NATURALLY, a Bohol vacation would not be complete without a visit to the Chocolate Hills and the Tarsier Foundation. Bellevue can arrange a day tour through the countryside or an early morning boat ride to see the dolphins. PHOTO BY PJ ENRIQUEZ
The Philippines is famous for its New Year’s Eve celebrations, especially when they’re held by the sea or on the beach. We decided to go to Bohol and celebrate the crossover, and it seemed like the right choice.
Of course, traveling with family means a list of requirements that has to be met. A venue has to be child-friendly, have big rooms, good food and ample things for the wife and kids to do so I can go around and take pictures, which is always the ultimate motivation for my travels.
We decided on Bellevue Resort on Panglao Island. Just a little over a year old, the five-star resort on Doljo Beach turned out to be the ideal home base for our New Year holiday by the sea.
Bellevue Bohol is the sister hotel of Bellevue in Alabang, developed by entrepreneur Johnny Chan. It is the third hotel in the group and the first outside Metro Manila.
Sitting on a secluded beach at the tip of Panglao Island, the resort boasts 159 luxury rooms. The rooms are actually quite spacious and perfect for our family of four, but in reality the two queen-sized beds were large enough for two adults each.
It has three dining establishments to make sure you don’t go hungry, two bars, a spa, gym, a game room for both big and small kids, and an infinity pool overlooking majestic Doljo Beach.
We arrived just a little after lunch, so we decided to spend the rest of the day in the resort. I wanted to relax after the long flight (thanks to the delays), and give the kids a chance to explore the resort.
Being by the sea gave my family options for beach adventures. The minute the kids looked out of the balcony, they decided to take advantage of the low tide to look for interesting shells and marine life trapped in small pockets of water.
When the tide came in, we transferred to the infinity pool, where kids could continue playing under the watchful eye of the lifeguard and our piña coladas.
The evening would be capped off by table tennis, foosball and air hockey at the game room.
When I first visited the resort, they promised me a memorable experience. True enough, Supertyphoon “Yolanda” covered up the resort’s normally picturesque view and battered its coastline with strong winds and rain.
Returning a month later, the scene was a little different, as the skies were once again blue and the resort was filled almost to capacity.
You cannot visit Bohol and not see some if its iconic landmarks and attractions. One day is normally enough to see the Chocolate Hills, go on the Loboc River, see some churches and visit Bohol’s most famous resident, the tarsier.
So the next day, the kids dragged me out of bed at 6 a.m. so we could get an early start. After a filling breakfast at Lamian, Bellevue’s main restaurant, we headed out.
It was a sunny and great day to tour the countryside. Our first stop was the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park or CHAP, one of Bohol’s newest attractions, not too far from the original viewpoint in Carmen.
Apart from giving the island another vantage point to view the world-renowned Chocolate Hills, the place also had an adventure trail and mini reptile exhibit, and coming soon, a zip-line.
After CHAP, we worked our way back to the resort, stopping at key attractions along the way. Next was the Butterfly Sanctuary, followed by the Man-made Forest, before we finally arrived at the Tarsier Foundation, which was, according to my son, the only reason he agreed we leave the resort.
The experience was short but memorable, as there is no guarantee that you will see a lot of the tarsiers, given that they were in a natural sanctuary.
We also stopped at several damaged churches for my daughter to take pictures. She had heard of the devastating earthquake in October last year, and wanted to document what she saw—so that she could enlighten her schoolmates on the current state of the island.
Bohol has a total of 47 churches, and quite a number of chapels throughout the island as well. The local government has pretty much cleaned up the rubble and is in the process of sorting out what can be salvaged.
At Baclayon, where the belfry collapsed, most of the rubble has been cleared, and visitors can now visit the museum at the back of the church.
Of course, not all the churches were as lucky. Loboc Church, when viewed from the famous bridgeway that really doesn’t go anywhere, seems to have been cut in three places. Peering through the ruins, you can still see the artwork on the ceiling. Loay Church also suffered great damage and is closed, but you can still view it from the outside.
Of course, there are churches that bore the brunt of the earthquake, like the ones in Loon and Maribojoc. According to eyewitnesses, they collapsed within seconds. Bohol Tourism is now trying to find alternate churches to include in its tours.
We got back at almost 5 p.m., forgetting that the New Year’s Eve beach party would start at 6 p.m. But Bellevue has always been great at making everything almost worry-free. Apart from arranging our Bohol tour, they also planned out our New Year’s Eve, so that what to eat and drink were the only decisions we had to make. Sometimes it’s nice to not have to think, especially after a long day of sightseeing.
The table was reserved on the beach near the buffet, as per my request, and there was Holy Mass at 8 p.m. and entertainment in the form of fire dancers and a live band.
The chefs prepared an amazing buffet of seafood, and Filipino and international favorites. The lechon, naturally, was a crowd-pleaser, as well as the fresh seafood.
As it got close to midnight, party poppers and horns were given out to all the guests. I realize now that it was a mistake to do the tour on New Year’s Eve, as the kids were already in bed. So we decided to leave the beach area and head on to our room to be with them as 2013 winded down.
The fireworks display was amazing, lighting up the sky around Doljo Beach, while in the distance, you could see other fireworks going off at random intervals. It was a perfect way to welcome 2014.
A few days later, we were headed home. As we sat in our car heading to the airport, my son asked me when we would be coming back. Clearly, Bohol had made an impact on him, and with summer just around the corner, I could think of worse places for our next family vacation. Then he said, “But after, let’s go to Legoland.”