An exciting master plan is in the works to transform this former air-force base into a city of the future. Our top tips on where to stay, where to eat, and what to see and do in Clark.
Once a year for over two decades, the skies over Clark would be dotted with colorful hot air balloons taking part in the annual international hot air balloon fiesta. These days, the airspace belongs to a different kind of aircraft: the planes taking off from and landing in Clark International Airport.
While some may see this area as merely an alternative to the Manila hub, there’s much more to it than its airfield. In fact, Clark stretches across thousands of hectares in Central Luzon, with the Clark Freeport and Special Economic Zone spanning the provinces of Pampanga and Tarlac. Given its accessibility and family-friendly activities, it has become a playground for Metro Manila families looking for a quick weekend getaway.
Located 100km north of Metro Manila, Clark has its roots as an American military base. The American presence in Clark stretches back to 1899, with a three-year interlude under the Japanese during World War II until the Americans recaptured the base. They stayed for 46 years, only exiting in 1991, when the Philippine government voted against extending the military bases agreement with the US.
The decades-long US presence injected Clark with an “American feel” that attracted weekend vacationers in the 1980s and early 1990s. Filipinos were lured by the restaurants and shops catering to the Americans and the promise of foreign goods as well as dishes like burgers and milkshakes.
Today, the Americans are gone but some of that energy remains. The charming, whitewashed barn houses — American officers’ homes-turned-restaurants and offices — still stand amid tree-dotted fields where families go on weekend picnics. There are bike paths all around and not much vehicular traffic, a gift to city-weary weekend vacationers. (Traffic rules are also more strictly enforced here.)
The New Face Of Clark
Clark has become a major contributor to the Philippine economy, with multinational companies setting up shop in the area. This is even more impressive considering it had to — quite literally — rise from the ashes: In 1991, the year the Philippines took control of the base, Mount Pinatubo erupted, burying Clark and the surrounding areas in volcanic debris flow, known as lahar. The cataclysmic eruption covered the once-green fields in a fine gray dust and caused untold damage and loss of life. Soon after, volunteers arrived at Clark to start rehabilitation efforts.
The Base Development and Conversion Authority (BCDA) was created the following year, tasked to turn the former military bases into assets. Aside from enticing investors, BCDA has also successfully turned the area into a leisure hub, with hotels, amusement parks and sporting facilities that draw families from Metro Manila on weekends.
A two-hour drive from Metro Manila along the North Luzon Expressway and onto the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway (SCTEX) leads to the Clark exit heading to the Freeport Zone in Pampanga. Farther along the SCTEX is an exit leading to the latest development in Capas, Tarlac: New Clark City, which opened its doors to the public in late 2019, hosting major events of the Southeast Asian Games. The two are linked by an access road and are about 40 minutes away from each other; travel time is expected to be shorter once better infrastructure is in place.
The Freeport Zone, which sits between Angeles and Mabalacat cities in Pampanga, offers plenty to do for families looking for a mall-free weekend. There’s the Clark Museum and 4D Theater, which give an overview of the region’s geography and history. There’s an amusement park featuring animatronic dinosaurs. There’s a water park with numerous slides. There are even stables with a Wild West feel, a racetrack, golf courses and casinos to keep every family member occupied — and all are within a few minutes’ drive from each other.
The Parade Grounds fronting the museum is a great spot for picnics and is also a popular venue for sporting activities like ultimate Frisbee tournaments. Clark has become especially popular with Koreans, who stay for weeks in the winter to take advantage of the sporting facilities, practicing baseball and playing golf — so much so that there is now a Koreatown just off what is known as Friendship Highway in the Freeport Zone, with plenty of Korean restaurants and mini-marts.
Those who have more time to spare can check out the surrounding areas for other activities: trekking to Mount Pinatubo, going on a culinary adventure to sample the famed Kapampangan cuisine, visiting hot springs and getting a hunting lesson from the indigenous Aetas.
A City Of The Future
Construction at New Clark City in Tarlac is still underway, with mostly sporting facilities and a couple of government offices completed as of 2019. The plans for the city are as exciting as they are ambitious: The BCDA’s aim is to decongest Metro Manila, a goal inspired by the success of the Putrajaya development, which was built 25km outside Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. The sprawling development can accommodate over a million people and will be connected to Manila via high-speed rail in 2025.
