a journal on hiking and traveling around the Philippines

Mt. Pulag's Akiki-Ambangeg Trai

A day hike to Luzon island's highest peak

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Tawi-Tawi Series : Kamahardikaan Tawi-Tawi & Agal-Agal Festival

Every September, Tawi-Tawi celebrates Kamahardikaan, its anniversary as a province. Held on the same week is Agal-Agal Festival, which highlights the province's top product, agal-agal, the local word for seaweed. On its 44th year,  the municipality of Languyan played host, about an hour away by speedboat from Bongao, the provincial capital. This being my first visit to Tawi-Tawi, I was very excited and didn't mind the arduous travel to get here, about 15 hours of air, land and sea travel from Manila! 
Contingent from Bongao wins 3rd place
Together with fellow bloggers and traditional media from Mindanao, we covered various activities during the five day celebration,  showcasing the culture & history of the  Sama, Badjao, Jama Mapun and Tausug, the four major indigenous groups in Tawi-Tawi. 

Related Post : Zamboanga-Basilan birthday trip (this post was written 2011, I was more hyperactive back then :P)

One of the festival's highlights was the parade and the street dancing competition. This year, it was participated by 9 of the 11 municipalities of the province with each contender presenting a glimpse of their traditions through dance, music and their costumes. Having limited knowledge on traditional dances, my level of appreciation was at a basic level - how I felt while watching the performances. Most of the performances were engaging and I was in awe after witnessing the pangalay for the first time. Pangalay is a traditional dance by the Tausug in the Sulu Archipelago and Sabah (Malaysia). Characterized by graceful movements of the fingers, elbows, shoulders and wrists, it resembles a form of martial arts in the Malay archipelago (Source : EDC Dance Company)

One of my companions who studied pangalay,Travel Trilogy,  did a better job of explaining their performances. Check out his post here.

Here's a snippet of Sapa-Sapa's performance at the 44th Agal-Agal Festival.  

The top three winners were Sapa-sapa (1st pace), Simunul (2nd place) and Bongao (3rd place). Each won 1 Million Pesos in cash and 5 Million Pesos worth of project for their respective municipality. Whoa! 
Participants from Languyan 
More info about the festival here :  Ironwulf.Net |  Tawi-tawi Agal-Agal Festival 2017 at Languyan     

Next year's Kamahardikaan & Agal-Agal Festival will be in Sitangkai. About 6 hours from Bongao by boat, it is famous for its stilt houses and a community surrounding a canal, somehow reminiscent to the popular waterway  in Venice, Italy. 

More festival photos here.

Tawi-Tawi boasts of  beautiful mosques,  white sand beaches, peace-loving, kind people and good coffee.  Unfortunately, its reputation is marred by reports of kidnapping and the stigma of  being part of ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao), a section of southern the Philippines with a long history of conflict. It is also included in a Travel advisory for US Citizens (read here).  The local government wishes to change that. To travel  to Tawi-Tawi safely, please get in touch with the following :
Provincial Tourism Office of Tawi-Tawi
Mr. Mobin Gampal (PTO Officer)
Contact number: +63 977 230 9061
Email Address: pto_tawitawi@yahoo.com
Facebook Page : PTO Tawi-Tawi
Facebook Page : Department of Tourism - ARMM 

Tawi-Tawi Travel Guide by The Lakwatsero here.
Related blog : Celineism | Tawi-Tawi's Colorful Agal-Agal Festival

NOTE : This trip was made possible by the Department of Tourism - ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) headed by Secretary Ayesha Dilangalen. Thanks again for bringing us here, it's a dream come true!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Travel News : Starting the Christmas Vibe withTaiwan Excellence

Last September 29 - October 1, a showcase of Taiwan's best brands was held at the SM Mall of Asia Main Atrium. Taiwan Excellence Experience Zone 2 featured products which has earned the Taiwan Excellence seal.  

