The public transport in Manila is a mess, and driving is your best option if you ever land for a visit. However, the streets of Manila can be quite intimidating (and frustrating), especially for foreigners driving in town for the first time.
1. Get to Drive
The moment you land, you can quickly get a rental car at the airport. You can specify a specific model if you make prior arrangements online, as well as any add-ons that you might need. You don’t need a special permit or an exclusive license for your first 90 days as long as you already have a driver’s license issued by your country of origin. If you are on a business trip, it might be prudent to have your company arrange for a vehicle and a driver to meet you at the airport, but you can quickly drive yourself without too much difficulty.
2. Navigate the Streets
The only thing you’ll need to drive in Manila is a GPS device or phone app. Road construction, one-way streets, constant name changes — you’ll need an updated navigation system to keep up with all that’s happening on the road. The Philippines has adopted the English alphabet in its writings, so you’ll have no problems deciphering street names. Just keep in mind that street names in the country can be quite similar, so punch in specific locations in your navigation system, or you might get taken for a long ride.
3. Know the Restrictions
You can’t drive your vehicle every day. Depending on the last digit of your car, it is restricted from driving at specific times during specific days. Vehicles with plates ending in 1-2 are restricted from driving during Mondays, 3-4 during Tuesdays, 5-6 during Wednesdays, 7-8 during Thursdays, and 9-10 during Fridays. Restrictions apply from 7 am to 8 pm.
4. Beat the Rush or Wait it Out
Traffic can get quite horrendous in certain parts of the city during rush hours. The usual 15-minute drive can take two to three hours — more if it’s raining. Rush hours are 6-8 in the morning and 6-9 at night. Either get on the road before then or wait it out in a coffee shop or a restaurant. Waiting out the rush hour is a common practice among professionals, and there is no lack of coffee shops and restaurants in the myriad of malls and similar establishments in the metro.
5. Prepare for Unruly Behavior
Philippine drivers are some of the best in the world because they practice in hellish conditions. Cutting and swerving are common occurrences, and vehicles will change lanes (even in traffic!) to inch forward slowly. Pedestrians can be quite daring, not waiting for traffic lights to change and just charging in when vehicles are sparse. Motorcycles will weave through traffic or stop in front of your car without prior warning.
Manila’s roads will test your driving skills, reflexes, and patience. Arm yourself with a useful navigation device, avoid the rush hours, and keep your eyes open for the unexpected.