Tokyo Spring Day 6

Day 6 of our weeklong stay in Tokyo was spent going around Tokyo Tower (although we didn’t go up), dropping by Odaiba, and then passing by Shibuya. The rest of the time was spent packing up and buying last-minute souvenirs since we would be flying home the following day. But anyway, here’s the day in pictures:

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Tokyo Spring Day 3

he third day of our weeklong trip didn’t feel like I thought spring was supposed to be. It was rainy and really windy. It wouldn’t stop us though from taking on Disneyland.

Getting lost in Tokyo Sky Tree almost did though, tbh. I just couldn’t find where the bus stop was. Eventually we did and on to Disneyland we went.

We stayed at the souvenir shop near the entrance while waiting for the bus. The trip would take us back to Tokyo Sky Tree, and dinner was at a Mosburger we saw down the road.

 

We saved time by buying entrance tickets online. You can buy about two months before your intended schedule. As for transportation, the buses going to and from Tokyo Sky Tree were really convenient and not crowded at all.

Day 4 would be another trip to the resort, this time at Disney Sea.

Hiking in Hong Kong: MacLehose Trail Stages 1 & 2

Apart from all the food and shopping, Hong Kong does have beaches, mountains and greens so for my trip last year, I thought I’d try hiking there for a change. This trip would also be the first time for me going to HK without seeing a concert^^;;

I allotted a day to hike a portion of the MacLehose Trail. It’s 100 km long and traverses various territories of Hong Kong, but it’s generally well marked and cut in stages (emphasis on “generally” intended). There are longer and more challenging stages, but this one I tried is manageable for a total amateur like me. The views are rewarding though.

About half an hour or so from Stage 1’s starting point is the High Island Reservoir East Dam. The road is paved and there are markers so the trail is easy to follow. The view is very easy on the eyes, too.

Further down the trail is the entrance to Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark. There are taxis parked nearby so if you feel like turning back after this stop, grab this chance. (I kind of beat myself mentally a few times down the trail for not doing so, but then I digress.)

Walking along, there will be several climbs but there are coves you’ll see on the way, too. In a couple of beaches, there were hikers who pitched tents. I didn’t have the luxury of time though so I had to keep moving.

There are a few beaches along the way, and six hours into the hike, I was already looking for the Chui Tung Au exit point. It was tricky figuring out where the exit to Sai Wan Pavilion is and I almost didn’t make it, but in any case, the pavilion is a small gazebo where minibus NR29 passes by a few times every hour to take you to the Sai Kung town center.

So, how to get to the starting point? Get to MTR Diamond Hill, and at exit C2, take bus 92 going to Sai Kung Town. The starting point is marked so you can alight there.

Here are some of my other tips (more like lessons learned ahaha):

  1. Start early. A large portion of the trail is not lit at all.
  2. Bring plenty of water and make sure your gadgets are fully charged. The only store I remember encountering was in Sai Wan, and that was after more than five hours of walking.
  3. Take advantage of the many rest points. In the rough trails, I just looked for a place flat enough to sit on.
  4. Breathe and enjoy the scenery.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask fellow hikers for directions. I needed to do so when I was trying to locate Sai Wan Pavilion.
  6. There are portions with no signal and there are no other hikers in sight. Just keep walking.

If you want to read more about the trail and other recommended hiking spots in HK, this is a good place to start.

 

Renewing Philippine Passports in the US

Hello there! It’s been a while since I last wrote.

I would like to resume on a public service note and share my experience in renewing my passport. For us Filipinos, getting appointments in the Philippines has been a nightmare, especially since starting January of this year, passport validity has been extended to ten years so there’s an unusual volume of applicants. I was one of those who waited for the ten year validity (but also because my passport expires later this year), but thankfully, I didn’t go through the ordeal of booking a slot.

Before it gets more confusing, let me clarify that I’m based on the West Coast and the nearest consulate to me is the one based in Los Angeles. In any other day, you have to personally show up at the consulate to have your picture and biometrics taken. The Philippine consulate though has a mobile outreach program you can take advantage of; you just have to watch their website for schedules and instructions. Their mobile outreach program is held on weekends so it’s really convenient.

What are the services available in their mobile outreach program? You can have your passport renewed, sign up for overseas voting, have documents notarized (red ribbon) and they swear in dual citizens. Slots are limited so what they do is they have a pre-screening before they give an applicant a slot. They publish the list of names on their website a good week or two before the schedule.

I grabbed the opportunity to go to the mobile outreach program and to do so, I had to make sure I follow the instructions. Here’s what I did:
1. Read the requirements posted on their website. Since I want my passport renewed, I needed to fill out the passport renewal application form and photocopy the bio page of my passport.
2. Sent an email requesting a slot. I received a reply the next business day acknowledging my email. I also received another email shortly confirming that they have allotted me a slot.
3. On the day of my appointment, I brought my about-to-expire passport, filled out renewal form, photocopy of my bio page (you can never have enough copies!), my own self-addressed envelope and 65 usd for the processing fee. They sell stamps on site so if you don’t have enough postage, just buy from them. There’s no need to bring a photo, but make sure to dress properly and quite needless to say, look such that you wouldn’t regret your would-be passport photo for the next ten years^^;;

The processing was on schedule. I was already being attended to at the time allotted to me. I also signed up for overseas voting so that I can have the ballot mailed to me when it’s time for the next Philippine elections.
There were walk-ins on the day I went but what the staff did was tentatively schedule them on the 4 pm window, so it really pays to secure an appointment slot in advance.

