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Getting Around Philippines

Posted by on Dec 9th, 2009
Filed Under: Walkabout Pinas

Tourism Philippines Walkabout Pinas ColumnistThe experience of travel around the Philippines can come in a variety of forms. It can be mundane and as easy as can be; it can be an adventure and quite frightening at times; or it can be completely confusing and stressful. There are so many ways to get around this country and here is a guide to the different forms of transportation you may come across.


Philippines Transport Yellow Airport Taxi

Yellow Airport Taxi
Photo by Scott Allford

For anyone arriving at Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) the first form of transport you’re going to encounter is the taxi. I have been recently told that all terminals at the airport now have yellow airport taxis. These are your best bet to get to your destination without any hassles. They are a bit more expensive than the normal white taxis, but I have never had the slightest problem with them.

Also at NAIA, you can organise a car and driver through Avis for about US$15 to take you anywhere.

When it comes to the standard white taxi, many of the drivers (especially from the airport or near clubs on Fridays and Saturdays) don’t like to use the meter. Many white taxi drivers at the airport will show you an official looking card with expensive prices to different destinations in the city, such as US$40 to Greenhills. This is a scam. They should use the meter at all times. Using the meter the trip from the airport should cost between US$3 and US$5 depending on traffic. In general, if a taxi driver doesn’t want to use the meter then you’re getting ripped off. In that case, get out of the taxi and get another one. This is what we did in Cagayan De Oro in Mindanao recently, when the driver wanted to charge us double. As soon as we stepped out of the taxi, another one came and charged the right price. However, when it comes to taxis only the major cities have them. So in most of the provinces you’ll have to find other means of getting around.


Philippines Transport Waiting for the MRT

Waiting for the MRT
Photo by Scott Allford

The easiest and cheapest way to get around Manila is by taking the MRT or LRT. There are 3 lines to choose from. The LRT 1 currently runs from Baclaran Station, Pasay City up to Monumento Station, Caloocan City. The LRT 1 is the oldest and dirtiest of the lines. Next is the LRT 2 which runs from Recto Station, Quiapo (just near the D. Jose Station for the LRT 1) out to Santolan Station, Marikina City. These carriages are the largest, cleanest, and newest of the three lines. Lastly is the MRT, which goes from Taft Ave, Pasay City (near the EDSA station of the LRT 1) up to North Ave, Quezon City. Living in Makati this is the one I take most of the time. Be warned that during peak times the carriages will be full to overflowing with hot and sweaty commuters. On all lines I’m always cautious and keep a constant watch on all my valuables. To get across the city on any of these lines should cost less than US$0.50. You can get single trip tickets or stored value tickets of up to 100 PHP from the customer service windows at each station. Construction is currently underway to extend both the LRT 1 and MRT lines.


Philippines Transport A standard Manila bus

A standard Manila bus
Photo by Scott Allford

In the Philippines you can get a bus from anywhere to anywhere. In the cities buses ply routes along all of the major roads. However, you should always ask locals about the best bus to take first, as in one instance I encountered a conductor who didn’t speak any English. That said, most conductors do speak English and will be able to give you information on getting to your destination. With buses in the Philippines you get on the bus and then after sitting down, the conductor will come and ask you where you are going and you will pay him/her. Most bus journeys are cheap, less than US$1 around the city and under US$20 for most long distance trips. You can even catch buses from Manila to Mindanao. Philippines buses are either air conditioned to the extreme (bring a jacket for longer trips), or not air conditioned unless you consider opening the window air conditioning. For the latter, trips are usually much cheaper, however long trips in hot weather can be quite uncomfortable. Please see the list of bus companies on this site for more information on Philippine buses.


Philippines Transport A Batanes jeepney

A Batanes jeepney
Photo by Scott Allford

The most common form of transport and a national icon of the Philippines is the jeepney or jeep. They are actually relics of the vehicles used by American forces during the Second World War. You can also visit the Sarao Jeepney Factory in Las Piñas, which is actually quite interesting. All over the country you can wait by the side of any major road and eventually one will come along. Some useful language for jeepney travel is “Bayad po.” meaning “Here’s my fare.” and “Para po.” meaning “Please stop.” A basic jeepney fare is currently 7 pesos (under US$0.20), however for longer trips will cost more. Such as the one we did from Manila to Tanay, Rizal which cost 55 pesos (a little over US$1). On longer trips like these, passengers and drivers are usually very helpful with giving directions and tips on where to find of the beaten track sights. Beware that in some places jeepneys are not allowed to stop yet the drivers will slow down a little and encourage you to get on. One rainy day I took a bit of a fall and cut my leg open because the driver accelerated just as I had grabbed onto the back of the jeepney. Jeepneys hold 8 or more people depending on the size of the vehicle and usually they will be loaded to their maximum capacity before undertaking a journey. In Makati City they have recently introduced E-jeepneys, which run entirely on electric power, however I haven’t had the chance to ride one yet.


