The first thing to realize about Subic Bay is that the US military has had a navy base there since 1898, when we took control of the Philippines after defeating Spain in the Spanish-American War. Actually, it was the biggest overseas naval base of the United States. Granted, it was finally closed in the early 1990s, but regardless all the locals speak English and there are still many Americans that are retired military living in Subic.
Old US Naval Base turned Freeport Zone
The bay is surrounded by the town of Subic and Olongapo City, both in the province of Zambales, as well as the towns of Morong and Dinalupihan in the province of Bataan in the east. I have never been on the far side of the bay, I stick to Subic and Olongapo. However one time I took out a boat and checked out the entire bay, which is bigger than I originally thought.
The past few years Subic has seen a steady increase in tourism, which has been beneficial for the city as they no longer are receiving the constant influx of American dollars that the Navy base provided, both in taxes/fees and in soldiers spending their wages around town. This withdrawal marked the first time since the 16th Century that no foreign military forces were present in the Philippines.
My expat friend Ron and his family
Nowadays there are still numerous American ex-military retirees collecting pension and living in Subic, many of whom had originally been stationed in the Philippines in the early '70s and '80s and just decided to just never leave. Almost all of the bars and resorts in Subic are owned by this collection of men. Through a mutual acquaintance here in Austin I became buddies with one of these gentlemen, a cool fellow by the name of Tom. He owns the resort I always stay at, as well as a disco, a real estate company, and a few other ventures around town.
Over the trips I have made countless other friends with American locals there. Most are surprised that someone my age not in the military has stumbled upon the fun in the Philippines (and with the base being closed, everyone is a little surprised to see a young American around town again -- I still get stares). One of my best buddies in Subic is Ron, who is pictured to the side with his Filipina wife and two kids. He and I like to slip away from our ladies and hit the town or Angeles City when we have a chance. Actually, his wife Elsa (who is friends with my ex Claire) is from Angeles, so they have a sweet gig worked out: once a month the two of them take a long weekend and go to Angeles, with Elsa spending it with her family and Ron spending it around town, no questions asked.
That, in a nutshell, describes the vibe over here. Prostitution is completely normal and acceptable, although no one ever utters that word or mentions the fact that it is technically illegal. As the American locals describe it, it is more like charity. I mean the girls cost next to nothing, and usually they are sending the money back to their home province to help their family. Besides, the girls don't seem like hookers either. If you have never been with an Asian or experienced the Asian mentality, then I am sorry but you do not know what you are missing. It's different. Those ladies are all about making you happy, it is easy to believe that she genuinely likes you. Compare it to a one-night stand after going downtown. You really don't feel like you just purchased the lady of the night.
And no, there are no pimps over there, at least not in Subic or Angeles City or anywhere else I have visited. All the working girls are affiliated with one of the bars or discos. They will show up every evening looking tempting and are impossible to miss or mistake. It works like this: when you go to pay your tab for the night, after you have chosen a girl and are ready to take her home for the night, the bartender will add a thousand or two pesos to your tab. This is what is known as a bar fine -- 50% goes to the bar and 50% to the girl. Better numbers than a pimp will give you anyway.
The working girls get annoying fast...
Because the girls are always affiliated with a bar or disco, their beauty and availability and health are what consistently brings people out every night. Every week the working girls will go and get a test from the local clinic, certifying they have a clean bill of health. If you ever seen any of the usual girls sitting on the sidelines, not dressed up (or dressed down, as I suppose the case would be), well then you know why. Many of the locals joke about how back in the day, in the '80s for example, the guys would find out what days the bars tested all their girls and then make sure to hit that bar on that night, so they always had a guaranteed clean girl. Tricky sons of bitches ha ha ha...
All that having been said, Jared and I were a little surprised by our first visit. From the second we got out of the van and followed the luggage guys upstairs to our suites, the women were on us like we were f'ing celebrities. It was incredible! We stayed at Mango's Resort, which had an attached disco, so the girls were always close at hand. Hell, the first trip we only stayed for a week because we did not know what to expect. At the end of that trip we had a good half-dozen of the locals all ask us the same question: "So, how many girls did you take home this week?"
Jared and I were a quite shocked, but not as shocked as the local guys when they learned that we had not taken any of the girls home, having shot down all their advances even while completely drunk. In our opinion we are both young, hip, good-looking guys, why should we have to pay for sex when we can get it for free?
