Monday, May 22, 2017

How to Travel Alone in Japan in 13 days?

Before traveling alone to Europe or the United States for a month next year (2018), I needed a good travel experience and the best spot to start my training is in the Land of the Rising Sun - JAPAN!

By December I will be going to Australia for 7 days and Korea for another 2 weeks. Then, back again in Japan on April for the Cherry blossoms.

I guess that would be enough experience. Now, the travel...

My travel will cover the following places - Fukuoka - Hiroshima - Osaka - Kobe - Nara - Kyoto - Nagoya - Hakone - Tokyo - Sapporo - Hokkaido - Tokyo.

(Note - I am currently in Kyoto and doing Day 5)

Day 1

I started in Fukuoka, Japan last May 18, 2017. It was still a bit cold when I arrived in Fukuoka. The first thing I did was to find my stay.

It was past 8 pm when I arrived and good thing I did not get lost and was able  to find my way to my hostel, Guesthouse Hokorobi.

Day 2 - Fukuoka

I was near the canal and I took an early stroll to get myself started. Afterwards, I took a nap and got my bag and went to my first spot.

I boarded the train to the Fukuoka Castle Ruins and explored the area. It was a huge place and I had to pace myself in order to finish the tour. I went to Hakata and part of my itinerary was to explore the city. But since the bag was quite heavy, I decided to leave. I had to save my energy. A long journey lies ahead.

From Fukuoka Station, I boarded the  Shinkansen (bullet train) to Hiroshima. I paid around 8,400 yen for the ride. It took me only 1 hour and 10 minutes.

From the Shin station, I asked the Information Office about my hostel and I was told that it was very far from the city. I had no choice, it was booked and paid already. From the city, I boarded the local train and boarded another bus before reaching the spot.

The hostel was named Quel and it was quite different. Now, I know the reason why it says for adults only. But trust me, the room is great!

It was still early and I decided to walk around the area. This is what Japan looks like in the rural areas. The rice field is just beside the houses and the road.

Then, I went back to the hostel and stayed at the terrace and was awed on the view from my room. It was already 7 pm and the sun was still around and I woke up 5 am and the was already up! 

Day 3 - Hiroshima

Mae Resma, my former student and now a resident of Nagoya was the one who prepared my itinerary.

I went back to the city and paid 400 yen for the hop-on, hop-off tour. There are two options - (1) Green Line and (2) Orange Line.

The Orange Line is the better option since it has the castle, dome and park.

The Hiroshima Dome is the number one spot to visit. This is the actual remnant and actual place where the WW2 atomic bomb was dropped!

From this spot, you can cover the museum, peace marker and the park.

The place is a reminder of the holocaust of the world war. 

I strolled along the park, entered the museum, took pictures and then boarded the bus to my next destination.

When in Japan, it is a must according to my brother Jayson (he stayed in Japan for 6 months) that I must visit the castles. After the Fukuoka castle, the Hiroshima Castle. 

I boarded the Shinkansen to Osaka but this time I bought my JR Pass!

This pass entitles the holder to so many privileges and amenities which I discussed in another blog. You only need your passport and 33,000 yen and the world of travel in Japan awaits you.

After the Shinkansen ride, I went to my next stay - Guest Bee Hive.

I did not bother to go out that night. We had an Okonomiyaki Party and played Uno that night.

Day 4 - Kobe and Nara

I transferred to another hostel before doing my tour, Drop Inn Osaka.


It took only 12 minutes using the Shinkansen and I was in Kobe. There was only 1 chosen spot among the several places to visit in Kobe.

I paid only 1,100 yen for this tour and I must say that it was one of my best tours in Japan, the Herb Gardens and Ropeway.

It is a must-place to visit in Kobe and different flowers bloom in the four seasons of Japan. Along the ropeway, you will see the falls, dam and the hiking trail.


I went back to Osaka using the Shinkansen and then used the local train to Nara.

At the Nara Station, I availed of the 500 yen unlimited bus ride to all the spots. 

First stop was the Heijo Castle.

Second stop was the Nara Deer Park. 

You can explore the whole park and it will take you the whole day doing it. But I was in a rush and I just selected the spots.

The Todai ji Temple is one of the best spots to visit and there are various temples and I visited some of them. And then went back to the Nara station.

Arriving back in Osaka, I met Benj and Pao. We had ramen and exchange stories. I missed them already.

Day 5 - Osaka

The number one spot in Osaka (aside from the Universal Studio) is the Osaka Castle. Entrance fee is only 600 yen.

