Southeast Asian Trip Reports From The Past - Bangkok To Manila 2004
Since I was traveling with someone who also lives in Thailand, we took a taxi to BKK airport and boarded our Phil Air flights to MNL. He paid 9300 and I paid 9500 for the flight -- which isn't bad for the flight. As usual, we arrived early at BKK because you never know what security and check-in lines are going to be like. Today was nothing - and we were through immigration and security in 15 minutes. The plane was late, but only slightly.
The only problem we had was in regards to luggage. We were both carrying luggage on and both had luggage that would easily fit in the overhead compartment. However, it weighed more than 10k, and that required that we check it into luggage. When we got on board though, we noticed that one of the flight attendants was flying a flat-screen monitor with her that was both overweight and oversize -- but it seemed to be ok for her to take up a seat for the screen.
The trip was uneventful - which is always nice. We arrived in MNL and made our way through the terminal. I looked for ATM machines -- of which I found 2 -- but neither were interconnected to any other network but the local bank. Money-changers were easy to find.
At the departure terminal, all of the taxis were those without meters. All prices were pre-set and handled by "assistants" before you could get into the taxi. We asked a security officer about meter taxis and he told us to go to the arrival floor. We did and found a meter taxi. Just like Bkk though, getting them to use the meter is a pain. He did though after we opened the door to get out and took us to our hotel.
We were staying in the Copacabana hotel across from the Edsa entertainment complex. Rooms were HUGE - two rooms actually, one with a full kitchen and one bedroom. Each room is about 15x18. The bedroom closed off from the kitchen/living room - but only the bedroom was aircon. The shower was decent - quality showers, as most of you know, are important to me. I want a firehose washing me down. It wasn't quite that, but it wasn't bad.
I stayed at the Copa again on the way home but stayed in the “studio” room. It was just as nice, although not as large. It was on the backside of the hotel which made it MUCH quieter than my previous room at the front.
We ate one meal at the restaurant at the hotel - and it was decent at best. Copa hotel is located next door to Heritage Hotel, which is part of the Heritage Casino.
I still needed an atm - so we had to search. If you walk out of the Copa, turn left and walk toward the heritage casino, which is a corner, and turn left at the corner. Walkabout 2000 feet and you will see the Metro Bank, which has an enclosed ATM machine that worked just fine. However, per transaction limits here are 4000 pesos (less than $75), which can be a pain. But you can get repeat transactions. I don't know the fees yet of the machine -- but I believe there are fees of $2-3 USD per transaction.
After the trip, I reviewed my transactions and found that the rate I was given at the ATM was .5 less than the cash rate at the money exchanger. When you factor in the ATM fee of $1.50 that I pay to my home bank, I effectively received an exchange rate of 54.02 peso/dollar – when the common exchange rate at the time was 55.65. Using ATM’s was NOT a good idea
here; considering both how difficult it was to get a working ATM and the terrible low withdrawal limits. I should have brought USD and bought Pesos from the exchangers.
Also, after reviewing my credit card charges (used only for hotels), I really got killed. Central Park in Angeles used an unfair rate to convert from dollars to pesos; then added 5% to the total to cover their fees. THEN by the time it was converted on my bill, I had lost more than 1% of the current rate. Bad choice to use cards.
We also ate at a restaurant that I am told is owned by the owner of Firehouse. I can't remember the exact name, but it was Mama something Pizzeria, located two blocks from Edsa on the same side of the street. This is a small restaurant, 6-7 tables, but the food and service were nice. The pizza was REALLY good.
At night we went to the Edsa complex and visited EVERY bar/gogo there. Girls were friendly, and employees were slightly pushy for lady drinks - although not as much as some in Angeles, as we would soon know. But the servers would press you to choose girls to take. My record was 15 seconds in a bar before a server came to me, pointed to a dancer, and asked if I would like to “take that girl tonight”.
We bar hopped until 4am and had a great time. There were some definite cuties here -- and a few hidden gems.