Philippines Transport A tricycle in Tabilaran, Bohol

A tricycle in Tabilaran, Bohol
Photo by Scott Allford

In most provinces and cities in the Philippines, tricycles are the main form of public transport. They’re a motorcycle with an attached and covered sidecar and they vary in shape and size. The ones in Kalibo in Aklan, Tagbilaran in Bohol, and Tanay in Rizal are the more spacious versions I have encountered and the ones in San Fernando in Pampanga are the smallest I’ve been in so far. Always be careful of hitting your head on the roof when going over bumps. Tricycles are cheaper than a taxi but way more expensive than jeepneys or buses. Before riding a tricycle always try and ask a local about how much you should pay as prices can jump for non-locals. Also be aware that if you board a tricycle to cross flood waters you should expect the price to double or triple. In Manila and some of the provinces you will also find the pedal powered version of the tricycle.


Philippines Transport Big bangkas in Guijalo, Caramoan Peninsula, Camarines Sur

Big bangkas in Guijalo, Caramoan Peninsula, Camarines Sur
Photo by Scott Allford

Being and archipelago of 7,107 islands, travelling in the Philippines means that at some point you will have to travel by sea. For island hopping tours and getting from island to island in general, the most common form of transport is the Bangka. These vary in size from the big ones in the above picture which seat 30-40 people to tiny ones that barely seat 4 people, 5 if the boatman stands up the whole time. In the more popular tourist destinations an island hopping trip by Bangka can cost up to 2,000 pesos (about US$45). But for general transport between islands such as between Caticlan and Boracay the fare is very small. Be advised that in some destinations boatmen will always say that it is safe to travel even if it isn’t. Going from Pundaquit to Anawangin Cove in Zambales the waves were more than twice the height of us in our tiny 4 seater Bangka yet it wasn’t until we made it back to Pundaquit that our boatman admitted it was really dangerous. We’ve also heard of many bangkas capsizing on the crossing from Batangas to Puerto Galera, so if you don’t think it’s safe then go with your gut and wait for the waves to calm down. That said, the boatmen in Batanes will tell you if the sea is too rough as they really know the sea and I fully trusted in their ability to get us from port to port.


Philippines Transport The smallest plane I’ve ever flown in. El Nido, Palwan

The smallest plane I’ve ever flown in. El Nido, Palawan
Photo by Scott Allford

There are a few airlines flying within the Philippines. Philippine Airlines is the premiere airline and usually the more expensive one. They also operate PAL Express which uses smaller planes and charges less for fares and their other budget airline Air Philippines. Cebu Pacific flies to most destinations and is pretty cheap, but they have a very poor customer service (I’ve been waiting 18 months for a refund from them) and in my experience are late most of the time. SEAIR have older planes and are pretty expensive but they fly to more exotic destinations which are off the usual tourist trail. Zest Airways (Formerly Asian Spirit) had 2 minor accidents in Caticlan this year but apart from that are usually the cheapest. There are also numerous small airlines that fly specific routes such as Island Trans-voyager who fly from Manila to El Nido, but usually flights are quite pricey.

Motorellas, Multicabs, Hubal-hubal, and Vans

Philippines Transport A motorella at Benoni Port, Camiguin

A motorella at Benoni Port, Camiguin
Photo by Scott Allford

In Mindanao, or specifically in the island province of Camiguin you will find the motorella. In many ways it is similar to a Thai tuk-tuk. Seating 8-10 people they are a convenient mode of transport. However, in Camiguin most forms of transport are reasonably expensive and the motorella is no exception to this. Many popular destinations also have multicabs which are like small trucks or vans with open backs. They can be hired for a day tour and are also used by many resorts such as those in Boracay away from White Beach to transport guests from the hotel to D Mall. We also rode the multicabs around Manolo Fortich in Bukidnon.

A hubal-hubal is simply a motorbike or scooter. They are a reasonably cheap form of transport for 2-3 people (including driver), however I prefer to have a bit more metal protecting me from sliding down the road in the case of an accident, so I only use them if there is no other choice.

Lastly , there are vans which run between many cities and to popular destinations all over the country. To hire a van exclusively is usually one of the most expensive ways to travel. However, travelling in a public van from Naga City to Sabang in Camarines Sur only cost 90 pesos (about US$2) for a 1.5 hour trip.

As you can see there is a multitude of ways to get from point A to point B in the Philippines. And while many of your trips will be simple, from time to time you may be able to get to experience weaving through traffic in a jeep, flying down the national highway in a topless tricycle (Korong-korong as it is called in Ilocos Norte), or just sitting back to a Filipino romance flick on a long bus trip. Just remember to be prepared to be patient and always plan ahead so you have an idea of where you are going or at least bring a map. Lastly, while travelling around the country, don’t be afraid to talk to locals travelling with you who are usually more than happy to help with directions or give you some useful travel tips.

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Scott M. Allford has lived and worked in Australia and South Korea and has travelled extensively throughout Asia- Mongolia, China, Tibet, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and Japan – fell in love with the Philippines and decided to allocate at least two years to comprehensively cover the country. Learn more about me [+]

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