Phillipines Road Trip Report - Barry

Jul 28, 2004
Manila to Cebu City – Philippines – June 2009

As a former resident of Thailand and having lived here in the Philippines for the last four years and ridden most of the major islands of this beautiful country in that period I thought it about time I did a posting to give the members of the GT-Rider site an idea of the two-wheeled opportunities available here in the neighboring Philippines.

A few days ago I purchased a Honda XR200 trail bike to run in conjunction with my other bike, an Africa Twin RD07. The bike I bought was in Las Pinas – Metro Manila – while I live on the island of Cebu, some 700 kms south of Luzon Island. So the decision was made – rather than have the bike delivered to Cebu City by ferry I would travel up to Manila and ride it back through the Visayan Islands. Good excuse for a ride!


And so it was that on Tuesday last I was out of bed at 2am to get myself and my gear to Cebu Mactan airport for the 4.30am flight to Manila. The 1-hr flight was uneventful and I duly arrived at the seller’s house in Las Pinas in Metro Manila at approx. 7.30am. A couple of hours later and the paperwork was done and I was off – heading to Tagatay, Taal and the seaport of Batangas, 160 kms away and the jumping off point for the roro ferries to Mindoro island.


Riding in the Philippines is a somewhat different experience to riding in Thailand – there are some beautiful roads here (and some really bad ones too) but town by-passes are virtually unheard of so overall distances travelled tend to be a lot lower.
Once clear of the bedlam of Metro Manila the road to Tagatay is beautiful wide smooth blacktop climbing steadily for miles. The air gets cooler, the scenery greener and traffic is light. I rode through the mountain resort of Tagatay where Manila’s residents escape the urban heat and headed on to Taal before dropping down through miles of fast sweeping bends to the coastal road leading into Batangas. Once again I was faced with the usual frenzy of Philippine urban traffic but despite the apparent chaos here most road users are very tolerant of others and happily road rage does not seem to have arrived here yet.
Upon my arrival in Batangas I was met by Manny Doneza, a good pal of mine and a motorcycling enthusiast through and through who I initially met a couple of years ago when he bought a GS1150 from me. Manny served as my guide in Batangas and took me to an excellent hotel a few kms out of town where I would spend the night prior to catching the 6am ferry to Calapan on Mindoro island. The hotel is actually intended for liaisons of a more intimate nature but even alone it was good value for money at 700 pesos (500 baht) and in a very peaceful setting! (in the Phils karaoke rules and can disturb your sleep, so this was a big plus!) Shortly after Manny was back to take me to his house nearby where I enjoyed a marvelous dinner with him and his lovely family. This was a real treat and the perfect end to a long tiring day and by 10pm I was back at the motel and asleep.


Up with the lark at 4.30am, a quick cup of coffee and a short ride found me at Batangas Pier for the 6am boat to Calapan City on Mindoro Island. Ferries, or rather getting on them with a vehicle can be quite an experience for the uninitiated here in the Philippines. No such thing as buying a ticket and riding onto the boat. The drill here is normally a variation on the following – 1st you pay an arrastre (handling fee – even though no-one actually handles your bike except you yourself!) at one booth. Then you will pay a Port Authority fee, usually at another booth, followed by a terminal fee, bill of lading, and in some ports an additional passenger ticket fee. At Batangas the rider goes for free and you only pay for the bill of lading! Some ports also require a coastguard clearance certificate. This all adds up to reams of papers in duplicate and triplicate and sounds quite daunting at first but once you learn the drill is no big deal and invariably the local Philippinos involved are very helpful and a pleasure to deal with. (An important tip is to never discard any of this bumph as you will invariably be asked for some piece of paper you have just thrown away by the guard prior to exiting the pier at your destination! Not having it can result in a major headache – don’t ask me how I know!)


The boat loaded up with an assortment of trucks and jeepneys and left bang on time. We arrived in Calapan City, the provincial capital of Mindoro at 9am and it was straight to Jollibees (a Philippine take on McDonalds – in fact I prefer it to McDs!) for a typical breakfast of corned beef, rice and fried egg before filling the tank and setting off to Roxas, 140kms away in the south of Mindoro where I would catch the next ferry to Caticlan on Panay Island and the gateway to the world famous Boracay Island.




The road south alternated between beautiful empty well surfaced sections and sections where it suddenly turned to dirt road or on-going construction. A dual purpose bike is the only sort suitable on Mindoro IMO! The scenery was absolutely stunning all the way – Mindoro is very green and lush with a coastal strip where you ride through paddies overlooked by towering rugged mountains to your right! Needless to say, as in Thailand, the heat was extreme and frequent water stops are essential.



