10 Days in Japan- Osaka, Kyoto, Nara Itinerary

If there is a country that I would love to see in all its forms and seasons, it will be Japan.  Culture, food, transportation are surreal, and beyond expectations. My 10-day visit in Osaka, Kawaguchiko and Tokyo were not enough to make the most out of my stay in Japan. It was really a dreamy vacation, and I will definitely go back.

For Filipinos, you need a valid visa to enter Japan. You may refer to my previous post for the step by step guide to acquire a Japanese tourist visa.

I was able to score a one-way ticket for my boyfriend through Cebu Pacific’s seatsale. I was able to buy it for only PHP 2000, MNL-KIX. On the other hand, I used my company benefit to fly in and out of Japan.

Our accommodations were booked through Agoda app and Booking.com, and I got to save a bit using coupons.

For train tickets and USJ entry passes , I have booked it through Klook, and I swear that I got to save a lot using their codes. On the other hand, I booked through KKDay our 4G sim card, Tokyo Disneyland passes and airport express tickets.

For this entry I will talk about Osaka, since it was our entry point in Japan (plus Kyoto and Nara). I will make a separate post for Tokyo as well.

 

Osaka, Japan in a glimpse of 4 days and 5 nights- 06.10-14.19

Day 1- 06.10.19

We arrived in Osaka at past 8pm (Japan is 1 hour ahead of Manila), and after passing through immigration and customs, my first agenda was to claim all the train tickets and sim card I booked online. To my dismay, I overlooked the disclaimer about the Airport Express Haruka. The booth closes at 7:45pm, and we got in late and I have no choice but to buy another express train ticket that could get us at Namba Station. The Suica card cannot be used in express trains, and Shinkansen trains (the bullet train that takes you to another Japanese region). Suica can be used in JR trains, subways, buses and even at convenience stores and selected restaurants. It is already pre-loaded when bought and can be reloaded at train stations. Suica is local to Osaka, however, you can use it also in Tokyo or any place in Japan for as long as you don’t use it when crossing another region. If you have plans to go back to Japan, keep it. It is valid for 5 years and you don’t have to buy another one when you visit Japan.

When we got to Namba station, we bought some snacks from 7-Eleven, before walking towards our hostel. It was a pretty long walk because according to Google Map, it is walkable. Should I known earlier that there was a nearby station at our hostel, I would not have walked. We passed through some quiet alley with nothing but light posts and several parked bikes, only to discover later on that we passed through beside a cemetery. Never again after finding out!

We finally got in our hostel, Hotel Ikutama Love. It’s an adult only type of hotel. It’s actually spacious and has complete supply of toiletries. Our breakfast was delivered daily in our room and I’m giving it a thumbs up. The servings were big and the salmon was fresh. There was also a vendo machine in our room, and upon checking, it contains adult toys and those kinky stuff you use. What I love most about this place is, it is within center and it will not cost you a lot. Boyfriend informed the front desk that I am celebrating my birthday, and asked for my passport to verify. When we were already in our room, they gave us a small bottle of champagne and some dessert, with a lingerie as a gift.

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View from outside, they’re actually rows of it.

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Hotel’s birthday gift for me

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Breakfast were surprisingly good

 

Day 2- 06.11.19

After eating breakfast, we prepared for our DIY trip to Kyoto. We lost our way going to Fushimi-Inari Shrine because Google Map said that we need to transfer platform, only to realize that we missed the train. Nevertheless, we still made it there. Before going to the shrine, we had our lunch at a ramen place called Hiwamatanoboru. The servings were big and it was a good ramen.

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2500JPY for 2 ramen and drinks. Worth it!

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KYOTO

Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine

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Once you get off at the train station you won’t lose your way going to the shrine. All visitors are walking towards it. You will pass by several souvenir and food stalls along the way.

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You use a ladle to cleanse yourself before entering temples

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Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine is a Shinto Temple. It is famous for its orange torii bamboo gates. The shrine is an hour or two hike, but we didn’t go all the way to the top because it was raining a little. After we got a bunch of pictures, we moved to our next destination.

Kiyomizu-Dera Temple

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Another temple that we got to visit is Kiyomizu-Dera Temple. You’ll be going through an uphill to go there. When we got there it was an hour before closing, so we decided not to go inside anymore. While having pictures, we set the camera’s timer and place it on top of something, and when we got back in our hostel, I found something creepy in one of the pictures. There is a white silhouette in a shape of a human right next to me. Don’t be surprised if you caught something in your camera. After all, temples were also  cemeteries. Spirits might be everywhere and they happened to be in my picture.

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It started to rain again when we were about to leave the temple. At 6pm, all shops have closed, and there was no place that we can stay for a while to wait for the rain to stop. When it was okay to walk again, we head towards the bus stop bound for Osaka. When we got into the stop, I was confused which stop heads towards Osaka. Google Map cannot clearly point it out. There were also no English translation in the sign boards. I chose whichever has more foreigners in it, and I ended up asking, “Going to Osaka?”, and the person I asked just nodded. When we got into the bus, we tapped our Suica cards, and found our seats at the back. I was observing everybody, how they hop on and hop off, and Google Map was on track again. Finally, I was doing it right. It took an hour and a half before we got into Osaka downtown.

OSAKA

Dotonbori

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The famous Glico man of Osaka

We finally got into the place where you’ll find the famous Glico man. I was overwhelmed with all the food stalls next to each other. I really wanted to try everything, but it was a bit expensive. Instead of having dinner, we bought several snacks such as takoyaki, kobe beef, and chicken barbecue. It was 11pm, and stalls were closing, and we decided to go back to our hostel. On our way, we passed by Lawsons, and bought some food again for our midnight cravings.

