Momo Beach House is the most chill resort in Bohol

Lazy afternoons, nature and the sea at Momo Beach House on Panglao island, Bohol. Photo by Dominic Calalo
The 15-room Momo is like someone’s chic island manor. Visit, call 0915-9889932. Photos courtesy of MBH

When my best friend who lives in Canada told me last year she was going to vacation in the Philippines in January, we immediately started to plan an out-of-town weekend. People who know me know I love Palawan for its marine life and limestone cliffs, Boracay for its White Beach and food, and the third island province I never tire of visiting is Bohol.

“Bohol is for culture, churches, the sea and amazing landscapes,” I told Maria.

Indeed, foreigners who tell people they’ve been to Boracay are asked next, “But have you been to Bohol?”

Bohol has two things no other destination in the Philippines has: the Chocolate Hills, which are 1,700 geological formations that look like Hershey’s Chocolate Kisses spread across 50 square kilometers in Carmen  (they’re five million years old) and the tarsiers at two conservation centers, the world’s smallest primates that have been in existence for 45 million years.

Plus, there’s  Loboc River, which to me is the most scenic river in the country with coconut trees on the banks, bent toward the water as if bowing to welcome you.

Two hammocks and a wide, open sea to ponder. Photo by Tanya Lara
Paddle boards and kayaks are provided by MBH.

So we planned the trip in December, more than a month before she was actually arriving, bought tickets and booked at Amorita Resort and Momo Beach House, both of which belong to One-Of Collection, which manages hotels and resorts around the Philippines such as The Funny Lion in Coron, Sta. Monica Beach Club in Dumaguete and Momo Beach House in Bohol.

What I love about their resorts is that each one has its own distinct personality. They’re like children from different mothers — no two are alike and that’s the fun in it.

In Bohol, Amorita is the elegant child with its quiet villas with private pools, meandering gardens, amazing food (my God, the Peanut Kisses milkshake!) and discreet service.

Momo Beach House is the hipper version — the child that runs around barefoot in the gardens and climbs trees, the one that makes his parents laugh with funny faces, the one that catches fish on a boat with his father, only to release them again to the sea.

With Amorita located on a cliff, you can contemplate your life and probably come up with a plan for the next 10 years. If you contemplated your life on Momo Beach House’s hammocks — sandwiched between Momo Beach and the swimming pool — the furthest you will want to plan is dinner. In fact, you don’t want to plan that either. It’s that chill.

Beach Tree Cafe is an open-air restaurant with views of the pool and sea.
Apart from local comfort food, guests can buy the fresh catch of the day from local fishermen in the area and have it cooked.

“We developed Momo Beach House as a peaceful, inspiring destination where guests can share our passion for having a relaxing lifestyle,” says Ria Hernandez-Cauton, president of One-Of Collection. “Here, we foster a nature-driven culture so that guests can get away, exhale all the big city toxins, relax, and soothe their mind, body, and soul.”

Located on Panglao island and a 20-minute drive to Amorita and Alona Beach, Momo Beach House is an eco-chic boutique resort that “has emerged as one of the Philippines’ top resort destinations, offering world-weary guests an escape from the urban fray and multiple opportunities to rejuvenate in a beachside setting.”

The 15-room resort looks like someone’s ancestral manor with its whitewashed walls, thatched roofs and a pool in the middle. The dining room is an open space with couches and wooden tables and chairs and colorful throws.

The Aqua Room for couples.
The al fresco chillax lounge and dining room at Momo.

The rooms are in vibrant pastels with stunning seaside and sunset views, and a distinct architectural design theme incorporating white furniture pieces, locally sourced organic bath products, wooden poolside lounge chairs, a repurposed wine rack made from an old fishing boat, and a beachfront bamboo bar.

“Sustainability is an integral part of One-Of Collection’s business strategy,” says Ria. “The location of Momo Beach House is already blessed with a fantastic combination of sun, sea, and sky, and that’s why we designed in ways that integrated key features of these beautiful natural surroundings.”

Committed to meeting the demands of today’s increasingly busy tourists and wellness-oriented leisure travelers, Momo Beach House distinguishes itself with a wide range of features and services that make for truly holistic holidays: nature-inspired architecture, homestyle al fresco dining, environment-friendly amenities, and a homey, just chill vibe.

