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Part 2: Cebu, Bohol

23.8: Kuala Lumpur -> Cebu
24.8: Cebu
25.8: Cebu
26.8: Cebu -> Bohol -> Cebu
27.8: Cebu
28.8: Cebu -> KL -> Kota Bharu

23.8: Kuala Lumpur -> Cebu
Costabella Tropical Beach hotel, Mactan island (near Cebu). 6500 Pesos for a room with two queen site beds, elegantly furnished with a table+chair. an armchair, phone, fridge, LCD TV (not that big), cupboard for clothes, some drawers, tea making equipment, small hair dryer, toilet with bathtub/shower (little water, hard to adjust the temperature). The hotel is quite old and hasn't been renovated for a long time.
Old infrastructure: door opens with a mechanical key, A/C weak and not adjustable. The only two directly available power sockets are next to the tea making equipment, far away from the table or the beds. Bring an extension cord with a power strip, otherwise you won't be able to recharge your smartphone(s), tablets, camera, notebook etc.
Breakfast not included. It costs 600 pesos/adult and 360 pesos/child, i.e. 1920 pesos for a family of four, quite pricey. Even more expensive than a breakfast in a hotel in Germany.
The hotel has two small pools and an own sandy beach, which is unusable at low tide, because the seabed becomes exposed and you have to walk on the rocky seabed to reach the water.
Free Internet available in the room. However it is so slow and impractical to be essentially unusable (browser login procedure which must be repeated every time you connect). I'm forced to use a mobile phone to connect to the Internet.
This hotel could be ok, but at 6500 pesos/night and no breakfast it's way overpriced. At half or one third the price it would be a good deal.
Weather: sunny in Kuala Lumpur. Mosty sunny with some clouds in Cebu. No rain.

We get up at 7am, then fetch a taxi to KLIA2 before 8am, arriving there around 8:45am. We check in, then have some breakfast and proceed to the gate.

The Airasia flight takes off at 10:50am with a small delay, then lands in Cebu on time at 2:40pm. Aging infrastructure in the Cebu airport: the airport looks pretty old and could well need a renovation.

Long queue at the passport check counters. We only manage to get through passport control at 3:20pm. Then we retrieve the luggage, get some cash from an ATM and take a taxi to the hotel.

First impression about the Philippines: seems a bit like Thailand, although the streets in Thailand are cleaner and people probably are more wealthy. The Philippines seem more "Americanised" than the rest of southeast Asia. Not so many Chinese as for instance in Malaysia (at least in this area). Pretty run down streets, food stalls and street cookeries don't inspire confidence - not sure I would eat there. But perhaps I need to get used to the somehow different environment.
Streets in some sections are not paved.

The taxi costs 375 pesos (fixed price) for a distance of 9km, which is not too expensive, although more expensive than in Malaysia. Probably it's cheaper if you wave down a taxi somewhere else.

We reach the hotel after 4pm and check-in. The receptionist is quick to point out that the room price is not 26000 pesos (for 5 nights) as shown in the booking.com email, but 26000 pesos + 25% = 32500 pesos. I'm tempted to tell her where she can put her 25% surcharge, but keep my mouth shut and just pay the bill (which has to be paid in full immediately).

Then we proceed to the room where we realise that the room is old and actually not that impressive. We've been ripped off a bit.

After settling down in the room we head down to the pool. There I baby-sit the kids who can't swim so well yet for a while.

In the evening we take a taxi into town, telling the driver initially to go to the Parkmall in Cebu. After some driving the driver suggests to go to a much closer mall on Mactan island, because now there is a lot of traffic. Good idea and in fact after 10 minutes we reach this mall. Taxi costs 125 + 50 pesos (50 peso is the fee to call the taxi).

The shopping mall is, well, not too big and flashy, actually relatively small, but adequate, i.e. nothing is missing. There are shops, restaurants/eateries and a supermarket in the ground floor.

