Modern Living

The peaceful island of Amanpulo

Few hotels or resorts anywhere in the world evoke an emotional experience that lingers for years to come. Even more rare among these are the selected few that offer great value in spite of the usually high prices that these elite properties charge. It is only the rare establishments that successfully combine a memorable experience with great value which I consider among the best hotels and resorts in the world.

What amounts to a memorable experience is easier to define than what creates great value. A high value quotient is a function of the usual criteria – price, service, food and facilities – in addition to the overall experience, the presence of alternative accommodations and the x-factor of "getting what you pay for." For example, it would be difficult for me to comprehend paying $500 for a standard hotel room in Hong Kong when the Peninsula Hong Kong starts at about $250 to $275. All else being equal, charging more than what is undisputedly one of the very best hotels in the world will amount to a definite degradation of a property’s value quotient. However, paying $500 per night may not be too much to ask if one takes the facilities of a top-rate hotel and puts it in an isolated island where all food and supplies need to be flown or shipped in on a daily basis. That is a clear case of getting what you pay for.

For very different reasons, on top of my list of places with the highest value quotient are Villa d’Este on Lake Como, Italy, and Chateaux Les Crayeres in Reims, France. Recently, I added one more property on that very exclusive list and it is rather surprisingly in our own backyard – Amanpulo.

Amanresorts opened their first resort – Amanpuri – in Thailand in 1988 and has since opened numerous properties worldwide catering to the most discerning traveler looking for unique experiences in exclusive resorts offering the best service. Although many equate Amanresorts with tropical island paradises, each of their properties is actually characterized by a unique personality offering very different experiences, such as skiing in Jackson Hole, USA or Courchevel, France, the temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia or exotic getaways in India or Bhutan.

Unlike other island resorts that require some kind of bangka ride to reach, Amanpulo has its own airstrip allowing planes to land on the island. This not only saves your Jimmy Choo’s from getting wet, but allows you the rather strange experience of packing up as little as 20 to 30 minutes before your scheduled flight. The staff – including co-general managers Shane and Karen McNally – meet you at planeside where each guest is whisked off by a host on a private golf cart which serves as the primary mode of transportation while on the island. After a quick tour of the facilities, the guests are brought to their casita, which is essentially a luxury suite with a bathroom almost as big as the room itself – the true height of luxury!

Except for the language, it is easy to forget that you are in the Philippines when in Amanpulo. The island is blessed with pristine white sand surrounding the entire island, which you can walk in 90 minutes, a couple of modest hills and a few light trails. For the diver, mostly hard coral surrounds the island ensuring plenty of dive sites all within a 10- to 15-minute boat ride with everything from turtles, sharks, lobsters, rays and every pelagic fish in between. Especially in summer when light is reflected on the still waters like glass, there are hardly any currents, making diving in Amanpulo comparable to a leisurely swim in a giant aquarium. For non-divers, snorkeling and feeding the biggest batfish – at least a foot in diameter – I have ever seen is always a highlight. And because you are in Amanpulo, they don’t make you scrimp on the amount of bread you are allowed to bring. Where you would normally bring a plastic bag or two, we had a trash bag with enough bread to feed the fish for an hour. I guess that explains the size of Amanpulo’s carbohydrate-overloaded fish.

Summer is also turtle-laying season when resident turtles come onshore to lay their eggs. Arrangements can be made with the resort to call you – anytime of the day or night – should one of their lookouts spot a turtle onshore for the rather unique experience of watching a turtle lay her eggs or baby turtles struggle to get back out to sea.

Without a doubt, Amanpulo is in the forefront of how far operators will go in the name of superior service. Being a beach resort, there are numerous outdoor showers that dot the island. Each one has a supply of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel similar to the ones found in the casitas. In addition, your casita is made up in the morning between the time you leave for and return from breakfast and somehow everyone is able to address you by name from the time you first step off the plane. From a friendly hello, to raking the sand daily – to prevent the proliferation of sand fleas (nik-nik). common on the islands of Palawan – to not requiring you to sign any chits during your stay, to catering to your every whim and desire, the staff at Amanpulo is efficient and genuinely friendly. But perhaps the most impressive part of the service is its transparency. Resorts by Aman – Sanskrit for peace – as the name implies are meant to be quiet and relaxing. And after spending even a few hours at Amanpulo, I assure you that any unusual commotion or disruption of this peace will be magnified tenfold by your senses. Even if the staff is extremely efficient, at no point will you ever see anyone rushing or running. Although it is easy to take all this for granted, it is truly amazing how such efficiency can be achieved so invisibly and seemingly effortlessly.

Amanpulo is expensive. Quite likely the most expensive property in the Philippines. It is neither for the budget-conscious nor for the faint of heart, but for the discerning traveler who demands the best. Amanpulo promises an experience that will not soon be forgotten and is guaranteed to keep you coming back again and again. I think the key testament to Amanpulo’s value is that in spite of its premium pricing, at no time will you feel like you are not getting your money’s worth.

Strangely, the most stunning – if not shocking – experience of a trip to Amanpulo may be the return to the city. From the moment you step out of the airport and are back on to the streets of Manila, your senses will suffer from an overburdening of stimuli from screaming children running in front of your vehicle, to the relentless honking of horns, to the incessant mayhem to the general day-to-day pandemonium that is commonplace on the streets of the metropolis. If nothing else, this extremely distressing sensory overload is guaranteed to make you hearken back to your quieter days at Amanpulo. The memory of chirping birds, the gentle surf and the sound of silence all but guarantees a longing for a return to the peaceful island.
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Amanpulo can be reached at (632) 759-4040; fax (632) 759-4044; e-mail [email protected] amanresorts.com or log on to www.amanresorts.com.

The Peninsula Hotel Hong Kong can be reached at (852) 2920- 2888; fax (852) 2722- 4170; e-mail [email protected] or log on to www.peninsula.com.

Chateaux Les Crayeres can be reached at (33) 03 2682-8080; fax (33) 03 2682-6552; e-mail [email protected] or log on to www.gerardboyer.com.

Villa d’Este can be reached at (39) 0313481; e-mail [email protected] or log on to www.villadeste.it.
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For comments, e-mail me at [email protected].











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