Should you ride PNR’s Bicol Express?

Categories In Transit
The early evening train from Naga in Bicol to Manila

Upper and lower bunk
I was full of excitement when me and my friend were already inside our respective lower bunks aboard the Philippine National Railways’s (PNR) sleeper coach that will take us back to Manila from Naga City in Camarines Sur.

The tickets we got were discounted at just P695 and there were not much passengers as it was already at the close of October and most people were traveling in the opposite direction, to the provinces.

Ah, trains. My first encounter with trains was with the mass light rail transit in Manila and its counterparts in EDSA and Aurora Boulevard (LRT2). Fast, tolerable noise and dependable.

My first actual train though was the KCR in Hong Kong and my first PNR train ride was a something that I can’t forget during afternoon rush hour. And now this, a long journey that will take us 10 hours and I was beaming.

Last coach with reclining seats

Lavatory
The PNR is an institution that, over the years, has been neglected with many of its steel rails suffering from effects of nature and of man with sections being stolen and also used for other purposes like the skates, but recent news of new sleeper coaches got me thinking and was really looking forward to get a ticket.

And I was sort of dreaming, idyllic, makes one think of being in some movie like Wong Kar Wai’s 2046, or taking steam train holidays where sceneries unfold as the train passes by. And then the whistles sounded, and the train started to move.

Narrow path and window

Waiting lounge at Naga City station
It was fast. Speeding but at the same time, with the current condition of the rails, was somehow affecting its movement, sideways, that being at the second to the last coach in a train with four sections: main, sleeper coach one and two and the coach with reclining seats; and together with the strong mechanical sounds, was kind of agitating and discomforting.

Taking time to go to the comfort rooms located at the end of each coach is somewhat of a struggle too due to the strong movement. But after sometime, you just get used to it that you are eventually lulled to sleep.

So, should you ride the Bicol Express?
You should! Either just for the experience or, if you don’t mind the shakiness of the vehicle as it runs on the tracks. Its also an alternative to taking the plane or bus. There are a few stops along the way too if your destination is other than Naga. Just check the PNR station to check the specific stations.

Inside, the bunks are comfortable but bare. There are no pillows and blankets provided with the lamps working either a hit or a miss, or you have to wait for a few minutes before it lights. There’s no canteen but instant coffee, junk food, mineral water and cup noodles are sold in one of the bunks.

When your nearing your destination, the conductor will wake you up. By the way, its better to go to the comfort rooms during the stops as all is still and take note that the airconditioning’s temperature is really, really low.

Estan Cabigas is freelance photographer, blogger and writer based in Makati City, the Philippines. A true blue Cebuano, he makes stunning images and meaningful photo stories. His work has been published in local and international publications including National Geographic Magazine, Geo (Germany), Sunday Times Magazine (London) and other publications.

He is also a peripatetic traveler and has traveled to all 81 Philippines provinces.

I'm open for work, collaborations and inquiries, including hotel, restaurant and site features and reviews.

11 thoughts on “Should you ride PNR’s Bicol Express?

  1. Been wanting to try the PNR train to Naga…I will, as a last resort, I guess. Thanks for the honest review. No one I know was brave enough to try, yet, but a lot of friends are curious.

  2. In our early years, everytime the train whistles, we can loudly heard it from the old house of our grand parents in Gumaca, Quezon (summer vacation time), we then rushed up to the balcony to see the train passing by.

  3. My only wish is that magkaroon din sana ng railway system at least the whole Luzon connecting key towns and cities to Manila. PNR I hope this is the beginnin of a better railway system then isunod na ang Mindanao. Visayas naman are islands so doon ay Ro-ro naman ang idevelop.

  4. My only wish is that magkaroon din sana ng railway system at least the whole Luzon connecting key towns and cities to Manila. PNR I hope this is the beginnin of a better railway system then isunod na ang Mindanao. Visayas naman are islands so doon ay Ro-ro naman ang idevelop.

  5. I have good memories of train rides when I was a kid. We used to take the train from Nueva Ecija to Tutuban (like that of the MRT kind na, and then it began to deteriorate). Gusto ko ito! I have been planning to take a trip to Naga just for the heck of it!

  6. We thought of going to Naga just to experience the train. Reservation through phone is none existent and the only way is to buy the ticket directly at the station. Unable to get a ticket, we took the bus instead to Naga. We finally boarded the train going back to Manila in a sleeper and the nightmare began. 10 hours in a confined space with a 10-hour magnitude 15 earthquake, it felt like the train’s going to derail most of the time and i think it is because of the railroad track. The sleeper is no sleeper and left the train completely exhausted and sleepless. I think we will never experience a decent provincial train service.

  7. I was looking forward to getting a bunk for my trip back to Manila from Naga. Unfortunately it was fully booked so I was stuck on a reclining seat… better than being on a bus with little leg space! I was on the last car and it looked nothing like the one on your photo 🙁 and it was freezing cold. But you are right, one should try the Bicol Express 🙂 Hopefully next time, I will be on a sleeper 🙂

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