As I said last week, I was going to do a sub on Angeles this week anyway, but I ended up spending 3 nights in Angeles, 2 in Pundaqit (not far from Subic) and my last night in Manila. Then I get flip through the readers subs and find not 1 but 2 subs about the Phillos. I feel inclined to comment on them both particularly JN's sub which I think brings back a bit of a problem with the P.I.s. Now I don't want to make this a Philippines vs. Thailand sub nor a Philippines vs. Anyone sub for that matter. It's apples and oranges. Obviously I will be making some comparisons but only as a reference for perspective, not to say that one is better than the other. Just some observations I have made in my time stumbling around the world. There are however a couple of things I would like to say before I get in to my trip report. The first is that I find it strange that the P.I. lovers seem to be a very parochial and defensive bunch. It appears any time someone says something about the place some of the P.I. gang want to jump in to tell you how wrong you are. I know this from first-hand experience. I have already written a couple of subs about the P.I.s and got many letters telling me I was wrong. That I didn't know what I was talking about, that I had poorly represented the P.I.s and well….you get the picture. The same thing has now happened to RobInAfrica. I just don't see what all the fuss is about. Why so defensive? All the years I was living in Pattaya, then the years I was living in Bangkok and now the years I am living in Isaan I found I couldn't give a rat's arse about what anybody else thought and I certainly didn't feel any need to jump on my high horse to defend Thailand and decry how it is better than anywhere else in the world and nobody understands what it's really like. So why do the P.I. lovers feel they need to? Sounds like a whinge to me.
The second thing I would like to discuss is opinions, and that is why I would like to comment on a couple of things JN said in his sub. First, except for the VAT thing which was a mistake (though I personally think RobInAfrica was talking about his personal tax rate and not the VAT I will give JN benefit of the doubt) everything else was RobInAfrica's opinion based on his experiences, feelings, thoughts and interactions with the Philippines so how can he be wrong on any level? Might not be for him but he is not incorrect in his opinions. Same as I have had friends come to Pattaya or Bangkok and hated the place never to return. I never tried to convince them otherwise. That was their experience and Thailand wasn't for them. Their opinion, end of story. In the same way some choose Phuket over Pattaya or Bangkok over Isaan. HCMC over Vaung Tau or Phnom Penh over Sihanoukville. We all have our reasons for being where we are and admittedly RobInAfrica's sub was a bit muddled and calling one place a shitpot and the other a honey pot probably is not the most diplomatic way of handling things – but he is still entitled to his opinion. Before I go on to my comments about JN's sub and my trip report I would like to say all the following is strictly "in my opinion" based on my experiences in the P.I.s (including living there for 2 years) so agree or disagree with me as you will but don't have the gall to tell me I am "wrong".
Now to preface these statements I am not trying to belittle JN or his sub. I do not know him and I truly believe he believes in everything he has written. Which is of course his right. I believe some of the statements he made could be more out of allegiance than anything else and a few of them would apply to a number of countries. So lets begin.
Rainbows and Lollipops: I called it this as his 3rd paragraph has an extremely optimistic way of looking at the world. JN's 3rd paragraph is the one I took most exception to and assuming he is a U.S. citizen I could understand some of his arrogance / attitude. I have always been cautious in Metro Manila. Would I call it dangerous? Not really but it is the one city outside of the those I have visited in South America of where I am very careful about where I walk, any show of wealth and basically staying on guard and having eyes in the back of my head at all times. I could be wrong but I have always felt a somewhat menacing vibe in Manila and I have certainly never felt like the "manliest man" and surrounded by smiling happy faces that look at me as some sort of rock star. I have encountered just as many sullen, angry faces and have been followed, verbally threatened and in one case had a fight there so I do doubt some of his story. I am a 6"1' 108 kg lump that has played sport and been involved in the martial arts most of my life and I honestly can't see what being "half a foot bigger than everyone else" is meant to imply. Sure, if your assailant comes at you head on, unarmed and willing to fight fair and you are sober, well trained and proficient in some sort of fighting, yep, you will probably be OK, doesn't mean you will win all the time. I am yet to meet someone that has won every fight they ever had. Contrary to JN's fight theories, I have seen PLENTY of big boys laid low by someone smaller than them. Whether it be the 5 foot 40 kg bargirl putting a bottle over a punter's head, a motorcycle or tuk tuk driver whipping out the old iron bar, or if they come mob handed or if in the case of Thailand the 1000's of videos on YouTube showing smug, superior, big farangs getting the stuffing beaten out of them by much smaller, fitter better trained Thais (and that's in the ring, forget about the street). It holds no water, is offensive to Filipino males and basically shows no understanding of the multitude of variables that may be stacked against you in a street fight. Also I have met more than my fair share of big Phillo lads, there are plenty around so unless JN is 7 foot tall he must have encountered some boys over there at least as big as he is.
