I keep coming back to Boracay
GLOSS THE RECORD - Marbbie C. Tagabucba (The Philippine Star) - April 1, 2017 - 12:00am

There is no shortage of us local city dwellers alongside tourists fleeing from the chill of spring during AirAsia’s inaugural flight from Manila to Caticlan at NAIA Terminal 4 last week, to think that the two new direct flights haven’t been announced yet.

I asked around and gathered from some European backpackers and a South Korean couple — none of them were Boracay first-timers — that they found the flights through metasearch comparison apps Kayak and SkyScanner when they were looking to book the cheapest flights with convenient schedules and AirAsia’s flights beat the other airlines.

The destination itself was doing all the promoting for this new flight because both flights were full. Until this flight, you had to pay more to take a smaller turbo propeller aircraft to do away with the two-hour land trip from Kalibo. The newly constructed, San Miguel Corporation-controlled Nabas Apron at Caticlan Airport, a much-needed expansion and improvement, has nine parking bays with a 1,800-meter single runway, making it accessible for bigger aircrafts like AirAsia’s Airbus A320s in their signature red planes. There are talks of a bridge construction, too, going from Caticlan to Boracay.

Boracay is going urban and commercial quickly to meet the demands of the tourist influx. A mall is nearing completion. It has its own settlements. In Station 3, a Korean-Chinese-Filipino friendship arc has been erected, but you didn’t need to spot that to know. The concentration of restaurants in the area ranging from Szechuan family-style dining to franchised café chains from Seoul are a giveaway. It even has its own growing hipster area in Bulabog Beach, thanks to the kite-surfers and their laidback, bohemian lifestyle, complete with mural-painted hostels, craft beer bars, and soon-to-open craft cocktail bars and designer accommodation concepts, evolving from the essential post-surf coconut water cocktails in bamboo shacks.

Tourists come and leave only to come back. The Azalea Hotels & Residences in Station 2, the first four-star serviced apartments in the island, opened in July 2015 to meet this demand and true enough, its guests hailing from all over the world are checked in with them for a week to up to a month. The property isn’t beachfront, so it is quiet at night — Station 2 is White Beach’s party central, after all, but the party is only a few steps away. The location is a great starting point to experience all the island has to offer, be it a quick errand to D’Mall, catching a banca for a day tour at Crystal Cove Island for some cliff diving and snorkeling, or an ATV to rev up to the island’s highest point, Mount Luho. Even at only 4 square miles, there’s more to Boracay than its postcard coastlines.

Space is Azalea’s biggest draw with all the comforts of home. Its apartment suites have separate bedroom, living, and dining areas. While I can rattle off recommendations about where to eat from the top of my head, the in-hotel Filipino restaurant Kuya J being one of them (I recommend kare-kare, baked scallops, and ube halo-halo for lunch), you have the option of shopping the freshest catch at The Talipapa and cook using Azalea’s equipped kitchenette and dine en suite. Some get even more practical and avail annual transferable club memberships which allow members to stay at reduced rates.

“They always never want to leave,” group general manager Elisa Escobar shares as we toured the 284-suite property including a private look inside the Owners’ Suite.

Escobar was first a Boracay regular making her annual pilgrimages, up until she was finally working in Manila at a boutique casino hotel property along Roxas Boulevard. Azalea is a new kid in the hospitality block that started in Baguio. When Escobar heard of the job opening, she only grabbed the opportunity to make her everyday life closer to her vacations, a life that didn’t need any escaping from — and in the rare occasions it did, she strolls to the beach.

She is nostalgic for the evenings when White Beach would be firefly-lit and staying out on its powdery shores to watch the sun rise over shallow azure waters was a magical possibility, something I could only imagine. I came of age at a time when celebrating Labor Day in Boracay already had an amalgam with its own hashtag. Here, I’ve tippled one too many tiki cocktails at sunset cruises and danced barefoot at beachfront bars into the night. On this island, I have made memories I will never forget, for better or for worse — I’m sure you did too — but it was always a lot of fun, wasn’t it? And now with even more ways to go to Boracay, more people will be able to make theirs, too.

It begs the question: Despite the seasonal algae, despite the noise, why do people come, and why do they keep coming back?

“The nightlife!” which ranges from ragers at Epic to sing-alongs at Frendz Hostel in Bulabog Beach.

“White Beach!” is still the unanimous answer.

And finally, the sunset. Wherever you are on the island, you stop to look out at the golden horizon as it changes into a vibrant red orange, its lilac afterglow turning into the deep indigo of dusk. Even at paraw primetime, nothing can beat the Boracay sunset.

* * *

AirAsia flies direct from Manila to Caticlan daily at 10:55 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. They have also restarted Clark to Kalibo flights. Starting on April 22, AirAsia will fly direct from Cebu to Caticlan and Davao to Caticlan. AirAsia also maintains daily flights four times a day from Manila to Kalibo airport and international flights from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; China, and Incheon and Seoul, South Korea. Check out AirAsia’s latest promotions and activities via twitter (@AirAsiaPH), Facebook (facebook.com/AirAsia), and Instagram (@AirAsiaPh). Book your flight at airasia.com/ph.

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