My first few months here in the Philippines I’ve been getting my bearings locally, mostly between Mactan and Cebu which are connected by two bridges. That means I’ve been able to get around via taxi or tricycle (sidecar) for the most part. Once in a while I jump on a hubble-hubble (motorcycle) if that’s all that is available. But a few weeks ago I was invited to tag along with my good friend, Delia, to check out some property in the province area of Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol. Bohol is just southeast of Mactan and not all that far away. I tossed some clothes into a backpack and we were on our way, departing from Pier 1 in Cebu.
THE OCEANJET – ‘Fast Ferry’
The first time I crossed the waters to Bohol we took the OceanJet boat. Some call this the ‘fast boat’.. but fast is a relative term. If you are going to Tagbilaran, which most people are since that is directly north of Panglao where all the cool beaches and tourist spots radiate from, then technically Oceanjet is the ‘fastest’ boat there. Not because it moves any faster than the other boats but because it takes a direct route and will get you there ‘sooner’. So just take the word ‘fast’ with a grain of salt when discussing these various methods of boat travel.
If you show up at Pier 1, located along the harbor just across from Mactan, and ask for a one-way ticket from Cebu to Bohol.. the current rate is 800 Pesos. (about $20 USD) That is about the highest price ticket you’ll pay to make the trip. However.. if you order your ticket online one day in advance (before 5pm cut-off point) or show up in person to buy the ticket a day ahead.. you get the same ticket for about 400 Pesos. So, you can get a round-trip ticket for the price of a one-way if you simply plan a day in advance.
With ticket in hand you enter the gate at the Port. It’s got a big sign, you can’t miss it just beyond the ticket office. Even though you’ve bought your ticket you then pay a 10 or 20 Peso ‘Terminal Fee’. No big deal, that’s only like.. 20 or 40 cents. This gets you into the waiting area where they x-ray your stuff and you wait in the large lounge for your boat to arrive. There’s a very small, but adequate, snack bar in there that sells donuts, coffee, water, snacks and a few hot food items. They have these sticky-bun things with meat inside that I just love. I think they’re called siaopao or something like that.. but very tasty for a light breakfast snack. I highly suggest you get a bottle of water, staying hydrated is very important in humid, tropical areas.
Eventually your boat arrives. You show your ticket and get on the boat with pre-assigned seating so.. no need to climb over anyone for your favorite seat. The inside cabin for Oceanjet boats is much like being in an airplane. Same design, layout. Kinda cramped but just comfortable enough to keep you from going completely insane. Once it takes off the journey is about 90 minutes. I usually take a nap midway and before I know it.. we’re approaching the dock at Bohol. The ride is extremely smooth. I, personally, am the sort of person who starts heaving chunks when on the open sea. Yet the Oceanjet is so smooth a ride it’s like taking the bus across town.
Midway they usually stop so you can go swimming with the dolphins and whales. There’s also a lavish Captain’s Dinner with unlimited lobster and shrimp where everybody wears tuxedos. Then they finish off with a champagne toast.
Okay, I made that last part up. But all in all, taking the Oceanjet is the most preferred (in my opinion) method of getting between Cebu and Bohol. Buy your ticket a day in advance to save some money, in person or online, and you get both a quick and economical way to get yourself there and back.
THE ‘REALLY’ FAST-BOAT
As you approach Pier 1 you will see a Port Police station. Directly across the street in a small, not so fancy ticket office at the corner is where you can get tickets for the speed-boat method of travel. You really have to look because there’s nothing shiny or professional about it. It kinds looks more like where you’d place bets with a bookie for cock-fighting or something. If you see a big line going from the street-food into a dingy little room.. that’s it. I went back recently and took a photo of it so you’d know where to go for tickets. To the left you’ll see a Red/Yellow sign, “MV Star Crafts“. I have no idea if that has anything to do with the ticket office.. but you get to the ticket booth by entering the entry-way just to the right of that as seen in the photo here.
This boat is basically a really long speed-boat. This thing holds about 75 people and kicks-ass across the water. Just like a real speed-boat. Imagine a stretch-limousine version of a speedboat and that’s what this is. The price is only 240 Pesos (about $6 USD) one-way and there are no online or day-before discounts. It’s first-come, first-served. Plus it will get you to Bohol in about 45 minutes. Cheaper.. Faster.. what’s not to love about taking the super-fast-boat?