Getting away from the stresses of city life.
Beach volleyball, anyone?

“There is also much more to Momo Beach House than scenes of tropical idyll. Its Beach Tree Café is an all-day dining venue with a homestyle-inspired menu designed around locally sourced organic ingredients, and an approach to food that emphasizes health, freshness, clarity of ingredients, and local availability.”

Banking on the widely held notion that a healthy lifestyle is also necessarily an active one, the boutique resort serves as a venue for regular private yoga retreats and wellness activities, with an on-call yogal instructor available to lead practice sessions for beginner and advanced yogis and yoginis. Momo Beach House also provides kayaks and standup paddleboards for guests.

“Here at Momo Beach House, our approach to wellness is holistic,” says Ria. “The facilities, features, and services in our resort are all aimed at strengthening our ability to engage with and cater to travelers who demand greater options for getting away and rediscovering themselves.”

Chillaxing on Momo Beach.
Chilling at night at Momo Beach House.

10 things I love about El Nido’s Miniloc island

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Miniloc Island Resort from above. The resort is surrounded by towering limestone cliffs and amazing coral reefs below. Photos courtesy of El Nido Resorts
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The water villas at Miniloc. The entire resort was renovated last year, giving it a refreshed look but retaining its local design and rustic charm.

If I was asked what I loved most about my recent trip to Miniloc Island Resort in El Nido, Palawan, I wouldn’t be able to choose only one thing because the second you land in EL Nido, you know you’re going to experience memorable moments all throughout your stay.

Located in Bacuit Bay, Miniloc is one of four properties of El Nido Resorts, a group of sustainable island resorts in Palawan that offer unique experiences amid stunning natural landscapes.

One of the most Instagrammed islands in the Philippines, Miniloc was “discovered” by Japanese divers in the 1970s. And who wouldn’t fall in love with Bacuit Bay’s towering limestone cliffs and spectacular marine life?

Joey Bernardino, marketing director of Ten Knots Development Corp., owner of El Nido Resorts, says that Miniloc island was discovered accidentally. “The Japanese divers had been travelling through the area at night seeking other destinations. When a fishing line disabled the divers’ boat, they were forced to drop anchor. When they woke up the next day, they were amazed by their surroundings.”

In 1982, “they made Miniloc an ecotourism destination way before sustainable developments had become a buzz word. When Ayala Land bought into El Nido Resorts in 2010, it kept the resorts focused on nature-based activities, minimizing their footprint on the environment, and fostering relations with the surrounding communities.”

Capiz doors and cogon roofs are Miniloc’s signature look.
Miniloc added an eternity pool when it renovated.

Here are 10 things we love about Miniloc Island Resort:

1. The rustic charm gets refreshed. For a 40-year-old resort, Miniloc looks brand new. That’s because the entire resort was renovated last year, shuttered for six months and opening again in December 2018. Miniloc is famous for using local materials and architecture like traditional capiz windows and cogon roof on its water villas and cottages fronting the beach.

They made the conscious decision to retain the rustic feel that everyone loves. They also added sea-view suites and an eternity pool that looks out to Bacuit Bay— and when viewed from the gardens, you truly can’t tell where the pool ends and the sea begins.

2. Miniloc resort occupies less than one percent of the island. Joey Bernardino says, “The four El Nido island resorts have different masses or size in hectares but if we consider all the islands put together, we have only developed one percent . And once we develop them we become responsible for the entire island.”

Perhaps this is the reason why marine life surrounding Miniloc remains a spectacular showcase of biodiversity. Marigs Laririt, El Nido Resorts director for sustainability, says that could only have been made possible “by the fact that we have a well-maintained sewage treatment plant and a solid waste program that is uncompromising.”

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The clownfish is one of thousands of species in Miniloc’s house reef. Photo by Tanya Lara
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Thousands upon thousands of jacks in Miniloc’s house reef.

3. Miniloc’s house reef. I love resorts with house reefs — and Miniloc’s is the best I’ve seen so far (I’ve seen quite a few number in Luzon and the Visayas). Twice every morning, the staff feeds the jackfish that jump out of the water almost like dogs do when thrown treats.

There are colorful coral reefs just a few meters from the beach, so many varieties of fish, and it was the first time I saw thousands upon thousands of jacks surrounding me — like the famous sardine run in Moalboal, Cebu.