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Takoyaki for 790JPY

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This is the entry level kobe beef. Priced at 1800JPY

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200JPY per stick

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When it was our turn in the counter, all waffles have been sold out

 

Day 3- 06.12.19

NARA

Nara Park

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On my birthday, we woke up late again. After breakfast and self-prep, we went to Nara Park. It’s a 45min. train ride from Osaka. As we exit the station, I was starting to see the local deer, roaming freely around. You can feed the deer, but you have to buy their food. The deer can be aggressive, especially if they see you holding a plastic bag. Some deer tried to snatch the plastic that I was holding, and they are very strong. In fairness to the deer, when I tried bowing at them, they bowed back. Such respectful beings. The only downside of it was poops were literally around, so better be careful not to step on it.

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Warning though

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Todai-ji Temple

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We walked and walked until we reach the gates going to Todai-ji Temple. There was a small lake outside the temple, and many deer were roaming freely and resting under the trees. We did not go inside the temple, because the view outside was more than enough already.

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Kasugataisha Shrine

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We walked again towards the next shrine, and boyfriend’s feet gave up on him. Blame the Jordans for it! I just took pictures outside and didn’t bother to walk uphill. The forest where the shrine is located was so quiet, and there were even wild birds.

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Cleansing with water before entering

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Barrels of Asahi

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

I have always admired this place in pictures, so I was eager to see the place in person. It was past 5pm, and almost sunset, when we got at Arashiyama station. We pinned the bamboo groves, but we’re being directed to a hostel instead. When we finally found the right direction, it was so quiet, and there were no people. We still tried our best though, in fact, we reached the end, and i saw a bunch of tombstones. I turned around and walk faster and didn’t bother to look back.

OSAKA

Harukas 300

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View from top

When i booked the USJ passes, it was bundled with Harukas 300 Observatory. The place has a nice view of the city at night. We also got in here the passcode to enter USJ 15mins ahead of opening time, which unfortunately we did not use. As usual, we cannot get up early, and we ended up arriving in USJ past 9am.

Ichiran Ramen- Abenobashi

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2840JPY for 2 ramen

The very famous ramen place, where you’ll see long lines outside. For me, it was worth lining up. All the food in Japan will always be worth it. I accidentally saw this ramen place in Abenobashi, when I saw the familiar logo. Good thing, we only waited for 5 mins, as compared to the branch in Dotonbori where the lines were really long.

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Fully-equipped

Dotonbori

We were in Dotonbori, almost every night because of food. On our second night, I lined up for the Melonpan. When it was my turn to buy, they have to close the stall because their waffles have been sold out. We tried our luck again on our 3rd night, we finally had it after lining up for 10mins. Apart from the waffle, we also had gyoza that night.

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400JPY for each

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240JPY for this gyoza

 

Day 3- 06.13.19

Universal Studios Japan

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I have been to Universal Studios Singapore, and it’s totally different from the one in Japan. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is very unique at this theme park. I was so giddy when I started seeing familiar things, that I only read in books or watched in movies. While lining up for our first ride, I bought a butterbeer for us. It was overpriced, but you cannot say no to this drink, especially that we, muggles, have been looking forward to this. The highlight of the Harry Potter was the tour inside the Hogwarts Castle, and we lined up an hour just for this. We tried our best to visit each section, and try out whatever is in there. We also got a chance to meet some characters, and to watch the parade at night. From time to time, we eat, and I have noticed that meals here were expensive than usual.

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The infamous flying car

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Line to Hogwarts

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Hogwarts Express

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650JPY for each butterbeer

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Cheers, muggles!

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Turkey leg and drink for 1220JPY

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Our dinner at Yoshinoya, near train station. Meal cost 2210JPY

Day 4- 06.14.19

On our last day in Osaka, we have to check out at noon. Since our bus bound for Kawaguchiko is still at night, I asked the front desk, if we can leave our luggage with them, and they were nice enough to allow us.  We went to Shinsaibashi, to check out some bags and watches, and a little bit of window shopping in Amerika-mura. I have been craving for some breakfast meals. We were looking for Egg N Things, and we didn’t find it. We ended up in a noodle house with such a big serving.

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We spent 2840JPY for our lunch at Kamukaru

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1185JPY for Pablo’s cheesecake. I tried this before, and I’m not sure why it tasted differently

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On our way to Tokyo, we have a 1 night stay in Kawaguchiko. This place is near the lake and it’s the surrounding towns of Mt. Fuji. We took a bus and traveled  for 9 hours. Normally, people will take a bullet train to transfer to another region, but I find this expensive, and I wanna save money from another hotel booking. It’s also a different route we took, because we came from Osaka going to Tokyo, instead of the reverse, which is the usual route. I tried my best looking for buses that operate Osaka-Tokyo, and to my dismay there was none, until I landed in a Japanese website. I clicked the translate and it worked in English. I found Fujikyuko Bus that travels from Osaka to Kawaguchiko. Just perfect for our itinerary. They have a terminal at Abenobashi, and we waited there until our bus arrived.

That’s how our adventure in Osaka ended. I am definitely going back to Osaka. I still need to see the Osaka Castle, Umeda Bldg, Denden Town, Arashiyama Bamboo Groves, Rinku Outlet, etc. For those who love food, I highly recommend Osaka. You’ll never go wrong, and after all, it has been tagged as Japan’s Kitchen.

 

BUDGET BREAKDOWN

For the total expenses in Japan: PHP 56 030.779/ head without shopping

Exchange rate- 0.4790PHP to 1JPY

Ikutama Love Hotel- PHP 9181.472/head for 4 nights with breakfast

Harukas 300/USJ Entry Pass- PHP 4731.3/head

Meal- PHP 6731.1475/head

Transpo-PHP 4530.2/head

Misc.- PHP182.02/head

Total Expenses in Osaka, Kyoto, Nara(alone)- PHP 20624.84/head  

 

Beijing and Beyond

Whenever I hear the word, Beijing, two things come into my mind, the Great Wall of China and the Peking duck. Beijing may be synonymous to plenty of words, but architecture and food come first for me.

Beijing is the capital of the People’s Republic of China, a country with a very aggressive economy, and a super power in the making. China has a very rich history and culture, starting from its era of dynasties, to its era of communism under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong. The legacy of each emperor/leader can be seen until today through many things.

