Manila is the busiest city in the Philippines. People seem to be always going somewhere, everywhere. Manila roads are always packed with traffic, public transports are always crowded with commuters, and side-streets are always full of pedestrians. This is why getting around Manila could be difficult if you are not used to doing it.
There are several forms of transport that can get you to anywhere you wish to go. The jeepney, tricycle, bus and taxi are all working for you. What you need to know are the little, practical things to do when getting a ride, paying the driver, and getting off.
Know that traffic rules in Manila are very loose, except for those rare moments when traffic enforcers are patrolling the area. When they are not around, jeepneys and buses can stop anywhere they like to pick up and drop off passengers. To get a ride, simply wave your index finger at the driver. In most cases, the drivers stop whenever they see potential passengers even before a finger even gets raised.
Notice also that in spots where passengers congregate, there is almost always a barker. Almost always it’s a half-naked man with an annoyingly loud voice. Barkers are actually very helpful when you need directions. They can tell you what route you need to get on, how much fare you need to pay, and whether or not there is still space in the jeepney for you.
You don’t need a barker when getting on a taxi, though. During rush hours, you might need to compete with other waiting passengers to get a taxi. Away from hotels and malls, there are no organized queues, so you will probably have to wave one over from the sidewalk.
Also, make sure that you have enough loose change. Often, drivers would not bother to give you change if you’ve given more than necessary. The usual rule is that jeepney fare costs Php8.00 for the first four kilometers. Don’t be surprised, though, that drivers may charge different amounts for the same distance, since they are not following any scientific methods of measuring how many kilometers they have driven. Taxi flag-down, on the other hand, costs Php40 and an additional Php4 for every kilometer.
While seated inside a jeepney or bus, make sure to check your wallet, money or belongings every now and then. Not to bad mouth the people, but the reality is that tourists are always the easiest and most lucrative targets for pickpockets in many parts of the world. Thus, it is better to be wary when in a place where you encounter other persons closely.
Although Filipinos speak good English and they expect Western tourists to talk to them in English, learning how to speak Filipino when paying and alighting could be helpful and fun. When paying, say, “Bayad, po.” When getting off and you want the driver to stop, say, “Para” or “Sa tabi lang, po.” A “po” is added after a sentence to show respect. To thank someone, say, “Salamat, po,” or even “Thank you, po.” Speaking in the language usually tickles and flatters the locals, so you might get better and more cheerful service for this.
A few final notes include what to do when going for a walking tour by yourself. If you wish to walk so that you can do some sightseeing on your way to your destination, do stay on the main roads. The back alleys can be dangerous even for local tourists, so it is better not to tempt fate. Crossing Manila streets can also be intimidating. The trick is to raise your hand with your palm pointing at the driver’s face and cross as if you were in authority. If the driver is not drunk or a psycho, he or she will stop for you. Do not, under any circumstances, do a back-and-forth dance of hesitation that involves you stepping forward and back more than twice in rapid succession: it often confuses and sometimes provokes drivers into forcing the issue. As long as you take note of these tips and follow the precautions, getting around Manila can be easier – and safer – than you think.