Miniloc also has well-trained nature guides who steer snorkelers’ fins away from the fragile corrals. Diving or snorkeling in Miniloc’s house reef is one of the happiest experiences you can ever have in El Nido.

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Entalula Island is one of El Nido Resorts’ properties. Miniloc guests are brought here if they want to go island hopping. It’s the perfect place to chill. Photo by Tanya Lara
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With old friend  Joey Bernardino of Ten Knots. Miniloc provides paddle boards on Entalula island.
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A sunny, lazy afternoon in Entalula.

4. Entalula island. I can stay here all day and just fall asleep under the shade of the trees to the sound of waves breaking. An exclusive island belonging to El Nido Resorts, Entalula has a white-sand beach, waters so blue, beach beds, paddle boards, a bar and restaurant.

Oh, and some resident monitor lizards that like to walk to the beach from the forest behind that’s been left untouched. Miniloc takes its guests here when they want to island hop and it’s a mere seven-minute boat ride away.

5. Big and Small Lagoons at the crack of dawn. I was shocked to see that our itinerary for the second day said, “Wake up at 5:30 a.m.” It turned out it was to go kayaking at the Big and Small Lagoons.

I said, “Didn’t we just do that today?” Yes, but seeing the sunrise in the lagoons is really special — you get to appreciate the stillness of the waters and literally hear the day starting with the sounds of nature. Tourists from the mainland are only allowed in the lagoons starting at 9 a.m. Kayaking makes you work up an appetite for Miniloc’s breakfast buffet.

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Dinner on a private beach with old and new friends: Joey, Romie, Ecka, Big Mac, Anne and Angelo.

6. Dinner at Big Lagoon Beach. Joey says Miniloc gets booked for quite a number of weddings and when it’s an intimate one, they prefer to get married here, one of the islands owned by El Nido. They’ve also had weddings where it’s just the bride and groom without a single guest.

Here, we had a lovely dinner of grilled seafood and paella, crispy pata and so much more with live music courtesy of the staff. Mike the singer was so talented he got me Youtubing Pinoy songs for days after.

7. Seeing the constellations and luminescent planktons. On the boat ride back to Maniloc at night, Miniloc GM Mac Guerrero — who has entertained various Hollywood celebrities on the island including Oscar nominee Margot Robbie — had the captain stop the boat and kill the spotlight.

Having seen Bacuit Bay’s limestone cliffs during the day, we were now treated to its beauty at night. “Look up,” Mac said. And indeed, the dark sky was filled with stars so bright it felt like we were under a giant umbrella lit from the inside.

With the boat rocking gently, we looked down and saw the water lit up as well by luminescent planktons. I had never seen this before in my life and it felt so magical.

The bar at Miniloc and views of Bacuit Bay.

8. The glorious food and drinks! Since 2006, El Nido Resorts has maintained its own organic farm, using compost generated from the island resorts’ kitchens. Collectively, the resorts generate 36,000 kilos of biodegradable waste a month, which are composted. “The resulting soil conditioner has made it possible to raise a wide variety of produce in marginal Palawan soil and allowed the resorts to save significantly on food costs,” says Marigs Laririt, El Nido Resorts/Ten Knots sustainability director. “And 58 percent of all ingredients used in the four island resorts is sourced from locals.”

Miniloc is an all-inclusive resort with a buffet spread at breakfast, lunch and dinner. The variety of dishes is fantastic starting with the salad bar, grilled seafood and meats, fruits and desserts, and Filipino favorites. They change the buffet every day — some meals you get a pasta and pizza bar and others you get noodles and home faves like adobong pusit and ginataang kalabasa.

And I love the bar, which is just beside the main dining area. You have a view of the sea, and the bartenders make such wonderful drinks with top-shelf spirits. On our last night, when we got back to Miniloc from the beach dinner, Big Mac brought out a bottle of Johnny Walker Ultimate 18.

Needless to say, it was a great night back-grounded by the sound of waves.

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Morning boat ride with the limestone cliffs silhouetted against the horizon. Photo by Tanya Lara
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The waters around the island are filled with marine life. One afternoon, the boat dropped us here and we snorkeled all the way to Miniloc’s house reef.

