How We Scored Cheap Promo Fare Tickets and Walked 46,310 steps in Osaka and Kyoto

Nothing motivates me to travel more than a prospect of securing a promo fare. My friend, Gail, and I planned to travel to Japan this year until we saw an affordable South Korea package tour that we skipped the Japan trip. We were happy with that Korea trip that we agreed that we would only travel to Japan if we find an offer we could not resist. Lo and behold, Cebu Pacific had this promo.

It was heavily promoted on Facebook. (Maybe I was just an easy target of their marketing campaign.) So I informed Gail about it and asked if she was interested. And she was! So together we agreed to book tickets if we find something below Php 5,000 per person, roundtrip. We agreed on a date. I said I wanted to go sometime around October because I wanted to watch Sweeney Todd with Lea Salonga as Mrs. Lovett and it runs in October. (Will blog about that soon!) Since the mechanics of the promo had a schedule, experience told me that these seats easily get sold out at the first hour of the promo. We agreed we would wake up early and both look for slots simultaneously. We also agreed on the destination in Japan. We both wanted to go to Osaka for Harry Potter at the Universal Studios Japan. And we also wanted to go to Tokyo because my friend, Grace, lives more or less two hours away from Tokyo via shinkansen. She is one of the reasons I wanted to go to Japan. I follow her on instagram and she lives in a charming Japanese city, Tokamachi, in Niigata Prefecture. Check her Instagram @findingbackroads. So the plan was either to arrive in Tokyo and exit Osaka or the other way around. I found seats for Manila- Osaka and Tokyo-Manila for only 7,310 for two people! We took it as a sign that we were meant to go to Japan.

Another sign that we were meant to go to Japan was that we found an accredited agency that would process a Japan visa that only charged us Php 700 each because they had a promo. They were so fast! We got our visa just two days after we submitted our documents. Japan single entry visa is only valid for 90 days after the issue date so we needed to apply within a certain date for visa validity. This time, I was a little more confident in applying for a visa because I got a Korean visa earlier this year.

Our first stop was Osaka. We arrived past seven in the evening so we still had time to buy our train passes and local SIM card with data credits. I loosely say “We” but, really, Gail did all these things. Ha!

We had dinner at Lawson and rode the train and navigated our way to our hotel in Namba. Gail chose the Namba area because it was near the stop of the airport bus to Osaka Airport (different from Kansai). We would fly to Niigata two days after to spend the weekend with my friend, Grace. I love traveling with Gail because she thinks of these things. If it were up to me, I would have booked any cheap hotel near a train station.

This is our hotel room in Namba. When I needed to get things from my luggage, I had to open it and close it back again every time or else I would be blocking the way.

It was cramped but clean and it was within our budget so we can’t complain. We would be spending most of our time exploring anyway.

Our first whole day in Osaka was dedicated to Universal Studios Japan. This Harry Potter fan was happy.

There is Uncle Vernon’s car just by the entrance to the park!

I got to see Hogwarts…

… and Hogsmeade.

We went inside Ollivander’s. I cannot afford a wand so we stalked people who bought wands when they tried magic spells using their wands around the Wizarding World area. (Will post a video soon!)

We explored more of the Diagon Alley. We went through the shops and I also could not afford a scarf. Ha! Here’s a tip: you can try on a scarf and photograph yourself wearing one. I did not have that brilliant idea before I went so I do not have that photo. ( I only learned that from Grace. Thank her for that tip by following her on IG! )

Gail did not want to try the rides because of motion sickness so we opted for a castle tour.

This is Fawkes, the Phoenix. I think.

We went through the hall with the talking frames.

There is Albus and Harry, Ron and Hermione.

We tried butterbeer!

My only caveat in USJ? Everything was in Japanese. I was trying to figure out what language the talking frames are speaking and it took me awhile to realize they were all in Japanese. We went to most of the shows in the park and they were all in Japanese. We just tried to understand everything by taking hints based on their actions. All in all, it was a fun experience.

And we rode the carousel! Ha! It was the only ride that Gail could manage without getting motion sickness. It was my first time on a carousel so I was game.

