When I tell people that I live in Angeles City it tends to elicit one of two responses. First, there’s the vague smile with a “that’s nice”, which tells you the person doesn’t care where you live.
The second, more telling response, usually comes from men. This involves a sly smile and raised eyebrows, with maybe a low chuckle. And this is because Angeles is internationally notorious for its sex industry.
The reason for this is quite simple, and involves thousands of bored, sex starved American servicemen. During the Cold War, the Yankees created a huge air force base in Angeles City. It didn’t take long for local entrepreneurs to capitalise by opening bars hugely overstaffed by attractive waitresses.
As word spread of easy money, and girls marrying GIs, the place became a magnet to young women. When the average woman’s life chances are so terribly limited out in the provinces, who can possibly blame them?
Although the US bases are long gone, bevies of beauties continue to arrive daily. Most of them will make their way to Fields Avenue, the epicentre of the money-for-honey industry.
Bars large and small
This short stretch of pedestrian road is lined on either side with… err, let’s just call them “bars”. This fits with the Filipino genius for euphemism, that leads them to describe filthy toilets as a “Comfort Rooms”. In the same way, the girls who work in these bars are known as GROs — Guest Relation Officers. When relations with the guests escalate to a cash-for-sex situation this is known as an ERF — Early Release Fee.
The bars range from narrow rooms with barely room for a stage along one side and chairs on the other. On the stage the GROs dance to a usually weird selection of music, while the guys sit opposite drinking. If a girl catches his eye, he can buy her a “lady drink”, which earns her a dollar or so. If both sides are happy, then an ERF can be agreed, which is split between the bar and the girl. This same format is scaled upwards to some huge venues, with bizarre themes and choreographed dance shows.
There are also decent restaurants, bars and nightclubs, but it all revolves around the sex industry. For this reason, some write off Angeles as a Disneyland for dirty old men, but there’s more to this city. For one thing, Angeles City offers some of the best value accommodation in the Philippines, and, I would argue, one of the greatest hotels in the world — the Angeles Beach Club. The phrase “You Only Live Once” is horribly overused these days, but the ABC carries it off in spades. I won’t attempt to describe it here, there are just too many good things I could say about, so I suggest you take a quick peek at their website… See what I mean?
Fantastic leisure facilities
Another unsung attraction is the food. Most agree that Angeles is the culinary capital of The Philippines, with many specialities and the Big Bite Food Festival. For foreigners often crave familiar comfort food, the large expat community means western food is available everywhere. On top of this, Angeles City hosts the biggest “Korean Town” in The Philippines, stuffed full of traditional restaurants.
But Angeles City is not just a place for feasting and fornicating. The city has fantastic leisure facilities, including riding stables, a shooting range, golf courses, drag racing tracks, a go-karting centre and even a lawn bowling club. The city’s heritage as an airbase is represented by a flying club and hot air balloon festival every January.
My most recent discovery has been the sport of Wakeboarding, which takes place on a large man-made lake just a short walk from my home. It’s looks like a fairly pointless activity to me, but it’s great fun to sit with a beer and watch people wipe out on the jumps.
Active people can also get out into the surrounding countryside, including the volcanic Mt Pinatubo, which almost destroyed Angeles City when it erupted in 1991. Or, if you just want to hang around, why not be crucified? If you’re visiting at Easter, you can take part in the Cutup Lenten Rites, when God-fearing chaps volunteer to be whipped and nailed to crosses.
It’s not Manila
Then, of course, there are some pretty decent shopping malls, a fair few historic buildings and churches and some surprisingly well-maintained public parks.
But above all, what I love most about Angeles is — quite simply — it’s not Manila. Anyone who has spent any amount of time in the capital has “Bad Manila” days when the pollution, heat, lack of safety and gridlocked traffic become too much to bear. And this is where Angeles becomes my absolute haven. It has all the creature comforts of Manila, easy access to some stunning coastal resorts and its own airport (Clark International). Despite all these plus points, it’s still incredibly cheap to live here — a three-bedroom house can be picked up for less than $25k.
Angeles is not likely to take over Boracay, Palawan or even Subic as a dream getaway destination anytime soon, but as a place to kick back for a few days, or as a place to live, it gets my vote.