Life In Subic Bay, Philippines

The first thing to realize about life in 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. Now the former US Naval Base has been turned into the Subic Freeport Zone.

Subic Freeport Zone in the Philippines

Life in Subic Bay

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 and his family in the Philippines

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 Bay 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.

Life in Subic Bay

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

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. In AC women will flock to you 10-deep, here in Subic the ladies will surround you 2- or 3-deep at most. At any resort you stay at, come sunrise you will always see a couple of girls come down from the rooms upstairs and quietly make their way out.

Life in Subic Bay, Philippines revolves around bars and whorehouses, such as The Hot Zone

Angeles City, the city of adult friendship in the 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 even here in the Philippines. As the American locals describe it, it is more like charity. I mean the sex costs next to nothing, and usually the ladies are sending the money back to their home province to help their family. Besides, the working 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.

Angeles City, the city of adult friendship in the Philippines

And no, there are no pimps over here, 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 city of adult friendship in the Philippines

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…

Angeles City, the city of adult friendship in the Philippines

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.

Subic Bay has plenty of touristy things to do during the day, including as parasailing, jungle trekking, visiting Ocean Adventures, flying over the volcano, or even just shopping the markets in Olongapo. But once the sun sets, the discos, the go-gos, and the bars own the town. There are countless places, such as Down Under, The Hot Zone, Harley’s, Doc’s, Baby One Bar, Broadway, etc — the list goes on and on.

At the end of that trip we had a good half-dozen of the local expats all ask us the same question: “So, how many girls did you take home this week?” And that, in one sentence, describes life in Subic Bay.

  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?

The Resorts at Subic Bay

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.

Filipino Jeepney
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.

A Filipino Trike
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 Filipina Ex

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.

My Filipina Ex

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.

  Despite all of this, make no mistakes: prostitution is illegal in the Philippines.

Statistics

(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]
ยป 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.

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel." ย  Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

10 thoughts on “Life In Subic Bay, Philippines”

  1. 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
  2. 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
    • Thanks for the comment Nicholas, glad to hear you can relate ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 couple of 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks again for the comment, best wishes!

      Reply
      • Hey Eric, thanks for reaching out. Heard a lot of wild stories from some of my buddies who spent the 80s and early 90s in Subic Bay…..didn’t seem quite as wild by the time I came around though hahaha.

        Anyway, just dropped you an email. When was the last time you’ve been back?

        Reply
  3. 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
    • So very true Delia, it is a sad situation but too often the girl gets demonized purely for trying to do what it takes to survive. Anyway, thanks for your comments, appreciate it ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply

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