Buyer Beware: Hidden costs #morefuninthephilippines

bohol pangloa island alona beach the philippines


Week 76

Day 530

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

10.7500° N, 106.6667° E

Prelude:  This post was actually written about a week ago, but given that the WIFI in the Philippines was so bad I couldn’t upload any photos.  We have now been in Vietnam for less than 6 hours and Tom has already used more bandwidth in that time than he used our entire 3 weeks in The Philippines.

Post:  We’ve made it out to the islands and while I’d like to say Bohol is the tropical paradise we dreamed it would be, I can’t.

The first set back of the trip was physically getting here.  We awoke from our slumber on our 6:30am flight out to find we had circled above Bohol for an hour, landed at Cebu the next island over, and had the option of getting off there or going back to Manila because the weather was too bad to land in Bohol.  (Yet not too bad to take a ferry…?)


Our sweet boat to take us from Cebu to Bohol



Luckily, there is a ferry from Cebu City to Tagbilaran City so we took a taxi (250 php), bought our tickets (400x2php), paid the ferry terminal fee (50x2php), and checked our bags (100x2php).  6 hours and 1350php ($30) later we were walking down Alona beach in search of a hotel.




One redeeming thing about Bohol is the Catholic culture. They keep the Christmas spirit long through January 🙂



Now I know what you must be thinking, really Courtney $30 to fix a canceled flight–that’s cheap! How could you possibly be complaining when you just posted those gorgeous pictures?!?  And that’s exactly where the Filipinos get you.  Yes their hidden fees may be relatively cheap, but they never stop.  But don’t worry, “Ma’am, Sir Very Cheap!”  Keep reading to understand what I mean

After a day of soaking up the sun island style, we found a “good deal” from one of the many island tour hustlers.  The basic rate seems to be 500php per person which is a great deal for the laminated card of features you’re offered.  We negotiated our rate down to 450per person with mask & pins (fins) included.


Luckily our middle man wrote our “deal” down on a card because we got to the island we were greeted with hidden fees.  First we were offered breakfast from a menu without prices.  We should have asked, but later we received a bill for 330php 3x the asking price were used to back on Alona but without the Alona quality.

We were then taken the the mask shop where we were asked for to pay our 150php to get our snorkel gear. Luckily we had our card as receiving our pins didn’t come without a fight but we were happy to get them as we watched the rest of the tourists cough up their fee.  The next fee we paid was the 200php per person to have a “guide” row us out to the end of the coral reef (50 feet offshore).  The distance was literal so close you could walk or our original boat should have been able to take us (we did pay for a snorkeling trip) but they get you by declaring it a sacred area.  The first spot they took us didn’t have great snorkeling so for another 150php per person we could opt to be taken to the turtle area which is the good area.


You can see the sacred area right off the coast…

Moral of the story while you wish you could trust the tour guides you have to look out for yourself.

1.  If equipment is needed for your tour ask if it’s included.

2.   Ask what features of the tour have hidden fees.

3.  Have whoever you negotiate with write that down.

4.  Go with a bigger company.  The larger tours we saw all let their snorkelers jump into the sacred area.  It was only the smaller, “more private” tours of 5-8 that fed the island their extra fees.

Yes,  I will admit 450php ($10) is a great price for a snorkle trip.– In fact $30 would have been a great price for food and the trip–as the locals say with each fee “very cheap”, but the dishonest way I was forced into more than doubling the cost of my trip leaves a bad taste.

God must have been looking our for us as our 2nd adventure went much better than the first.

There seem to be 2 big tours to do from Alona beach. The above island hopping tour and the overland tour in which you can see the blood contract statue, the church, the butterfly farm, boat restaurant, tarsiers, fireflies, and the chocolate hills.

After doing a bit of research we decided the only attractions we needed to see were the chocolate hills and tarsiers, so rather than go on the organized tour we rented a private car.

The going rate for a car to do touring is 2000 pesos and we were able to negotiate down to 1500 which worked out perfectly.

Our guide Paul completely restored our faith in the Filipino culture. He was polite, took our photos, never rushed us, and even offered to drive us around more (for no added fee) when we had seen enough.

The Chocolate hills and Tarsiers didn’t disappoint either!






If you look closely you can see the Tarsier in the tree…they are so little!


The Tarsier gift shop. Tom got a cool “starbucks logo” shirt that had a Tariser! 🙂




Patiently waited our turn to be tourists





We weren’t quite sure what the entrance to the Chocolate Hill lookout was supposed to be, but we liked it!


Besides our experience touring, we basically just bummed it up on Alona beach for the remainder of our week in town.

The Yoga Barn (built in tribute to the amazing yoga mecca on Bali) just opened 3 weeks ago, so I can just in time to catch this wonderful space.

The teachers Barbara and Yohanna are a wealth of knowledge and I’m so excited for them and the community they are building.


Mucking around at the barn with my new friend Steph



Half the classes I took were at the barn and the other half at Amorita resort over looking the water!

