Our Awesome Trip to Japan 2018

Spent the Holy Week with some of my highschool friends in the Kansai region of Japan. We had a flexible itinerary which we adjusted each day; some based on our energy level, some upon spur of the moment 😁

Trip Itinerary

March 24: Osaka

  • Arrive in Japan via KIX
  • Lunch in Nishinari-ward
  • Dinner in Shinsekai

March 25: Osaka

  • Shopping in Shinsaibashi
  • Lunch in Shinsekai
  • Osaka Castle
  • Dinner in Shinsekai

March 26: Kyoto

  • Philosopher’s Path
  • Lunch in Shinkyogoku
  • Kiyomizu-dera Temple
  • Ninenzaka Path
  • Dinner in Gion

March 27: Nara

  • Lunch in Nara
  • Deer Park
  • Todaiji Temple
  • Shopping in Nara
  • Dinner in Dotonbori

March 28: Kyoto

  • Fushimi-Inari Temple
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion)
  • Lunch in Gion
  • Shopping in Shinkyogoku, Takashimaya
  • Dinner in Gion

March 29: Kobe

  • Lunch at Nankin-machi (Chinatown in Kobe)
  • Mt. Rokko
  • Dinner in Kobe

March 30: Osaka

  • Universal Studios Japan
  • Dinner in Dotonbori

March 31: Osaka

  • Shopping in Shinsaibashi
  • Shopping in Namba Parks
  • Dinner in Namba Parks

April 1: Osaka

  • Depart for the Philippines via KIX

I used Sygic Travel mobile app to manage our itinerary and move schedules around. The app also provides information about places to visit, hours of operation and entrance fees, if any.

Going Around Kansai

We used various passess and travel cards to get around.

Haruka and ICOCA

We used the “Haruka+ICOCA” set for a discounted ticket to the Kansai-Airport Express “HARUKA” (worth ¥1,400, but costs ¥1,100 with the set) which provides direct access from Kansai-airport Station to Tennoji, Shin-Osaka and Kyoto Stations.

Along with the set is an ICOCA card, which is a pre-charged integrated circuit card (worth ¥1,500, with ¥500 security deposit that can be refunded when you return the card) that can be used for JR, subways, private railways and city buses across Japan as long as it bears the IC or ICOCA icon. It can also be used for payment in convenient stores, shops and restaurants in train stations and at the airport.

The set is worth ¥3,100. Instead of the regular ICOCA card, we opted to get the Kansai One Pass which has the Astroboy design.

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Picked up the actual Haruka tickets and IC cards at the JR ticket office outside the airport, near the entrance to the train platforms.

JR West Kansai Rail Pass

We used 1-day (P914) and 3-day (P2,276) JR Passes to get to Kyoto, Nara and Kobe from Osaka. We were supposed to do a non-consecutive day trip to Kyoto, hence, the separate 1-day pass, otherwise we could have gotten the 4-day pass. Bought both passes via Klook and picked up the passes at the H.I.S. Counter near Northern exit at the Arrival area in KIX airport.

Tip: Klook offers discounts and vouchers that you can use for future purchases (cheaper than buying directly from JR website or via travel agency). Also, you can use the voucher sent to the mobile app in picking up the actual passes (no printed copy needed).

Kyoto 1-Day Pass

Bought a 1-day pass (¥600) at the Kyoto Tourist Center to get around Kyoto via city buses on our first day trip.

Nara City Loop Buses

To get around Nara, we took the Nara City Loop buses from Nara JR station using ICOCA card for payment.

Taxis

The recommended taxis in Kyoto based on this blog are MK taxi and Yasaka taxi for the English speaking drivers. The same taxi companies probably operate in other cities, too. The flag down rate is cheaper, though, in Kyoto than in Osaka (¥590 vs ¥670); an additional ¥80 is charged for every 415 meters. For groups of 4 going on trips that are 4km or less away, it is best to take a taxi than a train or bus which costs ¥230 per person.

Navigation Tools

Used a mix of the following websites to know which trains/subways/buses to take:

  • Hyperdia – for the actual train schedule and platform information for trains and subways (mobile app available)
  • JR West website – use the online timetable and route finder for JR trains and buses
  • Google Maps – for general information for trains, subways, buses and walking (mobile app available)

Osaka Abode

We opted to stay at a Ryokan style home via Airbnb. It gave us the full experience of living in Japan.

