Bohol Island, Philippines

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Bohol is justifiably famous for beaches and resorts and boats, but if you suffer from beach ennui, or like to take a more quizzical and enquiring approach to discovering places, there are lots of goodies on Bohol.

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It’s fun to cruise down the Loboc river very slowly, have some lunch relax from the slow lazy movement of the water and absorb river life. For me one of the joys of rivers is when they are firmly bounded by nature, the jungle the vegetation so you are se firmly in the middle of nature with only the odd incursion of the world. There is a satisfying relationship between river and vegetation, they know each other and they enclose you. Occasionally humans insert themselves into this timeless relationship and swim or fish or even live on the banks but you are always conscious that humans are welcomes visitors

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The Philippine Tarsier is the smallest primate on earth, they fit into the palm of your hand and the species can be traced back 45 million years. Visit the sanctuary where they are protected and encouraged to thrive and view them with great gentleness and respect. They are beautiful creatures with enormous eyes, which are the size of their brain, and those eyes are fixed and never move such that they rotate their heads to view laterally. They are a fascinating discovery

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There are some interesting churches on Bohol many of which are now being renovated, which reflect the sometimes-turbulent course of Philippine history and reflect the early Spanish Catholic tradition. The Church of St Nino De Anda is one such containing as it does a great museum tracing its history.

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The Chocolate Hills, so named because in summer the grass the covers them turns a chocolate brown, are a particular feature of the island. They are formed of coral that lifted out of the ocean millions of years ago and the erosion of rain and wind has created their conical shape. There are more than 1200 hills. Apart from the geological explanation for their existence, there are local legends: Two just had a fight that went on for days as they hurled rocks boulders and sand at each other. In the end, exhausted, they left the fight became friends and left the area but forgot to clean up and left behind the mess they had made. Or if you prefer a powerful giant Arogo fell in love with a human called Aloya. Aloya died causing Arogo so much grief that he could not stop crying and when his tears dried the chocolate hills were formed. Take your pick

 

 

Davao City and Samal Island, Philippines

 

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Davao City, the main city on the Philippines island of Mindanao is the largest city in the Philippines by land area and the most populous city after Metro Manila. It’s not the most visited by any means which is partly due to its distance from Manila and because it is on the island of Mindanao, which has suffered from Islamic terrorist uprisings in recent years. But it is well worth a visit.

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For me it is undoubtedly the safest of all the cities that I have visited in the Philippines. Talking to Filipinos the law is respected there and undoubtedly enforced. An army presence securing the city against terrorism is part of that but there is an inherent respect for the law that is striking. Anti-smoking laws are strictly enforced as I experienced having sopped for a quick cigarette in the street before entering a restaurant only to be accosted by two serious looking cops who told me that no smoking is really no smoking and you can be arrested for even smoking in the street! Look at Mount Apo, and if you are lucky to see the Philippines Eagle the largest I the world and now protected.

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Off the coast is the intriguing island of Samal. The easiest way to get there is to go to the ferry port and simply jump on the ferry that runs across from Davao to Samal all the time. It costs just a few pesos and the other end do a deal with a tuk tuk driver to take you round the good places on the island. Not only is it a fun way to travel but the drivers are great travel guides.

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Samal has lots of great beaches and resorts to go with them but there are some gems on the island itself. The Hagimat Falls cost is a series of small waterfalls and pools where you can swim. The water is extraordinarily clean and it is set in the jungle, a small hike from the road. Very beautiful particularly given its quite remote setting.

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The Montfort Bat Sanctuary contains 2.4 million Philippine fruit bats that live in caves set into the hill, a series of holes that you can peer into and see the massed ranks of bats hanging together on the walls. The story of the bats are fascinating, their lives and the order of their lives ending in a cave reserved for “retired “ bats to end their days.

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A great way to complete the trip to Samal is to experience the Giant Clam Sanctuary. Take a boat out to a floating platform and then snorkel a view these extraordinary protected features of nature, which grow up to 1.5 meters in diameter. The pure clear water makes it an extraordinary experience that you can simply view or get very close to.