Shirley spots sort of a fast food pizza restaurant. The pizzas they have look good, but are too big. So we opt for a menu for 100 pesos which consists of spaghetti with tomato sauce, a piece of fried chicken, some rice and a soft drink. The food is good and inexpensive.

Then we buy SIM cards for the smartphones. We get two SmartBro SIM card, which cost 50 pesos each. We also purchase a 200 pesos Internet package (unlimited Internet for five days, perfect for our trip) and buy a 100 pesos recharge. Initially the Internet connection is dead slow, but after I switch off and on my smartphone it becomes really fast. It appears that I'm on a fast 4G network. On the phone of Shirley however, the Internet does not work. We'll have to try again tomorrow.

After the dinner we shop for food in the supermarket. Then we look for a taxi. At the taxi station outside the taxi drivers refuse to use the meter, and ask for 250 pesos initially, then 200 pesos. We walk to the other side of the mall and manage to catch a metered taxi (115 pesos) after waiting for a couple of minutes. Then we drive back to the hotel.

24.8: Cebu
Costabella Tropical Beach hotel, Mactan island (near Cebu). Today the hotel is full of people, who perhaps have come here for the festive day (Sunday).
Weather: mostly sunny, blue sky with some clouds. In the afternoon for some time some thin clouds layer. Quite hot, strong sun.

Around 11am I briefly check out the beach and sea near the hotel. At high tide the beach looks very pretty: white coral sand, clean, crystal clear water. The beach however is completely artificial, i.e. the sand has been brought here from somewhere and is contained by concrete walls on both sides.

Water sports activities (parachute gliding etc.) going on on this Sunday morning. Lots of people in the area. White catamaran type boats in the sea. I guess these must be typical for the area, as I haven't seen them elsewhere in southeast Asia.

We have a swim between 11:30am and 12:30pm, then move back to the hotel room, where we take a rest.

In the afternoon at 3pm we take a taxi to Fort San Pedro, arriving there after 40 minutes (trip costs around 250-300 pesos). These are the ruins of a fort built in 1565. The entry ticket costs 30 pesos for an adult. The fort is kind of scenic, but not overly interesting.

What's more interesting is that we now can have a look at Cebu. The city, or let's say the part we have seen so far of it. is relatively unspectacular. No impressive architecture, the streets are dirty, the buildings all rather basic and functional. We drive across what seem to be industrial areas. No parks or green areas.

We spend a bit over 20 minutes at the fort, then after 4pm we start walking towards the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, a colonial era church.

On the way we spot a 7/11 convenience store, where we buy some drinks. Adjacent to it there is sort of a souvenir/clothes shop. Since it looks interesting we walk inside and end up buying some T-shirts, dried mangoes and other souvenirs.

Then we continue walking towards the church. We are now surrounded by beggars and kids trying to sell us more souvenirs. Even some small kids touching you all the time and asking for money.

Without realising it we are on the square next to the basilica. I'm expecting a big facade of a church with a clock tower, but see nothing like that. We walk once around the block.

On the other side there are people selling bundles of candles and people burning these bundles of candles on metal grills. In Europe people would light candles and put them on chandeliers inside a church, but here people light the candles and put them on grills on the street. Probably the Filipinos misunderstood something when they adopted the custom from the Spaniards.

We find the entrance gate to the church, where a security guard is checking the bags of the people, and enter the compound. Still no old church in sight, but there is a big assembly area where people are gathered. Religion is really a big thing here in the Philippines.

Finally we see a church facade. But it's a small and rather unimpressive one, partially undergoing restoration. Inside there is a huge crowd of people walking around, looking at the church interior. They seem to be doing some kind of pilgrimage.

At 5:15pm we are done with the church and get outside.

Apparently these are all touristic highlights Cebu city has to offer - not exactly much. We don't see any other colonial era architecture in the area, only relatively modern buildings. It's a bit surprising that Cebu, despite having five centuries of colonial history, has so little colonial heritage left. Also, we see almost no western tourists in Cebu.

