Something for the Whole Family In Subic

Joseph Cortes, The Philippine STAR 11/25/2006

There was a time when the mention of a day trip to Subic meant a “holiday in America”… well, it was almost like being in America because the naval base was the closest to an American territory in this part of the Philippines. An opportunity to enter the base gave one a chance to experience American life, even if it was a military one.

When the Americans turned over Subic Bay to the Philippines in 1992, it became a busy hub for business and tourism. The former naval base became a popular destination for those seeking leisure adventures, shopping opportunities, and a weekend break.

Only 20 minutes away from Ayala Land Premier’s Anvaya Cove, Subic Bay offers a whole lot of options for the whole family.

A must-see is Zoobic Safari, a game park that breaks traditional notions of what a zoo should be like. Here at Zoobic, visitors have the opportunity to literally touch its collection of more than 100 animals. Kids will enjoy petting the baby tigers, potbellied pigs, sheep, pythons, and many more.

Opened in 2004, Zoobic is a 20-hectare facility with a number of animal attractions, such as the Serpentarium, a bunkerful of snakes, lizards, and other reptiles, including an enclosed Forbidden Tree section where the children can touch pythons and other snakes; Rodent World, a collection of rodents that is not for the faint-hearted; Tiger Safari Ride, a jeep ride that takes you up close to the park’s collection of tigers; Savannah, a sanctuary of wild animals, including ostriches, wild boards, and guinea fowls, let loose; and Crocoloco, a collection of around 200 Philippine crocodiles living together in their own enclave. There is also an Aeta World, where indigenous Aeta tribesmen in Zambales show visitors how they live and the crafts they produce.

Zoobic marketing officer Philipp Mitchell C. Morales says the theme park will gradually expand to cover more than 30 hectares of the forest area in this part of Subic since its collection of animals is growing. In fact, many of the tigers that are under its care were born here. A number of attractions are also being added to the park, including a bone museum that will give students a closer look at the skeletons of wild animals. Zoobic Safari is at Ilanin Forest East, Subic Freeport Zone. It is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. For inquiries and reservations, call (047)252-2272, or visit its website at http://www.zoobic.com.ph/.

It is just a short ride from Zoobic Safari to the nearby Ocean Adventure, which is the first open water theme park in the country. It showcases marine life in Subic Bay, and is home to a host of sea mammals, including sea lions, dolphins and false killer whales.

Located at Camayan Wharf at the West Ilanin Forest Area, the marine park hopes to inculcate in its guests the need for marine conservation effort. Aside from an aquarium, there is also a learning center, which gives kids an introduction to marine life, as well as sea lion and dolphin shows.

Those who want a closer encounter with the sea animals can choose from either the photo encounter with sea lions or swim with the false killer whales out in the sea.

For inquiries, call (047)252-9000, and in Manila 634-5288 and 638-2282. Visit its website at http://www.oceanaventure.com.ph/.

Kids who prefer something more adventurous should try horseback riding at the El Kabayo Riding Stables. This facility offers riding options other than the usual turista horseback riding you do at Wright Park in Baguio City. A 30-minute riding tour or leisure ride includes a ride through a mini jungle trail just off its premises. There is a one-hour riding tour with a ride through the El Kabayo water fall trail, a 1-1/2 hour riding tour through water fall and jungle trails, and a two-hour extended tour through the water fall and jungle trails. All riding tours come with groom assistance and an official riding helmet.

El Kabayo’s Gabby La’O says that for families and guests to fully enjoy their riding tours, each group is assigned a number of grooms. The grooms guide guests during their tour, making sure that they do not encounter any accident on the different trails. Due to the limited number of grooms riding tour sizes are kept small. So, guests should book in advance.

El Kabayo often gets foreign tour groups who take their riding tours. Those who just want to brush up on their riding skills are advised to practice at a fenced area to prevent any accidents. Apart from its riding tours, El Kabayo also offers riding classes, carriage leisure rides and carriage rentals, and special trail rides with beach picnic by special arrangement, as well as offering its premises for pictorials, location shoots, and special parties.

El Kabayo Riding Stables is at El Kabayo Road, Binictican Heights. For inquiries, call (047)252-1050, (047)252-1047, and 0922-8333003.

Who can resist a bargain? Subic Bay is home to a number of duty-free stores that bring back memories of times past when the freeport zone was still an American military installation. Back then, you could have apples any time of the year only at an American base.

