All day I tried to get myself in the right mind frame for the overnight bus from Manila to Banaue. I’ve been on overnight trains in both Thailand and India, but never a bus, and never sitting upright for ten or more hours. Plus, although reading things online can be helpful, it can also scare you a bit. Reviews for Ohayami buses to Banaue weren’t good, but there are very few other options to get you there.
What I did learn from online reviews was that the buses were freezing and the area in Manila the bus terminal was located in didn’t have much around it. So I packed all my layers in my carry-on, and stocked up on snacks and ate a good dinner at Mall of Asia before heading to the station. Which after seeing where the station was, I can honestly say that the reviewers were right.
The station is a tiny open air building with a small ticket counter and seating area. It’s recommended that if you are wanting to buy tickets day of, you should come by earlier in the evening or afternoon to get your tickets in advance to guarantee you a seat. They also offer an online ticketing system if you book before you go. You’ll essentially have to fill out their online form, they’ll send confirmation and a PayPal payment request, you’ll pay it and then forward the proof of payment to their email and you’ll then be sent your ticket voucher which you need to print and have with you. Yes, a bit complicated but this is what we did and it worked! Tickets cost 470 PHP one way (around $9.75 USD).
They advise that you arrive to the terminal at least an hour before departure, but remember traffic can be terrible in Manila, so allow for extra time to be safe.
Boarding for the bus was announced over the loud speaker at the tiny station at around 9:30pm. Thankfully our bus wasn’t full, so the extra middle seats that flip down in the aisles weren’t in use. My first impression of the bus was “I can do this”. Sometimes I think preparing for the worst really leaves you in a more accepting state.
Seats go two-by-two and there is a little net for storage in front of your seat and overhead storage for small bags. There are curtains to pull shut over the windows that are a funky blue and purple ocean pattern that reminded me of something you’d find in the 70s. The “cold” bus everyone warned about definitely lived up to the reviews. By the end of the bus ride I was wearing leggings, two sweaters, a long sleeve shirt, and had a towel and beach cover-up wrapped around me.
The other odd quirk of the bus was the playlist the driver had going played English music from I think every decade but this one. But I was really feeling the old school Taylor Swift and S Club 7.
The first stop on our journey was at around 11:45pm at Jograd Restaurant where you could buy snacks like chips or a meal from their “restaurant” and use the restroom. However the food was just under those warmer containers for god knows how long so I opted out and decided to stick with snacks. For the bathroom, bring your own toilet paper and 5 pesos to use it, however, I walked right past the guy and he didn’t seem to care I didn’t pay. In total, we were stopped for around 15 minutes. On the way back, the first stop is Amelia’s Restaurant and was at around 9:35pm.
At around 5am, we made our next stop at Amelia’s Restaurant and gas station. However the physical restaurant was closed, but this is a chance to use the restroom. I didn’t even drink water between stop one and two because I was too concerned I’d have to pee before one of our stops! Considering there was about five hours between stops I’m glad I dehydrated myself. Stop two on route back to Manila was Jograd Restaurant again and it was at around 2:40am.
As we got closer and closer to Banaue, I noticed our bus turned into a local bus. We started to pick up locals and drop them off at random points. About 20 minutes away from Banaue, our tickets were checked and we were told when we arrived to pay the 20 peso environmental fee and hop on their free shuttle to the station where they would issue our ticket for our ride home. For some reason we needed to do this before our departure back.
We arrived (and survived)
Before we knew it, 8am came around and we pulled into the Banaue registration desk which really is a very tiny house/building. We paid a 20 PHP registration fee and there was a shuttle there to take us to the bus “station” which was also just a window off a small convenience store. However, our hostel surprisingly was waiting there to pick us up themselves! We exchanged our voucher for our return ticket and went off to enjoy our stay in Banaue.
On route back to Manila, our bus left earlier at 7pm and we arrived back in Manila at around 7am. It was a bit longer of a ride but Manila traffic never helps and we seemed to stop a million times picking up random things for the driver, and random people without really any explanation. It was odd.
Overall though, it wasn’t all that bad. I think potentially many of the complaints towards the bus were coming from those that expected something more than a regular plain, old bus and also those that maybe didn’t do their research so didn’t bring warmer layers. Considering this is essentially the only way to Banaue with the exception of renting a driver and car for a high price tag, I wouldn’t avoid going there just because of the bus! Another company that runs is Florida however I don’t think this bus line is that much of an improvement from Ohayami from what I heard from others I met.
P.S. Sorry about the crappy photos in this post, I felt weird taking out my good camera on an overnight bus!