48 hours in Taipei (Day 2)

On my second (and sadly, last) day in Taipei, I just had to visit IKEA even if it wasn’t on my original itinerary because I haven’t been to any IKEA store haha. Apparently, there’s an IKEA restaurant/cafe (thank you random blog!). That’s where I had brunch (Swedish meatballs are ok).

The sky was beginning to look so overcast around lunch time. Still, I headed to the Xiangshan hiking trail (via Xianshan stop, Line 2) also known as Elephant Hill. It offers a good view of the city and the majestic Taipei 101.

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After several selfies atop the hill (one of the downsides of traveling alone is you barely get good pictures of yourself amidst the sights huhu), I traveled to the Taipei Zoo (via Line 1). The train ride was longer than usual as it was located outside the city. My main agenda was to see the Koala and Panda but almost all the other animals were fascinating too!

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At sundown, I made my way to Longshan Temple (Line 5). It was super busy and looked amazing at night. My photos don’t do it justice.

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a mix of old and new

Last on my list was the bustling Ximending area, a favorite among Taiwanese youth and tourists. The highlight for me was the Creative Boutique, which showcases super cool, unique finds. My time at Ximending was brief as I had to rush back to the hostel to pick up my stuff and head to the airport.

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That ends my 48 hours in Taipei!!! AirAsia flights are a bit cheaper than CEB (at the moment they’re selling at just over P3000!) and I definitely plan on going back. For my future trip to Taiwan,  I shall visit the National Palace Museum,  Jiufen Mining Town and the scenic Taroko Gorge (the last two are outside Taipei). I CANNOT WAIT!

48 hours in Taipei (DAY 1)

Most impulsive, rushed and sleep-deprived trip of my life so far! Booked my flight on a Wednesday, was off to the airport Thursday afternoon, landed in Taiwan past 1AM on Friday and flew back to Manila past 1AM Sunday. So technically I was in Taipei for less than 48 hours if you count the hours spent at Taoyuan Airport. Another full day would have been ideal but I had a work commitment.

Anyway,  I was still  pretty satisfied with my itinerary. It helped a lot that the metro was so efficient (like Japan’s!!!). I highly recommend getting the 48hr train pass (unlimited use of the metro) for NT$280 OR the 2-day pass for unlimited metro + city buses (not all buses) for NT$310. I got the latter. (Note that the 2 day pass is not equal to 48 hours. It expires at the end of the second day). Say you started using it 12 noon on the first day, it would still expire 12 midnight of the second day whereas a 48-hour pass would still be valid til 12 noon of the third day. The 48-hour pass is better, I guess.

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Since I arrived in the wee hours, I just tried sleeping in the airport but only got around an hour of sleep. At 6AM, I rode the bus to the city (Kuo Kuang bus, NT$125, takes less than an hour), stored my bag at the hostel (check-in was still at 3PM), and started exploring the city.

DAY 1

First on the agenda: Confucius Temple and Dalongdong Baoan Temple (via Line 2: Tamsui-Xinyi Line, nearest stop: YUANSHAN). The colours and details of these temples were amazing! I was probably the only tourist in the area. Confucius Temple was almost deserted while everyone else in Baoan temple were there to worship. It was a peaceful morning too so I sat down and tried to catch some sleep but nope, didn’t happen.

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Dalongdong Baoan Temple
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Confucius Temple

Next stop: Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall (via Line 2 as well, has its own station). It was packed with tourists! I only stopped for about 15 minutes then rode the metro to Taipei 101 (station: same name, Line 2), which used to be the highest building in the world if I’m not mistaken.

The mall area had heaps of high end shops and people waiting to go to the observation deck. I didn’t go up anymore because I was on a tight budget. I just had lunch at the food court and tried to sleep again at one of the benches inside the mall (LOL I was drained and needed to wait for 3PM for check-in ugh). I couldn’t sleep in a crowded mall, so I just walked about a kilometer to ESLITE’s flagship store. Eslite is a bookstore chain in Taiwan, known for its 24-hour store in Dunhua (also in Taipei), but I went to the one in the Xinyi shopping area. The store had 6 floors! Majority of the books I saw were Chinese translations of English titles but they also sold non-book items.

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Eslite’s Flagship Store in Xinyi

After a quick tour of Eslite, I took Line 5 (Bannan Line) to the Taipei Main Station. The hostel where I stayed was about 5 minutes away if you know where to go. It was conveniently located but it could be confusing to reach because the station was huge! The station was also a mall and had several exits and passageways. I managed to find my way most of the time but on the night before my flight, it took me forever to get out of there! Quick review of Flip Flop Hostel: Value for money! Clean rooms and bathrooms. Lockable cabinet beside the beds. Location was good enough. Staff service could be improved.

