Philippines, Travellers information

Information written and supplied by Martin (Herc) Gino and Richard Stewart of the HU Community in the Philippines. Thanks for the great job!

Introduction

This document is not a guide for the tourist. For that, you are directed to guidebooks like "Lonely Planet - Philippines" or one of the many others published on the Philippines.

The information presented here is more specific for the adventure motorcyclist wanting to tour the Philippines.

Map of Philippines

Fact & Figures

For facts and figures on the Philippines see The World Factbook.

Why the Philippines?

The Philippines is a well-known tourist destination in SE Asia that unfortunately, overseas motorcyclists do not often explore. This is probably due to the Philippines being off the "mainland" motorcycle tour routs. Others may be put off by the numerous ferry ("RoRo" in the Philippines for Roll-on/Roll-off) crossings that need to be made in getting from one island to another. This is all part of the adventure.

The Philippines offers a variety of cultures, spectacular scenery and unique riding experiences for those who make the effort to visit and explore this fascinating country by motorcycle. Being on a motorcycle, you will be closer to the real people and get to many areas not normally frequented by the tourist.

Other reasons to tour the Philippines are-

  • English is widely spoken and understood.
  • Relatively inexpensive. Provided you don't want 5 star accommodation all the way, you can budget on USD25 to USD50 per day (in 2005 terms) including fuel, plus bike costs.
  • No difficult boarder crossings.
  • Wide variety of riding conditions.
  • Always warm weather (except up high).

One visit to the Philippines is never enough!

Where to Go

Every island in the Philippines, and there are over 7,000 of them, offers the adventure motorcyclist something that is unique. The best advice is to visit as many islands as you can, however take enough time to truly explore what is available. Study Philippines guidebooks beforehand.

Generally, you should allow at least 3 to 4 days (preferably longer) for each island you intend to visit. The exceptions are the islands of Luzon and Mindanao (at least 7 to 10 days each) and Mindoro (at least 5 to 7 days).

An extensive tour of the Philippines will see you riding about 5,000km to 6,000km (3,000 miles to 4,000 miles) taking 6 to 8 weeks or more. A quick tour visiting 7 to 10 islands will take you at least 4 weeks.

About the only restriction you may find in deciding on where to go will be due to security concerns. In various regions of the Philippines, the security situation can change quite rapidly. Overall, the Philippines is a safe country to travel in. However, like traveling in any country, there are security matter that must be considered.

For an overall view on security before traveling to the Philippines, you should consult with the foreign affairs section of you government. While traveling in the Philippines, the local offices of the Philippines Department of Tourism can provide you with accurate local knowledge on security matters. Don't let security concerns put you off your trip. The amount of risk that you accept is all part of the adventure.

When to Go

First you should consider when not to travel in the Philippines. The periods to avoid are from 20 December to 7 January and 1 week before and 1 week after Easter. During these two periods, it seems every Filipino and his dog are on the move visiting their scattered families and relatives.

The other consideration in deciding when to go is the weather. With the Philippines lying in the northern tropics, most of the country has a warm to hot humid tropical environment. Forget trying to pick the "dry" season. While one region is experiencing its dry season, another is in the middle of its wet. Just accept that during some of your tour you are going to get wet.

Fortunately the air temperature in the Philippines always seems to remain between about 25°C to 35°C, so even in the rain it is like riding in a warm shower. The only cooler areas are up in the mountains, particularly in northern Luzon where the air temperature can get down to near freezing.

Getting There

Most people travel to and from the Philippines by aeroplane. There are some shipping services that carry passengers, however these are mainly from nearby countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia going to the southern parts of the Philippines.

If arriving or departing by air through Manila, of the Manila Airport Hotel actively encourages motorcycle touring of the Philippines and should be able to do you a good deal for accommodation at the hotel. The hotel is only a few hundred metres from the international terminal.

The main ports of entry (both by sea and air) are Manila and Cebu.

Check your Philippines guidebook and consult with your travel agent.

Insurance

The necessary evil you should have when venturing overseas is travel insurance.

Before you go any further in your plans for a Philippines motorcycle tour, check what travel insurance you have available. Many policies do not cover you while riding a motorcycle. Others only provide limited cover. You need to be sure that you can obtain suitable travel insurance that will cover you for your journey and the type of traveling that you will be undertaking.

The policy available may limit you on the type of bike you are able to ride.