The space was good enough for 8 adults and 2 kids.

The place was pretty close to JR and Nankai train stations as well as Osaka subway stations (6-minute walk). There were 24-hour convenience stores (Lawson and Family Mart) and supermarkets nearby.

Osaka

Shinsekai Area

Our default place for lunch and dinner in Osaka was Shinsekai which was 15 minutes away on foot from our airbnb place. It is also where the Tsutenkaku Tower and Spa World are located, but we did not get to enter both.

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Osaka Castle

One of the main attractions in Osaka is the castle, which also has hundreds of cherry blossom trees around.

Universal Studios Japan (USJ)

One of the few Universal Studios theme parks with a Harry Potter area. A recent addition was the Minion Mayhem Park, which lives up to its name.

Namba: Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori

Namba is a great place for shopping with its long line-up of stores, restaurants and gift shops. There were only a few Money Changers in the area and not all accept credit card for payment; it is best to have some yen ready when you go there.

Be sure to check if store offers tax free payment so you can get a refund. It is only available to shoppers with foreign passports and landing permission stamp.

We also discovered some great restaurants near Namba Parks.

Kyoto

Kyoto has more sighseeing places with all its temples and castles that are among Unesco’s World Heritage list.

Kiyomizu-dera Temple

You need to get a ticket worth ¥400 to enter. Some cherry trees have not blossomed yet when we visited and the viewing deck was under construction. It did not stop the throng of tourists, though, from visiting it.

From the temple, we strolled through Ninenzaka Path. This area has more preserved streets and traditional shops selling all kinds of local foods, crafts and souvenirs.

Fushimi-Inari

Fushimi-Inari is known for its 10,000 torii gates and 12,000 steps. Our group took on the challenge and completed the climb to the peak of Mt. Inari. You can see a view of Kyoto from the summit.

Kinkaku-ji Temple

This temple is also known as the Golden Pavilion.

Kinkaku-ji

Nijo Castle

Unfortunately, we had to skip Nijo Castle because of the very long line at the ticket counter. We were only able to take a picture at the gate.

Nijo Castle

Philosopher’s Path

The cherry trees were not yet in full bloom when we visited, but they provided a pretty scenery nevertheless.

Gion

Shinkyogoku and Nishiki Market

We did a little bit of shopping for gifts – Japanese dolls and match-flavored Kitkats – since they were relatively cheaper in this area. We had lunch at Ichiran Ramen, which apparently is the best ramen in the world. We opted for their default set since we had a hard time figuring out how to order through their vendo machine 🙂

Nara

Deer Park

We were greeted by deers as soon as we got off the bus. We thought it would be cool to feed the deers and have pictures with them. What we did not expect was their aggressiveness in ‘asking’ for food once they realized you have deer food (bought from vendors in the area) – at least two bit me in the butt and leg (proof below).

Todaiji Temple

Just a few meters from the bus station is the impressive gate to Todaiji temple.

Tatak Sci Hi

Inside the big gate, you will have to get a ticket (¥800) to enter another gate to the Buddha Hall.

Kobe

Instead of another day in Kyoto, we decided to go to Kobe to get a taste of their… kobe beef!

Nankin-machi

One of the areas to get a taste of kobe beef without breaking the bank is at Kobe Chinatown.

Mt. Rokko

We initially thought of just strolling around the city area after lunch. Then, we came across an article about Mt. Rokko and the cable ride to get there. So, there we went.

 

Helpful Tips

Pocket WiFi

  • There are units that can be rented at the KIX airport. However, you might need to fall in line and per day rental might be a bit more expensive.
  • You can rent units via Flytpack. For Japan, it only costs P285 per day. A security deposit of P1,800 is required; it will be refunded fully once unit is returned.
  • Check for promos from affiliated credit card companies. I used Citibank’s promo code LOVE2CLICK, valid for Citi Visa cardholders, for a 12% discount in the daily rental.
  • Book at least 2 weeks in advance since delivery takes 5-10 days. You can follow up with Flytpack via Messenger; they are responsive.

Yen

  • It is best to have some yen exchanged in Manila prior to the trip.
  • According to this blog, Sanry’s in Robinsons Galleria has the best rates. Note that the rates mentioned are from 2015. Check BSP for the current exchange rates.
  • Based on our same day experience, we did get better rates at Sanry’s (Robinsons Pioneer) at P 0.4950 per ¥1, than at NAIA T3 at P 0.52. I was not able to check rates at KIX, but money changers near shopping districts had exchange rates of P0.56 to ¥1 or ¥1.79 to P1.
  • For our 9-day trip, we bought ¥50,000. Taxis, most restaurants and small shops only accept cash payments.

