The Philippines's 7107 islands are often overlooked in the search for an idyllic sun and sand tropical escape. But break with tradition and you'll be rewarded with an experience equal to, if not better than what you're used to.
Take Boracay, a 45-minute flight from the capital Manila, where you'll find one of the world's top 10 beaches. On a fine day the island's famous White Beach cannot be seen with the naked eye. Sunglasses are a must, so blinding is her four kilometre stretch of powder-fine sand. Beyond the chiffon shallows, the horizon is filled with the blue and white triangular sails of native outrigger boats. What budding castaway could resist?
Hidden discreetly behind the coconut trees however, there is an unmistakable party vibe, akin to Bali or Phuket.
Here you can enjoy a massage any time of day. Tattoo artists and hair braiders tout for business hoping to cash in the carefree attitude of young backpackers passing through on their journey of self-discovery.
During the day the summer heat keeps the beach crowds down. It is at sunset when the beachfront come alive, awash not just with barefoot tourists sipping cocktails and feasting on barbecued seafood on tables laid on the sands, but locals enjoying a dip and giving their children a chance to burn off energy before bed in the cooler conditions. Music emanates from the beachside bars where Filipino cover bands show off the talents that are in high demand in clubs and cruise ships around the world.
An eclectic array of boutiques, souvenir shops and craft stalls jostle for pesos along D Mall, the island's favourite meeting place complete with its own ferris wheel and (even odder) the Hobbitt House restaurant/bar completely staffed by little people. No, you haven't had too much sun!
Amid all this activity beware the tricycle drivers which weave through busy traffic along the narrow Boracay Boulevard that links the north and the south of the island. Hailing a motorbike with its crudely welded and decorated (and squishy) passenger side car is an adventure all on its own.
How about a complimentary spritz and scented cold towel under a hot sun?
While a holiday on a beer budget is easily achieved, The Luxury Travel Bible readers' Champagne tastes haven't been overlooked.
Follow the smell of incense to Mandala Spa & Villas - a true jungle oasis atop a hill and overlooking White Beach. The award-winning health retreat is especially renowned for its signature Watsu and Water Dance therapies. Pampered guests stay in one of 12 exclusive thatched villas with designer Italian bathrooms, teak floors and four-post king beds.
How about a complimentary spritz and scented cold towel under a hot sun? This is the type of service guests can expect at Discovery Shores, which enjoys its own raked patch of soft sand. The resort's one and two bedroom suites are by far some of the roomiest and most modern on the island. The dining experience is another reason to stay here.
Golfers can improve their game playing the Fairways & Bluewater's par 72 championship course. Overlooking the greens and scattered across 120 hectares of the northern end of the island, the golf resort's luxury residences are more like homes than hotel rooms.
About to turn two in March, The Shangri-La Boracay Resort & Spa has brought a whole new level of luxury to the island. Situated on the quiet northern-most tip (and 15-minute drive from D Mall) the international five-star resort offers 219 guestrooms including 36 villas and suites. Top of the line are the private tree house and pool villas which come with butler service. Facilities also include the Chi Spa, a separate sanctuary with 10 private treatment villas complete with tropical gardens and outdoor tubs; spectacular clifftop bar; and two private beaches.
There is also Asya, which is very private, intimate and new, set away (but within easy reach) of White Beach. The 31 spacious suites are distinctly Asian in style, and even come with a beach bag and flip flops in case you forget your own. It has it's own restaurant and guests have access to a private cove at the southern end of the island. Totally secluded, it's a most romantic spot for a wedding or private picnic.
Join the party or not, the choice is up to you.
Deb Neilson-Hunter 17/1/11