Our Philippines Roadtrip

The Plan: Getting a Driver’s License

Months ago, Sarah suggested that we spend the first two weeks of summer holiday traveling around the Philippines. We decided we’d do this by car because a) we both hate flying and b) what better way to see lesser-traveled parts of your new country of residence?

Sarah did some research and eventually uncovered a blog that detailed a pretty feasible route. Since Sarah’s UK driver’s license had expired, I took it upon myself to obtain a Philippines driver’s license, a process comprised of the following steps:

  • Go to Quezon City.
  • Undergo “medical exam.” Here, I was told to cover one eye and read some letters a few feet away. Then I was given a form saying that I was in perfect health – good blood pressure, I have a pulse, I am not blind. How they determined all of this through an eye test is beyond me, but no complaints here!
  • Go to DMV, which has its own little church inside. Shuttle back and forth to different windows presenting different forms. Pay.
  • Go home.

All in all, the entire process took 3 hours – and most of that time was spent sitting in traffic.

Of course, they’d run out of plastic, so instead I got a paper license that expires in 2018.

The Route

We had originally contemplated Caramoan and Siargao, but that proved a bit difficult with driving. Plus, my sister and our friends were spending a few days with us on their way to Bali, so the easier to reach from Manila, the better.


Think we’ve got a pretty good handle on southern Luzon.

In the end, this was our itinerary:

June 12 

  • Depart Manila at 3am
  • 8+ hour drive to Bagasbas, a surf town near Daet
  • 1 night
  • Accommodation: The Lighthouse
  • Quick Review: A little buggy in the room, but they cleaned it quickly. Air con worked well, beds were comfy. Pretty basic, but clean. Overall ambiance of the place was cool – chill vibe, pool, little huts to hang out in.

June 13-17

  • Depart Bagasbas at 11am
  • 5+ hour drive to Caramoan, over crazy bumpy under-construction mountain roads
  • 4 nights
  • Accommodation (6/13 & 6/14): Breeze and Waves; (6/15 & 6/16): Rex Tourist Inn
  • Quick Review: Breeze & Waves is super, super basic. The common area is a cement-walled, dirt-floored open area with plastic tables and chairs. No food menu – you choose chicken, fish, or veg. The room is also really basic and could do with some love. Chipping paint, rusty shower head. Air con worked, bed was comfy. Rex had a much nicer ambiance altogether – dining area, menu, pool, green space, lovely river. The room was similar to B&W, but a little nicer and more modern. 3 gigantic cockroaches found in the curtains!

June 17-18

  • Depart Caramoan early
  • 4+ hour drive to Legazpi City
  • 1 night
  • Accommodation: The Oriental Legazpi (PS – Super swanky, especially coming from Caramoan!)
  • Quick Review: Omgggg. Clean shower! Clean beds! Gorgeous pool overlooking Mount Mayon! Foot massage! Ahhhhh.

June 18-22

  • Depart Legazpi as late as possible
  • 2-hour drive to Donsol
  • 4 nights
  • Accommodation: Vitton Resort
  • Quick Review: Adorable! Nice view of the beach/pool, Annie was helpful with booking excursions. Rooms had ants, but really not an issue as they were concentrated in the bathroom. Beds comfy. TV in room. Air cons worked. Lovely balconies.

June 22-23

  • Depart Donsol at 7am
  • 10+ hour drive (We opted for a long haul so our last day’s drive to Manila would be really easy. Plus, if we drove to Lipa, we could stay at the Farm!)
  • 1 night
  • Accommodation: The Farm
  • Quick Review: Gorgeous property! Peacocks on premise, lots of green, beautiful room with outdoor shower, tasty vegan cuisine, two fabulous and much-needed massages after 10 freaking hours of driving.
  • 2-hour drive to Manila the following afternoon

Car Rental

Sarah posted on Ma’am Manila to ask about car rentals, and we eventually got one from a guy named Brian. He was easy to work with and the car was in great condition/perfect for our trip.


I am a paranoid person, and envisioned a number of possible grim occurrences on our trip, including but not limited to the following:

  • Getting kidnapped
  • Getting stranded in a typhoon
  • A tsunami
  • Dengue or malaria
  • Car breakdown and subsequent murder
  • Getting a speeding ticket
  • Having an accident (with the car)

In order to prepare for any or all of these things happening, I gathered the phone numbers of many prominent staff and security members at our school. Brian said the car came with 24-hour roadside assistance, but did that include kidnapping assistance? I wasn’t sure.

In the end, I had no reason to worry about these things, because the roads we drove were, with the exception of mountainy Caramoan, pretty smooth and well-traveled roads, even in more rural areas. (Not sure yet about the dengue/malaria, as symptoms can take some time to manifest. Will confirm later.)

Google Maps

I don’t like posting entries like these on my blog, because they’re pretty straightforward and I favor narrative structure. Any details you want on accommodation and experience, you can find in my following posts.

However, I must take a moment to warn you about the ridiculousness that is Google Maps. I was lucky to have Sarah as my copilot. A skilled and competent navigator, Sarah picked up the slack when Google Maps failed. And boy did it fail.

Here are a few photos and screenshots we took as Google Maps attempted to lead us into roadless backyards, the ocean, or our death, in no particular order.

Use it, but be prepared to get creative when it loses GPS signal and says in its un-reassuring digitized voice, “It looks like we’re lost.”


Flashbacks to Oregon Trail – ford the ocean?


Google Maps for drunks?


Continue for 10 miles into the jungle.

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