One of the more popular duty-free stores within Subic Bay is Royal Subic Duty Free Mall. I come here for just one thing: bedsheets! I’m a big fan of flat sheets ever since I learned to fold it the way they do at hospitals. With tight corner tucks, your sheet will never move no matter how much you roll in bed during the night. And the tighter you tuck the sheet in, the harder to pull it out when it comes to changing time, meaning you did your bed well.

Sheets and comforters are arranged on huge racks according to size. The colors may be limited, but there are enough to choose from. If you prefer pristine white, there are sheets with dainty embroidery to please the princess in you. If you want something solid, there’s blue, yellow, green, red and a whole lot more.

The kids will be dazzled by the array of chocolates and candies available here, too. Name a brand, you’ll find it here. If you cannot have your fill of chips and other junk food, look no further. They are here.

But if there’s any reason to troop here, it’s the supermarket. Local and imported brands rub elbows on shelves that are literally bursting with groceries. There are even freezers filled with certified Angus beef from either the US or Australia. Just take your pick.

Royal Subic is also home to one of two Lacoste boutiques in Subic. If you are a fan of this brand, then enjoy browsing some of its latest collections.

Royal Subic Duty Free Mall is on Argonaut Highway, Subic Gateway. It is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Monday to Thursday and from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Friday to Sunday. Call (047)252-3015 and (047)252-6115 for inquiries.

For sports fans, head off to either the Adidas or Nike outlet store at the Times Square complex. If you missed something from these stores a season or two ago – a pair rubber shoes, T-shirts or pants – then this is the place to go.

Items at the Adidas store may be a bit limited, proof that it is a quite popular brand. But on some items prices go down for as low as 50 to 70 percent.

At the nearby Nike outlet store, discounts range from 30 to 70 percent. There is a variety of footwear and sportswear, so you will surely find something you like. Stocks come in at the end of the month, so you are sure to find something to your liking at each visit.

The Adidas and Nike outlet stores are at Time Square, Sta. Rita Road corner Rizal Highway, Subic CBD. Both stores are open from 12 to 9 p.m. from Monday to Thursday, and from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. from Friday to Sunday. For inquiries, call (047)252-2698 (Adidas) and (047)252-2188 (Nike) for inquiries.

There are a number of wine and liquor shops throughout Subic Bay. One of the more popular liquor stores is F&B Subic Inc., located at the corner of Argonaut and Rizal Highways, Subic Gateway. It faces a Petron gas station.

F&B specializes in red wines and a variety of vodka brands. It carries both old and new world wines. Some popular brands go for less than P200 per bottle, a bargain for those who want to have a good time.

F&B also stocks a number of vodka brands, including familiar and rare ones. There is a selection of Absolut, Stolichnaya, Smirnoff, Skyy and Finlandia. There are also a number of champagnes, including Dom Perignon, Veuve Clicquot, and Moet et Chandon.

F&B Subic Inc. is open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. For inquiries, call (047)252-5118.

If you’re looking for family-sized servings of pizza and pasta dishes, then head off to Xtremely Xpresso Café. Its pizzas come in two sizes: regular and xtreme. And when it says “xtreme,” it means exactly that. Its ultimate pizza, the Big Ben, has all the pizza toppings you can think of – 22 inches in diameter and sliced into 16 hefty wedges. That’s enough pizza to feed a hungry basketball team… well, make that two Big Bens.

Store manager Babes Fernando says Xtreme Xpresso opened in 2003 as a coffee shop serving pastry. As the café became a popular stop for Subic Bay visitors, the menu was expanded to include meals, with an emphasis on Italian favorites. With the bigger menu, the restaurant expanded. The original coffee shop took over the garage next door, which now houses the cake display.

The café is cozy. Aside from setups of tables and chairs, there are also sofa settings where you can chat with friends as you sip your coffee. The café seats 50 guests, and another 50 in the al fresco. The restaurant is busiest at night, especially during long weekends and vacation months.

Xtremely Xpresso serves hot and cold appetizers, salads and sandwiches, including four kinds of burgers, a variety of entrees, pizza, pasta, and desserts. It also serves continental and Filipino breakfast meals and staples, like waffles, pancakes, and French toast.

It also has a separate menu for coffee beverages, such as espresso-based drinks, coffee-based frappes, espresso iced drinks, flavored frappes, specialty drinks, and tea-blended drinks. And yes, all of Xtremely Xpresso’s coffee-based beverages uses Lavazza coffee, so you are assured of high-quality full-flavored java.

