Planes, Trains, and Automobiles… How I travel the Philippines

To get a glimpse into the culture and life in the Philippines, I decided to give a 3 part cultural tour. The first part I have shown the local cuisine, and so part two, I will dedicate to transportation. Planes, trains, and automobiles should be a good title for this blog but it doesn’t quite fit within the Philippines modes of transportation. Here is why…..

Jeepneys are the prime mode of transportation around town. These are as they say “More fun in the Philippines.” After World War II, the Americans left a large number of vehicles, jeeps in particular, behind. The Filipinos then adapted these jeeps into extended vehicles designed to transport between 14 and 25 people at any given time on 2 long benches running down each side. The fun thing with jeepneys is that no 2 are the same. Each one is built to its own unique specifications, sizes, and most certainly decoration. You will see plain metallic jeepneys all the way to full murals painted on the sides, and even insides. There is a saying that goes along with jeepneys, “there is always room for one more.” So when you hop in, be prepared to wait because it won’t leave until it’s full, and full means crammed in. Not to mention, there are three different types of riders, your standard riders, sitting inside the jeepneys, back riders who stand on the back board holding on, and your top riders who jump on the roof and ride. Rest assured, Peace Corps volunteers are banned from riding in the last two styles.

Buses are the most common form of transport, at least for Luzon, for long distances. There are 3 main carriers in Northern Luzon: Genesis, Partas, and Victory Liner. Between these three you can get almost anywhere from Baguio around the mainland. But you also have a large variety of options when riding a bus. There is your first class bus: extra leg room, air conditioned, and seats that nearly recline into beds—but obviously, the most expensive. Then you have the Standard bus, pretty much similar to any charter bus you will find in America, air conditioned but less leg room and seats that don’t recline quite as far. Finally, you have your open air buses. These are non-air conditioned buses where the only cooling is via open windows. The seats usually don’t recline and are close together. Here you will typically find two seats on either side of the aisle and another folding seat down the middle of the aisle. Many trips on the open air buses you will have some friendly company, in terms of chickens, cats, dogs, or other animals. But, if cheap or an experience is the way you like to travel then the open air bus is the way to go.

Taxis are the number 2 way of getting around larger towns like Baguio and Manila. They aren’t as commonly found in smaller areas but not unheard of. OK, there isn’t really much different here from an American or European taxi. They are metered and start at Php35. An average trip in Baguio will run you somewhere between Php50 to 100 depending on the number of kilometers you travel.

Trikes are motorcycles with a side car. They are non-existent in Baguio for two reasons: 1. It is a mountain town and the trikes cannot make it up the hills; 2. The city government banned trikes from the town proper in an effort to ease congestion and traffic through the main streets. However, where taxis are non-existent in many more rural villages, trikes have filled the void as the main form of transportation (outside of jeepneys). Motorcycles are another very common form of transportation for locals, however it is banned for Peace Corps volunteers to ride them, so I decided not to mention too much about them here.

Walking is something not many Filipinos, in my experience, like to do. There seems to be an element of shock and awe when I mention that I may walk an extended distance. Motorized transport seems to be preferred. But I seem to find myself walking significant distances around Baguio, as it is a very friendly (though hilly) walking city. With plenty of sidewalks and overpasses, avoiding traffic can be relatively easy and there are some nice parks to stroll through in the process. Catch a glimpse of the street merchandise or awe over the fresh street vegetables and fruits, it completes the walk.

Ferries are one of the most popular forms of getting between islands. They are, from what I have seen and heard, very similar to any other ferry you will take. It is possible to take a bus across the entirety of the Philippines by simply driving onto ferries and then across the next island to another waiting ferry… granted this will take you somewhere near a week to complete. But, be warned of Peace Corps Rule Number 1 on boats: you must have your Peace Corps issued life jacket with you at all times.

Getting Directions and Street Names is one challenge within the Philippines. Not many streets are labeled with names so most directions given will relate to directions first and foremost. “Go to the green house at the corner and turn left, then turn right at the bakery and it’s the yellow building on the left.” Otherwise, directions can be given by barangay (or neighborhood) name. For example, Baguio has 129 barangays. Often directions will include the barangay name and then the landmark near your destination. It’s a challenge you learn to navigate once you’ve been in a place long enough. But, rest assured, Filipinos are some of the nicest and most helpful people so if you ever get lost, they will be sure to assist you in finding your way and making sure you get there safely and successfully.    


4 thoughts on “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles… How I travel the Philippines

  1. Great post, Ben. How do you find the taxi fares compare with average income in the Philippines? Cabs are almost double in price in Tokyo as compared to London for instance, and I don’t think the income difference is that high. So, while a Php50-100 fare seems very cheap to me, what does the average Philippine think of this?

    1. Scott, Great question. I would say that many Filipinos can afford taxis, they are fairly relatively priced for the income. To put it in perspective, an extremely impoverished family will survive on between Php150 to Php250 a day. So I would say it fits relative to the overall income level. From my observation, they are most widely used when people purchase groceries and use it for the return trip home, but not on a regular everyday basis.

  2. Hey Ben, I just returned from 2 weeks in India, where walking can get you killed! That’s because our drivers told us that if you have to choose between a cow and a person, hit the person! I loved your post. Thanks so much!

    1. Hey Libby, I would believe that. I know the cow is one of, if not the most sacred animal in India so it does not surprise me at all they would choose the person. Thankfully, there aren’t sacred animals, or at least to the degree of the cow in India, so it is a bit safer to walk here…..but can still be dangerous nonetheless.

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