9. El Nido community relations. Ninety percent of El Nido Resorts employees are locals and turnover rates are minimal. “Employees communicate a strong sense of pride in their islands to guests which in turn fosters among guests great appreciation for and a desire to keep the surroundings pristine,” Joey says. “It makes great sense for us to safeguard the resources that continue to attract visitors to our islands and this helps improve quality of life in general for our host communities.”

10. The warmth and kindness of the Miniloc staff. It’s true that Filipinos are naturally warm and friendly and when you pair that with the kind of training El Nido resorts provides its staff, you get impeccable service.

From the nature guides who go kayaking with you to the wait staff in the restaurant, the beach attendants taking care of your snorkeling or diving gear, the bar staff and room attendants — they all want to spoil you.

But nothing compares to the resort’s singing group that says goodbye to you at the pier. They’re plucked from Miniloc’s different departments — even the chef at our beach dinner doubled as drummer — and sing original songs about El Nido.

They sing to and wave at departing guests until the boat is literally out of sight, making you want to jump into the water and swim back to Miniloc.

Because who wants to leave paradise? No one!

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At one of the loft villas at Miniloc.
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Your first glimpse of Miniloc resort is on this pier.
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Whether you’re in bed or in the water, the views are amazing.

Blissful in Bodrum

Golturbuku Bay from Hilton Bodrum, with its private beach and island, sits on the calm Aegean Sea.   Photos by Tanya Lara.
Sun worshippers at Ersan Resort & Spa.

Two seasons after being in Bodrum, I still find myself dreaming of the place. Of the blue Aegean Sea dotted with yachts, their sails looking so white against the sparkling waters, the breeze that cools down hot summer days, beach loungers spread out across the sand in every private resort or public beach, and the fantastic food.

Widely regarded as the French Riviera of Turkey, it’s an hour’s flight from Istanbul and located in Mugla Province. Often referred to as a party island, the port city of Bodrum sits on the southern coast of Bodrum Peninsula and faces the Greek island of Kos.

Sami Bas and Tanya Lara wait for sunset on Rabbit Island in 2015.

Before this trip with Sami, who’s based in Istanbul, Bodrum was in the news nonstop. A little Syrian boy wearing a red T-shirt had washed up ashore trying to cross to Greece with his family and other refugees. The picture of the little boy so shocked the world and somehow made it more compassionate toward the plight of refugees.

This is the Bodrum we find ourselves in at the end of summer 2015, at the crossroads of its hedonism and conscience — and these two roads would quickly merge because Turkish people are kind and compassionate (the country has two million Syrian refugees within its borders). The rest of Europe, it seems, is just beginning to realize this.

You see a few refugees begging in the city center or selling pens at stoplights, but you don’t see the ones trying to cross to Greece because they do it under the cover of darkness and because of military and police presence on the streets, which was unheard of until the war in neighboring Syria exploded and crossed borders.

The public beach in Gumbet, just a few minutes from the private islands near Bodrum City.
The public beach in Gumbet, just a few minutes from the private islands near Bodrum City.
Formerly belonging to Greece, Gumusluk island still bears the colors of the Greek isles.
Formerly belonging to Greece, Gumusluk island still bears the colors of the Greek isles.

Bodrum is quieter at the end of summer, a little cooler at 30 degrees compared to the crowded peak summer months of June to August when the temperature averages around 34 degrees, the beaches are full and the parties are crazy.

When Sami and I were planning the trip, we decided to split our four days into two beachfront hotels: Hilton Bodrum Türbükü Resort & Spa, which is located in Türbükü Bay, and Ersan Resort & Spa, which is nearer the city center. Most resorts offer full board as did these hotels, because, seriously, once you’re in there you won’t ever want to leave except perhaps to have dinner or go clubbing in town.

It’s an unforgettable drive from the airport on the way here — on our left are mountains and hills, and on our right are the deep blue sea and posh white houses hugging the distant cliffs like in Santorini.

Our drive feels like we’re in a postcard except the scenery is moving along with us.

The bays of Gölköy and Türbükü are only two kilometers apart and form a cove, which makes the Aegean Sea at Hilton calm and perfect for swimming out to sea without having to worry about waves, and to do water sports like jet pack and fly boarding.

At Ersan Resort & Spa, the water is choppier because it is out on the open sea. On the second day, I muster enough courage to swim with him onto a floating sundeck about 50 meters from the shore (I don’t know how to swim properly, so I tried to simply not drown).