Tax Free Shopping

  • Here are some tips/reminders for tax free shopping. Make sure you always have your passport with you and that you have a landing permission stamp with a temporary visitor status to be qualified.

JR Passes, IC Cards, USJ

  • As mentioned above, we bought the passes via Klook at better rates. Affiliate credit cards such as Metrobank and Citibank offer discounts if you book using your credit card.
  • For JR and ICOCA, the vouchers will be sent to your email and to your mobile app (under Bookings). Note that children 5 years old and below are free. Children 6 to 11 years old are usually half the price. The vouchers will have to exchanged for the actual pass at H.I.S. Counter near the Northern exit at the Arrival area.
  • The Haruka+ICOCA set is not available, though, in Klook and will have to be reserved via JR West website. Print the reservation email and present it at the JR Ticket Office in KIX. You can only reserve up to 6 people per email. Use another email address if there is more than 6 people in uour group. Payment is cash only, ¥3,100 per person.
  • For USJ, you will get the actual eticket which will be scanned at USJ gate. It is valid for entry for 1 year upon booking. For children below 11 years old, rate is discounted.

English-speaking Japanese

  • Very few could understand and speak English. And for those few, their vocabulary is limited.
  • We used Google Translate a lot to communicate.
  • In one case, we were denied entry at a restaurant in Gion since no one spoke English at the restaurant.

Tips

  • Giving tips is looked down upon in Japan. It is even considered rude when you give someone a tip.

Travel Insurance

  • Medical care is quite expensive in Japan. For unforeseen medical or emergency needs, it is best to have insurance ready. We only paid P920 for the travel insurance we got through Standard Insurance Co.

Wheelchair Accessible Station Guide

  • This link might be useful for those traveling with disability: Japan Accessible.

 

 

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Palawan Escapade January 2018

My college roommates and I planned an out-of-town trip while all of us were in the Philippines (too bad one could not make it at the last minute). Since it was also my birthday week, celebrated my 40th with them and my love.

We decided to go to Puerto Princesa and El Nido in Palawan.

We landed in Puerto Princesa on the first day of the new year. We were greeted with a warm welcome at the airport.

After taking a quick lunch, we embarked on a five-hour trip by land to El Nido. On the way, we stopped by to get some pictures with the sunset.

Typhoon Agaton hit Palawan the next day, so boat tours were cancelled. We spent the day instead at Nacpan Beach which was about 40 minutes away from the El Nido town proper.

At the shack where we had lunch, we were the only Filipino group. Was glad to see that the island is getting some love from foreign folks.

Boat tours were still cancelled the next day so we went to Canopy Walk which was a few minutes away from town. Even if there was light rain, we enjoyed the ‘walk’ because of the great view.

We had lunch as Squidos which was one pf the original restaurants in the area.

We went to Las Cabanas in the afternoon to hang out and to hopefully get a view of the sunset.

Boat tours were finally allowed the next day. We decided to go to as many islands as we could.

First stop was Helicopter island.

Next was Hidden Beach. As the name implies, the beach was hidden behind rocks so we had to take a little bit of walk in the water through waves to get to the shore. It was worth it.

We then went to Matinloc Shrine for a quick stop before lunch.

Secret Beach was up next. Gabriel and I decided to skip it since it requires swimming through a small opening, which was a bit tough due to strong waves.

At the Small Lagoon, we rode a kayak to explore the area.

At the Big Lagoon, since it was high tide, we took the boat to look around. It was also an opportunity for everyone on the boat to take pictures of the tour’s highlight.

Our last stop was Seven Commandos. By then, the sun had set but we still had time for some swimming and photos.

We took the five-hour ride back to Puerto Princesa that evening. We were up by 4am the next day for an early morning tour to Underground River. We were the first to leave at the port!

By 10am, we were done! We had lunch at Ka Inatô before we headed to the airport for our flight back to Manila.

Thank you Aldhel, Rhona, Mark, Joaquin, Lucas and Gabriel for a wonderful week in Palawan (and for the pictures!) 🤗😊

Coron, Palawan 2017

My third trip to Coron is a bit remarkable compared to my other trips.

