Siargao sits on the eastern edge of the Philippines,
where hand-woven hammocks hang on still-empty sands,
laissez-faire beach life sets the tone at bars, in boutique hotels
and on the breaks — and the Pacific currents roll in uninterrupted.

It’s more fun in the Philippines, as the saying goes.  And after my recent assignment to Siargao, in Surigao del Norte province, it’s clear why this expression exists.

Prior to this Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia cover shoot a few months ago, it had been a handful of years since I last visited the Philippines.  But as soon as I arrived on Siargao, I was immediately reminded how much I relish Filipino island life: the golden sunshine, the salty sea breeze and the absolutely pristine beaches — but even more, the sincere warmth, kind-heartedness and generosity of the Filipinos who are just as beautiful on the inside as on the outside.

Together with T+L’s Deputy Editor, Jeninne Lee-St. John, we spent nearly a week on the tear-drop shaped island, situated 800km east of the capital of Manila, in the Philippine Sea.  Most people who visit Siargao “come to stay in the chill beach-shack hotels, hang in the laidback bars and restaurants lining the main strips, and to zone out on the empty beaches.”  Jeninne and I, however, took a slightly different approach, staying at the ultra-luxe Nay Palad Hideaway, a gorgeous beach retreat and “the playful, relaxed epitome of rustic-chic barefoot luxury” and using this as a base from which to explore Siargao and its surrounds on daily excursions.

There are so many highlights from our experience on Siargao, but one in particular endures all these months later: the magical day we spent on tiny Mamon Island, “a little spit of sugar sands ringing a hill of thin forest” about an hour from the resort.  We rode from Nay Palad to Mamon on the resort’s luxury private yacht and then spent the morning swimming and paddle boarding in the “shimmer[ing] Tiffany-box blue” water “speckled with seaweed-covered coral” before retiring to the beach for a private seafood BBQ prepared on the sand by the resort’s chef.  The afternoon consisted of more of the same — but this time with some libations — before roaring off to Naked Island just in time for a blood orange sunset.

Since returning home to Singapore, I’ve been raving about Siargao — it’s low-key luxe meets free-spirited surf culture surrounded by genuine Filipino friendliness — to anyone who will listen.  I have a feeling this story for T+L will help get the message out: it really is more fun in the Philippines.

Read about our Philippines adventures in this month’s T+L cover story below.  And click here to browse a broader selection of my photography from the magnificent Nay Palad Hideaway, the long rolling tubes at Cloud 9, the most famous surf break in the Philippines, and the tiny islands and powder sand beaches that ring Siargao.