The Philippines Versus Thailand Revisited
The Philippines Vs Thailand Revisited
This piece is a follow-up to my “Being Naughty in Philippines vs Thailand” submission that was posted in late 2003. Several people sent interesting emails to me in response to the original essay, and so I figured it was about time for a Part Two. And, given the uncertain future of farang-oriented nightlife in Thailand, it is important for all of us who share a certain hobby to consider potential alternatives. If you haven’t read my first article, then you might want to look at it and then come back to this one.
This time around I will give you some specific information on major destinations in the Republic of the Philippines (“PI” or “Republic”) for those interested who are interested in the naughty nightlife scene. Also, I will provide more information on prices. Boys (and girls?), this is not the kind of stuff that you would find in overly politically correct guidebooks for backpackers like Lonely Planet!
These days virtually everyone arrives in the PI by air, and most people land at the messy Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Metro Manila. (Arranging a hotel pickup at the airport in advance is a very good idea). So, Metro Manila is a good place to start.
Legally, in terms of governmental organization, Metro Manila is really a collection of separate municipalities and towns. The actual City of Manila is just one of the various local governments within Metro Manila. Among some of the others are Paranaque, where the airport is located, and Makati, which is the business and banking center of the PI. The structure of local government is important for our purposes because different municipalities and towns have different rules about what sort of bars can operate within their respective jurisdictions.
Currently, Manila proper has no gogo bars although there are gogo bars elsewhere in Metro Manila. Back in the 1980s, the Ermita and Malate neighborhoods of Manila apparently used to be a strong rival to the Big Mango. Indeed, I have heard from a number of different Western men including a very successful farang bar owner in the Kingdom who all claimed that Manila in its heyday used to be even wilder than Bangers at the time. Since my first trip to the Republic only took place in late 2000, I cannot personally verify that point, but Manila during the 80s must have been something to witness if even only half the stories I’ve heard about that era were true. Incidentally, some bars in Thailand and the PI have similar names, but I am not sure if there is any connection or who exactly might be copying whom.
Well, Manila’s glory days are over due to a populist mayor who tried to “clean up” the city. Sound familiar? The go-go bars are gone now and parts of the old strip remain weedy vacant lots more than a decade later. Apparently, the crumbling Spanish colonial architecture of Intramuros has not been enough to pull in vast numbers of Western tourists to Manila. That should serve as a cautionary tale for certain political forces in contemporary Siam.
Yet, fear not, all is not lost. Even within Manila there are other forms of naughty nightlife. My personal favorite is the freelancer scene. One of the best places to find Filipina freelancers is a combination, bar, restaurant, and night club called “L.A. Cafe” located in Ermita. More exactly it is on M.H. del Pilar a little north of Pedro Gil.
Expressed in Bangkok terms, Manila’s L.A. Cafe plays a role similar to that of classic pro (and semi-pro) pick-up joints like Thermae, the two coffee shops in the Grace Hotel, and so on. Yet, I prefer L.A. Cafe over any of the various freelancer venues that I have been to in Thailand or anywhere else in Asia for that matter.
L.A. Cafe serves passable food as well as good cold drinks including San Miguel on tap. It has several pool tables and a dance floor. Live music is featured on a regular basis in the evenings. The total effect is a fun spot certainly a lot more fun in my book than your average Hard Rock Cafe whose name and logo were presumably known to the founder of L.A. Cafe. In terms of atmosphere, again in Bangkok terms, it is something of a cross between the Blue Wave and Guillver’s on Sukhumvit Soi 5. Yet, since it is on two levels and has taken over its former neighbor Diamondhead, L.A. Cafe probably has more total floor space than the Blue Wave and Guillver’s combined.
How much do Manila-based freelancers want? And, more importantly, how much would they finally accept? These days many freelancers will quote a rate of one thousand pesos (about seven hundred baht at the current exchange rate) or so for just short-time. However, some of the gals might settle for one thousand pesos or even less for long-time. Keep in mind that the one grand peso bill is the highest Philippine banknote and thus 1,000 pesos represents a significant sum of money to many Filipinos. In other words, try not to think in terms of US dollars, Euros, Japanese yen, etc. Please don’t distort the market.
The freelancers in the PI operate much like their counterparts in the Land of Smiles. So, if you are used to dealing with Thai freelancers then it should be an easy transition to interact with their Filipina sisters. Indeed, the much higher average level of English should make things run smoothly. Of course, the standard precautions should be taken with any pay-for-play gals.
Scattered around Manila proper are countless bars. Yet, for a first time visitor, L.A. Cafe is as good a place as any to start looking for your “honey ko.”
In the Ermita and Malate areas there are a number of hotels in different price ranges. Room rates are roughly comparable to those of Bangkok, but generally the hotels aren’t quite as nice. One of my pet peeves about Manila is how hardly any mid-range hotels have swimming pools despite the ideal climate.
