Monday, December 31, 2012

Sleeping At The Kansai International Airport

             In my previous trips abroad, I’d experienced sleeping at airports since most of my arrivals were scheduled late at night and I didn’t want to pay for an accommodation during the first night since there’s only few hours left before I’d start my tours first thing in the morning. Although this practice saves me money it is not the most comfortable thing to do. In Beijing International airport I wondered if the heater wasn’t working because it was so cold I ended up people watching. The following morning I suffered the consequences not just in climbing the great wall but also in taking pictures of my sleep-deprived self. I promised not to do it again. Before I flew to Japan, I had booked a single private room in a hostel on my first night. However , I was having second thoughts. I knew I only had few hours to clear the immigration,change my money to yen, buy the Kansai Thru Pass, get lost until the train stations close. It was daunting to get out of the airport late at night and find my way in a city as huge as Osaka so I decided at the last minute not to show up at the hostel.(Warning: You have to cancel your booking within the timeframe given otherwise you’ll still get charge the full amount. Good thing the hostel was considerate enough and didn’t charge me the full amount.)
            We landed at Kansai International Airport and I’d read online that it’s possible to spend the night at the airport. They suggested the area on the second floor near the airport police and the Lawson store.After I toured the airport I looked for the said spot.             


             Be warned though that the police would wake you up anytime to check on your passport. The one who checked mine didn’t speak English and just wrote the word “travel” on a piece of paper. When I read it I just nodded and went back to sleep. The seats at the airport are so comfortable that I didn’t have a hard time sleeping.There were also Filipino families on their way to Nagoya  who spent the night at the airport with their kids.

            At 5:30 AM a toddler singing what sounded like” twinkle ,twinkle  little stars” in Japanese woke me up.I looked for the Airport Lounge where they have shower rooms. It was just few meters from where I was sleeping.For Y500/15mins  I got to shower.I was worried though because I knew 15mins wouldn’t be enough for me to shower and dry myself. I asked the reception how long I could stay in the room after I shower and to my relief they said” up to an hour”.They handed me a basket with the coin that I had to insert into the shower ,the key to the shower room,towel and blower.

The staff are so welcoming and very polite

Spacious shower room

             The shower actually has a timer which stops when you are not using the water and you could just press the start  button when you have to use it again. Very convenient! Kansai International airport is  really a homeless friendly airport.

There are also lockers for rent at the airport

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chasing Autumn Leaves

             When my plan to go to Myanmar this year did not push through I decided to travel to Japan instead. I knew Japan's an expensive destination so I made sure there'd be something worth seeing. Spring was over so seeing the cherry blossoms was out of the question (at least this year). Mount Fuji isn't the Great Wall so I wasn't so interested in seeing it. Anime?, I couldn't care less about it.There was only one other thing that Japan is also famous for, (that I was interested to see) it's "koyo" or the time when leaves change to bright colors during autumn. My dilemma was the phenomenon was not gonna start until six months later. That's a very long wait for my itchy feet. I just wanted to travel abroad ASAP but I had to make a decision.If I go somewhere else before November , my Japan trip will have to take a back seat for the next few years since I only allow myself one trip abroad each year (or maybe it's my pocket that is saying that).I thought I couldn't do it next year because my passport is about to expire so if I didn't go to Japan this time I would have a new passport by next year. Presenting  a new passport with no stamps yet to the Japanese consul is not a good idea. No passport stamps means no travel history. I knew travel history was one major factor that would be considered if a visa would be granted. I knew it would take a while before I could get more stamps again so I decided to do it this year or else I have to wait for few more years(Actually I'm not sure about the whole process. I'm not sure if one could actually present an old passport along with the new one when applying for a visa to a certain country).
               Long story short I booked a trip to the land of the rising sun,the anime, the geishas, the bullet train, etc.Six months of waiting was tough but I managed. I researched for the best time to see the autumn leaves and one site mentioned mid November was the peak. WRONG! What it failed to mention was that it could actually vary with location and in Kansai where I was going the peak is actually during the third week of November.I was worried because I booked a flight a week earlier. If I didn't see those beautiful colors the trip would be pointless. I was checking forecasts (yes, it's like the weather, they have reports of these things from time to time) and the history of koyo in the past few years. I learned that the trees in higher elevations would peak earlier so I thought if I couldn't catch it in central Kyoto I would travel to the outskirts of the city.
              In the morning of my first day in Japan the first thing I saw as I got out of the airport was the street lined with trees that have turned red and I knew that I was getting what I came for.

