A trip to the Philippines…
I sat on the tarmac on what would be my seat for the next 6hrs and 55mins, and thought to myself as I usually do before I start a long haul flight – “Why do I do it to myself?”
Watching the lovely UK weather give my Airbus’s window a good bashing, I tried to remind myself that this time tomorrow I’d be in the tropical climate of the Philippines. As much as it was lovely of God to bless me with the thirst for travelling the world it wasn’t as convenient that I was terrified of flying. I’d done two long hauls before. One when I went to the Philippines for 3 months, and one when I spent ten days in Thailand. Neither were pleasant, but here I was again loaded up with airport lounge vodka and sleeping tablets. I politely and un-necessarily informed the man sitting next to me that I was “scared of flying and not an alcoholic”. Then my holiday started.
I must have been mad.
Getting to the Philippines
I never really feel like I’m on holiday until I get into the airport lounge. Being away from the hustle and bustle really helps my fear of flying, and the unlimited free alcohol doesn’t hurt either. I mentioned Heathrow’s Terminal 4 Skyteam Lounge in my blog about Phuket, Thailand. For the price you pay (around £30 depending on where you book) it really is worth it for the unlimited food and drink, the non-crowded toilets and the pleasant atmosphere. Everything is help yourself as well, so you won’t be judged if you want to knock back a vodka with your sleeping tablets at 5am to make the flight more bearable.
I flew with Qatar airways, second time with them now and my ticket (return to Clark) was £630. You really can’t fault Qatar airways hospitality. Even in the economy class they couldn’t do more for you. Long haul flights are a bit different to your standard SleazyJet or RyanScare so it takes bit of getting used to that you can just press the buzzer and ask for something.
Due to some health problems I had to order a special non-lactose meal, which was a bit of concern. The trouble with lactose is that not only is it in the obvious things like dairy, but the stubborn little git pops up in all sorts of food you wouldn’t of dreamed will have lactose in. Starbucks spiked me with proper milk instead of soya milk once and I was ill for a week. I needed have worried. I got my special meal, as requested on every leg, and it was fine. Chicken and rice or fish and rice. Maybe the lack of the sauce put it on the dry side, but it was better than being unwell, and aeroplane food doesn’t bother me.
Qatar have also got a pretty decent IFE. I’ve honestly never watched so many films in my life. The drinks selection is good, and I liked it that they won’t serve hot drinks when the seatbelt on. Trust me, that safety first approach put my mind at ease, as a nervous flyer. I did this journey with Etihad last time, but I’d recommend Qatar. I also am now in possession of about twenty of their eyemasks and earplugs if anyone wants them. They ‘fell’ in my hand luggage bag.
Where to stay in the Philippines
Angeles City in the Philippines really is like no other place I’ve ever experienced. It’s a brilliantly balanced mix of all of the cultural influences the past has thrown at it: Japanese, Spanish, American, and traditional Filipino. West meets East pretty well, and the juxtaposition of American influence during their tenure at Clark’s airbase and Filipino just works. Sizzling Sissig is as readily available as a hot dog and fries. The real shame about Angeles, is that for British tourists it’s such an untouched gem. Especially for those just starting out their love affair with SE Asia, as it affords many more home comforts to start you off on the travellers path than say, Thailand.
There’s a main ‘strip’ of bars and clubs, called ‘Walking Street’ or ‘Fields Avenue’. Taking inspiration from places like Patong’s walking street in Thailand, it’s a little bit smaller and more ‘cosy’ than other’s but certainly friendlier. When I say this city never sleeps, it really doesn’t. You can stumble out at 4am and go to a club if you want to. Last time I went out with friends, and seeing as we were out until 6am we just grabbed breakfast in the bar we were in. See when things are ‘24hrs’ here, they really are ‘24hrs’. None of this Western “oh yeah we are 24hrs but we only serve this at this time and this license means we can’t give you this”. Open is Open.
Give Bretto’s a try. It’s pretty Americanised, and I know that’s not what you go away for, but the price is right and the food and drink is on point.
Since I was here last, a couple of really good high rise hotels have popped up. Central Park Tower and the Penthouse have panoramic, rooftop views across the whole city. Due to the fact they aim to make Clark airport the main international airport in the coming years, this is a great business decision. It wouldn’t surprise me if another couple popped up by time I got back, and it’s a welcome change from of the shoddier B&B’s on fields.
