A long three-day weekend was arriving and we had to find a place to escape the burning concrete of Singapore. We looked at possible destinations like Hong Kong and Thailand but everything was either fully booked or the ticket prices are unaffordable. Hey I’ve got an idea, I have friends to visit in the Philippines and it’s been a long time that I wanted to see this country, all Filipinos I meet are always friendly.
Let’s see what the flight rates are. An initial search to the Manila airport gives me a reasonable price but still expensive. So I tried the Clark Budget airport which is located farther away in the provinces. The rates ranging from 80 to 150 Singapore dollar and our final destination Subic Bay is located only 120 km from this airport. Here we come the beach, the Philippines and the Dolphins of Ocean Adventure
The final bill was around $ 250 each for the round trip on Tiger Airways from Singapore, for 8 hours round trip; not too bad. Next task was to find a hotel room, we visited several online booking sites, but everything was full. I finally managed to find a room at Subic Ocean View for $ 95 U.S. for 2 nights.
It’s 11:30am and we’re on the plane. It’s not Tiger Airways, but its partner “ Seair” . At about 3:15 p.m. we arrive to the Philippines Clark Airport. The airport is rustic like a real budget one. Customs passed in a second and the visa is free. We notice immediately in the queue that 75% of travellers are Filipinos who are coming home for the holidays. Not surprisingly, there is a large number of “pino” who working in Singapore and around the world.
Hey we have no local currency. We need some Philippine pesos. The exchange rate is 50 pesos for one US dollar or 34pesos for a Singapore dollar. We looked at the small trading posts. All are closed well yes it’s true, Easter for Christian it’s public holiday several institutions will be closed or very busy. I asked to exchange $ 200, but the girl at the counter told me I can only trade you 100 because I have no more pesos. It goes very well we emptied the exchange counter with $ 100.
The taxi drivers tried to solicit us, but as usual it’s better to find public transport, as taxis at an airport will cost us the skin of the buttocks. We consulted the security crew who showed us kindly the Jeepney: a truck caravan that serves as local public bus in the Philippines. For 100 pesos or $ 2US, we rode 30 minutes in a bus crowded with local, luggage and two friendly German backpackers.
The bus terminal is a bit chaotic and dusty. Even the McDonald’s coffee counter is not of the usual standard. There are dozens of small “convenience store” selling refreshments and “crackers”. We tried to gather information to know where take our bus, but the answers are not quite accurate, “In this corner later”, was the reply. While we were waiting for the bus, children came to us and begged for money. No no, we ended up giving a bottle of Coke to one of them. The problem is that if we give to one all will come. We can’t not feed the whole neighborhood. Some guy tried to sell us rosaries and holy cards with pictures of saints. No thank you!
20 minutes later, around 17:00 the modern air-conditioned Victory Bus to Olongapo City is also known as Subic Bay. No tickets were purchased, we just hopped onto it . While waiting for the bus to depart, sellers of trinkets combed the bus at full speed. Finally the bus conductor came on board and collected 280 pesos (5.50 U.S.) for two. The public transport is rather cheap in this country.
En route to the sea, the landscape is harsh and dry; I see a lot of makeshift houses on the roadside, but also luxury ones. The gap between rich and poor seems great here. The shops, rice fields, watermelon stalls on the roadside and the landscape reminds me of Laos in a little more structured, but exchanging the temples for churches.
We wondered how he wanted.. 400 pesos around $ 8 ..Ah OK … he finally showed us his ID card. He is a police captain who also drives the taxi to increase his income. We are in good hands or in trouble hehe.
The hotel is standard; Subic Oceanic View is at least in front of the sea because I can see light reflections on the water. It’s already dark. The room is rustic is not the luxurious suite, the beds are a not a foot thick, an old TV screen and a dusty aircon connected by two extension.. Ah is ok, we don’t need a royal palace. For bonus we got a view of a concrete dinosaur sculpture on the beach next to our room.
