Among the many Asian countries, the Philippines is probably the most travel-friendly. Signs are easy to read, and almost anyone can speak English. However, travel within Metro Manila can sometimes be problematic, and there are things to watch out for.
Getting Behind the Wheel
The best option is always to drive. Renting a mid-sized sedan for a month should cost you around $1,000, and you should have no problem finding a car rental service once you land. You won’t need additional permits to drive, just a valid license.
Your car should come with a GPS navigation device, and if not, ask for one. Philippine roads are filled with one-way streets, bottlenecks, and road construction — it’s best to know what routes to take. It might take a bit of nerve to drive in Manila, not because of speeding drivers, just overly reckless ones.
Serving and changing lanes is all but unavoidable. Drivers will cut you off every chance they get, even when it slows to a crawl due to traffic. Motorcycles are everywhere, and they will weave through traffic like daredevils. However, a little extra focus behind the wheel should be enough to deal with those problems. But still, there’s traffic. Do not drive during rush hours. A 15-minute drive can stretch to more than an hour when rush hour traffic hits. Schedule your trips beforehand, or spend time in a coffee shop and wait until rush hour ends.
Contend with Public Transport
Philippine public transport is broken. It is slow, inefficient, and sometimes unsafe. The metro rail along EDSA — one of the major Metro Manila thoroughfares — is inefficient (too many stops), slow (traveling at speeds of less than 20 mph), and is congested like you wouldn’t believe. People cram into trains with barely any room to move. Buses are also problematic. There are very few designated stops, but that doesn’t matter because these buses will swerve to pick up passengers anyway. While not as congested as the metro, taking the bus has risks, particularly pickpockets and other miscreants. For short trips of less than2 miles, jeeps and tricycles are fine. For longer trips, public transportation should be your last option.
Use a Ride-sharing App
There’s no Uber in the Philippines; instead, people have Grab and some other new ride-sharing services. These rides are usually safe, but a large number of passengers elevate the risk of catching something like the flu, and currently, it’s measles season. Once you have the right app on your phone, it usually takes a few minutes for a driver to respond.
Drivers are generally courteous and won’t have any problem understanding English. Rates fluctuate depending on traffic and road conditions, so expect to pay almost double during rush hours.
Getting around Metro Manila can be a little bit problematic, but knowing what to expect can prepare you for what’s to come. Whether you’re driving, taking public transport, or hailing a ride on your phone, you need to keep your wits about you and maybe take a multivitamin or two.