We didn’t plan. My idea! I thought it would be easy to get about. From Rome2Rio site it looked like there were buses and flights. Simple right?
No chance. The reality is a whole different matter. This is hard travel. It all happens on the ground. You need to be in a place to book your bus tickets, check the times. Show up early on the day as they don’t do advance booking and if you get there too late then the bus is fully booked then you don’t get on and have to wait for the next one or perhaps the one after that. Not quite what we expected. We learnt something new for every bus we got!
So! We flew into Laoag. Our flight was late, gone 9pm. There were loads of porters in arrivals and so we expected the same with taxis, ready to bombard us as we walked out. Alas we were wrong. No taxis. No rank. Everyone flying in was local. They all had their lifts organised. We didn’t! We wandered around pursue looking and finally a porter punted us in the direction of a tuk tuk – locally known as a tricycle. Our bags were placed on top and we got into the side car in the hope that bags would still be there on arrival. In hindsight, which we talk about a lot; we should have asked the hotel to organise a transfer. We got there in the end.
Next stop, Laoag to Vigan. We asked at the front desk about buses. They looked at us blankly. At this place, a little outside of Laoag, the norm was that people drove. So we got a tricycle into town and went in search of the Partsas bus station to buy our ticket for the next morning. Different bus companies often have their own stations – just beware. The young lady behind the counter told us that there was a bus the next morning at 9am. We could only buy our tickets 30 mins beforehand.
Up early, breakfast had, off to the Partas bus station we went for the 9am bus. There was no 9am bus. It wasn’t coming. Next bus at 10am. Time to sit back, relax and get into the Filipino groove. Fortunately the 10am bus showed up and we were on our merry way. 2.5 hours down the road we went and we’re dropped off in central Vigan. Not in the bus station what we might check out how to dust the city two days later.
We realised that if we wanted to continue our journey to Sagada there would be travel challenges ahead. The comfortable bus route or the jeepney route where you wait on roadsides in the hope that a jeepney will come along. We opted to go the “comfort route” via Baguio.
We paid a visit to the Partas bus station the following day. Three different people told us three different times for buses the next morning. There might be a 6am but they wouldn’t know until the next morning. The next one would be at 10am and that was more guaranteed. We opted to take the chance of the early bus and fortunately it paid off. a comfortable bus arrived and we prepared ourselves for the six hours journey ahead which would bring us up into the Highlands.
Forget Google’s time reference, it takes 6 hours to get from Vigan to Baguio (also known as the City of Pines) on the bus and then another 6 hours for 133km to get to Sagada. And not possible to do the two journeys in one day (if going the comfort route) as the bus times don’t match up. We stayed in Baguio for 2 nights and took in the congested / polluted city within a valley where the pollutants don’t have much of an opportunity to get blown away.
This time, our hotel phoned for us about bus times to Sagada. There were a number of different choices between the GL and Lizardo bus companies. We opted for the 830am bus. We got to the Dangwa bus station to be told that the bus was full. We could get the next one at 10am. Again tickets could only be bought the same day. Ticket office opened at 5am. Lesson learnt – always get to the bus station well early! The 10am bus was more comfortable than the 830am, but this comes down to pot luck. 6.5 hours later through the mountains, with two loo / food stops we made it to Sagada.
We’d just missed the 330pm jeepney to our accommodation near Bomod-ok but the next one was at 4pm. Which actually turned out to be 4.45pm as the driver decided to wait for the teachers at the local school. Must have been a Friday feeling! The jeepneys have a schedule – kinda.
As soon as we arrived we started planning our exit to Manila on Monday morning. We’d opted against the Coda bus which went direct to Manila from Sagada at 3pm. Arriving into Manila at 3am was not something we wanted to experience and opted to go back to Baguio, make our way from Dangwa bus station to the Government Road bus station and get a deluxe bus back to Manila. Again, what we didn’t realise, even though we went to the Government Road, was that with JoyBus you can book in advance. We think there is a website out there that you can book on, it’s just finding it!! Online booking in the Philippines is a novel concept and one which may take a few years to come in. They still issue paper tickets with holes punched through to indicate destination, time, seat etc.
So escaping Sagada, we opted for the 5am bus to Baguio. You stand at the bus stop, place your luggage in a queue on the side of the road (they like a good queue in the Philippines) and wait for the bus. We were at the stop at 420am. The first ones. We were learning! Good job. The bus was full when leaving for the 6.5 hour journey West. Sit on the side of the driver for sunrise and to see the cloud forest as you head down. There are some sheer drops and at times I couldn’t look out.
We got a taxi to take us to the Joy Bus station in hope of making making the 12 noon bus. The one with the big seats, 3 seats across, reclining and screens. No stops. Used the toll highway. We were in luck. The bus was there. Into the office to buy the ticket for 780 pesos. No luck. Full. They had a list of standbys for it and by time of leaving there was one seat available but I want gonna leave himself behind. Next deluxe one was at 3pm to Pasay. Or 5pm. Or 6pm. All standby. Definite for 8pm. No chance. We had a hotel booked and there was a glass of wine with my name on it in Manila.
We had a quick walk about and ascertained that there was a bus going to Avenida in Manila at 1.15pm, with stops, not on the tolled highway and we would cab it from there – that would use up the savings on the ticket price which was 460 pesos. There are three bus terminals. Avenida, North of the city, Cubao; out West and Pasay, south (out near the airport) so choose wisely.
There is another other way to see these places – book a driver / tour from Manila and you won’t have to think about any of this. You just miss out on seeing the countryside, seeing what the locals need to do to get about and of course early mornings and the waiting and hoping that you will get to your destination.