If you’ve been reading our blog posts over the past years and months, you probably think we’ve been leading the life of Riley, which we have obviously. But it doesn’t always go to plan.
When we finished our birding tour of The Philippines we vowed that we would never do a small group tour again without knowing who we were travelling with. The perpetual whingeing of Mrs Grumpy, 2.30am starts and some pretty crappy accommodation saw to that. So we were very much looking forward to travelling on our own for a while in The Philippines before another small group tour cycling through Vietnam (oops – how did that happen!)
Manila had been voted one of our least favourite cities in the world to date but we had to fly out of Manila to reach Bohol and our next island paradise Pamilican Island, which meant another noisy hotel near the airport and some slowly-delivered, mediocre food. This is not our hotel but they are houses.
Then things took a turn for the worse. We had an email from Cebu Pacific Air advising us of a change to our direct flight from Manila to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam in a week’s time. We had a few hours of leeway in our schedule but Cebu decided that rebooking us on a flight 3 days later than planned was fine!
We checked the alternatives. There weren’t any. No other direct flights to HCMC that day. We checked the day before and the day after. Nothing. So out came the maps. Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Singapore. All were way further than HCMC but at least there were some flights to each of them. After 3 hours of comparing options, checking availability and reorganising other flights that had already been booked, we had a plan. Leave a day early, fly to Kuala Lumpur, stay the night there and fly from KL to HCMC to meet George and start our bike tour. So 2 days to do what was originally going to take 5 hours. Thank goodness for wifi – at least we had our next island paradise to look forward to.
A few days in Bohol to unwind after the bird tour were very welcome. We stayed at a lovely riverside eco-resort called The Fox & The Firefly – great veggie food, mountain biking, stand-up paddle boarding and lovely views over the rice fields.
From here, we headed north to Bilar where we stayed at the cute Habitat Bohol Butterfly Garden for a couple of days of birding with a local guide and a trip to the famous Chocolate Hills. The birding was tough, as ever in The Philippines (not a single bird in the first 2 hours walking the trails in a national park) but we picked up a number of target birds eventually, thanks to the keen eyes and ears of our guide. Strangely, it was easier to find mammals than birds with multiple views of Flying Lemurs or Colugos. These are not true lemurs and they don’t really fly but they can glide up to 100m between trees. Although they generally live high in the canopy and are nocturnal, we were lucky enough to see 4 different ones and even saw one gliding.
We also saw a Philippine civet cat and a number of squirrel species almost all before the first bird. Suddenly, the birds came in a small flurry including this magnificent Northern Silvery Kingfisher.
A park ranger also led us down a steep scramble to point out a day roost for a pair of nocturnal Philippine Frogmouth.
2 minutes later, he had located a lovely pair of Philippine Trogon for good measure.
When we got back to Habitat Bohol, we asked about an owl’s roost that had recently been reported there. The guide who knew its location, Julius, was not there, but they phoned him and he came to see if he could find it. Unfortunately, it had not returned to its normal spot but he did have a nice surprise for us.
A pair of Philippine Tarsiers right behind our accommodation. What a treat to see these in the wild when most people visit a Tarsier sanctuary on Bohol to have a chance of seeing one of the world’s smallest primates.
The next day we were off to the iconic view of Bohol, the Chocolate Hills. A series of almost 1300 near-identical 30-50m high hills spread over 50 sq km that look like chocolate in the dry season when there is no vegetation on them.
After climbing the viewing platform, we travelled to Baclayon in southern Bohol where we had arranged for a boat to take us to the small, idyllic-looking Pamilican island for 5 (now 4) nights. When we got there the sea looked pretty choppy and the boat looked rather small. We boarded with an extremely loud Chinese family and were soon bouncing over the waves, getting soaked every time the boat crashed back down into the surf. The 45 minute journey took twice that as the captain skillfully avoided the worst of the waves and got us there safely, albeit soaked to the skin!
Our accommodation was right on the beach, which stank of bad eggs and had a resident population of feral dogs who used it as a giant litter tray. We were greeted by Elvira, the owner of the cottages, who told us straight away that they rely on rainwater. It ran out 2 weeks ago. The Chinese family moved in next door and shouted a lot. Probably about not having any water.
Food and drink is always a comfort and small islands with only a few cottages and a fishing village must have delicious seafood and cold beer. So to the menu….bratwurst (German sausage), chips (£8 a portion), burgers, schnitzel, instant noodles. Oh bugger! They did have beer.
We stayed the night and decided that perhaps we needed an accommodation upgrade and an airport transfer that didn’t involve a potentially sketchy sea crossing in a bathtub.
So we found a place, left early in the morning after a marine-life free dolphin tour and headed back to Bohol. When we reached the port, there were no taxis so we opted for local transport in the form of a small tricycle. The poor little moped coughed its way up the hills and shuddered down the rough tracks but we made it. And we liked our choice.
Normal service resumed! A few days of stand-up paddle boarding, sea kayaking and swimming with lots of nice food and drink and we were ready for the next challenge to come in Vietnam.