After checking-in, I was finally able to take a short nap before spending the evening at Shilin Night Market, probably the most famous of Taipei’s many night markets (it’s accessible via Line 2, Jiantan station). I thought it was just gonna be a long stretch of stalls. I was wrong. It was massive! It was actually several streets/alleys and was extremely busy on a Friday night.

I had squid ink sweet dumpling (NT$50) for dinner (the sesame/peanut sauce inside was so good!) and almond tea (NT$30).

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Despite sleep-deprivation, it was a productive and fascinating first day. I was thoroughly impressed and jealous of their train system. Rush hours were bearable. I also noticed that everyone, especially the young, were dressed nicely and made up; I on the other hand looked shabby lol. Again, reminiscent of Japan. I enjoyed the city’s vibe, lights, the transportation, culture, the mix of old and new. I already knew by Day 1 that Taipei is a city I will keep coming back to.

I wrote about Day 2 here.

NZ Newbie

I’ve been in New Zealand for 11 days (in Auckland to be exact) and so far it’s been interesting, laid-back but also tiring (probably my body coping with the changes), eye-opening and still surreal. It’s bound to get stressful once classes start. I don’t think I’ll be able to post regularly. For now, I suppose I can tell you my first impressions of NZ:

Everything is Expensive

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Mission Bay establishments

I’m extremely fortunate to be here, barely shelling out my own money for living expenses because I am on a full scholarship. Thank goodness because everything is way more expensive than what I’m used to back home.

It really stood out how pricey it is when I got pot holders from The Warehouse, an “affordable” go-to store for most home and personal needs. The cheapest was 9 NZD for a pair. That is approximately Php 270! You can buy pot-holders for less than 1 NZD in the Philippines!

Every trip to the supermarket or any shops for that matter is a painful experience because my brain automatically calculates the Peso equivalent of everything.

I won’t even dwell on the cost of food and eating out. Let’s just say, masakit sa bulsa.

EthniCITY

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Lantern Festival at Auckland Domain

It’s so easy to blend in in Auckland. It’s a very diverse city home to Kiwis/Maoris, Pacific Islanders, Southeast Asians, Chinese, Indians, Europeans, etc. In my university alone, there are more than 6000 international students! I’m flatmates with a local from Christchurch, a Chinese girl from Japan and a Danish exchange student (who are all super nice by the way!).

Being multicultural means there’s an array of Asian supermarkets and dining places all over the city. I’m happy to find a Daiso here! It’s still more expensive than the Philippines/Japan but cheaper than most stores (a pot holder is 3.50 NZD huhuhu). They sell tabo! I love Daiso!!!

And since almost everyone’s from a different background and speaks a second language, no one’s judging your accent or grammar in casual conversations. University has higher standards though so I need to brush up on academic English.

Sunsets and sunscreen

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On top of “One Tree Hill” at around 7PM

All my life I’m used to the sun rising and setting at around 5 or 6 and that is more or less fixed throughout the year so my body gets a bit confused when it’s not yet dark past 7PM in Auckland. During summer, the sun sets in New Zealand at past 8PM. I also don’t understand Daylight Savings Time. Nonetheless, they have epic sunsets.

There is literally more sunshine in New Zealand in terms of daylight hours (longer days in the summer) and when it comes to UV rays. The sun’s harsher here! Wearing SPF is a must.

There’s the body clock issue too. I haven’t completely adjusted to the time difference. 5 hours is still 5 hours so I keep falling asleep around 2AM and waking up at noon or later.

There’s still so much to see and do in Auckland but I also cannot wait to explore outside this city! Itching to go to South Island actually but there’s time for that. I’ll be here for almost 2 years which is both scary and exciting!

[Edit]

I feel like I need to say something about the public transport and traffic in Auckland as those are the top 2 things I hate most about Metro Manila and why I wanted to get out in the first place. Auckland also has “traffic” but it’s nothing compared to Manila. Actually, I think most of the traffic/slow movement is only caused by stoplights and evident during rush hour when vehicles fill up the roads. Most offices close at 4 or 5 while  shops close at 8 latest so that’s also different from what I’m used to in Manila.

I barely ride the bus and I don’t have a car or bike so I just walk all the time so no traffic for me! Yay! I don’t mind walking but a lot of the walks are uphill. Auckland is very hilly and it can get exhausting but hey, instant exercise!

