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Bohol on a budget

What does it take to enjoy Bohol's numerous attractions? Three days and only PHP3098, says to Betty Tianco, who puts together a three-day itinerary for Tagbilaran and beyond

Bohol on  a budget

BOHOL IS ONE of those Philippine destinations that look postcard-pretty at every turn. Each postcard could bear a familiar, famous attraction — like the natural phenomenon that is the Chocolate Hills, the centuries-old Baclayon Church, the floating restaurant gliding down the Loboc River, the colorful underwater world around Panglao and Balicasag, and the world's smallest primate, the tarsier, in its natural habitat.

As an editor for a travel website, www.travelbook.ph, I've logged in my fair share of Bohol time and have discovered some of the province's best deals. The key to exploring Bohol on a budget is to travel light — be prepared to hitch a ride with the friendly locals or drive around on a rented motorbike. Most of the interesting sights are an easy drive from the capital city of Tagbilaran, so this is perfectly doable. A clean bed in a secure downtown inn is all you'll need — there's so much to see in and around Bohol in the daytime that you'll probably just snooze overnight before you have to get up and head out again come morning.

Day 1

From the airport, head directly to the Panda Tea Garden Suites, a neat little economy hotel that has dorm-type accommodations for PHP350-385 a bed (J.A. Clarin St., tel: +63 (38) 501 8773, boholpandasuites@yahoo.com). The hotel arranges free pick-ups from any port in Tagbilaran, so that saves you the hassle of haggling with a trike.

After settling in, get ready to spend the day touring Bohol's main sights. Happily, the most flexible and adventurous way to do this is also the cheapest — by self-driven motorbike for PHP500 per day (www.rentacarbohol.com/rental.php#motorcycle).

On a scooter, you can set your own pace and pack in as many key sights as you want. Just plan your route ahead and remember to bring a map.

Some suggestions, in the order you'll most likely visit them: the Blood Compact Site, the Baclayon Church, Loboc (where you can visit the church and have a PHP400 buffet lunch on a floating restaurant; tel: +63 (38) 537 9460), the Bilar Manmade Forest and the Chocolate Hills (PHP50).

Along the way, you'll come across tarsier viewing areas in Loboc; give these a pass, since their set-ups are stressful for the animals there. Do your part to support these delicate creatures and visit the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary in Corella instead, for PHP50 (www.tarsierfoundation.org).

Back in Tagbilaran, enjoy a chicken inato dinner surrounded by dozens of friendly fowl figures at Payag Restaurant, also known as Jo's Chicken Inato, now a popular chain with branches all over the country (tel: +63 (38) 412 2527). The quarter chicken with unlimited rice costs PHP85.

Shoestring budget for Day 1
PHP1,435

Day 2

Set aside your second day in Bohol for experiencing as much of Panglao Island's beaches as possible. Get an early start with banana bread (PHP25) and a funky-faced pastry called Mr. Bean (PHP35) from the hotel bakeshop, Kiddies Bakehaus, after checking out (tel: +63 (38) 412 2456).

At the Dao Integrated Terminal near the hotel, board a Tawala-bound jeep with a Tagbilaran-Dauis-Panglao route (PHP25) and ask the driver to let you off at the Bohol Beach Club (www.boholbeachclub.com.ph). The resort's 1.5km-long private beach is easily the best beachfront on the island, and well worth the PHP350-500 entrance fee. A portion of the fee is consumable, so have lunch at a resort restaurant and enjoy the beach well into the afternoon.

When you've reached your swimming and sunbathing quota, take a walk along the beach past Dumaluan Beach Resort towards Amarela (www.amarelaresort.com). This boutique hotel has Filipiniana architecture and a gallery of local works — and an excellent buko shake (PHP120).

Catch another jeepney (PHP8) or try to flag a habal habal or local motorcycle taxi (around PHP20) to Alona Beach. Then check into your home for the night at the Bohol Divers' Resort for about PHP500 (boholdiversresortph.com).

Alona Beach after dark is like a smaller and less crowded version of Boracay, with seafood buffets on the beach and all manner of bars and restos to choose from. Try the fresh seafood barbecued on the beach at Roderick & Vivien Seafoods (about PHP200), and the Turon de Bohol (PHP180) at Amorita's Saffron restaurant.

Shoestring budget for Day 2
PHP1,443

Day 3

Be up before the sun so your long walk to L'Elephant Bleu doesn't get too hot. The charmingly boho French restaurant serves a PHP120 Filipino breakfast with Illy coffee that I would wake up for (tel: +63 (38) 502 8328). If you'd rather stay closer to home, get your Filipino breakfast for the same price at Trudis' Place, just a few resorts away from Bohol Divers (www.trudis-place.com).

After breakfast, spend the rest of the morning exploring and enjoying Alona Beach — it is only 1.5km long, so it's easy to walk from end to end. Surprisingly, you won't see that many people basking in the sun and splashing around in the waves except towards the eastern end, where the sand stretches over a wider area. Most of the action is underwater, but diving will require some dough — so bring your mask and fins and stick to snorkeling instead.

To catch your flight, leave plenty of travel time to get back to Tagbilaran (PHP25 for a jeepney). If you get a ride quickly, take a quick siopao snack stop at Brewpoint Coffee Club for PHP20 plus PHP55 for brewed coffee (tel: +63 (38) 411 3074) on the way to the airport.

Shoestring budget for Day 3
PHP220

TOTAL FOR THREE DAYS: PHP3,098

The shoestring traveler: Betty Tianco

Her motto
"Scrimp where you can and splurge on the things that matter."

Her mission
To see all the famous sights of Bohol — and discover some off-the-beaten path secrets — in 72 hours and for about PHP3,500.

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