Riding the bus from Naga City in Bicol to Manila is usually just an ordinary chore for my family. I grew up in Naga City and have become used to the 10-12 hour long bus rides going back and forth to Manila. I’m based now in Manila, but still go back to my hometown several times a year. My parents who have relocated there, travel even more frequently on the bus. Because of the hassle of going to and from the airport, we prefer taking the bus from Cubao rather than taking the plane to Naga. Night rides are the most convenient. I hop on the overnight bus, just sleep and then wake up in my destination the next morning.
Long bus rides (especially day trips) are usually boring and uneventful, though sometimes you have no choice during peak season. But passengers of #TripCode2 from Naga to Cubao on Bus 1705 that departed 8:30 am last December 17 were in for a big surprise. I guess you could say it was an extra “special trip” and an early Christmas celebration.
Before departing, passengers were welcomed with free coffee and donuts at the bus terminal. They were also asked to answer a short survey about what they wanted to give their family for Christmas, with a checklist of choices (TV, tablet, smartphone, microwave, gift basket, etc.). I wrote down “free bus tickets for life” as a joke, but checked the TV option because our TV has been problematic.
Photo grabbed from Bicol Isarog Transport FB page
Since I was a kid, my family has always preferred riding the buses under Bicol Isarog Transport System Inc. (and its sister bus companies particularly Peñafrancia Tours and Isarog Lines), which has been in operation for over 20 years. They’re the most reputable and safest bus line that goes to and from Bicol (including various points in Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Masbate and Catanduanes) as well as the provinces of Samar and Leyte in Eastern Visayas. Under their fleet, they also operate RSL Bus Transport, VS Pintados and Our Lady of Salvacion, to name a few.
Bus from Manila to Sorsogon (with stopover in Naga)
We also used to ride the Bicol Express PNR Train when it was still operational but most of the time, we just ride the bus. Our go-to bus line for Bicol trips has always been Peñafrancia Tours, which makes use of Mercedes-Benz buses, mostly “deluxe” air-conditioned buses or Isarog Lines, which is the first bus company in Bicol to offer the Sleeper Bus. These two bus lines offer the most comfortable options for long land travel.
There are lots of options available catering to different customers including economy 2 x 3 seats, deluxe 2 x 2 seater aircon buses, 2 x 1 seating configurations, Jr. Extreme buses, to the very spacious LAZY boy massage chair seats in the Skybus which come with free snacks on board like a plane. The double deck sleeper 2 buses and the recently refurbished luxury coaches or Sleeper 1 buses with their own cellphone charging stations per private bunk allow customers to lie down comfortably the whole trip. You can also book bus tickets online, which is very convenient. All buses usually have flat screen television, and audio systems and free WiFi.
Special deluxe buses
WHAT I LIKE ABOUT BICOL ISAROG BUS LINES:
- Lots of bus line options and seating arrangements depending on your preference and budget
- Spacious seats in their deluxe buses
- They’re the only bus to Bicol that offers sleeper buses with private bunks where you can lie down comfortably
- Buses are clean and comfortable
- Some buses have restrooms on-board to minimize stopovers, making travel time faster
- They put a premium on safety. Buses usually have 2 drivers per trip to prevent fatigue and accidents on the road
- Online booking system
- Terminal is conveniently located in Cubao along Edsa near the MRT
- Free WiFi on-board (password: bookonline)
The Bicol Isarog bus I was on was a regular 2 x 2 seater. I was seated next to Ms. Daisy, a lady from Lagonoy who was traveling with some family members to visit relatives in Manila. She insisted that I get the giveaway travel pillow, blanket and Santa hats which were handed out to passengers before I arrived.
The survey, giveaways and how the bus was decorated already provided a clue, but fellow passengers knew something was up when the bus conductor started handing us free food during the ride. We were given donuts in the morning and around lunch time we were given packs of Jollibee chicken or spaghetti, causing some of the passengers to joke about free coke, french fries and barbecue. If you ride this bus route regularly, you know getting free food is highly unusual (aside from light snacks like brownies on certain deluxe trips). Stopovers are usually at roadside carinderias along the way or McDonald’s in Quezon and you pay for your own meals.
READ MORE: Food Trip: Naga City
We encountered traffic choke-points in the areas of San Pablo and Santo Tomas, causing some delays in the trip. By the time we neared Manila, some passengers were asking the bus driver to be let down at earlier stops before the main bus terminal in Cubao. For those who live in the South, it’s normal for passengers to alight at Turbina or Pasay, Boni or Shaw along Shaw.
This caused one of the staff on board the bus to make an announcement requesting passengers to stay until the end of the ride because a surprise was waiting at the terminal. She assured passengers that it would be worth the wait. One guy still insisted on getting down in Pasay, as he had a flight to catch that night. Another woman got down in Shaw despite repeated requests of the staff on board to wait until we got to the bus station.
They handed us nametags and stickers and requested us to wear the Santa hats they gave and leave our heavy bags and luggage on the bus when we arrived at the Cubao station. Waiting at the bus terminal were carolers, and a whole bunch of wrapped gift items labelled with the passengers’ names. Passengers were then called out to receive gifts.
Some passengers got cameras, tablets, Samsung smartphones and microwave ovens depending on what they answered on the survey form. One family with kids got an HP laptop and a printer. But majority of the passengers ended up walking out of the bus terminal carrying 32-inch LCD television sets along with their bags. I heard two passengers laughing about how most of their companions had transferred to another bus that morning.
Apparently, the #Tripcode2 bus was selected as part of a CSR campaign of Bicol Isarog Transport Inc. in partnership with Globe My Business to give back to passengers and patrons who regularly use the bus. In line with the season of giving, the company decided to spread some holiday cheer by surprising passengers with the gifts they wanted to receive. Even Santa Claus got all choked up and teary-eyed as he handed out gifts, saying he was glad to be able to spread the joy.
For passengers of Bicol Isarog bus lines, it was a welcome surprise and “Maogmang Pasko.” Definitely not an ordinary bus ride. If you’re traveling to Naga City (or anywhere in the Bicol region) anytime soon, I highly recommend riding Bicol Isarog Lines. Aside from ensuring safety to all passengers and comfort with their amenities, you get great service compared to other bus lines.
Just watch this video:
TRAVEL TIPS FOR BUS RIDES:
- Reserve tickets in advance especially during peak travel season like Christmas, Holy Week, New Year, etc. You can now book tickets online.
- Wear comfy clothes, shoes and socks you don’t mind sleeping in all day or night. Bring a jacket.
- Bring a travel pillow and a light blanket or malong because it can get really cold inside the bus.
- Overnight bus rides are usually faster than day trips. There’s usually one stopover in Quezon at night. That’s also the cleanest restroom stop.
- Have loose change, tissue and hand sanitizer handy for restroom breaks in other stops along the way.
- Eat a light dinner before your trip, so you don’t get hungry and have to eat during the stopover. Don’t drink so you don’t have to go to the bathroom.
- The Sleeper 1 is the most comfortable bus if you want to lie down and sleep comfortably the whole night. The Sleeper 2 can feel a little bit cramped.
- Avoid picking seats on the rows next to or right in front of the bathroom for obvious reasons.
- Avoid sitting on the last few rows. It can feel extra bumpy when you sit at the back.
- You should be at the bus terminal at least 30 mins before scheduled departure.
READ MORE: 10 Extreme Adventures in Camarines Sur
P.S. I am not connected with Bicol Isarog Transport Systems Inc. (BITSI) or any bus line. Please contact them directly for bus trips, reservations and booking 🙂