First stop was Osaka Castle...
On my way to Osaka castle
Saw this tree within the Osaka Castle grounds

A couple had a pictorial and I stopped them for this photo which irritated their photographer
View from Osaka Castle

Next stop was Kyoto...
Even the rain couldn't stop me from my quest for the Autumn leaves
Came across this garden while getting lost in Kyoto
At the veranda of the Kiyomizu temple in Kyoto. Colors could have been more vibrant if not for the rain. Thank you rain.

I also traveled all the way to Arashiyama for this view
Tenryuji's garden in Arashiyama

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kanpai Kansai! : My Pinoy Passport Gets Stamped in Japan

                      I just came back from a trip to Osaka and Kyoto which are both part of the Kansai region.Aside from being the cultural and historical center of Japan there was something else that I wanted to see and experience in those cities,actually it was the main reason why I decided to go there. I waited for so long for the autumn season to see the leaves change to bright colors. All I can say is it's worth the long wait.I will write about my experiences in Japan. In the meantime I'm just so excited to share some of the photos taken during my recent trip,photos that are commonly associated with Japan.

Autumn Hues at a Japanese Garden

Bullet Train

Geisha? I doubt.
A popular Japanese TV station,NHK
Torii Gates

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Aptly Named Tinuy-an Falls

                We made the right decision of visiting Enchanted River first before going to Tinuy-an Falls.I realized it after our day trip to Surigao del Sur. We didn't expect that it would take so long to get to Tinuy-an falls in Bislig City from Hinatuan where the Enchanted River is located. After lunch at the river we drove to the famous falls. The travel time from Hinatuan to the city center of Bislig only took less than an hour but it was the trip to the falls from the city that we had to endure and took longer than expected. The road from the highway to the falls was dusty and full of sharp rocks which didn't please my dad at all who was the designated driver. It's worse than the road going to Enchanted River. The local officials of these places should do something about it because these places have so much potential . I realized then why the falls is called Tinuy-an.In Cebuano "tinuyuan" means "intentional" and despite its location and the road conditions people still have the intention to visit the place.
Road to Bislig                                       
                    Since we'd gone that far there was no turning back but even before we could reach the place my dad was already calculating how much time was left for our trip back. By the time we reached the falls at 2:30 PM my dad just wanted us to have our picture taken and leave.He kept rushing us. Had we visited the falls first, we would not have enough time left to enjoy the clearer and bluer water of Enchanted River which would have been a huge disappointment because though the falls look majestic (said to be the widest in the Philippines) the water in its base is not so inviting.It kind'a looks green. But still, seeing the gushing water from the falls so unusually wide mesmerized me and was worth all the trouble.

TIP: To those who plan to visit the falls you may try going there in the morning around 9AM to noon if you wanna see a rainbow over the falls.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Why My Mom Picked Enchanted River Over Britania Islands

                             Every summer I come home to Butuan to visit my family. Before my arrival my family had planned on making a day trip anywhere near our hometown. We'd heard so many good things about the tourist destinations in the nearby province of Surigao del Sur so we agreed that we'd be going there. I can't believe that it took us years to finally go there when it's just in our own backyard. There are three popular destinations in the province, Tinuy-an falls in Bislig, Britania Islands in San Agustin and Enchanted River in Hinatuan.
                        My sister and her husband wanted to go to Britania since it's being compared to Boracay while my mom insisted on going to Enchanted River. But why? I thought most people would choose a beach as a summer getaway over a river . So we asked our mom why she really wanted to go to Enchanted River. Whenever my mother decides on going to a certain tourist spot, it's not really because she is interested of what the place has to offer, in fact most of the time she is clueless of what's in a place. She'd actually base her decisions on "hearsay". If anyone she knows , like her fellow teachers (especially the younger ones) talked about a place they'd been to she'd like to visit it as well. She explained ( to corroborate her choice) that her fellow teachers had been to the Enchanted River and had witnessed something amazing.According to them, around noontime nobody's allowed to swim in the river. As the clock strikes 11am ,a song will be played and fish of all shapes and sizes come out of nowhere and converge in the center of the river. The staff would then feed them. "So the fish can hear the music and get prompted to swim to the center of the river?", we asked. Hhmmm. So we gave in and we went to a river for the summer.
The ROUGH road to the river
                           We left Butuan City at 6:30 am. After three hours on our own vehicle we arrived in Hinatuan. I warn those who plan to go to the Enchanted river taking their own car that the road from the highway to the river is ROUGH ! and don't dare drive your vehicle there if it just rained as you're most likely to get stuck.We parked our car few meters from the entrance to the river and just gave donation. Entrance fee to the Enchanted river is P30. Too bad we arrived late because there were no more cottages available so we just paid for picnic tables with giant umbrellas for shelter. If you stayed for hours it would so uncomfortable as it gets so hot around noon time.