Now that it’s becoming more ‘touristy’ you can also find many different cultures and cuisines in Angeles city, like Japanese and Korean. There’s a big Korean tourism trade here, so you can probably get your hands on some traditional Korean cuisine that matches that in actual Korea itself.
So what do you do all day? When you are holiday here, how do you actually fill up the days? My first port of call when I get there, is always to sample some traditional ‘Pampanga Pampering’. Prices in the Philippines for hair and beauty are literally so reasonable. I got a hair cut in Petra and Pepita for 38 PHP (probably around 80p).
If you are familiar with travelling around SE Asia, you will probably be familiar with the weird and wonderful nature of the massages. I got one while I was out there and she definitely didn’t need to be as thorough in the bum area and I’m pretty sure at one point she sat on me.
Eating and drinking
Basically, the important one. If you go to the Philippines for anything go for the sizzling sissig and the lumpia. What other country in the world could you eat in on pretty much ANY budget? From street food to fine dining, you’ll absolutely find it all here. You certainly won’t struggle to feed yourself in the Philippines. (Side note: I don’t actually struggle to feed myself anywhere).
While America may be famous for McDonalds, the Philippines is certainly famous for Jollibee. I love it. If I thought I could get away with it I would have shoved a chickenjoy meal right in my suitcase. You can get all of the smaller ‘fast foody’ foods like hot dogs and burgers here, but the real stars are the fried chicken meals. For some reason, they LOVE fried chicken in this country. Works out great, because you know who else loves fried chicken? Yep, Kelly loves fried chicken. They serve it with either rice or spaghetti and the most mouth wateringly delicious gravy ever. I ate here for lunch about 11 times when I was here. I’m now fat, but happy.
Go for the food, stay for the views. You seriously couldn’t find a more beautiful place in Angeles to eat. The rooftop restaurant is available for non-guests to eat at as well as guests, so you can go and soak up the sights while you have dinner. You can sample English, American and Filipino food while taking in every single sight to see in Angeles, including the absolutely massive SM mall and IMAX cinema. I had the fried chicken here (shock) and it was great. I must admit, I’m cheap, I still prefer the Jollibee gravy, but it sufficed. Central Park will set you back about 600 PHP per head with a drink, which is about £10 if you can’t convert it. Cheaper than a Nando’s.
At the very top end of Fields Avenue, when you come out the other end, there are a few places to eat and drink which don’t actually come under the jurisdiction of Walking Street itself. It’s certainly less glam here, and more expats than tourists, but it still hits the spot. Like most places in the area, it offers a wide range of Western and Eastern food. The price is right as well, and Margarita will only set you back about 500 PHP for a meal and drink, depending on what you drink. Wine, for some reason is pretty expensive here, so if you stick with the soft drinks or San Miguel you can probably get more of a bargain. The alcohol in here is pretty reasonable, and yes, you’ve guessed it, they do a decent margarita. I’d recommend trying the tacos. For some reason Mexican cuisine has popped up in a few places since I was last here, which is good for me as I love spicing up my life.
I didn’t go to Rumpa this time, and I’m kicking myself. Rumpa is a great little steak place nestled just off of Fields Avenue in a little side street. Good prices, good food. Again, it wouldn’t be a restaurant out here without their being all the traditional Filipino dishes, but the steak is really the selling point of the whole affair. If you are going to go, the trike driver will more than likely know where it is, as it’s quite well known.
Street food in the Philippines
Street food. This is a big talking point with travellers. Is it safe, is it not safe? Well unfortunately for the many people I like to pass on medical advice to for S&G’s, I’m not a Doctor. Personally, I ate street food, and I didn’t die. When my nurse gave me my Hep A and Hep B, she told me to avoid it. I don’t like being told what to do, so it was a bit of a given that I was going to give it a whack.
Nestled in Rossana Street (right hand side) there is a little grill bar that does Mexican, traditional Filipino and Western food. What entices you is the friendly, down to earth atmosphere, and the fact that you are really ‘getting into the mix’ with Filipino’s. Honestly, when I was here last, I ate here nearly every night and was fine. It helps that it was quite near to where I stayed, but honestly, the food was great and you could pick up a taco for like 50 pesos, which is around 90p.
