Island of 'chocolate kisses': Bohol's beaches beckon from the Philippines

Island of 'chocolate kisses': Bohol's beaches beckon from the Philippines

At the heart of the Philippine archipelago, in the middle of the more well-known triumvirate of neighbouring islands of Cebu, Leyte and Mindanao, Bohol would probably register in most people's minds as the site of a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that rocked the island on Oct 15, 2013.

But Bohol is more than just earthquakes. As it turns out, the island might just be the Philippines' most interesting weekend getaway yet.

Thanks to AirAsia, a bunch of media members managed to discover that on a recent trip. Its Philippines partner AirAsia Zest flies Kuala Lumpur-Manila as well as Manila-Tagbilaran.

Getting there and around

The easiest way to get to Bohol is to fly. From Manila, the plane takes about one-and-a-half hours to reach the island's sole airport, situated just outside Tagbilaran, the island's bustling capital and its only city. It was a pretty good ride on the plane.

Though it's easy enough to drive from one end of the island to the other in about two hours, Bohol is not that small. With a land mass of approximately 4,820sqkm, Bohol is the 25th biggest island in the country. It's home to about 1.2 million people who call themselves Boholanos and speak a local variant of Cebuano, though most also speak English and Tagalog.

Amenities on Bohol are on the rudimentary side: shopping malls are scarce, 3G signals cut out the further you travel from Tagbilaran, and rural areas get pitch dark after nightfall. But there is an upside to compensate for the lack of modern excesses. The slower pace of life - of which Bohol has plenty to give - is definitely most welcome.

Most of the island's hotels are concentrated around Tagbilaran city and its surrounding areas, which are on the south-western tip of the island. We stayed at the beachfront South Palms Resort on Panglao Island. Though not the cheapest, it's certainly worth the money. Resort guests have access to a private beach with soft white sand and clear blue water, and the rooms are well-maintained. There are cheaper options, of course, but pampering is so good for the soul.

While the haphazard layout of the city will present problems to those who suffer from OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), the easiest way to get around is in one of the many motorised trishaws that ply the streets of Tagbilaran. These trishaws, the local equivalent of Thailand's tuk tuk, come in various colours and almost all have a verse from the Bible scripted on its rear.

A bit of history

Like the rest of the Philippines, Bohol was under Spanish rule for centuries during the colonial era. The island, in fact, has the distinction of being the seat of the first international peace treaty between the native king Datu Sikatuna and Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi on March 16, 1565, through a blood compact alliance known today by many Filipinos as the Sandugo. You can visit this little bit of history by paying respect to a bronze sculpture of the signatories overlooking the sea.

Although Boholano culture still contains traces from pre-colonial days, much of local culture - from music to architecture to food - has been influenced by Spanish and Mexican cultures. But the single most enduring colonial legacy is religion.

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