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  

 

Sweet Escape to Singapore

After a good 5 years, I accidentally got back in Singapore last August. It was not part of my travel plans since I still have other places to explore. However, given our situation, I am now required to visit Singapore, at least every other month (you’ll do anything for love, right?)

Singapore is the epitome of a modern, sophisticated, and chic city. No wonder why this city is one of the world’s most expensive city to live at. So what’s the difference now after 6 years? I used to stay in Choa Chu Kang, nearby Woodlands (your gateway to Malaysia), and this time, we’re staying in Telok Blangah, nearby Harbourfront (just a few thousand steps to Sentosa). Before, I came to visit for leisure, this time I come to visit for love. Before, I’d be taking trains and cabs more often, but now, I got to memorize which bus number should I be riding, and if it’s past midnight, we take the Grab (Hello South East Asia!) We got to explore more places, and even the less tourist-y side.

Arrival in Singapore

I remember, back then we didn’t arrive in Terminal 4, because terminal 4 is relatively new. I still consider Changi Airport as my best airport in the world (Yes, I got to see a bunch already, and Changi boasts world class!)

Transportation

6 years ago, Grab app was not an option. It’s either you take the bus, train or your regular taxi. Whenever I arrive, I choose to take the Grab for convenience. It’s too hassle to move around carrying 2 luggage and I need to transfer from train to bus. If I take the bus or train, I use the EZ-link MRT card. You can buy this at train stations for SGD 10, pre-loaded already. It’s a stored value MRT card, and I just reload it every time it gets below minimum. I also suggest that you download the Citymapper app. It helps you plan your travel, and the timings are very accurate. It also works offline. Just in case, you no longer have an internet connection, the app will remind you when you need to alight the bus or train, make sure to set point A to point B. However, if you are with senior citizens or babies, it’s best to take Grab.

Wi-fi Connection

Free wi-fi is almost everywhere, especially in tourist-y areas.

Attractions

  • Merlion Park– You’ll surely meet and greet with the symbol of Singapore. Just a few months back, the Merlion went to a restoration, but now it’s open again for public viewing. Aside from the Merlion, you get a view of Marina Bay Sands, ArtScience Museum, and the Singapore Flyer. (Free)
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    Merlion, Symbol of Singapore

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  • Haji Lane– Located in the Kampong Glam District, you’ll see a lane of artsy fartsy cafes filled with murals and graffiti. The area gives you a very chill atmosphere. (Free)20180901_173623-01[1]20180901_173823-01[1]20190208_150645-02[1]DSC01092-01[1]DSC01080-01[1]DSC01088-01[1]

 

  • Masjid Sultan– Also located in Kampong Glam, this mosque is an important focal point for Muslims in Singapore. You can enter inside the mosque, and their staff will lend you an abaya or a robe, if you’re non-Muslim. After visiting the mosque, you can stroll in nearby Arab St. and Baghdad, and you’ll find a bunch of Mediterranean restaurants, as well as stores that sell goodies from Middle East. (Free)20190208_152104-01[1]20190208_152116-01[1]20180901_174516-01[1]

 

  • Universal Studios Singapore– I’ve been here before, but I went back here around last week of September. Just in time for the opening of Halloween Horror Nights. They have set-up at least 5 horror/haunted houses, with different themes. For 2018, one of their houses featured a Netflix series, which is the Stranger Things. We were in the line for about 2 hours! For the rest of the houses, the line was pretty fast moving. The other haunted houses include Killuminati, The House of Oiwa, Pontianak, and Pagoda of Peril. Zombies were around too, especially in the areas of Apocalypse Earth and Cannibal Blood and Bones. Apart from the Halloween special at USS, we were able to ride also the Revenge of the Mummy and Transformers: The Ride 3D, without having to line up. (SGD 58- Gen. Ad. Non-Peak)
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  • S.E.A. Aquarium & Maritime Experiential Museum– The aquarium in Sentosa Island is home to various sea species. Surprisingly, the place was packed with tourists even if it was a weekday. For the museum, it featured the expeditions or explorations that passed through Singapore in the old days. (SGD 40) 20190207_150501-01[1]

 