If renting a bike in the Philippines, it most probably will not come with insurance cover, not even for the bike itself. This means that If the bike is broken (incl. mechanical failure) or lost, you pay for it. Many travel insurance policies include cover for damage to a rental vehicle up to a set limit.

You should also ensure that your policy covers you for your legal liability, in case you injure another person or damage someone else's property.

If you do not have international insurance cover for your own motorcycle or your are touring only the Philippines by motorcycle, it is best to take out comprehensive insurance on your bike in the Philippines. This can be arranged before you arrive through the Horizons Unlimited Community members for the Philippines.

For Australian residents you will find that 1Cover Travel Insurance offers very competitive rates for travel insurance (but does not cover your own motorcycle) and includes cover while riding any size of motorcycle (provided you are properly licensed) and cover for damage to rental motorcycles.

Health

Most major cities in the Philippines have adequate to good health facilities. In more remote areas, this standard could drop or such facilities may be non-existent. Before you travel to the Philippines, you should be in good health. This includes your teeth.

Malaria is still quite prevalent in many parts of the Philippines. It is recommended that you consult with your doctor at least 6 week prior to arriving in the Philippines to discuss the various options available to you to minimise the risks associated with Malaria.

It is also recommended that you have your tetanus immunisation up-to-date before you arrive.

Accommodation

Most of the good guidebooks will cover your accommodation needs. What they leave out is that you will want "motorcycle friendly" accommodation. For this, you can either search for yourself or ask at the local tourist office. What you are looking for is accommodation that has a locked area where you can keep your bike. At all times, you should ensure that your bike is secured to an immovable object when not in use.

A few other things to note are-

  • Do not expect hot water in your accommodation when outside of major cities and towns.
  • Do not expect toilets to have toilet seats unless you are in a "flash" establishment.
  • Carry toilet paper with you. You will often find that you need your own.

Which Bike?

Deciding on which bike is best for your tour in the Philippines is a personal decision that only you can make. The following is offered to assist you in making your decision.

  • Distances covered per day are usually less than 300km (200 mile) with most days being much less.
  • The maximum speed you will attain in towns and villages is 20kph to 40kph (12mph to 25mph). Out on the open road, you may get up to 60kph to 80kph (40mph to 50mph). For very short periods on very good roads, you may even get up to the heady speed (by Filipino standards) of 120kph (75mph).
  • Road conditions vary dramatically in the Philippines. The worst sealed roads are generally in the cities and towns. Outside of these areas you can expect conditions to vary from good duel lane smooth blacktop, to broken concrete, to rough dirt; all along the same section of road.
  • At the time of writing (Sep. 2005), motorcycles of under 400cc capacity are banned from using expressways. This action is being challenged in court so the ban may be lifted. Most of these expressways are around Manila, so the ban should have little impact on the touring motorcyclist.
  • Regular unleaded petrol is readily available. Premium is harder to find outside of major population centres.
  • If you are going to carry a pillion, make sure the bike is suitable for that purpose.
  • Make sure the bike is suitable to carry your luggage.
  • Make sure the bike is registered and road worthy, including mirrors, chain guard and front sprocket cover. Use a quiet exhaust system. You don't want to attract too much attention to yourself.
  • A tourist may operate a non-Philippines registered motorcycle for only the first 90 days of their stay in the Philippines.
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Your Bike

Importing Your Own Bike

It is not impossible to temporarily import you own bike into the Philippines, however Filipino officialdom can make it extremely difficult (and costly).

Caret de Passage is not accepted in the Philippines.

Once your bike arrives in the Philippines (by sea or air) you will need to spend 1 to 2 weeks at the port of entry to process the paperwork before you can ride off. This may include a payment of a "refundable" bond of 150% to 200% of Custom's estimated value of the bike. This estimated value may also include the freight costs of getting the bike to the Philippines.

To take your bike back out of the Philippines you must go through the same port as the bike's entry. Again you will need 1 to 2 weeks in the port to process the paperwork and a further week if you are hoping to get your "refundable" bond returned.

If you are still determined to take your own bike into the Philippines, the use of a good freight agent is considered almost a must.

Another method of getting your own bike into the Philippines without going through the officialdom is to consult with the local Filipino society in your home country. They often have arrangements (don't ask how) of getting quite large boxes of "personal goods" freighted into the Philippines without any officialdom problems. From Australia, the total cost is about USD3 per kg door-to-door taking 7 days for delivery.

Using this method, you may have to partially dismantle your bike and pack it into 3 or more boxes. You will also need a friend in the Philippines to take delivery. Trying to get your bike back out of the Philippines may present some problems, however they should not be insurmountable.

