Angeles City: City of Angels

Entrance to Air Force City in Angeles City, Philippines.

photo byMarcos Chymera on flickr

EVER wondered what it would be like to take a dip in a volcano lake that once boiled to a million degrees in an eruption that blanketed a fourth of the country and sent trillions of tons of ash into the stratosphere?

Or, taking a reinvigorating splash into cold spring water that flows all the way through an 80-degree steaming waterfall snuggled in between geologic rock formations dating back millions of years ago?

Sounds like fun, hey?

Where on earth is this place, you might ask. Clue: the country where these places are located has more than 7,000 gorgeous islands; it is home to the 2,000 year-old man-made rice terraces that is considered as the 8th Wonder of the World; and (just recently) it owned the bragging rights for its 8.2-kilometer Underground River in Palawan – chosen by UNESCO as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

You know where it is? Okay, okay. Here’s the easiest clue (for sure you’ll nail this one): It’s the country where incumbent Governor/recording artist/celebrity talks show host/actor/guitarist/philanthropist/8-division pound-for-pound world boxing champ (and now Bible endorser) Manny Pacquiao lives.

Yes! You got it right! The Philippines! (*applause*)

It shouldn’t take you so long to figure it out but then — with all the great wonders of nature and some of the most inspiring living heroes the country takes pride in – the clues can be overwhelming.

Now, let’s go back to the crater-lake and hot spring waterfalls…

Moving ahead

“Mayap a abak!” (Good morning!) Welcome to Angeles City, Pampanga — a thriving rural destination in the central island of Luzon endowed with a rich cultural heritage amid the backdrop of glitzy entertainment clubs and thrilling sports adventures in the lahar regions of the captivating Mt. Pinatubo just an hour and a half away from the city proper.

Angeles is slowly evolving into a bustling city like Manila (except for the traffic and smog), the country’s capital. In 1899, it became the seat of government under the leadership of Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and the site of the country’s first year celebration of independence.

After the Second World War, the city had the largest concentration of foreign nationals, mostly American expats, including handsome (“masanting”) Filipino “mestizos” a huge number of whom chose to settle here for good (perhaps because of the city’s awesome geographic location, great food and “malagu” (beautiful), “matalino” (intelligent) and “maganaka” (kind, caring) Filipinas that are perfect wife-material!)

Angeles today is popular for its vibrant entertainment spots and is emerging as one of the busiest tourist havens, with Chinese, Vietnamese, Singaporeans and South Koreans as its regular habitués.

Balibago, the city’s main district, is especially famous for its wide array of shopping malls, hotels, and fine restaurants. The adjacent Clark Freeport Zone, formerly the biggest military base of Uncle Sam in the Far East, is where elegantly landscaped golf courses, shops, casinos, and world-class resorts are found.

How to get there

Just five kilometers from the poblacion is the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Clark. The airport, named after former President Gloria M. Arroyo’s dad, has adequate facilities like car rental, travel and hotel agencies, tourism info desks, free Wi-Fi, novelty shops, Duty-Free and foreign exchange centers.

The DMIA airport is where popular budget airlines such as Cebu Pacific, Tiger Air, and AirAsia fly to. It is also serviced by domestic flights like Southeast Asian Air, AirPhil, AirAsia-Phil and Ceb-Pac and also receives direct flights from South Korea and Hong Kong.

Because the airport is relatively tiny in size, it is usually considered a better gateway into the country than thru traffic-jammed Metro Manila. That means transport to downtown from the airport is a breeze. Taxis, on the other hand, are right outside the gates ready to take you to your destination.

However, the fare can be a little steep compared to other modes of transport. So if you’re on a tight budget or alone, you can opt to share the ride with a fellow vacationer or better yet avail of the airport’s shuttle service.

Going around the city is fairly easy. Angeles has an abundance of public utility vehicles (PUJs) (popularly known as “jeepneys”) that you can charter for only a few bucks ($5 to $8) to take you on a guided tour of the city.

But if you want to experience what it’s like riding along with other people on a regular route, you can do so by paying the standard fare of only P8 (almost a dime) which is way cheaper than the cabs.

