A Guide to Manila Cabs & Taxi Filipino Phrases

I’m yet to meet anyone who can tell me about a ‘good taxi experience’. I don’t have any. I’ve used cabs all over the world from Melbourne to Mumbai and the experience is more often than not, dreadful.

My personal best taxi experiences include:

  • Getting kicked out of a cab in San Francisco for asking him to do a u-turn because I left something behind.
  • Ripped off with fake taxi metres that are rigged to triple the price in Vietnam.
  • Involved in a road rage incident between two auto-rickshaws in India as they drove aggressively side-by-side down a Mumbai street as one of them yelled to the other driver “you stole my fare!” before being forced to change rickshaws.
  • Taken to the wrong hotel, mall, street, area, attraction numerous times as well as other stories of frustration and angst.

So what about the Philippines? I’m afraid getting a taxi in Manila is no better than anywhere else. Drivers will often (ironically) complain about ‘traffic’ and ask for 50 pesos more. They obviously don’t understand that traffic is their friend because more time = more money on the meter! Besides, there’s ALWAYS traffic in Manila! It’s like a doctor charging you more because you’re sick! They also often refuse to go to a certain part of the city, drive like maniacs and swarm to you like hungry bees if you’re an expat ($$$)!

Trying to fit my awkward Western body into a local (small) Philippines ‘trike’ taxi with Lilly

In Manila, the standard cabs are usually white Toyotas, manual transmission with Aircon. There are many on the roads, but this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to get one, especially during holidays and around Christmas. It’s also impossible to get a cab any time it starts raining as Filipinos scatter under shelter as if they may melt. All cabs have taxi meters and (should) use them. You flag down a cab in Manila just like you do anywhere in the world by sticking your hand out. Manila cabs accept cash only and do not have credit card facilities. Like anywhere in the world, getting in one is a painful experience so, here are my tips for getting cabs in Manila to avoid the pain as much as possible.

1.Get a taxi from a taxi rank

Taxi ranks are outside all major malls like SM, Market Market, Megamall etc. They are usually manned by security who take down the taxi number on a piece of paper and give it to you. They don’t however, keep a copy themselves, so you are still left with the only record of the cab you got into! Despite this, the regulated taxi ranks discourage dodgy drivers and allow a safer and easier way to queue for a cab.

*exception to the rule: NAIA Airport

For some reason, the Philippines government doesn’t allow the ‘normal’ white cabs into the arrivals terminal at the airport, so you have to get a special ‘airport’ taxi (usually yellow/orange). These guys are notorious for demanding 500 pesos flat rate. Just refuse and ask for the meter (see below for helpful Tagalog phrases). You will still pay more than a normal tab due to an airport tariff (like in most cities) however, it will be less than 500 pesos! If you don’t have much luggage and fly into the old terminal, you can actually walk down the hill and out to the main road where there are several standard taxis you can flag down.

UPDATE: May 2016The Philippines Government now allow ‘Grab’ cars to pick up from NAIA. This is for ‘Grabcar’ only, NOT ‘Grabtaxi’. There are Grab booths kerbside at each terminal. If you don’t have a local SIM with data and can’t get on WIFI, there are Grab staff available to make a booking for you.

2. Get a cab from a hotel

5 Star Hotels are by far the safest place to get a cab from. Unlike the taxi ranks, the hotel staff actually retain a copy of the drivers details as well as explain to the driver where you want to go! The driver also knows that the hotel has their details and they can be tracked if anything goes wrong. If you’re in Makati or anywhere in Metro Manila, there are plenty of hotels to choose from. You don’t need to be a guest, just go there and politely ask the door staff to organise you a taxi.

3. Always take down the taxi ID

If you ask a local, there are many stories and myths about the dangers of cabs in the Philippines. Everything from hold-ups and kidnapping to a mysterious gas the driver puts in the aircon that makes passengers fall asleep (but somehow doesn’t affect the driver?).

Anyway, regardless of the truth of some of these stories, it’s always a good idea to use your smartphone to take a photo of the cab ID and send it to a friend (or text it). The ID is always written on the inside of the passenger doors in white marker or on the side of the cab itself. Don’t be shy to let the driver see you doing this as it will also deter any foul play.

4. Be aware of your surroundings.

This is something that I think is important anywhere in the world, no matter what situation you’re in. As an ex-police officer, I was trained on situational awareness and I wish that they taught it in schools. Travellers will most often get ripped off or scammed when they aren’t aware of geography and environment.

There are so many apps available now that use geolocation so it’s easy to track where you are. Always have an app where you can see your current location on a map. Get an app that offers ‘offline maps’ if you don’t have a local SIM and don’t want to turn on data roaming.


Moves (iOS/Android)- A great geolocation app that records when you got in a car, walked, ran. It also shows the route that a cab took you on a map so you can see the direction you travelled.

MAPS.ME (iOS/Android)- An offline map application with great detail. Simply download the map of the city you want when your connected, then the app will use the phone’s GPS to show your location on a map without any need for a data/internet connection.

700 City Maps (iOS/Android) – Another offline map app where, as the name suggests, you can download 700 offline maps to use!

5. Research main attractions

Taxi drivers and touts in almost every country I’ve been to, will try to tell you that wherever you want to go is ‘closed’ and usually make an excuse of some national holiday and instead offer to take you somewhere else where they get paid commission. Sometimes, they simply tell you that where you want to go is no good and offer to take you somewhere ‘better’. NEVER believe them. If you know it’s not a holiday, tell them. Don’t get into a cab that tries to do this. If you’re already in a cab when they tell you something’s closed or offer to take you somewhere, just tell the driver to take you to your original destination because you’re ‘meeting friends there’.

