Clark in the Philippines covers about the same land area as Singapore – but that’s where the similarity stops. This former US Air Force base, about 60 kilometres northwest of downtown Manila, is a strange mixture of modern shopping centres and casinos sitting among some pretty poor and derelict areas. The authorities are trying to build it up as a business and leisure hub and they’re working hard to upgrade the place. It’s well located in Asia, with Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore all around three hours away by air; so it does have potential.
The areas that were occupied by the American forces are interesting – a little like the pockets of black-and-white buildings here. And the Clark Museum has plenty of material to fill you in on the complex history of the town and the foreign powers that helped mould the Philippines.
A couple of kilometres north of the museum, the Nayong Pilipino cultural park includes replicas of key historic buildings around the country, from Spanish churches to rural village houses, as well as exhibits explaining local fables and myths around how men and women began. One interesting creation myth – very different from Biblical version of the female being made from the rib of the male – says that both sexes started off in the same way, both growing out of a large pod.
The shopping is cheap. We only went to SM City Clark mall but I managed to do quite a bit of Christmas shopping at very good prices. There were plenty of other duty-free outlets, plus a couple of home interior shops we didn’t go to.
We stayed at the Tune Hotel Angeles City – a remarkable S$29 a night for a brand new, modern and clean room. Absolute bargain. It was near a rather dubious-looking road of nightclubs and I would suggest getting a driver to take you around, especially if you want to explore the nightlife. However, it’s probably safe enough to pop into a bar if you feel like it. One of the places was advertising topless men as their nightly delight!
Outside Clark there’s plenty to do. Scenic highlights include hot springs, waterfalls and mountains, along with activities such as horse-riding, golf and four-wheel off-road driving.
Clark is a nice little airport to fly into. If you’re arriving there, you will likely be including an add-on trip; options include a four-hour drive up to famous Subic Bay or catching a plane to Boracay (S$55+). AirAsia flies daily to Clark, and the Boracay leg is also daily. It’s a good service and very reasonably priced, and the connections mean that you can choose to have an overnight in Clark or somewhere nearby. With the price of a place like the Tune Hotel, it makes sense to stop (and shop!).
The Boracay add-on involves a one-hour flight to Kalibo Airport: all very easy, and there is no need to get to the airport too early as it’s a domestic flight. From Kalibo, it’s a two-hour bus ride to the ferry terminal and a five-minute ferry to Cagban Jetty on Boracay. It’s a mission if you’re only going for a couple of days but well worth it for a week or more.
We stayed at The Grand Boracay Resort but, well, it wasn’t very grand. For S$120 more than the hotel in Clark, it was disappointing. They also wanted to charge us for water at breakfast which didn’t help – especially as the breakfast wasn’t great (we went elsewhere for breakfast on the second day). Aside from that, my door was difficult to unlock, and nobody was particularly helpful.
However, the location was perfect: a few minutes’ walk to the little arcade of shops and boutiques that lead down to the ocean and the cool row of cafés and bars, and of course the beautiful sand and water of the famous White Beach.
I was very impressed with Boracay. We took a boat to go snorkelling just off the coast and to a nearby beach. We went ATV driving and zip-lining – there was also the option of zorbing (rolling downhill in a huge transparent ball), but it was getting too dark by the time we got there. (I was silently relieved!) One downside: part of the ATV track runs through a rubbish dump. While you do see quite a bit of rubbish left around the place, Boracay is really cleaning up its act in many ways, and protecting the environment – you’re not even allowed to smoke on White Beach.
Alcohol in Boracay (and Clark) was cheap – mind you, most places are compared to Singapore. Food was generally very good and varied. There are some fantastic pork dishes – lots of crackling. Sisig is a Filipino specialty; it’s made of part of the pig’s jowl and is fairly fatty but delicious despite being pronounced “sea sick”.
On the other side of the stretch (which is only a ten-minute walk) is the much quieter and more laid-back Bulabog Beach with some houses and restaurants and a kite-surfing school. It has a completely different vibe and is a great place to watch the sun rise if you get tired of watching sunsets.
Boracay is ideal if you want to holiday with teenagers; it has a nice mix of shops and cafés, outdoor activities and beauty salons for pedicures and massages. Filipinos seem to enjoy life to the full – lots of laughter, singing and fireworks (even at two o’clock in the morning, when we were in Clark). At a restaurant on the strip in Boracay, the entire crew, chef and waitresses, burst into “Gangnam Style” in the middle of the meal – everyone loved that.
The Shangri-La Boracay Resort & Spa is probably more suitable if you’re holidaying with smaller children, but it’s quite far away from the main strip so you would miss out on the buzz being there. Having said that, Boracay probably isn’t a destination I would go to with smaller children, just because of the different modes of transport and other logistics involved in getting there. Another place to stay in Boracay that others have recommended is the Red Coconut Beach Hotel.
I’m sorry it took me so long to finally go there, but with so many budget airlines nowadays it’s all just so much more doable. Where to next?
How to get there