  • Skyline Luge and Skyride– This is one of the thrilling  activities offered in Sentosa Island. We availed for the 2 luge and skyrides combo (SGD 24)LUSGAACD97H123043_1809271030564-pre-01[1]20180927_145900-01[1]

 

  • Singapore Cable Car– We took a one way ride from Merlion Station going to Harbourfront (SGD 15)20190207_192518-01[1]View from the cable car

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  • ArtScience Museum– This is the iconic landmark that you can see near Marina Bay Sands. It houses different exhibits. During our visit, we gaze upon Future World and Minimalism. (SGD 27- We got the local’s rate)20181129_162420-01[1]Screenshot_20190601-043619_Instagram-01[1]Screenshot_20190601-043628_Instagram-01[1]Screenshot_20190601-044202_Drive-01[1]

 

  • Garden’s by the Bay– If garden, plants and flowers are your thing, then this should not be missed. The place is beautifully curated. We got a chance to see the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome. (SGD 18- We got the local’s rate)0101-2019-1029346117797925268244-01[1]20190206_171617-01[1]20190206_171801-01[1]20190206_175542-01[1]DSC01195-01[1]DSC01197-01[1]

 

  • National Museum of Singapore– We had a chance to visit during a holiday, and surprisingly, it’s free. It features different eras of Singapore which includes pop culture, religion, history, etc. (FREE- it was a holiday when we visited) DSC01174-01[1]DSC01178-01[1]DSC01175-01[1]DSC01179-01[1]20190206_131320-01[1]

 

  • Marina Bay Carnival– This carnival was up for a few months beside Marina Bay Mall. It’s your typical carnival wherein you have the game booths and ride or die kind of ride. (FREE  if you’ll just go around and not take any ride or play in the booths)20190213_184252-01[1]20190213_193915-01[1]20190213_194207-01[1]

 

  • Telok Blangah Hill Park– It has a nice trail wherein you can walk or jog at whatever time of the day. It leads all the way to Mt. Faber through a suspension bridge. (FREE) 20180927_113538-01[1]20180927_115445-01[1]20180927_121405-01[1]

 

  • Chinatown– Never miss a Chinatown in every country that you visit. The place is very festive, and colorful. You can bargain for the things that you wanna buy. (FREE) 20190208_104222-01[1]20190208_121535-01[1]20190208_121632-01[1]

 

MALLS, CAFES, RESTAURANTS

  • Jewel Changi– This is a newly opened mall just across Terminal 1. Apart from boutiques and stores, it has also a nice architecture, which includes an indoor waterfall.20190426_210659-02[1]

 

  • Selfie Coffee Cafe– Passed by this unique cafe along Haji Lane. Your selfie will be on top of your coffee.20180901_163826-01[1]20190208_142128-01[1]

 

  • Hawkers– Every corner seems to have a hawker. Price varies depending if it’s a touristy side or not. It serves all kinds of local favorites. My faves, however, are Newton ,Chinatown and the one in Geylang. 20190206_150315-01[1]20190206_150321-01[1]20190206_150511-01[1]20190208_112337-01[1]20190207_114146-02[1]

 

  • IMM Mall (in Jurong East), Changi Point– If you’re into outlets, don’t forget to pass by these malls. If you have spent a minimum SGD 100 in a single receipt, you are entitled for a tax refund (applies to tourists only)

 

  • Toastbox– I’ve been a Toastbox girl ever since. Never miss this one, for that Singaporean vibe without going to a hawker. 20190206_110917-01[1]

 

  • IKEA– Since we do not have this in Manila, it’s like a haven for our furniture and home shopping needs.

 

  • Central Perk Cafe– If you’ve been watching FRIENDS, then this is a must see. It recreated the set of the series. It’s located near Clarke Quay. Prices can be a little over than average.20180924_195229-01[1]20180924_200432-01[1]

 

  • Bugis Junction, Mustafa (Little India), Fire Sale Grocery– For your souvenirs and pasalubongs, you gotta give this a visit. It sells the cheapest yet quality items.

Since I will be frequent in Singapore, I’ll make another entry sometime soon to share another side of Singapore.