Beijing, China in a glimpse of 2 nights and 2 days. (02.24-25.19)

I arrived in Beijing around midnight as part of the crew operating for MNL-PEK-MNL. Our hotel is located right in the downtown of Beijing, accessible through metered taxi cabs, local MRT, Didi (local version of Uber in China). We were in the last week of February, and the season is still winter (although the snow was starting to melt). Since our crew were mostly first timers, we were planning to get around the city, and visit the famous landmarks. One of our seniors shared with us their local contact, who can speak good English, and who can take us around the Great Wall. It was in the wee hours when I tried my luck and called Mr. Qian, and to my surprise, he answered. He said that he will be picking us up from our hotel.

It was 8am, and Mr. Qian was waiting for us at the lobby of our hotel. I was joined by my 2 colleagues, and another 3 from the crew operating KLO-PEK-KLO-CEB, and together we took the van bound for Mutianyu section of the Great Wall of China. The trip was about  an hour and a half from the city, and the temperature dropped at 1 degrees C. There are actually other sections of the Great Wall that is open for tourists, but this one is less crowded and most areas of the Great Wall are still intact and tourist friendly.

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As we arrived at the Mutianyu entrance, we have to pay for our entrance fees and transfer fees (shuttle, chairlift and toboggan). From the main entrance, we have to walk a little bit more, passing by some restaurants and souvenir shops, before we can take the chairlift that we will bring us to Tower 6.

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chairlift to Tower 6

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Bucket list check- Walk along the Great Wall of China

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toboggan ride down- slide away!

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Picture with the guards for 10RMB each

We had an ample time going around the Great Wall before we decided to have lunch and buy some souvenirs. For lunch, we had roasted duck (super crispy), dimsum, yang chao rice. The meal was quite expensive, although this is expected as the restaurant is located in a tourist area.

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Before finally calling it a day, we stopped at the nearby Frozen Lake. It’s starting to defrost as the climate rises. We were not asked to pay for an entrance fee (although the ones before us were charged)

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Frozen Lake

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the squad with Qian (guy in the middle)

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Since it was a 2 day layover in Beijing, we had another day to spend around the city. We started our day after brunch, to recover from yesterday’s trip to the Great Wall. We visited the Tiananmen Square, Forbidden Palace, and the Wangfujing Street. We had everything DIY. From the hotel, we walked about 15mins to the train station. From there, we took a train ride, and alighted at Tiananmen Square. Forbidden Palace and Tiananmen Square are just next to each other. The train ride was pretty easy to understand as long as you know where to go (there are English translations.) Going to Tiananmen Square on a weekend can be a little crowded, as you may have to line up to get in. When we were there, they never asked for IDs or passports, but a few months later, I heard from some crew that police are starting to do some random check, so it’s always best to bring your passport whenever going out (be sure that you won’t lose it). If you’re planning to really get inside the Forbidden Palace, it’s best to go there in the morning, so you can maximize your visit, and entrance comes with a fee. I was really looking forward to our stroll along Wangfujing, but to my dismay, most stalls are closed due to renovation. Wangfujing is known for its street food and the exotic food that it offers. I have no plans to eat it, but I just want to see it.

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Tiananmen Square

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Mausoleum of Chairman Mao

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I personally think that most Chinese are misunderstood. If you can only visit the mainland, and you’ll probably understand. I have several encounters with them, and based from experience, they’re really nice. They may not be fluent in English, but trust me they try their best to help you out.

TIPS

  • Before going to China, make sure that you have a VPN (at least 3, just in case that it fails to work or it has been blocked) to have an access to the outside world. All those apps that we use are forbidden and blocked in China, and they have their own.
  • Download Mandarin from the Google Translate. It works offline too. This will help you to break the language barrier.
  • China has a reputation of producing fake items, and that includes food. When in doubt, order from your hotel. (Although, I have eaten in decent restaurants, and food is yummy)
  • Don’t touch anything if you don’t intend to buy the item. The old ladies will shout at you and probably curse you.
  • Always haggle with the lowest price possible that you can imagine. Stick with your price until they give in. If they don’t agree, walk out, and they will run after you and give you your price.
  • It’s best to have your money exchanged at your hotel to avoid being scammed
  • Be careful when paying. Make sure that it’s the money that you handed. Some might trick you and tell you that it’s fake. (when in fact they have already exchanged it with another paper bill)

If you need a driver/guide around Beijing, you may contact Mr. Qian.

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Japanese Tourist Visa Requirements for Philippine-based Filipinos

DISCLAIMER

Everything that you will read below were based from my experience. As of this time of writing, all procedures & requirements are accurate; unless otherwise stated. It’s still best to contact the embassy for current information & to answer all your inquiries.

PLAN AHEAD

I have applied for a Japanese tourist visa, 3 months prior to our intended date of travel. I was scheduled to have my vacation leave on September 2018, so I tried applying on June 2018 (Just in case I will only be granted with a single entry visa cause it’s only 3 months valid). I browsed the website of the Japan Embassy in Manila for the requirements that I need to submit and there was a list of partner travel agencies, wherein you can submit your application, and the agency will forward it to the embassy.

1. Bank Certificate

Validity of Bank Certificate is 3 months from the date of issue. I got mine from the BDO branch nearest to me, and paid PHP 100. You can claim it the following day.

2. Income Tax Return

I printed a copy of my latest issued ITR

3. Application form and passport-size picture

Application form can be downloaded from the embassy’s website. Ensure that all entries are filled-up correctly, and no blank items. NA’s are acceptable if answer is not applicable. Double check dates to be written and signatures on document. Photos must be in white background and taken within the last 6 months. Write the applicant’s name and birth date at the back of the photo and attach it to the application form.

4. Passport

Your passport must have a validity of 6 months or more on the planned days of your vacation. No broken passports and must have at least 2 blank visa pages.