Since I had folks visiting from the US, we stayed at a more decent place, Busuanga Bay Lodge (I usually stay at boutique hotels that are less pricey 😊). This place was established in 2013 by its Canadian owner and his Filipino  partners. They picked a great part of the island with an amazing view.

We had this part of the property to ourselves, that’s our room at the corner.


All rooms have a view of the bay. We got one right by the shore.


Instead of the usual island hopping trips, we took the recommended trips by the hotel which only included three stops – Lusong Gun Boat (ship wreck from WWII), Coral Garden and South Cay Island.

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We rode an outrigger boat to the islands

We snorkled about a mile of lavish coral reef with plenty of fishes with varying sizes and colors. Too bad I was not able to bring my underwater camera with me.

South Cay Island was exclusive to guests of Busuanga Bay Lodge. We were lucky to be the only guests at the island the entire Saturday afternoon. It was such a wonderful experience to be on a beautiful island by yourself. There were some rainshowers throughout our stay but it was enough to cool the place down from the hot and very humid weather.

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We had a view of the other beautiful islands around South Cay

Apart from the new sights and places, the most remarkable about this trip is being able to experience it with someone special. Thanks, Gabriel, for being with me on this trip ❤

Labor Union Festival in LU (2017)

Back in La Union for an R&R with highschool friends.

Since Gab and I were late in coming back from Baguio, we missed the group who left for Tangadan Falls at 6am in Agoo, La Union. Tangadan Falls is located in San Gabriel, La Union which was about 2 hours from Agoo.

We took the motorcycle ride (habal-habal in local terms) from San Gabriel’s town proper to the parking area near the falls. It was my first time to ride a motorcycle – I was scared and excited at the same time (prayed hard as well that I don’t fall off the steep cliffs along the road).

What a relief when we made it to the falls without any scratches (knees were trembling, though).​


Folks are allowed to jump off the 15-ft cliff behind us for some thrill.



Walking back was more difficult, but was still fun since we’re with friends.



The boys had a thrill riding on top of the jeepney.



They joined us inside once we hit flat ground.


We spent the rest of the afternoon at San Juan Surf Resort where we had late lunch at 4pm at Coast Call.


A lot of folks were gathered in SJSR grounds for the Labor Union Festival.


We ended the trip with a visit to the Bacungan’s in San Fernando.

P.S. Thank you, Eric, for guiding us on this trip. And, by the way, you have one cool mom 😉

Bohol Escapade (April 2017) 

One place I have always wanted to visit was Bohol. Finally had a chance to visit when Gab invited me to join him as he attends a seminar there.

First thing we did when we arrived was to look for a restaurant with a view of the sunset.

While Gab was at the seminar for the next two days, I got busy with working remotely. On the second day, I decided to work at the same hotel where Gab’s seminar is, Bohol Tropics, and picked an area with a view of the water.

The seminar ended early on the second day so we took some time to see some sights in Panglao.




Tried to get a glimpse of the sunset at Alona Beach, but it was too cloudy.



We had grilled food for dinner by the beach before heading back to the main island.

Before our noon flight the next day, we went to see more sights. First stop was at the famous chocolate hills.


Next was a brief stop at the butterfly farm.


We went to see the tarsiers as well. They were as small as rats!

Also stopped for some pictures in the middle of the road for this man-made forest.


Our last stop was lunch at a cruise by Loboc River.

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Of course, my visit to Bohol will not be complete without seeing our Tagbilaran girl, Jare. She was my classmate in college. She took us to one of the best restos in Tagbilaran, Gerardas. It turned out she and her husband play tennis. Gab will bring his tennis gear next time we visit so he can play with them 😊

Sagada 2017

Went back to Sagada with my high school friends last February 2 to 5. We took a van from Manila at 1:30am and picked up more of our friends in La Union. We drove through Tagudin, Ilocos Sur to get to Sagada.

We stopped by Bessang Pass for bio break.


We got to Sagada at around noon, then had lunch at Misty Lodge which was about two kilometers from Sagada’s town proper. Their burger and tinola were really good.

St. Joseph Rest House

One of my friends booked us at St. Joseph Rest House. It is the best place to stay in Sagada with its wide ground coverage which makes it accessible through the church and through the market.

 

Mud surfing at Echo Valley Trail

First stop after lunch was hike through Echo Valley trail.