My first year of trips back and forth to the Phils to be with my [then] girlfriend I always stayed at Mango's Resort in Subic Bay. I did this for two reasons: 1) my friend Tom is the owner and I always get a discount on my room; and 2) my ex is the boss of the morn/early afternoon shift.
For you however, I would recommend (depending on the length of your stay) either a hostel or a furnished apartment. A hostel will run you less than $10/night but an apartment will only set you back $200-$250 a month, tops. But because of what I mentioned before, I am afraid I am not able to give my usual nice listing with pics/reviews. Except for Mango's, of course.
Mango's is a small establishment with only three guest rooms which are located directly over the restaurant/bar portion of the resort. The lower floor is popular with the locals (both native and ex-military) and they hold pool tournaments twice a week. But the best part is the food is fantastic and the drinks are cheap!
There is also an attached disco at the front of the resort, Rock Lobster. At eleven/midnight when the kitchen and bar closes, you are forced to get your drinks from the disco if you want to keep the night going. It's not a bad little disco, but it is small. There are several better ones within just a couple blocks.
The rooms themselves are very well done. They come with a kitchen area including mini fridge (which does come stocked with beer, soda, and water), closet, safe, and as you can see from the picture, a small living room with coffee table, extra chairs, a desk, and a large television.
Out back is a balcony that runs the whole width of the building and can be accessed via sliding doors in each guest room. There are tables and chairs there too, which make it a great li'l place to look out onto the bay or smoke a couple bowls and relax.
Jared's Thoughts On Mango's: "If you're looking for a quaint bar and hotel this is the place for you- limited rooms so book early. Since there are not scores of guests the wonderful staff spends all its time making sure you have a great stay."
[ UPDATE ] As of my last trip back in 2014, my old friend Tom has partially retired and sold several of his properties, including Mango's. While the name remains the same, the attached Rock Lobster disco has been turned into a more adult-themed "Bunny Ranch" and several new suites have been built. There is also a new beachside bar.
Let's get the basics out of the way first, for those of you new to the region (for the rest of you, just skip down two paragraphs). The Philippines is the world's 12th most populous nation, with a population of over 90 million as of 2008. An estimated figure of half of the population resides on the island of Luzon. Manila, the capital city, is the eleventh most populous metropolitan area in the world. Life expectancy is 71.23 years, with 73.6 years for females, and 69.8 years for males. Population growth rate between 1995 to 2000 was 3.21% but has decreased to an estimated 1.95% for the 2005 to 2010 period.
All together a combined 7,107 islands make up the Philippines. The country is divided into three island groups: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. These are divided into 17 regions, 80 provinces, 120 cities, 1,511 municipalities, and 42,008 barangays. A barangay is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village.
My final destination in the Philippines is always Subic and the neighboring Olongapo City. I used to fly in through the capital, Manila, which is not the most convenient thing as it then requires renting an "aircon van" for the four-hour drive to Subic Bay. Not only that, but Ninoy Aquino International Airport is old and lacking in all the modern conveniences you would find at other airports worldwide. However, there is also a new and still expanding airport in Angeles City, Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, which I use now.
DMIA was formerly known as Clark International Airport, having been expanded from the original Clark Air Base, which was closed and relinquished by the US Air Force in 1991. Not only is DMIA closer to Subic, but it is also located in Angeles City, the place to go to have fun. While in Subic women will flock to you 10-deep, but in AC the ladies will surround you 100-deep easy.
Yep, Angeles City -- the City of Friendship -- is truly a paradise for anyone with a love of fine Asian women. Trying to enjoy the night out and the local ladies while in Manila can sometimes get you into trouble with the law, but in AC you have nothing to worry about. Its slogan is "the city of friendship" and is the hub of the Southeast Asia sex trade, where prostitution is not just a lucrative business but a dominate industry.
The infamous nightlife scene in Angeles originally sprung up to service nearby Clark Air Force Base. The US military left in 1991 after nearby Mt. Pinatubo erupted, but a crackdown on prostitution in Manila promptly restored the industry's fortunes, and today Angeles has the biggest nightlife scene in the Philippines.