It was already dark when we left.

We ate dinner at the train station and called it a night.

For day 2, we went to Kyoto. We got ourselves this day pass.

We picked two destinations: Fushimi Inari Shrine and a temple in Gion because the temple was a few trains stops from Fushimi-Inari.

I had a sabaw moment (that moment when the brain seemed to be floating). As soon as we arrived at the train station near Fushimi Inari, we went out to cross the street. We heard bells signalling that a train would be passing. So I prepared my camera in anticipation of the train. I was thinking it would be an old train. Duh! I realized it was nothing fancy. I took a photo of the similar train I rode. Of course, I was in a train station. I guess I was used to subways that it did not occur to me that I was not on a subway and that I would also see the actual train I rode in when I leave the station. Ha!

I guess I needed food to feed my brain. Good thing there were shops along the way. We got this fried mochi type of snack.

Gail, the foodie, would stop and look at the what kind food was sold in the shops.

But first things first, we must walk our way towards the shrine. Oh, too many people for an introvert like me! But we pushed on.

We found an area with less crowd…but with lots of spider webs which frightened Gail. Hi, Gail!

We took enough to photos so off we went and try some of the food along the way.

The titas took a break in the rest area.

We are now ready to sample the food in the area.

We bought crabstick..

… matcha ice cream

… and fish shaped cake with red bean filling.

We bought the green biscuit to try at the hotel later. The shop owner gave us the fox-shaped biscuit for free. It did not pass quality control so we got it for free.

Next stop was Gion. I think it was a tourist area because we passed by souvenir shops.

Around the corner was the Yasaka Shrine.

Our goal was to reach Kiyomizu-dera so I just asked Gail to take my photo from afar with the shrine at the background.

Errm. Nice timing, Gail. LOL

It was easy to find the way to the Kiyomizu-dera. We just have to follow the street with people wearing in Japanese attire.

We passed by the Hokan-ji temple.

Unknowingly, we found ourselves in Nineizaka, a quaint and charming area with traditional homes. So cute! (If only there weren’t too many people. LOL. The introvert in me strikes again.)

From the Kiyomizu-dera, you get a great view of Kyoto.

We hang out for a while because Google maps told us it would take 16 minutes for us to walk back to the train station. We relied on Google maps for direction. The thing was, I was not very good with directions and Google maps adjust the instructions according to our location. We passed by residential areas we did not pass by before. We took a totally different route that Google led us to a different train entrance. We found ourselves in this long underpass. Only two of us were walking inside. We eventually found the right platform of the train bound for Temmabashi- our stop for Osaka Castle.

A few minutes of walking from the train station was needed to reach the castle grounds. As soon as the castle slowly came to sight, Gail said, ” I am okay with just looking at it from here.” I replied, “Me, too.”

Then I said that we’ll just go near and take photos. So I had this photo.

Then, Gail said, ” We walk a little more and check out what’s out there.” So I asked her to take my photo because the leaves in those trees started to change color.

We saw that there was a boat tour around the castle. See that bridge? We kept on waking until we reached that bridge.

Look at her, so effortlessly relaxed even with all the walking. And how about me? Never mind. LOL

And that was not the end of it, we walked inside those walls. This was the closest I could get at taking a photo of the castle.

It was about the get dark so it was time for dinner. But first we dropped by Rikuro’s to get that famous fluffy and jiggly cheesecake..

Off to Dotonbori!

Dotonbori was just a block away from our hotel so we dropped a few of our things at the hotel, rest awhile and went to Dotonbori.

I really did not do any research but the way I understood it was that Dotonbori was street market for food. So what we did was to try food where there was a long line.

There was a line for crabs but I was not interested because we ate crabsticks earlier.

We saw people looking up at this Doraemon-themed billboard. We realized what it was all about. So we waited for our turn. If you squint hard enough, you will see us . LOL

There was a long line at this takoyaki shop so we lined up.

The takoyaki was delish! The takoyaki I tried before did not taste like this.

We walk further and we saw the line at Melonpan. So we bought one.

Melonpan is a soft sweet bun and to add to the sweetness, you can have it with ice cream. Of course, we chose a matcha flavored one.