Well.. for one thing it does take you to Bohol, but does not go to Tagbilaran. It instead goes to Tobigon, a port town along the western coast of Bohol. But here’s the deal. Once I took this boat to Tobigon, I simply jumped on a V-Hire (GT Shuttle) White Van and that got me to Tagbilaran in about 40 minutes. So, time-wise it’s about the same as taking the Oceanjet. However, price-wise it’s a bit cheaper if you didn’t book a day in advance. The V-Hire is 90 Pesos (about $2 USD) to get from Tobigon to Tagbilaran so with the boat ticket the total is about 330 Pesos. As I said, cheaper than Oceanjet but no need to advance book the ticket.
Personally, I like both the Oceanjet and the Super-Fast boats. The Oceanjet because it’s simpler, a direct route with a large cabin space and great view of the ocean along the way. Meanwhile, the Super-Fast boat has a smaller, more compact cabin with a movie playing to distract you since there isn’t much view from the window. I also enjoyed the transfer to the V-Hire Van since it gave me a scenic view of the coastline before getting to Tagbilaran.
Now.. if you are claustrophobic or freak out with stupid stuff like air-turbulence.. take the Oceanjet. The Oceanjet ride is very smooth. With the Super-Fast boat we hit some waves at high-speed and got some air-time. Personally, I thought it was pretty cool and was really disappointed when it smoothed out. Meanwhile, the women (and some of the men) were screaming like they never expected the ocean to have waves. It’s the ocean for cryin’ out loud.
The LiTE Boat – (Slow Ass Ferry)
Finally.. there is the LiTE Boat. Not Life Boat. Not Love Boat. This is the LiTE Boat.. as in LiTe Beer. Okay.. technically it’s a Ferry and every bit as slow as the word Ferry might conjure. And just like generic, lite beer this is a no frills boat.. ferry, that is both cheap and slow. But it does have one advantage the other two modes of travel don’t have.. room to bring your crap along with you. The LiTE Ferry advertises themselves more as a way to accompany your stuff as it gets shipped to Bohol than as a passenger ride where you bring stuff along. With Oceanjet and Super-fast boats you can bring along a carry-on sized piece of luggage but not much more than that without special arrangements. With the LiTE Ferry, a huge ramp lowers on to the dock and you could bring along a fleet of elephants with you if that’s what you got. I kid you not.. that ramp is HUGE and the center of the barge is big enough to hold the Millennium Falcon and a small fleet of X-Wing Fighter Jets. People were loading in giant, 6-foot wide baskets of roosters and pallets of rice.. at least I’m guessing it was rice. Could have been hashish for all I know. Anyway, the point is.. if you have lots of crap to bring along it’s worth going a day in advance to ask them about the protocol to drag your stuff onto the barge.. boat, whatever.
Now.. normally you would just buy your ticket and get on the boat same as the others. In my own particular case things got a little weird. For one thing, I went to the ticket office at 6pm the day after Christmas hoping to get a ticket. Yah, that wasn’t gonna happen. In addition to this, no boats had sailed for three days due to a storm that was passing through the area. So everybody that had planned to get across to Cebu had snatched up any seats on all the other boat carriers. Here at the LiTE Ferry port.. the last, 10:30pm departure was also sold out. But.. ‘word on the pier’ was that there would be a secret, unlisted voyage setting for the open sea at Midnight and tickets would be sold at 7pm. I looked at the ticket office and.. no mention of a midnight voyage. In fact, the ticket office was dark and closed up. I asked a few people who it was that told them there was this midnight voyage and they all said that some guy who knew a guy said that they heard it was, ‘legit’. Well, with no other option other than to find another cheap hotel for the night I figured I’d get in line, 30th from the front, and at least wait to see if the ticket office lit up again. The pier was dark, dimly lit by only a few parking lot streetlamps scattered about with an orange glow under the full moon. Even the moon was obscured by the thick, drifting, gray clouds that kept it shrouded to a dull glow.
7pm.. nothing. 7:30pm.. still dark and hope was fading fast. 8pm.. nothing. I figured I’d give it till 8:30pm and call it quits at that point. Others bailed out of line so now I was about 20th from the front. Good for me. I think.