A pool ladder leads straight onto the Aegean Sea at Hilton Bodrum. With the island shaped like a cove, the water here if very calm.
A pool ladder leads straight into the Aegean Sea at Hilton Bodrum. With the island shaped like a cove, the water here is very calm.
Rows and rows of sun loungers at Ersan. In the height of summer, you wouldn't find an empty one, which is why it's probably better to go to Bodrum right before or after summer's hottest days.
Rows and rows of sun loungers at Ersan. In the height of summer, you wouldn’t find an empty one, which is why it’s probably better to go to Bodrum right before or after summer’s hottest days.

A lot less lush than Hilton, Ersan nevertheless spreads out across greens and cascading hotel rooms on hills with the ones facing the sea being more premium. This is a more family-friendly resort with crazy huge waterslides in two pools, while several pools are for adults only

Because I live in a country where it’s warm all year round, where we could go to the beach in December or pack an overnight bag on a whim, I never fully understood how people can spend days on the beach tanning, until I realized why. It’s simply because for countries with four seasons, warm sunny days really do have an expiration date. Before you know it, the last days of summer are here and then it’s suddenly too cold for flip-flops and Bodrum has shut down for the season.

But lying on the beach with Sami and reading the book he bought me in Istanbul (appropriately enough, Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul), I am falling deeper in love with Turkey. Oh, how diverse its landscape is, how beautiful its seas and people!

* * *

Like any European seaside city, Bodrum has a lively tourism industry that attracts both the international jet set as well as domestic visitors.

On our second night, we take a walk along the marina, which is the city center. It is actually comprised of only several streets, some of them pedestrianized, which means that traffic and parking can be challenging.

The streets are flanked by bars and restaurants at all price points. Souvenir shops offer handicrafts made of seashells, and of course specialty foods such as Turkish delight, baklava, sweets, olives, nuts, and other foods.

The best thing we discover on this night is an ice cream place called Bitez Dondurma Waffle, a small restaurant toward the end of the marina which offers 18 flavors of dondurma or ice cream from Bitez.

St. Peter’s Castle was built by Christians during the height of the Roman Empire and to protect them from persecution during the rise of the Ottoman Empire. Today, it houses shipwrecks excavated in the Aegean Sea. Photo from
St. Peter’s Castle was built by Christians during the height of the Roman Empire and to protect them from persecution during the rise of the Ottoman Empire. Today, it houses shipwrecks excavated in the Aegean Sea. Photo from

It may very well be the best ice cream on the Aegean Coast! Flavors range from sour cherry to mulberry, walnut, pistachio, honey and almond, caramel and mandarin. Sami so loved the mandarin flavor that on our last night, after driving all over the peninsula, we went back to the city twice to get ice cream.

Apart from Bodrum’s beaches and clubs (Halikarnas being the most famous one), what was once this ancient Greek city also offers culture and history. Bodrum Castle, built in the 15th century, was built by the Knights of St. John as the Castle of St. Peter. The funny thing is that the construction workers were granted a “reservation” in heaven by a papal decree in 1409.

Enjoying an evening at Bodrum Marina with Sami.

The castle was once a refuge for all Christians in Asia Minor, but not long after, it was attacked during the rise of the Ottoman Empire, leading to its fortification. Today, Bodrum Castle is home to the Museum of Underwater Archeology, which displays shipwrecks excavated under the Aegean Sea.

Preceding Bodrum Castle was the Halicarnassus or Tomb of Mausolus, which was built between 353 and 350 BC during the Persian Empire. Considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the mausoleum was built by Greek architects. Only ruins remain now, having been destroyed by earthquakes from the 12th to the 15th centuries.

The complicated histories of Turkey, Greece and the Roman Empire are woven into the geographical and cultural fabric all over Bodrum and Turkey. You must visit the vestiges of this past to get a better understanding of Bodrum, like the small fishing villages and towns on the peninsula.

Topping the list are Gumbet, Gümüslük, Yalikavac, Gundogan and Bitez.

Gümüslük is a village which, if you didn’t know you were in in Turkey, you’d think you were on a Greek isle. The colors of the Cyclades islands are here — the bright blues and white and pastels.

We are going to Gümüslük for Rabbit Island, famous for its sunset. It’s said that the island was often visited by the King of Halicarnassos, King Mousolos, and his beloved Artemisya to feed the rabbits living on the island and to watch the setting sun.