We then fetch a taxi and head to the Ayala mall. This is an a bit bigger and flashier mall. Not comparable to the super high end malls of Singapore or Dubai, but pretty stylish and high end. Plently of restaurants and shops. Almost all visitors are Asian, probably most of them local Filipino. We just see two blonde women later in the evening.

We have dinner in a Japanese restaurant, then have a look at the mall. Later we buy some food in the supermarket and take a taxi back to the hotel (292 pesos).

25.8: Cebu
Costabella Tropical Beach hotel, Mactan island
Weather: overcast the whole day. Light rain in the afternoon starting after 5pm.

Because of the bad weather we don't do much today and leave the room only after 1pm. We have lunch in a Thai restaurant in the Mactan Marina mall, which in reality is not a mall, it's a collection of shops and a supermarket near each other. Before lunch Shirley shops in the souvenir shop for dried mangoes but can't find what she is looking for.

I decided to go there because according to an online directory two travel agencies should be there. And I need the travel agencies to book the things to do tomorrow and after tomorrow.

In fact I have been looking for a way to visit Bohol which would cost less than 8500 pesos/person (price I found in the Internet; still over 4000 pesos/person for a group of four people). One option is to simply take a ferry to Bohol and charter a taxi for the day there. The problem is that the ferry from Cebu city to Tagbilaran takes two hours and does not leave so frequently.

The other option is to take a ferry from Cordova, at the southern end of Mactan island, to Getafe (Jetafe) on Bohol island. As the distance here is only 25km, the trip takes only a bit over an hour. After some research it turns out that this ferry leaves from Cordova at 7am and 12pm.

After further research I discover the ferry from Cebu to Tubigon, which takes only one hour and runs on an hourly basis (operator is Starcraft, http://www.mvstarcraft.com). In addition, Tubigon lies centrally on Bohol and is not far from the chocolate hills.

When I call Starcraft to check if prior reservation is needed, the lady tells that no reservation is necessary and offers a car+driver for 2500 pesos for the whole day. This is not cheap, but ok, so I accept the offer on condition that it doesn't rain. We'll take the 10:30am ferry in Cebu city.

After the lunch in the Mactan Marina mall it's almost 3pm. We get out and walk to the nearby supermarket where Shirley finally finds the dried mangoes she was looking for. She buys a few bags. The Philippines are famous for their dried mangoes.

Then we take a taxi back to the hotel. There the kids play in the pool for a while. In the evening we go to the Gaisano Grand mall where we have dinner. This is the same mall we visited the day before yesterday.

By the way, I have been looking for travel agencies today and yesterday but couldn't see any. In tourist areas in Thailand there is a travel agency at every corner, but here in the Philippines, or let's say on Mactan island, there is nothing. If there are travel agencies, they are very well hidden.

26.8: Cebu -> Bohol -> Cebu
Costabella Tropical Beach hotel, Mactan island
Weather: mix of sunny and overcast sky. Almost no rain (a few raindrops in Bohol).

At 9am I call a taxi with the Easytaxi app of an Android smartphone. A taxi quickly picks up the request, but in practice it takes a while for it to arrive. It's almost 9:30am when we manage to leave the hotel.

But I have to say that Alissia played with the smartphone and managed to cancel the request by touching something on the screen. Easytaxi should insert a confirmation dialog so that you cannot accidentally cancel a request.

In any case the Easytaxi app wrongly estimates the waiting time, because it only shows 8 minutes, while in reality the taxi needs much more than that to arrive, due to the road and traffic conditions.

Leaving around 9:30am we only manage to be at the pier in Cebu (pier 1) around 10:15am. Then we lose some time there wondering how to get on the boat. I call the lady from Starcraft who gives some directions I don't understand.