When we stopped by for snacks on our visit to Subic Bay, the kitchen brought out these huge platters of food. We had Tex-Mex nachos, nachos smothered in a beef sauce, cheese and salsa; chicken oriental salad with crunchy deep-dried rice noodles; nut pesto spaghetti with seafood; and Big Ben. For dessert, it was the giant brownie, and “giant” was a misnomer. Think of three scoops of ice cream piled one on top of each other, surrounded by more scoops of ice cream and whipped cream. It’s enough to keep the kids happy any day of the week.

Babes says we shouldn’t be surprised at the size of Xtremely’s offerings since they are meant for sharing. And yes, prices are reasonable, too.

Xtremely Xpresso Café is at No. 1 Dewey Ave. corner Sta. Rita St., Subic Bay Freeport Zone. For inquiries, call (047)252-3681.

For something quick and fuss-free, Meat Plus Café has the answer. A fast-food style steak shop, diners can choose from a selection of US certified Angus beef (US CAB) for their lunch, or from an array of reasonably priced combo meals, pasta dishes, and steak meals.

Store supervisor Genalyn Antonio says Meat Plus has been in Subic Bay for 13 years. Originally a toy and candy store, it started offering steak meals and other fast-food items soon after.

Many Meat Plus regulars swear by the restaurant’s homemade apple pie and carrot cake. The carrot cake comes with a generous topping of cream cheese frosting that gives it the seal of approval, while the apple pie, with its rich topping of grated cheese crumble, is a winner, too.

Of course, pride of place goes to its steaks. Different sizes of US CAB strip loin and rib eye are available at the counter for you to choose from, and they are priced by weight. The steaks are only chilled, not frozen, and only a handful is on display to ensure than only fresh steaks are served daily. Aside from the cost of the steak, an additional P95 is charged for cooking the steak. It is served complete with steamed rice, buttered mixed vegetables, and gravy.

Meat Plus Café is at Bldg. 65, Sampson Rd., Subic Bay Freeport Zone. For inquiries and deliveries, call (047)252-6090, (047) 252-7091, and (047)252-6446. If you have an appetite for Indian food, you can satisfy your craving at Subic Bay Freeport Zone’s Rama Mahal Bar and Restaurant, an institution when it comes to Indian food in Olongapo City.

Restaurant owner and executive chef Ram Sharma has been operating Rama Mahal for the past 10 years. The original restaurant was located in Olongapo City; five years ago, he decided to move the restaurant inside Subic Bay to be closer to the expatriate crowd that has more savvy when it comes to Indian food’s spicy cooking. Although Indian cooking is now quite popular in Metro Manila, diners outside the metropolis are still wary of it.

“The Olongapo City locals are not that adventurous when it comes to spicy food. But foreigners like the American servicemen and the Chinese and Korean tourists appreciate Indian food,” says Sharma.

And he sure knows what he is talking about. Before chef Ram settled in Olongapo City, he worked on Boracay Island for six years as one of the Indian cooks at the popular True Food Indian restaurant. Before that, he worked for six years as the personal chef of an Indian family in the country.

Rama Mahal is right at the center of the shopping area within Subic Bay, so it is not difficult to find. From the outside, it may not look like an Indian restaurant, but inside you’ll definitely feel at home. Aside from the frames of Indian scenes, traditional Indian music adds to the ambience.

On our visit, chef Ram prepared some of the restaurant’s best sellers served family style the way the Indians have their dinner. On the table were naan bread and papadom, vegetarian samosas, mutton masala, chicken tandoori, a mint sauce that served as a dip for the papadom, samosas, and the chicken tandoori, fried basmati rice, and for dessert, gulab jamum, or milk balls cooked in rose-scented syrup. All we had to do was dig in.

The mutton masala was not as spicy as we expected it to be. Chef Ram said Indians would not even break a sweat with the masala. But more than its flavor, the mutton did not have the gamy taste one would associate with goat meat.

“We have a special way of butchering the goat meat, which removes all parts that gives it that gamy flavor. Since we also have many Muslim guests, all our meat is halal, too.”

Chef Ram prepares daily all the masala he needs for the day. That’s why the flavor of the spices he uses are much more intense than store-bought Indian mixes.

To complete the meal, I had a mango lassi, which is the perfect drink to go with the not-so-spicy food. The yogurt in the mango shake cleanses the taste buds for a full appreciation of the variety of flavors Indian food has to offer.

Rama Mahal Bar and Restaurant is at Bldg. 286, Sampson, Rd., Subic Bay Freeport Zone. For inquiries and reservations, call (047)252-3663.

You can squeeze in all these activities in just one day. However, why waste the chance to enjoy Subic Bay’s beaches? An overnight stay will give the whole family a chance to see more of this exciting destination.

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