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¬†ūüėĀ

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.

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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 ūüôā

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 Inat√ī 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!) ūü§óūüėä

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


                                                

   
                               

Palawan Adventure 2014: Getting to El Nido

For his birthday week this year, my bestfriend and I decided to go to the beautiful islands of Palawan. Edward has not traveled much outside Manila even when he was still living here. He now lives in Singapore, so it would be good to take him to some well known beautiful islands.

Delayed Flight

His flight from Singapore was scheduled to arrive at 2:00 PM on Tuesday, October 7. It was already 2:45 PM and he still wasn’t out at the arrival area. I went to the check-in counter for our flight to Puerto Princesa which was scheduled to leave at 3:40 PM. I was worried we might miss our flight even if we already checked-in online. Gladly, he was able to join me at the check-in counter a few minutes later. One thing one must consider when traveling in October is the weather. Even if there is no typhoon, most of the flights can still be delayed because of the strong rains due to monsoon. Our flight was delayed for an hour. It was past 6:00 PM when we got to Puerto Princesa.

Quick Night Stay

We chose to stay the night in Puerto Princesa, and just travel early the next day to El Nido. El Nido is 5 to 7 hours away from Puerto Princesa – 5 if by van, 7 if by bus. I think there is also a ferry to El Nido, but I did not get to research it. There are no direct commercial flights from Manila to El Nido. You get a special direct flight if you are staying at El Nido Resorts, a quite expensive resort.

We stayed at Go Hotel, which is near the San Jose Terminal for buses and vans that go to El Nido and neighboring towns. The hotel is right beside Robinsons Mall where we bought last minute stuff – chips, toiletries, bottled water. For a quick night stay, Go Hotel is awesome. We got it for only Php 1,200 including airport transfer. Our room has twin beds, TV, A/C and warm shower. Since we were leaving before 6:00 AM the next day, the hotel had our breakfast packed so we can bring it with us.

We took a tricycle to the terminal and the driver helped get a van for us. We originally wanted to take the RoRo bus, but apparently its franchise was suspended in August.

The Ride to El Nido

It was not a comfortable ride since the van is small and we were seated beside the driver, the only seats available because we were among the last few passengers to ride. But, it was okay since we got to chat with the driver about El Nido.

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The road goes around mountains so expect a lot of turns (a lot of sharp turns). There were few vehicles on the road, most are buses and vans going to El Nido and neighboring towns and some tricycles.

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Some parts of the road were still under construction especially those near El Nido, so it could get bumpy especially when it rains.

There were at least two stops along the way. We got to eat our breakfast at the first stop.

Our nice driver dropped us off at our hotel, while the rest of the passengers alighted at the terminal.

The Hotel: Ipil Suites

One of the recommended budget hotels in El Nido is Ipil Suites not only because it is relatively cheap but also because of its proximity to the port and to the town proper.

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The hotel also has a nice view from its lobby.

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Some Helpful Information About El Nido

– Bring enough cash for the duration of your stay.
– The only ATM available is FCB – First Consolidated Bank, a savings bank in Palawan.
– Only a few establishments accept credit card.
– Electricity is only available from 2:00 PM to 6:00 AM. This is for the entire town.
– Download google maps on your smartphone to help you get around. Sometimes your destination is only a block away but the tricycle driver won’t tell you.
– The environmental fee is good for 10 days. Get your ticket when you pay so you can reuse it everytime you book a tour especially if you book with different tour agencies.
– if you take the same van back to Puerto Princesa, they will offer to pick you up at the hotel so you don’t have to take a tricycle to the terminal. It’s free.

What To Bring

– Sunscreen
– Baseball cap
– Waterproof bag for your wallet and other personal belongings
– Sunglasses
– Snorkelling gear (or you can rent)
– Aqua shoes
– Waterproof camera
– Hand sanitiser (lunch is served in oen of the island where clean water is scarce)
– Mosquito repellant
– Headache tablets (I had migraine after our second island tour)
– Plastic bag (For wet clothes). A big plastic bag for your beach bag while on the boat would be ideal.

Mt. Pinatubo Adventure (3/2/2014)

This place came about after the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo 20+ years ago. It displaced a lot of people and affected their livelihood. Now, thousands of tourists visit it to revel in the beauty that was created.

