If you mention Manila, the capital city in the Philippines, to any Filipino and the very first thing they’ll mention is how bad the traffic is. In fact, Manila is one of the most populated cities in the world, with about 25 million in the greater metro area that’s so big, they split it up into eight or so sub-cities, like Quezon City (but it’s all really Manila). The second and third things these Filipinos may talk about is the pollution and the trash, respectively, but the first thing is always the traffic.
Likewise, there are a lot of foreigners living and working in Manila, whether they are expats, running their own business as digital nomads, or relocated there for work. Ask each and every one of these transplants about Manila, and the traffic will be the first thing out of their mouth, along with a look of shock and consternation.
Basically, Manila = traffic, but I often find myself there (and might even move there!). The city serves a huge purpose as a transportation hub, as there are flights almost hourly to every other airport in the Philippines and even all over Asia (or direct flights to California!).
I also commonly visit friends in the province of Pampanga right to the north, which contains the seedy little sin city of Angeles, but a whole lot of nice resorts, hotels, restaurants, activities, and beautiful countryside once you get past that blight. Angeles also has its own airport, Clark, which is super convenient to fly into and out of.
So, I often find myself needing to get from Manila to Angeles City or the other way around more likely. What are my options?
1. To take a taxi or hire a private car, it will cost about 3,000 Pesos (or 2,500 plus you pay for tolls at the very least), which is $60. That may not seem like a lot but it is in the Philippines, where the average flight will probably cost you $40-$80! This is the fastest way, as you will get there in two hours if there’s no traffic (but there’s always traffic, or much much longer normally.
2. Take the public bus. This is a miserable, life-altering experience consisting of confusion, chaos, excessive temperatures, possible exposure to Malaria or Dengue, food-derived incontinence, and possibly the loss of your possessions. The bus is cheap (probably $8 or less), but it could literally take you all day to get into Manila from Angeles City. Then, you have to deal with navigating the crazy and a little dangerous bus terminal and getting to whatever sub-neighborhood you’re staying in (could be another hour or longer!).
3. Walk the 70 miles from Manila to Angeles City, which will wear out your Nikes and may be a little hard on the legs, but you’ll arrive at approximately the same time as the bus.
Luckily, I’ve found a secret hack for the best way to travel from Manila to Angeles City or AC back into the Thrilla in Manila: the Swagman Hotel van.
The Swagman Hotel is an establishment that has a branch in Angeles City and also one in the Ermita area of Manila, near the Bay where the U.S. Embassy is located.
Don’t get me wrong – neither hotel is nice at all. In fact, they’re pretty gross. The Angeles City Swagman Hotel is closed down at the moment as they rehab it after a fire or a flood or some other Biblical event, and the Swagman branch in Manila should be condemned immediately for mold, bed bugs, and general terribleness.
Either way, the van is still running. They call it the “Fly the Bus Van” service, and they leave three times a day from AC and Manila, both. In Angeles, they’ll actually drive around and pick you up at your own hotel. However, that means an extra thirty minutes to an hour in the van, so it’s easier just to meet at the Swagman Hotel there.
In Manila, you have to show up at the Swagman and leave from there.
From Angeles, the van runs at 8 am, 12 pm, and 3 pm every day, and the schedule from Manila is similar.
I wouldn’t go far as saying it’s comfortable, as the van is pretty small and they pack in every single seat (grab the jump seat if you want leg room!). So you are stuffed in there, but it is a modern van, and you have good aircon and its safe. It’s way faster than a bus but much cheaper than a taxi, at only 600 Pesos, or $12. They even stop halfway at for a 10-minute lunch and food break.
The van can take two hours, or, if you’re stuck in traffic, five or six (seriously!). But at least it’s much faster than the bus.
If you really want to go faster, just plan your trip to or from Manila in the Swagman Fly The Bus Van on a Sunday, when traffic slows to a tolerable pace.