Now This is What I Call Travel! How to Survive Riding on Top of a Bus in the Philippines

Throughout October I am featuring Memory Monday. A throwback to past travel posts. No. 2 features my summer vacation trip to Palawan in the Philippines. Although our final destination ended up being quite different than what we expected, the overall trip was a success. The Philippines offers incredible beauty, friendly people, and some delicious food.

Who says $5 can’t buy you any thrilling adventure? As I found myself supplanted atop a Filipino bus, dangerously comfortable on this artistically bold transport hurling through the remote highways of Palawan in the Philippines, life could not have been any better. To the locals, it is an everyday occurrence. I defiantly told the driver, er, the man in the tank top and cut off shorts, I would like to sit on the roof of the bus for the upcoming four-hour trip. “Go ahead,” he says without a second glance. Apparently not as big of a deal to a Filipino, I still proudly climbed the ladder onto the metal roof and threw down my bag next to a crate of toilet paper and a large box of soap. I would soon find out this was a trip much longer than previously anticipated.

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My travel buddy Tim and I sipped San Miguel’s and Red Horse beer (both local Philippines products), ate fresh fruit, and chatted up locals to pass the time. Our departure was scheduled for noon. However, we would soon find out how Filipino travel works. As I am now somewhat of a seasoned pro on Filipino travel, the safer bet is to be incredibly patient and realize that the vehicle will leave once it is packed full of paying customers. So, bring a book, drink a local beverage, and take in the surrounding flavors of the Philippines.

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Another good tip is to bring a couple packs of cigarettes on the journey. I personally don’t smoke but found out that Filipino males love two things: foreign cigarettes and Bon Jovi. Mention the fact that you are from the U.S.A and you might have a friend for the duration of the journey. Also, take advantage of the roadside eateries and vendors. For two USD, 100 PHP, I was able to enjoy pancit (a noodle dish with vegetables and chicken) and a drink. From the perch of my seat, I would just hand down my bills and reach out for the delicious food in return.  I definitely recommend having a packed meal or small bills in order to buy snacks at the small markets because the length of the trip may be much longer than expected.

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Above all else, remember to relax and embrace the local way of traveling. This may not be the best way to travel for most people, but it was truly an unforgettable travel moment for both Tim and myself. The scenery is majestic and the accompanying passengers, albeit timid at first, certainly becoming a great source of information and extremely friendly when all is said and done.

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What are some of your best travel experiences? Share them below. I would love to hear about any wacky or exciting overland trips from your travels.

11 thoughts on “Now This is What I Call Travel! How to Survive Riding on Top of a Bus in the Philippines

  1. Ah, and I complain about the public transport in my city : ) Well at any rate it looks extremely funny and quite adventoruos. I want to try!

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  2. Hah! That title really got my attention… Embracing the local’s mode of transportation is indeed the best thing to do. That was quite an adventure, the local-way, for just $5. Let me try that out when I go to Philippines. Cheers!!

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  3. Ooooh I would love to travel on top of a bus in Asia someday! I’ve had similar experiences with Tuk Tuks where it was going full-speed down the road in the wrong sense of traffic, making me scared for my life. But I’ve never had that much fun either:P Thanks for sharing:)

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  4. Some of my best travel experiences have been in the mountains. I LOVE the mountains, and we have hiked in the National Parks in the US – Alaska, Montana, Colorado, Washington. The cool thing has been encountering mountain goats and bears on the trail, and all of the other wildlife we have seen. Philippines looks like fun!

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  5. Wow. This was fun, right? It reminds me some trips that I did in Centro America. And the locals understand English? I really didn’t know about their love for Bon Jovi…but, I completely understand. Lol

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