Sponsored by Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) and the Bureau of Foreign Trade (BOFT), Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) organizes the Taiwan Excellence campaign to promote innovative and superior-quality products, and encourage Taiwan innovators to continue transforming current technologies.
Travel info on Taiwan? Read : Poor Traveler | Taiwan on a budget  

In this 3-day event, Taiwan Excellence brought its sports and leisure products to the spotlight. Visitors got a first-hand experience of products that maximize active lifestyles, such as the Johnson S3+ Spinner Bike, which parallels the rigors of a spinning workout, while at home. Meanwhile, a Revolution Tri-Max Fabric can be the perfect gift for your athletic and sporty friends (See related post, Gift Ideas for Outdoor Lovers). This suit is made from special super-stretch fiber to support muscle, boost performance and reduce body soreness after exercise.

There’s also a plethora of options for the ride you and your loved ones have been looking for — the Verge X10, with its ultra-light wheels getting you places in style, the Strida LT making riding, carrying and storing your bike superbly convenient, as it folds in 5 seconds tops, or a Kymco Xciting 400 motorcycle,which makes riders feel completely safe, while enjoying the pleasures of driving. 

Beyond the booths and presentations, the 3-day event gathered the thrill-seeking crowds for activities, performances, fashion shows, games, and raffle draws.

The first 50 registrants qualified for a draw to win a signed basketball from the one and only, Philippine Basketball Association player Doug Kramer. The Gosiengfiao Sisters (October 1) also made an appearance, while other performers included Angeline Quinto (September 29), 4th Impact (September 30), Inigo Pascual (October 1), and the Judy’s Harmonica Ensemble.

About Taiwan Excellence
The symbol of Taiwan Excellence honors Taiwan’s most innovative products that provide tremendous value to users worldwide. All products carrying this symbol have been selected for specific Taiwan Excellence Awards based on their excellence in design, quality, marketing, Taiwanese R&D, and manufacturing. Started by the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA), R.O.C. in 1992, the symbol of Taiwan Excellence is recognized by 101 countries.

NOTE : Post is from a press release.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Beginner Friendly Hike : Mt. Kalisungan

Mt. Kalisungan in Calauan, Laguna is another good option if you're looking for a short & moderately challenging hike near Manila. The trail starts easy at a farm, then onto a moderately steep trail all the way to the summit. Though forested, you'll hardly feel any wind, making it a very uncomfortably humid hike. Making up for all that sweat is the view at the summit! Here, you can enjoy a scenery of nearby mountains and the lakes of San Pablo. 
approaching Mt. Kalisungan
If you're planning to stay at the summit for a while, bring a cap or umbrella as the peak is a grassland with no trees. 

Read : 12 Useful Things to Bring on your First Mountain Hike

This was my third visit to Mt. Kalisungan and though the trail and the views are the same, the experience is unique. I'm  happy with the new friends I met (hello Cess, PJ, Red, Rod, Razel and Ana!) and the food we enjoyed after :P.

Our group at the summit of Mt. Kalisungan (Photo fr PJ Sapoco)
Mt. Kalisungan can be tackled as a short day hike, combined with a second hike to nearby Mt. Mabilog (post here) or as an extended day hike to its neighboring peak, Mt. Atimla (post here). 

More Tips!
- Wear a dri fit shirt as you'll be sweating buckets due to the humidity. Bringing a foldable fan or  umbrella is also a good idea.
- After your hike, you can change at the bathrooms at the jump-off and eat at Itlog ni Kuya, a roadside eatery along the main highway in Victoria, just near the junction where you can see a giant duck statue. You can also make your way to UP Los Banos where there are a lot of good food! (Read ELBI : The real "food trip"  | Food Trip Under 500 UP Los Banos).  
refreshing ourselves with fresh fruit shakes at Vega Center in Los Banos, Laguna.
This stall near the mall entrance serves really good and affordable shakes! (Photo from Cess)
On this hike, I brought 1.5 liters of water (I froze 500 ML the night before so I have something cold to drink while hiking). Bring more if you get thirsty often. For snacks, I bring food that sustain energy on the trail such as almonds, cashew, sliced apples, orange, healthy snack bars and for long hikes, energy gels. 

How to get here 
My friend arranged for this hike so I didn't keep track of the fees. However, I found a helpful itinerary from The Novice Trekker, check out his post here.

Thanks Gid (and Wang for the ride!) for letting me tag along this hike. :) 

"If this inspires you to climb a mountain, just remember to preserve what Mother Nature has to offer. Reduce your impact leave no trace." 