While looking up the bright lights around, Gail kept telling me to look for the running man. I have no idea what she was talking about. So we took the route along the Dotonbori Canal.

We saw this huge building with modified version of a ferris wheel. No way. The acrophobic in me would tremble.

There was a boat cruise along the canal. All the tourists looked up. They looked like they saw something behind us. I finally saw the running man Gail was talking about. So we walked to the other end to get a better vantage point at the running man.

At this point, our trip in Osaka came to a close. We need to go back to the hotel and pack because we would be flying to Niigata the next day.

Plus, we really need to rest from all the walking. When I checked my phone’s health app. Look at that! 27, 245 steps just for that day.

If you add the 19, 065 steps the previous day, I took a total of 46, 310 in the two days I spent in Osaka.

We sooooo deserved this cheesecake!

That Whirlwind 5-Day Trip to Dingalan, Minalungao and Baler

I have an obsession with Batanes. I so want to go there but it is still too expensive for me. So whenever I see a photo of a place that looks like a Batanes landscape, off I go. This led me and my friends to off-beaten places like Palaui in Cagayan and Mariveles in Bataan.

This is Palaui.

This is Bataan.

When I saw a similar picture which pointed to Dingalan, we found our new destination for a trip.

You see I have this annual trip with friends where we book promo fare tickets to a certain destination every year. We have been to Naga, Sagada, Ilocos, Pagsanjan, Cagayan, Coron, Bataan, Dumaguete, Siquijor and Cebu. So this time around we were aiming for Dingalan, Aurora. We have five days to spare so we googled for other destinations to visit that are near Dingalan so we decided on Minalungao and Baler.

Day 1: How to reach Dingalan

My friends, Jen, Bryan and Bamba, and I were excited to go! We sent this photo to our friends who did not go with us. Boohoo!

Dingalan was two rides away from Manila. Good thing there was a bus terminal in Pasay. When we arrived at NAIA 3, we had our breakfast at the airport. We then took the airport loop shuttle to Pasay MRT which brought us to the Genesis Terminal located in the same compound as the airport loop shuttle terminal. But lo and behold, the buses for Cabanatuan were stationed in Cubao not in Pasay. However, I knew that the Five Star Bus terminal was somewhere in this area and a quick Google search confirmed that it was less than a block away. A bus for Cabanatuan was about to leave when we arrived. Talk about great timing!

We were all nicely settled in our bus seats.

We left Manila at around 11 am. By the time we arrived Cabanatuan, we were already famished. We welcomed the sight of SM so we immediately got off the bus right there. We found this resto inside the mall. The rule was to eat somewhere that does not have a branch in Butuan. So we went to this adobo place in the mall. Nothing fancy. Nothing amazing also but enough to fill our grumbling tummies.

They said Dingalan was only an hour away from Cabanatuan. It felt like two hours. We arrived Dingalan close to 6pm. It was a long day, a holiday and a small town. It was so quiet.

We ended up eating at 7-11. Yes, there was a 7-11!

It was also raining that evening. Typhoon Ineng was somewhere in the North. We wondered if weather would be better the following day.

Day 2: Dingalan Tour

But they say that “tomorrow’s another day!”

This was where we stayed. My beef with this inn? No mirrors!

We could hear the strong winds the night before but I guess the Universe wanted us to go to this trip because the waters were relatively calm. I was traveling with people who sail frequently across the Surigao Strait so Dingalan’s sea was chill.

First stop was Lamao Cave. It was a small cave. We just stayed for some photos and off we went to Suwa Rock Formation.

We were very cautious in this site because the wind was so strong. I could now understand that news when someone was blown off the cliff while taking a selfie. We were holding on to dear life while climbing on the rocks. We did not pose of pictures until we were very sure we would not be blown off by the wind.

Look at my hair! It was that windy. I had to secure my phone under my shirt!

But look that the landscape! It was awesome.

But wait there is more! We docked at the White Beach. This was the starting point of our trek to the mountain view, the reason for this trip.

It was a relatively easy trek yet I did break a lot of sweat. The view was worth all the muscle pains.