So I ask a local harbour worker to assist. This guy talks on the phone with the lady, then walks us to the ticketing office of Starcraft which is outside the main terminal hall (why isn't the ticketing office inside the terminal hall?). There we purchase the ferry tickets. Now we are on the 11:10am ferry, because apparently boarding for the 10:30am ferry is already closed.

We enter the pier 1 terminal hall. Security check as in an airport. Big hall with various gate (I count 8). At 10:50am a bus picks up the passengers and drives them once around the block to the ferry.

More waiting, finally around 11am we are able to board the ferry. Apparently we are the only tourists on this ferry today. The ferry finally leaves the harbour with some delay at 11:20am.

This boarding procedure is surprisingly cumbersome. I was thinking we simply buy the tickets and get on the boat, but there is an overhead like in an airport.

Shortly after 12:30pm we are finally in the Tubigon harbour in Bohol. From the harbour, Bohol looks like a heavily forested island. We walk along the pier and immediately find the driver who has been waiting for us and will drive us around for 2500 pesos. We enter his car and start the trip.

As it's quite late already, we skip the lunch and start immediately driving towards the chocolate hills. The drive brings us through a number of small towns and villages.

After a short time we see the first chocolate hill. The name comes from the brown colour which these hills assume in the dry season, making them look like kiss chocolates. I joke with the kids that these hills are filled with chocolate. The small one replies that she will dig a hole and find the chocolate.

Along the way we see buildings which were damaged or destroyed in the last earthquake, whose epicentre was on Bohol and which took place last year. Quite a few churches with cracked facades and (now) abandoned houses. You can also see that reconstruction is going on.

The drive to the chocolate hills scenic area takes a bit over an hour. In practice, because we make a couple of stops along the way, we only reach the chocolate hills viewpoint after 2pm. There is a fee of 120 pesos to get to the viewpoint.

The viewpoint is on top of a hill. There is a parking for the cars (no parking fee), a restaurant and some stalls selling ice cream, snacks and souvenirs. From the parking a staircase brings to an even higher viewpoint, from which there is a 360 view of the scenery. Cool view of the chocolate hills, although I wonder if there is another viewpoint as well.

Around 2:20pm we leave the viewpoint and drive to the next place. This is a small bufferly farm / breeding station / zoo. The ticket costs 100 pesos for the four of us. This place is much smaller than other butterfly farms I've seen (in KL and the Cameron highlands) and only moderately interesting. The guide shows some caterpillars and some butterflies.

We spend 10 minutes in the butterfly farm, then shortly after 3pm we start driving to the next place, the tarsier breeding centre. On the way we stop briefly in the man made forest, a forest created by people who planted trees about 20 years ago.

We reach the tarsier centre at 3:20pm. This is located in the forest and hosts in a natural habitat a number of tarsiers who at the moment are resting in the shadow under some leaves. These small primates are an engangered species and breeding programs have so far been only moderately successful.

Flash photography is not allowed for obvious reasons (these are night-active animals with large eyes to be able to see in the dark).

We buy some souvenirs in the shop of the centre and get back to the driver.

Around 3:40pm we continue driving to the next place, sort of a zoo with a big python and other animals. It's a great place for the kids who enjoy touching the big python and checking out the other animals (civet cats, macaque monkeys, a rufous hornbill etc.).

This was the last tourist attraction of this trip and now we head to the southern coast which we will follow for a while before getting back to Tubigon.

The southern coast of Bohol is highly unimpressive. I see no beaches, only the sea ground (low tide in the afternoon).

At 5pm we stop in a mall in Tagbilaran, the major city of Bohol, and buy some take-away food.

At 5:20pm we continue driving to the jetty in Tubigon, which we reach around 6:15pm. It's apparently already too late for the 6:45pm Starcraft ferry to Cebu, but  there is a ferry at 7pm which we catch. Tickets cost 230 pesos per adult and 115 pesos per child.