Ha Long Bay – Vietnam

 

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Ha Long Bay is situated on the north east coast of Vietnam, a ride of about 160 kms from Hanoi. It is an area of about 1500 square kilometres comprising some 2000 islets and Karsts, which has been designated a UNESCO Heritage Site. Ha Long Bay means the bay of descending dragons. It has its own micro ecology and bio diversity and a huge variety of islets.

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You can access the bay from a number of places but the most obvious are Halong town and Bai Chai a small town about 15 minutes away. Travel around the islands is by boat, either old junks which cruise slowly around and on which you can stay overnight or by smaller boats on day trips. One of the delights of this trip is the Vietnamese food that is made locally especially the sea food. On the boats you can order food and have a great meal as you cruise around. The nice thing is that you can order so you get something special.

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There are lots of people selling tours to Ha Long in Hanoi and the local area, many acting only as agents and selling tickets and those tickets can have various prices for the same tour or trip, so it is important to look around. The price differences can be big. For myself I negotiated the various elements of the visit independently so got amazing deals on transport boats and food, but tat is easier if you are a solo traveller than if in a group. Also I stayed in the town of Bai Chai rather than Halong itself , although very close by and that town is very good value. It is being developed for the mass market, so as with many places in Vietnam it is going to change quickly.

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The islets Karsts and the seas around them are a visual delight, something quite unique, but 2000 islets is a lot so its good to be selective and visit the ones you want. Each has a name, the elephant, chicken, he and she, etc so you can be specific. There are many caves and grottos on the islets, some can only be visited at low tide and others any time so find out about those. Some, unfortunately in my view, have lighting that can give them a slightly Disneyworld feel, but they are amazing for all that.

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Halong is a joy, and an indispensible part of any tour of the variety and wonders of North East Vietnam.

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Travel – Vietnam

 

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Vietnam has a long history of insisting on its own identity and culture, dating back to the 10th century when they ceased to be part of the Chinese empire and became an independent state. Since then modern wars against the French there from the 19th century to 1954 and subsequently the US resulting in reunification in 1975 have cemented that sense of independence and pride you find in Vietnam.

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Vietnam’s geography is distinct and varied from the Mekong Delta south of Ho Chi Minh City through the central highlands to the old north and its national parks and mountains. The best way to see Vietnam I think is to start at one end and work up or down according to your choice. Many people but motorbikes in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh and sell them in the other city when they arrive.

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The people of Vietnam are approachable, friendly curious and direct. They have an instinct for trading and business and the whole country gives a strong impression of going somewhere fast, accompanied by massive investment into tourism and business. The tourism industry is growing at a huge rate with ever increasing numbers from Asia so Vietnam is changing fast and it might be good to go soon while the traditions are still very visible.

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Its an amazing place to visit but a place where you need to take your time. There is so much to see, so much variety and so many contrasts that you need to absorb them slowly or you will miss a lot. I am going to write various pieces on various aspects so hope readers enjoy those as much as that country is enjoyable.

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Water Water Everywhere and Not a drop to drink

 

 

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My title, from the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, talks of an ocean of salt water that surrounds his boat, but despite the forbidding description there is something that is fascinating about the image of being surrounded water itself, regardless of whether you can drink it or not. Even if they had loads of drinking water the image would still be powerful

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Humans have a true fascination with water. There are the obvious things that we need to drink it to survive, that our bodies are, to a large extent, made of water, that we wash with it, swim in it for relaxation and many will tell you its because that’s where humans came from in the first place. But that is all the practicalities of water.

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Travellers are no different, when we travel and explore we go and look for water. Millions of us go to the sea or the ocean to rest, we love to see waterfalls, we row on lakes or sail on the sea or take a barge down a canal, or even walk by the river. We sit and contemplate by a gurgling stream, we listen to the sounds of waves, we are in awe of the sheer power of water in waves or Tsunamis , water has a hold on us. We admire huge tracts of water and marvel at the place of water in religions we come across. We take delight in describing a mountain stream with the cool clear water of melted snow, and complain of polluted water, not just because we cant drink it or use it but because you just should not treat water in that fashion.