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Travel News | Singapore Travel Showcase in Manila on Sept. 15-17, 2017

Less than four hours away from Manila by plane,  Singapore offers endless options for food, shopping (here's a list of malls)  and nature parks (more info here). Even the Changi airport is a destination on its own  (Airport guide here)!

If you plan to visit Singapore soon, read on for some news from our PR friends.

"Visit the  Singapore Travel Showcase at SM Megamall Fashion Hall (in Mandaluyong city) from September 15-17, 2017. The showcase will feature collaborations between Singapore – Passion Made Possible brand personalities and Filipino key opinion leaders and personalities. It will also serve as a platform to share how Singapore can enable Filipino travelers and visitors to realize their passions and dreams. Aside from attractive airfare and travel deals for Singapore, visitors to the 3-day fair can also expect an exciting line up of activities, performances and programs featuring some of Singapore’s best offerings, attractions and brands such as Irvins Salted Egg, Naiise (a retailer of well-designed products), and Benjamin Barker (men's clothing store)."

For more travel info, visit Singapore's official tourism site here 
To check out flights from Manila, go to Traveloka or download the app on Google Play or the App store

The Singapore travel showcase  in Manila is part of a global campaign,  Passion Made Possible, a collaboration between The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) to market Singapore internationally for tourism and business. "The agencies’ first joint brand is a bold move to put forth Singapore’s unique attitude and mindset: a passionate, never-settling spirit of determination and enterprise that constantly pursues possibilities and reinvention."

Monday, July 31, 2017

12 Useful things to Bring on your First Mountain Hike

Hiking has become very popular in the Philippines that it's now easier to find a mountain and come up with your own itinerary  or join an organized group. (Read 10 Tips on How to be a Good Climb Participant
Our group - bloggers and fellow outdoor lovers at Basekamp PH  at our campsite in Tarak Ridge, Bataan
If you're heading out to your first mountain hike and thinking of what to bring, here are a couple of tips. Note that this list was created as a guide and not a mandatory checklist. The items featured are based on what I observed to be  useful when hiking in tropical weather.

7 Hiking Tips for Beginners | 8 Essentials for Rainy Day Hikes by Basekamp PH

1.  Footwear
Footwear should enhance your experience outdoors and protect you from injury. There are shoes designed specifically for hiking but I encourage you to research the mountain  first before purchasing hiking shoes. Will there be sections where you need to cross rivers? How long will you be hiking? If the mountain has a clear and established trail that normally won't take more than 4 hours to complete, you can very well survive on any type of footwear. However,  comfort and safety might be compromised, making it challenging to get through the slippery sections.

Pick shoes with a good traction (one that can be used in steep, muddy trails which are common in the Philippines) and one that's comfortable enough that you can walk in it for hours and hours.  Shoes with a good traction have lug pattern  on the outsoles (the outermost part of the shoe which come in contact with the ground. (Recommended read -  Hiking Boots: How to Choose) Trail running shoes are also a good option so you can maximize your investment and be able to switch activities.

2. Backpack 
Don't sweat too much thinking about which brand of backpack you need to buy on your first hike. If you already have a sturdy  backpack (just check the straps and zippers before using it), that will do, as long as you're able to bring the essentials and use both hands when hiking. Once you've decided you really want to continue hiking, do your research and invest in a nice backpack. 
With my trusty backpack. Photo taken by Celine Reyes of Celineism
Packs designed for hiking have  special features that support your back and hips such as adjustable shoulder straps and hip belts.  Some also have a mesh back panel (that area in the bag touching your bag) for ventilation which prevents the sweat from your back from being absorbed by the bag. These extra features allow you to hike longer hours comfortably. A good backpack is  more valuable when doing extended day hikes - hikes that last 8 hours or more.

When hiking  especially during the rainy months, protect your stuff by storing it in waterproof dry bags or a resealable bag. A waterproof backpack cover offers added protection from the rain and helps avoid tears on your bag when navigating in the bushes. 

If you're ready to buy a backpack, check out this post for tips on what to look for in a bag. 

