When my gf found out that I needed to go to Clark for a business trip, she put her foot down. No way she was letting me go anywhere near Angeles without her – and not because of any love for Angeles but because she was well aware of what goes on there. We went back and forth on this for a bit but there was no way I could win this one. In the end it was a foregone conclusion. She’d accompany me and then remain in the Philippines to visit her family while I’d be heading off to NYC for my family visit.
We flew Cebu Pacific into Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, which is one of those airports where you get to walk from your plane to the terminal.
In the background we could see Mount Pinatubo – this still active volcano last erupted 20 years ago and I read that it was the 2nd worst volcanic eruption of the past hundred years. 60,000 evacuated, homes destroyed and it hastened the closure of the US airbase at Clark. UPDATE – oops, it’s not Pinatubo, it’s Mount Arayat.
Unfortunately I don’t have any further pictures of Clark itself. It was, as I said, a business trip and while my host did drive me around Clark a bit, I didn’t have the opportunity to whip out a camera to take photos. The story is that it’s now called the Clark Freeport Zone and I’m told it’s the size of Singapore. It’s walled off, gated and patrolled and inside the zone it’s relatively clean, crime free and traffic free. There is a brand new billion dollar Texas Instruments semi-conductor plant and a new and equally big new plant for Samsung.
But alongside the signs of new prosperity there are signs of dreams unrealized. A long stretch of the road featured what seemed like dozens of retail outlets that have long since gone out of business. I’m told that someone thought people would flock here for duty free shopping but that never happened. Further down we came across entire abandoned villages – houses that were all but destroyed when Pinatubo erupted. The people left, never to return, and the shells of these homes are gradually being reclaimed by nature, an eerie ghost town of sorts. If I do return there, I will be bringing my good camera and getting pictures of this.
He also drove me by where he lives and told me that he took a 21 year lease (you can’t buy a house inside the zone) on the 6 bedroom/4 bathroom house for US$70,000 – that’s US$277 per month for rent.
Following an entire day of meetings, my host took my gf and I out to dinner and then a tour. Despite my desire to try Pampangan food in the place that it comes from, my host told me he did not eat Filipino food and he took us to an attempt at an elegant Italian restaurant. I say “attempt” because on a Friday night, we were the only customers there. The chef/owner was European, the food was okay, but it was a disappointment because it wasn’t the sort of thing we would have chosen ourselves.
After dinner, we were taken on a tour of the bar area. Believe it or not, after almost 14 years of living out here and after at least 50 trips to the Philippines, this was my first time going to Angeles. I’d heard that this was essentially the whorehouse capital of the Philippines and golly gosh that was true, and then some. (All photos taken with a Canon S90.)
This is the Walking Street, as the sign says, of the Balibago Entertainment District. It stretches on for at least half a mile, lined with massive bars filled with girls, girls, girls, each place bigger and more tricked out than the one before.
The place was packed, every bar was full or close to it, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that there were probably thousands of girls working in those bars. The one we went into, one of two places with Nile in its name, was spread out over 5 floors with a massive stage with hydraulic elevators, a big light show, hundreds of dancers and a massive high energy choreographed show every 90 minutes. Sadly it wasn’t until after we’d left the bar that my gf told me she’d asked some of the girls and was told that photography was allowed inside the bars – I had assumed it wouldn’t be allowed or tolerated.
One further thing to note – despite reports I’d received saying this could be a dangerous place, I saw no signs of that. It was very well patrolled, filled with foreigners flush with cash to spend, and no one was bothering them. It was actually quite different from places like Burgos (in Manila) in that regard – the streets were not filled with pushy vendors trying to sell fake Rolexes or Viagra. And in the bars, there was no one pushing drinks or girls on you – if you didn’t ask, you were left alone.
In summation, it was far bigger than I’d expected. I’ve only been to Pattaya (in Thailand) once, several years ago, and it seemed to me that these Angeles bars were far bigger and had far more women there than what I’d seen anywhere else in the Philippines or Thailand.
The next morning, my gf told me that while she’d enjoyed the previous night far more than she’d expected to, she was hoping that I wasn’t thinking about retiring there. I understood what she meant. As near as I could tell, from just one day there, there was nothing to do there except golf (and I don’t play golf), the shopping mall and whorehouse bars. I figured if I actually lived there I’d probably go crazy inside of 6 months.
Also on Friday, my gf had met some friends of hers at the SM Clark mall. When she took a taxi back to the hotel, she arranged with the driver to take us to Manila the next day. My host had told me that a taxi would probably cost around 3,500 pesos but my gf bargained with the driver in advance and he agreed to take us to Makati for 2,300. When he came to pick us up though, it was with a different car and a second man in the car. He told us he couldn’t take us himself but that this was his father. I asked if they were planning to kidnap us, we all had a good laugh, and then
hit the road.
Another shot of Arayat from the new NLEX highway, which had signs forbidding “dilapidated vehicles” and “smoke belchers.” The drive took well under two hours but once we hit EDSA on a Saturday afternoon, that was close to an hour till we reached Makati.
Saturday night, there was no debate about where we would go for dinner. We went to Abe, our favorite restaurant in Manila, located at the Serendra Mall at Fort Bonifacio.
We ordered two of our favorite dishes:
That’s crispy tadyang, beef short ribs that I guess have been deep fried, served with shredded papaya and a light sour dipping sauce.
That’s lechon cubano – crispy skin and melt in your mouth meat.
I don’t recall the name of this dish but oh my golly gosh was it good. Prawns, obviously, cooked in “tiny crab fat” with other stuff tossed in. Yes, the Filipino diet is incredibly unhealthy but damn it’s good.
The Fort is another fantasy land in the Philippines. All office towers and condominium blocks, it’s a place for the wealthy – well lit, well laid out, well guarded.
If I was going to retire in Manila, this is where I’d want to be. Dozens of great restaurants, one of the largest book stores in Manila and a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop.
Manny Pacquiao is everywhere protecting you.
Oh, here are some photos of Makati taken from the 24th floor of the New World Hotel – there’s a small smoking balcony outside the executive lounge:
Last but not least:
I have no idea what “it” is but if it works and it’s worth it, give me two!