While Perth was sleeping

Philippine Airlines now flies nonstop to Western Australia, the capital of me-time

At a glance

  • I was privileged to serve as the pilot in command of the first Manila-Perth crew, and I assure you we had a happy landing at Perth Airport with a full load of passengers on board. —Stanley K. Ng

PERTH AFTER DARK The Australians are the earliest in the world to call it a day and also the earliest to wake up in the morning

We took off at 12:05 a.m., just when Manila’s legendary nightlife was starting to heat up, and landed shortly after dawn in Perth, roughly 20 minutes after the average Perthling rises from bed.

40 minutes ahead of schedule

It’s historic on many levels. Number one, it was the inaugural flight of our national carrier, Philippine Airlines (PAL), to Perth, its newest direct route to Australia, after Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Number two, the maiden flight PR 223, on an Airbus 321 (A321) Neo, was piloted by no less than PAL president and chief operating officer Stanley K. Ng, assisted by a crew of three pilots and six flight attendants. Number three, our plane landed in Perth in Western Australia (WA) about 40 minutes ahead of schedule.
HISTORIC WELCOME Philippine Airlines Flight PR 223 touched down in Perth at 6:36 a.m. (local time) on March 27, 2023 after a flying time of six hours and 26 minutes from Manila

Our envoy in Canberra, Ambassador Hellen de la Vega, who flew into the WA capital to welcome the PAL breakthrough flight, was awed by how quickly we made it to Australia. We, a full load of passengers on board the first nonstop to Perth from Manila, she said, were probably the first Filipinos to have made the journey Down Under in just over six hours. Although he also flew the plane President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. rode to the ASEAN Summit in Cambodia in November 2022, Captain Stan, as Stanley is called, a pilot by profession and once upon a time PAL operations chief experienced in flying the A321, considers this mid-haul flight to Perth his return to the cockpit since assuming the PAL presidency. “I assure you,” beamed the 42-year-old pilot upon arrival at Perth International Airport, “we had a happy landing.”

LILIBETH'S TREE The author by the River Red Gum tree (Eucalyptus Camaldulensis) at King's Park in WA. was planted by the late Queen Elizabeth II on March 27, 1954, the day Philippine Airlines' PR 223 made its maiden flight from Manila to Perth and back 69 years later

Heriberto Zarcal, a prominent pearl merchant, watchmaker, goldsmith, and optician in northern Australia, might have been jealous. A jeweler in Santa Cruz, Manila and a known supporter of the Philippine revolution, he was part of the wave of Filipino liberals who left the country in the aftermath of the failed Cavite mutiny of 1872. While some of his contemporaries, particularly those like him, who had close ties with Emilio Aguinaldo, were deported to Guam and the Marianas and others still self-exiled to Hong Kong, Zarcal chose to move to Australia, arriving on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait in May 1892, where eventually he became “one of only five men licensed to deal in pearls… with his own fleet of pearling vehicles,” according to an essay Filipino historian Reynaldo Ileto wrote in 1993 on Philippine-Australian interactions in the late 1800s. I have no doubt, though I couldn’t find a detailed account, that Zarcal’s journey to Australia had been long and arduous, whereas I slept soundly and comfortably through mine, after a midnight dinner of filet mignon, French beans, and mashed potatoes, followed by on-air movie Escape from Mogadishu, South Korea’s answer to 2012’s historical drama thriller Argo.

300 DAYS OF SUNSHINE The sunny Bathers Beach, a small, 300-meter strip of white sand on the Indian Ocean in Fremantle

Midnight to daybreak

This seven-hour route between Manila and Perth, which PAL now services three times weekly, every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday, save travelers up to six hours in travel time compared to flying via other airline routes that require a stopover and flight connections in a third country.

Historic, indeed! In a nutshell, Manila at midnight to daybreak in Perth in under seven hours! On board this record-breaking flight were dignitaries like Department of Science and Technology Secretary Renato Solidum Jr., Department of Environment and Natural Resources undersecretary Juan Miguel Cuna, Department of Tourism undersecretary Mae Elaine Bathan, and Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Hae Kyong Yu.

