If you come to the Philippines as a tourist, or you live here, the likelihood is that sooner or later you will ride the bus. I am sure that a lot of you might be wary of riding the bus, maybe you don’t know what you are supposed to do, how it works, etc.
I get the perception from a lot of foreigners who are planning to come for a visit that they think that the buses here are old rickety falling apart rejects from the developed world. Actually, nothing could be farther from the truth! The buses here, at least in the areas where I have been, are mostly first rate, (mostly) brand new, fancy buses!
I mean, many of the buses here in Southern Mindanao have full amenities. On board bathrooms, comfortable seats, very cold air conditioning, even WiFi on the bus! These buses are either very well cared for, or they keep rotating in brand new buses into their fleet, because these buses practically have that “new car smell” every time you board! And the new car look too! Usually, the buses are not even crowded. Sometimes they are full, but not too often, the most common full times are during holidays or three day weekends.
How much is the fare?
Well, it depends on the route you are traveling and how far you are going. For an example, if you are traveling from Davao to General Santos City, which is a 2 1/2 to 4 hour trip (depending on multiple factors) the far ranges between P200 to P300. You can ride one of the nearly top of the line buses for P250. The furthest bus ride I have ever taken was, as I recall, from Davao City to Surigao, as I recall it had a stop in Butuan City. I think that was around P450 to P500, but it was maybe 8 or 9 years ago, so things certainly are likely to have increased in that time. But, in general, the fares are very inexpensive. I mean, P250 for the ticket from Davao to GenSan (or vice versa) means you are putting out US$5 or so for the ride.
Hard to beat that price. I doubt you’ll find any Amtrak route at that price!
The procedure for riding a bus is fairly simple and straightforward. I am sure that even if you have never ridden before it won’t be difficult to figure out what to do. Also, at the bus terminals there are lots of people around to help, answer questions, and even carry your bags if you wish. Of course if you have them carrying things there would be a charge for that, but it will be cheap. But, if you just need a question answered, they will gladly do that for free, no hassles.
In larger cities there are multiple bus terminals. Here in Davao there are several different terminals, and your destination will determine which terminal you need to go to. Any taxi will know where to take you. For example, if you are in Davao and want to go to General Santos City, you will need to go catch a bus at the Ecoland terminal. If you want to go to Cagayan or other points in that direction, you might need to go to Maa to catch a bus. It just depends on where you are going to travel. If you take a taxi to the bus terminal, the driver will know where to take you, just tell him where you will go on the bus, and he will know which terminal to take you to.
When you get to the terminal, the procedure will vary. Here in Davao, before you enter the terminal they will search your bags, search you for weapons, and then let you pass to where the buses are. It is all very simple. Just be polite and friendly, and as long as you are not carrying weapons or things like that, it should all be very easy.
Choose a bus
When you get to the area where the buses are, there are multiple buses to choose from. Continuing our example of travel from Davao to General Santos, there will be probably at least a half dozen buses going to General Santos and waiting for passengers. Usually, a bus leaves about every 10 minutes heading to General Santos, so you can arrive at the terminal at any time and you won’t have to wait long for your bus to leave.
Why so many different buses waiting? Well, there are different types of buses:
- Different bus lines (Yellow Bus, MindanaoStar, etc)
- Non Stop Buses
- Buses with multiple stops
- Air Conditioned buses
- Non aircon buses (although this would be rare on a popular route)
So, just choose the bus line you want to travel on, and the other things that are available and get on the bus.
Conductor collects fare
When you board the bus, you don’t pay or anything, that will come later. You can choose any empty seat that you want and just sit down. There are overhead compartments and also under seat storage for your carry on bags. Larger luggage can be placed in large compartments on the outside of the bus. Each bus will also have overhead control panels (like you would see on airplanes) where you can turn on a reading light, adjust the air conditioning or even adjust the speakers (the buses have TV, Movies or radio on board).
After the bus gets underway, the conductor will start (generally at the front of the bus) and go from passenger to passenger, find out where their destination is and charge them the appropriate fare. Let’s say that your fare is P250, and you only have a P500 or a P1,000 the conductor will either give you change on the spot, or he will come back with your change later – don’t worry, I have never seen them forget to give change, they seem to remember everything!
Once your fare has been collected, you can sit back, listen to the radio, play games on your cellphone, or catch some sleep, it is up to you!
If you are riding a bus that makes additional stops along the way, more passengers will be picked up, and the conductor will again come around and ask those new passengers to pay their fare.
Ride in comfort
As I said, these buses really have all of the comforts that you could want! They are decked out. Generally, I find the ride to be comfortable and also safe. Sometimes you will find a driver who speeds or is unsafe in other ways, but that was more common in the past, and I don’t find it a huge problem anymore. Maybe I am just used to it now! 😉
Where do you want to get off?
When you get to your destination city, the bus will usually stop at multiple places. For example, it will make a quick stop at major shopping malls or other popular places where people will want to get off, before arriving at the final terminal destination. This happens even on non-stop buses. It is actually very convenient that you can get off as near to where you are going as possible.
Alternative to bus
A lot of foreigners are shy to ride the bus, and they will hire a taxi to take them instead. This is very expensive though, and I really see no need to do it. It has been a long time since I have heard what the taxi fare is to General Santos from Davao, but 15 years ago you would pay P2,500 to P3,000 and it is surely more than that now. When you can pay P250 for a very comfortable bus, why pay so much? If you do decide to take a taxi, they don’t go by the meter on a long trip like this. It will be a fare that is negotiated in advance. Make sure you negotiate BEFORE leaving, because if you start the trip and negotiate later you may be in for a rude awakening.
If you do a taxi type trip, be advised that it is customary that if you stop for lunch or a snack, you are generally required to buy food for the driver too.
I hope this will give you a better idea of what to expect if you ride the bus in the Philippines. I have ridden buses in various parts of the country and things differ. This article pretty generically covers the bases, but you may find slight differences in some areas.
Have a good trip!