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Public transports and travelling in the Philippines

We are lucky enough to have had the opportunity to travel quite much around the Philippine archipelago. So many modes of transport to choose from (but sometimes you just have no choice at all). Buses, vans, jeepneys, taxis, scooters, tricycles, boats, ships, planes… we’ve tried them all.

Travelling is our passion. We don’t see the destination as the goal, but the journey itself is what forms a big part of the wanderlusting experience. But along with the territory comes the pleasant and the not so pleasant experiences one encounters when travelling.

Jeepney waiting for passengers. No timetable.
Jeepney waiting for passengers. No timetable.

The following are my personal pros and cons about travelling in the Philippines:

PROS/Good Experiences

Sceneries and Landscapes. There is so much to see when you travel here. A country with a 36,289 km coastline, surrounded by forests and jungles sure gives you beautiful landscapes along the way. The urban areas also provide you with many interesting sights.

We always choose the front seats of buses and vans to make sure we get the best view of the sceneries unfolding before us. Even if it means that we have to wait for another hour for the next bus just so we could sit in front. There is a practical reason for this too, we want to avoid motion sickness, especially on the bumpy and curvy Philippine roads.

Last, but not the least, there is enough time to sleep at our destinations anyway, so we endeavor not to miss out on the journey itself.

These yellow Ceres-buses are the most convenient public transports for long distance travel on Cebu Island. No reservations needed, tickets inside the bus.
These yellow Ceres-buses are the most convenient public transports for long distance travel on Cebu Island. No reservations needed, tickets inside the bus.

Low Travel Costs. Travelling in the Philippines is very cheap compared to Europe. As an example: A 110km air conditioned bus ride (with TV, and wi-fi) in the Philippines costs ₱160 (around 2,50€) while the same 110km heated bus ride in Finland cost 24€ . A 14km taxi ride in the Philippines cost around ₱180 (around 2,90€) while in Finland it would cost around 30€.

Approaching new adventures. There are many airlines to choose from for domestic flights (like for example Tiger Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airline). Many of these airlines have regular promos that make it possible to book a cheap flight.
Approaching new adventures. There are many airlines to choose from for domestic flights (like for example Tiger Air, Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines). Many of these airlines have regular promos that make it possible to book a cheap flight.

Befriending Local People. Everybody knows that when you travel you get to meet people. Filipino people are, in general, very open, helpful, and friendly. They are curious where you come from and why you’re in the Philippines. So within a short time, you would have met many new people. It is so easy to feel included in the social life here.

Tricycles in their very different forms and styles. This one is from Bantayan Island.
Tricycles in their very different forms and styles. This one is from Bantayan Island.

Almost everybody speaks English. Almost everybody here speaks English. Young and old. There is no need to ask “Do you speak English?”. People here have English as one of their, officially unofficial, mother tongue. (English is also the teaching language in schools.) It sure makes travelling easier. And for all non-English speakers, try this.

The adventures and new experiences. I can describe travelling in the Philippines only as one big adventure. Expect the unexpected! Not one bus ride is the same as the next. Not one boat ride can be compared to the other. My list of new experiences while travelling in the Philippines is long and will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Even 8 months in, living in the Philippines, not a day passes by with me not staring with mouth and eyes wide open at some situations that causes culture shock for me (for example, it is totally common here to take your pig on a public transport, or, it is so normal to see 5-6 people riding on one scooter that’s called habal-habal, meaning humping-humping).

Something we see every day. People riding on the top deck in order to give space for other passengers.
Something we see every day. People riding on the top deck in order to give space for other passengers.

CONS/Negative Experiences

Disorganised/Chaos. These words might seem harsh, but to be honest, that’s how I would describe most of the public transport and travel situations here. Most of the times, there seems to be no system, many people don’t know where, when, or if the public transport is leaving. It seems everybody just relies on “it will happen…we just don’t know when or where…”.

There are no signs, or people guiding you. When there is delay there wouldn’t be any announcements. (Like what happened to us at Puerto Princesa International Airport with Philippine Airlines).

When a bus arrives and a big amount of people is waiting, it can happen that they won’t fall in line. Everybody just rushes in, pushing and scrambling to find their preferred seats.

