BATAAN PENINSULA

BATAAN PENINSULA

For WWII veterans of the Pacific campaign, few places have such bitter associations as the Bataan Peninsula. Both sides saw some of their darkest moments in the jungles around Mt Mariveles.

Few are left who experienced the Bataan Death March firsthand, a grisly affair that began when 70,000 US and Filipino troops surrendered to the Japanese in April 1942. The victors marched the prisoners, many sick and injured from months of fighting, 90km from Mariveles to San Fernando, Pampanga, where they were loaded into box cars and brought by train to the Camp O’Donnell POW camp, now the Capas National Shrine. Along the way some 15,000 to 25,000 American and Filipino troops perished.

The peninsula’s most poignant site is the Dambana ng Kagitingan (Shrine of Valour; GOOGLE MAP ; Mt Samat Rd; P50; h8am-5pm) on Mt Samat near Balanga. Atop the mountain is a 90m-high crucifix with battle scenes carved around its base. You can take a lift (which operates from 8am to noon and from 1pm to 5pm) to the top of the cross, where there is a long viewing gallery with fine views out over Mt Mariveles, Manila Bay and the South China Sea.

From the base of the cross, steps lead 50m down the hill to the shrine proper, where the stories of the Battle of Bataan and the ensuing Death March are carved into a marble memorial wall. In a bunker beneath the shrine is the excellent and blissfully air-conditioned Battle of Bataan Museum ( GOOGLE MAP ; h8am-noon & 1-5pm), with an impressive range of weaponry on display, battles scenes depicted in drawings and dioramas, and a brilliant relief map of the Bataan Peninsula.

Every 9 April, a national holiday known as Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Valour), relatives of American, Japanese and Filipino veterans of the battles and Death March (plus the last remaining veterans) gather at the shrine and pay tribute to the thousands who fell in the surrounding jungles.

To get to the shrine by road, travel to Balanga, linked by Genesis and Bataan Transport buses from Pasay Rotunda in Manila (P210, four hours) via Angeles’ Mabalacat/Dau bus terminal. You can also take a Victory Liner bus to/from Olongapo (P70, 1¾ hours).

From Balanga head south a few kilometres then turn right (west) off the highway toward Bagac. From the turn-off it’s 4.5km to the Mt Samat turn-off, then another 7km up a steep but well-paved road to the cross. Tricycles wait at the Mt Samat turn-off (P300 round trip). You can also reach the Mt Samat turn-off from Balanga on a Bagac–bound jeepney (P10).

Hiring a van in Balanga for a half-day trip to Mt Samat costs P1500. The Gap Plaza Hotel can arrange transport and tours.

At time of research a ferry service was poised to resume (and had already made a test run) between the Esplanade Seaside Terminal in Manila and Orion port just south of Balanga. The MV XGC Express (www.magicleaf.ph) was scheduled to run four times daily each way on weekdays and twice on weekends, taking only 45 minutes.

The pick of the central hotels in Balanga, multistorey Gap Plaza ( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-633 2761; www.gapplaza.com; cnr Capitol Dr & Sampaguita St, Balanga; d incl breakfast P2300-3000; paW) has spotless rooms with cable TV and the attached Cafe Nicole. Staff can arrange half-day tours to Mt Samat for around P1500.

The Bataan Tourism Center ( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-237 4785; www.bataan.gov.ph; Capital Compound, Balanga) has an excellent website detailing where to find historical WWII sites and other places of interest.

 Subic Bay & Olongapo

%047 / Pop 325,949

Until 1992, Subic Bay was the base for the huge 7th Fleet of the US Navy – the largest outside the USA. The adjoining town of Olongapo was known for its sex industry, and not much else.

Though the US Navy has recently returned to Subic Bay on a semipermanent (and small-scale) basis, these days authorities are busy trying to remould the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (SBFZ), as the former military base is now known, into a legitimate business hub and family-friendly tourist destination. To that end, it’s popular with weekenders from Manila for its theme parks, jungle trekking, water sports and wreck diving.

1Sights & Activities

 

The Freeport Zone has a relaxed feel devoid of jeepneys and tricycles, and a pleasant waterfront strip of restaurants, bars and hotels. The same can’t be said for the busy hub of Olongapo, which offers no reason to hang about other than to catch a bus. The pungent canal that divides Olongapo and the Freeport Zone feeds a slow-and-steady stream of raw sewage into Subic Bay. The Americans dubbed it ‘Shit River’ and it still goes by that moniker today.

Diving

 

Wreck diving is one of the big adventure draws in Subic. Of the seven wrecks commonly visited by divers, the USS New York (at a depth of 28m) is the most impressive. The battle cruiser was built in 1891 and was scuttled by American troops in 1941 to keep it out of Japanese hands. The New York wreck is penetrable, but this is a huge ship and it is easy to get fatally lost in the endless corridors and passageways. Appropriate training and an experienced guide are vital.

