I’m an island girl through and through. I’ll always love the sand, the sea, and the all-year-round sun. Though we’re posted in Malaysia which is a tropical country with its own beaches, I must admit that I do miss the islands back home.
There’s just something about the Philippines that makes me want to go back and so I do grab any chance I get, mind you.
In early May, I was part of the 2nd Ambassador’s Tour hosted by – you guessed it – our embassy’s Ambassador. Following the success of the first one (held in 2014) wherein he brought 112 Malaysian tourists to Manila and its nearby provinces, the Philippine Embassy and our tourism representative here in Kuala Lumpur decided to bring even more people this year to Cebu and Bohol – two of the island provinces in central Philippines.
It’s quite easy to travel between islands these days in the Philippines with better ports and more ferries available. 😉
This time, the group was mixed with other expats. We even had quite a huge Thai delegation with us during the tour and a good number of Filipino expats who’ve been staying in Malaysia for 20 or so years.
I was lucky enough to be invited to join as a.) part of the embassy and b.) part of the media delegation. Being part of the embassy meant that I got to help our ambassador, our cultural attache, and our economic attache in bringing the humungous tour group from one place to another.
I also got the task of doing the PR for the whole trip. Side story: It’s a running joke nowadays that I’m the embassy’s publicist. But that’s cool since I do enjoy helping out by using my media experience. Better to get so busy than end up being rusty. 😉
It also meant that I helped in taking good care of the media whom I immediately bonded with during the trip.
We had a packed itinerary as there was so much to see in just 4 days. But we were determined to make it happen! And we did! Though it was hella tiring for us, there is really a sense of fulfilment when you get to do a bit of good for your country. (As cheesy as that sounds)
It’s a passion of mine to promote our islands to tourists and counter all the bad press we’ve been getting. There’s a certain charm to it, I tell you and you’ll see proof in the photos that I will be posting. 😉
So without further yapping (Notice how I tend to ramble? It’s the same when I’m talking IRL.), let me quickly go through some of the reasons why you should consider Cebu and Bohol for your next vacation! 😉
This sounds so much like a hard sell but it’s actually true: The Philippines has some of the best beaches in the world. And I’m not just talking about Boracay. We’ve got island sanctuaries that are the farthest thing from the word ‘touristy’. Some of them can be found just a short boat ride from Cebu City.
The way boat ride to Nalusuan island gives you a spectacular view – miles and miles of different shades of blue. The clear, beautiful sky and the sea that gives you a sense of being limitless. The breeze as your motor-banca cuts through the waves completes the relaxing feel of this journey.
Is the water clear enough for you? 😉 A bit further from the shore is a good area for snorkelling as colourful fish and corals are quite abundant. Oh, and different kinds of starfishes too. From the shore, my friend Tammy and I spotted around three different kinds!
Location: Cordova Reef, Mactan, Cebu City
Click here for more info
Cebu is definitely known for its different kinds of Lechon (roasted pig) but like Bohol, it’s also a great place for seafood!
While in the Philippines, it’s customary to try some of our alcoholic concoctions. (But if you’re not a drinker, no worries! We won’t force you!) We are the country that produces the worldwide favourite San Miguel Beer, after all. But we are also a country that loves killer cocktails. Do order a ‘Weng Weng’ if you ever find yourself at a bar. A note of caution: The Weng Weng they serve at the Marriott Hotel’s bar by the pool is pretty strong.
Needless to say, I had a pretty bad hangover the next day. I’m so not used to drinking anymore. 🙁 But I did have fun with Tammy! 😉
Do look for our famous mangoes as well. We have the best mangoes in the world! Yes, I’m claiming it and I’m sure a lot of tourists who have been to the Philippines will agree.
Don’t forget to dip your not-so-ripe mango into bagoong alamang – our special dip made out of tiny shrimps and some spices. Thank me later! 😉
Do get your hands dirty! Crabs are best eaten caveman style! And as that crab fat starts to ooze down your fingers while you exert a lot of effort in getting the meat out of that hard shell – lick it! I suggest you really go all out like that! It’s okay to lose your poise once in a while. (But of course, I decided to sit with my media friends rather than with the ambassador’s group for this meal.) 😉
The photo above was taken at a floating buffet restaurant. Our Ambassador (in yellow) enjoyed the food! And so did the Kuwaiti Ambassador (in plaid) and his wife (in stripes)! To our Muslim brothers and sisters reading this post, don’t worry about finding places to eat in the Philippines. There’s a rise in Halal-certified restaurants especially in Cebu and Bohol! 😉
Did I say we Filipinos have a thing for buffets? This is the dessert spread on one of the boats for the Loboc River Cruise in Bohol.
The Loboc River Cruise is one of the highlights of our Bohol trip. I suggest you do this over lunch as the buffet selection is pretty good and eating with the lush greenery around you while a cool breeze is playing with your hair is just oh-so relaxing.
Another thing I love about the cruise is how you can catch a glimpse of the locals’ daily life. And I’m not just talking about humans.
Just look at these cuties that are out for a swim!