Also it seems that highway lanes are just general guidelines. Especially in bigger cities it is very common to see a two-lane street turning into 4-5 lanes. But then again, it seems that it’s only me who notices these things. Arthur doesn’t notice these things, nor does it elicit any reaction from him. So this means that, maybe, it’s only me who’s bothered by it. It is a part of the Filipino culture to just go with the flow and to relax… so I am still learning.

Jeepneys and buses are usually fully loaded. Inside as well as on top.
Jeepneys and buses are usually fully loaded. Inside as well as on top.

Overloading. Ok, in many situations overloading seems to be the norm. People find any space within the vehicle to sit: on top of the vehicle, hanging at the side with only one foot on the vehicle, on the floor, on the left side of the driver, on the bumper, on top of each other… the list is endless.

Buses, jeepneys, and tricycles are mostly overloaded with passengers and cargos alike, especially in rush hours.

Tricycle overloaded with students.
Tricycle overloaded with students.

The Heat. The heat is probably the biggest reason why travelling in the Philippines is so exhausting. Many people underestimate the intensity of the noon sun so close to the equator. It drains all power out of you and the best thing to do is to move as little as possible and find a shade; or better yet, find an air conditioned place and wait out the noon heat.

That’s why we always aim to travel early mornings (leaving at around 4:00am/5:00am) or later in the afternoon so that we could avoid the noon heat. If possible, we choose air conditioned vehicles because the price difference is usually very small anyway (around P60/ 1€). Trust me, it’s worth it. And if you ride a vehicle without air con, make sure you sit close to the window; bring light clothing; bring lots of water; and “God have mercy on your soul”.

Inside a typical air conditioned bus.
Inside a typical air conditioned bus.

Dust, Dirt, and Unhygienic Facilities. Never is our need for a shower bigger than after travelling here. Dusty roads, dirty seats, and often unhygienic (by Western standards) restaurants or restrooms along the way leave their marks all over our clothes, body, and bags.

Also, when you store your bags, for example in the luggage compartment of a bus, there is always the risk that some other passenger might also store some animal products or bad smelling food that might stick to your bag.

This is what happened to us on a 7-hour bus ride in Palawan. When we got our bags out of the bus at our destination, it stank horribly—like stock fish. It turns out that there was a woman who brought two giant bags of stock fish. Unfortunately, the stock fish bag leaked and our bag was sitting for 7 hours next to it. We had to wash our bags at the hotel and “bleach” out the smell by hanging it out in the sun for two days.

Ferries going to nearby and distant islands are often very basic.  But in the recent years there have come more and more so called super fast catamarans. This ferry goes from Hagnaya to Bantayan Island. Tickets at the port, no reservations.
Ferries going to nearby and distant islands are often very basic. But in the recent years there have come more and more so called super fast catamarans. This ferry goes from Hagnaya to Bantayan Island. Tickets at the port, no reservations.

Long Travel Time. Let’s start with an example for car/bus journeys. The travel time from our town, San Remigio, to Cebu City is around 3.5 hours for 110km (and that’s using the national highway). For the same distance in Europe using the national highway, that would take around an hour.

Travelling in the Philippines takes time. In big cities, road traffic are such and so chaotic, that usually the average driving speed would be between 10-30km/h. Outside the cities on the national highways you can reach a maximum speed of 60 km/h. This is because of poor road conditions, traffic, and many obstacles along the way (dogs, children playing, slow tricycles).

Due to the very long travel times, we always come prepared with snacks and drinks. If you plan to travel in the Philippines, make sure you take into account that the travel time might be up to three times longer than, for example, in Europe.

Jeepneys and modern air conditioned buses. The jeepneys wait until every seat is full before they leave. So that could mean waiting hours, while the Roro Bus in Palawan runs on a schedule.
Jeepneys and modern air conditioned buses. The jeepneys wait until every seat is filled before they leave. So that could mean waiting hours, while the Roro Bus in Palawan runs on a schedule.

Tourist Traps and Gouging. Travelling with Arthur (who speaks two Filipino languages) makes it much easier for me to not be victimised by tourist gouging. But at popular tourist places, beware! Tricycle or rental van can easily cost double for tourists.

Not Enough Online Travel Information. There are not enough info about bus or ferry timetables online. In order to get info about timetable, prices, or routes, you’d have to ask locals, go to the terminal, or search online from travel blogs.

Travelling by pump boat.
Travelling by pump boat.