Borrowing a Bike in the Philippines

For this you need to know a REALLY GOOD friend in the Philippines who owns a suitable bike.

Renting a Bike in the Philippines

There are quite a few motorcycle rental businesses scattered throughout the Philippines. Most of these are only renting scooters to people who are riding within the local area. The biggest problem is finding a motorcycle rental that has suitable bikes, allows them to be taken from island to island and whose bikes are in reasonable condition.

Some known bike rentals in the Manila region are:

Nice Bike Rentals, Angeles

Rental prices are relatively cheap compared to most other countries, being about one-half to two-thirds less. The reason for this is that insurance is not included (and not available). If the bike is broken (incl. mechanical failure) or lost, you pay for it. Most rental businesses insist on holding onto your passport as an added form of security.

Before you rent your bike, it is a good idea to agree in writing on a "maximum loss figure". Also, make sure your travel insurance includes cover for damage to rental vehicles.

Most rental motorcycles will not come with fixed luggage, nor will they have racks for soft luggage. With enough time, the rental business may be able to arrange to have suitable fixed luggage and/or luggage racks fitted before you rent the bike. Of course, don't expect this to be a freebie.

Because of the difficulty (and cost) in sourcing good hard motorcycle luggage in the Philippines, it is recommended that you give serious consideration to bringing your own soft motorcycle luggage with you.

Buying/Selling a Bike in The Philippines

You can buy almost any type of motorcycle in the Philippines, from a Triumph Rocket III to the smallest of Chinese made scooters. Most of the major Japanese brand motorcycles officially released in the Philippines are sourced from China then assembled and badged in the Philippines. A Chinese (Japanese branded) bike released in the Philippines costs new about one-third the cost of the same bike fully manufactured in Japan.

When purchasing a new bike in the Philippines, you are restricted to those brands and models that are officially released there. This will limit you to Chinese or Japanese models under about 200cc or the more exotic larger bikes like BMW, HD and Triumph.

When purchasing a second-hand bike, you have a much wider choice. Many bikes have been privately imported into the Philippines over previous years.The only problem with "gray" import bikes is the availability of specialized parts. Basically you have three options; Chinese made & imported, Chinese sourced/Philippines assembled, and fully imported non-Chinese (including gray imports).

Whatever bike you buy, it most probably will not come with fitted luggage or suitable racks. You will need to have these fitted before you start your tour.

There are two ways of buying and selling a bike in the Philippines for touring.

Buying/Selling Through a Dealer

This is a rare transaction in the Philippines. You first need to find a dealer with a suitable bike who is willing to sell it to you and agrees to buy the bike back from you after. This is almost impossible to do unless you are in the Philippines.

This arrangement is generally restricted to new bikes. Expect to loose between 30% to 50% of the purchase price when you sell the bike back to the dealer (or privately if your have the time).

Buying/Selling Privately

Again the problems is that you need to be in the Philippines or have a knowledgeable and trusted friend there to buy and sell a bike privately. Whatever bike you buy, it will need some work on it before you start your tour. You need to allow 2 to 3 months to find and purchase a second-hand bike and have it serviced/modified for your trip.

A good place to find a suitable second-hand bike is in the Motorcycle Philippines free classifieds.

On the Road

Driver's License

The holder of a foreign drivers license is allowed to drive or ride in the Philippines using that license for the first 3 months of that person's stay in the Philippines. Of course, any conditions and/or restrictions on the foreign drivers license remain in effect while it is being used in the Philippines. After the 3-month period, you must hold a valid license issued by the Philippine Land Transport Office (LTO).

An international drivers license is not required to drive or ride in the Philippines. However, if your foreign drivers license is not in English, it is recommended that you hold an international drivers license (in English) in addition to your foreign drivers license. This will allow enforcement officers to easily verify that you are properly licensed.

If your foreign drivers license uses a code to specify conditions and/or restrictions on your license, it is also recommended that you carry a statement in English from your license issuing authority explaining the meaning of the codes as they appear on your foreign license.

Riding Conditions

Driving is on the right-hand side of the road (at least its supposed to be).

The first rule-of-the-road in the Philippines is "might is right". As a motorcyclist, you now know where you stand.

Believe it or not, they do have traffic rules in the Philippines. It is just that they are rarely enforced. This leads to a rather wild-west approach to riding conditions. What makes it exciting about riding in the Philippines?

