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Bump Bump - Escape From Boracay

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Posted: 20 Feb 2013 | 4:07 pm

Timing is everything and this week's soiree to the Philippines for island hopping seems ill advised.

I'm stuck if the middle of what they are politely calling a 'tropical depression' or what could eventually become a typhoon. The depression thing reminds me of Tony Soprano and his analyst 'so how are you feeling today Tony?'

Yesterday's highlight was a 12-hour trip from Boracay to Manila which should have taken three hours tops.

While tourism is surging to the famed white sand Boracay shores, the airlift situation remains the penultimate deal killer.

For those who don't' know the island itself has no airstrip, but there is a limited facility at Caticlan on the mainland about 15 minutes away by boat. It's a short runway limited to propeller aircraft such as ATR 72's, Departing planes have to limit their passenger count due to a mountain at the end of the runway.

All too often as was the case yesterday is that in rainy or windy weather planes cannot take off and land. The option is a larger airport in Kalibo about 1.5 to 2 hours away. So on landing door to door travel time could often be up to 3 hours, though the later airport can land jets.

I had the misfortune of flying Cebu Pacific yesterday, and after repeated delays, little communication we were eventually packed into a minibus like sardines, driven by a mad man in the rain to Kalibo, where the airport it was SRO (standing room only).

For those who complain about flying to or from Phuket, try Kalibo for a mass of overcrowded chaos. Ground staff had no idea when planes were coming or going, as they went promptly into hiding and charter flights headed for China added to the mix.

Eventually I made it back to Manila before midnight, shaken, stirred and sporting a bump on the head. Today I'm back in the ring, bumping my way to Cebu straight into another depression way down South.

Reflecting on Boracay, it remains an awesomely beautiful island, but like Phuket, Bali and Samui is far from pristine. It's hotels are getting better. In my opinion the Shangri-La Boracay is the best resort in the chain, Others like Discovery Shores and a personal favorite Asya are heads above the competition.

Yes, while we complain of the airport in Phuket, or Bali, or Samui's conundrum it could be much worse i.e. Boracay. While they are cutting down a hill and extending the runaway, a longer term solution is years away. Airport owner San Miguel's plans to reclaim land and create a much larger facility are mired in red tape.

For Shangri-La, while the hotel has picked up it's rates and occupancy is still a mis-match for this scale of a property with limited access. And yes driving around the island is a similar conundrum to our own island Phuket where poorly regulated building restrictions and inadequate infrastructure is creating an increasing urban sprawl.

Yet for my money the Philippines contains such strong potential, 7107 islands and fantastic natural scenery. Now if only getting there and back were just a bit easier.

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