Bask and you shall receive
Leaving from its own quiet corner of Manila's chaotic airport, the private chartered plane to Amanpulo Resort has only a handful of passengers on board. We all cheer when, after a one-hour flight, we catch a glimpse over the pilots' shoulders of the private island of Pamalican, located between Palawan and Panay. We were admiring other island paradises on the way, but with Pamalican's transparent turquoise water and luminous white shores, it's as if Aman Resorts paid Mother Nature off as part of the package.
On our arrival, smiling staff guide us to our solar-powered club car, at our disposal to zoom us around the island during our stay. Our beach casita is simply and tastefully designed, surrounded by a jungle garden with the sea a stone's throw from the porch. The interior showcases local materials and workmanship; the furniture made of coconut shells and rattan is more chic than rustic, and Capiz shells surround the lamps to lend a soft, natural glow.
Amanpulo has seen a string of high-profile guests looking for a low profile holiday (Robert De Niro, Michael Jackson, Tom Cruise and Sienna Miller, to name a few). It's no average family resort, but the staff are surprisingly accommodating with children. There's babysitting, daily snorkelling trips and organised activities such as tree planting, so parents can pretend momentarily that they're on a second honeymoon. There's even the chance to see baby turtles hatch at night and make their way down the beach to the sea.
The luxury at Amanpulo is in the detail - and the ninja-like service. Each time we return to our club car, it has been politely re-parked and the water bottles inside are replaced with chilled ones. Personal guest assistants arrange for any whim, such as private cocktails on the pontoon boat or a torch-lit barbecue on the shore outside your casita. Every member of the team is genuinely friendly and professional, from Richard at the clubhouse - who treats us to a star-gazing session using the resort's new hi-tech telescope - to Chris and Nick Juett, the effusive general managers.
There's not a bill in sight, either - which momentarily indulges the dangerous illusion that everything is free on this idyllic island. A nightly account can be arranged, however, if you want to keep track.
Then there's the island itself. The soft sand on its shores is dotted with blue starfish, and under the water you can hear tropical fish nibbling away at red coral. Among those we glimpsed were brightly coloured surgeon fish, angel fish, giant sea turtles and the odd baby shark.
Not to be missed is the resort's breezy new spa, which overlooks the island's treetops. As you sit sipping tea at the reception, you can gaze out over a sea of rippling leaves, the mesmerising turquoise sea in the background.
I was persuaded to try the two-hour Island Indulgence, a treatment designed to heal and balance the body. It starts with a detoxifying herbal steam bath, after which there's a traditional hilot massage, named after the equivalent of local doctors in deep rural areas. It's a warming blend of acupressure and sweeping movements for lymphatic drainage. The foot therapy includes a scrub and mud wrap with banana leaves to further help drainage, then dagdagay bamboo sticks are used to massage the feet - a tribute to a tradition from the mountains of the northern Philippines, where children would massage their parents' tired feet after a long day in the fields.
While the clubhouse has a comprehensive international menu, the best dinner is at the Beach Club, which offers open-air views of the sunsets. There's a fine spread of tapas, gazpacho, paella, barbecued king prawns with garlic chips and salad, chorizo, cabrales cheese and chilled Rueda.
It's made apparent during our stay that the island and its ecosystem are not the backdrop here, but the stars of the show. The attitude of the creatures we stumble across confirms this: bright yellow oriole and nosy scrub fowls rustle the leaves around our porch, egrets observe us from the rocks just off the beach, and giant dragon-like monitor lizards waddle slowly across the dirt lanes while we patiently wait in our golf buggy. It's clear who's on whose turf, and they're all unfazed by us pesky guests.
Chilled to be here
Rates: from US$850 for a treetop casita, plus 10 per cent service charge and 12 per cent local tax
Getting there: flights from Hong Kong to Manila from HK$1,890. Transfer to Pamalican costs US$400 return for adults and US$250 for children under 12.