Readers' Submissions

Bangkok Byron Is Back And In Subic!

When a friend mentioned that Subic was like Bangkok 30 years ago, I was interested. Subic refers to Subic Bay, which is a former American naval base in the province of Zambales, northwest of Manila. The actual town he was referring to is a small beach resort called Bario Barretto, near the city of Olongapo.

If it really was like Bangkok 30 years ago, it would be worth a visit. So I booked a flight to Clark Airport, and a taxi to Subic. The taxi cost a whopping 3,500 PHP, but there is a bus called the Victory Liner which will get you there (or nearly there) for 500 (you need to take a trike for the last leg of the journey). The taxi took an hour and a half, the Victory Liner takes over two hours — and those timings have only been possible in the last few years since the Clark-Subic-Tarlac Expressway opened. That said, the section near Olongapo is not quite finished, so there can be delays.

Subic’s relative inaccessibility is one of the reasons it is so laid-back. I found that the guys there were almost all Westerners, most of them retirees — a profile that reminded me of Thailand back in the day. Subic is not the kind of place you would make a special trip to when there are livelier places which are more accessible (Manila and Angeles City) unless, like me, you are in search of a long-lost paradigm of laid-back fun.

I stayed at a hotel called The Pub — a name with a Brit flavour. Indeed, there were several other Brit flavours around, such as fish and chips for sale (usually in the Philippines, if I ask for fish and chips, I get American “chips”, which we call “potato crisps”). There was also a Brit-owned bar with a Mini Cooper on display — but I’ll come back to that. The Pub is at one end of the strip of bars along the National Highway, and it is only a short walk to get to the other end, the last bar (more or less) being Cheap Charlie’s, which is famous for its all-day breakfasts.

On my first night I started at Rum Jungle and worked my way back to The Pub, across the road to The Office (what a great name for a bar! If the wife calls and asks you where you are, you can say, “I’m working late at the office”), then down the other side as far as Thumbstar. I finally staggered across the road to a bar with a beautifully restored Mini Cooper on display (the girls weren’t bad, either!).

In the course of my drunken wanderings I discovered that the Subic bargirls have a distinct profile: they are exclusively local girls, many of them from the nearby Zambales Mountains, and they are most of them MILFs. In other words, most of them have one or more children by a feckless Filipino father, who abandons the woman and gives no financial support. Their age range is from mid-20’s to mid-30’s, though several are younger. For example, I chatted to one MILF who was only 18, yet had two children (she must have got started early!) There are a few girls without children, such as one I met in Rosie’s Tavern, who was 19. She was there because her family were desperately poor and needed her support.

Another thing I noticed was the shortage of customers. In some bars I was the only one — which in laid-back Subic, means that you will get mobbed. Drinks were cheap enough at 95-125 PHP for a local beer (Cebu Pacific will charge you 150 PHP for the same beer on the plane), though “double drinks” for ladies has, unfortunately, found it’s way to Subic. These cost 300 PHP. Usually the girls will choose a San Mig Light, but at least they are drinking a real drink!

I found the atmosphere in every bar to be very friendly. It was impossible just to sit there and stare at the girls on stage. Before many minutes a girl would approach you, and her friends too, and start chatting. There was no pressure to buy drinks, though it was appreciated, and since I’d shelled out 3,500 on a taxi, I saw no reason not to be generous. Another thing which appealed to me was that the managers and mamasans would notice what was going on, and reward generous customers by buying them a drink.

After an hour or so, that make or break word would inevitably come up: “barfine”. The system in Subic is that you pay the whole barfine to the girl later on, and she has to pay around 1,000 to the bar next day. Barfines range between 2,500 and 3,000 PHP. You should expect “long time” for the latter, though “short time” was never rushed. Once, when I asked “how long?” she said “five hours” — and that was “short time”. Many girls prefer all-nighters because they can escape the long journey back to the mountain and feast from the mini-bar while watching TV.

By day, the bars looked very run down, with peeling paint, patched-up tin-shack roofs, and termite-infested woodwork, and even by night, there was not a lot of neon — a bit like Soi Cowboy before it got glitzy. <Where are the photos?! This paragraph is crying out for some accompanying snaps of the areaStick>

So is Subic like Bangkok 30 years ago? In many ways, yes. It is laid back, cheap, run down in a charming way, and above all — lots of fun. As for the girls — women I should call them — if you want a young hottie, look elsewhere, but if you prefer a somewhat older woman who understands the hard realities of life (and will thus appreciate you and take care of you), Subic is the place.

Oh, I said I’d come back to the Mini Cooper. Bangkok Byron is famous (or should that be “infamous”?) for writing poetry (or should that be “doggerel”?) about the naughty nightlife, so I’ll tell you about it in a poem:


I met her in a bar in Subic Bay —
I can’t remember which — only the car —
a bright red Mini Cooper on display,
the best of all the beauties in the bar.

I almost said, “Can I barfine the Mini?” —
then she appeared and she was better far,
in her red shoes and skimpy red bikini,
than any manmade object like a car.

Issoginis was an inspired designer,
But God (or evolution) did it better:
And yet what classic car was ever finer?
And yet what girl? — if only I could get her!

No problem — a few thousand pesos given,
and she was mine to take and drive to heaven.


Bangkok Byron

The author of this article can be contacted at : [email protected]