Sigh! This is just majestic! Dingalan’s mountain view has its own charm.

There was also a viewing area for the lighthouse. Going to the lighthouse was a separate trek which we skipped.

By the way, we hired a tour guide and the charge is Php 200/spot. Tour guides make the trip a lot easier. Plus, we also get have a personal photographer for free. This was our guide taking photos of two of my friends.

We had buko juice after our trek down.

We had a simple lunch at the town area.

Off we went to Tanawan falls! Another hiking but it was all fun because of the many chitchats with friends.

It was a small falls but we swam anyway.

There was a small view deck near the area also.

We also made a stop to get a photo of the Aurora Memorial National Park, part of the Sierra Madre mountain range.

We were ‘oohing and aahing’ over the sight of the mountains on our way to Dingalan. We were easily identified as tourists (and blown off my goal to blend in with the locals) because we ogled at the sights like silly first-timers!

We decided to go back to our accommodations after. It was a long day. We freshened up, had dinner and called it a day.

Day 3: The Arduous Journey to Minalungao.

We were off to Minalungao, Nueva Ecija for this day and would travel to Baler after. The route would be Dingalan -Cabanatuan- General Tinio-Minalungao-Cabanatuan-Dingalan. We estimated that it would take us 2 hours to reach Minalungao. In reality, it took us almost 5 hours. Dingalan to Cabanatuan took us 2 hours plus we went to a different terminal. When we arrived at the correct terminal, the jeepney won’t leave until it is full.

UNFAZED. My friends are seasoned travelers.

We had to transfer to a tricycle to reach Minalungao. It was almost 2 pm when we arrived at Minalungao. We immediately ordered lunch.

When we were all recharged with food, we went on a 1,000-step trek around the park. There was a hanging bridge we needed to cross for the trek. The acrophobic me walked ever so slowly.

It was a long trek. I could feel my sweat trickling down my face.

On top is a cross and, from there, we walked downhill.

It was a tricky slope that I gingerly moved one step at a time.

We saw the spring pool still for completion.

The guide said that the longest water slide in the world is also due to open soon.

The main attraction in Minalungao is really the Penaranda river with its limestone rock formation on each side.

There are rafts for rent if you want to explore the river. We did not have time for rafting and opted to just stroll along the sides.

We left Minalungao at 4pm. We learned from our guide that there were no longer jeepneys that would be traveling to Cabanatuan from General Tinio at that time so the tricycle driver brought us to the Fort Magsaysay community area where there was a jeepney for Cabanatuan. It took two hours to reach Cabanatuan and we asked to be dropped to the nearest fastfood joint for dinner. We saw Jollibee and just ate there. We took another jeepney for the terminal and boarded a van for Baler. We left at around 7:30 pm and arrived in Baler at around 11pm. What a day!

Day 4: Baler Tour!

I guess we were fully recharged because we were up and chirpy the next day.

We hired a tricycle to tour us around the spots in town.

First stop was Diguisit beach. There were rock formations there which reminded me of Nanya in Taiwan.

We dropped by a small falls. There is a mother falls somewhere. It required trekking which we opted out. We were ‘trekked out’.

We climbed up Ermita Hill.

The 2-kilometer coastline of Sabang beach can be seen from the view deck here.

Ermita hill was the place where people took refuge to survive the 1735 tsunami that hit Baler. Those who survived were commemorated with these sculptures.

We made a short stop at a hanging bridge.

The tricycle dropped us off in Dona Aurora’s house and we were on our own after that.

I like the layout of the house of Dona Aurora.

We visited the museum.

We strolled around the plaza.

We spent some time at the beach.

When the evening came, we decided to eat at a bistro near our inn. Good thing we went in early because the place was packed by the time we had our meal. It was a good meal to cap the night off. The best meal we had on this trip!

Day 5: The long bus ride to Manila.

We woke up early to attend mass.

We had breakfast and headed out for travel to Manila. We took a 10 am bus from Baler and we arrived Cubao by 5 PM. We were able to watch three movies.

We met up with some friends in Glorietta and we hung out with them until it was time for us for board for our plane ride home to Butuan.