 

 

 

 

Osaka: My Kind of City

Osaka Castle can be reached via
Osaka Castle is walkable from Osakakojoen station along the JR Loop Line.

Prior to this trip, I was convinced that I am not a city person. After visiting Osaka and Kyoto, I realized I’m just stuck in the wrong city. Metro Manila has ruined urban life for me but Osaka and Kyoto turned that around.

Our stay in Osaka was brief but it was enough to make me want to stay for good. Since that is not yet possible, I just vow to return. I’ve never been to Tokyo so I cannot compare the 2 cities but I am assuming that what I like about Osaka are also true of Tokyo and other cities in Japan.

So what are my favorite things about Osaka?

  1. The reliable public transport (read: train/subway systems) although confusing and anxiety-inducing AT FIRST. Trains stick to schedule and pretty much run everywhere in the city. You can get from one point to another in a matter of minutes. Good Lord, how I wish the same for Metro Manila.
  2. The low carbon footprint! Everyone rides the train or their bikes. Everyone walks. There are not many cars on the roads. The streets outside the major/busy areas are mostly car-free, therefore air pollution is minimal (!!!) and traffic jams are rare (!!!). Totally the opposite of Metro Manila!
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We visited at the cusp of summer and autumn. Although most trees are still green, some are beginning to turn into pretty colors.

3. The locals are so nice. They are polite, friendly and go out of their way to help you with directions. We were saved by strangers numerous times and we are forever grateful to the man who assisted us during our first encounter with a ticket vending machine. Staff at restaurants and shops are also very nice and happy to serve.

4. Osaka is safe and clean.

5. Kyoto is a train away!

6. The airport is a train away!

7. Everything is a train or two away! How efficient!

I can go on and on! Japan is amazing in all aspects (people, culture, transport, technology, nature). I fell in love and did not want to leave. I was converted. City life ain’t bad at all if the city is a Japanese city.

Where we stayed in Osaka:

Daikoku Hostel is affordable, clean and conveniently located near Daikokucho Station, one station away from Namba. The location is ideal because it’s a quiet neighborhood along the Midosuji Line. You just ride the subway for 2 minutes and you’re transported to Namba, where the crowds and happenings are.

Namba has the famous Dotombori and Shinsaibashi (food and shopping districts respectively). The Nankai Line which connects to the Kansai International Airport can also be accessed here.

Dotombori, a must-visit for Jap streetfood, is colorful and very much alive even during daytime.
Dotombori, a must-visit for Jap streetfood, is colorful and very much alive day and night.

From Daikokucho or Namba, it is easy to transfer to Umeda (another busy area) and Tennoji (another shopping haven).

TIP: Grab maps and guide booklets from Daikoku Hostel’s front desk. The ones showing train routes are extremely helpful! Supplement this with the app “Japan Travel” by navitime and you’re all set.

I am officially an Osaka fangirl!

I’m glad I picked Osaka when I booked piso-flights last year. I never thought I would actually love it. I only chose it over Tokyo because it’s near Kyoto, where I really wanted to go. But Osaka turned out to be special ❤ It was a refreshing and very welcome change vs. what I’m used to in Metro Manila.

I will write about Kyoto’s charms in a separate entry. Sayonara for now!

Gigantes Getaway

Last July, I visited the beautiful (and very far!) Gigantes group of islands in Northern Iloilo. The following is our itinerary (a summarized version):

Thursday

Instead of flying to Iloilo City, we chose Roxas City in Capiz as our jump-off point. There is not much to do in Roxas except eat tons of seafood at Baybay Beach and pray for the weather gods to cooperate (it was rainy season when we visited).

We stayed at San Antonio Resort, just a stone’s throw away from Baybay Beach. Location-wise it is a great choice. Price-wise, you’re better off picking a cheaper ho(s)tel because you’re probably going to stay for less than 24 hours.

I bet this signage at Baybay Beach is the most Instragrammed spot in the whole of Capiz. Hehe.
I bet this signage at Baybay Beach is the most Instragrammed spot in the whole of Capiz. Hehe.

Friday

We checked-out early and rode a tricycle to Roxas City’s transport terminal, where we hopped on a bus bound for Carles, Iloilo. We went down at ESTANCIA. The ride to Estancia was around 2 hours long.

Estancia Port only has 1 boat that leaves for Gigantes and it departs at around 1 PM daily. The boat ride is usually another 2 hours but it took us less because the current/waves swept the boat faster to shore.

