Among the Philippines’ 7,500 islands, there’s one little place that is one of the most unique, just in that it’s well-balanced among all of the chaos and congestion of other cities, islands, and even natural tourism hot spots. In fact, Subic Bay makes good on the cliché, something for everyone.
First off, it’s the perfect antidote to the Byzantine traffic, pollution, and morass of grime that you’ll experience with daily life in Manila. Subic Bay is only 2 ½ hours from Manila IF there is no traffic, which is an utter and total cosmic impossibility. To get there, the best route is to drive north (along the same approximate journey the Bataan Death March took in World War II, coincidentally), to the Province of Pampanga. There, you’ll stop in Angeles City, their little sin city that’s filled with Korean, Middle Eastern, UK, and yes, American, tourists looking to party and for cheap thrills. But Angeles City has grown up a lot lately, and it’s a destination for nice resorts, golf, military history, and a great alternative for companies moving away from Manila. Stop for an hour, a day or two, or just drive right through, because Subic Bay will only be an hour or 1.5 hour tops drive from Angeles.
It’s actually a very pleasant drive, with a flawless new highway and plenty of beautiful green fields and hills – something you rarely say anywhere near Manila.
The Subic Bay – What to Know
Once you get into Subic, you’ll notice that it’s not so much of a city (although they do have adjacent Olangapo City), but a community stretched along the coastline. In fact, Subic Bay was chosen as a key naval base in World War II and in the decades after, and grew to be the largest U.S. naval base outside of America!
Now, it’s home to a lineup of resorts, hotels, guest houses on the beach or seaside of the main road snaking through, along with businesses and giving way to local neighborhoods on the inland side.
Remember I said that Subic has something for everyone? You’ll find local Filipino families vacationing there, hanging out and eating, drinking, (and always singing and playing games!) on the beach or in cheap family-stay hotels. Unfortunately, there is a spillover of bars of ill-repute from the military base days, but these are on a much smaller scale than Angeles. But there are also some great smaller boutique hotels and resorts on the inlets and coves of Subic Bay, where you’ll even find decent beaches (although not great white sand) and swimmable water. Of course, there are a few higher-end resorts and adjacent islands.
People say that there’s not much to do in Subic except relax by the water (and that’s the whole point!), but the intrepid traveler can also visit a nearby bird sanctuary, a water park, jump on jet skis and banana boats, try their hand at a jungle survival course, or rent a fishing boat and go try to hook some big ones! Subic also has its own small airport for charter flights (surprisingly affordable in the Philippines), and the bad consumer in me wants to check out the Nike factory outlet there.
But mostly, Subic is a place to relax, play in the ocean, and meet new friends or reconvene with family – all in a place that’s not hard to get to and feels like the Philippines of ten or twenty years ago.