It was a whirlwind traveling to one destination to another using public transportation and lugging our bags around. It can be a hassle but it is better to do these things now while we are still strong and relatively young. Every discomfort is well worth the trouble every time we reach a destination. The Philippines is such a beautiful place. I am proud to call it my home.

Photo Credits:  Bryan Edulzura, Barbara Japitana, Jenifer Deligero,  Katrina Centeno.  We copied all our pics to each of our phones every night.  I can no longer identify who took which picture.  I placed the watermark for consistency. 

10 Things I Remembered About my Friend, Erwin

“Our memories, they have to be passed down by those who knew us in life – in the stories they tell about us.”

-Hector from the movie, Coco.

I recently lost a friend and the loss deeply affected many of us who knew him. I should have written about him when he was still alive. He would have read what I thought of him. Honestly, I never realized the many roles Erwin played in my life until I browsed his profile on Facebook and clicked those three tiny dots that led me to that “see friendship” option. All the memories flooded in and I need to keep them alive somehow so let me share my memories of Erwin through the years in this blog post.

1. Erwin was a childhood friend. Although I am very close to Ernelyn, his wife, Erwin was my friend long before I became friends with Ernelyn. We were classmates in kindergarten and from Grade 4 to Grade 6.

2. Erwin was my partner in one beauty pageant. I do not remember what happened in the selection process but Erwin and I became the unlikely representatives of our section to a Mr. and Ms. Science contest. I would like to believe we were natural at strutting the runway for we ended up among the pairs to represent the grade level after an elimination process. Unbelievable! Ha! Palakpakan naman diyan na hindi kami na-eliminate! I do not have a picture as proof but just believe me that it really happened. (So now we know where Josh got his pageant genes from. Hehehe!)

3. Erwin was my ally in the morning class (buntagon) vs afternoon class (haponon) rivalry. In many get-togethers, my friends and I often talked about our school years since most of us came from the same grade school. Our batch was the only batch with two graduations- one for the morning class and one for the afternoon class. Erwin and I belonged to the morning class. Many of my friends who were often present in gatherings belonged to the afternoon class. Whenever I was outnumbered by them, I would call on Erwin to my side. (Absent man gud Wela pirmi bah. Hahaha)

4. Erwin was a fellow September baby. Mitzi, Erwin and I often took pictures together whenever one of us celebrated a birthday.

5. Erwin was my secret access to Ernelyn’s yummy leche flan. This was our interaction when I missed one of his birthdays.

6. Erwin was a cool travel buddy. I went with Erns and him to Lanuza. Twice. And on both occasions, I threw up 5 times along the way. I never heard him complain or even tease me for squatting down the curb each time looking like I was trying to empty my guts out. Poise be damned, I looked worse than those people who had way too much to drink yet I never heard him mention my sorry state as a joke. I would have if tables were turned. This goes to show that he was really a nice person.

7. Erwin was one of my go-to drivers. If I went to parties or watched movies late at night, I knew I would not have to worry how to get home whenever Erwin and Ernelyn were around. I did not even have to ask. Erwin and Erns would drive me home in a heartbeat.

8. Erwin was supposed to be a godfather to my imaginary future wedding. I think I have declared this several times that it already became annoying. He tried to take matters into his own hands. There was one time when one of our friend’s mother mentioned that they had one of their bachelor’s pads rented to a foreigner, he asked if the foreigner was single because he wanted to introduce him to me. Ha! He was a better wingman than Erns. (And the answer to the question? No, the foreigner was married.)

9. Erwin was a devoted husband. He was always quiet. He never complained. He never fought with Erns. (Oh well, nobody ever dared to fight Erns anyway. Hi, Erns!) He always let her win any argument. He was a smart, smart man. Happy wife, happy life! He always went with Erns in many of our gatherings. He did not even mind all the girl talk even if he was the only guy around.

10. Erwin was a loving father. He constantly reminded Erns what the kids wanted and needed. I remember that in several times that they drove me home, they would drop by a bakery or convenience store for the food that the kids wanted them to bring home .