Gun Culture: Again on his 3rd paragraph. There are an inordinate amount of guns in the Philippines and saying the poor have no access to them is a nonsense. If that were true and poorer, less fortunate people had no access to firearms the world would have far less gun crime. Guns are readily available and ridiculously cheap in the P.Is and it doesn't take into account the illegal weapons and those that have been stolen or otherwise illegitimately acquired. Let's also not forget, and I hate to talk about "facts" but countries that have obsessive gun cultures (read the U.S., South America and the Philippines) have phenomenally larger incidences of homicide, assault, robbery and fatalities by firearm than countries that have strict firearm controls such as Australia, New Zealand and the U.K. Any reasonable person would be hard pressed to debate that. Case in point, I stopped at a service station this trip on my way to Pundaqit. Middle of nowhere, on a highway. 12 or so petrol pumps, a Starbucks, Subway, Jolliebee and a 7-11 style store. While the boys were grabbing a coffee I counted 25. Yes! 25 armed guards. About a half dozen with shotguns and sidearms the rest just packing a various array of pistols. Now I can't speak for anybody else but to me that suggests a ludicrous amount of overkill and also says to me a couple of things about that country. If you need 2 armed guards in every store not much bigger than a toilet block, one on every petrol pump and a few extras thrown in for kicks. Then you either have waaaaay too many guns in your country or you think that there is a legitimate need for their presence. Either way you may not class it as dangerous but it definitely makes a statement. I personally saw 3 incidents this week while there. Our first night in Angeles my uncle got put on his arse in an attempted chain snatch. Got knocked over, plenty of scratches but the 2 guys on the bike missed his chain. Our last night in Angeles one of my good mates got stabbed in the leg by one of the beggar boys that just annoy the shit out of you (more on that in my trip report). Luckily for him a superficial wound, as it was only a small knife but still resulted in a wound that required 7 stitches to close and an early night for the rest of us. The final incident was in Pundaqit which seemed like a little picturesque joint out of the way surrounded by mountains and the sea. We went to the local market and 2 of my mates' wives told me to take off my necklace and wedding ring if we were going to be walking around. I laughed it off and said don't be silly. They were adamant and wouldn't go any further until I complied. This was in the middle of the day in what seemed to me a decent enough place and the advice came from Filipinas. So dangerous? I don't know but certainly makes a statement. I have walked up and down streets all over the world in the wee hours of the morning with my gold on and pockets full of cash, to be honest most of the time in my early days blind drunk as well. Never once have I felt threatened or in any danger whatsoever. So when a local tells me it's not safe to walk around like that in a rural town on the coast in broad daylight you can't tell me you don't need to be careful in Manila.
Food: Yeah, the Lechon is good but plenty of countries can spit roast a pig and it's hardly a specialty of the Philippines. That leaves us with Adobo, Lumpia, Pancit, Sinigang, Sisig and Dinuguan and the likes. Some can be tasty but I don't rate it very highly. Look, I love larb moo (uncooked) but I would hardly call it a fine example of Thailand's best national dishes. I have travelled around a fair part of the world and have seen a proliferation of Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese and even Malaysian restaurants, but I can't recall seeing a hell of a lot of Filipino restaurants though. Coincidence? I don't know. Not that I went looking for them I think the food there is shithouse. Fresh seafood. Well seeing it is an ISLAND chain in the West Pacific I would be surprised if the seafood wasn't good. That's like saying the fishing is good in Australia or N.Z. I have also had some damn good seafood in Thailand as well. Point being you can't claim seafood and fruit as a national dish, good as it may be I don't think the Philippines has a monopoly on either. So there are my replies to JN's sub. As I stated I am not trying to discredit him but everyone has a different perspective on things and a right to their own opinion based on their experiences, expectations and desires. No one is right or wrong but your perspectives may be totally at odds. To each his own and good luck to everybody. Now on with the trip report.
