Angeles City

Does the name Angeles City (or AC for short) sound vaguely familiar? Maybe it’s because it’s also known as Sin City here in the Philippines. In fact, it used to be a hotbed of drinking, gambling, and prostitution for the Clark US Air Force base there. But when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the Air Force abandoned the base. But the bars stayed, and Angeles City became a smaller and possibly even grittier version of Pattaya in Thailand.

Almost two decades later, Angeles City is still clinging to its notorious reputation as Sin City, but now the favorite of Korean tourists, English drinkers, and fat, bald Americans looking for a good time. But every year, the bars lose their luster a little bit, and more “normal” tourism springs up. More and more, it’s trying to be something it’s not – a shell of its former self – and that’s probably a good thing.

These days, AC offers far more than just a big party. Angeles City (commonly known as Pampanga – the province) is also home to the International Hot Air Balloon Festival. AC also has plenty of great restaurants, nearby golf courses, hiking trips into the mountains, water parks, museums, massages, and the beaches of Subic Bay not far off.

Angeles also has a nice, manageable international airport that’s better to fly in and out of than battling traffic and crowds in Manila for endless hours. They offer direct flights to Cebu, Caticlan and Kalibo (Boracay), Davao, and Puerta Princessa in the Philippines, so it’s a good jumping off point. There are also nonstop flights from Korea and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) every week.

The hotel offerings in AC run the gambit, too, from 5-star resorts with lavish casinos and pools to more modest (crummy) pension houses and everything in between. Some of them can get pretty damn expensive, though – especially just for something with a nice pool or decent rooms.

If you ARE in AC to party or at least people watch, you probably want to be centrally located near their Bacchanalian Walking Street or Perimeter Road. I like Scorebirds, which is reasonably priced but has a great pool (and Saturday pool parties) and cool Hawaiian tiki theme. For more sophisticated tourists –or even with couples and families – try the higher priced Louis Grand Hotel.

The restaurants run the gambit, but some of my favorites are surprisingly good and authentic Mexican restaurants Tequila Reef and Iguanas, Hermann’s German/Austrian restaurant tucked away in a quiet neighborhood, a great Italian bistro run by a Sicilian countryman covered in head and facial tattoos, and a wild array of Korean and Arabian restaurants. In fact, a huge portion of tourists who visit Angeles these days are Koreans, who come in on direct flights from Seoul, or Middle Eastern partyers. Angeles actually has its own thriving Korea Town, and plenty of shisha, kebab, and other middle eastern cultural establishments.

One interesting note about Angeles is that you can still find traces of its military origins. Plenty of U.S. military veterans still call Angeles home, and there is a popular VAF Hall there. Likewise, Manila has the only United States military VA hospital on foreign soil, so you’ll find a good number of former soldiers that live in quieter, cheaper, and less crowded Angeles, but can drive down to the VA hospital in Manila for their official appointments.

In all, Angeles City is a unique place – perceived as horrible by some and the perfect destination by others. It’s definitely not what it used to be, and will probably keep evolving into a more balanced (and watered down) version of its crazy debaucherous past.