How to get around in the Philippines?

  Chapter 

Domestic flights

  • Short-haul, domestic flight are increasing in popularity, especially with the rise of low-cost airlines.

By train

  • The last functioning railway in the country – the Bicol Express between Manilla and Naga in southeast Luzon – is now suspended indefinitely and the southbound trains only run to the Laguna Province.

By bus

  • Buses are the most diverse public transport group and come in many shapes and sizes. From air conditioned minivans to jeepneys (elongated jeeps often painted in bright colours and abundant in cities) and run down buses to luxury multi-seaters, you will find a bus that suits your need. Even though there are traditional bus stops, they can also be flagged down at non designated stops.
  • Bus terminals are as diverse as the buses itself. They can be well organised hubs with well displayed departure schedules and tickets booths but don’t be surprised to find a bus terminal which is simply a collections of old shacks and some hopeful drivers competing for your trade.
  • Minivans have mostly taken over from regular buses. They’re usually quicker than regular buses but also more expensive. They work on a ‘depart when full’ bases but as ‘full’ is a multi-interpretable term, they can get quite crowded.

By boat

  • As the Philippines is made up of numerous islands, the boat is a common and frequently used mode of transport. Like buses, they come in all shapes and sizes.
  • Be prepared for changes in your itinerary as adverse weather can cause delays or cancelations and throw your schedule into disarray.
  • Ferries tend to get overloaded so pay attention when boarding and if it looks uncomfortably full, you may want to wait until the next ferry.

By taxi

  • Taxis can be a relatively cheap alternative. Always check if the meter’s on and actually working or else your fare could be an unpleasant surprise.
  • Renting a taxi including driver for the day – preferably through a hotel or someone you trust – is another option and, if agreed beforehand, can be a reasonably priced way of discovering the country through the eyes of a local.

By car

  • Renting a car is not advised as traffic is mayhem and very far removed from what you’re probably used to. Be very careful if you do choose to rent a car and don’t expect people to observe standard traffic rules. Drive defensively and expect the unexpected. Avoid driving at night and in busy cities, especially Manila.
  • Your driving licence is technically valid for a 90-day rental period but some car-hire companies will still insist you have an International Driving Permit to hire a car.
  • Third party car insurance is mandatory.

By bicycle

  • Bicycles are a popular exploration choice on smaller islands or in more remote areas. Bike rental shops are easily found. Do check your bike’s brakes and other essentials before hitting the road proper. And remember: the cheaper the bicycle, the shoddier the quality.

Local transport

  • The tricycle is the Philippine version of the Southeast Asian Rickshaw. It’s a little car with a roof attached to a motorcycle. Prices differ hugely so always check and agree on a price before stepping aboard. Tricycles can also be hired for longer periods such as day tours. Again, agree on a price beforehand.
  • Another alternative are Pedicabs, simple pushbikes with a cart dragging behind, also known as put-puts or padyaks.
  • Kalesas or Tartanillas are small, two-wheeled horse drawn carriages found in Manila’s Chinatown, Intramuros, Vigan and Cebu City.
  • Quite the intimate option is jumping on the back of a Habal-Habal. Basically a motorcycle with an extended seat. The rough translation of Habal-Habal is ‘copulating pigs’, for the close proximity between you and the driver. Things get especially intimate if you decide to jump on with up to four people, a not uncommon sight.

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