Life In Subic Bay

Written by 
Subic Bay, Zambales, Philippines Subic Bay, Zambales, Philippines

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.

Subic Freeport Zone
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.

Ron & Family
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.

The Hot Zone in Subic Bay, Philippines

The Hot Zone in Subic Bay, Philippines

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.

Angeles City
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?

Derek Freal

" ǝʌıʇɔǝdsɹǝd ɹǝɥʇouɐ ɯoɹɟ sƃuıɥʇ ǝǝs oʇ ǝʌol ı "
Derek is a perpetual wanderer, cultural enthusiast, and lifelong traveler. He loves going places where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, as well as places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo (supposedly its healthier and more efficient). Say Hello On Twitter!



+1 # Derek Freal 2012-11-11 03:10
Thanks for the comment Nicholas, glad to hear you can relate :) One of my close friends is a half-Filipino half-American girl I've grown up with. Her dad is American, mom a naturalized Filipina. He and five of his friends spent the first half of the 80's stationed at Subic Bay. All of them returned with Filipina wives (one even divorced his "wide-eyed" the minute he first spotted his soon-to-be "slanty-eyed" wife) except for the sixth guy, Tom. Tom settled down with a wife there, got into the real estate, resort, and disco game -- he actually owned the resort I stayed at my first cpl trips and was my original contact in the country.

Before my first trip I spent many a drunken night with the five guys that returned Stateside and WOW, the stories they told me! But I'm sure you already know ;) Thanks again for the comment, best wishes!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
+1 # Nicholas Sabalos 2012-11-11 02:15
Gosh, this brings back memories of my nearly two decades spent going in and out of Subic while serving in the US Navy. No pun intended, there was no friendlier port for the Fleet. This was our home away from home while deployed overseas.

It's so awesome that you have visited this Asian hidden gem, Derek! Thanks for this great report!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
+1 # Sand Notes 2012-11-10 16:11
very good article, Derek. a real story beats any other type of article
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
-1 # Sand Notes 2012-11-10 15:48
as a woman, I feel sorry for these young beautiful Filipino girls. you can be something else or more than an attractive piece of meat. I'm not saying is bad to be sexy, on a contrary. physical attractiveness is a quality. but what is going to happen with these girls when they are no longer young? it's bad that their community/society encourages this kind of way to get some money.
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Trace 2012-06-07 04:37
your blog is so amazing thanks for following me on Twitter, i'll visit here regularly
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Derek Freal 2012-05-30 22:19
Awesome, thank you Raul! What is your Twitter handle? I tried searching for you but hundreds came up and no one looked familiar :)
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote
0 # Raul peralta 2012-05-30 04:45
hi Derek. i'm one of ur followers at Twitter and i'm amazed to know that you've been to subic. i live and do business here in the subic bay freeport zone. next time you're here let me know and i'll treat u to our resto (inside the freeport zone, by the bay). Regards!
Reply | Reply with quote | Quote

Add comment

Security code

Login to The HoliDaze to submit articles and comments or register your blog.