For this trip, my sisters and I¬†joined Vagabond Pinas who arranged everything. We met in Cubao and left at around 2:30 AM. We arrived in Capas, Tarlac at 5:30 AM, got registered and got assigned to our guide and 4×4 ride.

Vagabond Pinas

Mobile:+63 917 852 2845
Email: vagabondpinas@gmail.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/vagabondpinas

Bought 'walking sticks' from these kids who were hoping to earn some lunch money from their merch.
Bought ‘walking sticks’ from these kids who were hoping to earn some lunch money from their merch.

 

Rest stop before we continued our journey up the volcano. This 4x4 was our ride in the rugged terrain.
Rest stop before we¬†continued our journey up the volcano. This 4×4 was our ride in the rugged terrain.
With our handy walking stick
With our handy walking stick
Already tired! We're not even half way yet!
Already tired! We’re not even half way yet!
We passed by this small Aeta community on our way up
We passed by this small Aeta community on our way up
Sulfur
Sulfur

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With our guide
With our guide
We're close to the crater!
We’re close to the crater!
Almost there!
Almost there!

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Jumpshot... fail. Lol
Totally did not expect this view! Water accumulated at the crater creating this majestic view.

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Sisters
Sisters
Jump shot.... fail
Jump shot…. fail
Enjoying the view at the crater. According to our guide, some tourists set up camp here and stay over night. Permit has to be secured at DENR.
Enjoying the view at the crater. According to our guide, some tourists set up camp here and stay over night. Permit has to be secured at DENR.

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We left the crater around noon. It was scorching hot!
We left the crater around noon. It was scorching hot!
Aeta kids and their mothers
Aeta kids and their mothers
Tried talking to them but they don't understand me.
Tried talking to them but they don’t understand me.

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Rest stop on the way down
Rest stop on the way down
4x4's waiting of their passengers
4×4’s waiting of their passengers
Yep, we passed through this shallow river
Yep, we passed through this shallow river
These kids didn't mind the heat and the dust. According to our guide, they like watching tourists that visit their 'domain'.
These kids didn’t mind the heat and the dust. According to our guide, they like watching tourists that visit their ‘domain’.
Until next time, Mt. Pinatubo!
Until next time, Mt. Pinatubo!

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 ūüôā

North Haven Spa

To be continued.

My Bestfriend’s Birthday Weekend

It’s been four years since he last came home. Even if I saw him last February and last July, it was still different having him back in the country. And I’m glad my bestfriend, Edward, decided to spend his birthday weekend in Manila with me. Yes, I made him fly on his birthday!

I almost did not recognize him when I went to pick him up at the airport – the longer than usual hair, the mustache, the goatee. But I forgot to take a picture!

Took Edward to F1 Hotel where we stayed overnight. Picked it because I wanted a place close to Bonifacio High Street where Edward has never been to before. I booked a deluxe room. When we checked in, was pleasantly surprised that they upgraded our room to a suite!

First thing we did was to find a barbershop for Edward’s haircut. Glad we bumped into one of my officemates, Paolo, who showed us where the nearest one was. (Yeah, don’t have any idea where to find one.

2nd’s

Took Edward to one of the best restaurants in the area, 2nd’s. Got one of their bestsellers, beef steak, and Edward’s choice, lamb shank caldereta.

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Because we were so full from our heavy meal, we walked around the area and went to Market Market to buy me some medicines for my colds. Bad decision because it was raining hard and we had a small umbrella. We got really wet. Worse, on our way back, I decided to buy cakes for to go so we can eat the cakes while watching tv back at the hotel. Well, while walking at the parking lot, the 2 boxes of cake fell, only one survived. Yay, we still got to eat one cake! Lol

Breakfast

Had buffet for breakfast

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And took pictures by the pool

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My sisters picked us up around 10am for a trip to Batangas.

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Acuaverde

We spent the weekend at Acuaverde in Laiya, San Juan, Batangas.

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We were joined later in the afternoon by my friend, Quennie, and her family.

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Morning fun

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Lunch in Tagaytay

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And a rainbow to cap the weekend

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