You know the Thailand T-shirt. The one with “Same Same” on the front and “but Different” on the back - that’s what came to mind when I visited Angeles City (AC) in the Philippines for the first time a few weeks ago. I know that this is mainly a Thailand-orientated site, and until now, I was mainly a Thailand-orientated traveller, but I thought that readers might be interested in an impression of Angeles City from the perspective of someone who is more at home in Thailand.
I’ll start with a few general impressions. The Phils looks much poorer than Thailand. Even Manila, apart from a few modern skyscrapers, seems to consist of decaying colonial buildings and makeshift shacks. An example is the Metropolitan Theatre (Padre Burgos Street). I only caught a glimpse of this from the window of my airport transfer van, but was shocked at the mouldering state of this world-famous art-deco icon. The traffic also looks shabby. The cars and taxis are old and battered and are outnumbered by jeepneys, which are basically recycled WWII jeeps. We stopped at a set of lights and a bus pulled up beside us. The state of that bus said it all. It looked about 30 years old, was dented and scratched all over, but most noticeable of all was that there was no glass in the windows. Every alternate window had been patched up with hardboard, the others left open for ventilation. Angeles City being two hours up-country, is even more run down. The entertainment area, based around Fields Avenue, is just a shanty suburb, though the gogo-bars and tourist hotels are surprisingly classy - better than many in Thailand.
There are several good quality hotels in the Fields Avenue area with room prices ranging from about $20 - $50 per night. The largest and most popular is the Orchid Inn. The most unusual has to be Swiss Chalet, which is just what it’s name suggests - a Swiss ski chalet, complete with half-timbering, just about as far away from the pistes as it is possible to get. Information about hotels, along with lots of other useful stuff can be found on the free site: www.balibago.com.
The P4P scene in AC is mainly gogo-based. There are a few beer bars and massage parlours, but these are a shadow of their Thailand equivalents. There are also freelancers - but these are a much riskier proposition than in Thailand for two reasons: a) some freelancers are gogo girls who failed their weekly STD check, and b) among them are girls who will trap you into an ‘underage’ girls scam.
Anyone familiar with gogo bars in Thailand would feel at home straight away. The most noticeable differences are: no poles and kaynmangi. There are few dancing poles in the bars, most girls just shuffle from side to side, and even where there are poles, the girls don’t use them much. All the stages are recessed. This has the advantage that you don’t get a crick in your neck trying to see the girls’ faces - though if you’re a foot-fetishist, it is sometimes hard to see their feet. Kaynmangi is the Tagalog word for the typical Filipina skin colour - a kind of honey-gold which is very beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, I have no prejudices about colour. As far as I’m concerned a beautiful girl is a beautiful girl from ebony to blue-eyed blonde. But, unlike Thailand, one hue, kaynmangi, predominates, and believe me, it is an eye-watering sight to see a stage packed full of beautiful bikini-clad kaynmangi bodies.
Another thing that I really liked was that there was no hustling for lady drinks. In all my bar visits (which were not a few), I was only approached once without asking, and she was easily put off. The manager of Blue Nile told me that his girls are forbidden to approach customers without being invited. The bars are much more relaxed in this respect than Nana Plaza or even Soi Cowboy, so it’s possible to have a pleasant night out and sit watching the girls without being hassled. The drink of choice is San Miguel (or San Mig Light) - a Philippine brew said to be one of the best beers in South East Asia (price ranged from 60 - 100 PHP). Lady drinks ranged from 120 - 140 PHP (100 PHP = c. 73 THB).
Filipinas are noticeably more petite than Thai girls, but more of them have a tendency to fat because their food is not so healthy as Thai food. The ‘mini-paunch’ is a common sight on the stages of AC - not that the ‘mega-paunch’ sported by most of the customers gives them any right to complain. So if a flat abs is your thing - stick to Thailand. Another negative point is that the standard of dental care is not so high as in Thailand - I noticed a few girls with a tooth missing or other dental problems. Most of the girls come from Samar in the south-east which in many ways is equivalent to Isaan. It’s the same story: poor parents, usually subsistence farmers, large families, short education, limited employment prospects. However, despite the raw hand that fate has dealt them, they are just as fun-loving as Thais, in fact, many times during my trip, I thought I was back in Thailand.