I had heard so much about the Firehouse that I was truly disappointed in it. First, I had one woman attach to me and would not leave me alone about a lady drink -- kept poking me, and gently hitting me, saying "buy me a lady drink" over and over. Finally, I had enough, and turned to her with the eyes that said "Leave me the fuck alone". No, guys, this was not an attractive little urchin that needed attention -- this was an older girl that should have retired -- and probably never got barfined hence the pushy attitude.
Plus, I probably look like a newbie and these girls are masters at playing on the guilt and "uncomfortable" situation they can put guys in. All of this was happening next to the mamasan (who knew and was sitting with my friend). When I told her what happened (as she heard me telling my friend about it), she was beyond apologetic and said that is not a normal firehouse and she didn't know what happened.
There was a really cute Lucy Loo look-a-like on the stage that was adorable to watch and play with -- but I didn't take her. The drinking, flying and lack of sleep hit me and sent me back to the hotel along so I could save up for Angeles.
I was back in Edsa and Firehouse on the way back home. I do have to say that there are absolute stunners in this group. Barfines were 1000pesos ($18USD) and short-time was 2000 pesos ($36USD). Count on at least a 500peso bar tab for just you and the girl you are interested in. ($9USD).
DANCERS / GRO’S / SERVERS
If you are new to Phil travel as I was, then you need to know that they are different “types” of girls in the bars. This is a good indication of how it works in Manila especially.
The first group is the “dancer” which needs no explanation; they are usually on the stage or rotating with other girls for stage time. Dancers not currently “on shift” are free to sit and extract lady drinks from anyone who will give in. Sit in a bar for 30 minutes and you will spot the “professional drink naughty girls” as well. [2019: Hahahahaah]
Now one thing is different in the Phil from Thailand. If a girl is dancing, you may signal her down to sit with you if you are buying a drink. She may sit with you through the end of her dance set and during her “off-shift” time. But when it is time for her to dance again, you either must buy another drink or she must dance. In other words, they may sit with you for about 30 minutes per drink.
Now what is really different is this scenario: One minute before it is time for her to dance, you call her over and ask her to sit and buy a drink for her. Immediately now, her “group” goes to the stage, but she is not obligated to go and dance during this set. She can stay with you through this set and her off-shift time. This is not the same as Thailand. In Thailand, the girls must return to the stage to dance unless they are barfined.
The second group is the “GRO” or “Guest Relations Officer”. These girls do not dance, and move around freely in the audience. They usually come to you and begin massaging you (for which tips and lady drinks are expected) or they sit down and begin a conversation. They will be seated less than one minute when at least one server will ask you to buy the GRO a drink. The second and third servers will usually be there in short succession. After the third request to buy her a drink, provided you weren’t interested and didn’t buy a drink, the GRO will usually get the message and move on.
That is when the second GRO will sit down. Repeat the above paragraph. Over. And Over.
The third group is the servers and mamasan’s and what I call mamasan assistants. All they do is go around and wave their hands in a sweeping gesture toward the girls on stage, just to make sure you know where the girls are located. Then they will point to certain girls and ask if they would like to take that one for the night.
Some guys are really going to disagree with me here, but this pushy shit continues until you tell them something. I have never had this problem except in the Philippines so I had to adjust quickly. And I have been in Thailand for years.
When they bring you a girl and want her to stay with you, “Thank you, yes, you are beautiful, but I prefer to pick my own girls, Thank you.”.
When they point to a girl and want you to take the girl, “Thank you but I am shopping right now” or “thank you but I am looking around”, or “thank you but I haven’t found what interests me yet”. Be careful with the last one because then they want to be really helpful and “help” you find what interests you.