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If you travel to a country with a coast then at some stage you will visit that coast. if you are in a landlocked country we seek out rivers, streams, lakes, waterfalls even a pond in a park. Its as if we need a little fix of the sights and sounds of water to make our journey complete. We even go on cruises, sitting atop that very undrinkable water the poet wrote of as we feel at peace with the world while we sail on the water.

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We might travel to be near water, or alternatively visit some nondescript seaside town for no other reason than to have stood beside the sea and be able to say we saw this this or that sea or ocean. Somehow a journey without the visit to some water is not complete.

 

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Hot Springs – Basuanga Island Philippines

 

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After a 35 minutes ride up into the hills above Basuanga Island in Palawan, you come to the Maquinit hot springs. Maquinit means Mainit, which in turn means hot in the local Tagalog language. And they are hot up to 40 degrees.

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The springs are one of the very few saltwater springs in the world and emerge from beneath an extinct volcano that sits on the island. The salt waters flow through the springs and then into the sea, either directly or through mangrove trees that surround the site.

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The springs are open into the evening so are often visited in the evening to avoid the heat after a long day hiking, diving or island hopping. But, if you can cope with the heat, it can be worth visiting in the day because there is a wonderful view over the sea that you don’t see at night, and you might just have the place to yourself since local people tend to go at weekends or in the evenings.

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The road to the springs winds up through the hills and the springs are not in a village or town. The surrounding natural environment shows beautiful flowers, birds and even some monitor lizards. Although the lizards are shy they have a wonderful pre historic look if you are fortunate enough to see one.

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The pools give you a variety of temperatures up to about 40 degrees. The hot pool is misleadingly comfortable at first touch because of the salt, but it’s certainly hot and you need to be ready for it. The waters are also said to contain spirulina so their medicinal or healing properties are sought after. The dark volcanic rocks of long ago eruptions surround the pools

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The view across the bay is well worth some time to sit take in the scene and reflect, and, having enjoyed the springs, time slows right down as you sit there, although the bumpy ride back to town will soon restore you to reality. As well as its therapeutic qualities it’s a fascinating change from the island and water life of a Philippine journey

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Village Life – Philippines

 

 

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On the way to the Maquinit hot springs in the hills above Coron at Palawan, in the Philippines, the road winds up and down through hills and around bends in the road that suddenly give vistas of the blue sea below. The road is dotted with villages, each going about its daily life, in the world around the tourists and travellers that come to these islands.

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On the lower slopes is a fishing village with boats moored alongside jetties in front of simple houses, and the village straddles the road into the hills. When you travel its easy to get divorced from the simple fact that the places you travel to are not just destinations, and the world does not exist just to stimulate the traveller but in fact the opposite is true.

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Houses abut the sea with boats parked outside like cars. A man paddling across the bay in a canoe is carrying things not just taking people for an outing; the small houses are deserted waiting for people to return from their daily chores.

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A man sits outside his small shop waiting for customers, and when asked for permission to take a picture he smiles and straightens himself, because there is pride and enterprise there, not just a job. By the water small fish lie drying in the sun, the results of the morning’s catch and boatmen paint and repair their boats.

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A restaurant made almost entirely of bamboo does good trade in the middle of the day, the atmosphere of being in something entirely mad of bamboo being fascinating, but to the people there its just as it is.The market is filled with people searching the displays of fish and vegetables each person with a particular mission.

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You are just passing through but that snapshot of a daily life is a counterbalance to the traveller’s objectives of islands, sunsets, food and relaxation. The experience adds flavour and colour to the journey, and the people you visit stop for a moment to talk to someone new, before returning to the routines of daily life.

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As travelling and tourism grows and the boundaries between tourism and everyday life blur, the village and its life adds some meaning to the surroundings

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