Balibago district is home to many bars and karaoke joints. It has of a number of clubs which fit any budget and personality. There are traditional clubs with DJ's and the live band clubs. For endless evening of dancing and pulsating music, head for the bright lights of Balibago. Fields Avenue and McArthur Highway are the places to head for go-go bars, comedy bar shows, sing-along or karaoke bars, nightclubs and drinking beer - it is a non-stop pleasure seven days a week, every week of the year!
But don't get me wrong, despite the pictures, it is not all about women in Angeles City (just mostly). Besides having a booming nightlife, the city is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination, particularly for visitors from South Korea. Its center, Balibago, is especially known for its fine restaurants, hotels and shopping malls. Within Balibago is neon-lit Fields Avenue, known for its bars, nightclubs and what may be one of the world's largest concentration of go-go bars. Adjoining Clark Freeport Zone is the site of world-class resorts, casinos, duty-free shops and beautifully landscaped golf courses. The city, and the rest of the Pampanga region, is known both as the "Entertainment Capital of Central Luzon" as well as the "Culinary Center of the Philippines."
Subic Bay, which collectively refers to Subic, Barrio Barretto, and Olongapo City, is much more tame than Angeles City, although the underlying sex trade is still obvious. At any resort you stay at, come sunrise you will always see a couple girls come down from the rooms upstairs and quietly make their way out. Hell, that is how I got busted -- my ex-girlfriend works at the resort I stay at, Mango's. That's why I fly in AC first now, ha ha ha.
Subic has plenty of touristy things to do during the day, such as parasail, trek the jungle, visit Ocean Adventures, fly over the volcano, or even just shop the markets in Olongapo. But once the sun sets, the discos, the go-gos, and the bars all come alive. There are plenty of good places, such as Down Under, The Hot Zone, Harley's, Doc's, Baby One Bar, Broadway, etc -- the list goes on and on.
All the resorts in Subic border the water, either beside Mango's on National Hwy or just past it, on Baloy Beach Rd. All of the nightclubs are scattered just blocks away, along the opposite of National Hwy or scattered down the side streets. Everything is within walking distance, but there are always jeepneys and trikes available for transportation as well, just as in any other city in the Philippines.
The iconic Filipino jeepney -- no two are painted the same
The jeepneys (essentially small buses) were originally made from discarded American military jeeps after World War II, although newer ones have been manufactured since which still resemble the original jeepneys. They are color-coded depending on the route they follow and are most certainly the most affordable way to get around downtown. They run available 24 hours a day and it is the most famous mode of transportation throughout the country. Since jeepneys tend to be overcrowded with passengers, tourists carrying bulky luggage should consider traveling by taxi (as the joke goes, "How many people can you fit on a jeepney?" Answer: "One more!").
Trikes (often spelled 'tryks' by the locals) are nothing more than a basic four-speed motorcycle with a one-wheeled cart attached to the side to carry passengers, much like European sidecars. The trikes are slightly more expensive, but provide you with a more peaceful ride instead of being packed in 20-deep on a small jeepney. Like the jeepneys, there are also trike drivers operating 24 hrs a day. In addition, the trikes will take you anywhere, door-to-door, unlike the jeepneys, which must stick to a straight route, just like a bus. In those terms, consider a trike a taxi. Although they do have "aircon" taxis and vans in the bigger cities, they are expensive and charge by the kilometer.
Always a quick but very bumpy ride
All in all, while there is plenty of ways to kill time and enjoy yourself in both Subic and Angeles, but it is undoubtedly the nightlife that takes the gold, always. Part of the problem lies with the fact that the only foreigners that live in the Philippines are almost exclusively ex-military, primarily American but also many Australians. Each and every one of them owns their own bar or disco, always stocked with some go-go girls. The women over there are used to having these countless older men around, and it is fairly common for a 60-yr-old American to marry a 25-yr-old Filipina. As the navy base at Subic is no longer active, they do not see the younger men like they used to. That was another reason why my repeated trips while only in my early 20s have caught the attention of all the girls there.
Take for example Hope In Heaven, a recently released documentary about a girl named Mila who "dances" at the Heaven Bar in Angeles City. Despite hating what she does, she is a working girl who dreams of an American guy one day finding her and rescuing her from her terrible life. That summarizes the dream of essentially every girl in the Philippines, and while not every girl will decide to follow Mila's path and whore themselves out as a working girl, quite a few do.