What I use : Osprey Sirrus 24, a pack designed specifically to fit a woman's frame. It provides good support on the back making it very comfortable to use on long hikes. I'm also a fan of Sandugo Pilot 15  because you can use it for trail running and you can carry a lot with it. Link to FB page here. Prices of hiking bags vary depending on the brand, specs and capacity. To give you an idea, Sandugo Pilot 15 (max capacity, 15 liters) costs 1,845 Pesos. 

3. Water bottle
Minimize plastic waste by using water bottles that you can reuse. I've invested in a durable water bottle because I tend to drop things a lot. :P Nalgene is one of the most trusty brands around, though the 1 Liter bottle takes up space (Price range : 525 Pesos-750 Pesos depending on size, available at Basekamp branches listed below) .There are also foldable water bottles around  such as Hydrapak (sold at Urbanize stores). 

How much water you need to bring depends on your needs and how long you need to hike. Also, when the trail has no forest cover and exposed to the sun, you may need to bring more. I normally bring at least 500 ml to 1.5 liters on a day hike. For long hikes (12 hours or more), I would bring hydration salt (you can buy at any drug store for about 11 Pesos per sachet) and mix it with water to make sure I stay hydrated. 

Before visiting a mountain, please read this short guideline from the Center of Outdoor Ethics on how to enjoy nature responsibly. 

4. First Aid Kit & Personal medicine 
An essential that you hope you don't ever need to use. I suggest making it as handy and as lightweight as you can so you won't feel lazy to bring it with you.

What to pack on your first aid kid? Check out this list from the Philippine Red Cross.

5. Trail Food 
Hiking can be physically demanding so eat a good meal before your hike and bring snacks with you so you can replenish your energy while hiking.  I usually bring something that's easy to carry (leave that jar of Nutella at home :P) and as nutritious as possible. I also suggest bringing food that you enjoy to help boost morale when the trail gets rougher.

Also check out this good read on Top 7 Food for Sustaining Energy on the Trail
A mix of cashew nuts and cacao nibs
What I bring to hikes : cacao nibs, dried fruits such as cranberries (this makes me feel full and energized), mangoes, pineapple,  nuts like peanuts, almonds and cashew, chia seeds in water. Whenever I can, I hydrate the day before the hike by drinking 500 ml-1 liter of coconut juice. 

6. Headlamp or flashlight
This is always in my  bag even if the itinerary does not involve hiking in the dark. It's best to be prepared in case you end up extending your hike until nightfall or if you find yourself exiting at a remote community that does not have electricity. Make sure you put the batteries in. You can also utilize the flashlight apps on your phone (just bring a power bank to charge your phone), though not as convenient as a headlamp which you can use hands-free.

What I use : I'm using a Black Diamond Storm and for back-up,  Sunree Ree headlamp from Basekamp (940 Pesos). 

7. Garbage Bag 
Help preserve the beauty of the mountain by bringing your trash back with you. If you see garbage around, pick it up as well for proper disposal. I never get why some people think it's okay to throw their trash in nature. When bringing a bag, make sure that it won't rip easily and soil your stuff. 

8. Emergency Whistle 
Ideally placed where you can easily access it - either in the straps of the backpack or on your neck. It can be used to communicate with the rest of the group you got separated from and takes lesser energy than yelling.  It is also  used in emergencies when calling out for help. 3 short whistle blasts is an internationally recognized distress call. Two blasts mean, "come here". If you get separated with the group and want to locate them, blow one short whistle blast. If the rest of the group can hear you, they should respond back with one whistle blast. (Source : Outdoor Life - Signal Whistle Codes

Mini carabiner
A mini carabiner  comes handy when you need to clip stuff together  so it doesn't fall off or for  hanging stuff. For example, clipping your water bottle to your bag, hanging your dry bag in the changing room. If you're visiting communities near the mountain, you'll most likely have to use spartan bathrooms with no hooks to hang your dry clothes. 

Where to buy : I get mine from hardware shops. Basekamp also has this cool whistle carabiner (100 Pesos).  Check out their merchandise on their Facebook page.

10. Head scarf/bandana
A tubular shaped bandana is easy to wear on your head, helps keep sweat and hair off your eyes and can also be used in a dozen different ways. It's a fashionably functional accessory, offers protection from the cold, sun, dust and can  be worn as an eye mask to help you sleep better while traveling to the jump-off. 