Thank you, Erwin, for the friendship. You are sorely missed.

One Musical, Two Museums, Loads of Dimsum and Overflowing Inspiration

Metro Manila is not really a favorite destination of mine. There is so much traffic. It is so crowded. It really drains my energy. Navigating its streets is always a challenge. Nonetheless, there is no other way around it but to just face it. The place is unavoidable for someone like me who loves to travel. Metro Manila is a hub for a lot ot things I love. I just have to learn to survive and find a way to get the most of what it has to offer. And that was just what I did last March.

I knew that the musical “Ang Huling El Bimbo” was running in the Resorts World in March and I wanted to watch it. With the trip to Korea coming up, I worked on fixing my schedule to allow me time to watch the musical. “Ang Huling El Bimbo” is a musical featuring Eraserheads songs. The Eraserheads was the band of my generation so it was easy to convince three of my friends to watch “El Bimbo” with me. Incidentally, three of us went to the same university as the band members who rose to popularity while we were still gnawing our way in the dog-eat-dog world of college life. The scenes and some of the drama easily brought us back to our teenage years because the cast and their performances were awesome. I did not mind the possible neck strain of the partially distracted view of the stage because I bought the cheapest tickets. My view shifted every now and then from the stage to the large screen on the left where they projected the video. My friend got a good deal of ribbing from me for crying during some heartbreaking scenes. It was my way of fending off that tear that was trying to break free from my lacrimal glands. I really enjoyed the show. I look forward to watching more Filipino musicals!

I had a day to spare in Manila so I asked my friend, Shirly, to accompany me to visit the museums. Our first stop was the National Museum of Fine Arts. The museum was heaven for me since I love to paint. Immediately, when one entered the main gallery, Juan Luna’s Spoliarium stood with such jaw-dropping splendor. It covered almost the entire wall of the gallery. Incidentally, Eraserheads had a song of the same title and it was a soundtrack playing in my head while looking at the painting.

Spoliarium is so grand!

The museum had different galleries featuring different Filipino artists. Many of Juan Luna’s works were displayed. One notable painting is the Portait of a Lady. Esquire published a comprehensive history of the painting and it was a very interesting.

Another Juan Luna painting being displayed was The Parisian Life which was acquired by GSIS for around Php 45 million.

These were the other paintings/displays that caught my eye.

These sketches of Fernando Amorsolo gave a glimpse of the painting process of the national artist known for depicting rural scenes. One could see that there was a lot of planning being done to create a masterpiece.

It became easy for me to spot an Amorsolo painting.

A new favorite of mine is Vicente Manansala. I was drawn to his painting because it was a little modern, colorful and it was done in watercolor, my favorite medium.

This is another Manansala work.

I am not really intro abstract but I like this Jose Joya work. (Yung feeling na parang kaya ko naman ito gawin siguro pero hindi ko maexplain or mainterpret ang painting. hahaha)

And I am a fan of Araceli Dans’ lacework.

After immersing ourselves with all the artworks, off we went to the National Museum of Natural History. The museum was opened last year and it housed a lot of specimens of Philippine zoology, botany and geology.

There is a atrium in the middle which makes the space bright and airy.

The remains of Lolong, once dubbed as the worlds largest crocodile in captivity, can be found here. The bones are displayed suspended from the ceiling.

The ‘taxidermied’ crocodile can also be found in the one of the displays.

It was funny that I wanted to visit this museum but only to realize later that there was one particular animal that I was (and still am) afraid of and I knew that it would be displayed in one form of another (a photo, drawing, taxidermy or the real one inside a jar of formalin). Before we walked through an exhibit hall, I would ask my friend, Shirly, to see first if there was such a display. And indeed, in some halls, the display of such animal existed. Hah! I looked like this frightened woman in a horror house. I always took a peek first at the surrounding and spot the possible area that might had that kind of display. Yes, I could be crazy and paranoid with my phobia. All in all, it was a pleasant experience.

After all the walking around, we were done with the museum-hopping, we decided to go to binondo. I wanted my milk tea , dimsum and milk tea fix. Not counting the trip to the 168 mall years ago, this was my first time to walk around the streets of Manila’s Chinatown. My first order of business was to visit Eng Bee Tin.

