What is it like to drive in the Philippines?
Driving here is nothing like in the US a whole set of different regulations or seemingly, a complete lack of any apply here. One thing about driving here in the Philippines that is like the US is that they do drive on the same side of the street as we do. And large cities is much like driving in a US city, it’s the rest of the country that differs. Don’t be a person who is prone to road rage, it just doesn’t pay here. If you do every day will be ruined for you, I can grantee that. Driving from point-A to point-B is challenging, especially during rush hours after 4:30pm.
Many obstacles will confront you.. people walking in the road, kids playing in the road, bicycles and slow motorcycles, slow tricycles lined up one after the other and especially people making unsafe passing in large buses or trucks! This is the norm here so get used to it. You are lucky if you can achieve a speed higher than 20 KPH in the city. So many distractions and hazards, you must be on your toes constantly. Some Americans don’t even like driving here and just hire a driver, they are fairly cheap here. However, I like the challenge so I do drive and I drive like a Filipino. Here’s A good example of driving Philippine style, if you want to make a left turn across traffic, and you pull up to where you need to turn and put on your turn signals and just sit there waiting, you may never get across that traffic. They just look at you wondering what the heck you are doing. You need to look for a break in the inner lane of the oncoming traffic, just carefully nudge your front wheel out there until you make them stop, then do the same for the other lane, once that traffic stops you can proceed. They are used to this, it happens all day long and they will stop.
Keep eye contact with the other driver at all times so you know he sees you. A long blast flashing high-beams means he’s not going to stop, so just let him go through. If some one stops or waves you through then you are safe to proceed. Believe me this is hard to do at first but the Filipinos expect it and they will stop for you. Some times you may have to wait a while but sooner or later someone will stop, you need your wheels right up there close and personal with that traffic. I find this nerve racking but it’s how they do it here. Most Filipinos when pulling out of a store or gas station don’t even look to see if the road is clear, they just drive right out into the traffic. I see motorcycles coming out of a side street, the driver not even looking left for traffic and as usual they seem to some how get in with out incident. In the US he’d be dead long ago, and you don’t dare put your nose into traffic or get it knocked off.
You will often have to deal with faster traffic behind you, usually large vehicles. Keep your cool at all times, don’t make an ass of yourself on the road. Some times you have to hit the brakes and let them in, this is the normal here get used to it. In a single drive you will encounter this many many times. The most nerve-racking is when a bus passes you. It’s best if you see him coming in the rear view mirror, then give him lots of room and slow down or you may get run right off the road. They have an EXTREMELY loud horn and will hit it as they come up behind you. Move to the right-side of your lane because he intends to pass you. Again this is normal day to day driving here. Like I said this is too much for some guys so they just hire a driver and let them do the driving. It is primarily on the open highway that you will have to deal with these sort of situations. Expect to see LOTS of unsafe passing, and keep to the right-side of your lane to avoid oncoming vehicles.
Here’s another situation that will most likely happen to you. You are driving down a main highway and all of a sudden you see this guy up ahead pull into your oncoming lane. I thought he was going to hit me head on. He just wants to make a left turn using the same method as before only this time, since the whole lane was vacant he just goes ahead pulls into it entirely and drives up the wrong side of the road for a few feet then makes his turn. You have no choice but to stop and let him complete his turn, again this is normal here. Get used to the way they drive here, don’t let it ruin every minute of your driving experience, make it a challenge to become like them, drive like they do.
To get a ‘feel’ for what it’s like riding a motorbike through Philippines traffic, check out this video. It was shot in Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, during rush hour. The video below it discusses the pros and cons of having either a motorbike or car/truck for driving in the Philippines.