Next stop was the Shin-Sekai. This is the best place to enjoy good and affordable food while in Osaka.

Last stop was the Umeda Sky Building and entrance fee is only 1,000 yen.

From the observatory, you will have best view of the city of Osaka. You will enjoy a lot of things in this spot.

Osaka Access by Shinkansen or local train
1. 12 minutes to Kobe using Shin
2. 40 minutes to Nara using local train
3. 15 minutes to Kyoto using Shin
4.  Nagoya and Hiroshima

Another Shinkansen ride to Kyoto. This time it took me only 12 minutes from Osaka.

Now I am in Kyoto and doing the tours, I will be updating this blog soon!!

Next stop after Kyoto
Hakone - Mt. Fuji

See yah!

Tips when in Japan
1. Buy the JR Pass.
2. Use the Willer overnight bus if you want to save in hotel expenses by sleeping inside the bus at night.
3. Food is quite expensive. You can buy affordable ones in 7-11, Family Mart or Lawson Station.
4. Visit the castles and temples
5. Stay in hostels or dormitories.
6. Bring a coin purse for your loose change and there will be a lot.
7. Ask for directions either at the Information Center inside the train station or the Tourist Station.
8. There are various trains - local, Shinkansen, subway and street cars.
9. The Shinkansen station is different from the local train (example - Shin Osaka is the Shinkansen station and Osaka Station is the local train station)
10. Travel light and bring a water.
11. Try the local food.
12. Walk left and stay left in escalators. 
13. Buy the JR Pass online, it is cheaper.
14. Be aware of the areas in the train station and inside the train. 
15. Japan is safe but please stay safe and be street smart.
16. Observe trafffic rules.
17. You can leave your bag in the hostel and travel the whole day and then get the bag later.
18. Bring medicine. I eat a lot and sometimes, I ate something different.
19. Make your itinerary at night by asking the front desk if your itinerary is feasible.
20. Laundry is cheap and very easy.

The JR Pass and its amenities to the Shinkansen Ride

Traveling in Japan can be quite expensive but if you know the perks of having a tourist visa, then it can save one from incurring excessive expenses.

If you are going to Japan and staying for more than 3 days and/or with various destinations. The JR Pass is a very important pass that one must afford when traveling in Japan.

The JR Pass is very useful, affordable and accessible to almost all destinations in the JR system. In Hiroshima, the JR pass can also be used in the hop-on hop-off tour bus. Bus travel is not included.

There are several passes ranging from 7 days, 14 days and a lot more.

I bought the JR pass here in Japan for 33,000 yen and you can also buy it online. They have rhe green card holder and the ordinary card holder. I was given the ordinary pass since I am a tourist.

Let me give me you an example. Buying the Shinkansen from Hiroshima to Osaka is 8,000 yen. In just 3 days, I boarded the Shinkansen in 5 trips already. Aside from that, I have unlimited access to ALL JR trains whether local or subway. You can even have your seats reserved in the Shinkansen.

There are three kinds of the Shinkansen rides - the Nozomi (red, the fastest!), Kodama (black) and the Hikari (blue)

There are 2 kinds of Shinkansen cars - the 16 cars and 8 cars. Be sure what you are boarding.

The JR pass is not available in Nozomi Superexpress. The Nozomi is faster and has fewer stops!

Before having a JR pass, I boarded the Nozomi for 8,500 yen and it was really faster!

You can even use your JR pass from Hiroshima to Sapporo!

HOWEVER, the JR Pass is not available for the Nozomi and there are times you have to use the non-reserved section (usually cars 1-3).

There is another option in case you do not want to buy the JR pass and will be staying only in one destination. They have the Sanyo, San'in, Hokuriku and Kansai Pass.

For example in Osaka, they have the Kansai area pass (1-day 2,300 yen; 2-day 4,500 yen, 3-day 5,500 4-day 6,500) for Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Nara, Himeji and Shiga. And it is also a lot cheaper.

Better ask the train station once you are in Japan and ask how you can get the the various train passes!  

For more information about the JR pass, please visit their website and learn the conditions of use and eligibility requirements.

Why ride the Shinkansen?
1. It is the fastest and more economical than a plane ride!
2. It saves you time.
3. It gives you your deserved comfort in traveling.
4. It values your travel.
5. It gives you pride.

Why buy the JR Pass?
1. It saves your well-earned money.
2. It gives you access to so many travel opportunities.
3. It gives you access to local tours
4. No need to bring cash.
5. Riding the Shinkansen!