 

A Day in the East, Mt. Daraitan

“Salt water is the cure for anything- sweat, tears or even the sea.” I have always been the beach type of person. I could stay in the beach for as long as I want and enjoy the waves while I watch the sunrise or sunset. My country is so blessed with many pristine beaches, and I have a lifetime to visit them all. Aside from the beautiful beaches, we are also blessed with mountains that boast breath-taking views and home to many lives. I have visited a few, and would love to see more. However, my work schedule and physical fitness are giving me a hard time to conquer the mountains. I work on a shifting basis, and I do not have a permanent sleeping pattern. You definitely need a goodnight’s sleep before going up the mountains. Second, you need to be physically fit in order to get up and continue moving. Different mountains have different assaults, trails, and difficulties. If you have not prepared, you will likely have a hard time climbing up the mountains.

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I have visited several mountains before, some are volcanic in nature, others are home to breath-taking falls. There is always this enchanting experience whenever I go for a climb. It feels like I’m in a different world/dimension. There are still a lot to see, and I wish to visit all of them. I’m hoping and praying for strength and safety, so I could pay them a visit.

Last December, my friends, invited me for a climb. To be honest, I was not totally prepared for it, but I was game to do it. December weather is way better than the scorching heat of summer, just kept our fingers crossed that it will not rain. We were on a search on which mountain are we gonna climb. We selected it based on location, summit view, and difficulty. We ended up with Mt. Daraitan, in Tanay, Rizal. Just about 2 hours away from Manila. It offers an amazing view of the country’s east side and the Sierra Madre range. It also holds a difficulty of 4/9, which means that it’s a minor climb and beginner friendly.

12.08.18- Mt. Daraitan, Tinipak River in Tanay, Rizal/General Nakar, Quezon

A few days before our planned trip, we searched for “group tours”, on Facebook’s Buhay Bundok group. It’s not really a group tour, but rather, you’ll be all coming from Manila and taking a van going to Tanay, Rizal and back, and your group will be given a local tour guide. This is the best way to visit Mt. Daraitan, as their government is limiting the people going up to the mountain. It is also mandatory to get a local tour guide, because it’s for your own safety, and they know their mountains well, and you are helping their livelihood. The base of Mt. Daraitan is very countryside, and locals live through their tourism.

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Trivia: Mulawin, the series, was shot here

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Mt. Daraitan is partly Tanay, Rizal and partly General Nakar, Quezon

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Our local guide

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Our group met up in Mcdonald’s Shaw at 12 midnight, and we arrived in Daraitan, Tanay at around 2 in the morning. There was a cold breeze, and little drops of rain and we were welcomed by sellers of flashlight, gloves, warmers, etc. If you have forgotten to bring some of the essentials, worry not, it’s available in the area. It is very important that you know how to balance yourself as we stood on a bamboo raft to get us to the other side. Then a 10 min. ride trike, took us to the barangay hall for our briefing (the DO’s and DON’Ts), registration and introduced us to our guides. Before starting our trek, we were given an ample time to eat breakfast and do our bathroom breaks, so at exactly 4am, we started moving.

As we moved up, it’s getting muddier, slippery, and steeper. The rain wasn’t also stopping, so imagine the hassle. Thank God for flashlights, tree barks, and occasional man-made handles. We were literally grasping for every rock that we can reach. We were already near the 1st station, when I can loudly hear my heartbeat. We tried moving again, but this time, my friend’s shoes gave up. Since it wasn’t safe to carry on, we decided to go down, and instead, we trekked along the Tinipak River. The crowd along the river is opposite of the mountain. It was getting crowded as groups of people started hiking, while it was only the 4 of us (my 2 friends and I, plus our guide) who were trekking along the river. We enjoyed it more! The whole place was just to ourselves. It was so quiet that you can only hear the gushing of water and the chirping of birds. Tinipak River is one of the clearest waters I have ever seen and it was so clean. We enjoyed wading in the water.

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We had a hearty breakfast meal near the river, before we continued moving to the rock formations. Again, it was all to ourselves. According to our guide, they do not classify Mt. Daraitan as a beginner’s hike because of it’s 90 degrees assault, and 4/9 difficulty increases especially when it rains. For them, it is not a minor hike. Now, I’m wondering why it is classified under beginner’s hike, when according to locals it is not an easy hike.

