It’s been a while since me and my friends have gone on a road trip. This year, we decided to change all of that. When we heard about the annual hot air balloon festival happening in Pampanga last weekend, we decided to make that our first of many road trip adventures for the year.
Leaving at an Odd Hour
We decided to start our road trip late in the morning last Friday, partly because we had to wait for the coding window. In the Philippines, there is a vehicle coding scheme which prohibits private vehicles to be used on a road for a day, depending on the last digit of the vehicle’s plate number. But, for a few hours (between 10 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon), these vehicles are allowed on the road in certain areas.
It turned out that starting our road trip late in the morning turned out to be a good idea. For one thing, I’m not really a morning person, and leaving late in the morning still gave me time to grab some breakfast at Starbucks in Festival Mall where we chose to meet up.
Also, there wasn’t any traffic when we started our road trip to Pampanga. In fact, it only took us about an hour and a half to travel over 100 kilometers from Alabang to the Shell station located right before the Malolos, Bulacan exit along the North Luzon Expressway to get some lunch. In a country which has gained a reputation of having one of the worst traffic situations, this is definitely a welcome treat.
Detouring to Malolos
As we continued our road trip to Pampanga, Erika and I noticed a sign on the road that the next exit would take us towards the city of Malolos, and home to Barasoain Church–a historical and iconic landmark in the Philippines. It took us just a second to decide to make a detour and go for a quick side trip to visit Barasoain Church. That is one of the things that I really love about going on a road trip with my friends: even though we have planned a specific destination for our road trip, it is something that is never rigid. There is always room in our itinerary to take a quick side trip somewhere which, for me, is one of the things that can make any road trip even more enjoyable.
The church itself was closed, probably because it was a week day, but we did manage to go around the garden at the back of the church where Ice, Erika’s 18 month old son, stretched his legs, walking and running around. We also had the chance to take a peek in the museum to look and take pictures of the different religious icons and other artifacts from a time seemingly lost to the school textbooks.
Visit my blog post on Barasoain Church to read more about our short trip.
Arriving at Our Road Trip Destination
We finally made it to Angeles, Pampanga around 3 in the afternoon. Even though it’s classified to be a provincial city, driving through the streets of Angeles reminded me so much of some areas in Manila with a seemingly organized chaos of people crossing, two-lane streets transforming into four lanes in an instant, and a throng of fast food chains lining either side of the streets.
Our first agenda after arriving to our road trip destination was to find our hotel to put down our things and rest for a bit before we go around Clark Freeport Zone where the hot air balloon festival was taking place. We called the hotel to ask for directions, and found it with no problem at all.
Staying at the Marquis Hotel
We booked our hotel for this road trip at the Marquis Hotel and Restaurant located just a few minutes away from the Clark Freeport Zone. The biggest challenge we had here was to find a parking slot since the hotel apparently didn’t have their own parking space. The guard told us that we could park right in front of the hotel.
When we were making our reservations, we had our eyes set on one of their suite rooms so that we can all fit into just one room. Unfortunately at that time, they told us that their suite rooms were completely booked and so we settled to get two standard rooms. When we went to inspect the rooms, we found one of them was quite large enough to fit all of us so we decided to just get that one instead of having two.
As we made our way towards the front desk, we got a lucky break. One of the housekeeping staff overheard our discussion with the lady from the front desk who was showing us around, and suggested to us to try and look at the room that he just finished cleaning. It was a suite room, the one that we had our eyes on when we first made our reservation. We rushed to the hotel’s front desk to see if it was still free. We couldn’t believe our luck when we found out that the room was available for our stay. It was perfect!
Not only did we have more than enough space to fit all of us comfortably. It had enough room for little Ice to run and play around.
Shopping for Essentials
After settling at our hotel, we headed inside Clark Freeport Zone to do some shopping for essentials. We decided to head over to Pure Gold Duty Free, which gave us the best of both worlds. For one thing, most of the stuff that you can get in any local grocery store in Philippine peso, and not in US Dollar. At the same time, since it’s a duty free store, we also managed to find a lot of really nice goodies, just like these dark chocolate M&M’s…
…and sugar-free Hershey’s chocolate bars.
For me and Erika, who are both avid food and chocolate lovers, these are definitely up on the list of essentials.
While unpacking, I discovered that I left my cap at home. Knowing that the sun can be quite hot during the hot air balloon festival, I hoped to find one that I can use when we head over the following day. After going through an assortment of different caps, I managed to find one that cost me P150 (approx. $3.57).
Dinner at the Everybody’s Cafe to End Day One of our Road Trip
Since we were in Pampanga, I figured the best place to head over for dinner was at the Everybody’s Cafe. It’s been a highly recommended restaurant to try while visiting Pampanga if you really want to sample the local fare. But that was not the only reason why the Everybody’s Cafe came to my mind. Brian had often remarked to me that he would eat anything that is served in front of him, so I decided to see if he’s really a man of his word.
The only problem was, we were in Angeles and the Everybody’s Cafe branch that I know was located in San Fernando, another major city in Pampanga. Given that we needed to sleep really early that night to make it to the hot air balloon festival the following day, I figured the traveling all that way for dinner isn’t really that practical.
Nevertheless, I decided to still call them to see just how far it was from where we were at. When I spoke to one of the staff members and told them that we were coming from Angeles, he suggested to me to head over to their branch right in the main city proper. That would definitely work for us. Told my friends about it, and got the consensus to head there for dinner, and it turned out to be a great way to end day one of our road trip to Pampanga.
Click here to read about my review on the Everybody’s Cafe.