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.

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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 ❤

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

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


                                                

   
                               

Philippines: The Top 12 Beaches

So many more beaches to visit in the Philippines! Panglao next!

winairtravel

I have always loved rankings of world beaches but when no Philippine beach appears on the lists, I would surely get disheartened. How could someone produce the list of the top 10 beaches in the world when in fact they have not seen all! They could have just came up with the title, “The best beaches we have seen so far!” Sometimes, you cannot fathom why a beach in filthy Kho Phangan in Thailand is ranked higher than the immaculate beach in Playa del Carmen in Mexico. CNN produced a list of the world’s 50 best beaches and it created overwhelming disapproval when beaches in the Greek Islands, in Bermuda and in the Philippines’ Palawan were missed out. Also, Yahoo Travel featured an article ranking the Philippines’ best beaches and I thought it was not so properly done, placing El Nido at the top without even singling out any of…

View original post 1,953 more words

Hundred Islands in Alaminos, Pangasinan (4/19/2014)

Our family decided to take the 3-hour drive from our place in Aringay, La Union to Lucap Wharf in Alaminos, Pangasinan to visit one of the must see sights in the Philippines, the Hundred Islands. There are actually 123 islands. Our tour took us to probably a fifth of the islands. Among the known islands were Romulo Island (where Claudine Barreto shot some of her scenes for her show, Marina), South Island, Children’s Island, Governor’s Island, and Quezon Island. Quezon Island was the most popular and, expectedly, it had most of the visitors. We chose to drop off the Quezon Island, too, since it’s the one with most ‘sights’ to see.

For details about Hundred Islands – how to get there, things to do, places to stay etc. – visit http://www.hundredislands.ph.

With the family on our way to Alaminos, Pangasinan. My sister took this groupie while driving.
With the family on our way to Alaminos, Pangasinan. My sister took this groupie while driving.
On our way to the islands
On our way to the islands

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People can pitch tents and stay overnight on the island.

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Overcrowded Quezon Island

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Other islands from a distance

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Solo Travel: Baguio

I wanted to get away for a few days for some ME time before I go back to work on January 6. I checked for flights to Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and to local places like Bohol, Samar and Aklan, but decided to go somewhere near my home province so I could join my dad during the new year celeration.

Glad I picked Baguio because I get to enjoy the cool weather, the mountain views, and the fresh fruits and vegetables.

Forest House Bed and Breakfast

This place was my first pick because of the pretty rooms, its view of the mountains and the great food.

They only have four rooms and I picked the smallest one: Keanu.

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Breakfast is included and I had mine served in my room.

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You can hang out with friends in the common areas an get food and drinks served.

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Azotea Greens

Was originally planning on going to Oh My Gulay for dinner, but I wanted to try something new. Found Azotea Greens in the same building. They are a vegetarian restaurant. They have paintings that are hung around the area that I think are for sale in support of local artists.

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I decided to get Vegetable Medley which is a mix of boiled sayote, cabbage, zucchini, young corn, baguio beans, potato and mushroom.

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I almost finished my plate when something caught my eye.

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Major EWWW!!! I quietly told the waitress, she apologized and offered to serve me a new plate. I told her I was already full and it was okay. A few minutes later, the owner approached me and apologized and asked if he could get me some dessert and drinks. I just ordered their wheatgrass green tea with apple. They did not make me pay for the Vegetable Medley. On my way out, the wife of the owner approached me, apologized and told me that the kitchen staff has been reminded to clean the ingredients more diligently. The veggie worm was totally unexpected because of how she instructed the staff to clean them. They use an ozonizer and they lightly brush the vegetablea after they are ozonized. I understood what she was talking about becuase I also have an ozonizer at home. I told her it was okay and I would still go back to their restaurant. The owners are good, kind people and I’m pretty sure it won’t happen again 🙂

North Haven Spa

To be continued.