Where to buy : Basekamp (99 Pesos)

11. Slippers or post-hike footwear
After your hike, give your feet a break by changing into  slippers or sandals. Sometimes, your shoes get so muddy, you wouldn't want to wear them with your clean clothes and you end up having to look for a sari-sari store or market that sells slippers. Avoid the hassle and added expense by packing a pair.

12. Lightweight Travel Organizer
These handy travel pouches keeps your stuff organized and easy to find. I find those with mesh material more convenient to use because I can easily see what I've stashed in it. It's also a plus if it has a built-in hook so you can easily hang it.

Hammock Republic sells affordable travel organizers at 200 Pesos per set (plus shipping fee).

If you plan on getting any item on the list above, check out Basekamp PH for your travel and outdoor gear needs. Facebook Page link here.  The "Shop" tab on their page features some of their products including price and specs. 

Branches :
BaseKamp Market!Market!
BaseKamp Galleria 
BaseKamp Ali Mall 
BaseKamp Trinoma
BaseKamp Ligaya Pasig 
BaseKamp Gaisano CDO 
BaseKamp Star Mall Alabang 
BaseKamp Isetann Recto 
BaseKamp Gaisano Davao
BaseKamp Fairview Terraces 

Where to hike?
10 Hiking Destinations Near Manila (Note : Pico de Loro which appears on the list is currently closed to the public for rehabilitation)
6 Beginner-Friendly Hikes that Offer Spectacular Views around the Philippines

NOTE : Photos with watermark were taken by Jed Rosel aka Biyaherong Barat during our camping trip at Tarak Ridge, in collaboration with Basekamp PH.

Check out the posts of my fellow bloggers below : 
Travel Up : Guide to Hiking Tarak Ridge | Celineism : Of Implements & Second Chances (a nice narrative of our hike)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Hiking in Kyushu, Japan (Plus travel tips!)

On a recent overseas trip, I traveled south of Japan in  Kyushu, the country’s third biggest island. It was the end of March, the beginning of spring, just in time to see some blooming cherry blossoms! Weather at this time varies from 10-16 Celsius, a comforting contrast to the tropical weather in Manila. 
View of Fukuoka from  Mt. Tenpaizan
Taking the only Cebu Pacific flight that day, I arrived at Fukuoka International  airport past 7:00 PM(Japan time).  Since I had to go through immigration, take a bus (it's free if coming from international terminal!) to the Domestic terminal to take a train to the city and navigate my way to  my accommodation in the outskirts of Fukuoka (thank God for offline maps!), I got to Sharely Style Hakata around 11 PM. 
Vendo machines everywhere! Hello Japan. :) 
By the time I checked in to my room, I was  drained. Thankfully, the room is  neat and smelled good. The space is small but had everything I needed, a toilet & bath and ample number of sockets. There's also a  balcony, not a requirement for me but it sure is nice to have. My view is facing a small quiet street, across a vendo machine and if the neighboring house across has its shades open, I get a glimpse of what's inside. :P  

Mt. Homan
After preparing my stuff, I took two trains to Mt. Homan (Itinerary here) in Dazaifu, a small city in Japan's Fukuoka prefecture. The nearby Tenmangu shrine and all the stores and restaurants around it attracts huge numbers of visitors but with my preference for quiet time and solitude, I moved away from the crowd and up the mountain. 
A shrine at the foggy summit of Mt. Homan
It drizzled a bit, making it colder than it already was. My face felt numb from the cold which was a nice experience since I've spent my entire life in the tropics. :) 

Fog began settling in, creating an eerie vibe but I kept my focus on nature. The beautiful huge trees were a good distraction. :) Though the trails are established, most of the signage are in Japanese so I relied heavily on the directions I downloaded online from Fukuoka Now,   a website which contains helpful travel and hiking info in Fukuoka. 
This was lunch. During my trip,  I got a kick out of hunting for interesting food at their convenience stores
which are everywhere! Lawson stores are common here.
As it was a weekday, I was pretty much alone the entire hike. The only time I saw someone else was when I  was going down from the summit, a fellow solo hiker. 
A section of the trail to the summit of Mt. Homan
On my second day, I vent to Tenpaizan (Itinerary here), another hiking trail with a shrine at its peak.