But the JR Pass is still the number one!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Wandering in Gigantes Islands and Boracay

After I went to Balabac, Palawan, I chanced upon seeing this majestic place in one of the TV networks in the Philippines and I promised myself that this spot will be my next destination next year.

Seafood is cheap and great!
Islands are close to each other and uninhabited.
Waters are pristine and crystal clear.
People are very accommodating and hospitable.
Accommodation is very affordable.
Truly, it is the next best spot after Palawan.

my small boat ride to Gigantes

How to get there 

From Manila

Take the domestic flight from any of the servicing flights either to Iloilo or Roxas. Cebu Pacific, PAL, and Air Asia are the air carriers servicing the route.

From Iloilo, take the bus/van bound to Carles. Travel time 2-3 hours. Fare is P180.

From the airport in Roxas, Capiz (best route), take the tricycle ride to the van or bus terminal (situated in different spots) bound to Estancia. Fare in the trike is from P100-150. Travel time is 10-13 minutes. Alight in Balasan (in case you are going to Carles) . Fare in the van is P65. Travel time is 1 hour and 45 minutes. Fare in the Ceres bus is P75.  Trips in the van starts from 6 am and ends 6 pm. There is no direct bus or van from Roxas to Carles. This is the Carles route. From Balasan, board the tricycle (P50) or motorcyle ride (P100-150) to Carles or wait for a bus from iloilo bound to Carles. Bus usually passes every 30 minutes to 1 hour. Balasan to Carles is 12 kilometers.

Should you decide to board the pumpboat in Estancia, then alight in Estancia. From Balasan to Estancia, it is likewise roughly 12 kilometers.

Please note that there are two piers going to Gigantes either in Carles or Estancia.

Public Transport/Common Carrier
A.CARLES PORT to isla Gigantes
 Trip schedules - 8am, 10am (sure), 2pm

From Isla to Carles
Trip schedules - 10am, 2pm, 4pm (sure)

B. ESTANCIA PORT to Isla Gigantes
Trip schedule - only 1pm

LANGUB PORT (Isla Gigantes)
There are three (3) ports in Isla Gigantes, namely: Langub (Norte), Lantakan (Sur), and Asluman. Langub is the passenger port going back to Carles (4pm, 1 hour, P80) and Estancia (1pm, 2 hours, P80). Trip schedule to Carles is twice a day, 8 am and 4 pm everyday to Carles. Boat ride to Carles can hold only a maximum of 30 passengers. While the boat going to Estancia can carry more than 30 passengers.

The best place to go to isla Gigantes is via Carles port since it is nearer and it has more trip schedules than Estancia. The trip from Carles is only 1 hour while from Estancia to Gigantes is 2 hours.

Bancal Fish Port is the name of the port in Carles. This is the best spot to buy your seafoods. It is a lot cheaper here than buying them in the islands.

Charter a boat
If you are going to hire a boat in Isla Gigantes, the price ranges from P1,500 - P2,500 depending on the number of passengers (usually 10 pax).

If you are going to charter a boat in Carles going to Isla Gigantes and vice-versa, the price is P5,000 inclusive of your meals.

At Terminal 3 in Manila, Ms Jhe Gellado, messaged me and helped me find my boat ride in Gigantes.

  Lovely (boat operator) - 0950-257-1092 / Racil (assistant of Lovely) - 0930-319-4578 

From Bancal port, I chartered my own boat since I did not want to wait for the 10 am trip. I am planning to finish the tour only in 1 day. We left the port 6 am. It took me 1 hour and 20 minutes before I reached our first spot - Pulupandan Island.

From Pulupandan, I decided to go to go to our next spot. We arrived at the Tangke dock before 8 am and it was still closed. But we asked permission to go inside and take pictures while the lagoon is still on low tide.

Fortunately, we were allowed to enter and this is what the Enchanted Lagoon or Tangke looks like during low tide. We stayed only for 5 minutes and decided to take our breakfast at Lovely's house.

 From the Tangke, it took us only 10 minutes before we reached our destination. 
Gigantes Sur

I took my mouthwatering breakfast consisting of grilled fish, grilled squids and crabs. After the breakfast, I boarded a bigger boat en route my island hopping experience. Gigantes Sur is the place to do your spelunking activity. The cave is called Pawikan Cave. It takes a 30 minute hike before reaching the entrance of the cave.

Our first stop after breakfast - Cabugao Gamay or Selfie island.

This is the most photographed island in Gigantes. This is also the best spot to take your selfie or groupie.Entrance fee is P50.