Elsewhere in Metro Manila
Within Metro Manila, gogo bars aimed at foreign men can be found in Makati and in Pasay City. The gogos in Makati are concentrated around P. Burgos Street. Being next to the financial district, the bars tend to be upscale or, at the very least, have dancers who view themselves as being worthy of a sizeable fee. And, it must be stated that some of the dancers in Makati are very hot. As a result, prices here can be very dear. Indeed, if you are not careful, an evening in Makati could work out costing more than even a night on the town in Sukhumvit Soi 33. Bring a thick wallet!
A slightly cheaper alternative exists in Pasay City. A sort of indoor PI version of Nana Plaza can be found in Pasay City’s EDSA Complex. EDSA stands for “Epifanio De Los Santos Avenue,” which runs in front of the Complex. Some of the bars in the EDSA Complex have cool themes like the Firehouse where the dancers slid down a pole to reach the stage. A real treat for the eyes!
Elsewhere in Pasay City there are some freestanding bars like “Chaos Niteclub” great name for a bar in Metro Manila! Chaos is located on Loudres Street near Roxas Boulevard. Actually, most Metro Manila taxi drivers know where the main bars and massage parlors are, but you should naturally avoid relying on their recommendations.
Beyond Metro Manila
There is certainly a lot more to the Philippines than just Metro Manila. The tourist ads are true. There are literally thousands of islands. But, Luzon, on which Manila is located, is the biggest and has a lot to offer. Unless you are just in Manila on a very short trip, then you really should check out at least one other destination in the PI.
The PI is a sizeable country. So, even though I have made several trips to the Republic, there are many places that haven’t been to yet including spots in the Muslim regions that I am in no hurry to see. Below, then, is a brief description of a few destinations that might appeal to those looking for nightlife outside of Metro Manila.
If you want real value for your money, then a good bet is to get out of Metro Manila completely and head for Angeles City or just plain Angeles to many regulars. Located north of Manila, depending on traffic Angeles is usually about two and a half to three hours by either bus or taxi. A couple of different bus lines serve the route, but the easiest one for a first-time visitor to deal with would be the “Fly the Bus” service that leaves from in front of the Australian-run Swagman Hotel, which is located not too far from the U.S. Embassy.
One of my earliest impressions of Angeles was that it was simply Pattaya without the beach! Here is a town that has gogo bars geared towards Western males as one of its major industries. But, relatively speaking, the bar scene is probably even more important economically to Angeles than it is to Pattaya. Here you will see very few, if any, white women or foreign families on vacation. This is hardcore sex tourist territory.
The center of the action in Angeles is in the Balibago section around Fields Avenue, which runs near the site of Clark, the former American air force base. Depending on the weather, Fields Avenue can be either dusty or muddy. And, the side streets tend to be even worse!
Unlike what is often the case in Pattaya, the gogo bars in Angeles will charge an all-inclusive bar fine. In other words, the girl’s cut is fully included. The comprehensive bar fine is typically about one thousand pesos and is good for the entire night. Assuming you have selected an appropriate gal, that is quite a deal. Some dancers might ask for a little “taxi money” in the morning. Anything above one hundred pesos would be silly and anything below twenty pesos would be an insult. Of course, you might like to treat the lady nice and take her out to dinner. But, that’s up to you.
Besides the dancers, one can also sometimes bar fine a waitress, a greeter (“hello girl”), or perhaps even a mama-san, if that’s your thing. Personally, I tend to stick to the dancers even though the waitresses are often better looking. Frankly speaking, on average, I just seem to have better experiences with dancers for some reason.
One thing to look out for in Angeles is the strange phenomenon of so-called “cherry girls.” The cherry girls appear to be more common in a few of the larger and flashier bars that need to employ a lot of dancers to keep the party mood in high gear. How many of these girls are true virgins is unclear. Regardless of whether or not they are really untouched, some of the younger dancers will simply not have sex with customers, but they will surely push ladies’ drinks. Thus, if you are thinking of bar fining a girl especially one who looks relatively young, then make it clear beforehand that she is not a self-proclaimed cherry. If you do take a cherry girl out of a bar, then she will probably just want to go bar hopping in order to chat with her friends or cousins in other bars. That’s probably not what you want from Angeles.
Angles is also home to a number of BJ bars. Most are located on A. Santos Street, which is off of Fields Avenue near Kokomo’s, is known to many punters as “Blow Row.” The bars here are mostly easy-going and open pretty much all the time. Hence, a visit to Blow Row can be a good way to start your day. The going rate for an onsite short-time seems to be five hundred pesos, which is less than four hundred baht at the present exchange rate.
A. Santos Street has a definite Third World feel. The rooms in the back of the BJ bars are a bit rough even if many of the employees are sweet. As an alternative, one can usually bar fine a girl from a BJ bar and bring her back to your hotel room instead. My impression is that few guys do that. So, if you do bar fine a girl from the row, then she is likely to view it as a bit of a treat.
Believe it or not, a few of the gals on Blow Row claim to be cherry girls just like some of the dancers on Fields Avenue. In such cases, they will provide oral services, but that’s all. Strange, but true…
Bars on the row mostly employ natural-born females, but there sometimes a few lady boys lurking about. One of the other streets, the name of which I forget at the moment, is full of lady boys. So, that’s another good reason to seek oral relief in the daytime. Mercifully, lady boys have been largely kept out of the mainstream bars.