Other wrecks in the harbour include El Capitan (20m), a well-preserved site favoured by photographers for its general intactness, penetrability and prolific marine life; and the San Quintin (16m), home to larger fish such as wrasse, tangs, glasseyes and sweetlips. Both El Capitan and San Quintin are suitable for beginners. Advanced divers might try the LST (Landing Ship, Tank), an American landing craft at 37m.

The Oryuku Maru (Hell Ship; 20m), in which 1600 US prisoners of war were imprisoned and mistakenly killed during an air attack, was off-limits to divers at the time of research.

Visibility in Subic is not what it is elsewhere in the country. The best time for water clarity is from February to April. Dive prices aren’t bad – P1000 to P1500 for a dive, and P16,000 to P18,000 for an open-water course.

Subic Scuba 719 ( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 9528; 664 Waterfront Rd, SBFZ; h8am-5pm) is a laid-back place with heaps of knowledge about the wrecks.

Ecotourism

 

Illegal logging was nonexistent in the Freeport Zone during the American years and as a result the area has some fantastically pristine jungle trekking. The Subic Bay Tourism Department can help steer you to walks in the large rainforest south of the SBFZ (you’ll need a private vehicle to reach the area), which also has excellent birdwatching.

A unique activity in Subic Bay is the opportunity to learn jungle survival skills from the indigenous Aeta (‘Aeta’ is the term given to the indigenous Negrito population in the area), who were employed to teach US service officers how to survive in the jungle.

The Cubi district (near the Subic airport) is home to the biggest known roosting site of the world’s largest bats: the Philippine fruit bat and the golden-crowned flying fox. Dubbed the ‘Bat Kingdom’, the roosting site moves around from year to year but it isn’t hard to find; just follow your ears around dusk as hundreds of bats take to the sky.

Tree Top AdventureADVENTURE SPORTS

( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 9425; www.treetopadventureph.com; Cubi, SBFZ; admission P100, activities P100-1000; h8am-4.30pm Mon-Fri, to 5pm Sat & Sun)

The mix of treetop activities offered by this organisation, such as obstacle courses, rappelling, ziplines and freefalls, are a great way to get intimate with Subic’s beautiful forest. Also trekking opportunities.

Jungle Environment Survival Training CampADVENTURE SPORTS

(JEST; GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 1489; www.jestcamp.com; Cubi, SBFZ; from P450; h8.30am-5pm)

If you can gather a group of five people, JEST Camp can arrange a number of different activities, ranging from basic demonstrations to hard-core multiday survival courses where you build your own shelters and gather water from vines. You’ll also find a bird park and other activities here.

Pamulaklakin Forest TrailECOTOUR, TREKKING

( GOOGLE MAP ; %0921 682 7175; Binictican Dr, SBFZ; 2hr tours P250; h8am-5pm)

A more grassroots option as opposed to the more commercial JEST Camp nearby, at the Pamulaklakin trailhead an Aeta guide can lead you into the forest to teach you fire making and other handy jungle survival techniques. Ask about longer ecology tours and overnight trips (P500).

Horseriding

 

El Kabayo StablesHORSE RIDING

( GOOGLE MAP ; %0998 553 3925, 047-252 1050; http://elkabayostables.com; El Kabayo Rd, Binictican; horse riding 30min/1hr P370/770; h8.30am-5pm)

People with equestrian instincts make the trip from Manila just to come here. It has plenty of horses, lessons and riding options around Subic Bay, including a one-hour ride to El Kabayo waterfall.

rBeaches

 

Most of Subic’s beaches just south of the SBFZ are enclosed in developed resorts with entrance fees, such as Camayan Beach Resort ( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 8000; http://camayanbeachresort.ph; SBFZ; day use adult/child P300/250; h24hr) and All Hands Resort ( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-250 2270; www.allhandsbeach.com; SBFZ; P550; h24hr), and are popular with rowdy day trippers on weekends, but they are decent enough if you want to laze on a beach close to Manila.

Barrio Barretto (northwest of the SBFZ) has a nice stretch of sand, but as a sleazy sexpat hang-out it’s best avoided. There are some nice beaches further north in Zambales, including Anawanigin Cove, but these are best reached by rented car.

The palm-lined stretch of sand that runs along Waterfront Beach isn’t considered suitable for swimming due to pollution from the nearby port.

4Sleeping

 

The CabinGUESTHOUSE$

( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-250 3042; www.thecabinsubic.com; Schley Rd, SBFZ; dm/d P650/1050; aW)

In a town of pricey accommodation, this cosy faux-log lodge is the only true budget choice and it comes as a welcome surprise, tucked away down a quiet backstreet but close to the action. Dorms and private rooms (shared bathroom) are cramped but modern, clean and all-round good value.