If there’s a perfect time to use the word GETAWAY in this blog, it is for this trip. We literally got away and rode all kinds of transportation to get to Gigantes islands.

Buhay bangkero: Umulan, bumagyo Tuloy and trabaho.
Buhay bangkero:
Umulan, bumagyo
Tuloy ang trabaho.

When we arrived, we immediately rode habal-habals (motorcycles) to Gigantes Hideaway Inn. The habal-habal rides were some of my personal highlights. They are extremely dangerous sans helmet but they were also exhilarating and gave me a good view of the surroundings and local life – idyllic, simple, covetable.

The first leg of the tour was the lighthouse area. By this time, I was already in love with Gigantes. For dinner, we were introduced to the islands’ specialty – SCALLOPS. We had loads throughout our stay. Lahat ng luto ng scallops, I swear, natikman namin.

I’m not sure, but I think this is the northernmost part of Gigantes Norte. It has a stunning view of the surrounding waters.

Saturday

The windy, overcast morning was spent visiting the other islands. Unfortunately, we were not able to experience the famous “tangke” because it was not accessible 😦

It is pretty something even during monsoon season.

We went spelunking in the afternoon. I enjoyed that too! Caves are forever fascinating, also scary. Bow.

When we were not touring, there were a lot of idle moments spent at the resort or sitting outside. I went people-watching and breathed as much clean air as I could. I relished the quiet moments and appreciated the stillness because there’s a shortage of them in Metro Manila.

Hashtag Love Wins or Hashtag Stalker ? :p

Sunday

We had to say goodbye too soon. Spent the whole day travelling back to Manila… reluctantly. Island life is much more appealing to me.

From Estancia Port, instead of taking the bus back to Roxas City, we rode a shuttle/van and it was significantly faster.

PS.

Gigantes Hideaway Inn is highly recommended! They will assign a person who will take care of all your needs. Ours was Kirk and he did a great job!

Sir Joel Decano, owner of Gigantes Hideaway, can help arrange your transport and accommodations. You can reach him via this number +63 918 468 5006. Please note that he won’t be as responsive when he is in Gigantes Islands due to very limited cellphone signal. I had to contact him twice or thrice. When he is reachable, he is very courteous, responsive and helpful 🙂

Mt. Pamitinan: A Wet, Wild and Wonderful Climb

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.”  — Greg Child.

I climb because I love the fresh air and being surrounded by trees, I like being away from the city, it’s a good form of exercise (probably my only exercise!) and of course I climb to see beautiful views. But more than ever, I climb because I need to stop thinking. My head has been H-E-L-L these past weeks. And when I climb, I tend to concentrate on the hike itself, where to put my foot next so I don’t slip or injure myself, which branch to grab to support my weight, etc. There is little room for thoughts other than survival especially when the trail is as challenging as Mt. Pamitinan.

Located in Rodriguez, Rizal, Mt. Pamitinan is just one of the four major mountains in the area. The 3 others are Mt. Binacayan, Mt. Haponang Baboy and Mt. Ayaas.

View of Mt. Binacayan from the summit of Mt. Pamitinan.
View of Mt. Binacayan from the summit of Mt. Pamitinan. “Twin” hikes are doable but probably not on rainy days because it takes longer.

To go to Sitio Wawa, the jump-off point to the four mountains, ride a UV Express from Cubao to Montalban/Rodriguez then ride a jeepney or tricycle to the area.

It is not advisable to climb mountains during the rainy season, but I am a stubborn girl exhausted from overthinking. I needed an escape. Mt. Pamitinan’s trail proved to be exactly what I needed – slippery, muddy, dangerous, filled with sharp limestones.

It's not that clear on my camera but those sharp limestones were definitely terrifying.
It’s not that clear on my camera but those sharp limestones were definitely terrifying.

Around 1/3 of the trail (mostly the latter part leading to the summit) is covered with jagged rocks. So believe all the blogs, BRING GLOVES! I didn’t have a pair. I didn’t get cuts on my hands or anything but gloves would have been extremely helpful for a more confident and secure grip. I hiked Mt. Pamitinan on wobbly knees and bare hands. I’m not sure how I survived!

Because it rained during our hike, the trail was so muddy, in fact it was the dirtiest hike of my life so far! The rain didn’t drown our spirits though. We trudged through mud and survived killer rocks! It was definitely an unforgettable climb.

Bought new hiking shoes. They were pretty reliable.
Bought new hiking shoes. They were pretty reliable. “Nabinyagan” nang bongga with mud. Hahaha.