Walking from a train station, I got so lost trying to locate the entrance of the trail. Ironically, it's a popular place for tourist and hiking enthusiasts but I'm not really good with road directions. :P A lady  I met in the street, who didn't speak English, was kind enough to lead me to the jump-off which is 10 minutes away from where I was! I couldn't thank her enough. 

Check out my other hikes here.

I ended up following another trail that turned out to be more challenging from where I intended to start. There's less people on this side which I love. I eventually found the main trail and rejoined the crowd. From there, it takes less than an hour to get to the summit. Compared to most mountains which are at least 600 MASL (Meters Above Sea Level), its highest point is only at 258 MASL.
a view of Fukuoka from Mt. Tenpaizan
After going to Tenpaizan, I took another train and got off at Hakata station.  It is said to be where most of the action is. Hotels, stores, restaurants and other touristy places are nearby. Hakata train station is a tourist attraction itself filled with souvenir shops and restaurants, but after spending two days in the outskirts, I found it to be overwhelming and crowded.  It's funny because friends told me that it's a very laid back city compared to Tokyo . I guess I just  spent so much time in the mountains. :P 
Hakata area
With the cool weather and pedestrian friendly sidewalks, I found myself doing a  lot of walking. From Hakata train station, I walked 1.2 KM to Canal City, a huge shopping and entertainment complex. Think MOA (Mall of Asia). I didn't want to because there were so many people but I couldn't resist checking out Muji and a branch of Montbell, a Japanese retailer and maker of outdoor gear. 
Montbell branch at Canal City,a huge shopping & entertainment complex in Hakata
My last stop for the day was Ohori Park, another one of Fukuoka's top attractions. It's just a few steps from Ohori Koen station. After coffee at Boathouse, a cafe with a view of a man-made lake, I walked around and found myself in an area in the park with tons of food stalls! Here, I enjoyed takoyaki, a balled up street food made from a batter of cabbage and octopus. Some wouldn't enjoy its "fishy" taste but I really like the flavor,  generally salty with a hint of sweetness.
Food stalls at Ohori Park
I walked into some sort of street party - music was blasting from a speaker and there were many groups just huddled together in tables and eating, having a great time. I could see smoke from barbecue pits and other food stalls. I did feel a bit lonely for a second, standing  on my own and people watching, but then again, I was on vacation, I can't be sad! 

Hours before flying back to Manila, I did my 3rd and final hike in Fukuoka. 

View at Mt. Shioji
Popular to locals, Mt. Shioji is a scenic peak in Dazaifu offering views of the city, surrounding mountains and the ruins of Ohnojo Castle. With its easy trails, it welcomes hikers and visitors of varying fitness levels. Those who are not up for a hike can actually take a car to its peak while those who want to walk on a natural trail can cut through the well-marked forest trails to get to the top like I did. The forest trail is reminiscent of the trails in the Philippines with ribbons tied on to trees to mark the correct way! With the exception of seeing cherry blossoms and signage in Japanese, it actually felt like I was hiking back home.
Torii, a traditional Japanese gate found in Shinto shrines 
The short hike  gave me enough time to go around Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine and enjoy a lunch. 

By 5:00 PM, I was in a bus back to Fukuoka airport with 3 hours to spare before my flight back to Manila. (Travel tip : At Dazaifu station, there are lockers where you can stash your luggage and go around. The rental fee varies on how big your luggage is. I think I paid 300 Yen for my 33 Liter Osprey Nova.  There are also buses at the exit of the train station that can take you to  the entrance of Fukuoka International Airport)

How to get to Fukuoka
From Manila, you can fly via Cebu Pacific,  a budget airline that has direct flights to Fukuoka. 

Where to stay 
I booked a  room at Sharely Style Hakata through Agoda. Click here to book. 
Rates : For a 3 night stay, I paid 4,706.89 Pesos
Description : Single bed, aircon room with a balcony, private t&v, mini ref, desk, tv, hair blower, (breakfast not included). This place is outside the tourist district, within walking distance from Ijiri station. It's located in a residential area. I suggest plotting it on a  map which you can access offline before your trip.

