The Subic Bay Freeport Zone and Olongapo City

Subic Bay Freeport ZoneThe Subic Bay Freeport Zone is part of the Subic Special Economic and Freeport Zone and formerly U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay. It became the freeport zone after the last Americans left in 1992. It’s separated from Olongapo City on the north side by a drainage canal and on the east side by the Santa Rita River (the name of which may not be official). The entire economic zone includes the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Olongapo City, and parts of the Zambales and Bataan provinces.

Hotels

There are more hotels than I can remember, but I’ve only stayed at one. That was in 1986, the first time I went to the Philippines after my wife, Josie, and I got married. I won’t mention the name because it no longer exists.

There are a lot of older hotels, mostly in the Barreto barangay of Olongapo City. Most of them are resorts next to the beaches. The hotels in other parts of Olongapo City, not near beaches and not fancy at all, are a lot less expensive. Of course, you still need to check the amenities. That hotel I stayed at in 1986 didn’t have a properly functioning toilet.

There are newer hotels at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. I went to one to attend a wedding several years ago, but I don’t remember which one and what year it took place.

Landmarks at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and in Olongapo City

As far as I know, there are no natural landmarks. There are a lot of artificial landmarks, whether that’s what you call them or not:

  • Drainage Canal (sometimes called Sh*t River because of the smell)
  • Harbor Point Mall (Subic)
  • Kalaklan Point Lighthouse
  • Kalapati Monument
  • Olongapo Welcome Arch
  • Olongapo Welcome Sign
  • San Roque Chapel (Subic)
  • Santa Rita River (also known as Kalaklan River and Olongapo River)
  • SM City Olongapo Mall
  • SM City Olongapo Central Mall
  • Spanish Gate (Subic)
  • Tipo Expressway Tunnel (Subic)
  • Ulo ng Apo rotunda
  • Unity Rotunda

The San Roque Chapel is the oldest structure remaining from the original Olongapo village, when it was located northwest of the Subic Arsenal, which was bordered by the wall that included the Spanish Gate. Dewey Avenue (which starts at the Kalaklan Gate) was the road that originally ran through the center of the village. It was probably called something else back then.

The rotundas are actually roundabouts, but the Filipinos call them rotundas. The Olongapo welcome sign is on the highway between Olongapo City and Dinualupihan, which is in the Bataan province. It’s not at the city limits because the Kalapati Monument is in an Olongapo City barangay west of it, and it’s further away.

I haven’t seen the Olongapo City welcome arch with my own eyes. There may be other landmarks I know nothing about, and some people may not consider all of what I listed as landmarks.

Restaurants

I haven’t frequented as many of the restaurants in either areas as I would have liked. Some of the restaurants that were located in Olongapo City moved into one of the three malls (two in Olongapo City and one at the freeport zone) or closed altogether. I can’t remember seeing a Kenny Rogers Roasters after it closed in downtown Olongapo City. TripAdvisor has a list of the top restaurants, and I haven’t even been close to visiting all of them. These are my favorites:

These are my favorites:

  • S&R Pizza (Subic)
  • Shakey’s Pizza (Subic)
  • Sit-n-Bull
  • Texas Joe’s House of Ribs (Subic)
  • Xtremely Xpresso Cafe (Subic and SM City Olongapo Central Mall)

Transportation at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and in Olongapo City

The two most common forms of transportation in Olongapo City are the jeepneys and the tricycles. A jeepney costs the least, I can’t tell you how much it costs today, but it’s still less than the equivalent of one U.S. dollar. A tricycle costs more, but it’s still very affordable. Public jeepneys are not allowed at the freeport zone unless they’re carrying no passengers and refueling at one of the service stations. Private jeepneys and private tricycles are allowed.

A taxi service is based at the freeport zone and an Uber-like service called “Grab” is active there as well as in Olongapo City, but I don’t know where it’s based. A sister-in-law’s husband (called bilas in Tagalog) drives a taxi, and he doesn’t make the money he made before Grab started invading his territory.

A branch of the Victory Liner bus service is based in Olongapo City, and I’ve seen other buses from other services traveling through the city. I don’t know where they’re based, and it doesn’t really matter. Although there’s an airport at the freeport zone, it isn’t available for passenger transportation. It was, however, used to repatriate overseas Filipino workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Reacquainting Myself With the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and Olongapo City

After getting stuck in the United States for nearly four years due to the pandemic, Josie and I returned to Olongapo City in March 2022. We haven’t done much as far as getting out and visiting various places since then, and we’ll be leaving again in March 2023 for several months. I’ve been to the Harbor Point Mall twice, SM City Olongapo Central twice and the Sit-n-Bull restaurant once.

Instead of eating out, we have delivery services bring our food to us (when we want that kind of food). The only time we’ll eat outside the home is when we’re already on the road for something else. I’ve had food from S&R Pizza, Jollibee and McDonald’s delivered so far. When we return in October 2023, we have to make an effort to get out more.

Image by Alankang, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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