I pulled in to Roxas at about 1pm and after grabbing a bite to eat I made my way down a pretty rough road to the pier to sort out my ferry to Caticlan. I went through the same rigmarole described for Batangas and rolled on board the 5pm ferry to Caticlan with the usual wad of paperwork! We sailed on time and pulled into Caticlan at 9pm. It was at this point that a strange thing happened that would reoccur twice more during the trip. Once the four wheeled vehicles had offloaded I went to switch on the ignition and ….. nothing! Checked the killswitch and made sure it was in neutral and still nothing – no ignition lights at all. B----r! I asked a crewman to give me a hand to push it up the ramp but decided to give it one last try and bingo – ignition light on and fired up as if nothing had happened! Bewildered yet relieved I rolled off the ferry and found a room at a pier side lodging house for 500 pesos. This was good value as Caticlan is a real one horse town and merely a transit point for Boracay so accommodation is pretty thin on the ground and riding at night to the nearest town is best avoided due to hazards such as unlit vehicles, animals, large potholes and quite often people sitting on the roadside socially, oblivious to passing traffic! Although you couldn’t swing a cat in the room it was clean, the bed was extremely comfortable and it even had the luxury of aircon, so a good result all in all.
Up at 5.30am, filled up with petrol at the Petron station opposite the boarding house and rode out of Caticlan, heading for Kalibo and Dumangas, 200 kms away and the port that serves the roro boats to Bacolod City on Negros Island. This early dawn ride was absolutely fantastic. The road was perfect smooth blacktop, virtually deserted and the scenery picture postcard perfect. It is a fast sweeping coastal road as far as Kalibo, some 40 kms away. Then I had to face a brief tussle with the trikes and pedicabs in Kalibo city itself before breaking free and running south towards Iloilo City and the port of Dumangas. This section is one of the most beautiful sections of road I have ridden anywhere in the Philippines, mostly new blacktop or cement road running through picturesque villages, rice paddies and forested areas. A run guaranteed to put a smile on your face! Eventually stopped in Passi for my usual Pilipino breakfast at the Jollibee! From there it was another 1hr 20 mins ride to Dumangas and the boat to Bacolod City on the island of Negros.


The boat to Bacolod left at midday and arrived in Bacolod City at 2pm. Amazingly, the same thing happened here on disembarkation – bike was completely dead. Having seen this before, I was less inclined to panic and after about a minute the lights came on and she started up just fine.




Bacolod is not typical of the usual provincial city in the Philippines. It is a city of wide boulevards that grew in tandem with the sugar industry that dominates the island of Negros, and is a place I always find difficult to navigate. No exception this time, but eventually I got clear of the urban sprawl and headed inland to Mambukal, Mount Kanlaon volcano and the road over the mountains to my final overnight stop at San Carlos, Negros Oriental. The road climbed steadily and the skies grew blacker and I just knew that I was in for a soaking in the not too distant future! The run to San Carlos is no more than 100 something kms but they are extremely spectacular ones, believe me. Initially you ride through endless fields of sugar cane with just the odd trike to keep you company, with the brooding hulk of Kanlaon volcano and its surrounding peaks to your right. Then the road climbs sharply and you pass through a series of gorges, switchbacks and wild mountain scenery until eventually you start the descent towards San Carlos. About 50kms in the heavens finally opened and it was time to put on all my extra shirts and rain poncho yet it still felt cold – a rare sensation in these parts! The rain only lasted for 10kms or so but was sufficient to chill me to the bone. Thankfully the sun came out again as I rode down the switchbacks leading into San Carlos and by 4.30pm I was settled in the Skyland Hotel a short distance from the pier and the ferry to Cebu island.


San Carlos is a pleasant sleepy town swarming with pedicabs, motorbike tricycles but very few cars. A ride on a pedicab (tricycle powered by pedaling!) costs 7 pesos anywhere within the municipality, and like most places in the Phils, dual pricing is not an issue! Those guys must be fit! So I left the bike at the hotel and rode a pedicab to the local Gaisano Mall where I had dinner before retiring for an early night.

Breakfast at Skyland then down to the pier and on to the 10am boat to Toledo City on Cebu Island, from where it is another 90 minute run over the bikers heaven known as the Transcentral Highway that runs from Balamban (14kms north of Toledo) to Cebu City itself.


This boat is run by Lite Shipping and is my ferry company of choice in the Phils. It costs 300 pesos for the bike and 147 pesos for the rider and once on board you have the choice of aircon seating inside or your pick of bunkbeds in the fresh air on the upper deck. This is a great option as you can stretch out and relax, enjoy the nice cooling sea breeze and scenery or take a nap prior to docking in Toledo.