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It has been a good day despite of not reaching the summit (but we’ll get there too), we were one with nature, and it’s just good to be with her.

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Budget:

PHP 850/pax for RT van transfer Manila-Daraitan, registration fee, guide fee, environmental fee

PHP 100 (up to you) my tip for our guide

PHP 20- use of shower rooms

PHP 200- total I spent on meals

 

Vietnam Vibes

Vietnam may be popular as part of the Indochina backpacking series (Vietnam-Cambodia-Laos-Thailand), so most travelers under this category, spend only a night or 2 in the city of Ho Chi Minh, before moving to another country. We were in Vietnam for 4 days, and you’ll never go wrong if you want good food, budget and city vibes in your itinerary.

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Saigon City Hall at night

Ho Chi Minh is an hour behind Manila and would take about 2.5 hours of flight. Based from my experience, your budget will have a long way to go because Vietnam is actually cheaper than Manila, and it’s best to bring US dollars. You can have it exchanged in Vietnam Dong at the airport for your Grab fare or taxi fees, and the rest around the Ben Thanh Market for good rates.

Ho Chi Minh, VIetnam in a glimpse of 3 days, 3 nights (06.10.18-06.13.18)

Our flight was via Cebu Pacific and left Manila around 10pm, and arriving a little past midnight (Vietnam time) at Tan Son Nhat International Airport. We had our dollars exchanged for their local currency to pay our Grab ride. Airport to our hostel in District 1 was about 20 mins., and we were charged 108K VD. My parents and sisters arrived a day earlier than us, so they were already in the room when we arrived.

We stayed at Polygon Hostel, which is a few blocks from Ben Thanh Market. We had a good deal from Agoda, and booked it for only PHP 9659.52, considering we’re 5, all with breakfast buffet. We just made additional payments for early and late check in that cost us 1M VD. It was a total of  597/hd per day. Good deal indeed. The hostel was the perfect one if you’re looking for strategic location, value for money, complimentary breakfast, and staff that speak good English. If you’re a first timer, their lift is quite shocking. It stated that it can fit 8 pax. We’re 5 when we took the lift, and we were packed inside. It turns out that most buildings have that size of a lift. It was really small and I think it was made for locals. I barely saw a fat or big Vietnamese.

Since we arrived at midnight and we were hungry, my parents recommended a nearby Japanese restaurant. The restaurant was already closing, but thanks to my sister’s convincing powers and the staff welcomed us. Each of us got a rice meal and gyoza and our bill was a little more of 1000PHP but not more than 2000PHP.

06.11.18- Independence Palace, Cu Chi Tunnel Tour

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Independence Palace

We woke up at past 7 for our breakfast before going for a walk. Our first stop was the Independence Palace. It’s about 10-15 mins. walk from our hostel. Independence Palace played a vital role during the Vietnam War in the 60s-70s. It used to house the French Governor during the French Colonial Period, and the South Vietnamese force during the war. Many historical events occur in that building. The interiors were preserved from how they look like nearly 50 years ago. Some of the fighter planes were also on display at the grounds of the palace. Entrance is at 65000VD.

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Pres. Nguyen’s office

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First Lady’s Portrait

It was really hot that day, and at the same time my mom was experiencing jet lagged.  We were forced to leave earlier than expected because my mom was having a headache. We took a cab going to our hostel. We stayed at the hostel until our tour fetched us at the hostel.

It was past lunch when our tour group arrived. We were taken to the Cu Chi area, an hour away from downtown. Cu Chi Tunnel was a base camp used by Vietcong. They lived in the tunnel during the war, and have the complete supplies to survive. I would really say that Vietnamese are smart people based from the tactics used by the guerrillas. Everything was planned out well, that Americans couldn’t spot their enemies. We were toured around the area, and showed us how everything was well maintained down under. We were also given the chance to go under the tunnel and tried to fit ourselves going down and up from the tunnel. The effects of the war have lasted until today. You’ll see bomb craters, and the effects of Agent Orange (chemicals used to kill crops and forests) to  forests and  even to humans. You’ll get to see how traps are made, and even their combat sandals. We get to taste tapioca (local cassava), which was their food while living in the tunnel. You also get a chance to fire a gun, but for a fee. Our tour only includes transfers, tour guide, cassava, and entrance to Cu Chi Tunnel. Our tour was booked from Klook. It was 22USD per head and we availed the premier tour. I still got a 5USD discount from the total because of my rewards points from previous bookings.