Solo Travel Tips 
- If you're taking Cebu Pacific, you will most likely arrive way past the normal check-in time. Just so I don't have to wander around in the wee hours of the morning, I paid for my accommodation on the same day I'm arriving then informed the hotel that I'll be checking in late. 
- The train station map I got from the airport was helpful. You can ask for one at the information desk. The staff were quite friendly! I also learned from watching a vlog that you can download an app for the train schedules. For more tips on traveling to Japan, watch the vlog here.
- there's decent cheap food (sushi, noodles, meals) at the convenience stores and the vendo machines
-  Watch out for sales on the Agoda website (or just download the app) so you can book your accommodation at a cheaper price.  If your flight is arriving late in the evening, inform your hotel.  I found it easy to get in touch with them through the contact page on their site.

- Pocket Money : 15,000 Pesos was enough for me to get me by on this 4 day trip. I mostly did hiking and a bit of eating.  This excluded the plane fare and Philippine Travel Tax (1,620 Pesos). Of course, budget varies depending on what you want to do or buy.
- Souvenir shopping can be done at the duty free at Fukuoka International airport. You can shop while waiting for your flight out of the city. There's also Starbucks here.
- Learn a few basic Japanese words. During my stay, the following words were enough for me to survive : 
sumimasen - excuse me (before asking a question) or sorry (when you accidental bump to someone)
kore - this (to point at things close to you, such as ordering an item from the menu you're holding)
kudasai - please
doko - where

wakarimasen - I don't understand (when someone talks to you in Japanese)

Here are some of the helpful resources I read while researching for my trip : 
How to apply for Japan visa for Filipinoshttp://www.thepoortraveler.net/2013/11/japan-visa-requirements-manila-philippines/
Japan Embassy in the Philippines - http://www.ph.emb-japan.go.jp/itpr_en/00_000035.html
Japan Tourism Sitehttp://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/natuscen/index.html 
Getting Around Fukuoka - http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2436.html 
Fukuoka airport official sitehttp://www.fuk-ab.co.jp/english/ 
Info on Fukuoka City Tourist Pass (train pass)https://yokanavi.com/en/tourist-city-pass/
Info on Bus pass -> http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e4802.html 
I followed this YouTuber to get tips when traveling in Japan. :). (Thank you!)
Hiking in Fukuoka - http://www.fukuoka-now.com/en/2016/09/hiking-in-fukuoka/
Going to other prefectures in Japan? Check out their trails here at Japan Guide.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Solo Trip : Dagupan, Pangasinan

I often pass by the province of Pangasinan when traveling for a hike to the Cordilleras but I never got to go around. One day, I went for a visit to have a look!

While researching for my trip, I learned that there's so much to see (and eat!)  from the infamous Hundred Islands in Alaminos, the beautiful beaches of Bolinao and its mountain trails that spending a day is ridiculous, but with my limited time and budget,  I figured, this solo trip will serve as a kickoff for numerous return trips. :)
Lingayen beach
From Solid North Terminal in Cubao, I traveled by bus to Dagupan city, some 30 minutes  away from Lingayen, the provincial capital.   This being a lazy trip, I boarded the first bus I saw with a signage marked "Lingayen", the bus' last stop. Travel time took 6 hours which I felt could have been shorter if only I rode a bus with a different route (perhaps, one that passed SCTEX or TPLEX - highways in the northern part of the island which skips some towns, shortening the travel time). 

By noon, I had checked in to Hotel Monde, a 7-room budget boutique hotel, just along AB Fernandez, a major street in Dagupan. It's  a convenient place to stay,  close to public transportation, restaurants, banks, stores and other establishments. I installed the Traveloka app and utilizing one of their frequent promos, got this a for a discounted rate of 784.38 Pesos instead of 1,400 Pesos. (Will post about my stay soon and link it here.)
My lime green room at Hotel Monde
After napping, I headed out for my first meal. Dagupan is know for its bangus (milkfish) and Matutina's Seafood House came highly recommended but being a coffee addict,  my craving for a good brew couldn't wait. With that, I walked to Caffe Angelito Coffee & Juice Bar. 