But this city of the future isn’t about flying cars and high-rises. It’s envisioned to be a walkable city with efficient mass transportation and vast open spaces: About 60% of New Clark City will be devoted to green spaces. Clark shows that true progress isn’t just about skyscrapers and technology but also about making ample room for nature.
By Tisha Alvarez.
As of January 2020.
Clark Marriott Hotel, marriott.com — This luxury five-star hotel in Mabalacat has 260 rooms and suites, plus five restaurants serving a variety of cuisines. $$
Fontana Leisure Parks, fontana.com.ph — Fontana offers a range of villas for families who want a place all to themselves, from the more modest two-bedroom villas to a spacious five-bedroom villa with its own swimming pool. $
Hotel Stotsenberg, Clark Freeport Zone, Mabalacat City; +63 917 829 6663; hotelstotsenbergclark.com — A comfortable option just five minutes away from the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport. $
Mango Valley Hotel, Lot 7A/7B, Boton Lights & Science Park, Dewey Ave, CBDA, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Olongapo; +63 47 252 7969; Clean and spacious rooms in a relatively new facility. $
The Mansion at The Villages, themansionatthevillages.com — A 28-room boutique hotel with plantation-style interiors. $
Quest Plus Conference Center, questhotelsandresorts.com/clark — Formerly the Holiday Inn, this hotel offers access to a 36-hole golf course and an all-day dining buffet. $
Red Planet Angeles City, redplanethotels.com/hotel/angeles-city — This budget hotel chain offers snug rooms with WiFi and a TV, plus easy access to the all-you-can-eat samgyeopsal (grilled meat) restaurants in nearby Koreatown. $
Widus Hotel and Casino, 5400 Manuel A Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone; +63 45 499 1000; widus.com — Adults can head to the popular casino, while kids have fun on the slide at the large swimming pool. $-$$
Winds Boutique Hotel, 2537 A Santos St, Angeles City; +63 908 593 5741; windshotel.com — A modern yet homely hotel with spacious, whitewashed rooms, and an outdoor swimming pool. $
Amo Yamie Crib Coffee and Movie House, 2404 RBC Bldg, Sto. Entierro St, Sto. Cristo, Angeles City, Pampanga; +63 45 436 7883; fb.com/AmoYamieCrib — Cool off at this quirky restaurant — a fairytale café and movie theatre rolled into one — with any of its milk or fruit teas. $
Binulo Restaurant, Bldg 6410-6413, Manuel A. Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Mabalacat City; +63 45 499 2238, fb.com/binulo — Popular for its authentic Kapampangan dishes like paco (fiddlehead fern) salad, pangat na ulang (freshwater prawns in sour broth), and kare-kare (oxtail stew). $$
Cely’s Carinderia, Friendship Highway, Angeles, Pampanga — Signature Kapampangan dishes include crab omelet, buro at mustasa (fermented rice with mustard leaves) and batute (stuffed frog).