We ate at the restaurant located on the edge of the sea. A bamboo hut with a beautiful ambience, the place is frequented mostly by young “Filipino” families came for holidays by the sea. it’s perfect because I hate the typical touristic spot. We try the Philippines food for the 1st time. Quite delicious not spicy but sweet, chicken wings, ribs and beef with vegetables with some beers for 800 pesos (15 U.S.). It’s time for a good shower, we try hard to get water, but nothing comes. I inquired at the reception they’ll say “sorry in half an hour.” The water supply arrived an hour later ….
The day is finally here, let’s see what the landscape looks like. Is a bay with barren mountains on the other side and some industrial boats. The place is charming and quiet because it is not too heavenly. Fisher and children are already there to skim the water looking for some treasure to catch. The spot is targeted more to local residents, Filipinos came to take a bit of sun by the sea than mass tourism.
A boat is parked in front of hotel with its sailor relaxing in the shade though. “you want a ride?” he asked. Maybe he could lead us to the city we would save the taxi and then we would see the landscape of the sea. The neighbourhood got many public beaches for residents, fishermen preparing their nets, small hotel, no really super Club Med and so we like it like that. Children sitting on a concrete island far offshore do a jumping show and grimace for our camera. Further there is a small island that offers crystal clear water perfect for snorkelling. We asked to drop us off on the beach, but the sailors don’t understand, and it goes back to the hotel … it’s just funny like that. here the 500 pesos as expected. The sailor looked at us with his pitiful eyes just like Puss in Boots. Ha OK 600 pesos. $ 12 for an hour boat ride we will not cry.
We request for a taxi at the reception; she tells us in 20-25 minutes it will be here, seeing all this movement of jeepney and motorcycle taxi. Forget it we will just take the first ride available. In 2 seconds , taxis compete to get us. Bring us to the markets, nothing better to understand a new place that the public market.
A traditional market such as we see everywhere in Asia, there are any crap you could think of, tools, drugstore, vegetables, shoes, clothes, fish and meat butchery live on the table.
We visiting a 7-Eleven, weird there is a fulltime policeman on duty. He certainly benefits from air conditioning. I like to encourage small local shops, but in a few 7Eleven we have a better idea of the real price, because many small shops never show prices tag. 330 pesos ($ 6) for a bottle of tequila or 35 pesos for a beer, a lot cheaper than their Muslim neighbor.
It is now time to test the public jeepney, there is one every 15 seconds. The people go up and down at lightning speed. The blue jeepney going to market to the city, we squeeze ourselves on the bench and go, people passed their fare to the next person who in turn passed it to the driver, saying where they goes. Near the small “red district” we see our first grey-haired and fatty white surely here to benefit from the cheap bars girl in this corner of the city. We can see signs welcoming the U.S. Air Force officers. Probably some good customers.
Arrives in the city we trying to find a cheap way to get to the Ocean Adventure to visit my friends Carlos and Josh who work there. Sitting on the edge of the road we see an old man chased by some locals, you want a driver, his gold watch is enough to make walking more touts, it’s not looking too safe to walk alone at night here. “I’m come from far, from Europe:” the old man said … We are told that we must take the yellow “jeepney”, yes, but you must take a taxi afterwards. Police watching the scene, I can get you there for 1200 pesos. Like usual is far away, no no too expensive, 800 ah OK. We find ourselves alone in our private jeepney to the theme park. After the driver make the deaf and changes the price in 1000, well we will not fight for 200 pesos (4 us), but surely we pay too much.
I call my friend Josh that I met in Luang Prabang Hostel during my last stay in Laos. He joined us at the door for make us a tour of the facilities. A medium-scale park offering very modern infrastructure.
