Manila, like any capital city is a sprawling mass meaning you’ll need to investigation various forms of transport to see the sights – having navigated the Philippine’s main city (with varying degrees of success) here’s my guide for how to get around Manila.
The huge plus to Manila is that the taxis are super cheap compared to most capital cities and if you’re feeling nervous, lost, lazy, too hot or all of the above, catching a taxi can be a great option.
There are two main types of taxi – the yellow airport taxis and the white metered taxis. Unlike places such as Mexico City, no real safety warnings come with Manila’s taxis, so you can confidently use either. However, be aware that the yellow taxis that are the easiest to take from the airport (outside arrivals) are more expensive. If you’re looking for a better deal, head down to street level and find a white taxi – though in honesty, the prices are low enough that if you don’t want to incur the effort, both are broadly affordable. As the airport is pretty close to the town, you shouldn’t pay much more than 250 pesos (around US$6) into Makatai/Malate.
Around the city, you will mainly find the white taxis, which are comfortable and (bliss) air-conditioned. I believe from the airport there are also pre-pay coupon taxis, but they come in closer to 500 pesos for no extra comfort.
That was the good news. The bad news is that the traffic in Manila is as bad as anywhere I’ve seen (Beijing, New York, Saigon and London included). Although it shouldn’t hurt your wallet too much more to sit in endless queues, expect your miles to time ratio to be weighted on the side of slow. I took a taxi to the airport twice and it took 20 and then 50 minutes indicating the impact traffic can have on your journey – if you have a flight to catch, build in some extra time.
Tips for taking a taxi in Manila: always make sure your driver will charge on the meter. If he won’t, get out and find another cab. Likewise, if the meter starts rising quickly, particularly in the first mile, it’s probably rigged so again, despite the hassle, you’re better getting out and find another cab. It may sound inconvenient, but the streets are filled with taxis so it shouldn’t take long to find another one.
There is a small but effective train system that has two lines (neatly numbered 1 and 2) running through the city that will take you to most of the places you’ll want to see in Manila. For budget travellers, at 12 pesos (around 30 US cents per ride), this is one of the most cost efficient ways to get around. However, expect to cram in and rub sweat with other LRT users (one man ran a hand though his hair and in doing so flung a bead of sweat onto my lip *shudder*). Also, prepare for pickpocketing. It’s a problem in most major cities, so don’t freak out that it means Manila is unsafe, just keep an eye on your bag and pockets.
The hot and sticky mess or theft risk may not be worth it, making a taxi your better bet unless you go native with…
The air conditioning is au natural with these communal-style taxis/buses. They work similar to Thailand’s songthaews and run a set route through the city, according to the number and destinations painted on the side, so you need to figure out which ones go where (I can’t say I managed it). But, despite providing the same service as the songthaew, jeepneys leave Thailand’s equivalent looking drab in the shade – these pimped up trucks come with a driver only too happy to drag you on board – your destination irrelevant, because its all for the fun of the ride. I havent seen transport like this since Central America’s chicken buses!
Think of a side car, but far less technically advanced (some are pedal bikes powered by a fan belt or even just human strength) and add individually styled covers and you have a fair idea of Manila’s tricycles. They a good way of getting through the city’s traffic, though you’ll probably have your heart in your mouth for much of your journey as you dodge and weave the mass of cars, at times taking inspiration from India and simply cutting the wrong way into oncoming traffic. You’ll be grateful for the shade that covers you not just from the sun but your eyes from death looming in front of you.
Tip: prices are by agreement and if, like me, your skin is pasty English, expect a mark-up to be added onto the price. I always try to bargain the fare down, the amount depending on how long the driver pauses before answering ‘how much’ – a couple of second pause suggests he’s calculating the route, more than that, he’s probably calculating how much he can get away with. I usually start most bartering with 40-50% of the quoted price and see what the seller’s next move is.
It’s worth noting that peso per mile, I found the taxis cheaper than the tricycles every time, even with hard bargaining. So, if you do take the trikes, you’re doing so for the ease of movement through the traffic or the experience, not cost efficiency.
This suggestion is close to crazy, courtesy of the stinking heat, smog and pollution, but if you’d rather save your travel cash and have the promise of a shower at the end of your journey, using the power of your own two legs is possible in the centre of the city. Two words of caution – watch your footing. The pavements are often crumbling and there are plenty of sawn off bits of metal piping just waiting to claim a snag of your skin; also beware of the roads.
If you haven’t had road crossing training in Saigon (personally, I think that if you can cross the road there, you can cross it anywhere), then crossing the road in Manila might feel a bit hair raising.
My advice – take a deep breath and step out into the traffic. Yep, the thick, streaming traffic. The traffic lights (if and when they work) don’t seem to be phased to take pedestrians into account so the traffic is nearly always coming from one direction or another, leaving you little choice but to go through it. Don’t worry, its the common way to cross just try these tips:
- keep a keen eye on the road
- hold up your hand (not for protection, like it would work, but to indicate you’re going in front of the coming car)
- maintain a steady pace
- make eye contact with the driver you’re walking in front of (it’s good to know they’ve seen you and I always hope it’s more difficult on the conscience to mow someone down when you have eye contact with)
- watch out for bikes and tricycles
- and don’t forget to say Three Hail Marys as you go (the Philippines is predominantly a Catholic nation).
Above all else, hold your nerve – stopping half way will leave you sandwiched between passing cars (inadvisable). If in doubt, find a local and cross with them, keeping them on the incoming traffic side of you!
My short stop in Manila was been fun, but After more than a month bouncing between cities in Japan, Malaysia and now the Philippines, the beach was calling.
For more travel planning tips and stories about Asia.