Remote and unspoilt paradise Philippines, the ideal lair for Dragon James Caan

By James Caan

The Philippines attracted us because they seemed so unspoilt.

On previous holidays we had been to exotic Indian Ocean island destinations such as the Maldives - but this time I wanted to step outside the normal commercial holiday options.

Slightly harder to reach than the better-known destinations of South-East Asia - guide books describe them as being on the ‘wrong’ side of the South China Sea - the Philippines are definitely well off the beaten tourist path.

Typically, I like to combine a break in a resort with a couple of city stops en route. This time we flew to Dubai, then to Shanghai before hitting Hong Kong. Travelling with my wife Aisha and our daughters Jemma-Lia, 23, and Hannah, 24, we thoroughly enjoyed our initial three-city tour, and at the end of it we were really looking forward to chilling and relaxing in the Philippines.

We knew that the Philippines as a tourist experience probably wouldn’t be as polished as, say, the Maldives, but they were every bit as attractive - and never felt ‘touristy’.

Our first glimpse of the Shangri-La at Boracay confirmed that it was a stunning property, beautifully done.

The resort’s website had painted an alluring picture of somewhere that was both tranquil and very remote. In real life it was absolutely amazing. I’ve previously stayed at a number of other Shangri-La hotels in India and China. The Boracay property was even better than the others as it is one of their newer properties: everything beautiful and spotlessly clean.

The hotel beaches are fabulous and the service second to none. Most impressive, perhaps, was CHI, the Shangri-La spa that claims to be ‘a place of personal peace, enchantment and wellbeing’. Situated on a rocky peninsula overlooking a private bay, the detached spa village complex is designed to be a sanctuary within the resort. Treatments here are based on Chinese and native Philippines healing concepts, including Hilot, the traditional Filipino healing massage.

I love the spa - it’s one of my favorite holiday experiences - and the one at Boracay proved exceptional. The one thing that makes me slightly uneasy about having a massage is the amount of time it takes. My life is all about getting the most out of every hour in the day, so while I love a massage, I’m not convinced it needs to take a couple of hours. When I was shown into the treatment room by my masseuse, I saw there were three other girls there who didn’t seem occupied. As the masseuse began massaging my head, I discovered that the three other girls had nothing planned.

So I quickly took things over: I said that while my masseuse continued on my head, one of the other girls could massage my back while the other two took a leg each.

I can tell you now that having eight hands massaging me is the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. I think I had a four-hour massage in 60 minutes - perhaps they’ll add it to the spa menu as The James Caan Massage!

The other thing I really enjoyed at Boracay was the Helmet Dive. If you don’t like snorkeling and lack the qualifications to scuba-dive, a Helmet Dive opens the undersea world to anyone.

You are connected by an air pipe to a pump on the boat. As your helmet is filled with air, it keeps out the water but you can put your hand inside to adjust your glasses if you wish (yes, you can wear your glasses or contact lenses).

You can walk about 15ft down on the ocean bottom with fish swimming right up to your face. It is the most marvelous experience.

And it’s one of those things you will instantly want to try out on holiday. But if somebody had come up with this as a business proposition on Dragon’s Den, I can imagine it would have had a rough ride. For various reasons, I would have said ‘I’m out’. But I’m definitely ‘in’ as far as the Philippines are concerned.



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