                           At first glance I understood why the river is called as such. The water was so inviting. It was crystal clear. There's also a part of the river that is often photographed which is like a natural pool that has a really nice blue color. It is reported to be so deep. The water's cold and we enjoyed swimming until somebody blew his whistle baby.......... We were reminded of what we really came for. The whistle was to signal everyone to get out of the water. People rushed to the viewing deck as if Dyesebel just surfaced from the deepest part of the river. I went to our picnic table to remind my mom about the spectacle and of course she wasn't there anymore. We could hear the song blaring in the background as fish of different varieties swam to the center to feed on whatever the staff was throwing into the water. I don't know if the people were mesmerized or disappointed. So was it the music that prompted the fish to come out or the food thrown into the water?Which really came first, the food or the music? Was it a tourist trap? Who cares, even without it I still find the river aptly named and you should visit it too.

The current is strong

How to Get to the Enchanted River :

From Butuan City take the bus going to Mangagoy and get off at Hinatuan (3-hour ride). From the Hinatuan town center one can hire a habal-habal (motorcycle). Enchanted River is 12km from the highway.

Fees :

Entrance fee -  P30
Life vests for Adults and kids are available for rent P15/hour
Picnic table - P100
Cottages- sorry we didn't bother to ask because they were all occupied.
Parking- we just gave donation

Monday, September 24, 2012

Pinoy Travel Moments: From an Embarrassing Moment in "the John" in Thailand to a Hilarious experience of Ordering Food in Beijing

At Ban Phe, Rayong, Thailand .........
                  On our way to Ban Phe , Thailand there were only three passengers on the bus,me, my friend Anna and a local guy.When we reached Ban Phe I had to use the toilet at their bus terminal and shortly after I entered the toilet my companion Anna followed suit . While I was doing my thing, I heard Anna calling me.It turned out that she was occupying the cubicle next to mine . She asked  for the roll of toilet paper so I tossed it into the next cubicle to my left. After I tossed the toilet paper into the next cubicle Anna exclaimed “go” which was supposed to signal me to toss it in (but I already did!). It was only then that I realized that she was occupying the other  cubicle to my right . While Anna was begging for that roll of toilet paper, the person in the left cubicle tossed it back to me and guess who’s in the left cubicle------- the guy who was with us on the same bus to Ban Phe. Each one of us came out from our respective cubicles quietly.

At Angkor Wat, Cambodia .........
             When we were done exploring Angkor Wat we went back to Bana our tuktuk driver. On our way out we passed by a group of small stupas. At that time I didn't know what they were. We asked a local guy and he tried so hard to explain to us the use of the stupas. He was groping for words as he was explaining. It sounded like he didn't know the word "person" or "man". The poor guy ended up saying " If ah...ah... ( while pointing at me) die...dies...If a tourist die ( Oh no ! Does it have to be a tourist? ) we burn and put inside (pointing to the stupa ). That scared the wimp out of me.What he was trying to say was that if someone dies (not necessarily a tourist ) the body will be cremated and the ashes will be placed inside the stupa.

In Beijing ...........
             One afternoon when I got back to Beijing from the Great Wall, I looked for a place to eat. I ended up at a small hole-in-the wall. I checked out the menu and I couldn't understand anything written on it. Unfortunately, they didn't have an English menu. I was too hungry to look for another place so I just thought of randomly ordering an item from the menu. However, when I looked around I saw one customer eating in the corner and I did the not-so-polite thing of pointing at the bowl of noodles with scrambled eggs and vegetables that the local guy was eating. " I want something like that", I demanded. The customer who was a bit stunned said "10 yuan". I liked what I ordered so the following day I went back to the same place but this time there was no customer eating that bowl of noodles. Of course , I couldn't ask the owner if she remembered me and what I had ordered the day before since she didn't speak English and I didn't know any Mandarin either. I remembered though that I had taken a photo of the dish so I showed the picture of it from my camera and the owner prepared a bowl of that noodles for me. On my third day in Beijing I was still craving for it so I went back again to the same place. This time though I had already taken so many photos and it took so long for me to find the picture of that bowl of noodles from my camera. The owner got impatient so she dragged me to their kitchen (maybe she remembered what I'd been ordering) and showed me the ingredients of the noodles one by one.She showed me an egg, tomato and a pack of noodles. Relieved that she remembered what I had been ordering I simply nodded.

At the Bayon Temple, Cambodia .........            
                Inside the Bayon  temple one of the old Korean- (or maybe Japanese , how could I tell)looking tourist was examining a metal box. He was touching the box, maybe wondering how it had gotten in there. On the box was a sign that says " Warning Do not Touch". Obviously, he didn't understand the sign.I tried to stop him but he didn't get all the hand gestures I made. I was even thinking of giving out an Academy-Award-winning-acting just to make him understand that what he's doing was dangerous but I figured it would be to no avail as the old man seemed so amused. I decided to leave him alone.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A 200-Peso Accommodation in Boracay?

