Since the closure of Subic Bay Naval Base in 1992, the Subic Bay area has been re-invented as a gate-guarded playground for the rich, with golf courses, a yacht club, a casino and smart hotels. For most foreign travellers, the main appeal is the wide range of watersports, diving and tranquil beaches on offer. Subic Bay is vast, and is best thought of as four distinct areas.

The Subic Bay Freeport Zone (a tax- and duty-free zone) encompasses the old base, accessed by “gates” manned by security guards, and comprises two parts. Most of the banks, restaurants, shops and hotels are located on a small island known as the Central Business District. On the mainland to the south lie the beaches and most of the outdoor activities, theme parks and attractions.

To the north of the CBD, linked by gates and bridges across the drainage channel (the Main Gate is also known as the Magsaysay Gate), Olongapo City lies outside the Freeport Zone but is generally considered part of the Subic Bay area. It is a typical Philippine provincial town, streets crammed with stalls and smoke-belching tricycles. This is where the bus terminals are located, but you won’t spend much time here otherwise.

Finally, around 5km north of Olongapo along the coast (also outside the Freeport Zone), Barrio Barretto is gradually shaking off its go-go bar days, though it still attracts its share of the ageing expat/Filipina “girlfriend” scene. Nearby Baloy Long Beach is a better place to crash, a laidback row of bars and hotels right on the sand.

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