Before I begin, a few things I have always maintained about the P.I.'s. The top 10% of Filipinas are far more attractive than the top 10% of most of the rest of the girls in S.E. Asia. The downside being they are harder to find. There are many more average girls in the P.I.s compared to above average girls throughout the rest of Asia (if that makes any sense). The Filipinas, due to their command of the English language, also tend to be far more fun and interactive. "Service" wise I have always found their performance far superior as well (must be the fiery Spanish influence), but that's just me. The last thing I maintain is I could NEVER live in Angeles, not to be offensive but I just couldn't do it. The longest I have ever stayed there was 5 nights and by the end couldn't wait to get out of there. I have always found it to be a short term holiday beyond that I find the whole city pretty dull and depressing. There are plenty of places I would live in the Phillos, Paliwan, Cebu, Boracay, Puerta Galera even Subic where I lived before all come to mind. I just could never consider A.C. as a place to call home. God's waiting room maybe, but not home.
So I arrive in Manila excited to be heading back to A.C. after a nearly 5-year break (albeit this time as a married man….Damn). After 10 minutes in the taxi I was reminded what a filthy, overcrowded, polluted, poorly managed shithole Manila is. Nearly 2 1/2 hours to get out of the city. Keeping in mind that Angeles is only 75 odd km from Manila, let's consider the maths. Flight time from Bangkok – Manila is 3 hours. Drive time Manila – A.C. 3 1/2 hours. Now I'm sorry but anywhere I go where the international flight time is less than the time it takes the taxi to get to your hotel gets an automatic fail from me. Get to Angeles and head straight out. Girls are still great fun and very outgoing but overwhelmingly more average looking than drop dead gorgeous. I wasn't playing so I still rate highly. Still a cheap charlies paradise. 65 peso for a San Miguel Light in a go-go compared to an average of upwards of 80 baht in any beer bar in Thailand and overs in a go-go. Bar fines had tripled since I had last been there @ 2500-3000 peso but I am sure if you were fair dinkum and worked on them you could bring that down and if you are tighter than a fish's bum hole no need to give the girl anything in the morning. Lady's drinks have blown out to a standard 250 peso which I thought was a bit over the odds but there you go. On a side note I found that if I did buy a few lady drinks without exception the mama would buy me 2 or 3 beers back. I found that to be pretty cool and the girls you do buy drinks for aren't just necking them so they can go back and sit on the other side of the bar and pull the smart phone out. The girls over there I have found love the fact you have bought them a drink and will sit and play with you for as long as you want without being greedy or demanding. Still lots of drama about taking girls from the bars at the moment. Some won't take cash in the bar, some bars won't even admit you can barfine but I found generally if you looked like a serious punter and were spending some money there doesn't seem to be a problem. That was only asking around so if you were actually going to take a girl I reckon it wouldn't be too hard. It's the Koreans who the bars are the most dirty on, as they were the ones helping the cops sting the girls which led to some of the closures and some of the bars clearly had signs stating Koreans not welcome and one bar had come up with the creative Fxxk off Koreans.
The one thing I found really annoying was the amount of touts, spruikers, beggars and vendors in A.C. The kids are out of control. Continually grabbing your hands and pockets as you walk and asking have you got money? Give me money! Sometimes I found myself with 6 or 7 around me. As I stated my mate got stabbed on our last night there by one of the little urchins so I would suggest caution. The trike drivers and guys trying to sell Viagara and what-not are far more up front, direct and overbearing than Thailand and there are so many more of them. Getting asked every 2 minutes when you are in a bar if you want to buy nuts, chips, popcorn or snacks for yourself or perhaps the whole bar also got my back up in a pretty short amount of time. So a quick 3-day round up. Angeles is still fun, still cheap though a lot more expensive than the last time I was there. I still couldn't wait to get out of there after 3 days and I would suggest being careful if you are drunk or one-out, or both and wandering around.
