Tips on Bus Travel in the Philippines

I know each and every one of us have ridden a public bus at some point in their life. Well except those who were born in a silver spoon that have their own car or can rent a bus for their trips. But for majority of the population, we take the bus to get from one place to another.

Our family is from the north of Luzon. My mother’s place was in Cuyapo, Nueva Ecija and my father’s in Vigan, Ilocos Sur. And whenever we traveled to those places we would take the bus. This was when our family didn’t have a car. I remember before that the buses were still al fresco, meaning no air conditioning system yet and the buses has three by two seating configuration. And since we were around 4 to 6 yrs old, instead of rushing through the bus doors, we would be hoisted into the bus through the windows. Yes, I was a skinny kid before and I can enter easily through frame of the window. I remember sitting on the lap of my parents or my auntie so that I would be free of charge (I was skinny back then. Right now, I’m obese class 1 as per my latest APE. LOl!)
Fast forward to the present. Buses nowadays, have taken enhancements that makes bus travel easier. Like air conditioning, TV and radio, some buses have comfort rooms already. The seats are now cushioned. Some have WIFI access. And with the emergence of RO-ROs (roll on and roll off ferries), buses can now travel inter island!
In Philippines, even though composed of several islands, there are still those who prefer to travel by bus because of two reasons: 1.) There are no commercial flights available in that destination or 2.) Budget constraints. Some of the provinces still have no airports and flights don’t come cheap! They cost about thousands depending on the destination and how close you are to booking your flight. Really expensive in my opinion, but, hey, it is much faster. You may chance upon promo fares from low cost carriers but chances are SLIM. Believe me I have tried. Seats on sale are only limited so if you are not fast enough, you’ll miss the chance.
Here are some of the destinations that you can reach through buses in Luzon: Baler in Aurora for surfing; Vigan and Laoag in Ilocos for a taste of Spanish heritage; Alaminos in Pangasinan to see the Hundred Islands; Legaspi in Albay to see the majestic Mayon Volcano; Banaue in Ifugao to see the Banaue Rice Terraces; Donsol in Sorsogon to swim with whale sharks and so on and so forth. I could go on but it would be too much. I would leave it to you to
Since buses have now improved, I think it is now time that we consider traveling by bus again. Here’s why:
1. Sleeping and traveling at the same time – this is when you take the night bus. Maximizing your time at its best!
2. Traveling on a budget – did I mentioned that it is cheap?
3. Sightseeing – the sights along the way are either city life, or rice fields, or mountain sides or beaches. Very scenic specially when you get out of the city. So even if you travel by day, your eyes will be entertained. Believe me you will be.
4. Spacious – if you take the deluxe buses, you can recline your seats so that you can sleep comfortably and have enough leg room to stretch around even if you are tall
5. New bus amenities – long bus travel can be somehow more bearable when you have WIFI and is connected with the rest of the world. And it is now available. No need to hold your pee in as some buses have build in lavatories.
Sounds good right? It is.
I was able to take the bus in different occasions in the last six month. I traveled to Baler, Vigan, Laoag and Banaue from Manila and to Caticlan from Kalibo Airport. And here are my tips to make it fun:
1. Know where to get tickets – Of course you need to know where you want to go but where to get the tickets is a more important question. Obviously, tickets are available in the bus terminal but there might be a chance that the bus seats for your trip are sold out and the next one will be by tomorrow.

But it would be more advantageous to visit a travel agent as some of them can book tickets for you at an additional fee of course. But hey, the additional fee would be worth the hassle if you do it on your own. Just a tip: ask them if they can book buses through VIA Philippines. Or you can go online, although not all bus operators have website or online ticketing capabilities.

2. Travel light and secure it– I know this is already a rule of thumb and the same applies to bus travel. Buses have compartment where you can store your bags BUT make sure that it is properly secured with a lock and a bag tag with your name. You must have a smaller bag (a sling bag perhaps) to hold you money, passports and other personal stuff to bring with you on the bus. Don’t worry about your bag being mistakenly picked up but someone else, as the bus conductor will check it.

3. Dress properly – by “properly” I mean, depending on your travel time. If you are traveling at night in an air conditioned bus, it’s not wise to wear shorts as the air conditioning can get through your bones. If you are traveling by day in an airconditioned, shorts would be great but don’t wear sandos. A light t-shirt would do. If you are traveling in a non airconditioned bus, sandos are still a no-no in my opinion. Just aim to look decent.

4. Jacket or blanket or hanky or face towel – Jacket or blanket if you are traveling in an airconditioned bus. Specially, if you are traveling at night. Hanky and face towel if you are traveling in a non airconditioned bus as it might get hot and sweaty or more like oily at times. Remember, the air may look and smell clean but for sure there are some dirt suspended in it that slams on your face.

5. Spare change – if you want to use the toilets on stop overs as you will be asked about PHP 2 to 5 for the maintenance of the toilets. Now, I were you, make the most out of the toilet. But don’t take too long or you might be left by the bus. We wouldn’t want that now would we?

6. Take note of your bus number – you wouldn’t want that awkward moment when you get in a bus and find that you are in the wrong one right?

7. Bring your own food and water – yes you can get food and water at the stop overs but they are overpriced! Sometimes double! So it would be wise to bring your own.

8. Something to cover your eyes – whether it is shades for day time or patches for the night. Shades because the window shade might not be enough during the day. Eye patches because sometimes, the bus does not close their lights. So if you can’t sleep with the lights on better have something to shade your eyes from the light.

9. Have liniment or ointments or balms or motion sickness medicines ready – specially when you are traveling with kids who have motion sickness issues. It pays to be prepared as some of the roads are winding as it curves in and out of the mountainsides.

10. Enjoy the sights – you will enjoy the Philippine country side I guarantee it.

I hope this helps and encourage you to travel the Philippines on a bus. It would be a nice experience I assure you.
Like in any mode of transport, you just got to enjoy the ride.

Flippin’ out!

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