Lakbay Norte 2010: Clark, Pampanga

January 31, 2010. It was in 1903 when the American invaders established “Fort Stotsenburg.” For almost a hundred years later, the fort, which was later renamed to “Clark Air Base” became a major stronghold of the American forces in the Far East. It was considered the largest American military installation on foreign soil.

With the expiration of the base agreement in 1991, the Philippines reclaimed the air base and the government sought to transform the facility into a freeport zone. Clark has been a known as a destination for duty free shopping and leisure estate activities from swimming to golfing. The tourism offices in the area, however, have been promoting more activities for visitors to Clark.

For those who want to get to know more about the air base’s history there are tours onboard airconditioned “Jeep ni Juan” jeepneys provided by Castro Travel Solutions (+63 45 6256608) that you may avail. They also have packages for an afternoon at volcanic hot springs, a trek to Mt. Pinatubo and an even aerial tour of the infamous volcano.

Another new activity for visitors to Clark is horseback riding at El Kabayo Riding Stables (+63 09178122106). You can ride the horses around the compound or you can request for a ride around Clark. If you’re up for it, you can even take the horse for a ride along the Sacobia River to see the lahar canyons created by the Mt. Pinatubo eruption.

Across the Sacobia River from Clark is a nature and conservation park called Paradise Ranch which features gardens and zoo animals. The park features one of the largest butterfly gardens in the country and a “million-dollar” view of the entire Clark Freeport Zone. The place is more suited for kids and educational field trips. Adults, on the other hand, can hold team building seminars, retreats, camping and weddings in the garden.

With the development and expansion of the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, Clark is now poised to become one of the country’s major gateways. The master development plan of the freeport zone seeks to transform the former US air base into an airport city and as a globally competitive international service and logistics center in the Asia-Pacific Region. While that has not fully happened, Clark Airport does serve inbound and outbound flights to and from many local and international destinations. It has flights to and from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, South Korea, and even the Middle East.

How to get to Clark? One can drive from Manila by car through the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) and reach Clark in an hour and a half. Take the NLEX exit at Dau, Mabalacat, Pampanga and make a left turn towards Angeles City and a right turn towards Clark. Clark may also be reached via the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX). From the NLEX, continue the drive leading to the SCTEX exit. One may use either the Clark North Interchange (Panday Pira access road near Nayong Pilipino) or the Clark South Interchange (near Yokohama and Clark Main Gate) to enter Clark.

One may also take public transportation to Clark. Take a Victory Liner bus bound for Dagupan and alight at the Dau common terminal. Walk a bit towards the highway where jeepneys or tricycles are available that can take you right up to the Clark gate. Philippine Rabbit also has trips to Angeles, Pampanga, via Dau. Partas and Philtranco also has bus trips to Clark.

Lakbay Norte 2010: Where to stay and eat in Clark and Angeles

January 30-31, 2010. Angeles City and Clark have many establishments that cater to local and foreign visitors, from restaurants that serve local and international cuisine to budget motels to world-class hotels and leisure resorts to shopping malls. During our stay in Clark for the Lakbay Norte 2010 caravan, we were booked at Holiday Inn. Holiday Inn Clark is the only accredited international deluxe hotel in Central Luzon.

Holiday Inn Clark occupies a building that used to be called Chambers Hall, where bachelor officers of the former American airbase and some generals were billeted while on assignment in Clark. In 1996, after renovations, it stood as one of the first landmarks in Clark right after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. It has again just recently been renovated and refurbished in accord to the Holiday Inn chain’s global re-branding campaign. Like other international deluxe hotels, it features modern amenities and furnishings in all of its rooms and villas. Broadband internet access is also available in the rooms. It has three restaurants (Mequeni, Rodizio Rooftop Grill, Copa’s Bar) a swimming pool, a recreation and game area, function halls, a spa and fitness area, and since it is located within the Mimosa Leisure Estate, it also has a 36-hole championship golf course.

If you choose to stay in Angeles City right outside Clark, you may stay at the Oasis Hotel, which has been in operation for more than four decades, and is one of the leading business hotels in Angeles City. Unlike the Holiday Inn, Oasis occupies a sprawling complex of 124 rooms in apartment-like single-floor structures. On our last day in the Lakbay Norte caravan, we had lunch at Oasis Hotel’s Maranao Grill, where we were served with roast lamb and roast beef, together with pasta, baked mussels and roast duck in taco shells. Every Friday, Maranao Grill has an RST Buffet where they serve roast beef, roast lamb, sushi, sahimi and tempura all day.

We arrived in Clark Saturday night, and we had dinner right after checking in at the hotel at Red Crab Seafood and Steaks which is just walking distance from Holiday Inn Clark. We had generous servings of local staple viands and, of course, red crab.

After dinner at Red Crab, we were taken to Camalig Restaurant in downtown Angeles City where we sampled Armando’s Pizza–different kinds of “Kapampangan Pizza,” pizza with all sorts of combinations of local toppings, from salted eggs, to fried crickets. It was a sumptuous after-dinner treat.

Holiday Inn Clark Mimosa Drive, Mimosa Leisure Estate, Clark Freeport Zone, Pampanga (02) 845 1888, (045) 599 8000 www.holiday-inn.com/clark Oasis Hotel Clarkville Compound, CLark Perimeter Road, Angeles City, Pampanga (045) 893 3301 to 04 www.oasishotel.com.ph