While I was off practicing, poor Tom spent his time redownloading software on minimal WiFi speeds. A computer crash early in the week left him scrambling to wrap up a couple projects, but at least all his work was salvaged on his external hard drive–a must for anyone traveling and working on the road.

In between downloading Microsoft Office and other essential programs we met a small community of expats who filled us in on why so many people have #morefuninthephilippines. During our time here, Tom and I had a bit of a disconnect between the enthusiasm of some the “tourists” and our own experience. What we failed to out together is all the raves were coming from men traveling solo who are delighted by the “sex culture”. It is sad to say, but a large part of the economy we’ve learned comes from male tourists looking for a happy ending.




The pictures could have gone on and on…but you get the picture.

We never hit up Mango Square in Cebu (the best place to find a happy ending), rather our happy endings came from:

Our Home at the Beach Rocks. We walked up and down the strip and Beach Rocks definitely had the best prices. For 750php ($17) we had a spacious room. No air con or hot water but our fan sufficed and the cool shower felt good on a hot day. The best part of beach rocks is their central location to everything in town.

Breakfast at Trudi’s. Definitely the best price, selection, and atmosphere. Our favorite was the Filipino breakfast, a side of 2 extra eggs, side of bacon, and brewed coffee.  Seriously, their bacon was amazing!


Sunset hour on the pool deck of Amorita Resort. The rooms may have been a bit out of our price range, but a cocktail is all the admission price you need to sit in a lounge chair and enjoy the best view of the sunset on the beach.







Working afternoons and sunsets at Oasis, the best Wifi on the island.


Look close into the palm tree to see the tree climber cleaning off the coconuts!




Dinners at Hayahay for their Tom Kai soup and Ocean Breeze (right next to Hayahay) for their freshly caught seafood.  With both locations you’re likely to have local kids serenading you.  They know 2 songs right now, My Heart Will go On by Celine Dion and All of Me By John Legend.


Every evening around 4 the restaurants would set up changing the beach. Night life was definitely the happening time on Alona Beach.







Night life at the birdwatcher’s… Where you’ll meet all the expats.

I’d be lying to say I wasn’t ready to move on, but there is definitely some charm in Alona Beach.


Tom enjoying his new favorite fruit, lanzones

Getting off the island was yet again another major obstacle that we had to overcome.   We awoke on our final day happy to see a clear blue sky–NO WEATHER COMPLICATIONS–Thank God!


Tom’s not impressed with the Filipino transportation system…

What we weren’t expecting was our plane to malfunction…Here is how the basic travel timeline went:

730 Leave Beach Rock to negotiate a Taxi.

735 Taxi found for 400php total

800 Arrive at the airport for our 1025 Cebu Pacific flight

935 Cebu Pacific plane lands in Tagbilaran

950 Bags loaded onto Cebu Pacific

1050 Still waiting…walk to the counter to see what’s up.

There is a mechanical error

Conversation:  Me: “Is it fixable will our flight be cancelled?”

Cebu Pacific Worker:  “Oh oh it’s good no cancelled.”

1100  Announcement is made that Philippine’s Airlines Flight is rerouted to Cebu.  (The Tagbilaran airport has only 1 runway so only 1 plane can be on ground at a time.

1120  Announcement is made that Cebu Pacific Flight is delayed

1130 Bag are taken off Cebu Pacific Plane.  I run to the counter once more to ask if our flight is cancel.  Once again I’m told no.

1150 Cebu Pacific Flight takes off empty.  Once again I run to the counter to find yes the plane has been canceled.  Luckily they are bringing the Philippine’s Airlines flight that was redirected to Cebu.  It has limited room.  I secure Tom and I seats on that plane.

1210   Announcement is made that the Cebu Pacific Flight is canceled.

1240  Philippine’s Airlines Flight takes off.

1400 Land in Manila

End of story, we made it back but I don’t recommend flying out of Tagbilaran, especially if you have a connecting flight.  An expat we met had planned to ferry over to Cebu (to hit up Mango Square once more) and then fly from there as their flights are much more reliable.  Bohol is currently raising money to build a new airport and when they do hopefully that will alleviate some problems but until then I would book out of Cebu as well–but perhaps avoid Mango Square 😉

Regardless of all of our experiences, I will always have a love for Bohol because it is the place this started to happen consistently!!!




Epilogue:  Like I said before, we’ve only been in Vietnam for 8 hours–basically long enough to get our Visa, cab it to the hostel, download the latest episode of How to Get Away With Murder, Sleep 5 hours, and walk around the block to buy a sim card.

We’re trying not to jinx ourselves, but in that time I’ve taken my first hot shower in basically a month, relaxed in cool aircon, had a million apps update on our phones and computers, and seen more amazing food (specifically PHO!!) that I can’t wait to eat.  If you are looking for specifics, in the Philippines our 4g Wifi connection never hit more than 1-2mbps.  Since we’ve been in Vietnam we’ve seen speeds 4-7x that and that’s with some Wifi malfunction that Tom read is sweeping the country.

From what you’ve seen and read will Bohol make your travel list?

Leave us a comment below and let us know your thoughts!

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