Asian Trip Report – Part 1, The Philippines
I haven’t penned a submission since my last trip to Laos and Thailand which I did back during the Christmas holidays. With Stick gone <not gone, just not writing a column (but plan to publish one on August 19) – Stick>, the readers’ submission section of the site seems to have taken a bit of a siesta with less submissions written of late. I was in Asia recently for 5 weeks and thought I’d share some findings of my recent trip.
My trip covered 4 countries. I did 12 days in the Philippines (Malate / Manila, Subic Bay, Angeles City), 1 day in Macau, 5 days in Hong Kong and the rest of the time in Thailand (Bangkok, Ratachaburi). There isn’t a lot written about Hong Kong or Macau so some may find the info useful.
One of the many benefits being an Aussie is the long service leave you get if you work for a company or organisation for 10 years. We get 3 months holiday after 10 years of service. Yes, you read that right. 3 months holidays = 13 weeks. This is in addition to our 4 weeks off annually per year. There are some terms in order to get the long service leave. Firstly you must have continuous employment for the same company / organisation. If you leave the workplace at any point in time, and come back, your long service leave starts again. My understanding is that few countries have this benefit and in Australia the origins on why we have it stems back to the days when Englishmen who colonised us ran the country and were complaining how Australia was so far from England. The government introduced this entitlement so they could have 3 months to get on a ship and go back to England to visit their homeland. Fortunately for us, this entitlement still stands today.
So, after putting in 10 and a half years at my company, I decided to use some of this to escape the winter months of Melbourne, and enjoy the sun in Asia whilst watching the World Cup!
I must point out that once again, this is not a trip report regarding the naughty nightlife so if you’re looking for that sort of submission, please look elsewhere. Though I must admit, I will touch on the bar areas briefly. One cannot but mention them in a submission which mentions Angeles City.
I flew to Manila via Sydney with a mate of mine who is close to retirement age and looking at the Phils as a retirement destination. We did fly Qantas but for some reason, it doesn’t matter what airline you use; it seems that every airplane into Manila gets delayed. Manila airport was actually voted the worst airport in the world in 2012. Yes, it was that bad back then. But since then the airport has been renovated and the air-conditioning system has improved as well as its facilities. I remember back in ’12 sitting in the departure lounge sweating because the air-conditioning couldn’t keep the place cool enough in the middle of the afternoon and many of us were standing as there weren’t enough seats! Thankfully it’s improved a lot since then.
When we landed (an hour late), we took a taxi to Malate and as soon as we got out of the cab I knew I was there…the smell hits you like a tonne of bricks! It was only later that trip that we learnt Malate air is actually one of the worst air spots in the Philippines. Not only do you get the pollution but there is a toxic dump quite close to the bay where the smell of garbage, sewerage and pollution seems to be worse than most of Asia’s third-world countries.
The bars of Malate are how I remember them, a fair few freelancers charging what I regard as way over the top for P4P services. Most give you the standard figure of 2,500 pesos ST but I bet if you negotiated you could get them for substantially less. My guess would be anywhere between 1,000 – 1500 pesos. I can’t help but wonder that prices in the Philippines in the P4P scene in the bars are heavily inflated. You only have to take a short stroll and see the poverty and argue that 1 – 2,000 pesos in this country can buy you a lot! Overall, I regard the Philippines as slightly cheaper than Thailand in most aspects for a holiday. After all the peso when I arrived was giving 42 to every AUD whereas the baht only gets you 24 and in general things cost slightly more in Thailand. However, you get what you pay for – infrastructure is worse than Thailand and there is far more poverty in the Phils than in Thailand. My impressions of Malate were pretty much the same as last time I was there – the place hasn’t changed much. The poverty really hasn’t improved which is quite sad. The same bars seem to exist. G-point (diagonally across the road from Lotus Gardens where we stayed) was ok for a drink but I do remember it having a bit more vibe in previous years. The pick of the bar bunch is LA Café by a mile. The place is still the most popular in this part of Manila; serves quality food, screens all the World Cup games – with TVs accessible at any point in the bar and yes, for you naughty boys – has the most freelancers I’ve seen. The only downside if you are a non-smoker is it allows smoking inside a venue which most bars have banned since my last visit to the Phils. After a few days in Malate, both me and my mate developed a cough. I’ve been told a lot of people do develop a cough in Manila as the air is so bad. An increase in fluids seems to help.