Finally around 8:20pm the lights flickered on and all chaos broke loose. Forget the line.. everyone just bum-rushed the small window and it was like being at the opening minute of getting tickets for a “Who” concert. As if all this chaos wasn’t enough.. when the lights turned on, the biggest flying cockroach suddenly flew out of the lamp.. circled overhead and then landed directly on the woman’s shoulder in front of me. This hideous creature (the cockroach, not the woman) was bigger than my thumb and should never have the ability to fly. But it did. She started screaming and the wicked creature took flight again.. with the whole crowd moving in unison to dodge this vile, flying vermin as it swooped up and down just over our heads before disappearing into the dark recesses of the night. Aside from five or so Spaniards, I was the only non-Filipino in the mix so the one guy behind the glass was making some announcement in Visayan.. which I still do not speak or understand. He kept repeating whatever it was, but never in English. Finally, during a lull in the commotion I raised my hand in the crowd and in clear, loud and articulate English asked, “Hello?.. Yes, I have a Question! WHAT did you SAY?”
A few people chuckled and the conductor.. or whatever they call the late-night ticket dude on the pier, smiled and responded that everyone needed to write their name on a piece of paper and leave it with him. That would get us on a list and we could come back to buy our ticket at 10:30pm. I scribbled my name onto the back of a business card, pushed my way to the front of the line and upon depositing it with conductor-guy.. I made my way to a bbq stand there on the pier. The smell of that bbq chicken had been haunting me for hours and I just had to have some.
When I approached the line of bbq vendors they all called out to me, each saying they had the ‘best manok’ (chicken). I perused their inventory with my trained eye and selected the one who carried both chicken and pork. I was hungry and in the mood for variety. I ordered up a skewered chicken thigh, two skewers of pork with pineapple, one chorizo and two chicken skewers all-meat with a side of rice. I had 2 hours to kill just until getting a ticket so I figured that would hold me over for the night. I looked about from there for a place to sit. It was fairly busy and even though there were many plastic tables, most had filled up due to the late night crowd of people hoping for this one, last, clandestine voyage to Cebu. I noticed an attractive Asian woman looking directly at me as I finished my order with the bbq vendor woman. She waved at me to come join her at her table, which I did.
Her name is Wenci. We had some time to eat and enjoy a relaxed conversation. It turns out the bbq vendor I’d ordered my food from was her sister. Wenci was visiting in Bohol on vacation since she grew up there but was now living in Tokyo, Japan. It turns out she’s a very well-read woman, intelligent and with a firm grasp on recent social events so we had much to talk about. Never married, no children. Hmm. However she was only going to be in town for another 2 weeks and then she was returning to her new home in Japan. We exchanged Facebook info and before I knew it, it was time for me to go.
It was about 10:30pm now.. time for me to return and buy my ticket. We parted ways and I returned before the crowd did and fixed myself about 5th from the front of the window with no intention to give up an inch. I had my backpack (about 25 pounds or more) strapped on and kept glancing over my shoulder for pickpockets who might want to steal my disposable razor or used t-shirts. Again the lights flickered on and this time 3 people filled the ticket booth. Two Filipino dudes and an incredibly beautiful Filipina girl dressed in black. I can only guess she was girlfriend to the younger guy behind the glass since all she did was text and talk on her phone the whole time I was there.
Names were read out loud from the stack of papers and finally my name was called. I handed them an ID and asked for a ‘Standard’ ticket. “All sold out. No more Standard.” I looked at the other options and asked for a ‘Tourist’ level accommodation. He filled out my ticket, gave me my ID and I now had a spot on this midnight voyage. I felt like Leonardo DeCaprio winning a ticket to the Titannic in a poker game. The rest of the crowd was just interested in getting their own ticket and I was moved out of the way.
By now it was already 11:30pm so I made my way through the x-ray counter and followed the only path that lead to the ship. I passed a very large area of the pier with forklifts moving around pallets of boxes onto the ship in a hurry. A huge basket of roosters with one rooster that managed to escape and was sitting on top awaited their turn with the forklift. The stars were bright overhead as the clouds had moved along with the night breeze hours earlier. Beyond the ship was the open sea.. dark, silent and awaiting patiently for any who dared enter it with no guarantee to ever give back what it took in.