You can actually walk to Rabbit Island across the bay because the water is very shallow and, luckily, we went to other places first and we arrive at Gümüslük just in time for the sunset and some lokma or pastries made of deep fried dough and soaked in sugar syrup or honey, and sprinkled with cinnamon powder or sesame seeds.

Breakfast fare at Hilon Bodrum, Bitez ice cream at Bodrum marina, grilled fish at Yalikavak, and Turkish coffee and tea at Hilton.

And of Gümüslük’s famous sunset that prodded a king to travel to watch it? It’s a sweet yellow sun that slowly hides behind the hills and mountains, bathing the bay in a soft golden hue as the waves rock the wooden boats on the water — as if to lull them to an early sleep. Crossing back to the main island on foot, with 80 meters of water in between, the tide has risen still only amazingly up to thigh level.

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Our village-hopping route that starts from Bodrum is an almost perfect oblong. From the city, we dive to Gümbet first, then to Gümüslük, then for dinner we end up in Yalikavak, and pass by Gündoğan on the way back to Bodrum.

In between these towns we get lost only once. Gumbet is a short drive from Bodrum City and an alternative to the crowded night scene and traffic of Bodrum. The houses here sit on the hills facing the sea and it has along pubic beach where people can just park their cars across the street and walk over to the water for a day under the sun.

The sand is the color of latté and small pebbles wash up on the shore, and again the water is just so clean considering it’s a public beach. Often called a “miniature of Bodrum,” Gumbet is peppered with restaurants, bars and clubs. Like the other towns on the peninsula, tourist trade is active with boat rentals.

Sunset at Gumusluk Bay, belly dancers at Hilton; below, a new season is coming judging by the almost-leafless tree, reading Pamuk on the beach, and buying lokma.

After Gümüslük for sunset, we go to Yalikavak for dinner and pass by Gündoğan on the way back to Bodrum. We don’t get off at Gündoğan but it’s worth a visit because it’s an active fishing town known for its snorkeling and diving, and its bay is circled by sunbathing jetties.

With a population of only 4,000, Gündoğan is not often on tourists’ itinerary but they say many Turks have vacation houses here, preferring its rural quietness and old-world charm. It also has olive and citrus groves, and pine forests covering the hillsides for hiking.

On our last night, we have dinner in a seafood restaurant in Yalikavak Marina. Five feet from our table, the yachts are anchored, and the waiters are throwing leftover pieces of bread to the fish. As a stray dog mills around our table, we are talking about what we would remember most from this vacation — as if we had already left Bodrum.

Sun, sea and serenity.

Oh, so many things! There were the unlimited tequila shots at Hilton, the pool we had to ourselves, the fishermen gamely posing for pictures on Rabbit Island, the swimming pools and jacuzzi at Ersan, sitting on the balcony and looking out at the sea, the ice cream from Bitez, the seafood, my being the only Asian it seemed in Bodrum at the time, singing in the car, lying under the sun with a book, and swimming in the sea.

My heart is breaking between the main course and dessert because we have to leave this place the next day.

Some days, when I am driving to work along Manila Bay and I’m stuck in traffic, I look out to the brackish waters and the reflected sun. I close my eyes for exactly two seconds and try to imagine it’s as blue and as clear as the Aegean Sea, that I am standing in the water and I could see even the tiniest pebbles around my feet.

And then in my head, I am transported back to Bodrum’s lovely summer.

On the Aegean Sea, looking at an island we have to leave behind.
On the Aegean Sea, looking at the island we soon have to leave behind.


Because this is Boracay
Boracay’s four-km. White Beach, and the colorful paraws or outrigger boats getting ready for island hopping. You can rent one for the day for P2,500 to P4,000 ($60 to $90). (Photo from
The private part of Puka Beach, which only about four hotels located far from White Beach have access to. (Photo by @iamtanyalara)

In the morning, I open one eye and see my cousin Cheche on the bed next to mine reading a book.

I don’t know where I am.

Not knowing where you are in the morning is never a good sign for where you might have been the night before.

We are in Boracay for the weekend, the party island in the Philippines, about which a friend three years later would text me, “Hey, my brother and his girlfriend are in Boracay and they are playing a game called ‘Guess the age gap between the European and the Philippino.’”

