BORACAY ISLAND – THE PHILIPPINES
Without a doubt The Philippines is one of my favourite destinations in the world and I’ve visited a few. Some far flung and interesting, stretching my understanding of cultures and places; others closer to home and although enjoyable, turned out to be just another diving holiday.
But The Philippines – well it gets me hands down every time. Take Manila, a city so buzzing in its heart that it puts good old New York ‘the city that never sleeps’ to shame. Whether it’s 3 am peeking out your hotel window or shopping up a storm in one of Manilas’ many shopping centres at 3pm, the hive activity that can be seen is a sight to behold.
Regardless of where you head to in The Philippines, your main port is either Manila or Cebu. From here you can take domestic flights out to an array of destinations. Obviously your transfer from Manila or Cebu differs based on what part of the Philippines you are going to dive/visit.
Our arrival into The Philippines was with Qantas Airways out of Sydney, an easy flight straight into Manila and through the surprisingly efficient entry process at Manila International Airport. Transfers were sorted by Allways Dive Expeditions with Rajah Tours who were on time and very pleasant. They helped us with our bags and got us into our nice air conditioned van pronto. For me the arrivals process is a biggie; if it’s good it kicks off my ‘woo hoo I’m on holiday’ feeling right there. This trip, I opted for an extra night in Manila and went with Edsa Shangri La, located centrally in Manila, recommended by the AWD team.
The Filipinos take their security very seriously, and upon arriving at the hotel, my bags had to go through the formal hand held scanner and sniffer dog check. Check in was a breeze with a concierge guided, electronic screen check in completed in around 8 minutes. My room was then ready for me, my bags delivered less than 15 minutes later, and then a surprise tray of yummy chocolates, macaroons, fresh fruit and personally addressed welcome card from Staff and management. At this point, I’ve decided “it’s official, I’m moving in”….
After settling in, I headed down to poolside, and was met by a pool attendee who followed me with two towels and asked where I would like to sit; pick a banana lounge, any banana lounge. He then proceeded to create a fancy banana lounge towel set up and offered me beverages from the poolside bar. This pool area was nicely segregated into small kiddie section, slide and kids pool play area which were separate from the large main pool which was a nice tough. Please don’t get me wrong, I love kids – in fact I have some, but that doesn’t mean I want to listen to other peoples kids when I’m in the holiday zone. The main pool itself was again roped across one section- this rounded end of the pool was 2.8 m deep which meant it was really just adults and older teens. A great way to cater for both families and couples/ singles.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
The food and beverage service at Edsa Shangri La was divine! Bring your appetite to breakfast and allow yourself plenty of time to cruise the huge buffet and don’t forget to smile when the staffs call you boss/ sir / maam. Nothing is too much trouble for the staff and the service is good.
The hotel boasts international cuisine but I headed out to Shangri La mall an upmarket complex attached to the hotel via aerobridge for variety.
I went with the busy looking Japanese restaurant for dinner which offered ala carte and Teppanyaki. The Teppanyaki chefs here were incredibly talented, performing lots of tricks and gratuitous flame creations with sauces! I went ala Carte and the food was well priced and extremely yummy. The drinks were also well priced with the margarita coming in at 150 Peso (AUD$3.90). There were quite few restaurants available to choose from, so I would happily recommend this area for dinner as you would be sure to find something to please your stomach regardless of its mood. All the available venues were busy and had a good vibe.
After this stay, I moved on to Boracay, where I again selected the Shangri La. Located on the beachfront, the Shangri La offers villas ranging from the WOW price range down to divine garden rooms which were still quite fancy. The pool is a large winding affair with plenty of space and staff on hand to settle you into either pool banana lounge or beach banana lounge; they set up your towels and then return about 30 seconds later with bottles of cold drinking water – gratis! There are two beaches- the private beach which is for Shangri La clients only or the semi private shared with other hotels. The shared beach is still a reasonably big beach with everyone spread out, so as to not feel too crowded.
The beach and poolside food and beverage is delivered fast, great poolside snacks and happy hour is nightly between 5 and 7pm where you get 2 for 1 drinks. We ordered two Mojitos thinking they will get that one is the freebie, but nope, we just got four! Communication barrier or just different responsible service of alcohol laws? Either way -HAPPY DAYS. I really can’t fault this hotel, as the service was well above standard and definitely worth the 5 star rating – especially after a couple of 2 for 1 Mojitos!
Shangri La offered lots of venues for dinner from cliff top seafood to private dinners for two on the beach. There is also the option of eating in town on the beachfront. The free shuttle bus goes into town from Shangri La every hour during the day and every half hour in the evenings, making it convenient and easy to get out and about. There are heaps of restaurants, all well priced, offering tasty local and international cuisines. It’s fairly touristy and busy along the beach strip at night and there are street vendors selling the usual bits and pieces. In amongst it all though, you can find fire dancers, tattooists, henna artists, hair braiders and everything else in between.
Man oh Man, I love this destination! Boracay is breathtaking, with crystal clear blue water, so pristine it looks fake. Think of all those pictures you’ve seen in Brochures and thought “well that’s photo-shopped! “ Well it isn’t in Boracay, that’s the actual colour. The best part is, the things you can do in in the water in Boracay. Dive, snorkel, jet-ski, parasail, rise a banana boat, flying fish, paddle board, and the list goes on and on… Should I continue?
When you get sick of the water (like that’s gonna happen), not a problem! We went zip lining (750m long), zorb balling, played golf and enjoyed the natural beauty of the island. We pre-booked it all as part of my accommodation flights package, which ensured that we used reputable operators. It can be booked locally, but beware – ask a lot of questions, and use your good judgement when you choose as we passed a lot of dodgy operators along the beach – who evidently don’t the basic concept of safety.
Overall, this was an amazing experience in a stunning part of the world. I can’t fault the Shangri-La, as the service was well above standard and definitely worth the five star rating. If you’re looking for a truly luxurious holiday location, don’t go past The Philippines! You won’t regret it!