My ex-girlfriend is a born-and-raised Filipina and she had some of the same dreams. Although she was one of the good girls, one of the "cherry girls" as they call them over there, and worked legitimately at a resort in addition to going to college. That used to put a lot of pressure on me, because in her eyes I was "her prince," a role I don't think I ever really lived up to. But in the end, it was not meant to be and we have since gone separate ways. Not a day goes by that I don't think about her though. She is the one that got away, the only girl I have ever truly loved. Anyway...
In closing, because a few of my friends question how I can put up with all these older men taking advantage of these girls, let me first say I never expected to. The very first time Jared and I went to the Philippines, we did not like it. It was poor, dirty, and in coming from Tokyo, we just did not feel like there was that much to do. As a matter-of-fact, when departing from Manila the first time, we both swore we would never return to the Philippines. How wrong we were.
It was definitely because of my talking with Claire that I have been returning to the Philippines -- we had traded email addresses the last day of my original trip there. However, upon returning to the Phils I came to accept and even appreciate their way of life. That and I have become friends with many of the ex-military guys there, which I am sure subtly influenced my thinking. As they put it, these working girls are almost always sending money back to their home province, to help out their families, so you are really just helping the poor (call it donating to charity if you want) by spending the night with one of these ladies. Besides, the girls don't seem like whores, although to quite a few of you I am sure that will make absolutely no sense. It has to do with the Filipino culture, and the way a Filipina woman puts the happiness of her man in front of everything else, even herself. So when you do take one of these girls home, you feel more like you just met some girl downtown and are taking her home, not like you are paying for a hooker.
Be that as it may, I am not a cheater and was not about to cheat on the love of my life, even after learning that all the working girls are tested regularly and will get a pass signifying their clean health that allows them to work that night. So, your chances of taking an extra souvenir home to the missus are somewhat diminished. Additionally, if you are at one of the go-go bars and see one of the usual girls standing off to the side, not working that night...well you know her test came up positive and she is sitting her time out, taking her meds.
But despite all of this, make no mistakes: prostitution is illegal in the Philippines.
|(2008 numbers, no 2009 yet)||Philippines||United States|
|Area > Land||298,170 sq km||[69th of 238]||9,161,923 sq km||[3rd of 238]|
|Population Total||96,061,680 residents||[13th of 242]||303,824,640 residents||[3rd of 242]|
|Population Density||266.11 ppl per sqkm||[42nd of 256]||29.77 ppl per sqkm||[168th of 256]|
|Largest City Population||Manila - 9,286,000||[12th of 174]||New York City - 16,332,000||[4th of 174]|
|Population Below Poverty Line||30%||[27th of 46]||12%||[40th of 46]|
|Gross National Income||$80,844,900,000.00||[36th of 172]||$9,780,000,000,000.00||[1st of 172]|
|Exports||$49,320,000,000.00||[49th of 189]||$1,148,000,000,000.00||[4th of 189]|
|Economic Importance||0.1||[ UNLISTED ]||197.9||[1st of 25]|
|Comparative Price Levels||14||[ UNLISTED ]||109||[7th of 30]|
|Technological Achievement||0.3||[41st of 68]||0.73||[2nd of 68]|
|Cannabis Use||1.94%||[104th of 126]||12.3%||[3rd of 126]|
|» New Zealand comes in 1st with 22.23% and Australia 2nd with 17.93%|
|Oil > Consumption||340,100 bbl/day||[19th of 212]||20,680,000 bbl/day||[1st of 212]|
|McDonald's Restaurants||235 locations||[13th of 39]||12,804 locations||[1st of 39]|
|Tsunami > Foreign Tourists Missing||1||[37th of 37]||456||[6th of 37]|
|Prisoners > Per Capita||94 per 100,000 ppl||[96th of 164]||715 per 100,000 ppl||[1st of 164]|
|Suicide Rates||26.7 per 100,000 ppl||[7th of 17]||13.3 per 100,000 ppl||[13th of 17]|
Numbers pulled from NationMaster
I may have limited my excursions to the Philippines to the main island, but there are many other beautiful places to go visit all throughout the country, some more touristy than others. If you want to get a taste of the real Philippines, check out Olongapo, a great little town with an active nightlife and occasional shows or festivals at Pier One or the Freeport Zone. If you are looking for working girls, go to Angeles City. But, whatever you do, spend as little time as possible in Manila. Trust me on this one.