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How to Ride the Bus in the Philippines

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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!

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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?

Bus Ticket

Bus Ticket – the conductor will give you one of these after you pay

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

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.

Bus terminal

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.

Ecoland Bus Terminal

Ecoland Bus Terminal

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:

  1. Different bus lines (Yellow Bus, MindanaoStar, etc)
  2. Non Stop Buses
  3. Buses with multiple stops
  4. Air Conditioned buses
  5. 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!

Posted in

Bob Martin

Bob Martin is the Publisher & Editor in Chief of the Live in the Philippines Web Magazine. Bob is an Internet Entrepreneur. Bob is an American who lived in Mindanao from 2000 until 2019. Bob has now relocated back to the USA.

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Steve Ballantyne
Steve Ballantyne
5 years ago

Totally agree that bus is the way to go, we often take it between home and Manila. Long trip, but cheap. Have you ever asked the age of a new bus? I argued with a friend and he turned out to be correct. The bus we were on looked brand new, but was 5 years old, and just out of a reconditioning. Your busses are better then ours though, many of the ones we ride don’t have CR, and it can be quite a squirmy trip for this fat old white guy when it is 3 or more hours between… Read more »

Bob - Expat Answer Man

Hi Steve – I am sure there are plenty of refurbished buses, but there are also new ones, and plenty of them too! I enjoy riding the bus, let’s me see the scenery and relax rather than dealing with traffic.

Wally Barr
5 years ago

Look at that pic posted the suspension on that bus is shot and almost dragging on the ground. Either that or a couple 430 pounds guys are sitting on the right.

Bob Martin
5 years ago
Reply to  Wally Barr

That is a Mindanao Star bus, Mindanao Star is a brand new bus line. All of the buses are brand new, I can assure you that the suspension is not shot.

Michael Heavrin
5 years ago
Reply to  Wally Barr

Bob Martin bad roads perhaps ?

Bob Martin
5 years ago
Reply to  Wally Barr

Maybe they are on a curve, I really don’t know.

Wally Barr
5 years ago

I also rode the busses a lot in Manila, they were dirt cheap, pretty clean and had a TV to watch. You just need to know where the bus terminals were. In Manila instead of alway sitting in traffic in a taxi and watching the meter spin you rode a bus close to where you needed to go and walked or caught a trike (pedaled or powered). The occasional vendor or street preacher gets on and depending on your mood you buy something or make a donation.

Rich Brightbill
5 years ago

the Bus seems to be the smoothest transportation there is in the Philippines can smooth out any road ….. and make a road where none was before

Bob Martin
5 years ago

I find the buses to be a comfortable ride.

Wally Barr
5 years ago

They made a big friend of mine pay for two seats.. Not the line you are referring to in the article but I heard it’s common to do so..

Lorne Rowe
5 years ago

I’m 6’4 and had to pay for an extra seat , they are a little small , and with the amount of people on those buses I can understand paying for the seat beside me but for the extra few pesos , its not a big deal , I know when taking the faster transit like Vans to Cebu city , I had to pay for extra space as well , owner operators need pesos for each seat , not to mention they dont leave until every seat is filled

Rich Brightbill
5 years ago

we do the same thing … like you say when the sears are small

Mike Henebry
5 years ago

Bob. In order to assure ourselves of seat on a deluxe bus (large, comfortable seats, a/c, CR, etc) when traveling back and forth from Manila to Bicol, we buy our tickets several days in advance at a bus station. We also always ask for and always receive the senior discount, which saves us at least 20% on each ticket. They only require that you show some form of photo ID as proof of age, a US driver’s license works fine.