My first instinct is to say, “Dude, you misspelled Filipino.” But I whatsapp him back, “I hope your brother’s Irish ass is having a great time anyway.”

Because, seriously, this is Boracay.

And that is the only explanation you will ever need for this island. It’s the best and worst island in the world — and incredibly people love or hate it for the same reasons. I’m a city girl who likes walking around centuries-old buildings, shopping streets and museums. But Boracay…it’s really something else.

A lazy afternoon on Puka Beach. Yes, that’s where puka shells, those small shells made into necklaces, come from. Or at least that’s where they came from before they all but disappeared. (Photo by @iamtanyalara)

It is 2012 and it is an extra-ordinary year for me and Boracay. I would visit it four times with different sets of friends and family, which is what makes the year special. This trip at the end of March is the first in the next seven months, the only time and local destination I would make as many trips to in such a short space of time.

On our first night we join the Boracay Pubcrawl, which barhops across the beach bars and restos and plays games on the sand with rewards like shots of Boracay rum. The first rule of a pub crawl is this: Let your hair down and have fun. The second is don’t tag the pictures you upload online showing people getting shitfaced (everybody does eventually, including you).

At the first bar, we meet a gay couple that we bond with for the rest of the night. They are teachers from Dubai who are on vacation around Southeast Asia and meeting with their Filipino friends at another island here. There are honeymooning couples from abroad and groups of locals.

Boracay sunset — and you never really get the same colors every day. Best place to enjoy it is on White Beach — with the island’s favorite drink, rum coke (because it’s cheap), in the many bars along the beach. (Photo by Emer Ibabao/
All sorts of souvenirs and trinkets at D’Mall, an open market with local and branded shops. (Photos by Raymund G. Martelino)

At one point, I ask the American teacher, “I think they are watering down the cocktails, shall we order proper drinks?” So we do, which leads to a hazy remembrance of playing games on the beach involving wigs and hula hoops, and then a complete memory loss.

The last thing I remember is dancing at 2 a.m. in a bar where the pub crawl ends and we’re with the gay couple and I’m telling one of them, “I love you! Why are you such a great a guy?”

One of my last memories of the night is being put on a tricycle by my cousin and I am asking her, “Did I do anything I shouldn’t have done?” She is laughing at me and says no, “You were just flirting with a gay guy.”

The following day we spend the morning on a private beach reading books and swimming (me, trying not to drown). The beach is deserted. It doesn’t have the crowds of White Beach; it doesn’t have its energy either, but it feels good to be under the sun, away from people.

In the evening, we see the couple on White Beach again and invite them to dinner with a friend who owns a resort there. He had made us rosemary baked chicken. They are bonding, we are bonding, exchanging stories.

The author (red dress, front row) during a Boracay Pubcrawl. The pub crawl is run by a German guy, Oliver Köllner, and his Filipino partners. It costs about P790 for guys and P690 for girls ($15 to $18), and I’m not sure why there’s a price difference between the genders. The pub crawl fee includes a T-shirt, a shot glass and free cocktails in bars. You have to pay for more potent drinks. (Photo from Boracay Pubcrawl)
Sun worship on White Beach. (Photo by Emer Ibabao)

I am not very good with strangers. We do this —or I do this — only because this is Boracay, and I am just so happy being here.

* * *

A month later, I am in Boracay again. This time with friends from New Zealand.

We meet in the Manila domestic airport — they are coming from Singapore and  I from Paris — to go to Legazpi for the whale sharks and the next day to fly to Boracay.

We drive from Legazpi to Donsol, but climate change has made the waters of Donsol too warm for the whale sharks to breed and feed here. After hours in the open sea snorkeling and just lying on the boat, we give up.

I am very disappointed for my friends especially because they had flown here for these giant, gentle sharks. When we were planning the details of the trip a month before in Singapore and through email, I told my Kiwi friend that they were now breeding in Oslob, Cebu, but he wouldn’t listen to me. He said those were “tame and small,” they were being hand fed by fishermen and tourists, and it was true, but they were there.

Cliff diving at Ariel’s Point is a popular activity away from White Beach. (Photo from

Later, I realized why he was so stubborn about going to Donsol instead of Oslob. He had been to Donsol years ago with his father and they swam with 15 to 20 whale sharks within 20 minutes of being on the water. It was the year before his father died, and it was a memory that he carried in his heart so gently, so profoundly.