But remember: a visit to a tropical city like Angeles, or any other place in the country, is not complete without riding on a jeepney or the equally famous and iconic tricycle – a motorbike with a customized passenger cabin attached on its side.

Experience what it’s like riding a PUJ in a cramped space with other different faces and nationalities. A “Kano” (American or any white men; “Kana” for women) riding on a jeepney downtown is actually a common sight in Angeles. The ride can be exhilarating but fun! As the locals would proudly say: “Onli en da Pelipins!”

Riding the bus is the most economical and common way to reach the city from Manila. Several air-conned buses ply the Angeles-Manila route 24/7. Travel time takes about an hour and a half (depending on traffic). But if you want to travel by car (car rentals are found all over the two cities), take the North Luzon Expressway for a faster and more convenient cruise. Travel time from the capital to Angeles: about 40 to 50 minutes.

“Inum at mangan tamu” (Let’s eat and drink!)

Sisig is a delicious manyaman food in the Pampangas region of the Philippines.
Now, it’s time to indulge in some delectable Kapampangan chao.

The people of Angeles City are well-known for their appetite for delicious (“manyaman”) food and culinary dexterity. Every December, the city celebrates its famous Sisig Festival, a Kapampangan (people of the city; also referred to as its dialect) specialty made from minced pork cheek, chicken/pork liver and sautéed with special spices, chili and topped with fresh egg and special sauce). *Whew!*

Other must-try local succulent dishes are Dencio’s “kare-kare” (another Kapampangan delicacy made from peanut sauce, beef, stewed ox tail, and sprinkled with a fresh variety of veggies); the Angeles Fried Chicken, Tequila Reef Cantina, among many other hard-to-resist cholesterol-laden yummies.

Where the action is

If you feel the need for speed, witness the adrenaline-filled drag racing at the Omni Aviation at the Clark Ecozone. This event is organized by the Angeles Hot Rod Association, the oldest racing organization in the country.

The race features some of the meanest V-8 muscle trucks and cars, including the well-known fat-tired “bangers”. On top of the regular racing, the AHRA also conducts car shows and social activities, among other related events.

Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Festival in Angeles City, Philippines.

photo bywetboxers on flickr

The city, of course, has great outdoor activities. One is the Philippine International Hot-Air Balloon Festival which is held at Clark annually, between January and February. The fiesta, considered as the biggest sky festival in the Philippines, features hundreds of colorful hot-air balloons with noted pilots coming from all corners of the globe.

And if you like partying, head down to McArthur Highway in Balibago for its annual Oktoberfest and partake of food and dance the night away to non-stop music by talented local bands with out-of-towners, local celebrities, fashionistas and others.

If you like to shop, the SM City (the SM department store chain is the largest in the country and owned by “Retail King” Henry Sy – the richest man in the Philippines), the Marquee-Ayala Mall (the Ayala clan is said to be the second richest), Robinsons Place, and the Nepo Mall [formerly Nepo Mart – one of the city’s retail pioneers – it was the main shopping destination when the American military men (referred to by many locals as “Joe”, whether he’s black or white) were still around] are the top places to go.

Time to Unwind

After a day of riding the tricycle, partaking of the hot Sisig, playing and shopping, it’s time to relax. Throw yourself in the soft embrace of the Hotel Royal Amsterdam Hotel at Fields Avenue, the city’s premier entertainment hub.

The name of the hotel may sound expensive, but it’s actually not. For a measly 20 to a hundred bucks, you can relish its comforts and sleep like a king. This hotel is one of the newest in town. The city has more than 40 great hotels and other cozy sleeping and relaxing destinations and most of them are clean, very affordable and yes – safe!

For more help in finding an affordable hotel in Angeles City, visit HotelsCombined.com to search over 30 of the world’s leading hotel reservation sites at the same time.

There are so many great things to experience in Angeles City but we’re running out of space and this writer is getting hungry and wants to relax what with all the food and cozy places mentioned here.

The City of Angels beckons in this sunshiny tropical paradise they call Pearl of the Orient Seas.

It’s waiting for you.

(Don’t forget your umbrella, sunglasses, Digicam and yes – bottled water !)

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