5. Birth Certificate

If it is your first time to apply for a Japanese visa, make sure that you submit your birth certificate. It must be issued within 1 year from PSA. (Philippine Statistics Office)

6. Daily Schedule in Japan

Write down your itinerary. Ensure that your schedule is realistic and within your budget.

7. Marriage Certificate

Submit a marriage certificate from PSA if you are married.

8. Supporting Documents

If you think this will be helpful for a successful visa application, then add it on your list. I included my Certificate of Employment, my Certificate of Stocks, etc.

9. Explanation Letter for Requesting Multiple Visa

To acquire for a multiple visa, there are certain conditions, and according to their website, they are the following:

(1) Applicant with history of travel as temporary visitor to Japan in the last three (3) years ; has no known violation of domestic laws of Japan nor had problem with immigration regarding entry and status during the period of stay ; and has sufficient financial capacity to support expenses for travel and stay.
(2) Applicant with history of travel as temporary visitor to Japan in the last three (3) years; has no known violation of domestic laws of Japan nor had problem with immigration regarding entry and status during the period of stay; and, has several history of travel as temporary visitor to G7 countries (excluding Japan) in the last (3) years.

(3) Applicant with abundant financial capacity

(4) Spouse or Child of (3) above.

 

APPLYING FOR TOURIST VISA

I reviewed all the accredited travel agencies by the embassy, and I chose Reli Tours in Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati. It’s nearest from my place and you only pay PHP 950 for the handling fee. I gave them all my documents and passport. I was asked to wait for their text, which is 3-5 working days prior from submission so I would know when to comeback and claim my passport and hopefully with a granted visa. After 3 days, I came back and received a MULTIPLE VISA FOR 5 YEARS!

FYI

All documents must be original. No staples on documents and follow the A4 format for your paper size.

No specific amount was mentioned on how much your bank account should have on the time of application. Rumor says it should not fall below PHP50K. To be safe make sure it should not fall below PHP 100K. However, I personally know someone who was granted a single entry visa with only PHP10k in his bank account. Although, his passport holds a multiple 10 year US visa, Schengen visa, and stamps from other Asian countries. Yes, he is well-traveled.

You can submit someone else’s application form & documents. No need for personal appearance.

I applied for a multiple visa, and wrote a personal letter to the consul stating why I should be granted. I didn’t fall to any of the conditions mentioned from their site. However, I have been to Tokyo once prior from application due to work. I mentioned that I work as a cabin crew, and I have been to Tokyo as a crew. The only proof I submitted was my COE (they will know that I’m a cabin crew), and my passport (where the cashier from a local Japanese grocery pasted my grocery receipt to get a tax refund). I don’t have a travel history in Japan from the last 3 years as a temporary visitor or tourist, and I don’t have a travel history to any of the G7 countries. Lastly, I’m not sure what they consider as having an abundant financial capacity.

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It was my lucky day indeed. First time applying, multiple visa granted.

After 3 working days, passport was released, and hassle-free!

For updated information, you may visit

https://www.ph.emb-japan.go.jp/itpr_en/00_000035.html

Day Trip in Macau

Macau, just like Hong Kong, is a special administrative region of China. They were liberated from the Portuguese in 1999, after centuries of being a colony. The Portuguese/European influence is still very evident in Macau, from its architecture to its food. Portuguese is also widely spoken in Macau as compared to English. Just like Hong Kong, it is a 2-hour plane ride from Manila, but since we were coming from Hong Kong, it only took us an hour of ferry ride.

Macau is famous for its casinos, and has been dubbed as the Las Vegas of Asia. True enough, there were plenty of hotel casinos around, but aside from that Macau is a bit known for its yummy street foods.

Macau Day Trip- 06.11.17

We took the first ferry ride out of Hong Kong, to catch our tour in Macau. It was through Klook.com that I booked a round trip ticket via Cotai Water Jet. The trip departs at HK-Macau Ferry Terminal in Hong Kong, and arrives at Taipa Ferry Terminal in Macau. There are actually 2 ferry terminals in Macau, so just make sure that you take note which ferry terminal that you’ll be arriving at.

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TKW Sightseeing Tour

We needed to transfer to the other terminal to meet our tour group. Our first activity in Macau is to join the TKW tour, which covers places like the St. Paul Ruins, Fortaleza do Monte, A-Ma Temple, Instituto Cultural, Koi Kei Bakery, etc. and with an English speaking tour guide. The tour also includes a lunch buffet at a 4-star hotel. We also had an ample time to try out local pastries and food, after which we had bags of goodies from their local bakeries. This can be actually a DIY activity, but since it’s part of our pre-booked activities from iVenture, I just opted that we use it. There was actually a continuation of the tour after our lunch, but since we have the iVenture package, we needed to leave the group, and go to our next activity.

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Fortaleza do Monte

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Trying to view the city from the fort

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St. Paul Ruins

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Instituto Cultural

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Souvenirs

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A-Ma Temple

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Koi Kei Bakery

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It tastes really good

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Meat jerky

Macau Tower

The tour bus dropped us off outside the Macau Tower a little bit past 2pm. Our ticket includes the entrance to the observatory deck, which is at the 58th floor. You get to see a 360 degree view of Macau, and some parts of its neighboring China. Aside from the city view, you get to see people walking around the tower’s edges, and people who bungee jump from the 61st floor. The bungee jump would cost around PHP 20 000, which in my opinion, I’d rather spend on food, travel and shopping. My sister was game to do it, and I was too, but I was being my kuripot self, and of course, I was thinking, what if I didn’t make it down alive. Likewise, the boyfriend was not supportive of the idea. One, he’s not an adrenaline junkie. Second, it’s a one time big time shot and it’s like burning my money. (the only time that I would burn my money is when I do sky-diving.) We just watched and gladly cheered for those who dared to jump, and in fairness, it took them minutes before they could really jump. Reality has probably sunk in, or they haven’t anticipated how high they would be jumping from.