                  When I have an upcoming trip I prefer to plan everything way ahead, while others just let things flow. I couldn't afford to be the other kind of traveler because usually there's money and time constraints. I wouldn't want to miss the must-do's and the must-sees in a place because I may not be able to go back to that destination in this lifetime.
                  I had been planning a trip to Myanmar  but for some reason it didn't push thru, so was my plan B which was Vietnam. Since I already had vacation leaves approved (which I didn't want to cancel otherwise I might have to wait for weeks or maybe months to get approved for long vacations if there would be no available slots) I decided to finally go to Boracay instead. I booked the tickets less than two weeks before the trip, something I wouldn't normally do. I researched for the cheapest accommodations but I found the rates way beyond my budget , which was not a surprise at all since my trip was scheduled a week after the Holy Week Talk about a bad case of itchy feet! I gave up and decided to just look for one when I get to Boracay. At the back of my mind I was actually counting on what I'd read from one blog that there are lesser known accommodations in the island that are so affordable but are off the radar.I listed them down. I also read from another blogger ( that there's even a local that rents out her place to tourists. The blogger even bragged about having brought the rate of the room from P1200 to 700.
                                                         Boracay At last! wasn't able to take pictures when I arrived because I was busy looking for a place to stay

                 It was getting dark when I arrived at the Philippines' most famous island.I took the trike from Cagban port to Station 3 where the cheapest Boracay accommodations are said to be located.I paid P20 for the ride (it would be P100 for a special trip). The trike driver dropped me off at the "Talipapa" and I walked thru an alley that led me to Station 3.Since it was already dark when I reached the beach front I could not see how white the sand was which believe it or not was the main reason I chose Boracay. I tried to feel the sand between my toes and it seemed coarse not like the way it's always been described.The first place I decided to check was the house of a local where Blissfulguro stayed at.She was so good at giving directions (must be her forte since she's a teacher) that I found the place in no time.She actually posted a series of pictures in her blog which showed the buildings and signs that led to the house. I'm not gonna mention the house owner's name and you'll definitely find out why. The house is hidden few meters from the beach front. An old lady saw me standing outside her house.She came down the stairs to meet me.She turned out to be the owner. I told her I'd read about her place from a blog. She immediately showed me the available room. It's a spacious room with three beds. She quoted P1500. I asked if she could give me a discount but she wouldn't yield. I remember Blissfulguro saying that she was able to haggle the price down before she could even show her killer moves. I thought of showing mine but I figured it would be to no avail as the "old lady" added that she would give me the room for P1500 even if it's for 3 people but that I should not use the other beds.What she said ticked me off. Why would I use the other two beds when I was alone and only had a backpack on me. She also said that I could not find any cheaper places since it was a peak-season. I dashed away as she was getting on my nerves already. She was right though, it was a peak-season and I started to panic as it was already 7pm and I still had no place to stay.I continued walking along Station 3.The places I passed by looked pricey and it really bothered me because this part of Boracay was suppose to be backpacker friendly but again maybe not during the peak-season.
This is the sign you'll see outside the guesthouse

The 200-Peso Bed at the "Tree House" guest house

View from my room at the Tree House Guest house
                 Few hundred meters from the "old lady's" place was a familiar sign. It says  "Tree House". It was one of those accommodations mentioned on another blog. "Tree House "offers a dorm type accommodation. I asked an employee who was standing outside if they had an  available dorm type rooms but I was told they only had private rooms which  I couldn't afford either. She suggested I walk farther because there's another "Tree House" towards the end of Station 3. Good thing the other place had a dorm type room available , not only that it cost P200 per night.Whaaaaat? P200 for a room few steps away from the less crowded beach of Station3 ? I got excited and checked the room right away. I found it to be OK. I mean for 200 pesos I shouldn't expect too much. I booked 2 nights.
Carrying my things all day since my room doesn't have a lock.
The crowd-free and algae-free beach outside "Tree House" guesthouse
                  For a dorm type  room it was clutter-free .The sheets looked clean.There was only one ceiling fan for 4 people but that was fine because it wasn't hot.No ensuit bathroom but that wasn't an issue either because the shared bathroom was right next door. I took a shower as I was going to explore Boracay's night life. When I was about to leave I found out that the door's lock was broken and  worse is  that I realized that there wasn't a fence that separated the property from the residential area at the back. Anyone could pass by our room anytime or worse might break into it. I ended up carrying my backpack all night and when I slept I was hugging it so freakin' tight as the cabinets had no locks either..Cheap as it seemed ,with its downside it made me wonder if there are still things that come cheap in an overly commercialized destination like Boracay.