The view from Starbucks in Robinsons, Malate:
After a few days in the toxic air, it was off to the bus terminal to go to Subic Bay! I’d never been there before and my mate suggested we take look as a new destination. A 140 peso bus trip gets you to Subic Bay which is about a 2 and a half hour journey. It would usually be longer, but apparently Sunday is the quietest day on the roads so it was shorter than normal. The funny thing is that once the bus drops you off at Subic Bay (close to the American military base), you then have to get a taxi to the hotel where the nightlife and beaches are which is in the suburb of Barretto. Now a 15-minute journey in the taxi cost us 500 pesos total (250 pesos each) whereas the bus journey all the way from Manila was only 140 pesos ….. Go figure. I was told by a few Philipinos that everyone pays this amount for taxis in Subic. Whether this is true or not I’m a newbie here so I can’t tell but I seriously doubt it.
Subic Bay is nice. Central Subic where the American base is, is quite bland with shopping malls and obviously the American base, but the shoreline where the beach is in the suburb of Baretto is far more pleasant and as this is where the resorts and the nightlife is situated, and where all the tourists stay.
The below pic was taken next door to my hotel. We didn’t have a pool but the hotels which do have a pool would be quite happy to let you use it for the day at 200 pesos. This swimming pool was literally next door to our hotel:
Our accommodation was at the Mangoes Beachfront resort. Good owner (Canadian), nice food and right next to the shoreline which makes eating there quite pleasant getting the cool beach breeze. The only drawback I found was breakfast wasn’t included which has its advantages if you’re a late riser but a disadvantage as you will have to open up your wallet every morning. Some pics from the Mangoes Beachfront resort:
Baretto seems to be a laid back place. All the bars are walking distance from each other and all on the main road of Olongapo- Bugallon road so it’s quite handy getting a bite to eat or going bar hopping. Many compare it with Angeles but I think there really is no comparison. Angeles city is more of a city with a massive nightlife. Baretto / Subic Bay feels like a beach town with literally about 14 bars in total and a very laid back approach to life making it feel more like a fishing village. Also a fair few places which offer diving, as you always get near the beaches in the Phils.
We spent 3 days in Subic and now that I look back, I thought that was enough. The bars don’t really stand out. It’s not that they’re bad or good, they just seem basic and nothing special to any of them. Besides bar hopping, eating and diving there really isn’t anything much more to do in Baretto. I asked the waitress at our hotel what other attractions there are and it seems there’s quite a bit to do outside and around Subic Bay. When I looked into it, it seems there are a few theme parks you could go to where apparently cashed up Philipinos and Chinese go. Many of these seemed as though they catered for families. The only place we thought worth visiting was the Ocean Adventure Park which is about a 40-minute drive from Subic Bay. Any taxi will take you there and you do have to negotiate the fare beforehand.
We spent the day there which I thought was worthwhile. Definite highlight is the dolphin show. We even got to pat a dolphin similar to the photo below:
We paid about 800 pesos for the two of us to get a photo taken patting the dolphin which I thought was great. Apparently you could do the same at Sea World in Queensland, Australia for substantially more money. Ocean Adventure Park seems to be similar to something like Sea world but on a much smaller scale.
Having spent 3 days and not being due in Bangkok for another 6 days we decided to go to Angeles. After all, it’s on the way back to Manila so why not stop off for a detour….!
Now I’m sure that there’s cheaper hotels out there but me and my mate decided that it was the Wild Orchid hotel or nothing! They do give 20% discount if paid in cash so that helps if you want to save some pesos. The resort is seriously worth every peso! It’s not just the location, friendly service, food (always delicious no matter what you order) but I wouldn’t stay anywhere else simply because of its famous pool. The place does host pool parties from time to time and the size of it is absolutely massive. Probably the biggest pool I’ve ever seen at a hotel! My only complaint was my room had a faulty air conditioner, but at least they got onto it pronto … turning my room looking like a construction site while finally fixing it:
The Wild Orchid pool:
The Wild Orchid at night:
Angeles was great and relaxing. Walking Street (Fields Ave.), there really isn’t a lot to do during the day. Our three days pretty much went along the lines of: wake up, have breakfast, have a dip in the pool, a massage, a nap, out for dinner and then hit the bars. The bars on Walking Street are great. Not as famous as Walking Street in Pattaya but in some aspects I think some bars are better than what you find in Pattaya. Barfines are the standard 3,000 pesos across all bars. Once again, I believe very inflated. If freelancers are your thing, there are some walking up and down Walking Street but apparently very few as police are cracking down on them as request by the bar owners. They apparently do ask for less. Some of the bars which are aimed at Koreans and the Japanese are a class above anywhere else I’ve seen. The shows are unbelievable and well-choreographed and co-ordinated. You do see the occasional farang woman in there taking a peak but I can’t blame them as some of the shows in there are that good you could sit there and drink simply to watch the shows! If I had to pick one club for best club it would have to be ‘Club Ra’. When walking in, a waitress takes you up to the top floor via an elevator. There’s a few other bars worth poking your head in along Walking Street, but my mate reckons majority of the girls simply do the ‘Bangkok shuffle’ so it does seem that that disease is spreading through the Phils as well….