Next I was off to my mate's place with a quick stop at Baretto (another place with bars in Subic Bay). Everything there is super cheap 45-50 peso for a San Miguel and roughly 1200 peso bar fine. Hard to beat and close to the ocean so has Angeles trumped in spades for mine. Couple of mostly uneventful days catching up with my friends and their families after that. Then much to my chagrin I decided to spend my last night in Manila to avoid the long taxi ride the following day. So after a 1-hour bus ride from Subic to Angeles and this time a 4 and a bit hour taxi ride (yeah lucky me) I was back in Manila. Now I have never been a rap on Manila and still aren't today and my few hour walk around metro Manila put the final nail in the coffin. I didn't see many of the smiling happy people JN talks about and if anything encountered much the opposite, so discretion being the better part of valour I decided to return to my hotel, weather the storm and have a few beers there instead. Where the staff were very friendly incidentally, but they are getting paid to do so. Another thing I find strange is the discrepancy in some prices. Sure the beers and girls are cheaper, the flip side being I find accommodation, food and travel far more expensive. The hotels I stayed were around 4000 peso a night. A comparable hotel in Thailand wouldn't cost you more than 2000 baht maybe. A trike driver will charge you at least 50 peso to go anywhere. Some longer trips were 150 peso that you wouldn't have paid more than 50 baht for on a motorcycle taxi. My cars to / from Manila cost me 3900 peso + tip each way. I can get a limo from Suvarnabhumi to Pattaya for 1100 baht. Breakfast at one hotel I stayed in cost me 400 peso where generally a hotel breakfast in Bangkok is inclusive with the room or no more than 200 baht. In fact Hanrahan's in Bangkok which does a fantastic all day breakfast (that I highly recommend) only costs you 250 baht. End of the day though my week in the P.I.'s only cost me 60,000 peso. I would spend a lot more than that in a week in Bangkok. I said I wasn't going to compare apples and oranges but it is something I have always found funny there.
Finally the airport. Manila has got to be one of the worst international airports I have ever been in anywhere. Signage is terrible, a lot of first timers don't realise you need to pay 550 peso to get out of the country. There are no cafes, restaurants, bars or eateries and consequently no tables or chairs or any seating outside of what is at the departure gates. What there is, is 4 tiny shop fronts. One selling coffee. One selling cigars. One selling hot dogs and one kiosk. That's it. Once you have purchased your items you then have to sit at the departure gate of your choice. The one closest to the kiosk which sold the beer had to make do for me. There are no departure / arrival boards anywhere in the terminal so you have to listen for the announcements. My departure gate changed 3 times in 2 hours so pay attention. To top it all off there is one, 2 urinal 2 cubicle toilet to service the whole terminal! I have seen bigger dunnies in go-go bars at one point the line up for the gents was more than 50 deep and I really felt sorry for the ladies because their cue was near endless. So far from good in fact.
So as usual, for me the negatives outweighed the positives of my trip to the Philippines. Which is a shame because there are a lot of things I truly do love about the place. If I had a girl I would definitely be heading for one of the islands but I doubt I will ever go to Manila or A.C. again, unless situations necessitate . To be fair if you lived there I guess things like the horrendous taxi ride and the other shortcomings would be easier to deal with. Personally back in the day, after Thailand, A.C. was the place I would rather be more than anywhere else in Asia. Now, many years later, regrettably, I would rather be anywhere else in Asia than A.C. and part of me will really miss it. We all change and so do the things we enjoy.
Finally, the point is and without the Monty Python facetiousness "We are all individuals" and if we are smart, we are all where we most wish to be. Like Stick. Sometimes you can love a place for years then just decide it's time to move on. No where is better or worse than anywhere else provided you love where you are. I could think of nothing worse than being stuck in a place I didn't like and didn't wish to be. The one thing I have learnt is if you are somewhere really good (and smart guys know this) you DO NOT under any circumstances tell anybody else about it. Otherwise you might end up flooding your little paradise with those that think they want to be there, those that have just rocked up because they have heard about it or even worse those that will come to the place you love and tell you how shitty they think it is.
Good Luck. Have fun out there.