Bonding by the Fire




 

Spelunking at Sumaging Cave

We went to Sumaging cave at 8 in the morning to ensure there won’t be that many people in the cave.

 

Hiking to Bomod-ok Falls

On our third day, we decided to wear our batch shirt. We took a different trail to avoid the throng of people who wanted to see the falls. I’m glad we did because the view along the trail was breathtaking.

When we arrived at the falls, it was full with people. After about half an hour, my friends and I were just the only ones left. We had the falls to ourselves!

On the way back, my friends opted to take the trail by the river. Turned out, we had to walk by the cliff!

We took a few stops to appreciate the view and enjoy the cool breeze.



Sea of Clouds

Saw this sea of clouds on our way from Sagada to Baguio. We parked by the road to take these awesome pictures.

VIDEO: https://vimeo.com/203144645

Helping Land with Project Pearls

Peace. Education. Aspiration. Respect. Love. Smiles.

Project PEARLS is a non-profit organization that aims to help marginalized children, especially the urban poor. One of the communities they help are those in Helping Land, also called Garbage Land, in Tondo.

This is where the trash from the metro are dumped. And this is also home to some urban poor who rely on food they get from the trash to live.

My friend, Hope Vega, was so gracious in inviting me to join their feeding program to celebrate her birthday, along with her friends. We went early morning on a Sunday and took various public transportation from Cubao to Tondo, Quezon City.


  
  
  

Tried talking and interacting with the kids while waiting for the program to start. Many of them attend school in nearby communities. They get help from the Ate’s and Kuya’s of Project PEARLS who visit them on weekends.
  

We started the day’s program with a prayer and praise.

Part of the feeding program was some art activity to help develop the kids’ creativity. The day’s art activity was to create a Christmas Card for the kids’ parents.

I hope the parents got to read their kids’ heartfelt messages.

On our walk back, these kids gamely posed for a picture.

I hope there’s more that can be done to uplift the lives of the people in Helping Land. As a start, I hope more will consider sponsoring a day’s feeding program which costs about Php 8,000.

For more information, please refer to Project PEARLS’ Facebook page.

P.S. My left eye looks a bit weird since I had vitrectomy seven weeks before for my detached retina. Eye was not yet fully healed but I felt well enough to be part of the activity.

Summer in Yosemite (2015)

One stop before my flight back to Manila two weeks ago was a visit to this breathtaking place, Yosemite.

This is my second visit. My first visit was I think in 2011, with my good friends from high school. (I just realized now I never got to post about that trip. Will correct this soon.) Back then, we went in October, during Fall.

This time, I went with some of my officemates from Manila… on a Summer. Someone told me I should try going once each season. Because this beautiful place looks different for every season.

Bridal Veil Falls looked almost the same, but you know that the place has been affected by the drought since the stream going to the falls was dried up.

  

These mountains are a sight to behold.

  
  
  
  
  

Took me a while to find this bridge with a view of one of Yosemite’s falls. It’s called Swinging Bridge.

  
  

We decided to go the other way since we thought we’ll get to the road past the meadow. We were wrong. Glad we were, since we got to see this beauty.

  

Unfortunately, we lost so much time when we ‘got lost’, that the parking was already full when we get to the main area.

It was already past 1:00 PM when we took the shuttle for a tour around the area. While waiting for the shuttle, I couldn’t help but get a snapshot of Half Dome from behind the trees.

  

Our first stop was Mist Trail. I thought this stop will have a view of Half Dome, I was wrong (again!).

  

Saw some guys fly fishing by the water. I don’t think they caught anything.

  
  
  
  

Then we went to Mirror Lake. Sad to see that the lake was a bit dried up. We didn’t get a good reflection of Half Dome. And there were people camping there, swimming and playing volleyball games.

  
    

My first Hawai’i Trip: Around Oahu

Finally made it to Hawai’i last May.

My highschool barkada, Jazel, wed the love of her life, Wilbur in the beautiful island of Oahu where Wilbur grew up.

Lalaine and I made arrangement to fly at the same time via Hawaiian Airlines and stay at Kahala Resorts where the wedding was held.


         
       

The Wedding

It was a simple yet beitiful wedding by the beach.

                      
Island Tour

Among the new friends we met at the wedding were Imelda and Onassis who graciously offered to take us around the island.


                                        

Pearl Harbor, Hanauma Bay, Kai’wi Trail