With this ferry which leaves shortly after 7pm we arrive in Cebu at 8:10pm. The ferry is larger and wider than the Starcraft bullet boats.

Once in Cebu I notice that there is a Robinson shopping mall very close to the pier and on the way back to Mactan. I ask a taxi to bring us there. What happens is that this driver brings us to another Robinson mall, which is further away and in the wrong direction.

This Robinson mall is already closed (it's 8:25pm now, malls close at 9pm in Cebu). So we just walk to a nearby Chinese fast food restaurant, Chowking, and have some dinner there.

After dinner it takes some effort to find a taxi, because most drivers ask for a surcharge or don't want to use the meter. Probably because a resort on the southern coast of Mactan island is pretty far away and it's unlikely to catch some customers there. Finally we find a taxi willing to do the trip for a surcharge of 50 pesos only.

27.8: Cebu
Costabella Tropical Beach hotel, Mactan island. The hotel is really empty today. In the morning we are almost the only guests in the hotel pool. It seems that this place fills up in the weekends, but is quite empty otherwise.
Weather: sunny, blue sky until 2pm. After that a clouds cover builds up and opens up again a bit later. No rain until the evening. Heavy rain after 8pm.

In the morning I'm with the kids in the swimming pool, which is quite empty. After 1pm we take a taxi to the JY square mall, which is close to the Taoist temple in Cebu.

On the way we stop briefly at the Parkmall. There I take some pictures of the international convention centre which lies opposite to the mall. This convention centre apparently has not been used for a while, because it looks like an abandoned place and part of it is broken.

We continue driving and at 2:10pm we reach the JY square mall. This is a relatively small mall, with only few restaurants and eating opportunities. We find a Chinese dim sum restaurant and for the next 1:20 hours stay there and have lunch. The food is not too impressive.

Then, at 3:30pm, while we are on the street looking for a taxi, a taxi driver stops and picks us up. This guy is a bit more entrepeneurial than the others and asks where we are going and makes a package offer to us. For 1500 pesos he will bring us to the Taoist temple, then to the Tops viewpoint, then to the Parkmall and then back to the hotel.

Some discussion and we end up settling on 1300 pesos until the Parkmall. Then for another 200 pesos he'll bring us back to the hotel when we call him. Not sure if we are getting a good deal or not, but from the guidebook the trip to the Tops viewpont alone costs 1000-1500 pesos.

At 3:43pm we reach the Taoist temple. This is on a hill overlooking Cebu. Nice view of Cebu. Has been built in the 1970ies, so is not that old. Inside it's nicely setup with pagodas and structures on several levels. Nice place for meditation and prayer.

While we are there some Filipino girls in business dress are there visiting the temple. Not sure if this is a school uniform or something similar. On the top floor some people are sorting out rice bags, which are donations for the poor.

Around 4:15pm we are done with the temple and drive to the next place, the Tops viewpoint. On the way we stop briefly at a Mormon church. But the guy at the gate won't let me in because I'm not a member of this church.

We continue driving along a steep and winding mountain road. Finally, at 4:50pm we reach the Tops viewpoint.

Fee of 100 pesos/person to get on the viewing platform, even the kids have to pay. A bit steep in my opinion.

On this big circular viewing platform there are some souvenir shops and a snack bar. From here there is a great panoramic view of Cebu city and Mactan island. There is also a nice fresh air (late afternoon at 700m altitude) and a special light, as the sun is about to set. Overall a very pleasant place where to spend some time.

At 5:40pm we get back to the taxi and drive to the Parkmall. Heavy traffic in the streets now. It takes almost 40 minutes to reach the Parkmall.

On the way we pass through what must be the elegant and upscale part of Cebu city. Plenty of high-end hotels and shops. I wonder who is staying in these hotels as Cebu is not that touristy. Possibly some expats, although I wouldn't know for what business purpose a foreigner would come to Cebu. Perhaps there is a thriving outsourcing industry in Cebu.