Speaking of the raw hand of fate, these girls have a tougher deal that their Thai counterparts. Owing to the longer opening hours, a thirteen hour shift is not uncommon, for which they will be paid between 150 - 200 PHP. They also get around 50 PHP per lady drink, 50% of the barfine, and any tip which the customer gives them. It adds up to a lot less than Thai gogo girls earn, but is still better than the alternatives. I spoke to one girl who had worked as a housemaid for 2000 PHP + board per month, and another who had worked in a clothing factory for 5000 PHP per month.
All the girls can speak at least basic English, so you don’t have to bother with Tagalog if you don’t want to. However, it pays dividends if you do make the effort. Unfortunately, Tagalog is not easy - I can’t even understand the dictionary definition: “Tagalog is a morphologically complex, predicate-initial language with a complex system of affixes, markers and particles indicating absolutive, ergative and oblique aspects of the verb.” On the other hand, so few westerners bother to have a go that anyone who does make the effort will get a really appreciative response. Here are a few useful phrases which I picked up on my trip:
- Anon pangalan mo? - what is your name?
- Bola bola - liar!
- Hindi - no
- Kuma in ka na ba? - have you eaten yet?
- Kumusta ka? - how are you?
- Mabuhay - cheers!
- Maganda ka - you are beautiful
- Mattal kita - I like you
- Oo - yes
- Salamat - thank you
The biggest difference between Filipinas and Thai girls is in attitude. Many recent submissions have lamented the decline in attitude of Thai girls, especially in Nana Plaza and bars like Rainbow 4. However, it is still not too difficult to find Thai girls with a good attitude, especially in Soi Cowboy and Pattaya. In AC too, the whole range of attitudes is represented from loving sweeties to hardened money-grabbing ho’s, but my impression was that the majority of the girls tend towards the former. This is due in part to the way in which the barfine system is organised. Although the term ‘barfine’ is widely used, the official term is Early Work Release (EWR) and, officially, it has nothing to do with sex (because prostitution is illegal in the Phils). In practice, the barfine (between 1,200 and 1,400 PHP) is split between the bar and the girl. The next morning you don’t have to give her anything, though a tip of between 200 - 500 PHP is customary. This approach reinforces the way the girls prefer to see themselves - as dancers looking for a western boyfriend, not as prostitutes. The net effect of this can be the best girlfriend experience (GFE) in South East Asia. But remember, the best GFE has a downside. The AC girls seem noticeably more clingy than their Thailand counterparts. If you are a halfway decent kind of guy, they want to be your honey ko (honey ko = teerak). So be careful, if you go to AC looking for a few one-night stands, you may get more than you bargained for. You have been warned!
Another big difference is religion, the predominant religion in the Philippines being Roman Catholicism. Buddhism is more tolerant of sexual peccadilloes than Roman Catholicism, and there is a strong sense among Thai girls that they can, to some extent, compensate for what they do by ‘tambun’ - making merit by supporting their families. The Filipinas know that what they are doing is a sin (though tempered by the fiction referred to above, that they are dancers looking for boyfriends). In practice, religion seemed to make little difference. I met just one girl who seemed uncomfortable about her work. She asked me disapprovingly: “Why do you want to do this?” (I can answer that question, but that’s another article). Minutes later, I had another girl on my lap proudly proclaiming: “I will do anything you want - anything.”
At the opposite end of the scale are the ‘cherry girls’. These are - supposedly - virgins. In some bars, as many as 25% are cherry. Broadly speaking, they fall into two categories: the ‘genuine cherry’ and the ‘professional cherry’. The genuine cherry girl is usually a sweet young thing, new to AC. She is looking for the right man to sell her cherry to, preferably one who will also take her out of the bar and marry her. The professional cherry girls are those who have found that they can get lady drinks and barfines without having to perform, and so keep on playing the ‘cherry’ card for years. They are best avoided. There is also a category of ‘cherry-ass’. These are girls who are willing to take it up the ass (most Filipinas are not) - the first-time rights are for sale. All the girls have a compulsory health check every week for STD’s (once a month for HIV) and, where appropriate, for intact cherry. Cherry girls are certified by a three digit number on their ID card (as opposed to a four digit number). All girls have to wear these ID cards when dancing - usually around their necks like a necklace, or clipped to their bikini bottoms.
As for the general standard of beauty, that’s a very personal thing, but I did meet some very beautiful girls. In my opinion, the average standard of looks in AC is higher than in Thailand, but there are fewer out-and-out stunners. Another factor is that Thai culture seems to add an indefinable exotic quality to Thai girls. Philippine culture is watered down by Spanish and American colonial influences - though that does have the positive effect of putting the girls more on our wavelength.