When the servers ask if you would like to buy this girl, and that girl, and her sister a lady drink, “No, thank you”, and look them in eye. They are NOT used to being turned down and looked in the eye! That was our best defense. Too many guys just mumble “yeah, ok”. After a few turn-downs, we found it was very tense for a few moments for them – but the more we did it, the less tense it was for us! LOL
Now, if the girl that comes to you is the girl you want or a girl you want to talk to, then by all means, ask her to sit and buy her a drink. But I usually got the drink naughty girls and the girls that I would never have any interest in. The girls that I wanted never played this game – I always called them when I was interested. Your mileage and experience may vary.
The phenomenon of cherry girls or “virgins” was never something I had really experienced. Sure we had a few in Pattaya, and I knew of a few in Phnom Penh. But I wasn’t prepared for the sheer volume of cherry girls that I found in Angeles.
There are a few points of interest though about the cherry girl. First, when a girl gets her “license” or “ID” from the health unit and the government, she must declare whether she is a virgin or not. If so, they add the letter “V” to the number that appears at the top left of her ID. After losing her virginity, she has a new ID issued to her without the “V”.
And second, do I believe that they are all virgins? No. What I do believe is that the cherry girl concept allows many girls to enter the bar business without the pressure of feeling as though they are “obligated” to have sex for money. After a few months of being in the bar and around the customers, (and quite often spending nights at hotels with customers, albeit without intercourse), they decide they are ready and make the plunge.
That is where the contradiction lies. Others have told me that the club does NOT get any of the cherry money. And I was told that many of the girls do not collect any additional fee for losing their cherry other than the standard barfine. They decide they are ready and choose a customer they like and are comfortable with. Two different mamasans at two different bars said that the club didn’t see any additional money from a cherry girl.
That part of the story almost reinforces the belief that they may not all be cherry – but are taking their time to adjust to the bar life and the concept of sex for money.
MANILA to ANGELES:
Our flight to Angeles wasn't until late afternoon so we checked out of the hotel, had lunch in their restaurant, next to the pool, and then left our luggage with the desk.
We took off on foot, walked back toward -- but past -- Metro Bank, and turned left at the first major street after. There was a McDonald's and many shops on this street - but we kept walking until it hit a really large divided street with shops and malls everywhere. This was a market. The locals told me this was the “knock off” market. They also told me not to buy anything because everything was fake and “no good” or “not real”.
SMART SIM CARD
I stopped to buy a SMART sim card for my GSM phone. I chose SMART because they partner with Yahoo which means I could stay online with Yahoo Instant Messenger on my phone, as I do in Thailand. Sim was 200pesos (less than $4USD) and had 50pesos (less than $1USD) in credit. I later bought 300peso in credit.
There are many ways to refill your phone in the Phil. One is to buy a 300 or 500 peso card, which then gives you 60 days of use); or you can buy 30, 60, 115 peso bumps from various vendors. However, these bumps only give you from 7-15 days of validity so be careful what you buy. After your time is up, your number will not be deleted for 4 months – according to the SMART brochure.
[2019: I have the same telephone number that I received in 2004}
One the way to the Metro Bank and the end of Fields avenue as you turn to go to the bank is a shop across the street that sells recharge cards and discounts the card at face value. For instance, a 300 peso card is 288 pesos. Granted, it is only an about $.25USD discount, but if you are on your way to the bank, might as well save a few more pesos.
My friend isn't one for walking through shops and markets, so I knew this would be a stretch, but he handled it like a trooper and actually seemed to enjoy it. This was the real Manila -- we didn't see another foreigner the entire day we walked this market.
Everything from clothes, to CDs, DVDs, stereos, speakers, blankets, and everything else was available at this market. This was a supply market -- as we saw some shops with bags and bags of bras and panties by the multiple gross! In other words, this is where the smaller shop owners must come to buy their resale goods.
On my return home, I stopped here again and bought three VCD pornos for 35peso each ($1.90USD total). When I got back to Pattaya, they turned out to all be copies of the same MUSIC CD. Yep, they got me!
Although we didn't buy anything, we had a good time and was able to look at many unique products. It would be worth another visit just to kill a day and look more closely.
The girls here were SO SHY, it was difficult for them to look us in the face when we smiled at them. As I said, this was truly the working Manila -- a different community than Edsa.