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Viet slippers are weather proof and leaves no trace of footprint

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Making of bombs

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A kind of trap made by the Viets

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One of the entrances to the tunnel

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Bomb crater

When we got back to our hostel it was past 5 in the afternoon and rested for a while before we had our dinner. While looking for some restaurants to have dinner we spotted the Saigon Street Food Market. We went inside and we didn’t go wrong because it was a haven of good food. We had pho, barbecue, and some rare fruit juice for drinks, and it was in big servings. I didn’t quite expect that good food will come this cheap.

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06.12.18- Mekong Delta, Saigon Cathedral, Post Office, Opera House and City Hall

DSC00976-01The next day, it was my birthday, and we had the whole day for tour. After breakfast, we were picked up by our group tour bound for Mekong Delta. It’s roughly a 2-hour bus ride from our hostel in downtown Ho Chi Minh. Before we reached Mekong Delta, we had a stop over at Vinh Trang Pagoda, a Buddhist temple and monastery.

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After several minutes, we transferred to a ferry ride going to Unicorn Island. We were welcomed by folk singers and served with native fruits and tea. We had a tour to the cocoa, honey and coconut production. We had the option to buy their products as souvenirs. Part of our tour was to be served with local lunch and a cruise down the Mekong Delta tributary, it’s actually like a swamp. We availed the tour from Klook and bought the premier tour for Mekong Delta full day tour at 25USD per head.

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Native fruits and tea were served

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A folk singer sang to me their version of Happy Birthday song

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Cacao drying before turning into coffee

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Candies for souvenirs

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Snake wine

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After the Mekong Delta tour, we still have time to go around the city. We had the chance to see French architecture through the Saigon Cathedral, Post Office, Opera House and City Hall. We wanted to go inside but the cathedral is under construction, while the post office was already closed when we got there. There was an on-going show when we passed by the opera house. We didn’t bother to go in, because our stomachs were already asking for dinner.

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Saigon Cathedral

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Post Office

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We, once again, had dinner at the Saigon Street Food Market. We had a sumptuous meal for 5 persons, and believe it or not our bill didn’t go over PHP 2000. You’ll never go hungry and broke when you’re in Vietnam.

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06.13.18- War Remnants Museum, Lunch Lady

After having breakfast, we went out for a walk until we reach the War Remnants Museum. It is a museum dedicated to the Vietnam-America War in the 60s till 70s. You get to see to see the planes and choppers used by the Americans, as well as the impact of the war to the civilians.

After our museum tour, we hailed a cab going to district 4 where the famous Lunch Lady is at. I was actually expecting a restaurant when we arrive, but what we saw were few tables and chairs in the middle of an alley. I’ve learned about the Lunch Lady from Anthony Bourdain, wherein he features local dish of every country that he gets to visit. It was not a disappointment to spend our lunch with the Lunch Lady. We ordered a set meal, and it was so good and in large servings. Definitely good food! A little bit around PHP 2500 were spent for lunch, and definitely worth it.

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Sumptuous lunch for 5

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With the famous Lunch Lady

In the evening, we flew back to Manila and bought some souvenirs from the airport, since we didn’t have a chance to go around our hostel after having lunch.

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Free cake from our hostel coz it’s my birthday

Budget for this trip:

Accommodation- PHP 11900.3 (3 days plus early and late check-in fee, 5 pax with breakfast)

Cu Chi Tunnel Tour- PHP 5250 (5 pax with snack; premier tour)

Independence Palace Tour- VND 65000 (PHP 146 per head)

Mekong Delta Tour- PHP 6250 (5 pax with lunch and fruits/snacks; premier tour)

War Remnants Museum Tour- VND 40000 (PHP 90 per head)

Lunch/Dinner- PHP 7000 (5 pax; large servings)

Taxi- PHP 1000 (assuming, including airport transfer)

TOTAL-PHP 32580.3 for 4 days (PHP 6516.06 per head without airfare and shopping)