Cafe Fleur, L-463B Miranda St, Brgy Sto. Rosario, Angeles City; +63 995 313 8413; fb.com/cafefleur.ph — For inventive, French-inspired Kapampangan dishes, such as crispy pork belly macadamia kare-kare. $$
Grill Seoul Korean BBQ, fb.com/grillseoulkoreanbbq — Head here for quality meat and good banchan outside the congestion of Koreatown. $$
Iguana’s Cantina Mexicana, 50 Don Juico Ave, Anunans, Angeles City; +63 45 405 0449; angeleseyes.com/Iguanas — Head here for authentic Mexican fare, such as jam-packed burritos and refreshing margaritas, that won’t break the bank. $
Mangan Tamu, RC Santos, Clark Freeport Zone. This food park features over a hundred food stalls showcasing the best of Kapampangan cuisine. Sample the dishes and have a family picnic at the adjacent Parade Grounds. $-$$
Matam-Ih, Lot 1 D, E Jacinto St, M A Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Angeles City; +63 45 499 2382; fb.com/matamihresto — Try the restaurant’s exotic crocodile and frog dishes if you dare! $$
Meat Plus Café, Building 65, Sampson Rd, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Olongapo; +63 45 455 1477 — Sink your teeth into old-school burgers and steaks at this popular joint over at the other former American base. $$
Café Mequeni, Mimosa Dr, Angeles City; +63 2 845 1888; fb.com/cafemequeni — Go for its buffet, which serves a sumptuous spread of both Kapampangan and international dishes. $$-$$$
Spanglish Restaurant, Pavilion Mall Building, Manuel A Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Mabalacat City; +63 45 286 1281; fb.com/spanglishph — Hands down the best Mexican food in Pampanga. $$
Susie’s Cuisine, SM City Clark, Manuel A Roxas Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Angeles City — Stock up on pasalubong such as pastries, famous Pampanga tocino and tibok-tibok (carabao milk pudding) here. $-$$
Yu Ganne 2, HU Cruz Building, Friendship Highway, Brgy Anunas, Angeles City — Dine on unlimited Korean samgyeopsal with eight different side dishes like kimchi, miso soup and potatoes. $$
1956 Downtown Cafe, 1 Plaridel St, NEPO Quad, Angeles City; +63 917 535 9198; baledutung.com/index.htm — The classic Pampagueno dishes here, such as the nine-spice crispy duck, will delight your taste buds. $$
Air Force City Park, Andres Bonifacio Ave, Mabalacat City; +63 45 599 2486 — Marvel at (and snap photos of) old airplanes and helicopters.
Aqua Planet, aquaplanet.ph — Older kids will love the dizzying slides at this water park, while the little ones will be delighted by the water features and wave pool.
Clark Museum and 4D Theater, Sergio Osmena St, Clark Freeport Zone — A short stop will give much-needed perspective on the fascinating history of the place.
CDC Parade Grounds, Clark Freeport Zone, Mabalacat City — Ride your bike, play ball games or simply settle under a tree with a good book at this sprawling park.
Deca Wake Park, Jose P Laurel Ave, Angeles City; +63 905 330 1013; decawakeboardpark.com — Experience the adrenaline-pumping thrill of wakeboarding at Deca Park, the newest watersport destination in Clark.
Dinosaurs Island, Gil Puyat Ave, Clark Freeport Zone, Mabalacat City; fb.com/dinosaursislandclark — Go way back in time at this animatronic theme park, which features life-sized dinosaur exhibits.
El Kabayo Stables, elkabayostables.com — Go horseback riding and dig into a buffet lunch at the “saloon” at this Wild West-themed spot.
Miyamit Falls, Porac; fb.com/miyamitfalls — For a challenging but ultimately rewarding trek. Plan your visit ahead of time, as you’ll need to secure a permit at the Porac Municipal Hall.
Museum of Philippine Social History, Santo Entiero St, Angeles City; +63 45 304 4042; fb.com/museumofphilippinesocialhistory — Gain insight into the lives of ordinary citizens at this museum, where the exhibits run the gamut from textiles and utensils to traditional Filipino games.
Paradise Ranch, Sacobia Valley, Clark Highlands, Clark Freeport Zone, Angeles City; +63 45 499 5541; paradiseranchofclark.com — Explore several gardens and even a walk-through aviary at this conservation park. Your little ones can also feed animals by hand for a small fee.
Puning Hot Spring Resort, Sitio Target, Brgy Sapang Bato, Angeles City, Pampanga; +63 919 339 2795; fb.com/puninghotspringandrestaurant — Soak in thermal waters or enjoy a sand bath at this relaxing retreat.
Puregold Duty Free Angeles, P. Kalaw St cor C M Recto Highway, Clark Freeport Zone, Angeles City; +63 45 599 2349 — At this mall, you’ll find everything from kitchenware to sports memorabilia and even vinyl records.
Sandbox, Alviera, Porac, Pampanga; alviera.ph/sandbox — If you’re feeling adventurous, drop by this enormous outdoor playground, where myriad activities like ziplining and the country’s tallest swing will get your adrenaline pumping.
Sun Valley Clark Golf and Casino, T-304 Jose Abad Santos Ave, Angeles City — One of numerous golf courses in the area, Sun Valley is built into hilly terrain with scenic views of Mount Pinatubo and the Sacobia River.