How to navigate Metro Manila like a pro

Navigating Metro Manila is incredibly easy. Commuting around it, as well as its traffic conditions, is predictable as any Asian city. Public transport is relatively affordable, and traffic are always heavy during rush hours. The best thing about Manila? There's always a shopping mall near you, and great food abounds!


How to navigate Metro Manila like a pro


THE BASICS
  • Make sure you have Google Maps on your smartphone for easy reference. Avoid bringing big physical maps as it will only attract scammers, opportunists and thieves. Get a local SIM card (Smart or Globe network) to support your data needs.
  • Install a Grab or Uber app (Uber is expected to merge with Grab soon, but as of this writing, Uber app is still online).
  • Purchase Beep Cards for your MRT and LRT train fares.
  • Keep lots of loose change for jeepney and bus rides.
  • Always carry your bags or backpacks in your front. Don't wear excessive, flashy, and expensive jewelries.

MODES OF TRANSPORT

Jeepneys. I was born in Manila and I have been riding jeepneys for as long as I can remember. They are ridiculously affordable and they're as abundant as water lilies in the river. Hands down, the jeepneys win it when it comes to having all the routes in Metro Manila you can ever imagine. You can easily spot a jeepney because it resembles an old US Army jeep used by the Americans during the second world war. Use exact change when paying for your fare. Some drivers are deliberately forgetful when you pay in large denominations like P100 or P500. Fare: from P8 to P20+ depending on travel distance.

Buses. They come in two variants, the ordinary ones and airconditioned ones. You may want to use the airconditioned buses, not unless you don't mind the city's scorching heat and humidity. My only problem with these buses is that they tend to linger too long at bus stops waiting for passengers when they're not full. Fare: from P12 to P60+ depending on travel distance.

Tricycles. They are motorcycles with side cars that can accommodate 2 to 5 passengers in one trip. They are usually found in most of Manila's side streets and inside small villages and subdivisions. They charge cheap but they charge double or triple if you want to be conveyed to a destination outside their routes. Fares: from P8 to P15 depending on travel distance.

FX/UV Express. They are basically taxi carpool vehicles where 10 or more people (depending on size of the UV Express) share a ride to a fixed route and destination. The most popular among people who commute to work everyday, they are a faster ride compared to jeepneys and buses. You can find them at most malls and shopping centers metrowide. One word of caution though: it may feel a bit crowded inside an FX/UV. Fare: from P25 to P60+ depending on travel distance. 

LRT/MRT. The Light Rail Transit and the Metro Rail Transit are the most modern forms of transportation. It is a time-saving and inexpensive mode of travel and is utilized by most commuters on tight schedules. Beep cards, similar to Hong Kong's Octopus cards, are available at the LRT/MRT stations, malls, and convenience stores. Downside: waiting lines can queue to as far as half a kilometer during rush hours. Fare: from P15 to P30 depending on travel distance.

Taxicabs. When using a taxi, always insist that they use the meter. Taxis seem cheap in Manila, but if they don’t use the meter, it will always cost you more. Don’t be afraid to tell the driver to switch it on and, if they refuse, get out and find another. Also, don’t grab taxis sitting just outside a tourist attraction or hotel -- they are waiting for tourists and will no doubt inflate the price. Walk down the street a bit and flag one down instead.

GRAB and UBER. Uber is expected to merge with Grab any time soon, but as of this writing, Uber app is still online. They are slightly more expensive than taxis but they're more convenient. You can readily get the fare prices up front and the risk of a scam is next to zero. 

There are motorbike rides (habal-habal), trains and ferry boats in some places but I haven't personally used them nor am I planning to do so.


GETTING AROUND FOR FOOD

In Metro Manila, everyone goes to the mall to shop (or at least window shop) and eat. While the heat and humidity outside make wandering the city downright oppressive at times, the shopping malls are a complete contrast, offering plenty of cool air, and lots of places to sit and relax. Three of the best shopping malls here are the SM Malls, Ayala Malls and the Robinson Malls - mostly located beside MRT stations in North Edsa, Cubao, Ortigas, Shaw, Boni and Ayala. They're usually open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. everyday,

Eating and drinking is at its best at the mall's casual dining restaurants like Max's, Gerry's Grill or Dencio's - they have the most delicious take on Filipino food. During nighttime, you may want to explore on foot the Timog and Tomas Morato area, easily accessible near the GMA-Kamuning MRT Station.

When backpacking and when you want to save on your food, the best places are convenience stores (7-11 and Mini-Stop) which you can find almost everywhere. They offer cheap pack lunches and you can ask the staff to heat them up for you. You can also buy your daily-needed stuff like water, instant noodles, bread, cigarettes, beverages, and so on. The advantage of convenience stores are they stay open 24 hours a day. 

If you're an adventurer (and less picky), have the time to explore the backstreets for awesome street food. Try isaw (chicken intestines), balot (duck eggs), kwek-kwek (orangey egg balls), fishballs, squidballs, etc. If you’re worried about getting sick, the safest street foods are those that are cooked in front of you and served hot, which kills off bacteria.


WANTING TO BOOK YOUR HOTEL IN ADVANCE? 

I recommend TravelBook. I’ve used them before and they’re great for advance booking and seeing timetables. Besides hotels in Metro Manila, they also offer hotels in most tourist spots like in Baguio, Tagaytay, Cebu, Ilocos Norte, among others.


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How to navigate Metro Manila like a pro How to navigate Metro Manila like a pro Reviewed by Leun Sotragues on 11:50 PM Rating: 5

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