We returned to the hotel to gather our luggage and head to the airport. We were flying SE Air (South East Asian Airlines) to Angeles. We paid 815 pesos for the flight ($15??? USD) which was to last 30 minutes. None of the security body scanners at the airport (domestic terminal) worked, so we were subjected to everything but a body cavity search. It was unbelievable.
I swear, I think the security screener intentionally squeezed my dick. I’m sure he was disappointed. I know I was.
At the counter, our baggage was weighed, then we were weighed. There is a very strict baggage allowance on these small flights and I was glad that I packed light.
I'm always leery when I need to be weighed to get on a plane. On the plane, there was a row of single seats on one side and a row of double seats on the other. There were only two men seated on the single-seat side. During the flight, one turned to the other and said “Do you realize that the two of us are offsetting the weight of all of the passengers on the other side?”
We went through a second security check after paying our 100 peso departure tax. The second check wasn't as bad, and there were nobody cavity searches.
Waiting for the flight, we watched the Olympics and waited. This flight was also late, but not long. We boarded, got the typical speech about security items, and took off. I've flown small planes before, but I have to hand it to the pilots - they handled this plane extremely well.
What I hated about this flight was the constant smell of jet fuel. It was a sickening smell that stayed with us the entire time we flew. I don't know why -- but it never seemed to go away.
We arrived at the deserted Angeles airport (called "Clark"). WOW. What an airport. This is a HUGE place that is literally sitting idle. I don't know all the history but I was told that it used to be an international hub where flights from around the world are based. Not anymore, however.
Taxis were called by the airline and we waited 30 minutes for them. When we arrived at the hotel, the driver decided to see if we knew what the correct rate was. My friend didn't know exactly, but he knew enough so the driver began to laugh and the price came down to something more reasonable.
Most likely we still paid too much - but you have a choice here - taxi or walk. There are NO taxis sitting at this airport. We paid 300pesos (less than $6USD) for our ride.
From this point, I don't remember what day things happened as I was not taking notes. So from here on out, the time is mixed.
CENTRAL PARK HOTEL
Our hotel is the Central Park hotel, across the street from the Winchester Club, named after the same club in Pattaya/Jomtien. Central Park is a newly remodeled hotel -- so unique in the sense that they give "five-star hotel service". Every employee in the hotel knows your name -- from front desk to the manager of housekeeping. You are greeted by first name all the time.
We didn't eat or drink in the hotel, but both are readily available.
Need to attach a map of Angeles with the location of this hotel! It is a great place to stay and highly recommended.
After checking in, we cleaned up and began the Odyssey through the clubs. In some of the clubs, I am able to remember more than others. Some are a blur, and some I wish I could forget.
Directly across the street from the hotel is the Winchester Club. One of the owners is a former owner of the Pattaya/Jomtien club of the same name. There were 70 girls working in this club. The girls here seemed fun and I barfined from here as well.
[2019: Do any of you guys remember Winchester???]
This is the view standing in front of Winchester and the Central Park looking back at the corner. At the end of the street is the pick-up disco and Pattaya land club on the right – neither of which I visited. At this street, turn right, then left and you see the restaurant Vernona on top of Lancelot Club. You will also notice Kokomoz is at the end of this street on the corner.
Central Park is about two blocks from "home base" or Kokomoz. What a great place to kill an afternoon. If only Pattaya had a Kokomoz on walking street. Free internet, good food, decent view of the street to check out the action, pool tables, and a swimming pool. A great meeting place and ideal "down-time" location.
Over the course of the stay, we also visited the "Perimeter" bars, named for their location reference to the main bars here and the base. These are also more "ex-pat" bars than tourists. But that is an entirely different discussion.
We visited the Blue Nile and Nero's (??), the second of which I wasn't very happy with, as the better-looking girls were interested only in the Japanese customers and wouldn't make eye contact at all with us "hansum men". Went back more than once and was the same story. There is also Cheetah’s Club, Cambodia Club, and the Blue Nile Hotel.