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The highest tower in Macau

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View from the tower

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This kid is a brave soul

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Preparing before jumping

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World's highest commercial bungee jump at 233m. 🙊

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Viva La Broadway 

By 3pm, we left for the Broadway Show. I appreciate shows like this, because I know how demanding rehearsals can be. It was a short show, and my companions fell asleep too. I was laughing all by myself, so I told them that I will never bring them to watch a broadway show again. I will never pay for an expensive show and they’ll just end up sleeping. After watching the show, of course, they got hungry. I got a dinner set meal, which is part of the iVenture package. There were a couple of restaurants to choose from, and we chose the one that serves dumplings.

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We weren’t able to do casino/hotel hopping due to lack of time, because we needed to catch our trip back to Hong Kong. It would have been nice to see Macau at night. I could just imagine how alive the place is at night. I could go back to Macau for a beginner’s luck, and to try out different street foods again. Definitely love the egg tart!

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Ferry ride back to Hong Kong

For our itinerary, and total damage to our wallet, feel free to click the link: Itinerary- Hong Kong Macau 2017

Holiday in Hong Kong

All I ever wished for this year’s birthday is to spend it in Disneyland. Okay, how shallow for a 20-something year old woman. Isn’t it that Disneyland is fairly for kids of all ages? I just wanted to be a kid again on that special day, so I decided that we will be flying to Hong Kong and a side trip to Macau. Hong Kong is pretty much a city vibe where you can suffice your shopping addiction. Hong Kong has a touch of both Oriental and Western style (being a colony of UK for a long time, and was only returned to China and became a special administrative region of China in 1997). Hong Kong is a 2-hour flight from Manila, which makes it easily accessible among Filipinos, and most of the time it’s the destination of the first timers leaving the Philippines.

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Hong Kong-Macau in a glimpse of 4 days and 4 nights (06.10.17-06.14.17)

We took an afternoon flight to Hong Kong via Cebu Pacific 5J 118 because I came from Narita, Japan the day before, and lost all my energy to pack. Instead, I packed in the morning. We are meeting my sister half-way, and she’s coming from a 20-hour plus flight starting from Washington DC- Los Angeles- Hong Kong via Virgin America (US domestic) and Cathay Pacific (international). She arrived in Hong Kong at 6am, while we’re arriving in Hong Kong at 6pm. My sister needed to rest first to avoid getting jet-lagged.

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Hong Kong from above

My sister went back to the airport to fetch us, and ride altogether going to our hostel before heading to dinner. Before leaving the airport, i claimed at the A13 arrival hall all my purchases from Klook.com which includes an Octopus card and iVenture card. Octopus card is used for trains, buses and even purchases from 7Eleven. On the other hand, iVenture card has plenty of attractions both for Hong Kong and Macau, so you don’t have to pay anymore for the entrance fee of each attraction. It also includes a discounted Disneyland pass, local sim with 4G wifi, discounted ferry transfer to Macau.

We took a 30-minute bus ride from the airport, and dropped off at Nathan Road in Mongkok. We walked a few blocks before we found the building where our hostel is at. It could be a little confusing so it’s best to have a landmark. Our hostel was booked through Airbnb and all that was written in there was pretty accurate.

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Kung Hing Guesthouse, where we stayed

For dinner, we went to a nearby mall, just a few blocks at the back of the building of our hostel. We found ourselves eating at a Chinese restaurant in Langham Mall. We got a sumptuous dinner for an affordable price.

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Chee Kai Set Meal

It was still early, so we visited the Sneaker Street of Mongkok, I got myself a pair of Pink Stan Smith, which used to be only available in Paris. It was the lone store that sells the color pink, so I grabbed the opportunity to buy myself a new pair.

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Classic tennis shoes

06.11.17- Macau

I will be having a separate post on our Macau trip. Click the link to read about our Macau trip.

After Macau, we visited the Ladies Market, and Beauty area of Mongkok. Near the gadgets area, we grabbed some street food like calamares.

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Munching on street foods

For dinner, there is another Chinese restaurant near our hostel. We got ourselves a Haianese chicken and milk tea.

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Haianese Chicken and Milk Tea for dinner

06.12.17– Disneyland

The weather in Hong Kong was pretty bad that it reached Signal No. 8 in the afternoon, which means that everything will be closed including the MTR. Our original activity for this day is to take the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car, and visit the Giant Buddha and Ngong Ping Village. Due to strong winds, the cable car was suspended, and I felt bad. We have the option to take the bus so we can still visit the other attractions, but I decided that this will include in my itinerary the next time I’m back in Hong Kong. The Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car is part of the attractions included in the iVenture card, so it had been paid already. We had our brunch at McDonalds at a nearby mall, before we took the train that will take us to Disneyland.

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Mickey Mouse designed train going to Disneyland

Mr. sunshine was showing up when we got into Disneyland. Before we finally went in, I claimed the vouchers for our meal, which was also paid online. It includes lunch and free ice cream or popcorn. It was worth it.

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Welcome to Disneyland

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The first and only area we visited was the Tomorrowland. We had the Iron Man Experience, and Hyperspace Mountain. I thought it was all for kids, but I was wrong! I enjoyed it because it wasn’t something that I expected. Afterwards, we felt hungry and decided to eat. We had a mix of Japanese and American food which were all heavy and worth every penny. After eating, we were thinking of the next rides that we will take, but unfortunately, Disneyland has to be closed because of Signal No. 8, and we were left by no choice but to leave. We hurriedly went back to our hostel as the MTRs will close soon too. It was raining hard in Mongkok, and we all opted to sleep instead.

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First and only area we explored

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House of Animation

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Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

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Main Street USA

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My Amerindian ancestor

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Ramen & tempura

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Bacon, beef and sausage with rice

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I thought my birthday will end soon in bed, but I wake them up to eat dinner. Just at the 2nd floor of our building, there’s a traditional Chinese restaurant, that serves exotic food as well. We had Yang Chow rice, chicken, and beef with beans and veggies along with beer.