If you are still mulling over the whole street food idea, there is this really cool thing most humans are born with (although it’s arguable), called common sense. No, don’t eat chicken off of a cart in the street that could have been there for hours, but noodles and vegetables you can’t really go wrong with can you.
Excursions in the Philippines
If you are going to book any excursions, book them there. There are plenty of travel agents who know millions of cheap airlines that you probably haven’t even heard of for a fraction of the price.
We decided on going on a trip to Baloy Beach, Olongapo. There are loads of lovely places, like Boracay you can get to from Angeles, but to be honest the thought of another plane, let alone a little seaplane gave me nightmares. I’d been to Blue Rock before and I love it there. Blue Rock’s rooms are so close to the beach, you can taste the sand when you open the window. The rooms are cosy, a bit basic, but clean and pretty decent for the price you pay. The great thing about it here is it isn’t too touristy. On both days I had nearly the whole beach to myself.
The food and drink here is really good, and above all for a resort really well priced. You can get room service 24hrs a day, and the mini bar prices are really good too if you don’t fancy harassing someone with a call. The pool is a bit cold, but on those 35 degree afternoons it’s quite welcome.
The restaurant is right on the beach, and has views over the whole bay and you can see nearby Subic. A lot of people actually from the Philippines swim in the sea at night, so you can take in those sights as well as watching the nutters that go about in their boats in the pitch dark with no light.
Wear mosquito repellent if you are in the restaurant for the evening.
Shopping in the Philippines
I know you don’t go on holiday to shop, but seriously, buy all the things. Really do. You can get all of your favourite brands like MAC and Clinique out here, and it is cheaper. Granted, some things are cheaper than others, but a quick conversion and you’ll soon find out if you are saving or not. There are two malls in Angeles, Marquee mall and SM Mall. Personally, I prefer the smaller Marquee mall, as SM is massive and confusing. Also, SM seems to be mostly made up of the cinema and food court, rather than shops (there is a Forever 21 though). Marquee mall is just that little bit more manageable.
Don’t go to either mall on a Sunday. It’s family day and everyone in the city seems to go.
Bartering is quite easy here, especially on the markets like the 24 hr one on Fields Avenue. Don’t feel guilty for bartering. Much like countries like Turkey, it is just what’s done here. Not so much in the mall, obviously, but the markets and street shops, go for it, try and get a bargain.
Getting around in the Philippines
The main form of transport in the Philippines is a trike. A trike is a motorbike and side car, and you get in the side car. I love a walk, so I’ll only grab a trike if it really is raining or far away, but even if you are like me, you have to try it once for the experience. Sometimes the trike drivers can expect a bit more from Westerners, but we earn more, so can you blame them?
Agree the price before you start the journey, then there’s no drama.
Jeepney’s are also an efficient, inexpensive way of getting around. They are kind of like the Philippine equivalent of the Turkish ‘Dolmus’ bus. You can get more or less across town for about 6 peso. Yes, they are a bit crowded, and it’s not ideal in the heat, but the same as a trike, you need to try it just once.
Ten other quick tips for visiting the Philippines
- If it’s raining, wear closed in shoes. The drainage isn’t always great in some areas, and if the water is dirty you could pick up all sorts.
- If you are walking anywhere on a road, walk toward the traffic so you can see what is coming towards you.
- Learn ‘thank you’ in Tagalog (its Salamat). Not only is it polite, but it will make you seem a bit less like a tourist if you use it and could help you with your bartering.
- Check the shape of ice. ‘Tube’ ice is fine. This means it’s made from bottled water. ‘Square’ ice is a no. This indicates its tap water that have been frozen in an ice cube tray. The water here will make you genuinely ill. Avoid.
- Get to know the local food and drinks. This will help you have a more authentic experience, but also it can save you money. You’ll pay double for a Barcadi and a burger than what you’ll pay for a Tanduay and some pancit.
- Fly to Clark. They are trying to move all international flights here anyway, and Manila airport is a nightmare.
- Be aware of Visa requirements. Depending on where you are travelling from, you get about 4 weeks free. Ask at the airport, and make sure you keep on top of it, the fines just aren’t worth it.
- Remember you need to pay airport tax when you leave. Usually around 600 PHP. Don’t spend your last money on rum and Jollibee.
- Bags are searched when you enter the malls. No guns or drugs, spoil sports.
- Luzon is ok to travel around, but if you are going close to regions like Mindano, check with the Foreign Office website to see where is and isn’t safe.