  • Expect other traffic to suddenly stop for no apparent (to you) reason at any time, anywhere. To increase the excitement, expect the stopping vehicle's stop lights to be out of action.
  • Vehicles traveling at night without any lights.
  • Vehicle indicator lights mean "watch me, I'm going to do something stupid".
  • Animals and people walking, standing, sitting or sleeping on the road, particularly in the provinces.
  • Overtaking is done on either side.
  • Traffic lanes are only painted on the road to give employment to the lane markers.
  • The main purpose of traffic lights appears to be to brighten up the landscape.
  • Potholes big enough to swallow a bike appearing out of nowhere on what seems a perfectly good road.

You get the idea.

It is strongly recommended that you DO NOT RIDE AT NIGHT, even in the cities.

Traffic Rules Enforcement

Traffic rules are enforced by the Philippines National Police (PNP) and local traffic enforcement officers (TEO) employed by local governments. Both the PNP and TEO's are easily recognized by their uniforms and official numbers. If you have the slightest suspicion that a person trying to stop you is not a member of the PNP or a TEO, DO NOT STOP . Continue on and report the incident at the next PNP station you come to.

Out in the provinces, you may also come across military or PNP road blocks. Legitimate road blocks will be well signed, the personnel in full uniform and properly marked vehicles will be in attendance. If you have the slightest suspicion that a road block is not legitimate, turn around and head back to the nearest PNP station and report what happened. If, after turning around, you are fired upon, you will need to weight the risk of stopping or continuing on to a PNP station. Fortunately, this occurrence is rather rare, particularly if you took the advice of the local tourism office.

If you are involved in crash with another vehicle or person, you need to consider your safety before stopping or staying at the scene. Like many other countries, there is the very rare occasion when they may be staging an accident to try and rob you. If in doubt, ride straight to the nearest PNP station and report what has happened.

The Philippines are trying very hard to wipe out official corruption. Do not offer any graft to a member of the PNP or a TEO. If they suggest to you that they may be open to graft, consider paying, but please take their official number and report it to the next PNP station you come to. It is everyones responsibility to work on reducing official corruption.

You may find yourself in a situation where you have to surrender your license to a member of the PNP or a TEO due to an alleged breach of the traffic rules. This can be very inconvenient if you are touring. A less law abiding person may wish to carry a few authentic looking copies of their foreign driver's license to pass over to these officers. The chances are that they will accept it as your valid driver's license.

Of course, happily handing your driver's license over to an officer is bound to get him or her suspicious. You need to act accordingly when surrendering your driver's license.

Traffic rule infringement fines in the Philippines are ridiculously light compared to most western countries. For a list of fines, see the LOT web site.

Crash helmets are compulsory when riding on all roads in the Philippines.

Road Rules

In the Philippines you "normally" drive on the right-hand side of the road. For a brief introduction into traffic rules in the Philippines, visit the LOT web site.

Bike Repairs

With over one-third of all motor vehicles in the Philippines being motorcycles, there is at least one motorcycle repair shop in even the smallest town. These shops are usually quite knowledgeable in smaller bikes, however they may start scratching their heads with the latest sports and cruiser bikes.

The biggest problem is availability of parts. Luckily the Filipino bike mechanic is a most inventive person. You will be surprised what they can do with a piece of wire and some scrap metal. To find yourself stranded for the want of a suitable part, would not be a common occurrence.

Trip Planning

Plan your trip well in advance, however what you plan and what actually happens will be entirely different. That is how it is in the Philippines. When planning anything in the Philippines, you must remember that everything happens at "Filipino" pace. If you expect that something will take half a day, plan on it taking full day.

A good source of information to assist in trip planning can be found through the Motorcycle Philippines forum.

Average Speed

When traveling between towns, allow for an average speed of 50kph (30mph). You will be lucky to get higher and more probably it will be a bit less. Of course, when riding through towns you can expect halve this average speed.

RoRo Crossings

Most inhabited islands are serviced by a vessel having facilities for carrying a motorcycle. The frequency of these services varies, depending on the amount of traffic.

You will not be able to accurately plan RoRo crossings until you are at least on the island from which you wish to depart, or more likely at the port of departure. It is best to contact a local tourist office for the latest information on what is available.

You should arrive at least 2 hours before the scheduled departure of a RoRo ferry. This is to allow for the processing of your paperwork and the loading of your bike. Another 1 to 2 hours should be allowed for at the end of each crossing for unloading and more possible paperwork. Work on a RoRo ferry having a speed of about 8kts (15kph or 9mph).

