Philippines Travel: Manila taxis and buses

I’m on a one-month walkabout in the Philippines. Even through I’ve been in HK for almost a decade (wow), exploring the Philippines has eluded me, so I’ve decided to give the country a good once-over. The promise of white sand beaches, a hammock under a tree, cold San Miguels and warm surf, all for a few dollars a day, was too enticing.

My original plan was to land in Manila, and spend about 3 weeks working my way island hopping, down to Mindanao where my friend John lives, and we’d do some exploring together before I returned to HK. But after talking to a colleague who lived there for years (thanks, Stephanie!), I decided to start off with a journey north into upper Luzon.

My first experience upon arrival in Manila was NOT TO TRUST THE TAXI TOUTS! When I walked out of the airport, there was a line of white SUV taxis with an aggressive mama-san hustling people into them.

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“Where you go? You go Angeles?” she said with a knowing smirk. Angeles is the local sex town where middle aged American ex-soldiers come for their jollies; I must look the part to her.

“Gah, no! I’m going to the Pasay bus terminal to catch a Victory Liner bus to Baguio” I don’t know why I felt like I needed to justify myself to her, but somehow I did. As far as I know, her expression never changed…if that’s my story, then she’ll go along with it.

She grabbed my bag and walked briskly off to a waiting taxi. “OK, fare is 870 Pesos to bus. You take this taxi”

That didn’t sound right. “Hold on! That’s far too much. How long is the ride?” From the internet, I knew it should be only about 15 minutes.

“Bus station is 45 minutes away, 870 is the fare. Here, I give you official receipt! Get in get in!”

She seemed too eager, so I pulled my bag back out of the car and started walking off. The driver, seeing me get away, jumped out and chased me.

“I give you P500 to bus: come come!”

I just kept walking off to the metered yellow taxi stand to the right. The driver gave up, and I waited in line. When I finally got the metered cab, I had a very gentle and friendly driver, and the actual fare was only P120 and the ride was 15 minutes. I gave him 200 Pesos and told him to keep the change.

Not to say that all taxis are crooked…but some internet research will show you a few good strategies to protect yourself:

1) Never take a cab with an agreed rate. Always insist on the meter. Any agreed rate will NEVER be cheaper than the meter.

2) Check out the meter carefully….if the wires holding it to the dash are broken or cut, get out. There are a lot of cabs with crooked meters. Similarly, if the meter starts running up too fast (it should only show about P50 after the first 4 or 5 minutes), stop the cab and get out.

3) The going rate for cabs in metro Manila is a bit complex. They charge a rate to pick you up (‘flag down’), plus a set rate for waiting time (the waiting clock accumulates even when you are sitting at a red light or in traffic), plus a rate for distance travelled. Your best bet is to do some research before you arrive on what the cost should be for a given trip.

4) If the taxi takes the expressway (there are a LOT of expressways), then you are expected to pay the toll rather than have it added to your taxi bill. Or at least, that’s what my taxi did. At least I knew that was the right fare.

I’m not an expert at this (having only taken one taxi ride) but at least I didn’t get ripped off. There are some new apps that can ease your worries…like this one that tells you what the approximate fare should be.

We got to the bus station, and it looked like a typical semi-dilapidated asian bus station.


I got in line for the ticket, and waited. Some folks at the front were having some sort of issue and it was taking a LOT of time. The bus I wanted to catch was leaving in 5 minutes, and it looked hopeless….


…but just as the bus was about to leave, the driver came over and said “Six more….come, come!” and guess who was number six? 🙂

I’ll spare a long post about the ride up…it was scenic and comfortable, and only cost me P630 for an 8 hour ride to Baguio. But there’s really no way to make an 8 hour bus ride a good thing…even the nice guy I sat next to with the easy-going manner (I asked him “Why does everyone call me ‘sir’?” and he shrugged his shoulders, smiled and said “It’s just what we do.” Like I said..easy going).

Next Post….Baguio.


One response to “Philippines Travel: Manila taxis and buses

  1. I found this after Googling to see if my experience was typical. I had a great holiday in PH,no negatives at all…………..UNTIL the last leg at Manila Airport. I’d been directed to the Shuttle Bus area for my transfer only to be accosted by a friendly young man who told me there was no need to wait as he’d flag me down a passing Shuttle. To cut a long story short partway through the journey the “Shuttle Bus” turned out to be a Taxi and I was asked for 1800 Pesos. Rather stupidly I suppose I got angry,the tout telling me that they took foreign money and the exchange rate was 41 pesos to the pound (it was 71) had me letting rip.It could have got nasty,I’d given most of my local money to my friend before leaving so I only had a bit over 600 for a snack at the airport. The Driver and the Tout stayed polite and dropped me off at my Terminal but it could have got nasty.I was annoyed at myself mostly for being so stupid at getting myself into a potentially nasty situation.
    Please,if you go to PH make sure you go to the area for the Shutttle that Security direct you to and nowhere else.or get a metered Taxi from the appropriate area.Lovely place,lovely people and I won’t let a couple of scammers spoil my memories but at the time I’d gladly have strangled the pair of them.

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