Back to Manila
After 3 days it was time to go back to Manila. Now, do be careful about getting on the right bus. We got on one which goes via Pasay instead of Malate and we added another hour and a half getting through the city to our hotel! All part of the experience I guess. Manila does have a sky train similar to Bangkok and it is just as cheap. And just as congested.
Manila traffic…. can only be described as ‘Organised Chaos’:
Some other random photos in Manila.
We got lost and ended up in a shopping centre somewhere in Pasay. I ordered 2 coffees and asked for sugar. The lady gave me a tissue with sugar in it….. I guess I got what I asked for…..
As some readers would agree, the Phils isn’t the safest place – The below was taken outside Robinsons, Malate and looks more of a tank rather than a car pulling up to pick up the days takings. Pity I didn’t get a photo of the guy who comes out. Looked like a SWAT officer:
Chickens running freely in the back streets of Manila….
Aussie fans against Denmark. The closest we got to win a game….. L
I did make it out to Makati one evening, the tourist hotspot in Manila. It’s been 6 years since I was there last. A few observations in Makati….
- The hotel where we used to stay upstairs from the Havana Café (The Royal Ballagio) is full of Arabs. Not sure of the reasons for this but there were none there last time I was there. Come to think of it a fair few tourists in Makati were Arabs in general. Must be all the money we’re putting in their pockets for the oil! Even some of the signs have English and Arabic. <It’s the time of year. Arabs have long left the Middle East in July and August as that is the hottest time of year in that part of the world with temps getting in to the 40s so they head for the likes of Philippines and Thailand for the “cooler” weather – Stick>
- The streets of Makati are full of ladyboys. No kidding, they are everywhere! It could be a positive for some who prefer this option.
- If you think the bars of Malate were expensive, Makati will make you fall off your chair! The bars on Burgos Street all have a great vibe and I can see why tourists all flock to Makati, but expect to pay…
I was only in Manila for 3 nights once I got back from Angeles. Overall, reflecting on the country I have mixed feelings. It is a great place to take your holiday, but there are a lot of disadvantages. If you think service and incompetence is bad in Thailand, I think the Phils is worse. An example would be ordering chicken fried rice in Angeles City. It was from a well-known restaurant on Walking Street. I stipulated to the waitress specifically that I need it not spicy to which she acknowledged my request. Of course it got delivered spicy. Now, I don’t like to waste food but I can’t eat it spicy and I know blowing your temper doesn’t do you any good in Asia, so I called her over and said to her I simply can’t eat it to which she replied she did let the chef know ‘not spicy’ but obviously fell on deaf ears. 25 minutes later I get the right dish.
Another factor is the safety discussion on how safe is the Philippines? Whilst some people argue the Phils is perfectly safe, you can’t help but notice all the security guards everywhere with guns. Whilst I never saw any violence in all the times I’ve been there, the recent killings by the current President does put The Phils on the world map as the country being in a disruptive state. Many middle-class Philos argue that the President has done a service or the country, killing off the drug takers / pushers and stamping out corruption, but many have mixed feelings of his way of dealing with the problem. To my knowledge, it has somewhat made the country safer in the sense that everyone’s too scared of doing anything wrong for fear of retribution. The Southern part of the Phils occupied by the Muslim rebels apparently has made peace BUT is still classified as a ‘no go’ area for foreigners by many Western countries.
As a retirement option, it definitely wouldn’t be on top of my list. If you were to consider it, I can’t imagine living in Manila; it’s just too congested and disorganised and this is coming from someone who’s been a city boy all his life!
One huge advantage which gets mentioned time and time again is the English-speaking factor. Every Philipino has a good grasp of the language and communication is a non-issue. And for all you Hispanics, I’ve been told that their native language; Tagalog, isn’t all that different to Spanish and my mate who speaks fluent Spanish does pick up a word here and there. Looking at the language I think it would be easier to learn than Thai.
PS – If you enjoy a chess game, check out Ritzal Park, Manila. Heaps of chess players lazing out in the sun who don’t mind a game or two. Just don’t expect to win a game, these guys are very strong.
Part 2 contains Hong Kong / Macau and Thailand.
The author can be contacted at : [email protected]