Boracay island. File photo
MANILA, Philippines – While many Filipinos are still reeling from the sting of American author Dan Brown’s depiction of Manila as the “gates of hell,” the Los Angeles Times on Sunday published a scathing article on another Philippine jewel: Boracay.
The article, with the title “Trouble in party paradise: Boracay Island in Philippines,” was written by Catharine Hamm, who visited the island last year. The subhead: “Crowding and overdevelopment make for a disappointing visit to Boracay Island, Philippines.”
“Can Travel & Leisure be wrong? That's the magazine that crowned Boracay the best island in the world,” she wrote. “After my visit last year to this island 250 miles southeast of Manila, I decided that, yes, they could be wrong. Or misguided. Or I could be.”
“I'm guessing that the visitors/voters aren't Californians on the far edge of middle age who fancy themselves beach connoisseurs. Maybe they don't suffer guilt about the poverty or the damage to the environment. Maybe they were smart enough not to come at the height of habagat, typhoon season,” she added.
Although Hamm praised Boracay’s sand (with the qualifier “once they were cleaned each morning”) and the “bathtub-warm waters" and found the people “quite wonderful,” she also warned her readers about the roads, “which were like pot-holed obstacle courses,” the “badly damaged” coral, the hawks and Philippine eagles on Crystal Cove that looked “bedraggled” and, most especially, the “parade of people” from tourists to merchants selling jewelry and massage services.
“It was all a bit overwhelming,” she wrote. “And sad. Children were begging, the occasional mom with a baby and another child with hand outstretched.”
Not even the posh Discovery Shores, which was voted by Travel & Leisure the fourth best hotel in the world,” impressed Hamm.
“Our accommodations included a living room, a bedroom and a small kitchen, where everything was dotted with small yellow flowers that contrasted with the brilliant white of the linens and the walls,” she wrote.
“Our bellman explained the large water-filled bowl on the floor on which yellow flowers floated: Someone would be by soon to give us a welcoming foot massage. As we waited, we perused the tray of welcome sweets and tried a little pandan water, made from pandan leaves brewed in a light syrup and water. It was a little like the U.S. South's equivalent of sweet tea, which isn't my cup of tea.”
However, the masseuse was “MIA,” she said, adding that “no number of spa treatments was going to change my impression of Boracay, a place for partyers or rich people, of which I am neither.”
“This wasn't a love match — not for me. Maybe 30 years ago when Boracay and I were less overdeveloped,” she concluded.
But most of the online readers of the LA Times disagreed with Hamm's article.
"It's definitely the writer. The part of her spending two paragraphs complaining about the hotel's linen tells me what kind of traveler she is," wrote Freddie13. "I was in Boracay six months ago and the island blew away my expectations."
"Hey Hamm, sounds like you see a glass half empty. We were in Boracay last April and thoroughly enjoyed our experience. We stayed at station 1 and found the beach to peaceful, quiet and exquisite," commented TheRath.
"I think it's you," wrote Daimos la. "I've been to boracay a couple of times and greatly enjoyed my stay, especially along station 3 and at Shangri-la. Maybe you need to go during the winter season where it's less crowded and still get 90degrees weather.
"You may want to check out Phuket, Krabi or Seminyak then tell me which among these have better beaches than Boracay. Even Hoi An! And yes, at least they do clean White Beach unlike those other beaches I mentioned," Daimos la added, referring to popular beach destinations in Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
This is not the first time an international publication criticized Boracay. Early this year, theWall Street Journal lamented how the island has suffered from over-development.
In an article titled “Stranger than Paradise,” published on March 14, 2013, writer Wells Tower noted how Boracay has become the Philippines’ “worst-kept secret,” adding that it has “those elements of tourist culture that have already dimmed the appeal of places like Phuket.”