The island offers several spots to take your souvenir shots. This island is the place to explore. i highly recommend exploring the island and discover new sites and experiences. 

After spending an hour in the island, I boarded the boat and along the way, we passed by another island called - Cabugao Dako

And now my favorite island - Bantigue sandbar.

Why is this my favorite island? It offers crystal clear and pristine waters, affordable seafood such as the P1 scallop, and this is the best spot to camp and watch the sunset.

This the best spot to swim, frolic in the sand and do your sunbathing!

You can spend the night here for only P200/pax inside a big tent or  also P200/pax in a small tent. Che-Che (0946-039-3565) is the focal person in the island. You can also have your paluto here.

This spot is famous for its wasay-wasay (scallops),  Bali-ad or Bay-ad and other seafoods. The scallops is P1/piece or a minimum purchase of 100 pieces. Price ranges from P100-200 per kaldero.

You can also enjoy grilled fish and grilled squids and the price is on a per kilo basis. Normally, it takes 30 minutes to cook the food and wait for your sumptuous lunch. You can also order rice, mineral water and your snacks in this island.

Another place to enjoy the seafood, camping and the beach is the Antonia Beach. It has an entrance fee and the next best island to spend the night after Bantigue Sandbar. You can do your snorkeling activity in this island.

The  best spot to enjoy the finest sands is in Mini-Boracay. It also offers the next best place to take a dip after the Bantigue Sandbar. You can also do your camping in this island.

After Gigantes Sur, we went to Gigantes Norte.

I was delighted to hear that there is a lighthouse in the island. I did not hesitate and I immediately hired a habal-habl ride to the lighthouse. Habal habal ride is worth P200 for a 15 minute ride or an hour hike. Lighthouse is one of my favorite spots to visit in my local tours.

Reaching the spot, I was told I can go at the top of the lighthouse provided I ask permission from the caretaker and luckily for me, I was allowed and from the top I was able to see the landscape of Gigantes Norte. There is another spot to visit in the vicinity, it is called Bakwitan Cave.

And for my final destination of the day, I went back to Enchanted Lagoon or Tangke.

The Lagoon!

After the Lagoon, I boarded the 4 pm boat back to Carles Port. I decided to use public transport in order to experience the one-hour ride. Arriving in Carles, I hired a habal-habal ride to Balasan for P100 and in Balasan, I waited for my bus ride to Roxas. Past 8 pm, I arrived in Roxas City and slept at Capiz Lodge. Following morning, I boarded the van going to Kalibo. Travel time is almost 2 hours and the fare is P150. Arriving in Kalibo, I boarded the van to Caticlan for P100 and travel time is only 1 hour. But I alighted in Toledo, Nabas to visit the family of my office mate Jemn Candoleta.  I was welcomed by her family and took my lunch in their home. After lunch, her father was kind enough to tour me around Nabas and we went to several cold springs.

Toledo, Nabas has both sea and river attractions. Most importantly, it has coldsprings. Among the spots we visited, Hurom-Hurom Resort is one of the best spots. Past 12 noon, I decided to bid goodbye and boarded the van ride to Caticlan. Fare is only P20.

  After a 10-minute ride, I reached Caticlan Port. I immediately bought my boat ticket to the other side. And after 10 minutes - Boracay!

From Station 3, I walked to Station 1. This is my fifth time to visit the island. One of the reasons I went back is because of my return flight to Manila in Caticlan.

I was able to find my accommodation in Boracay in Station 3 courtesy of Ms Renzie Carig. Her aunt Ms. Catherine Pablo (0906-255-5083) owns a place called Cottage Queen in Station 1, Balabag, Boracay. It is a 30 second walk from my room to longest beach in Boracay.

The room is clean, cozy, comfortable and the hospitality of her aunt is remarkable.

I rested for nearly two hours before I decided to go out of my room and strolled along the beach. The sailing boats of Boracay occupied the scenery as we await for sunset.

I patiently waited for the sunset.

And the sunset unfolded...

I slept soundly that night. It was Good Friday and there are no night activities in Boracay. The following morning (Black Saturday), I roamed around Boracay and past noon I went to Caticlan airport for my return trip to Manila.

with Ms. Lovely

Special Thanks to the following:

Ms. Lovely - Gigantes Islands
Ms. Jhe Gellado - Gigantes Islands
Ms. Jemn Candoleta - Toledo, Nabas
Ms. Renzie Carig - Boracay
Ms. Catherine Pablo - Boracay
Mr. Arnel Pineda, the singer - for my souvenir picture