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Manila, Philippines by AsiaRoom and Keys.me

Traveling around the Philippines will be safer and more fun if you know what to ride, and how. Here’s the lowdown on the basic major transportation available now.


Nothing is more empowering for a traveler than having the ability to master the public transportation system of a new city he or she is currently conquering -- or at least being very familiar with some of them during your visit. While travel guidebooks and tourism websites will give you the basics, there’s nothing like a more practical lowdown from someone on the ground. Here’s my input.


Jeepney: King of the Road


There’s a good and bad reason why the jeepney, a World War II relic-turned-pop culture artifact, is called King of the Road: it’s a great symbol of Filipino ingenuity and artistry but it also means you better stay the hell away from the road when you see one speeding by. So naturally, when you’re riding one, better get a grip on the handles on the ceiling as they could really get fast and furious. You can flag down one or look for designated stopovers/waiting sheds on the side of streets and wait for one to stop there.


It’s still the cheapest form of public transportation (currently 7-8 Philippine pesos basic fare or 14 US cents equivalent) and it’s visible in many places in the country, usually available 24/7 but lesser ply at night. It has a fluctuating rate depending on the kilometers traveled and it has fixed routes, so you won’t get lost riding one. You just need to see its destination targets and the routes they ply posted on the jeepney’s sides and front window. You can also request the driver to alert you when you’re near or already in your destination. Drivers are usually safe to talk to; it’s your fellow passengers you need to be wary of, since there are pickpockets and scam artists who sometimes victimize passengers with numerous creative schemes. But most of the general populace you will ride with will be nicer than these scam artists, so you can politely ask kinder-looking passengers if you get lost. We’re known for our hospitality, too, so better take advantage of it.


When going down, you pull a string to stop if there’s one on the ceiling, or knock once on the ceiling and/or say “Para!” (pronounced like “para” in parachute) meaning “stop.” In some provinces, jeepneys are loaded to the hilt as they allow passengers on top of the roof. Yes, on top, outside, as some rural areas have limited scheduled jeepney rides only. In mountain provinces, they allow tourists to ride this way, but after 10 minutes of this, your butt will definitely hate you, so just be careful.


Taxi tall tales


Unlike jeepneys, taxis could take you anywhere because they have no fixed routes to ply. So when a driver tells you that you have to pay extra because the destination is “out of their way” or “too far,” get another one. Manila taxi drivers are notorious for jacking up fares and not putting down the meter for it (we locals get victimized, too), and it’s worse if they know you’re a foreigner (sorry about that). These past years, taxi-ordering apps became popular due to these limitations of ordinary taxis. Better download one to have a safer and surer ride. We highly recommend GrabTaxi or their other car services. If you are used to using Uber car services, it’s also available here in the country but only if you have a credit card and it’s a bit more expensive.


When traveling in different parts of the Philippines, sorry to say that there are no taxi services in some areas except for larger metro cities like Cebu, Davao, Baguio and the like. Some cities like Olongapo have a scant taxi system that operates differently, and be careful overall of what we call “colorum” taxis or those vehicles that ply without an official transport franchise.


Bus boom


Another reliable transportation system is the bus. Regular citywide ones ply through various major thoroughfares and they’re there 24/7. But they could be slower to take off since some drivers wait for minutes in order to load more passengers (and the wait can be like 5-20 minutes!). There are two kinds here: the airconditioned one (closed windows) which is a bit pricier than the other kind, the non-aircon one (open windows), with basic fares falling under one US dollar. Drivers have the tendency to overload the bus and let people stand on the aisle when seats are filled, especially during rush hour. But for province-bound buses, there’s no standing allowed and you have to purchase a ticket beforehand. If you have long legs, though, the seats might be a bit cramped for you, so better stay at the back where the seats are cozier a bit for legroom. And those scam artists present in jeepneys are also present in some buses. Best to exercise caution at all times, anyway.


Manila Trains


Trains of thought


Metro Manila only has three train systems (MRT, LRT1 and LRT2) that travel both aboveground and underground, and each plies through one major national road only, with intersecting stations at some points. If you’re used to subway systems in North America or Europe, our trains here are not designed like those subway trains since the seats here are all side benches, with a lot of loops or bar handles to hold on to if you prefer standing during the ride. Our trains are closer to other Asian systems’ designs, like the ones in Bangkok.


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4/25/2019    208    
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Shauna Pugh

Shauna Pugh, living and working in SE Asia for 18 years, growing up in the travel industry the passion grew. the knowledge of a well seasoned traveler and travel industry Expert.