Asia

Purely Philippines

written by | Posted on January 1st, 2009

The island is a ghostly relic, very much intact in fact, and it is possible to somehow relive the horrors and the glories that happened there—starting with the Japanese takeover of the island (a U.S. army post since 1908), the subsequent surrender of Allied troops on the island, and General MacArthur’s legendary promise to return. A strange sound and light show in the Malinta tunnels that once housed a 1,000-bed hospital tells the story. The rest is left to a museum and active imagination as visitors pass the haunted shells of dormitories, blown out bunkers, buried artillery houses, and the caves and tunnels where Japanese soldiers lived—and died—when the Allies finally returned to rout them out. The American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila makes a fitting and important visit after seeing the island. More than 17,000 soldiers who fought and died in the Pacific between 1942 and 1945 are buried there in miles of fields kept tended and clean as if it all happened yesterday.

In Manila itself, shopping may be considered another attraction and must-do for visitors, although deals remain rare. Manila harbor what is deemed to be the third largest shopping mall in the world so far at SM Mall of Asia (1.2 million sq. ft.), although malls do contain much of the same merchandise found in the United States. Glorietta Mall, located at the heart of the downtown business district in Makati, is a very upscale operation close to The Peninsula, Shangri-La and InterContinental hotels.

Bliss on the Islands But just outside Manila, perhaps a 2-hour drive away, comes a paradise infused with purity for the spa-going client in search of a true retreat. The Farm at San Benito is Zen for those who believe disease is a mindset that can be cured by good food, good care and plenty of pampering. In quiet and spacious layouts, cottage lofts provide accommodations for well-heeled guests who want a luscious getaway from the world or a serious and lengthy purification experience.

A gourmet diet is made of raw or “living” food and, with the acres of organic gardens, the hidden pools and treatment settings of the Aqua Salis spa overlooking Mount Malarayat, the doting service of attendants, and the sumptuous sanctuaries hidden in private forests of bamboo, it is no wonder the Farm at San Benito has caught the eye of the Hollywood crowd (Woody Harrelson among them). Rates range from $105 for an overnight stay to more than $25,000 depending on length of stay and accommodations. Inclusions vary according to programs, but generally include meals, massages, therapeutic treatments and regular consultations.

Quirky Palawan For clients who want to dive or dip into an exotic setting far from the madding crowd or any crowd at all, you might suggest a jaunt to the island of Palawan (an hour away from Manila by air) and the Dos Palmas Arreceffi Resort (a swift boat ride away from the docks at Puerto Princesa).

Palawan is a rarely visited island of sweet surprises. Barely 20 miles wide and more than 430 miles long, its sweep of attractions include a hungry crocodile farm, butterfly gardens, trails through old growth forests, and sleepy bat caves sheltering an underground river.

The capital town and gateway of Puerta Princessa is mostly a quaint pass-through point but is a busy and easy town with all the modern services, including high-speed WiFi at the hotels. It’s important for clients to keep an open mind when traveling the rainy and pitted roads of Palawan: tourists rarely come this way and what you see is what there is—whether that is a refreshment cafe stand in the form of a broken dirt shack, or yards dotted with chained up roosters in a land where cock-fighting is the national sport. And there are plenty of comely spots as well where it is possible to have a cafe latte and a scone in entertaining, yet natural beauty.

By the time your clients get to Dos Palmas, none of this will matter. The island is in the middle of Honda Bay, one of 1,768 islands around Palawan. Ten overwater bungalows provide the best panoramas. Garden cottages make up the rest of the accommodation options and are big enough for families. When not snorkeling these amazing waters or diving, guests can swim in inviting pools, walk island trails, check out the arts center or have a spa treatment—often offered at night in an open-air pavilion or under the stars. All-inclusive rates start at $243 pp dbl.