Subic Travelers HotelHOTEL$$

( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 1688; www.subicbaytravelershotel.com; cnr Aguinaldo & Raymundo Sts, SBFZ; d/f incl breakfast from P3000/4500; paWs)

In central Subic, this slick hotel is one of the better upper-midrange places in town. There’s a Mediterranean feel about the terrace pool and cafe, while the expansive rooms are every bit business class, with soft beds, cable TV and artworks. Professional, welcoming staff top it off.

Herbie’s MansionHOTEL$$

( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 7350, 0917 863 0677; Waterfront Rd, SBFZ; d weekday/weekend P1700/1900; aW)

It’s no mansion, but Herbie’s offers family-friendly, decent-priced, no-frills rooms in the heart of the Waterfront. Good value for the location.

Lighthouse Marina ResortHOTEL$$$

( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 5000; www.lighthousesubic.com; Waterfront Rd, SBFZ; r incl breakfast P6000-8000, ste P9000; aWs)

Streets ahead of most places in Subic Bay in terms of comfort, design, service – and price. The spacious rooms are truly luxurious, with supersized flat-screen TVs, minibars and room service, and the hotel amenities, from pool to restaurant, are top. Even if you’re not staying, call into the London Music Bar for a cocktail.

5Eating & Drinking

 

oVasco’sPUB FOOD$$

( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 1845, 0919 830 9387; www.vascosresort-museum.com; Lot 14, Argonaut Hwy, SBFZ; mains P250-360; h24hr; pW)

Popular with the expat community and with a breezy deck looking back over the bay, this ‘pirate’ bar and restaurant is a prime drinking spot and grill restaurant. To get here from the CBD take an ‘Airport-Cubi’ Winstar (P9). Aussie owner Brian Homan is an accomplished shipwreck explorer who has been diving in the Philippines forever.

Some of the porcelain, WWII relics and other treasures salvaged by Homan are on display in the small Magellan Museum. There are also a few neat rooms for rent (from P2800).

Rachi Curry CornerINDIAN$$

( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 3663; Santa Rita Rd; shwarma P55-75, mains P275-350; h10am-10pm)

Jovial Nepalese owner Ram serves up large portions of delicious South Asian specialities, including lots of veg dishes, as well as bargain Middle Eastern shwarma and falafel at this intimate Indian restaurant.

Xtremely Xpresso CafeCOFFEE

( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 3681; www.xtremelyxpresso.com; 1 Dewey Ave, SBFZ; h6am-midnight; W)

The best coffee and cafe experience in Subic. There’s a full range of meals, including thin-crust pizzas, and it gets busy at lunch and dinner. Come early for your caffeine fix.

RoofdeckBAR

( GOOGLE MAP ; Terrace Hotel, Waterfront Rd, SBFZ; P300; h10am-midnight)

Head up to the Terrace Hotel’s rooftop bar for ocean vistas, a dip in its infinity pool and a cocktail. The P300 entrance fee is redeemable against food and drinks.

Pier OneLIVE MUSIC

( GOOGLE MAP ; 249 Waterfront Rd, SBFZ; h10am-2am; W)

This huge semi-open-air waterfront place next to Lighthouse Marina Resort has live bands every night, usually playing foot-tappable Filipino pop. Also a popular bar and grill with pool tables.

8Information

 

Subic Bay Tourism Department ( GOOGLE MAP ; %047-252 4123; www.sbma.com; 2nd Fl, Subic Bay Exhibition & Convention Center, Efficiency Ave, SBFZ; h8am-5pm) Information on activities, accommodation and restaurants.

VisitSubic (www.visitsubic.com) Useful travel information for the area including accommodation, theme parks and transport.

8Getting There & Away

 

If you’re heading to/from Manila try to take Victory Liner ( GOOGLE MAP ; %222 2241; cnr W 18th St & Rizal Ave, Olongapo) express buses with ‘via SCTEX’ placards to shave at least an hour off the trip (P245, three hours), departing every hour until early afternoon. Otherwise there are slower buses to Cubao hourly (P207, four hours). There are also frequent buses north to Iba (P140, two hours) and Baguio (P449, six hours). The Victory Liner terminal is in Olongapo, a 10-minute jeepney ride from the SBFZ.

8Getting Around

 

‘Winstar’ buses are unique to the SBFZ and perform the role that jeepneys perform elsewhere. They leave from the Transport Terminal near the SBFZ main gate and travel only within the Freeport Zone.

In Olongapo, blue jeepneys for Barrio Barretto and Subic town are signed ‘Castillejos’. Red jeepneys serve the bus terminal.

Taxis operate along Waterfront Rd, and while pricey for individual trips (around P400), for the day it works out to be around P300 per hour – so P2400 for eight hours to explore the Subic region.

Originally posted 2021-05-05 22:11:06.