Part of the cruise is a short stop on a huge raft by the river where there are singing locals. You can join in for a photo and a bit of fun. 😉
The governor of Bohol and the mayor of Loboc came by to greet the Ambassador’s tour group. That was really a nice touch. 🙂
Address: Loboc, Bohol, Philippines
Click here for rates
The tarsier – the second smallest primate in the world – is a quiet, shy, and nocturnal animal that is quite hard to spot in the lush forest that is the Tarsier Sanctuary. But there will be guides to tell you where to look.
Photos are allowed but with no flash. Visitors are not allowed to touch the tarsiers as well as this will stress them out and push the animals to commit suicide. They’re pretty sensitive – especially to noise.
Trivia: They only look lazy and quiet to you cos you’re seeing these nocturnal animals during the day. Male tarsiers are actually aggressive and territorial. Their mate is off limits to other tarsiers and would often fight other males who try to get to her or even those that are just crossing his territory.
Address: Tarsier Sunctuary Rd, Corella, Bohol, Philippines
Click here for more info
There’s also the geological marvel that is the Chocolate Hills! Scattered in a 50-square-kilometer area are a thousand small hills (estimates go up to 1700+) that turn dark brown during the summer when all the grass dries up.
The hills are not that high with the tallest one at around 120 meters. You cannot climb the hills individually but there’s a viewing deck that offers a spectacular view of the whole complex. 🙂
Address: Loay Interior Road, Carmen, Bohol, Philippines
Click here for more info.
During the trip, Qube Art Gallery in Cebu also invited the tour group to attend the opening of their exhibit called ‘Kita’.
The exhibit featured Filipino, Malaysian, and Indonesian artists – thus the title of the exhibit. Kita (a word that pertains to another person) actuallly means the same thing in Tagalog, Bahasa Melayu, and Bahasa Indonesia.
I just love how art is so universal. How it delivers messages in any language and how it can awaken your soul and give you different kinds of feelings – some, you haven’t even felt before. Here I go again, rambling. 😉
But members of our tour group who spoke different languages – from Mandarin, Thai, Bahasa Melayu, English, and Tagalog – did enjoy the exhibit. Art does have the power to bring people from different backgrounds together and show us that we’re not so different after all. <3
Qube Art Gallery is definitely worth a visit whilst you’re in Cebu. It’s one of the best ways to peek into the psyche of featured local artists.
Address: Qube at the Crossroads, Banilad, Cebu CityCebu City
Click here for more info.
Right in the middle of Cebu City is the Magellan’s Cross and the Basilica del Sto Nino. The basilica was built in 1565 and is the oldest Catholic Church in the country. Inside is a Sto Nino statue that was given by Ferdinand Magellan to Rajah Humabon‘s wife in 1521.
Magellan’s Cross, displayed in a square near the Basilica del Sto. Nino, is the original cross planted by Ferdinand Magellan in Cebu upon his arrival in 1521. Well, technically, you’re seeing a new cross.
A wooden cross from 1521 won’t look that new after all. 😛 But the original cross is encased inside the new, sturdier one. It had to be protected after a lot of people started hacking the original cross for wooden bits as souvenirs. There’s a belief that the cross is miraculous so there was a time when people wanted their own piece of it.
Now, devotees are contented with wiping the cross with their handkerchiefs and praying.
Here’s our group photo taken in front of Fort San Pedro. Of course we all weren’t ready yet when they used my camera. Haha! This Fort is the oldest and the smallest in the Philippines and was built by the Spanish to protect the island against ‘Muslim raiders’ at the time.
Want something more than the usual handicraft you see from Southeast Asia? How about something you can wear or something you can make music with? 😉
Avatar Accessories has an overwhelming selection of accessories – from necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings, etc. You name it, they probably have it.
The best thing about it? Everything is so cheap! Earrings go for as low as Php100 (MYR8.24, EUR1.95, USD2.22) while rings can be as cheap as Php60 (MYR4.94, EUR1.17, USD1.33).
Address: C/o PHILEXPORT-Cebu Chapter, 3rd Flr. LDM Bldg., Cuenco & Legaspi Streets, 6000 Cebu City, Cebu, Philippines
Cebu is known in the Philippines as the island where the best acoustic guitars are made and if you go directly to the factory, you will be treated to a discount and an explanation and demo on the process of making guitars.
We visited Allegre Guitars during the trip and a lot of guests went home with their own Allegre creation.
JUST A BIT OF INFO ABOUT THE AMBASSADOR’S TOUR
This is an annual initiative hosted by the current Ambassador of the Philippines to Malaysia. It’s a great way to see the Philippines, if I do say so myself! The tour is operated by Borneo Tours and as someone from the Philippines who knows the prices of airfares from KL to Cebu and the prices back home, I guarantee that you will actually get great value for your money. For as low as RM2,700+, guests were able to experience both islands for 4 days.
The price also included air fare, accommodation at the Cebu Marriott Hotel (which is an awesome hotel, btw!), and all the meals during the trip.
Aside from the sightseeing, the guests were also able to enjoy several cultural performances that helped them get to know some of our local customs better.
Do join us next year! Will definitely be posting about the Third Ambassador’s Tour once plans have been made! 🙂 If you’re not from Malaysia and can’t join this tour, I still encourage you to visit the Philippines and go from island to island as there’s just so much to see.
More later and much love!