Once alongside in Toledo 90 minutes later the bike did its usual party piece before starting normally (I would stress that anywhere other than on a boat, it starts perfectly without exception – very strange!!!). and I rode straight to the nearest restaurant for a bite to eat before the final leg home. Pulled out of Toledo and rode the fourteen kms on the coast road to Balamban ducking and dodging the trikes which are everywhere and totally devoid of road sense before turning inland onto the Transcentral Highway over the mountains to Cebu City and journey’s end. This spectacular ridgeline highway crosses the mountainous spine of Cebu Island, and from its upper reaches you can get breathtaking views across the sea to Negros on the one side and Cebu City and Mactan Island on the other. This is another road that can be extremely chilly if the cloud rolls in, similar to Mae Salong area in the GT! The road is perfectly surfaced and rises and plummets like a roller coater before eventually dropping into Busay and Cebu City itself. I arrived home, tired but happy at 2.30pm that day.







Conclusions….. The xr200 is an ideal tool for the often unpredictable road conditions here and being locally assembled can be repaired anywhere if needs be. A very rugged little bike, and other than the strange behavior when riding off ferries, never missed a beat! I am delighted to have it as an alternative to the Africa twin.
I would ask people not to be put off by unfounded and often ill-informed comments about the Philippines in a motorcycling context. I have been here four years now and have ridden extensively. Even in the remotest areas (such as on Mindanao Island) I have found that a friendly word or smile is all it takes to experience the true warmth and friendliness of the locals. That and the fact that English is so widely spoken makes travel here a real pleasure.
The BIB (blue in this case) have never been anything other than unfailingly polite wherever I have ridden here and had any interaction with them. At most, they have asked to see my licence then it has been a case of thank you sir, enjoy your trip! Something of a contrast to their thai cousins in that respect!

Lastly, whilst organized motorcycle touring is still in its infancy here, a very professional outfit using brand new KLR650s is run by an American chap called Bryan from his base near Dumaguete City on Negros Oriental. I know he runs tours to a lot of places I have visited and I can vouch for the quality of his bikes. A nice bloke – his website can be found on ... t%204.html

Hope you enjoyed the report – Cheers - Barry


Oct 15, 2006
Khuang Nai

Nice one, really nice to see that there is excellent riding opportunities in Phil as well.

Great pictures as well.

I assume that fuel prices in there are similar to Thailand?
Jul 28, 2004
Hi Marco! Fuel slightly more expensive here and price fluctuates more! However, the gasohol issue does not exist here. Only Shell even sells the e10 stuff. no one else will touch it and 95 or 98 unleaded is the way to go thank God!
Mar 15, 2003
Great, and an appreciated, report Barry. I hear mixed stories about the Phillipines but as of yet I haven't taken the opportunity to go there. I hope to remedy that soon.

I like the idea of the bunk beds on the ferry.

Are you there because you prefer it over Thailand or because of other circumstances? I sometimes think it is good to have an alternative to the Land of Not So Many Smiles Anymore.

Thanks for the report.
Jul 28, 2004
Hi Silverhawk! To be frank, i lived in thailand for 7 years and never felt I would be anything other than the farang there. Whilse the Phils lags well behind LOS in terms of infrastructure and development in general I feel that the warmth and genuine friendliness of the Philippine people more than makes up for any material shortfalls.
I have no regrets and would not wish to return to Thailand other than to ride the GT from time to time.
Mar 15, 2003
Barry Neves wrote: Hi Silverhawk! To be frank, i lived in thailand for 7 years and never felt I would be anything other than the farang there. Whilse the Phils lags well behind LOS in terms of infrastructure and development in general I feel that the warmth and genuine friendliness of the Philippine people more than makes up for any material shortfalls.
I have no regrets and would not wish to return to Thailand other than to ride the GT from time to time.
Sounds like I need to come have look sooner rather than later. Thanks again. :?
Jun 21, 2006
barry i really enjoyed your report and its nice to see what riding in the phillipines can be like. although all that ferry emnarking must be a bit annoying. not if you like boats though i suppose. great pictures though.

At most, they have asked to see my licence then it has been a case of thank you sir, enjoy your trip! Something of a contrast to their thai cousins in that respect!
havent found this the case though, thai coppers although with a foul reputation, traffic cops at least have always been complete gentlemen with me.

again, thanks for sharing!


Mar 29, 2004
Excellent report, well written and great pics.
Hadn't checked the Global thread before, will keep an eye on it from now on.

Philippines, what a great place, especially once you get out of the big cities.
I lived and worked in Palawan from 1995 to 2000.

I came across the following thread the other day where an American in Cebu wants to start offroad tours ... p?t=923231