Went to Misty's, next to ... Molly Malones. Wow - 60-70 girls; three shifts of no less than 22 girls. One shift had 30. Three mamasans; and 22 girls on stage at a time. Interesting bar and had fun here.
[2019: I miss Misty's]
Just as a pointer through – Misty’s is part of the group of bars that have raised all their prices and have raised barfines from 1000 ($18USD) to 1200 pesos ($21.80USD). Some of the ex-pats are boycotting these clubs because of the increase. In my opinion, all of the AC bars will soon follow suit and the prices will be increased across the board.
Barfines include the girl’s payment (which is 50% of the 1000 barfine, but less than 50% on the 1200 barfine) although most tip in the morning for decent service. Also, not all girls will stay all night although they SHOULD tell you this before you bar fine them as it is typically “expected”. You might want to make sure though to prevent any problems. I tip 500 pesos in the morning ($9USD) which is high to some, but low to others that I spoke with.
Just in talking, I found that the girls working daytime bars expected that the bar fine was for a “short time”. Night time girls were typical “long-time” or all night.
On the same side as Misty’s, is Welkom Inn, Bananitas, Treasure Island, and Lancelot(?). To me Treasure Island should be a doghouse – I didn’t like this bar at all and never returned. To be fair, my friend liked the bar and thought they had some real cuties. Welkom Inn was ok – and there were a few girls there that I liked, plus they open earlier in the day. Across the street from them is the Dirty Duck bar, which gets wild at times.
La Bamba, across from Kokomos, is a small club that has a strange setup. There is no real "stage" here -- kind of just an area on the floor at the back of the club where the girls shift back and forth.
[2019: I do not remember this????? This must be a mistake]
Another interesting thing about Philippine's clubs is the lack of Dancing Poles. In Pattaya, we always say that the girls couldn't function if they didn't have their pole to hang on. The absence of those poles in AC really makes the dancing and interaction more interesting. First, because poles are usually placed far apart, the girls don't interact as much. In AC, with no poles, and small stages, the girls seem to interact much more Second, I felt that the girls in AC bars seemed to be more attached to each other, more like "family" than many in the Pattaya bars. Poles don't encourage group dancing - which AC seemed to have a lot of.
There are also MORE girls per club than in Pattaya. Perhaps because there aren’t a proliferation of beer bars like Pattaya, the girls get crammed into few clubs – which means more girls. I mentioned Misty’s earlier – as Misty’s had 22 girls on stage per rotation; on a stage designed for 12 comfortably. But it was much more fun to see the sheer number of girls.
On the same side of the street as La Bamba is Blue Fox, managed by a former US native Italian by the name of Tango. His name could have easily been Uncle Guido because if you saw him out one night dressed all in black, you probably would change sides of the street just so you didn't walk in his path. But none of that gives his personality any credit -- he is one of the nicest managers I met while in AC. He also runs a 2 for 1 happy hour, and gives 2-for-1 drink coupons at the street all night long. You can really get a bottle of San Mig light for 65pesos, and the second one is free.
[2019: Things have definitely changed! hahahahah]
Next door to La Bamba and Blue Fox are other bars, including Lollipop, Geckos and DMZ (and who knows what else!) ; and there are two other bars across the street; Angeles and another one I can’t remember. We had a good time in all.
Between the Blue Nile and the Blue Fox, there are more than a dozen bars, 95% of which I don't remember the names. I think we went into every one of them at one time or another.
If you are not familiar, you can think of Blue Nile as one "end post" of Fields avenue and Margarita Station at the other end of the street as the other "end post". Blue Fox isn't even halfway to the rest of the bars.
However, the same block that has Blue Fox, also has several other clubs on the backside, on the same street as the Orchid, and the short road to our hotel. Clubs there that I remember were Confetti's and ??, plus the pick up disco, which as I write this, I haven't been to yet. Never made it into Pickup disco as well as a few other clubs on the back street.