6. Have Small Notes/Coins

Never try to give a cab driver a large note! Especially in the Philippines! They will simply think it’s a tip and go to drive off. There is also the common excuse that they ‘don’t have change’ and try to get more money out of you. Avoid as much hassle as possible by having small notes on you. If you’re in the cab and you realise you don’t have change, ask to be taken to an ATM or get dropped off at a 5 Star hotel (where they will hold the cab and change your money for you) or near a convenience store so you can run in and change your money (if you do this do NOT leave any possessions in the cab!).

7. Take motion-sickness precautions & avoid cabs if you’re hung over (I’m not kidding).

Traffic in Manila is SLOW. It crawls along. However when there is a gap of a few metres, cab drivers will plant their foot down, speed up, only to slam on the brakes a few seconds later. This continuous experience can make anyone sick. I’ve had to ask cabs to pull over so I could throw up on the Edsa highway once… Ok, shouldn’t have had all those Red Horse beers the nights before, but still… Anyway, I literally always take a plastic bag in my pocket or bag just in case and I use the quintessential Filipino accessory – ‘white flower’. White flower, is an essential oil with menthol and eucalyptus. Just dab a VERY SMALL amount under your nostrils and it makes you feel better. It also blocks out the stale, musty smells of public cabs!

8. Always ask for the meter and watch it to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with. If it seems to be going up too quickly, or the driver insists on turning it off, get out of the car and get another cab.

9. If it’s a long trip or peak hour, take headphones!I’ve seen the biggest, burliest male cab drivers singing happily to Celine Dion as they navigate the Manila peak hour. Most Philippine radio is full of love ballads from about 20 years ago. If the driver doesn’t have the radio on, they’re likely playing their own playlist of old love ballads that seems to never end! If you want something else or aren’t in the mood for romance, take some earphones to plug into your own tunes!

If you don’t believe me, just check out this video of a Filipino taxi driver singing Air Supply:

Useful Taxi Tagalog 

English – Tagalog – Phonetic

Left:kaliwa – Ka-li-wah
Right:KananKa (as in ‘car’) – nan
Straight Ahead: – Deretcho – Direcho
Back – Likod Lick-odd
There: Doon du-on
Near: Sa maySa-mai (as in ‘Might’)(Used in a sentence: E.g. doon samai Shangri La Hotel)

Other Phrases:
Just here is fine:Dito na lang po – dee toh nah lang poh
No, just use the MeterHindi, meter langhin-deh, meter lung
Why is it so expensive? Bakit sobrang mahal?bucket sobrung mahal
Too expensive! Sobrang Mahal!
Don’t rip me off Huwag mo ako lokohinliterally ‘don’t fool me’wag mo ah-kho lock-o hin. Be careful how you use this… Like in English it can be offensive depending on the tone you say it.

5 Replies to “A Guide to Manila Cabs & Taxi Filipino Phrases”

  1. Useful Taxi Tagalog / Bisaya
    English – Tagalog – Bisaya Phonetic
    Left: – kaliwa – Ka-li-wah Bisayan words=tuo
    Right: – Kanan – Ka (as in ‘car’) – nan Bisayan words=wala
    Straight Ahead: – Deretcho – Direcho Bisayan words=derecho tabe
    Back – Likod – Lick-odd Bisayan words=saluyo
    There: Doon – du-on Bisayan words=tuara or didto o
    Near: Sa may– Sa-mai (as in ‘Might’) – (Used in a sentence: E.g. doon samai Shangri La Hotel) Bisayan words=duol ra o
    Other Phrases:
    Just here is fine: – Dito na lang po – dee toh nah lang poh Bisaya words=diri lang ko
    No, just use the Meter – Hindi, meter lang – hin-deh, meter lung Bisayan words=gamita ang metro
    Why is it so expensive? Bakit sobrang mahal? – bucket sobrung mahal Bisayan words=nganung mahal man
    Too expensive! Sobrang Mahal! Bisayan words=Subra mahala ana
    Don’t rip me off – Huwag mo ako lokohin – literally ‘don’t fool me’ – wag mo ah-kho lock-o hin. Be careful how you use this… Like in English it can be offensive depending on the tone you say it. Bisaya words=Ayaw ko ilara beh

  2. For clarification about “They obviously don’t understand that traffic is their friend because more time = more money on the meter!”, the main reason they do this is because of their schedule. Usually the driver use the vehicle for 24hrs straight for being a taxi driver job and pays a boundary to the vehicle owner (usually the company). The last time I know (early 2010s) the boundary amount is about Php2,500. Let’s say the average fare for a passenger is Php100, he will need a total of 24-25 passengers for the entire 24hrs. Meaning to say he needs a passenger of 1 for each hour. And that is just to meet the boundary, how about for his own pocket? So time is a constraint for him as well as wasted time in traffic jams. Of course he also needs rest, sleep, and eating within and inclusive to that 24 hours work. But off-course, it’s not an excuse right? Then again, the worker must not adjust but the companies of taxi should have, since they are the employers, right? And hence they still pocket or have the higher shares of the income. Terrible conditions and yet the government are not looking unto this.

  3. I just want to add… There is Uber and Grab in the Philippines, which charges cash or credit, so you might want to check that option rather than sticking with the regular cabs.

  4. Wow! I am glad you shared this. I have want to go check out the Philippians. This guide will help me for sure. I like that you included the phrases and how to pronounce them. I will be using this when I head over!

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