The Parkmall is bigger than the other malls in Cebu, but smaller than the Ayala one. It looks more impressive from the outside than from the inside. It has only two floors - a ground floor and a first floor. There is a supermarket on the ground floor on the left side.

When we go in we are greeted by some promoters who try to talk us into investing in real estate in Cebu. Perhaps they don't know that we are only foreigners and that it's unlikely that we'll return to Cebu.

We shop around a bit and eat some snacks and drinks here and there. Then we buy some stuff in the supermarket. The ATM in the supermarket charges a fee of 200 pesos for withdrawals with a non-Filipino bank card.

We have then a brief dinner in a Chowking Chinese fast food restaurant. Up to now we have only eaten in fast food and foreign restaurants. We haven't tried out Filipino food, except for dried mangoes and some locally made cookies.

I must admit however that we haven't seen any upper end Filipino restaurants. It's as if these do not exist, or perhaps Filipinos do not bother to open restaurants, preferring instead to open a franchise or a simple roadside food stall.

At 8:20pm we start looking for a taxi. Now it's raining heavily and people are queueing up at a taxi stand. I try getting a taxi with the Easytaxi app. Initially a driver accepts the request, then after a minute or two cancels his acceptance. Then I cannot find a taxi anymore with Easytaxi. Perhaps nobody wants to drive to our hotel on the south coast of Mactan.

It's not too terrible as it's finally our turn and we get into a taxi, which brings us back to the hotel (yellow airport taxi with a starting fee of 70 pesos; guy agrees to lower this to 40 pesos (standard starting fee here in Cebu); final cost is 272 pesos). We are back in the hotel after 9pm.

28.8: Cebu -> KL -> Kota Bharu
Tune hotel, Kota Bharu. RM 96 for small room with a comfortable bed, adjustable A/C, roof fan, place where to hang the clothes, bathroom with shower. Not much more, but sufficient for a good night of sleep.
Weather: sunny & blue sky in the morning in Cebu. Around 1pm the sky starts closing up and by 3pm there is heavy rain and strong wind.

Day spent transferring from the Philippines back to Malaysia.

We check out at 12:30pm from the hotel. I try calling a taxi with Easytaxi but today can't find a taxi close enough to the hotel. So I ask the hotel to call a taxi (50 pesos fee).

The taxi arrives and around 1pm we reach the airport (ride costs 176 + 50 pesos). There we proceed to the check-in counter. Some checks on the way to the counter.

Loooong waiting time at the check-in counter because the Airasia staff is so slow. I wonder why the heck it takes so long. Finally, when our turn comes, I understand why. The weird checkin-in lady browses through all pages of our passports, checking each entry-exit stamp. She even checks the Malaysian passport of Shirley (we are flying back to Malaysia).

Finally she asks if we have a flight out Malaysia. None of her business, as Malaysian immigration never asks for proof of an onward flight and I might purchase the onward flight in Malaysia or leave the country by bus. So I show her the printout of the Etihad ticket confirmation I happen to carry with me.

Then we walk towards the gate. 550 pesos/person airport tax which are not included in the ticket price. Again AirAsia is selling tickets without including the airport tax.

Finally we reach the Filipino passport check. Two very long queues of people in front of the only two open counters. The staff at the counters works very slowly and we spend half an hour just in this queue.

It's 2:20pm when we finally reach the gate area. We have some food in a restaurant, then proceed to the gate.

The Airasia flight to KL is delayed by 40 minutes and only takes off at 3:45pm. The plane is roughly 2/3 full.

We land in KL at 7:25pm, with 30 minutes of delay. Then we proceed through immigration and retrieve the luggage. Shirley and the kids take a taxi to KL, while I check in for the flight to Kota Bharu. This takes off at 10pm with a delay of 10 minutes, but touches down in Kota Bharu at 10:40pm, 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Then I retrieve the luggage and take a taxi to the hotel.

Copyright 2014 Alfred Molon