (one of the smallest primates in the world), zip-lining over the Loboc River, swimming at Mag-Aso Falls, and beach-hopping beautiful Panglao. From Bohol, we took a high speed ferry back to Cebu, where two days was enough to check out the city, indulge in yummy lechon, and squeeze in some last minute shopping. Traveling with our extended Vietnamese family was challenging at times but we had a blast. However, we did agree that our next visit to the Philippines will be just the two of us as thresher sharks of Malapascua remain on our bucket list!
Misc details from our 14-26 Feb trip to Oslob, Cebu & Bohol.
Flight: Cebu Pacific ($276 round trip from SGN-MNL-CEB including check-in up to 20 KG). Be sure to book your flights early (at least 3 months in advance) to get the best deals. We had a late addition to our group and her ticket cost a whopping $535 without baggage allowance. On the return flight, Cebu Pacific delayed our CEB-MNL leg by 5 hours, leaving us with only 1 hour to transfer from the domestic to the international airport in Manila for our outbound flight back to Saigon. They did offer to change our return flight for free but made no offer for free hotel/food. Thankfully, the first flight departed on time and we made it to our outbound flight with minutes to spare. We were amazed that all our luggage arrived safely in Saigon with the super tight connection!
Oslob: Our group of 9 was split between 2 hotels, Casa De Estefania (2400 PHP for 4 guests in 2 rooms) and Guilly’s Place (1800 PHP for 5 guests in 2 rooms). Both hotels cater for budget travelers, with AC, hot showers, free wifi and an easy walk into town. Guilly’s was cheaper but just as clean/pleasant as Casa. However, Guilly’s did try to rip us off on the tricycle hire so we booked through the guys at Casa De Estefania instead (2 tricycles for 9 pax at 100 PHP each for the whale sharks and Tumalog Waterfall and return). Highly recommend leaving at 5:30 am as Oslob is well on the tourist map and was insanely crowded at 6 am!
Tagbilaran: G&A Apartments (3 apartments for up to 10 guests for 6 nights was 15,990 PHP) with AC, cold shower. Equipped with kitchenette including stovetop, rice cooker, water boiler, fridge/freezer and dishes, which was perfect for self-catering. Friendly caretaker on hand to address any issues/concerns. Within walking distance of Marcela Mall and Cogon Public Market, and an easy 10 PHP tricycle ride from ICM (Island City Mall) and the nearby massive Tagbilaran Central Public Market. No WiFi here so buy a SIM card with data to stay connected.
Panglao: Adriana’s Place near Dumaluan Beach. 3 budget double bungalows (5137 PHP) and 3 beds in a mixed dorm (2280 PHP) at a simple, rustic setting. Adriana’s is about 500 meters from the beach, which has a 25 PHP entrance fee (10 PHP for seniors or kids). In retrospect, we would have preferred to extend our stay in Tagbilaran and just done day trips to Panglao’s beaches because food in Panglao is limited and expensive, and it was better to self cater, plus G&A Apartments was way more comfortable and private.
Cebu: TeoFel Pension (5 rooms for 9 guests for 8082 PHP). Rooms were comfortable with AC, free wifi, lukewarm showers. Right across the street from a 7/11 convenience store and easy walking distance from Cebu’s old city highlights. Some great eats in this city…don’t miss the Lechon!
Oslob: Whale Watching – get there super early as this is deservedly popular and was crazy crowded, even at 6 am! 500 PHP to sit in the boat, 1000 PHP to snorkel, can rent GoPro for 500 PHP if you don’t have one. Combine a visit to the Tumalog Waterfall afterwards.
Bohol: We booked a van for several days through Sherwin (www.boholcarvanrentals.com). Sherwin is a super nice guy who offers good value. Van hire to comfortably sit 9 pax for 8 hours was a reasonable 2500 PHP including gas and driver.
Bohol island highlights included: Tarsier Sactuary (60 PHP), Chocolate Hills (50 PHP), Loboc Zipline (400 PHP), Loboc River Cruise & lunch (500 PHP), Bilar Man-made Forest, Butterfly Garden (45 PHP), Python Wildlife Park (45 PHP), Blood Compact Site and Aproniana Souvenir Shop.
Panglao highlights included: Dauis Church, Hinagdanan Cave (125 PHP including swim), and beach-hopping: Momo (tons of seaweed, not well maintained), Doljo Beach (nice picnic lunch spot), Alona Beach (crowded but the family enjoyed it), Libaong Beach (beautiful and crowd-free).
Mag-Aso Waterfall: This was a DIY on the cheap using jeepney transport, which was quite the experience since we didn’t realize the jeepney will not leave until absolutely stuffed full of passengers! It was a hot, sweaty, long ride but cheap at only 30 PHP for the ride out to Antequera (departing from Marcela Mall). Our Jeepney driver even offered to drop us off at the waterfall for an additional 10 PHP per person…deal! Entrance to the waterfall was 20 PHP each, and we spent several hours here having a picnic lunch and enjoying our swim.
Cebu: Tripadvisor to the rescue! We booked a van (3500 PHP) for a full day tour through Danny Noy (firstname.lastname@example.org), Tel: +63 906 153 4659 or +63 922 463 3757. Highlights visited: Lapu-Lapu Monument, Heritage of Cebu Monument, Yap Sandiego Ancestral House, Fort San Pedro, Carbon Public Market, Church and Convent of Santo Nino, Magellan’s Cross, lunch at House of Lechon, Cebu Taoist Temple and the Temple of Leah. We opted to skip Tops Lookout since the view from Temple of Leah was similar.
Alcohol: Dirt cheap in the Philippines. We stocked up on rum ($1.5 per bottle) and gin ($2). Good deals on tequila, vodka and premium labels too. All 9 of us exceeded our alcohol allowance but luckily there was no customs staff on duty at 1 am in Tan Son Nhat International Airport so we breezed through without having to pay customs…yay!