No two RoRo crossings are the same. Each port seems to have its own set of rules (and charges). At each RoRo crossing be prepared to provide a copy of -

  • your passport
  • your driver's license
  • the bike's registration papers
  • if you are not the registered owner of the bike, a letter from the owner giving you permission to take the bike inter-island

Further copies may be needed when you unload the bike at the end of the RoRo crossing.

You cannot rely upon the RoRo having suitable tie-down straps for your motorcycle. It recommended that you take your own tie-down straps, otherwise the crew may use whatever piece of old rope they can find.

Maps

Finding a decent road map of the Philippines can be difficult, even in the Philippines. One reasonably accurate map is published by Hema. Some of the distances printed on the Hema map are noticeably incorrect. You are better off scaling the road distances.

Camping

There are only a few formal camping areas in the Philippines. With "hard-top" accommodation readily available in most towns for quite reasonable rates, it is generally now worth the effort to pitch a tent.

For safety reasons, camping is not recommended in the Philippines.

What to Take

Almost anything can be purchased in Manila and the larger towns of the Philippines; usually for less than you would pay in western countries. The only problem is quality and size. Quality is generally lower and,if you are a bigger than average build, it can be difficult to find the correct size .

Laundromats are virtually nonexistent in the Philippines, however almost every major town has at least one commercial laundry where you can get your clothes cleaned and dried.

It is not worth considering cooking your own food during your tour. There are shops selling acceptable quality food on what seems to be every second street corner, even in the provinces. In the provinces, it is acceptable to pick fruit from a farmer's trees, provided it is eaten on the spot and not taken with you.

Suggested Packing List

Note: When packing, the first consideration is size; luggage capacity on a motorcycle is limited. The second consideration is mass; you may have to spend some time carrying your luggage. The rule is, first select the smallest and then check to see if it close to the lightest.

Laundrettes (laundromats) are almost unheard of in the Philippines. However, most towns have at least one commercial laundry where you can get you clothes cleaned and dried for a modest fee.

Everyone has there own ideas on what they need when motorcycle touring. The following is a suggested minimum for touring the Philippines.

  • If your bike does not already have luggage fitted, you will need suitable luggage to take your gear.
  • 1 x motorcycle helmet.
  • 1 x pair motorcycle gloves, summer type.
  • 2 x pair of eye spectacles or sunglasses.
  • 1 x riding jacket, summer type, preferably with removable liner for when it is cold up high.
  • 1 x set wet-weather overalls.
  • 1 x pair of riding pants, preferably 2 pairs.
  • 1 x pair of riding boots.
  • 1 x pair of sandals.
  • 1 x hat for sun protection.
  • 1 x long-sleeve shirt, preferably cotton/polyester.
  • 2 x short-sleeve shirts, preferably cotton/polyester.
  • 3 x T shirts.
  • 2 x pair of short trousers, preferably cotton/polyester.
  • 1 x belt.
  • 5 x sets of underwear.
  • 5 x handkerchiefs or pkts of tissues.
  • 5 x pair socks.
  • 1 x pair swimmers.
  • 1 x towel.
  • 1 x pair pajamas.
  • Tea bags. Coffee is good but tea is lousy in the Philippines.
  • 2 x bottles of tropical strength insect repellent.
  • 1 x tube SPF 30+ sun scene.
  • 1 x first-aid kit.
  • 1 x toiletries bag with toiletries.
  • 1 x roll of toilet paper.
  • 1 x torch, a must for those common blackouts in the Philippines.
  • 1 x bum bag.
  • 1 x sleeping bag, fully opening type, tropical rating, in compression bag (for sleeping on rather than in).
  • 1 x pillow, compactable.
  • 1 x digital camera.
  • 1 x wristwatch.
  • 1 x road map of Philippines.
  • 1 x Philippines guidebook (e.g., Lonely Planet).
  • 1 x notebook with pen.
  • 1 x 2 litre Camel Pack type water bladder.
  • 1 x cell phone.
  • Passport with visa.
  • Drivers license (with international if required).
  • ATM card (preferably 2).
  • Philippines cash.
A suggestion is to also include 50 to 100 small souvenirs from your home country to give to children along the way. These are greatly received an spread goodwill among the locals.

Further Assistance

For further assistance with your Philippines motorcycle tour or suggested improvements to this information, contact the Horizons Unlimited Community members for the Philippines.



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