I went up a really long plank (is it still called a gang-plank if I’m the only one on it?).. and a steward looked at my ‘Tourist’ level ticket and pointed for me to keep on going. I went past the first area of ‘Passenger’ ticket holders. These were people sitting in a semi-open area on fixed chairs in a way that did not look very comfortable. I passed through the next area and saw nothing but metal bunkbeds made from metal pipes painted white. At first glance it looked like a disaster-relief area. People were already falling asleep, boxes were strewn about and a few babies cried in the distance. The next porter looked at my ticket and told me to keep on going to the next section. I went through the area with it’s ambient warm air and, while I could have handled that area, I was relieved that I’d not gotten the ‘Standard’ ticket after all.
I pushed through a set of tinted glass doors and immediately was flooded with a wave of cool, air-conditioned air. I saw numbers on each of the wooden, much nicer, bunk beds and knew I was in the right location. These bunks were more private and blocked the fluorescent overhead light so I could get some sleep. I found my bunk and it was like having my own little fort for the night. I got a clean sheet from the steward and stretched out to a most comfortable and welcome recline for the evening somewhere around midnight. About 15 minutes later the overhead speaker sparked up and a voice began..
“We thank you for joining us on our travel to Cebu as we begin now to set sail. We anticipate arriving in approximately four hours…”
Four hours?? The other ships only took 90 minutes or 45 minutes. Is this boat slower? Does it take a longer route? Honestly, I only pondered it for a nano-second because I was so tired that I really didn’t care. Plus I had this cool bunkbed-fort to sleep in and I knew I could sleep my way through the whole thing. Meanwhile.. the voice on the ship’s loudspeaker continued,
“As we begin our voyage, let us take a moment to pray. Dear God.. I know that I am a sinner and I beseech your mercies as we travel these waters. Please keep our vessel safe and grant that all our passengers may arrive safely to their destination. We turn to you, blessed Mary, Mother of God to watch over and protect us in this time…”
My first thought was, “Just how dangerous do they expect this trip to be?”. But then I felt a bit comforted thinking, “I kinda wish all my air flights would say a prayer before hitting the runway.” As the Sea Padre continued with his prayer I felt a bit comforted and drifted off to sleep hoping he had at least some idea just how depraved some of us sinners are.
I think I slept for about 2 hours and then had to get up and take a piss, really bad. I found out where the restroom was and did my business. Note: The restrooms are functional, but not necessarily the cleanest I’ve come across. And there is no toilet paper. Fortunately I brought my backpack to the CR with me so I made use of the toilet-paper I keep on hand for just such a situation. It pays to think ahead. During the night I made one more trip to the CR (comfort room) and before I knew it the overhead speaker-guy was saying something about Cebu. I grabbed my backpack, slipped on my sandals and figured I’d make my way to the front of the boat, barge, slave-ship, whatever.. to get out quick. When I got to the front it turned out we were all already parked, or ‘docked’ and the big plank was there to let me make my way to the same Pier 1 that I had departed from in Cebu only a few days before. It was now just past 4:30am in the morning. I knew the routine.. making my way out of the pier and to the street where a gaggle (?) of taxis awaited me.
I got into the taxi and told him, “Grand Mall.. Basok.. Mactan.” It was early morning, I needed a shower, had been traveling for days and was in no mood for haggling. But he started in with, “I give you special price.. only 350 Pesos.” Now, I already know it’s only about 180 Pesos using the meter so I said, “No thanks.. just use Meter.”
He started down the road and then followed with, “Very late at night.. very far. I charge you extra 50 Pesos.” To which I replied, “The meter will charge for the distance, no matter how far.” As for the late-night, if he didn’t want to drive late at night.. what the hell is he doing out here.. late at night in the first place? But he was insistent, “Must charge extra 50 Pesos.. Grand Mall very far.” What the hell? At 4:30 in the morning we weren’t exactly going to hit traffic. And taxis go from Cebu to Grand Mall every day.. it’s not any further tonight that it was yesterday or the day before. It was the principle of getting over-charged as a foreigner that was beginning to get under my skin.
“So what do I get for the extra 50 Pesos then? More miles? Never mind.. just pull over, I get a different taxi.. here, pull over.” But he wouldn’t pull over. So when we came to a red light, even though we were in the left lane I opened the door and got half-way out. He freaked out and said, “No! No.. you close door!”
