Angeles And Angels
I have just finished reading Korski's response to Frankie West's tales of Angeles. I visited Angeles city for the first time this year in February. I was on a 3 week stay in Thailand and decided to break it up with a week in the Philippines. I have many Filipina friends amongst the hundreds (maybe thousands) who come the country I am resident in, looking for work, many heading to the bars to survive.
Like many westerners I love Asian ladies and I don't think there is a great difference between Filipinas and Thais.
I landed in Manila and noticed the airport looked old, but it functioned like any other, queue up at passport control, collect your bag, then hop in a cab. My Filipina friend who was excited about me visiting her country, found a hotel in Manila, gave them my details and arranged a room for me, even without me asking. She sent me a message telling me all I had to do was call the hotel on arrival in Manila and they would pick me up at the airport. This would have been an easy option for me as I arrived late in the day and I wasn't familiar with Manila. But no, the adventurer in me wanted more.
Something I did like about arriving at Manila was the feeling of being somewhere for the first time and the excitement of what lay beyond the Exit (nothing to declare) sign. It reminded me of Don Meuang in 2006 and my first taxi to Sukhumvit. Although
it was getting close to 9 PM, I decided I had to go Angeles City. It was the first time I had headed anywhere without pre-booking a room, but I was determined to go. First I needed to change some money. At this point I had Baht, Dollars and Dirhams
and was about to add Pesos to the list. I struggled to find an exchange booth and spoke to security, who looked after my luggage while letting me re enter the airport, the wrong way, back through passport control, to find a small kiosk that was
handling money exchange (for anyone else arriving for the first time, try not to miss it). I had done some research on transport costs and once back outside, I felt the taxi drivers were asking too much for the journey to Angeles, so I took a
taxi to the bus station, which was only ten minutes away.
I guess there are many bus stations. I just asked told the taxi driver I wanted to get the bus to Angeles City. The bus station, like the airport, was old, but like the airport served its purpose. There are no ticket booths like the ones you see at Ekamai
so you just get on the bus and buy your ticket on board. I had a scary moment here (not a scam) where I found the correct bus, although the destination name wasn't Angeles City and the driver put my bag in the luggage compartment. I headed
off to the toilet and on my return couldn't find my bus! There were ten buses, identical colours, all lined up ready to leave. Some of the drivers were standing around having a smoke and I couldn't remember what my driver looked like.
Had my bus already left? Lucky for me no, the friendly driver spotted me and informed me we were leaving, so I joined the rest of the passengers and we headed off to Angeles City on a bus that said it was going somewhere else. I had read that
the fare would be 170 pesos, but I was charged 250 and didn't get a ticket. Was I scammed? Of course not! I paid 3 pounds for a 2 hour bus ride instead of the 3,000 pesos the taxi driver wanted. I saved a lot and the driver made a little
which is fine with me.
Setting off from Manila is much the same as getting the bus from Bangkok to Pattaya. It's a busy city and traffic is heavy till you reach the outskirts. I still had my fingers crossed that I was on the right bus, going to the right place and my luggage was underneath me. As it was dark, I didn't get to see much of the scenery, so I just relaxed (not that you can when you are heading to the Soi Cowboy of the Philippines) and enjoyed the ride. We reached our final destination after only 90 minutes of travelling, so I did not think we were there. I thought it was a pee stop, so I got off to stretch my legs. I didn't go to the toilet, wanted to keep an eye on my bus. This is where I found that there does seem to be a lot more beggars than in Thailand. You literarily cannot move, you get surrounded by them, even the bus driver followed me and asked me to buy him a drink, then asked me to buy the young lady behind the counter some crisps, of course I did, a can of coke and a bag of crisps isn't going to break the bank. Some would get angry. Was I scammed? No.
I could see the bus was getting ready to leave, so I decided to return to my seat. To my surprise, the driver told me my journey was over and to cross the main road and get a jeepney to the left. By the way, up to this point the Filipinos I had met so far didn't speak good English. So that was it, here I was, obviously in the place named on the front of the bus and told to cross the road and head left. So that's what I did, my first ride on a Jeepney. I was the first passenger and moved up behind the driver. The seating is the same as on a baht bus, but without anything separating the driver from his passengers. As people get on from the back, money is passed along to the driver and the change is then passed back to the passenger. I soon found myself handling everyone's fare. The journey lasted 20 minutes and at the end I was the last person on the bus. The driver didn't speak English. He just stopped and waited. I assumed this was the end of my ride and got off.
Was this Angeles City? I didn't think so! It was dark and I was standing on a corner with lots of people passing by, some on foot, some on motorbikes, others riding tricycles. I was lost, no neon, no bars, no hotels, no direction. It was at this point I felt vulnerable. I was the only Farang. I had my luggage and my backpack. I was an easy target. If someone had been brave enough, they could have taken everything! My backpack contained everything – money, passport, flight tickets, mobile and without this I would be in big trouble. I didn't try to talk to anyone. Inn fact I felt quite good! I was excited, I could have easily stayed in Manila, in the hotel that had been arranged by my friend, or even taken a taxi from the airport straight to a hotel in Clarke, but no, that was too easy. So here I stood, clinging onto my backpack and holding tightly onto the handle that extends from my case. This was a place I didn't plan to be and probably won't ever see again. I knew this was a place that would stay in my memory for ever, not a bar, not a large bed with a beautiful babe holding onto me, not a beach with golden sand. It was a street corner.