Bob Martin
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike Henebry

Hi Mike – Here in Mindanao you cannot reserve a seat or buy a ticket in advance. It is first come first serve. Many companies will extend a senior discount to foreigners, but keep in mind that under the law they are only required to give it to Philippine Citizens. It does not hurt to ask, but if they ever refuse to give you the discount, remember that legally you are not entitled to it! 🙂

Mike Henebry
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike Henebry

I never even ask for senior discount on local transportation such as local buses, tricycles and jeepnys, at never at local, downscale restaurants. But, for expensive, long distance transportation or at upscale restaurants we always ask, usually get, and the savings are considerable. If they do say “no discount”, that is fine also. I know some expats that demand a senior discount for and ice cream cone or coffee at McDos; to me, this is too much work for all involved, and does not seem right because as you say, the program is really for senior Filipinos.

Bob Martin
5 years ago
Reply to  Mike Henebry

No problems, Mike, I was just letting you know. There is nothing wrong with asking, I just wanted to let people know that they are under no obligation to give the discount to foreigners, that’s all. Nothing against you.

Giovanni Revelo
Giovanni Revelo
5 years ago

For the most part, what was described here is true (I hope.) I will consider it fair to say that we can be trustworthy for the most part although I would still caution everyone, particularly foreign visitors, in that part of handing fares. Envy and greed still lurks where money can be made unscrupulously as foreigners and even balikbayans stand out like sore thumbs in a crowd (sadly, most balikbayans do intend to flaunt it.) Even without saying anything, most locales would look at those like walking cash registers. So as an advise that I gave to my Aunt years… Read more »

Bob - Expat Answer Man

The things you suggest are mostly true. But, they would apply to any country you travel to. Many people in the USA or UK or any other country will take advantage of tourists if the opportunity arises.

William Bevis
5 years ago

Great post!

Michael Heavrin
5 years ago

Good info. I learned the hard way on which bus to take. So now I look for a non stop aircon bus. BTW. I’m on my way back to Davao from Maramag today

Bob Martin
5 years ago

Cool. I like Maramag, it’s it s nice little town. I have been there many ti8mes.

Michael Heavrin
5 years ago

Bob Martin there’s a new hotel in town. The Hotel de Alexa just opened.

Mark Kuivenhoven
5 years ago

Did they pay there reolutionary tax yet?

Bob Martin
5 years ago

I have taken the bus a lot of times and have never been stopped by the NPA or asked for revolutionary tax. Frankly, Mark, you are scaring people over something that is not an issue. Congratulations for frightening potential tourists in the Philippines.

Mark Kuivenhoven
5 years ago

I have never been asked or even heard of that but I know they ask the bus company. I am truly sorry if I scared anyone

Bob Martin
5 years ago

Of course you scared people Mark. When you start talking like that, people who have never been to the Philippines will not even come. I’m sorry, but it’s not a very smart thing to say or very kind either. Next time you should think a little harder first.

Mark Kuivenhoven
5 years ago

Yes you are right

Wayne Broomfield
5 years ago

Ive taken the bus several times from Manila to Laguna and alway liked it when the vendors came on board to seel us some goodies cant resist to buy some fresh baked things

Michael Heavrin
5 years ago

I know I shouldn’t have, but that sweet cornbread I got in CdO was delicious

Bob Martin
5 years ago

LOL, yes those vendors are very persistent. I don’t need that kind of thing anymore, so I’m pretty easily able to avoid them. I just let them do their thing, and I do mine.

Wayne Broomfield
5 years ago

i am not that stronged willed Bob and I usually make a purchase

Bob Martin
5 years ago

I have to do it Wayne, I’d rather stay alive then die from eating that junk.

Lorne Rowe
5 years ago

I think its cool they let the vendors on and sometimes travel a little ways , love the Chicharons ?

Bob Martin
5 years ago

I have no problem with the vendors at all, I just don’t buy anything from them! 🙂 I tend to bring food with me if I think I will want to eat, I bring things that fit into my diet.

Wally Barr
5 years ago

They sold this peanut brittle which was very good.

Michael Heavrin
5 years ago

Lorne Rowe I like chicharrones too, but I need some salsa to go with it

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