The biggest disadvantage of AC is that the entertainment area is very small and there’s not much else there (except shopping malls - and they’re best avoided if you have a bar girl in tow). I arrived equipped with ‘Wayne’s Map of Angeles City’ (www.acmap.com). After studying this map, I assumed that Fields Avenue might be about Sukhumvit-sized (i.e., Nana to Soi Cowboy), and was surprised to find that it was only a few hundred yards long. There’s over a 100 bars crammed into this small area, and according to some estimates, as many as 8,000 girls. That makes it the biggest concentration of bar girls on the planet. The problem with this is that the girls seem to have friends in every bar - so your honey ko will know your every move. Not the best place to butterfly!
Now for a few bar recommendations. It is much harder to find up-to-date information about AC than about LOS, but after some Internet research, I came up with a list of 25 recommended bars. When I visited a bar, I ticked it off. Looking at that list now, I can see that five bars have three ticks or more. This does not mean that they are the five best bars in AC - things change too quickly in the bar scene - it simply means that those were the bars I liked best on this particular visit.
As I mentioned above, I met the manager of this bar. He told me that it has been voted the best gogo bar in South East Asia for the last four years - and I can believe it. The interior is vast and features a high-tech hydraulic stage. This lifts the girls so they can be seen from anywhere in the club. The stage sinks to the floor to let girls off to sit with customers. About 500 girls are employed there, working in three shifts, with over a 100 on stage at any one time. As Blue Nile has the reputation of being the top bar, the management can pick the best girls, and I must say, the line up was stunning. The barfine is the highest in AC at 1,400 PHP.
This is a long thin bar with a stage down one side and one pole at either end. Neither was used on any of my visits. The narrowness of the bar puts you in close contact with the girls whether you sit at the bar, or away from it, and this created a lively atmosphere on each of my three visits. There are several good-lookers in here - though, be warned, most of the youngest, sweetest girls are cherries.
One of my favourite gogo bars in Bangkok is the Dollhouse. There is another Dollhouse in Pattaya, but, apart from the name, there is no connection with this Dollhouse which is run by two Mexicans. The interior is two stories high with a high-tech stainless steel look. Gogo dancing alternates with shows (but these are tame compared to shows in Thailand). This bar is open 24 hours. I popped in one morning just after breakfast to see what it was like. I was the only customer - but it was in full swing. The line up of girls is variable, but among them I noticed some real cuties.
My favourite. This is a new bar, replacing Pick-Up Disco, which has only been open for two months. It is three stories high inside and is decorated in an unusual style that I can best describe as opera house meets gogo bar. The light-sconces are supported by gold-painted cherubs, the pillars take the form of Art Nouveau figurines, and most incredible of all, the top balcony is decorated to resemble a fairy-tale village. Gogo dancing alternates with ‘cultural dancing’. This is a great place to take your honey ko for a romantic evening.
There is a large circular stage in the middle of the bar. The unusual thing is the relaxed way in which the girls are managed. When they are on stage, they are allowed to do what they want. I saw girls standing still, arms akimbo, taking phone calls, chatting, etc. On the other hand, I did see one girl ‘accidentally’ lose her bra, and another two playfully trying to pull each other’s tops off. The stage also doubles as a dance floor, so it is not unusual to see customers mingling with the girls. They also have shows. It is an unusual mix - but it seems to create a relaxed atmosphere that customers like.
Other than gogo bars, there are not many places to go. The usual way to entertain your barfine is to go bar-hopping. An alternative is Sky Trax Disco - though a notice at the entrance says: ‘STRICTLY NOT ALLOWED: CARRYING FIREARMS AND DEADLY WEAPONS’. Or you could go for a meal at Kokomo’s or Margarita Station. There’s even a fish and chip shop (which is good news for us Yorkshiremen). I’m told by the expats that the best thing to do, once you’ve found your honey ko, is to take her to one of the many tropical island paradises - maybe next time.
So which is best, AC or LOS? At the end of the day, it’s a personal thing. It depends on who you are and what you want. It does seem that the world is divided into Thailand-men and Phils-men. Several of the guys I met in AC, both expats and tourists, had visited Thailand, but all preferred the Phils. Similarly, I’ve met many guys in Thailand who’ve been to AC, but prefer Thailand. What about me? There’s a lot I like about AC - above all, the attitude of the girls - but I found it too small (to the point of being claustrophobic) and somewhat bland compared to the rich culture and heady exoticism of Thailand.
© Bangkok Byron, 2007. All rights reserved by the author.