Although gogos are the main attraction, Fields Avenue also has a number of karaoke or “videoke” joints along with a rather uncomfortable disco and other establishments including some decent restaurants and a few Internet cafes offering long hours and fairly fast connections by PI standards.
At least a few girls in town do freelance, but that seems to be more on a part-time basis to supplement working in a karaoke or gogo bar than pure freelancing. Margarita Station (a/k/a The Ville) functions partly albeit not entirely as a pick-up joint.
The hotels in Angeles tend to be basic. But, then again, most guys just need a place with a bed, shower, sink, toilet, and perhaps a TV. Rates for air con rooms start at around five hundred pesos per night. Thus, hotels in Angeles are typically cheaper than comparable hotels in Manila. A few even feature small pools. Naturally, having a visitor or two in a guest’s room is not a problem!
While I have enjoyed all of the trips that I have made up to Angeles, I do get bored with the place after a couple of days of serious partying. To an even greater extent than in Pattaya, one can be at a loss as to what to do other than drink, shag, eat, and sleep. Yet, some older Western men actually choose to retire in Angeles.
Just a few kilometers south of Luzon lies Puerto Galera on the north shore of the island of Mindoro. A combination bus and ferry journey puts Puerto Galera within easy striking distance of Manila.
Puerto Galera has several beaches, but some of the beaches are more for diving or snorkeling than for swimming. Sabang Beach is the most developed as well as the only one with any nightlife worth mentioning. There are a handful of self-described discos in the Sabang Beach area that are, in fact, go-go bars. The selection is much more limited than in Angeles. But, being near the ocean is a big plus. Some of the restaurants have nice views. And, walking along Sabang Beach on a peaceful night with a pretty young thing is downright romantic. Of course, you could always bring a girl with you from out of town. More than a few Manila freelancers have been down to Puerto Galera at some point during their career.
Hotels tend to be quite cheap in Puerto Galera, but the rooms often just have fans. TVs are not common, but then getting away from TV for a few days can be relaxing by simply forgetting about the rest of the world for a while.
Cebu is the name of an island, a province, and a city with a busy harbor. As a city, Cebu is the center of the Visayas, and it provides an urban alternative to Metro Manila. In fact, there are a number of flights from other parts of Asia that go direct to Cebu’s international airport on Mactan Island, which is connected by a modest bridge to the island of Cebu. The airport is much smaller and somewhat less disorganized than Manila’s. However, some flights into Cebu do arrive late at night. So, one should seriously consider having transport along with a hotel room for at least the first night arranged well in advance.
Even though it is a fairly large city, Cebu is generally more relaxed than Manila. Folks in Cebu seem a bit friendlier to foreign tourists. For example, unlike Manila, a significant percentage of Cebu taxi drivers will actually use the meter without having to be told to do so beforehand. Nevertheless, one should continue to exercise big city caution. One of the memories of Cebu that stands out in my mind was the bizarre sight of a donut shop that had an armed guard outside! All that dough must have needed serious protection…
Some Asian tourists never seem to get much beyond Mactan Island. Although there are a few so-so beaches on Mactan, it would be a shame not to explore the City of Cebu, which has a number of historical and cultural sites to visit by day. The nightlife is also more in the city than on Mactan.
Cebu has a number of bars patronized by foreign men generally south of Fuente Osmena (a large traffic circle). These are located on or near Osmena Boulevard, which is one of Cebu’s main thoroughfares. Honestly, it has been quite a while since I was in Cebu, but I do recall being in what was apparently a branch of the “Firehouse” from the EDSA Complex. At the time there was also a “Papillion” go-go bar nearby. Cebu doesn’t have quite the range of nightlife as Metro Manila and the cost of female companionship in Cebu tends to be a bit more expensive than in Angeles, but Cebu does make for a nice change of pace.
The variety of restaurants is not quite as great as that of Manila. Yet, one needn’t starve in Cebu. Even a vegetarian can find something if he looks hard enough.
Hotels in the city can be cheaper than the resorts on Mactan. And, staying in the city keeps one close to the bars. The main drawback with many of the hotels in town is that they lack swimming pools.
The Philippines, on the whole, provides a reasonable alternative to Thailand for Western (and Asian) men who enjoy the paid company of Asian women. To me, the advantages of the PI are that English is widely understood, the local beers are arguably better than those in Thailand, closing hours for bars are later than in Thailand, and the cost of many things is a bit lower. The disadvantages are that the local food tends to be less appealing than Thai cuisine, the culture seems less exotic to many, and crime is more of a problem. Moreover, it might be best to avoid the PI whenever election campaigns are in full swing. Violence, both political and non-political in nature, seems to spike at such times.
Be that as it may, if someday there is major decline in Thailand’s naughty nightlife scene, then hopefully the gogo bars and related establishments of the PI will still be there to provide a roughly similar experience for the footloose male.
I think the Philippines might notice an increase in the number of visitors with Thailand now declaring the dreaded midnight closing. What a first class report this was – outstanding!