“But we can’t agree on price, so I get other taxi. Good luck, bye.”, I said and was now almost out of the taxi standing in the stopped traffic. He yelled louder, “No.. you get in. I take you, I take you.” “For Meter?”, I clarified. “Yes! Yes!! You get in, okay?” So I got back in and it was a quiet, awkward ride to Mactan. Total came to 178 Pesos and all I had was a 200 Peso bill so I handed it to him and told him to keep the change anyway. All I really wanted was to get into my studio and take a much-needed shower so I could climb into my own bed. As for the tip, that should always be my choice and not some arbitrary demand on some customers but not others. 50 Pesos is only about $1.25 USD, but I figured I had to do my part to state that not all foreigners are going to just passively accept the ‘skin tax’. I got to my studio, took a shower and slept in until the afternoon. All in all.. I had fun.
So there you have it. Three ways to get between Cebu and Bohol.
Oceanjet Fast Ferry:
Pros: Direct route, smooth ride, clean interior, 90 minutes direct to Tagbilaran. Get tickets in advance for a 50% discount
Cons: Tickets for same-day travel are 800 Pesos, each way. That makes for about $40 round-trip if you don’t take advantage of the pre-purchase discount.
Super-Fast Speed Boat:
Pros: 45 minute ride to Tobigon, Bohol and only 240 Pesos each way.
Cons: No discounts, kinda cramped, slightly rougher ride and must take a V-Hire Van from Tobigon to Tagbilaran upon arrival for about 90 Pesos.
The LiTE (Slow) Ferry:
Pros: If you must take the LiTE Ferry.. spend the 325 Pesos for the Tourist ticket or the 400 Pesos for the private cabin. You will thank yourself since this is a slow, slow boat ride. Other ships stop sailing at 6pm or 10pm, apparently some midnight voyages are available if you have to leave later at night for some reason.
Cons: 4-hour voyage to Tagbilaran, slightly ‘grungy’ experience, bring your own toilet paper.
I hope you find this info useful. I’ll keep you posted on future travels and adventures as I meander about the islands so be sure to Subscribe at the top-right corner of the Site here at LifeBeyondTheSea.com .
Author: Reekay V.
Since 2012 I’ve been traveling through various islands of the Philippines as a full-time Expat and spent 1999 living in Vietnam.
Share with me my ongoing adventures of life in the Philippines. Hopefully you find my observations helpful in your own adventures.
Great article, Henry. Well written and very informative.
Thanks.. hopefully it takes some of the mystery out of where to get tickets and the options available. Getting around to different islands opens up travel options! 🙂
Other than a short ferry to Boracay, I’ve yet to do any ferrying in the Philippines but look forward to doing so. I must be a little warped!
Being from California.. where we drive ourselves everywhere, taking anything on the ocean is a fun way to get around. Not all that fast, but different. The key thing is to plan ahead, arrive early and.. not be in a hurry. (and bring your own toilet paper) There’s another island just East of Mactan I’m thinking about taking the ferry to. I heard it’s only about 140 pesos.. worth taking a day-hike around once I get there, take some photos and eat some street-food. 🙂
I just added a photo of the place to go for tickets to the ‘Very Fast’ Boat, there at Pier 1, in Cebu.
On behalf of all foreigners, thanks for keeping that taxi driver in check! Did you happen to hear the theme song for Gilligan’s Island playing on that “four hour tour”?
Ha! Actually when I hear it was a 4-hour ride the thought crossed my mind briefly. I was so tired I didn’t even care where the boat was going at that point. ha! As for the taxi driver.. I noticed that all the taxis started pulling this routine when December came. It was hard to even get a taxi with so many people going to the malls for shopping that I guess they got kinda bold. Now it’s January and I’m not hearing the “special price” routine anymore. Late at night I’ve been hit up with that though.
One time a driver wanted to charge me 400 Pesos for an 80 Peso distance as the “special price”. I laughed at him, walked to the next cab and took that one. When I arrived I told my driver, “Tell your friend he’ll never get 400 Pesos out of me to go this distance.”
You didn’t mention the SuperCat ferry…
I’ve been on the fast-ferry, but I don’t think I’ve been on the SuperCat ferry (yet).
Thanks for the Infos, Henry
Love your article! You are a great writer! Thank you for taking the time to share the infos and experiences in a very engaging and hilarious way! More power to you and hope you truly like the Philippines despite all its warts.
thanks! 🙂 i hope to do more writing after i relocate, end of september.
still deciding. somewhere likely north since i’ve not seen that area yet. i have some friends in various places so i’m making a list. 🙂
In the Philippines though, right?
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