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Asahi beer instead of cake on my birthday

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A traditional Chinese restaurant

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Yang Chow rice, fried chicken & beef with beans & veggie for dinner

06.13.17- Ocean Park, Peak Tram, Madame Tussauds

It was raining hard, yet there was no storm signal. We left our hostel to join our transfer ride going to Ocean Park. Our meeting place was at Holiday Inn Golden Mile. It was just few stations away from ours, but going to the hotel was risky. Some alleys that we passed by had waters already. We had no choice but to buy umbrellas and ponchos. Our pants and shoes got soaked in the water. Our meet-up is at 8am, but it was already past 8am, and our guide is not showing up yet. Perhaps, it was cancelled due to bad weather, but there was no storm signal, so it must push thru. After waiting for several minutes, our guide arrived.

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Raining, yet still plenty of tourists

It took 30 minutes to reach Ocean Park, and it was still early so most of the establishments were still closed. We’ve been walking around to find a place to eat, until we stumbled upon a fastfood place. This time, we had fries, soda, chicken rice, burger and ice cream. Yes, ice cream on a cold weather! Finally, after eating, we’re about to watch the dolphin show, but to our dismay it has been cancelled. Due to bad weather, all animals can’t leave their shelter. I’m starting to get disappointed, since my main reason why I went to Ocean Park is to see a panda. We just walked around and entered the shark aquarium, Amazon rainforest zoo, Australian conservation center (where we saw a kangaroo and a koala), and panda house. We got to meet the 31-year old panda. It was an item to tick-off in my bucket list. As for the rides, we only got to ride the express train going up and the cable car going down. At least, I was still able to ride a cable car even if the Ngong Ping 360 cable car wasn’t available the time we went there.

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Dolphin show has been cancelled

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Dare to try!

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Kangaroo feeding

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Didn’t know that white kangaroos exist, or perhaps the albino type

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Meet An-An the 31-year old panda

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Hibernating koala

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Cable car at Ocean Park

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Old Chinatown be-like

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After our Ocean Park adventure, we took a train ride going to Peak Tram station. We were in fact lost, so we took another bus ride and alighted a few meters away. When I saw the Peak Tram station, there was really a long line, but thanks to our pass, we need not to line up. We arrived at the Peak Tower where we had our yummy snacks at Kala Snackbar. We had strawberry soda & banana walnut crepe. We went around after eating, and we ended up in this place that I thought it was the Trick Eye Museum. It is something similar to that but it is for free. Then we headed to Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, where the wax figures looks real.

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Peak tram ride

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My afternoon snack

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I really don’t know who she is, but my sister said that she’s an artist with autism & famous in Washington DC

It’s time to eat once again, so we had dinner at Bubba Gump. We had a 10% discount, thanks to our iVenture cards. We got ourselves a heavy meal since it’s been a long and tiring day.  I wasn’t feeling well that time. It feels like that anytime, my head will just burst. I’m not sure if it was a migraine attack or I was just hungry. After eating, we found a Korean store, and once again it has been proven that retail therapy can cure any ailment.

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Dinner in big servings

We’re suppose to go to the viewing deck to see the nice view of Hong Kong, but unfortunately, it was so foggy and it will not be worth going up.

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Foggy view of Hong Kong

Now, we left the Hong Kong Island and returned to our hostel to rest.

06.14.17- Mongkok

It was our last day in Hong Kong and we didn’t have a pretty decent shopping activity, except that I got myself a pair of pink Stan Smith. We woke up early, and had brunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant before we headed for shopping. We loaded ourselves with Korean products and sneakers that are either too expensive in Manila or we don’t have it here. We got ourselves a polo shirt in a super sale at Giordano, and of course, something to munch on! I can actually dedicate a whole day to shopping, but my card will be at risk.

For our itinerary and total damage to our wallet, feel free to click Itinerary- Hong Kong Macau 2017

Korean Tourist Visa Requirements for Philippine-based Filipinos

DISCLAIMER

Everything that you will read below were based from my experience. As of this time of writing, all procedures & requirements are accurate; unless otherwise stated. It’s still best to contact the embassy for current information & to answer all your inquiries.

PLAN AHEAD

After bidding for my service incentive leave, I have decided that I’ll spend my vacation in Seoul. I bid back in October 2015, and when we got our final date for SIL a month after, I started to prepare the requirements for my Korean tourist visa.

November 2015

Aside from my payroll account, I opened my savings account with BDO because it’s the nearest bank to my house, and their ATMs are almost everywhere.

June 2016

1. Bank Certificate & Bank Statement

After 7 months from opening my savings account, I went to the branch where I opened my account and asked for a bank certificate & bank statement for the last 3 months. Good thing with BDO is that they are very much familiar with the required format of the Korean embassy. Aside from bank statement, you may prefer to use your passbook. I have a passbook, but I opted for the printed bank statement. You just have to pay Php 100 for bank certificate & Php 100 for bank statement. You may claim it a day after you made a request.

2. Certificate of Employment & ITR

I got these from our HR. The certificate of employment must have the ff: position in the company, date hired, monthly or annual salary, active contact details of the HR person who will sign your COE. As for the ITR it must be the latest issued to you. I got those after 3 working days from the day I requested.

3. Application form & Passport-size picture

You may print the form available at the website of the Korean embassy. Type or hand-written is acceptable. Don’t leave blanks, just type N.A. or not applicable. Attach the passport-size picture with white background on the application form.

4. Passport

Your passport must have a validity of 6 months or more on the planned days of your vacation.

5. Photocopy of passport bio page

APPLYING FOR TOURIST VISA

June 13, 2016

I went to the Korean Embassy in McKinley Hill at 9am. I waited for my queue for half an hour and when it was my turn I just submitted it on the window counter. They got all my documents and passport & gave me a claim receipt. I must return on June 20, 2016, or after 5 working days, to get my passport. No questons were asked to me.

June 20, 2016

I returned to the embassy to claim our passports at 1pm, and it’s stamped with tourist visa valid for 3 months from June 20 till Sept 20, 2016. It’s free and you’re allowed to stay for 59 days.

FYI

All documents must be original.

