There are two kinds of people in the Philippines: those who take “Local” transportation, and those who go “First Class,” as they’ll call them. I’ve found that Local transport usually entails a jeepney (the converted U.S. army jeeps with dozens of passengers crammed in the back that litter the streets by the tens of thousands), shared vans, no-frills ferry rides, trikes (the converted motorcycles with sidecars) and buses. First Class, however, is reserved for those people who can take a metered taxi, a Grab (their version of Uber or Lyft), or are lucky enough to have a car.
The number of people who go “Local” versus “First Class” aren’t always easily segregated by homegrown Filipinos versus foreigners, either. Although there may be a correlation, a lot of foreign travelers are broke backpackers who are brave enough to sweat and push it out like a native son or daughter. Conversely, while most travelers do opt for planes rides whenever possible and hire car services or take Grab cars, etc. for long trips, a surprising number of middle-class Filipinos have cars.
For me, I’ve been a complete travel snob whenever possible, because the comfort, safety, and convenience is worth it. Plus, in a country where plane tickets routinely cost $40-$50 to some beautiful island, why bother with the ferry that takes 12 hours just to save $30?
However, I’m living in Manila now, which I’m finding is NOT a cheap city. In fact, my relatively-humble budget made me a baller in Dumaguete where I lived the last year, but barely allows me to get by in Manila, where a whole lot of locals have the means comparable with the average person in the U.S.
That being said, I can’t spend frivolously anymore, so I’ll save a buck whenever it REALLY makes sense. Such is the case this weekend when I had to get from my McKinley Hill neighborhood in Manila up to Angeles City, the Las Vegas-like smaller city in the province of Pampanga. This was also a necessity because I left several suitcases with friends up there while I was in the States, so I needed to finally pick them up.
It’s only 80km or so north, but transportation is limited to just three viable options for most foreigners:
1) Take the bus
2) Hire a car to drive you
3) Get the Fly The Bus van from the Swagman Hotel
Hiring a car costs about $60, but of course, it’s the fastest and most comfortable method. The Fly The Bus option isn’t bad if you don’t mind being crammed in a van, but it is safe and has AC, etc. That only runs about $10 if I remember right – huge savings, but you have to pick it up at the Swagman Hotel in Malate, which is way too far from my neighborhood to make sense.
And then the bus, which I opted for.
My mini adventure started with a lot of Googling and asking friends where to go and how to do it, because it’s not as simple as you may think. First, I had to take a taxi to the Pasay area to the Victory Liner bus terminal there. That taxi ride ran me 170 Pesos ($3) and took 20 minutes, although that could easily be an hour Monday through Friday because I departed on a Sunday (by plan). From there, I found the outdoor queue for tickets and was told by one lady to stand in a certain line. After a fifteen minute wait, I got to the front, only to be told that I was in the wrong line, so I had to get wayyyy in the back of the line next door. It’s more confusing in the Philippines!
But no worries, because just when I settled in for a 20 or 30-minute wait in line, one of the bus driver’s assistants called over to me and asked where I was going. When I told him that I was heading to Dau (the small town/bus station adjacent to Angeles City), he ushered me on and told me that I could easily pay on the bus without a ticket – which ran 163 Pesos – less than the taxi to get there!
I did double check that we were heading towards Angeles City because you never know if my pronunciation of “Dau” is off and I actually end up in the far end of “Mau” twelve hours away! Haha.
I found my way to the back and found an empty pair of seats, putting my backpack on one to try to discourage someone sitting next to me. Trust me when I tell you that this is important, because the seats are not quite U.S. sizes, and I’m pretty wide in the shoulders and hate being jammed in next to someone.
Usually, on a REAL local bus in the province (or countryside, meaning anywhere outside of Manila!) they will not only pack people in 2 or 3 to a 2-person row of seats, but fill up the aisles with people standing, until you’re so jammed against the window and other people that you literally feel claustrophobic and like you can’t breathe! Those buses also stop just about every fifty feet, as anyone along the side of the road can flag them down and get on, bringing their chickens/dogs/puking babies/fish or anything else with them.
Luckily, the Victory Liner is much more of a first-rate option, and there were still some seats to spare, so I did have a seat next to me empty. The air conditioning was fine and my seat also had sufficient leg room, which makes it comfortable.
It took us about an hour just to get to the outskirts of Manila and on the open highway, but that can easily be 3-4 hours, believe it or not, in traffic. So MAKE SURE you go to the bathroom before you depart and don’t drink anything along the way! There is a rest stop about half way to Dau, but the bus didn’t stop because we were making such good time, although they may if the trip takes hours and hours.
In all, it only took us about 2 hours from the Victory Liner station in Pasay to the station in Dau, which is just a flyspeck of a suburb. While the trip was simple, comfy, and enjoyable, I would recommend you check for another thing when boarding – calculate which side of the bus will get direct sunlight and sit on the OTHER side. The sun is no joke beaming through the windows for hours, and even with the window curtains drawn, it really heats it up.
Once in Dau, I got my bag from the luggage storage compartment underneath (I would never let my bag out of sight on a more “local” bus because it would most likely be stolen, but the Victory Liner is a good operation) and found a trike driver easily to take me to my hotel in Angeles City, which only cost me 150 Pesos ($3) and less than fifteen minutes.
The grand total? About $9 and change and less than three hours door-to-door. Of course, the caveat it that it could easily be double that time or more on a normal day with traffic, but that would be true if you took a taxi or car, too.
I’ll definitely take the Victory Liner again on certain trips!