I must have been standing there for about 5 minutes. What else could I do, with no direction and pretty sure any attempt at conversation would be difficult. No pretty girls in tight shorts asking to go with me, no massage parlours. The strange thing was, I didn't see any beggars. I guessed every one here was poor and there were no farangs, so no use to the beggars. (They were all in Field avenue, where I wanted to be). While taking in this once in a life time experience, a jeepney stopped and asked if I was OK. I explained I wanted to be in Angeles city and needed to find a hotel and I asked where are all the bars were. He explained I was in Angeles City, but not the right area! Silly me, expecting to just turn up in a city and step off the bus into Nana Plaza. At this point I didn't know Field Avenue, I had only read about Angeles city, so for anyone going to Angeles City for the naughty night life, you need to head for Field Avenue or the nicer area of Clark (which is where the airport is).
The driver let me sit in the front and constantly reminded me that he was not picking up other passengers. (This was gonna cost!) He was a friendly guy, spoke good English and told me he lived in Clark and knew were I needed to be. This was great for me as it was now close to midnight. We cruised around the bar area as he pointed out various places I could stay. He waited while I went inside a guesthouse. He could have disappeared with my case, like a taxi at Ekamai tried to do. Never pay the driver till he has got your bag out of the boot. I paid while still in the cab, as I closed the door, off he went with me running behind. I did manage to stop him and don't think it was his intention to take my bag, but it would have been a nightmare if he had gotten away. I now make a point of entering the taxi driver's details in my mobile whenever I am traveling with my luggage.
So back at my guesthouse, I observed a lot of security. The reception desk was like a bank (in the UK, not Thailand), very secure to avoid robberies. They even had a security guard outside the entrance. I had a look at the room. It had double locks on the door, but did have a security safe, which is one thing I always insist on. Before I go out for the evening everything goes in my safe (except condoms). I only ever take enough cash for the night's entertainment and never carry cards or mobile. The room wasn't luxurious, but had everything I needed for my 3 night stay – TV, bed, shower, fridge and wi-fi, so at 1200 pesos per night I took it. Back outside it was time to pay the driver,
Me: "How much do I owe you?"
Driver: "Up to you."
Me: "200, OK?"
Was I scammed? Of course not, he had just saved my life!
Back in my room I quickly got ready and headed out for my first Field Ave experience. I would describe it as a longer version of Cowboy, and a shorter version of Walking street. There are several sois (not sure what they are called in the Philippines, probably streets) running off the main street and as with Pattaya, Phuket, Bangkok and even Samui, it would be difficult to visit all the bars during a short stay, unless you are an alcoholic. If I recall I didn't see as many beggars at night, but too many during the day. One day I was in a shop buying a SIM card when in came a young boy, very dirty and wearing rags. He put his arms round me very tightly and just kept saying food, food, food. I looked at the sales lady and she just stared back at me. I asked her to tell him to leave and she said something in Tagalog and he was gone. There does seem to be more poverty here than in Thailand and as you walk around during the day, you will have a group of followers that are hard to shake off. At least in Bangkok you can continue to walk past them and they are normally individuals. In Field Ave they are like leaches.
The bars are great if you find a good one, but as with Pattaya's Walking Street, you can find yourself in a bar that isn't really what you expected, but somehow ended up inside with a beer, thinking the one next door is probably better. So you
drink up quickly and move on. Field Ave does have great bars and great girls and over the 3 days, I had my share. I like the idea of the bar fine including payment for the lady. Some think you should only pay after services rendered. I have no
problem giving her money to the bar, handing money over in the morning (if they stay all night and in the Philippines they always do) takes a shine off the previous evening. For me the GFE, even if only for one night, involves the lady having
as much fun as I do. I never discuss what we will do when the lights go out. I am happy to go with the flow. She has left the bar to be with you. If she feels comfortable, it won't just be about the money. In the morning when the lady would
leave my room, reception would call to make sure it was OK for her to leave. This doesn't happen in Thailand. When a Thai lady leaves she just collects her ID and off she goes. She may have drugged and robbed you and is on her way. I prefer
the Philippine way. It makes more sense. Maybe the calls to Frankie West's room were just to make sure he was OK. <Actually this does happen in some Pattaya and Bangkok hotels – Stick> Treat her like
a lady and she will make you feel like a man. (I have found this the case in Thailand and the Philippines.)
Unlike Bangkok, the bars in Field Ave come to life from midday and you can easily find yourself being the only customer in a bar with up to 20 girls entertaining you like it's midnight. As in Thailand pool tables are in most bars, but I don't recall seeing connect 4 or any of the other games. Why would anyone want to focus on a board game, when 5 metres away you can watch a 22 year old beauty dancing her heart out around a pole.
I have spent more time in Thailand than the Philippines, so it would be unfair to make a full comparison. The ladies are as pretty as the Thais and I didn't meet one bad one. 3 days in Angeles and 5 in Boracay. I read that you don't find bar girls in Boracay, I had no problem. I enjoyed Angeles. I didn't feel as safe as I do in Thailand, but it never once went "Frankie West" on me. Prices are much the same. If you go for a guesthouse, you get the same as you would in Thailand. The return flight from Bangkok to Manila cost me 8,000 baht. If you have time, DO IT. If like me you like to travel around, Phuket, Chang Mai, Samui etc, Field Ave isn't so far away and you can use it for your visa run. There are scams and bad people everywhere. It's up to you to avoid them and if you remind yourself you are a guest and show respect (they might be poor, but they are not stupid) you will enjoy. I will definitely go back.
I thought that was a marvellous trip report, balanced, and I really liked the way you concentrated on actually getting there. Based on what some say about the Philippines being unsafe, one could suggest you were brave, but it seems that perhaps the Philippines is not as bad as some make it out to be. I am starting to wonder if this is some sort of conspiracy to scare the Thailand masses away – and keep Angeles for themselves!