This is Shirly and our Milk tea order. Hi, Shirl!

We dropped by this dimsum place. The place was small but teeming with waiting customers and they only sell this type of dimsum. I think the draw was that it was freshly made every time. Oh, I want this one product kind of business.

And off we went to Greenbelt to meet up with friends. Metro Manila is not that bad after all if you plan your day right.

And because I had a lot of art inspirations, I was pretty productive after the trip. I hope to paint more.

Push lang, Kat! 😉

Chasing Cherry Blossoms in South Korea

Annyeonghaseyo! My friend, Gail, and I initially planned to go to Japan for cherry blossom season. We have been waiting for good deals for airfares but we have not found something that fits my budget. Then, this photo appeared on my Facebook feed.

This got me thinking: How about Korea? The country has cherry blossoms. With this package tour, we did not have to worry a thing. Or, so we think! Ha! We have been DIY travelers. I have traveled with Gail to Coron, Bacolod, Iloilo, Siargao, Taal and Taiwan. We have relied on our research skills in planning for these trips. Oh, let me rephrase. I have relied on Gail’s research skills in planning for these trips. No travel agency, we booked our own plain tickets, hotels and what-nots. Not having the control can be daunting for us. It was reassuring for me that it was Globelink who took care of us. My cousin owns the travel agency and I know her well. It would be easy to just sit and relax and let them do their job. And yet, we still bombarded them with a thousand and one questions through texts, emails and messenger because we, as travelers, were built that way. We were giddy excited and just wanted know everything. Hahaha! Thank you, Globelink, for your patience.

This was also the first time for me to travel to a country that requires visa for Filipinos. Waiting for the visa application results was nerve-wracking. I couldn’t continue planning for the trip with that cloud over our heads- that they could deny me that visa. Thankfully, we were granted visas. We were really only after the cherry blossoms. The Philippines is too beautiful a country to leave behind for long.

Anyway, back to South Korea. We strategically chose travel dates when the cherry blossoms would possibly start to bloom. There weren’t much forecasts on Korea’s cherry blossoms so we just picked the first week of April.

We arrived at the Incheon airport in South Korea at 10:30 P.M. The airport was huge. We had to ride a train and walk thousands of steps just to get to immigration, get our bags and look for our guide. We had to wait for others in our tour group, too. There were 43 of us in the tour group.

Early April in Korea is cold. It was really cold. That blast of cold wind greeted me as we stepped out of the airport doors to wait for our bus. We actually did our research. Temperature forecast was around 14 to 18 degrees Celsius. I figured that would be “aircon” weather. I have been to Baguio earlier this year; the temperature dropped to single digits and I survived with layers of clothes. I figured I could handle early spring in Korea. Nah! If only I brought enough coats and jackets! I brought only 1 coat! Talk about traveling light! But I am a trooper so I just winged it and still had fun.

Our spirits were still up while waiting for our hotel room assignment. Gail’s mom and her mom’s friend also traveled with us.

The room was clean and the bed was comfy. We had a heated toilet with a bidet that worked with only a push of a button! No more tabo (dipper)!

We woke up to this view. We were near some port area near the Yellow Sea.

But not for long! We were off to Nami Island for sightseeing.

Nami Island is popular with Filipinos because it was the backdrop of ‘Winter Sonata’, a K-drama shown in the Philippines. I have only watched 4 K-dramas so far. Three of which I watched in the early 2000s and I hardly remember the scenes so everything is new to me.

We found cherry blossoms in Nami Island!

The advantage of having a package tour is that you do not have to worry about meals (except for 2 dinners and 1 lunch). There was buffet breakfast every day. And lunch was also arranged. These were our meals during the entire tour.

We made a quick stop at the Soyang River Skywalk.

We also visited the Sokcho Fish Market.

We made a quick photo session with the cherry blossoms lining the streets because we almost forgot them when we spent some time inside the market.

Oh we bought fresh strawberries and our guide gave us face masks so we used them that night at the hotel. We stayed in a new accommodation nearer to the Seorak mountain, where we were off the next day.