We fly to Boracay the next day. The island to them is a different vibe, not necessarily the most beautiful but different…mildly interesting because, after all, they are from an island in New Zealand with a hundred-kilometer beach.

Oh, but we we laugh a lot. We go bar hopping along White Beach until we get so drunk that all three of us end up arguing for different reasons.

But in the morning, when all is forgiven and we converge for the last time at my hotel, we eat local breakfast while looking out onto the blue sea, and then we swim right away because it seems disrespectful not to.

By lunchtime, I leave my Kiwi friends to their own shenanigans and fly back to Manila to join friends that evening for a weekend in Hanoi. I am still jet lagged from Paris and, when I meet them at the airport, I have those few seconds of standing in the terminal with my backpack and not knowing where I am going.

* * *

Away from the crowds. The sand at Puka Beach is not as fine as White Beach and the water goes deep real quickly. (Photo by @iamtanyalara)

In July, I am back in Bora with a different set of friends. It’s my birthday weekend. Another ragtag group that I spent Easter with months before, swimming, skeet shooting and eating our way through Bohol, another beautiful island in this country.

There are six of us this time. The sunsets are gorgeous every single day. They are red and orange, they are pink, they are blue — sometimes all in one evening.

Fresh seafood at D’Market or talipapa (wet market). You buy your seafoods at market price and choose a restaurant to cook them for you for a fee. (Photo by Emer Ibabao)

Our friends Emer and Edd , who own several boutique resorts on the island, put us up at their hotel on a hill behind White Beach. Emer cooks us paella on our first night and takes us to a club where they bring out a cake with sparklers and a bottle of vodka.

The next day we spend lunchtime picking fresh seafood in the talipapa (wet market) and having them cooked in a restaurant, and in the afternoon on the beach we get massages, sleep and drink fruit shakes.

A tropical storm descends on the island that night. Some of our friends have gone back to the hotel but four of us stay behind on White Beach drinking vodka and rum coke. We are soaking wet as we barhop our way back. At one point, the rain is so strong the streets behind White Beach are flooded (July is wet season in the Philippines).

We are shivering from the cold and there is just no escape. We wade through floodwaters, taking shelter (and funny pictures) at  a hotel driveway. At this point the water is almost to our knees, and finally we find a pedicab to take us up the hill. Four basang sisiw that were wondering out loud: how can an island get flooded when the beach is not? Of course, everybody knows the answer to this.

* * *

And sometimes, the colors of paraws just reflect the blue waters. (Photo by Emer Ibabao)
Pink sunset taken from a beach bar. (Photo by @iamtanyalara)

And the fourth trip of the year. An ordinary weekend because I just need to escape the toxicity that is typically Manila.

I realize that this is a special year. Some friends I went with are now living abroad and I haven’t been back to Boracay in almost three years, this beach that is so near and seemingly so far with local airlines jacking up their fares to Caticlan and without explanation just cancelling their flights back to Manila.

I am afraid to go back lest a trip would tarnish the memory of my perfect year with Boracay.

But the island has already changed a lot from the first time I saw it. About 15 years ago I  co-wrote and edited the first book on Boracay. I interviewed some of the first wave of Europeans that settled here and built resorts. They told me of a time, decades ago, when there was nothing on the beach — just a few thatch-roof huts with no electricity or running water.

They were young backpackers then, they ate the fish they caught and mushrooms that grew at the back of the beach. There was no tax, there was no government. Just another uninhabited island in the Philippines. And now the beachfront has fully developed with many structures violating building codes.

And yet, Boracay is beautiful no matter how or when or with whom you experience it. The sunsets remain gorgeous, the food and shopping are awesome,  the crowds are great and tolerable at worst, there are so many things to do here (cliff jumping, diving and snorkeling — or if you’re really drunk, get a real huge tattoo instead of henna!), and yes, young prostitutes with foreign tourists are sadly too many.

Boracay beach life. (Photo by Emer Ibabao)

On this island, you can be yourself or pretend to be someone you’re not. People care very little about who you are outside their beach. Because Boracay is what it is, just as you are who you are.

I can list a hundred reasons why I love Paris and they would all be true.

But with Boracay, I don’t need to make a list. I just walk out into the sun, feel my toes sinking slowly into the cool, powdery white sand, and know that I am home.