CEREMONIAL TOAST At a gala dinner at Westin Perth officially welcoming Philippine Airlines (PAL) in WA were PAL leaders and government officials, from left: PAL director David Ong, Ian Fergus Murphy, Lucio Tan Group Inc. director Mary Ng, Irene Tan, acting Perth airport CEO Kate Holsgrove, Philippine Ambassador to Australia Hellen de la Vega, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines Hae Kyong Yu, Capt. Stanley K. Ng, Department of Environment and Resources undersecretary Juan Miguel Cuna, Department of Tourism undersecretary Mae Elaine Bathan, Department of Science and Technology Secretary Renato Solidum, Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines director general Captain Manuel Antonio Tamayo, and PAL SVP and general counsel Carlu Fernandez

Perth is a happy, shiny city, envied by many for its 300 days of sunshine a year. I’d like to think that it is also the capital of work-life balance. In the few days I was there, I had encountered on more than enough occasions a reminder that I could not rush anybody—say, a bartender at a bar or a waiter at a restaurant—the way I could in Hong Kong, Bangkok, or Manila.

SITTING PRETTY The iconic 'Bella' sculpture on her bench near Bathers Beach House on Mews Road in Fremantle, where she was once stolen and subsequently returned. The work was by the renowned local studio gallery Greg James Sculpture

Work-life balance is also among the reasons most establishments close early. In some areas, such as at the heart of Perth, some stores close at five and, if you are in town on a Friday to do business, keep in mind that the weekend vibe starts by the time the lunch hour is up, so good luck!

GREAT EXPECTATIONS A kangaroo and her joey peeking out of a pouch in her belly at the Caversham Wildlife Park

Precious commodities

One other thing to take note of is that in Perth—with the exception of King Street, lined with heritage buildings housing global shopping icons like Gucci, and Raine Square, which has poached Louis Vuitton and Chanel from King Street—the bigger, more interesting stores aren’t in the city center, they are mostly in the suburbs, such as the Port of Fremantle, a half-hour drive from Perth’s Central Business District (CBD), or the beachy, laidback Cottesloe, also half an hour away from the CBD. Nature and the outdoors are a precious commodity in WA.

Even more precious is time. Like I said, just as they are the earliest to sleep, tucking in for the night on average at 10:45 p.m., more than an hour earlier than the Spanish nightowl, the Australians are also the world’s earliest risers.

AVIAN PARADISE Like time, nature is prime commodity in WA and animal sanctuaries, like the Caversham Wildlife Park, thrive in it

I arranged to go for a night on the town with my friend Nikki Mercado, Manila Bulletin advertising chief in her former life, and I was surprised that the night started too early. Well, we wanted to make the most of our one night together in Perth, where personal time is a big deal, which is why service is paid for dearly per hour. No wonder it’s costly to keep establishments open late into the night.

NIGHTOWLS IN THE CITY OF EARLY BIRDS The author with old friend Nikki Mercado, now a Perth insider, at the famous waterfront bar The Lucky Shag on the Swan River

So yes, our nightout started at half past the unheard-of hour of four in the arvo, the Perth word for afternoon. I’m thankful that my friend, one of 46,000 Filipinos and Australians with Filipino descent living in WA, is by now a Perth insider enough to make sure not a single second was waster.

Capital of work-life balance

We started with some Merlot at The Wine Merchant at the iconic State Buildings’ Postal Hall on Perth’s Point Zero, which has been the city’s cultural and social hub since 1875.
FAST PLANE No less than Philippine Airlines president and COO Stanley K. Ng was the pilot in command of the Airbus 321 Neo that made the historic flight, PR 223, from Manila to Perth in less than seven hours

From there, we took a leisurely walk to the Swan River, stopping for aperol spritz at the waterfront bar The Lucky Shag, and then again, with autumn winds requiring jackets, we took yet another pleasant walk to dinner at Six Senses on Elizabeth Quay, but not before stopping by a “bottle shop,” what Australians call a liquor store, to get ourselves two bottles of Pinot Noir.

Many restaurants in Perth have a BYO (Bring Your Own) wine policy, as some of them do not have liquor licenses. In some, BYO is only allowed if you’re having a proper meal, not just snacks or even cheese. Six Senses closes at nine and the mostly Asian staff are strict about it, so by five minutes past nine, one of them practically shooed us away. We had one more bottle to finish so we walked yet again back to my hotel, the Westin Perth, where we drank it until 2:30 a.m. So there, proper night life for me, even in Perth!

In Perth, I learned to take my time and also to make the most of it. Maybe this is why Captain Stan flew us in 40 minutes ahead of schedule. I do think Perth has much to teach me about living. Aside from work-life balance, it is the capital of me-time.