The paved 4-lane street is lined with palm trees interspersed with bright infra-red light sensing mercury lamps that automatically switch on at dusk. The wide median dividing the lanes is as green as the golf fairway visible at a distance. Traffic is light. The light signals at intersections have an additional lit sign that flashes the number of seconds before a light turns red or green, warning drivers to get set to stop or go.
There are some street signs: Friendship Highway, DMIA, CDC Offices. But I was waiting for signs that point to Palm Desert, San Diego, or LA. After all, this place looks extremely similar to those southern California resort cities.
Can you imagine this to be at Clark, Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines?
Don’t blink! There is no typo. CDC (Clark Development Corporation) manages what used to be the largest US military base in Asia – Clark Air Force Base. It is now designated as a tax-free zone along with Subic Bay in Zambales. Clark has been groomed, designed, and developed to North American urban city planning standards – a gem in the island of Luzon.
I was looking for a winter retreat to a warm sunny place where I can enjoy spa treatment and amenities. Having just enjoyed a holiday at Palm Springs’ Miramonte Spa Resort, I thought that I might return there for another glorious two weeks’ retreat. I also researched similar vacation spots in Florida, Arizona, and Hawaii. By pure chance, I spotted Lohas Spa Resort, Clark. Since I have a few connections at CDC, I place some inquiries. Few knew of Lohas but after a few email exchanges with the front desk, the lure of an Olympic size pool, the facilities with free breakfast, and a Korean health sauna-freezer (Jimjilbang) treatment room, AND a 40″ LCD TV, I was hooked.
Donna, my National Car agent at PAL international airport had my car waiting for me for this trip. As usual, traffic took me almost 2 hours to get to the North Luzon Expressway. From there to Lohas was about an hour now that the new Subic Luzon expressway is completed. It bypasses the congestion at Dau, Mabalacat, and Angeles city.
The internet pictures are accurate. Lohas is, well, just a little short of paradise. The staff of young neatly attired ladies at the front desk looked more like PAL stewardesses of years ago. They are polite and they bow every time they greet visitors and customers. The resort attendants are courteous and helpful. Michelle, the Korean supervisor speaks little English but she always has a pretty smile and she is quite accommodating. The food at the resort is not outstanding but above average with plenty of tropical fruits at breakfast.
The resort is a new investment project by Korean entrepreneurs, just as many other businesses popping up all over Clark. Mimosa Golf Resort is practically overrun by young Korean golfers. It is a favorite destination of Se Ri Pak, a Korean professional lady golfer. Clark is home to large multi-national corporations like Yokohama Tires, HP, and Acer Computers, where millions of chips and computers are produced.
The Diosdado Macapagal Internatuional Airport (DMIA) has better runway facilities than Manila International Airport. Many international flights from Asia fly directly to DMIA from Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Japan, and Taiwan. It also has flights to Manila, Cebu, Cotobato, and Bacolod served by Cebu Air and Zest Airways. Now you know why it has become a tourist haven for Japanese, Koreans, and other Asians.
After a hectic game of golf at Mimosa, and the newer Fontana Golf Resort, we went straight to Mekeni, (Pampango word for “Come here”) Restaurant at the Holiday Inn Resort. The buffet lunch was sumptuous with servings of native crabs and jumbo shrimps and a dessert table to die for. Now, this is paradise. The spa treatment at the end of the day at Lohas rejuvenated and prepared us for the next day outing at Greenhills in San Juan.
I could spend days browsing at this IT capital of the Philippines where I met “my baby”. Price haggling here is not only acceptable but highly recommended. There must be hundreds and thousands of cell phone stalls. Most are owned and operated by Muslim entrepreneurs. The 1st two young ladies that tempted me with their mile long smiles were PHP200/500 apart on the Blackberry I had my eyes on. Then I came to this stall and “Baby” –she is a cute and pleasant 20-year old Muslim girl with a permanent smile – sensing that I must have been “shopping”, right away offered me the phone at PHP700 less than the 1st two. I bought two and it was right then and there that she became “my baby”. (Because of scamming, it is highly recommended to establish good connections at Greenhills; otherwise, it would be like a “David being thrown to the lion’s dens” experience.)
The Mall of Asia is another destination that seems to transport one from the Philippines to New York in a minute.
We had 11 fabulous days of eternal sunshine, warm days and cool nights, in the Philippines. The 11-hour return flight to Vancouver was a lot easier to take than the prospect of a 2-day, several layover air trek to the Virgin Islands.
Best of all, the overall cost of this holiday is a sin to divulge. When they refer to the Philippines as the “Pearl of the Orient” they are absolutely correct.