He’s the artistic director. He takes care of all that the advertising displays, decor and more. He got lot of work to show his talents. We start by going to the new show of sea lions in their brand new auditorium. The auditorium was packed with families in this Holy Saturday. The show is cute the sea lions are agile and strong. A volunteer from the crowd up on stage and he’s asked to imitate each of the choreography of the marine mammal. Of course the volunteer is embarrassed and tries not to get too wet on the floor. During his slip trial on the scene he falls right into the pool. The poor, trying to get out quickly, but he fell back again. A real pleasure party for the cheering crowd.
Josh explains that all animals are residents of Ocean Adventure rescued animals. As the largest Sea Lion is half blind, it was surprising what he can accomplish. We’ll see another show, this time it’s the trampoline under the theme of goofy Indiana Jones. It does not really link with the sea, but many children like this. It’s too hot and too boring for us.
The dolphin show seems much more promising. The sun was strong, we must move away quickly or fall unconscious. Some cold water and air conditioning fast please. We see the dolphins show begin from our terrace. No choice we should see it. Josh invited us to see the show in front of the stage. Why not? Hooray for the privileges!!
Dolphins and their trainer are very impressive. Quick, strong, beautiful, spectacular, a real air show, they push their trainers out of the water over 15 feet high in the air. The photos are surreal, how can they go that high? After the performance the audience can pay to touch and take pictures with the stars of the show. It helps fund the centre and giving a beautiful souvenir. We are asked if you want to take pictures with the dolphins after the crowd has finished its photo shoot. Rather hard to say no, not easy to look the camera in place of this beautiful aquatic beast.
We take a little walk to the resort hotel attached to the pool complex. A semi-luxury hotel according to international standards. In front of the restaurant terrace of the hotel is a beach, where you can relax, enjoy water sports and listen to live music show in the evening on a stage in the sand. The restaurant has a menu affordable around $ 5 for a main dish and 1.50 for a beer. Josh needs to go home, thank you for all glad to see you in your marvellous country.
We finish our drink and asked a taxi at hotel reception, 800 pesos (U.S. $ 16) to reach our hotel. A little better than 1000 pesos from the city. Back at the hotel we order a tequila sunrise listening to the Philippine small band playing local music, rock hits and pop flavor with a spicy island twist. The food is on the table, the musicians come forward at our table for us to play “I Shot the Sheriff” version “Filipino” wow too romantic for an unplanned trip we are well served. The water we will never come we fall asleep without even taking a shower.
We picked our luggage and we went back into “jeepney,” observed the daily life of Subic Bay for one last time. We see: cemeteries mountainside, small funeral homes where families come to visit the dead and bring them offerings, public beaches crowded with local people, girl bars, dozens of small convenience stores.
The bus terminal is chaotic, hard to know where we should go to fix our bus back to the airport. There is a long queue so we went to the end to see what happens. Approaching the counter we demand information, not that it’s not here is on the other side of the street. On the other side, people said no you need to queue at the counter on the other side. Back at the end of the tail, 30 minutes later at the desk the clerk scribbled a piece of paper and say go to the other side is the bus 622. Throughout the bus driver was coming to ask people waiting in line to come in if they goes at the same destination. The best tricks are to wait near the bus no need to queue.
Arrival at the terminus of the Dau searching the Jeepney airport shuttle, no way to know where to take it. The controller told us it was 5 minutes this way … no wait take that one. The jeepney is now empty the driver says he returns to the same direction he took us. We want a taxi to the airport, take the white car parked there … 300 pesos $ 6 and we are in the right time for our departure.
The customs confiscated my lighter, it makes us take off our shoes for x-ray scanner is the first time I saw it outside the United States … surely a measure of prevention of terrorism….
Just before leaving the terminal to the international area we have to pay 600 pesos security and airport tax. Good thing the entry visa is free, but the output is charged. How to get home on an island if not by the airport?
I really enjoyed my visit, I want to see more of this archipelago and its marvellous people. This country is affordable, hotels are more expensive than what can be found in Thailand, public transport is crowded, but affordable, rural small town is probably safer than Manila. Keep smiling, your valuables in safety and get ready for the adventure, the Philippines is wonderful!
This post is also available in: French