After a couple of years of hearing about how great the Hot Air Balloon Festival at Clark, Pampanga was, I finally convinced Espie to come and spend part of Valentine’s Day at the event.
We left Manila early in the morning (around 6:30 am) and went to Clark, Pampanga via NLEX. We dropped by the Petron gas station for a quick breakfast and went on our way to Dau exit and drove towards Angeles City. We took a right turn into the Clark Freeport Zone passing by SM and straight towards our hotel. On our way to the hotel, we actually passed by the Army Field where the festival was being held and encountered some traffic. Other than that, it was smooth sailing all the way from Makati.
Not really minding our accommodations much, we took a chance and booked our overnight stay at the Oxford Hotel. We arrived at around 9:30am. My overall impression of it is a once grand hotel which has been poorly maintained. The exterior looked good enough and the lobby was very spacious but the rooms were another story. I think that at one point, it was quite a nice hotel but since then it has slowly started to deteriorate. Since I’m not posting a separate review about this, I’ll say it here. I think its about a 2.5/5. The carpets are stained, and the rooms are not well maintained with paint chipping off the walls. The pool could not be used and was full of dirty water. The restaurant is not appetizing at all. In our opinion, it only served the purpose of giving us a place to sleep for a night which was very close to the event site. It was also quite cheap at just PHP 3,000 per room per night with no limit on the number of guests which included breakfast for 2 pax. Our room had two queen-size beds. We would recommend it to those planning to attend the Hot Air Balloon Festival but if you plan on having a comfortable stay at Clark, you should try finding another place.
Anyway, enough about the hotel. We definitely got a bonus when we found the Duty Free shopping area, the big part of which is inside Puregold. This is located a little further than the Oxford Hotel and its easy to ask for directions at the lobby. It’s located very near to the McDonald’s outlet. First we were confused because of the Puregold sign but it turns out that this branch mostly carries duty free goods. We spent a good 1 to 2 hours walking around inside although most of what they had on stock was food items. We were able to buy things for the home as well and personal care products.
I didn’t expect that we would have so much difficulty in finding a good place to eat at for dinner. We tried areas near our hotel but didn’t find anything that appetizing or interesting. We ended up eating at SM where else? Being in Pampanga, we wanted to try Aling Lucing’s Sisig and so we did. I must say it was really a big disappointment. I didn’t like it at all. 😦 After the so-so dinner, we tried finding other places where we could hang out and we ended up at Fontana Leisure Park. Given that it was also the eve of Chinese New Year, there was some program underway and a few booths were set up for those who wanted to play some games. Again, we could not find a decent coffee shop so after playing a few rounds, we went back to the hotel. It was a pretty boring night. Before going to bed, we asked the kitchen to pack our breakfast so that we could leave at 4 am and be at the air field.
In the morning, we made our way to the site and we were greeted with a line of people who were trying to get a ticket to enter the grounds. We had already decided to pack a blanket where we could sit on because we knew there were no chairs or tables. Inside the grounds you could see small planes and lots of booths. There were already a lot of people inside even though it was still dark. Some even brought tents.
Before long, we saw several vehicles go into the exhibition field (which was separated from the area for the spectators by a fence). They unloaded their gear and started inflating the balloons. They started the event with an exhibition from skydivers who carried with them the Philippine Flag.
It didn’t take long for the balloons to be inflated. There was probably around 50 of them all around the field. Most were of the typical shape but there were also some unconventional shapes like the barn (my favorite), sun, beer and turtle. The place was jam-packed with people and since it was still early morning, it wasn’t hot. Pretty soon we didn’t even have to strain to see the balloons because they were all so big.
There were also some other aerial demonstrations by para-gliders and some bicycle contraption attached to a glider as well. They were zooming above the crowd. There were also small planes performing some aerial acrobatics. They served to catch the spectator’s attention while the balloons were getting ready to fly. It took maybe an hour before the finally left the ground and not all at the same time.
We stayed until the balloons landed. Turns out they have no control over direction and before long the wind brought them back to the field. At that point, we decided to explore the other event attractions. This turned out to be an exhibit of the Philippine Navy, Army, Coastguard and Air-force. People could have their pictures taken while holding rifles/guns, bazookas etc., as well as in their vehicles, choppers and such.
After we had gotten our fill, we looked around the booths but by then it was TOO HOT! So we decided to pack up and leave. Leaving turned out to be more difficult because there were already a lot of cars falling in line to leave the very dusty parking area. But we really enjoyed the experience. After getting to the hotel we rested some more before checking out and trying to find a decent place to eat in Angeles or Dau. Alas! We still could not find any interesting local restaurant. We ended up eating at the gas station along NLEX. Believe it or not, we ate sisig again.. and this time it was a lot more delicious at Razon’s. 🙂