Walking down Fields away from Kokomoz, you see a Sub-Delicious restaurant on your left on the corner of the first street. Upstairs is a restaurant/bar with pool tables and lots of television screens. It is open 24 hours a day, and a favorite of the girls after the bars close. The food is decent; service slow, but still a decent place to go. Downstairs is the main restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating. The food is decent.
If you walked toward the Orchid hotel near the Sub-D shop, you would find the Las Vegas Club and the ?? club. Las Vegas was decent, but the ?? club was strange -- as it was similar to a Karaoke club with girls singing poorly. Las Vegas club had some decent girls but no one we took. And I forget to take pictures of this club which was one of the more interesting designs.
After that is Roadhouse, Private Dancer, and on the side street, Butterfly Rock. We went into Roadhouse a few times. It is a different type of club as the girls all dance together line-dance style. Many good looking and friendly girls and a great management team. Private Dancer was ok, but I didn’t find anything there – although my friend did. Butterfly Rock turned out to be a surprise club. We had a great time and took ladies from this club. The owner is English and is not shy about buying his patrons a round of drinks. I was surprised that they had more than a few cherry girls here.
After that is The Jungle, Bunny Ranch, Kitten Club, Brown Sugar, Camelot, and Insomnia. I remember Bunny Ranch as we went there a few times and took ladies from here. This is another club that is part of the group that has raised rates on drinks and barfines. We also visited Insomnia a few times and had fun, although we never barfined from here.
There is a 7-11 and a grocery store in this group of bars. And you end up at Margarita Station.
Getting around Angeles is by Jeepney or Trikes. I never did ride in a Jeepney, but I did take a few trikes.
ATM’s ANGELES CITY
There is now an ATM machine located at Kokomoz. However, during my trip, it was available only about 1 in 10 times. 6 out of service; 1 transaction not allowed, and 1 “your bank is not connected”.
The main ATM to use is at Metro Bank, a short distance from Kokomoz. If daytime and you like to walk, it isn’t a bad walk. Otherwise, it is a 50peso trike ride in each direction. Metro Bank is direct across from the Casino Philippino Angeles, and just down the street from Johnny’s Supermarket and Savers Mall. Metro Bank is both a cirrus and Visa/Electron atm. You may only withdraw 4000 pesos each time. You can continue to take out the money in 4000 peso increments, but if your bank charges a fee – you are paying that fee each time you take out 4000 pesos ($73USD).
The biggest shopping center is Savers mall across the street from the Metro Bank ATM. It is just down the street from Johnny's Supermarket which is also one of the bigger grocery stores.
If you are looking to get away from the bars and are taking a walk or trike to the ATM, there are two coffee shops next door to the bank. Didn’t try either one but they are very NICE in appearance and probably a nice way to spend a few hours if you wanted to have coffee with friends or read the paper.
ICE AND WATER
You always read to NOT drink the water and NOT order anything with ice. For years now, I have been ignoring the ice warning in Asian countries as it has never affected me. I read special warnings about the Philippines as well, and how “dangerous” the ice was.
I used ice in every drink. I ordered extra ice. At Kokomoz, you get a huge jar of drink filled with ice. And none of us got sick. The ice is brought in – made from purified water. There is no reason to worry anymore.
I didn’t drink the local water of course. And at the hotel, the water smelled REALLY strong; the smell of well water. Had I ever smelled that in ice, I wouldn’t have had the ice that time! But all the caution is unnecessary. Who wants to drink a beverage in a hot climate with no ice? Of course, if you are drinking alcohol, you even have to worry less as the alcohol will help disinfect the ice for you!!
Overall, my trip to the Philippines cost $1,050 USD. This included my round-trip air to Bangkok, all taxis, hotels, food, and entertainment. 8 nights / 9 days. Cost per day of $117USD (very little alcohol). Excluding airfare and taxis to and from the airport, I averaged about $84USD (hotel, food, drinks, and entertainment).