No specific amount was mentioned on how much your bank account should have on the time of the application. As long as your account is active & could support the whole duration of your stay in Korea, then it’s acceptable, I guess.

You can submit someone else’s application form & documents. No need for personal appearance.

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Korean Tourist Visa

We both got our tourist visas after 5 working days & hassle free!

For updated information, you may visit http://embassy_philippines.mofa.go.kr/english/as/embassy_philippines/main/index.jsp

Seoul Searching

Our travel in Seoul, South Korea is another achievement unlocked. First, we did not exceed our set budget. Second, locals hardly speak English, but we managed. From getting lost and asking directions to eating unfamiliar local dishes. The language barrier is difficult, yet I have seen their efforts to help us. On the positive note, the country is safe, and you can wander all you want.

Seoul, South Korea in a glimpse of 4 days and 4 nights (08.31.16-09.04.16)

A flight to Seoul from Manila is almost 4 hours via Incheon. You may opt to travel with any of our local carriers, Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, and AirAsia. You may also choose to take Korean Air, Asiana, etc. We have flown with Cebu Pacific (to avail my airline benefit) scheduled to depart at past 3 in the afternoon, and arriving at around 8pm (Korea local time). Seoul is 1 hour ahead of Manila.

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Customized passport holders from JJ Market in Bangkok

After passing thru immigration, I claimed our reserved wifi kit at the arrival hall in between gates 6 and 7. I made the reservation online through KT Mobile Rental. I gave a deposit of 200000KRW, and will deduct the 27500KRW for my 5-day use. Upon returning on our last day, I got my 172500KRW deposit. When I made the reservation online, I found a discount coupon- so this rate is already discounted.

Seoul City is 45 mins away from Incheon International Airport, and to go to the city, it’s best to take the subway. I would love to try the Airport Express Train, but when we got there it was already closed. Instead, we took the other train, which stops in every station. It’s way cheaper, but the time difference is only 10 mins.

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Hoehyeon Station. Tip: Download their train app

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The fastest mode of transpo

Our hostel, New Sun Guesthouse is a 5 min. walk from Hoehyeon Station. Its location is very strategic- 5 mins away from Myeongdong and 10-15 mins from Seoul City by foot! I booked our hostel thru Airbnb app for only PHP6685 good for 4 nights and 2 persons. We have our daily complimentary breakfast and bottled water, basic toiletries, and free wifi.

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Tip: Ask the frontdesk officer for package tours if you don’t have an itinerary yet. They offer good deals.

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16 degrees Celsius upon arrival. OOTN: Hers- white top from Zara, black pants from River Island, boots from Moschino, bag from DKNY. His- pink polo from American Eagle, black slacks, black Nike roshe run sneakers.

On the night we arrived, we walked around and we reached the Namdaemun Market. We were looking for a place to eat but we cannot really decide because there was no English translation, and no one speaks English. We took a chance at this small eatery along the street and ordered barbecue and some ramen. The lady in her 50s probably, gave us free unlimited rice cakes mixed in curry, and a scrambled egg mixed with spinach. It was such a sweet gesture, appreciated by lost and hungry tourists. I love the food, but spicy is not my thing.

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Menu in Korean. We choose our food based from pictures.

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Korean chicken barbecue for 15000KRW.

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Korean chicken barbecue, spicy ramen and free unli rice cake dipped in curry

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Free spinach mixed in scrambled egg

09.01.16- Seoul City Tour

  1. Gyeongbokgung Palace  
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Entrance to Gyeongbokgung Palace costs 3000KRW per head

After having our hearty breakfast, we took the train going to Gyeongbokgung Palace. There were also other palaces in the city, but we chose this because it’s the main attraction. On my next visit, I will visit Changdeokgung Palace during autumn. We availed the free 1 hour English tour to understand more of the palace’s history, and its dynasty. At the entrance stands the Joseon guards, however we did not witness the “Changing of the Guards” ceremony.

Entrance Fee: 3000KRW per head

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The palace gate with mountains in the background

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Gyeongbokgung Palace in the heart of the city.

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Aesthetically beautiful

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Take a closer look at the ceiling

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The other entrance facing the city

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Perfectly fitted designs

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Feel free to feed the birds

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These stones are markers. During military ceremonies in the Joseon period, men lined up according to their rank and the stones are the markers

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Built during the Joseon dynasty in 1395

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Nature appreciation

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More more trees

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King’s throne

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Flocked by tourists

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Dragon design in the middle of the ceiling

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I’m guessing: the ceiling is made of bamboos

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Monkey-like statues were placed on the roof

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Our English speaking tour guide. Tip: Check the schedules of the palace tour. Available in English, Japanese and Chinese. It’s free.

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It used to be the place of the king’s mother

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Now filled with lillies

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Random selfie with tourists in Hanbok

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OOTD: Hers- dress from Cotton On, black cardigan tied around the waist

2. National Palace Museum of Korea

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The National Palace Museum of Korea is dedicated to the relics of the Joseon dynasty. It houses all the artifacts belonging to the dynasty

Entrance Fee: Free

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The king’s chair during ceremonial parades.

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Ancient artifacts from the Joseon dynasty.

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The king’s outfit (not so sure which event he wears this)

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The dragon

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The king’s car in the early 1900s

3. Bukchon Hanok Village

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Vintage houses

It’s a street composed of traditional Korean houses. It’s their version of the “old rich” houses. Visitors may enter some houses and experience tea-time with a fee on it. Some houses were converted to cafes.

Entrance Fee: Free

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You need the strength to go up.

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A tourist strolling the area in Hanbok.

09.02.16- Chuncheon, South Korea

I arranged reservations for our out-of-town tour to avoid the hassle of getting lost via Funtastic Korea. I highly recommend that you avail their package. As compared to DIY tour vs. package tour, the difference is very little. You just have to pay a little for your convenience and comfort. I made the payment online before we left Manila. Package tour includes Nami Island, Petite France and N Seoul Tower, pick-up and drop off service to your hotel, and lunch at Mr. Dakgalbi. Our tour was on a Friday, and to my surprise, we were the only guests for that day. Lucky day indeed!

