Getting around the Philippines' capital of Manila has always been a headache. The city's transport system is, in a word, overtaxed: jeepneys are always crammed to the point of passengers hanging out the doors, the highways are packed bumper-to-bumper with buses and private vehicles, and the city administration only got around to developing its rail-based mass commuter transport in the 1970s.
Manila's rail system is efficient but incredibly crowded, and (particularly if you're conspicuously carrying expensive electronics or jewelry) rather risky.
Still, it represents the fastest way to get from point A to point B, assuming both points are close to train stations. Travelers looking for transportation in Manila should definitely take advantage, but should also take great care.
Manila's LRT and MRT Lines
Manila possesses three light rail systems and one heavy train line.
The light rail systems - LRT-1, LRT-2 and MRT-3 - service commuters from as far north as Quezon City to as far south as Pasay City. Most of the train stations of interest are clustered around the main city of Manila, particularly along the LRT-1 line.
The PNR train system - Manila's first - has seen better days. From 298 miles of rail in its heyday, the PNR's network has shrunk down to 52 miles, with few meaningful connections for travelers. A sleeper line to Bicol is still in the works, the project being bedeviled by defective tracks.
Unlike most modern rail systems around the world, Manila's rail lines do not connect with the airport at all. If you insist on riding the rail most of the way to Ninoy Aquino International Airport, get off the train at the Taft Station (for MRT) or EDSA/Pasay Station (for LRT) and walk to a nearby bus stop that handles the Airport Loop bus.
For the purposes of this article, we'll only focus on two of Manila's four extant train systems - the LRT-1 and MRT-3.
Manila Destinations near LRT-1
The 13-mile, 20-station LRT-1 Line shows up as yellow on the system map. It runs through most of the city of Manila, so its riders get to far more of the capital's prominent tourist destinations compared to the more utilitarian LRT-2 line.
- Binondo is some distance away from the closest LRT station, Carriedo; visitors must walk north up Rizal Avenue and west down Bustos Street until they reach the Ongpin gate into Binondo.
- Intramuros is a fifteen-minute walk from Central Terminal Station. Upon disembarking, travelers must walk south in the direction of Manila City Hall. A pedestrian underpass crosses Padre Burgos Avenue and emerges near Intramuros' Victoria gate. Upon entering Intramuros, travelers can either walk or take the pedicab to get to Intramuros' areas of interest like San Agustin Church and Fort Santiago. Check out an Intramuros Travel Guide for more details.
- Rizal Park is a five-minute walk away from UN Avenue Station. Upon disembarking, travelers should head north up Taft Avenue until they get to Rizal Park.
- Provincial bus stations can be found as soon as you get down from Gil Puyat Station. The stations here host long-distance buses headed to the nearby provinces of Laguna, Batangas, Quezon, Marinduque and Bicol.
Manila Destinations near MRT-3
The 10-mile, 13-station MRT-3 Line shows up as blue on the system map. It runs down the crowded Epifanio de los Santos (EDSA) thoroughfare, connecting Quezon City in the north to the cities of Pasig, Mandaluyong, Makati, and Pasay. Its two most popular stops are Cubao (gateway to Quezon City) and Ayala Avenue (gateway to the Makati central business district).
- Manila's malls are found in abundance along the MRT-3 line. North Avenue Station immediately connects to the Trinoma Mall; Ortigas Avenue Station is a five-minute walk away from SM Megamall; and Ayala Avenue Station immediately connects to the SM Makati Mall, which is connected to the rest of the Ayala Center shopping complex.
- Araneta Bus Port can be found a few minutes' walk from Cubao Station. This mega-bus station hosts long-distance buses headed to points all across the Philippines, including Pampanga up north and even as far as Davao in the south.
- Makati central business district is easily accessible via Ayala Station's north exit. The central business district is one of the capital's most pedestrian-friendly places, with a network of pedestrian walkways connecting the Ayala Center mall complex (immediately adjacent to the MRT station) to neighboring Salcedo and Legazpi villages.
- The new business district known as Bonifacio Global City (BGC) is also accessible via Ayala Avenue Station, only you should use the south exit. At the bottom, you can ride buses that connect commuters to most areas in BGC. More bus information here.
Buying a Ticket for the MRT/LRT
Tickets for the LRT and MRT lines are available at their respective stations. The tickets for both lines consist of contactless smart cards called BEEP. The cards may either be purchased at manned ticket counters or at automated ticket vending machines (not available at all stations).
You can buy either single-use or stored-value cards. Users of both single-use and stored-value cards enter the station by tapping the card on a designated space on the turnstile. To exit the station at trip's end, the card must be inserted into a slot to activate the turnstile (for single-use card users) or tap the card on a space on the turnstile (for stored-value card users).
Depending on the destination, a train ticket costs between 12 and 28 pesos (about 26 to 60 US cents).
Tips for Riders on Manila's LRT and MRT Lines
The LRT and MRT are safe for the majority of passengers - but these passengers, through practice or osmosis from others, have learned that a few rules of thumb minimize aggravation when riding the rails.
- Avoid rush hour. The weekday rush hours (7 am to 9:30 am; 5 pm to 9 pm) will find you competing with Manila's commuting public, who collectively transform each station and train car into a seething mass of tightly packed people. Rush hour travelers are also at increased risk of theft; see the next pointer.
- Keep your valuables under cover. Pickpockets, snatch-thieves, and muggers have been known to ride the LRT and MRT in search of passengers conspicuously flashing jewelry and expensive electronics. Maintain situational awareness: don't wear headphones when traveling, keep your iPhone under wraps, and take off or conceal any jewelry on your person.
- Don't carry too much stuff. You won't be allowed to transport heavy luggage onto the train. The LRT and MRT lines are primarily commuter services, and can be quite packed even on low-demand hours; heavy luggage will be difficult to manage in the crush, and your fellow passengers will probably not appreciate your taking up so much space.
- Don't block the doors. For your fellow passengers' convenience, move away from the doors as soon as you enter the train. Move back towards the doors one station prior to your destination; two if the train is packed to the gills.
- Take care crossing the road. This applies particularly to the older stations along the LRT-1 line - not all of them allow passengers to cross conveniently from one side to the other. For these stations, you'll be required to cross at street level.