The Seorak mountain range was magnificent!!!

We did not find cherry blossoms there but there were pretty magnolias.

Look at all those tourist buses!

The guide, Mr Park, showed us where we should take pictures with the cherry blossoms. They lined along the highway going to the Seorak mountain.

And so we took a lot of photos.

This was a dream come true for me!

Next stop was Everland. Our guide called it the 2nd best theme park in the world. It was the Korean version of Disneyland. Because we had only a few hours to spare here we quickly searched for the Four Seasons garden after having lunch.

Look at all these tulips!

We also went to a safari ride where the bus went near tigers, lions and brown bears.

We rode the sky gondola ( I forgot what it was called) and the cable car.

And off we went to Seoul! I took of this cherry blossom while on the tour bus.

Our first stop on our 3rd day of the trip was the ginseng museum.

I did not know that it takes 6 years for ginseng to mature and, after harvesting, the land where it was planted on would not be used for 10 years because the ginseng already absorbed all the nutrients. Thus, the Korean ginseng they were showing us was very expensive – top of the line. It was supposed to prevent/cure many diseases. I already forgot what ginseng does. All I know is that it is good for the body. My thoughts were on the price- around 200 thousand pesos for the premium one. The cheapest was around 35 thousand pesos, I think. I still cannot afford. Ha!

As part of the tour, we were also toured to the red pine tree shop that sold some medicines and the cosmetics duty-free. The back of my hand was so smooth after trying Korean skincare! As much as I would love to have those products they were demonstrating to us, they were way beyond my budget. I only bought face masks at the cosmetic duty free. I think that if we had done the DIY route, we could have visited other tourists spots instead of these shops. I was not built for shopping but it was an interesting tour nevertheless.

We visited the National Folk Museum. We learned about their culture and traditions.

We saw some cute girls in hanbok.

We hung out at the Cheonggyecheon stream. We ate some Korean street food. We did not stay longer because it was sooo cold.

There was supposed to be a nearby monument of King Sejong, who invented the Korean characters but it was too cold to walk towards the monument so we went to the mall where there was ample heating. Ha!

Night time was free time. It was also the time we planned to meet our high school friends. Since we were staying in Myeongdong area and it was more than an hour before our agreed meetup with friends, we decided to visit the Myeongdong Cathedral first. It was beautiful.

We were able to catch the end part of a mass. It was in Korean though. It was still early so we decided that we roamed a little in Myeondong shopping area. Gail and I walked ahead while her mom and her mom’s followed behind. There were crowds and crowds of shoppers and when we glanced at them, we lost them. What supposed to be a leisurely stroll turned into a manhunt!!! Ha! We retraced our steps and we did not find them. We went back to the hotel and found our high school friends waiting for us. We told them about losing Gail’s mom and we got them involved in the search. Still, we did not find them. We just decided that we eat dinner and hoped that Gail’s mom and her mom’s friend would find their way back to the hotel.

We walked back to the hotel after dinner and Gail found her mom in her hotel room. I could hear myself sigh in relief.

This was a memorable night! Glad to see you, Popay and Clint! Thank you for enduring the search!

On our last day in South Korea, we went to the Namsan tower.

We can actually see the tower when we went to the rooftop of our hotel.

It was grand up close especially with the canopy of trees.

There is a wide open area on top where we could see the Seoul skyline.

We also went to Deoksugung Palace. Many Korean dramas were filmed here but my only concern was to have a photo with the cherry blossoms here.

And here, too. So pretty!!!

This was the grandest one I have seen in this trip.

We also went to the seaweed museum where we learned how to make gimbap.

Of course, I also got to wear the hanbok, a traditional Korean dress.

Last stop was outlet shopping. Since shopping was not in my list, we just hung out with our LINE friends. I actually use LINE to chat with some of my friends.

And just like that, the vacation ended. We said goodbye to our tour guide, Mr. Park. He could already go home to his family after spending the week touring us around.

Kamsahamnida, South Korea!

The compilation of the videos I took during the trip is now up on my YouTube channel.

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