Package Tour Fee: 160000KRW for 2 persons

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The van is exclusive to us.

  1. Nami Island
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Welcome to Naminara Republic.

It’s the famous island from the Korean series Endless Love: Winter Sonata. There are two ways to get into the island, first is through a ferry ride and second is through a zipline. They say that it’s best to visit Nami Island during the autumn because the lush green forest turns into bright orange. The island itself is picturesque, romantic, and is highly appreciated by nature lovers. You may wish to walk or bike around but for a fee.

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Pay your entrance fee here.

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5 min. ferry ride that will take you to Nami Island.

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You may opt to take the zipline going to Nami Island.

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Somewhere behind is the tomb of Gen. Nami, whereas the island was named after him.

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The island map.

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OOTD: Hers- black turtle neck dress from Cotton On, scarf from Cotton On and sunglasses from Prada. His- black shirt from Nike, jeans from Uniqlo and sunglasses from Rayban.

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Winter Sonata’s first kiss took here.

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Winter Sonata souvenir shop

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You say “welcome” in different languages.

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An attempt to copy their pose.

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The bikes used in Winter Sonata

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Welcome aboard!

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Selfie with the ostrich.

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2. Mr. Dakgalbi

This is a Korean restaurant located near the parking area for Nami Island visitors. Feel free to eat the Korean chicken barbecue in a traditional way.

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Yummy!

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The lunch is part of our packaged tour.

3. Petite France

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Welcome to Petite France!

Located 20 mins. away from Nami Island, the place is dedicated to the author of the novel, The Little Prince. It’s very artsy fartsy, and I could appreciate the place because I have read the novel. The Korean series The Secret Garden was also filmed in here. If you love Korean series, you will be very familiar with the place.

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The Little Prince

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Inside a Russian museum

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Spotted: Little Red Riding Hood

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Colorful mini French village

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4. N Seoul Tower

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Standing at 236m asl.

We drove again for around an hour to get back into the city, and visit the N Seoul Tower. It is located in the Namsan Mountain, and the N Seoul Tower is the highest point around Seoul at 236m. We got a chance to look at Seoul from the bird’s eye view. Before going up at the observatory deck, you will pass by the famous love locks of Seoul. We did not have a padlock with us, and buying from souvenir shops is quite expensive, so we just ended up posing with the locks around.

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Love locks from visitors all over the world.

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A bird’s eye vew of the city.

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09.03.16- Korean Demilitarized Zone

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Our bus to Panmunjom

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Signed our lives away.

Dubbed as the most dangerous border in the world, yet it did not stop me from marking this off on my bucket list. This special place could only be accessed through special permission, and thankfully DMZ Tours exist. Based from what I have read, DMZ Tour on Saturday is provided only by a single agency. I availed the weekend package through KTB Tour and with a brave heart and soul, we visited the most dangerous border in the world. It felt like a field trip on our way in there. We belong to the English speaking group and only 5 are Filipinos including us. A tour guide explained well to us the history of the Korean War, and I was very eager to listen along with some people who seemed to be journalists, professors, historians, etc. The tour includes visit at the DMZ, JSA, Freedom Bridge, and a sumptuous lunch.

Package Tour Fee: 170000KRW for 2 persons

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Beef bulgogi for lunch.

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1. JSA

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The brown building is part of North Korea already.

JSA or Joint Security Area is the blue building where important meetings are held by the United Nations and the two Koreas. It’s literally divided into half, one from the North side, and the other from the South. It is here where treaties have been signed and has played a role in the Korean history. From the outside, you will see the building of North Korea. Picture taking is limited to two mins and limited to some areas only.

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Spotted: North Korean soldier.

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Inside the joint security area where important meetings are held and treaties were signed.

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2. Freedom Bridge

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Bridge bound to North Korea

This bridge connects the North and South Korea. During the Korean War, prisoners of war have been exchanged from each side in this famous bridge. Today, notes, banners are posted and still hoping for the unification of the North and South Korea

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Used to be an active train during the Korean war in 1950s

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Many are still hoping for a unified Korea.

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Lotte World

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Korea’s version of Disneyland.

Aside from the DMZ Tour on that day, we also had a chance to visit Lotte World. I got discounted tickets from our hostel’s front desk. It was 5pm already when we got in there, and since it’s a weekend it’s packed with foreigners and locals alike. Most rides have ridiculous lines, and I don’t want to waste our time from lining up. We ended up riding the bump cars, and kid-friendly rides. We were also just in time for the parade of Zombie characters.

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Long lines ahead.

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Pose for your caricature.

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Let them read your destiny.

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A zombie parade in the background. OOTD: Hers- black polo shirt from American Eagle. His- black polo shirt from Cotton On.

Entrance Fee: 60000KRW for 2 persons

Myeongdong

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Shopping haven

Every night of every day, we never failed to pass by Myeongdong district. It is the haven of people who love cosmetics like me. They sell Korean cosmetics at a very low price compared to the prices in Manila. Definitely a place that I will always comeback to. Street foods are sold here too, and it never failed to suffice my cravings.

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Barbecue for 3000KRW

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Hola, we’re on tv!

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Korea’s version of Yakult

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Hotdog and rice cake for 3000KRW

At the end of our mini vacation, I could assure you that I cannot handle spicy food well. No matter how good the food is. I love their street food but if you’ll convert it to Peso, it’s a bit pricey. Shopping for cosmetics is heaven in Korea. You get to buy the best for an affordable price. I will absolutely comeback to explore other places and try out more authentic Korean food during the autumn season. Do not forget to buy souvenirs. Almond peanut is my favorite, and it’s cheaper in Myeongdong.

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These little goodies were freebies from my purchases.

For the trip, our total expenses was PHP44138 all in except shopping.

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In traditional Hanbok, Korea’s national costume.

For itinerary, directions, food places and budget, feel free to click the Itinerary: Seoul 2016 link.