Conclusion

Even though the negative experiences exceed the positives by a small margin, we still love to travel here. I enjoy exploring this country and try to take those negative situations with a smile. It’s a different culture here after all. And that’s what makes it so special.

 Inside a tricycle. Every island and province seems to have their own tricycle styles. This photo was taken in northern Cebu, where passengers sit in two rows behind each others.Typical price for a tricycle trip is around P8 (around 0,10€).

Inside a tricycle. Every island and province seems to have their own tricycle styles. This photo was taken in northern Cebu, where passengers sit in two rows behind each others. Typical price for a tricycle trip is around P8 (around 0,10€).

My favourite vehicle for travelling

My favourite vehicle for travelling here in the Philippines is definitely the scooter. The scooter not only gives us the freedom of travelling without timetables, it also gives us the option to stop whenever we want to. It makes us feel independent, and more importantly, it is the cheapest way of travelling. On top of that it makes us feel one with the surroundings. Our senses get enveloped by the experience in more ways than one:

  • Seeing in all directions including above us, as there is no roof to block the view
  • Feeling the bumpy roads, the fresh air, the chill, the heat
  • Smelling the smoke of burnt sugarcane fields and barbecues along the street
  • Tasting the flies and insects, if you open your mouth all the time
  • Hearing the music being played everywhere, the sounds of the waves, and people

13 comments

  1. I bet it will be an interesting time for me during the summer, heading to Kadingilan, Bukidnon. Flights to Cagayan de Oro in a short while (HEL-HKG-MNL-CGY), where my fiancee will come to meet me, then we’ll head on to the bus station, and grab a bus for the final leg of the journey. As far as I’ve heard, that bus ride will take about six hours or so. Fourth time in the Philippines for me so far, and it’s looking like the fifth will take a very long time – as I’ll be moving there. 🙂

    1. That sounds like a nice adventure coming up Mikael! Good thing your fiancee comes to pick you up. Finding the right bus on a crowded bus terminal can sometimes be a little overwhelming. At least for me that’s the case.
      We just came back from a week long trip to Boracay ourselves: Hours, and hours of exhausting travelling with pretty much every vehicle we mentioned up there in the post. But absolutely worth it. Travelling: It’s more fun in the Philippines! 🙂

  2. Oh no! Hope you r doing fine! This is indeed a very interesting post…makes me even more jealous of you 2. 🙂

    1. Thanks, my foot got injured, but we don’t think it’s broken, luckily. But it got badly bruised. Walking is painful. But it could have been much worse.

  3. Do you know the stereotype that asians can’t drive? It’s not necessarily true. Traffic rules just aren’t heavily enforced on drivers, that’s why public transportation (jeepney, etc.) drivers haphazardly change lanes on a snap! And it’s annoying for someone who follows the rules, or to the new drivers.

    1. Three days ago we had a small accident on our scooter, caused by a mindless, stupid truck driver. That was a scary and painful encounter I don’t want to experience any time again (my foot got injured).

      But those kind of drivers, like this truck driver who clearly didn’t watch out for other traffic vehicles, you can find those kind of drivers anywhere in the world. Not only in the Philippines, but also in Finland and in any other country. Drivers that just want to reach their destination as fast as possible, without taking the safety of others on the street into consideration.

  4. In Finland the first thing i noticed, people were so organized and valued efficiency and time. In the Philippines, this is still to be realized.

  5. Another great post 🙂 Thanks for sharing! I really like the pictures, you both have an eye for photography and your content also is well made, I’m a big reader, and there’s nothing worse than reading a mediocre blog, and I have read a lot of them 😛 My pet peeve is when the English language has been “murdered” as they say in Philippines 🙂 You might actually inspire me to start blogging, but I don’t have the time! I do know there is a Filipina lady who is writing a blog about Finland. Let me try to find it for you. Have fun over there!

    1. Thank you so much Kathy. You are so generous. It’s great fun blogging about my life experiences here in the Philippines. There’s just so much material to blog about! Literally, every day I find myself in new situations that are blogworthy. But you’re right, blogging does require lots of time. If I wasn’t on a gap year, this would be impossible.

      Thanks for noticing about the pictures, we’re particularly proud of them as we took all of the pictures in this blog ourselves.

      Thanks for following us, glad you enjoy! By the way, please feel free to share!

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