While walking to the cafe, I noticed Dagupan's pedestrian-friendly roads.  The sidewalk has enough room for people and the traffic lights are respected.  It made walking convenient and how I wish this is how it is in all parts of the country. A Dagupan-based friend has informed me that the local government is strict about enforcing rules against jaywalking -  well, that's exactly how it should be.  
Pasta from Caffee Angelito

Caffe Angelito was a good choice for a late lunch.  I had iced coffee which was strong and full of flavor and in no time, I was back to my usual perky self. The pasta was served beautifully and equally satisfying. The interiors with reminded me of a library so I decided to take out the book I had with me and ended up staying for another hour. 

From the cafe, I walked along Dagupan-Binmaley road to catch a jeep to
Tondaligan, a public  beach. Spending just 12 Pesos, the jeep's route got me all the way to entrance of the beach.
Catching the sunset at Tondaligan beach in Dagupan

The beach is massive. As the sun's heat had died down, I saw groups of families and friends just hanging out. The vibe made me feel like I was actually part of a group so even as I stood there all alone, I felt very welcome. 

The breeze was a refreshing change from the afternoon heat.  The  sight of a huge area filled with coconut trees gave out a very tropical vibe. The trees were aptly spaced from each other that you can just hang a hammock and relax! 

If you're looking for a nice hammock, I recommend a local brand that provides livelihood to home-based sewers in Laguna, Hammock Republic. This is the brainchild of a friend of mine,  James Betia AKA Journeying James. Their hammocks also serve as a neck pillow when folded and some designs have a net to protect you from insects. The design's pretty cool!  

I looked at the water and the playful waves lured me in for an afternoon wrestle.  A bit bigger than usual, it's the kind of waves that's good enough for skim boarding. I couldn't find a place to leave my stuff and making a judgement based on female intuition,  I I left my bag by the shore and covered it with a beach blanket.  I swam close to shore and occasionally watched over my stuff, a challenging feat because the waves were just coming hard towards me, I spent a lot of time jumping and going under the water. Being a water baby, I couldn't be any happier! 

The beach and the boys. This was taken at Tondaligan beach in Dagupan
I stayed in the water until sun went down, filling the sky with various colors. First, it was yellow. Accompanied with a couple of dark clouds over the horizon, the combination of colors reminded me of a fried cheese flambe. Then, came the fierce orange glow and as it disappeared from the sky, purple! After my visual dinner, I dried myself and took a jeep back to the hotel,  salty and a little wet from the beach. It had been a good day.

The next morning, I took a side trip to Lingayen. Just a few blocks from the hotel were jeeps that transported passengers to the provincial capital. It took a little over 30 minutes to get there as the jeep picked up passengers along the route. 

From the town proper, I walked towards the historic Lingayen beach.  On January 1945, General Douglas Mac Arthur and members of the US forces returned to start their mission of freeing the island of Luzon from the Japanese invaders. Nowadays, this beach with its massive shoreline is flocked by people looking for a quick break. The beach is kept clean and its fine gray sand is just as charming as those with white sand. Being a public beach, entrance is free. There's also a huge picnic area (not sure if the picnic tables are for rent though) and restrooms. 
Lingayen Beach
Other nearby places to visit include the provincial capitol (Lingayen beach is just behind it) and the Veterans memorial park. For an itinerary on Lingayen, check out this article by Mai Flores here.

After returning to Dagupan, I made a spur of the moment decision to make a quick visit to Baguio.  The City of Pines is just two hours away by public van and fare is 165 Pesos. The reason - I was missing  Ili-Lika Artist Village, an art gallery with a cluster of food stalls serving healthy meals, one of my favorite places to eat in the country. After a hefty lunch - tofu rice meal, waffles and coffee, I boarded a bus back to Manila. 

I got exactly what I wanted on this trip - some time alone, see the beach and even had enough time for some side trips. Traveling solo, despite it downsides (no one to share food with and split the bill :P)  is mostly fun for me. I enjoy having the freedom to move whenever, wherever without having to wait for anyone and change my plans as often as I want to. 

For more travel info on Dagupan, check out this very helpful post by Senyorita,  A Quick Guide to Dagupan. It contains details on how to get here, suggested places to eat and see. Thank you for your post Mica! ;) 

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