Saturday, November 29, 2008

living in the middle of the sea (the sandbar of Bais)

In forever tropical Philippines, heat runs eternal. The season of rains brings easy respite to the sweltering humidity but even then the coastal temperature would still hit above the mid 20 centrigrade mark. By December, in countries way above the northern hemisphere, anything above 10 degrees is a justifiably fine day and anything above 20 degrees is heaven sent. The heat that Filipinos define as oppressive is desirable to the sunworshippers seeking the warm sizzle of the infinite beaches dotting the archipelago.

Sand and sun beckon the traveler and few ring a clearer call than the sandbar of Bais in Negros Oriental.

accommodation at the sandbar is in houses on stilts
Canon PowerShot S40, 1/50s, f/2.8, 7.1mm

Imagine this- a patch of white sand in the middle of the ocean that comes and goes with the tide. Water recedes and a beach of glistening fine sand emerges, stretching up to seven kilometers from end to end. Then, in no time, the sea rises and reclaims the earth and everything around you is water.

sandbar, unexposed
at high tide, the sandbar is submerged up to 1 ½ meter
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/22, 18mm, ISO 100

Accommodation is afforded in houses on stilts, made of rugged and basic simplicity. No TV, no traffic and not even a next door neighbor. Granted there are three huts spread on the shoal, each is spaced widely by at least a hundred meters apart.

Bais sandbar
traipsing on the sandbar of Bais-Manjuyod, Negros Oriental, the Philippines

It has been that long but since 1992, I have visited the sandbar, on business (I was involved in developing seaweed farms in the vicinity). Before, there were no commercial huts on the sandbar save for a hut maintained by the mayor of Manjuyod and the one we were using. Existential living was the order but nature has been kind to the sandbar. The natural beauty has not dimmed to this day.

sunrise in the sandbar, at high tide
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 25s, f/32, 38mm, ISO 100, +4/3 EV

getting there

From Cebu City, the most convenient route is to head south to Oslob, some 120 kilometers away. At Oslob’s Liloan port, there are numerous passenger boats which leave regularly for the short 30-minute ride to Sibulan in Negros Oriental. Or, there is another port at Bato for ferries that transport cars between the two islands.

Bais is about 40 kilometers from either port. Public buses, jeepneys and even tricycles are available by the road. The most convenient take-off point would be the Capiñahan Wharf in South Bais Bay. The sandbar is just 15 minutes away.

welcome to paradise
boat service between the mainland and the sandbar
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1.0s, f/13, 18mm, ISO 100, -2/3EV, w/ 1 ND0.9 filter


The sandbar has been a bone of contention between the town of Manjuyod and the city of Bais. While to this date, it still is popularly referred to as the Bais sandbar, the 600 hectare property otherwise identifiable as the Sumapao Shoad, has officially been determined as the territory of Manjuyod due to its proximity during low tide.

living in the middle of the sea

Because of the limited accommodation, arrangements should be made with the municipality of Manjuyod. An option would be to pre-order sumptuous seafood on season. Fish, shrimps and crabs are popular choices.

sunset over Bais, Negros Oriental, the Philippines
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/80s, f/22, 18mm, ISO 100

Security, that ever lingering doubt in today’s world, is assured. Negros Oriental is peaceful. Resort management provides a boat on call by the sandbar 24 hours. Somehow the easy sight of the nearest island, Olympia, with its round hill, also provides comfort although it is several kilometers away. While there is no electricity, car batteries run some fluorescent lighting by nighttime. And it helps that there is cellphone signal too.

Water comes steady in carboys. Such is the way of living in the ocean. Fresh water is a luxury and it is in abundance but not through the tap.

fresh water in carboys is provided for bathing and cooking
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/60s, f/8, 18mm,ISO 200, +4/3 EV


Getting bored with your book? Go watch some dolphins and whales. Their playground that is the Tañon Strait that separates Negros and Cebu is your backyard.

Early morning, right after sunrise, is the best time to visit the frolicking cetacean creatures.

morning glory
our hut, overlooking the Cebu sunrise, the Philippines
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/6s, f/9, 18mm, ISO 100, +1/3 EV

dolphin watchers
early morning dolphin watching at the Tañon Strait between Negros Oriental and Southwestern Cebu
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/1600s, f/5.6, 210mm, ISO 100

getting ready
At 5:45AM, while we were having breakfast, the boat crew arrived to pick us up for our dolphin-watching
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/2s, f/22, 18mm, ISO 100, +1/3 EV

Dolphin and whale watching is a separate 2,500 PHP (50 USD) for a boat that can comfortably accommodate 20 people. The spotters are local fishermen who are expert in knowing when and where best to catch the dolphin show.

the engaging smile of Tiboy, our contact’s son
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/60s, f/4, 27mm, ISO 100

Island folks say that sometimes, the dolphins even will approach the boat, so near that they could almost be pet by hand. In one visit, the dolphins came as close as 10 feet away, encircling our boat repeatedly. It was all we needed to break into immediate applause.

dance of the dolphins
a school of dolphins cavorts at the Tañon Strait between Negros and Cebu
Canon EOS 350D Digital, 1/800s, f/5.6, 210mm, ISO 100, +1/3 EV

Dolphin shows can last for hours at a time. The dolphins just went around in seeming circles, as if to entertain. Whales are typically more shy, lumbering in a greater distance in the deep.


The three huts are managed by the >local government of Manjuyod. Overnight package is around 2,500 PHP (50 USD) and day use is 1,000 PHP (20 USD), inclusive of 20-minute transfer from either Manjuyod Beach Resort or Bais Kanibul Dock. Reservations at +6335 4041250 or +63918 6486134.

Dolphin and whale season is April to September.

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Anonymous said...

Amazing photos of an amazing place. I will get here one day!
The sand bar is simply incredible. Great photography.


akanée said...

Your article and photos make me think it is about time I took another visit to the Philippines! I'm glad now the airline from Kansai Airport to Cebu is back!

Anonymous said...

salamat! a Bais visit is always worth the travel. Best time is summer (April-May).

Anonymous said...

You are a wonderful writer and speaking from experience, the Philippines is one of the most breathtaking places to go to for the sun, sand, sea and stars!

Unknown said...

Sorry, but I am from Manjuyod and this sandbar is owned by the Municipality of Manjuyod. Not of Bais City. It is called Manjuyod Sandbar. Thank you.
There is a division between the tourism sites Bais and Manjuyod share. The Sandbar is with Manjuyod and Dolphin Watching from Bais City.