The processing of my passport including the waiting time took just about 15 minutes and the staff were really nice. My old and renewed passports will be mailed to me, and usually it takes two months.

I’m not sure if the process is the same for other embassies or consulates, but do check out the consulate nearest you. Hope this helped!

 

The Rocks, The Sea and the Sun in Sisiman

Energized by my venture into Albay, I was pumped into looking for my next destination. ¬†After scouring the net, this beach in Sisiman, Bataan kept calling to me. ¬†And as we say here in the Philippines, I’m very agreeable so I¬†packed my bag and spent a weekend there.

Sisiman’s beach is rocky and ¬†even has hardened lava in some sections.¬†Although sandwiched¬†by two factories, the beachfront itself is a beauty and the local community surrounding it is charming in its own way. ¬†Fishing and making dried fish appear to be the main livelihood. ¬†Videoke is very much alive as early as 7 am too! Hahaha ūüėÄ

Until now, pitching tents there is free, and the local community also rent cottages for a minimal fee.  Toilet and bathroom are communal, and they charge per pail.

The best time to go here is either by sunrise or sunset; it looks like it gets pretty crowded later on in the day. ¬†In fact, groups of people started arriving by 7:30 am. ¬†Not by the busload, but it’s getting challenging to take decent landscape photos.

How to get there?

  1. Take the bus going to Mariveles
  2. Alight at Baseco
  3. Take a tricycle–tell the driver to drop you off at Sisiman Beach.

Here’s the cost breakdown:

Cubao РMariveles RT:  PhP560

Tricycle fare:  PhP13 (Special:  PhP50)

There’s no entrance fee to Sisiman beach

A Day in Albay

No ATV rides, no sili ice cream, but it was still quite an experience.

I swore that this year, I’ll explore Philippines more, so¬†one seat sale or so ago, I looked for a place to go to and decided on Albay. ¬†I¬†want to see Mt. Mayon up close! ¬†But after this trip, I¬†found gems, both in places and people. ¬†So enough with the narratives and on to the pictures!

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View from Legazpi Airport’s runway

Even if you end up sitting at the wrong side of the plane,¬†you’ll still get a nice view of Mayon after the plane lands. ¬†One of the best runway views I’ve seen so far ūüôā

Lignon Hill is just behind Legazpi Airport, so I hopped on to a tricycle right away. ¬†Manong was very helpful; he was actually teaching me where to go, how to go around and he practically got that¬†I prefer experiencing the place like how locals do. ¬†He assured me that I, with no exercise at all and practically sits all day in the office, can¬†reach Lignon Hill’s peak. ¬†He said he even jogs there in mornings. ¬†Okay then, I thought, I’m ready!

The road was paved, yes; you won’t get lost, yes; but it was steep. ¬†Not exaggerating here, but I was tempted to crawl up at some parts of the trek haha^^ I was that out of shape. ¬†Thankfully though, I was able to reach the peak and was rewarded with these views:

A lot of people were exercising there too and there was someone selling coconuts.

Lignon Hill has a minimal entrance fee after 9 am but it’s free in the mornings (and personally, considering how hot it can get later on in the day, mornings are the best time to go there).

After Lignon Hill, my next stop was Cagsawa Ruins. ¬†Two jeepney rides away from¬†the foot of Lignon Hill, Cagsawa is hard to miss since there’s a sign pointing to the park. ¬†About half a kilometer’s walk and you’re already by the entrance. ¬†They charge a fee of 20 pesos and you’re free to stay there as long as you like.

There are plenty of souvenir shops and some restaurants inside, and I don’t really like to say this, but it’s a little too touristy for me. ¬†There are plenty of locals too offering to take pictures for visitors for a fee. ¬†What I appreciate about them is they just ask you once and then if you say no, they leave you alone. ¬†Here are shots of the bell tower, the church hall’s remnants and a rice field:

After about an hour, I headed back to Legazpi City to¬†check out Starbucks in Ayala Mall Legazpi. ¬†I chose the seat with the best view of Mayon, but I wasn’t satisfied because a column was blocking the view. ¬†So no picture from there. ¬†After recharging, I headed to Embarcadero de Legazpi,¬†but¬†upon reaching the mall,¬†I¬†realized it’s not worth killing time here for the rest of the afternoon, so I¬†did a quick research and stumbled upon Quitinday Hills. ¬†And I’m glad I chose to go to this place.

From Embarcadero, jeepneys going to Camalig pass by. ¬†So I got on one, and the jeepney driver¬†guided me and had me alight at Sentro, where the tricycles are. ¬†The roundtrip fare costs PhP350 – 500 pesos, and the tricycle drivers will allow probably just 2 or even at most 3 per ride. ¬†It takes about half an hour before you reach the drop-off point. ¬†That half-hour though is through a grueling rough road, so as a tip, don’t eat too much before heading off to Quitinday, and make sure you don’t have stomach problems.

Quitinday is a relatively new attraction which boasts of two viewing points where you can see Mayon (and the rest of the hill formations as well). ¬†According to one of the locals, Quitinday is better than Chocolate Hills because you actually get to climb its hills, while with Chocolate Hills, you just get to see it from a viewing deck. ¬†From my trip, Quitinday is definitely my favorite stop. ¬†Why, you ask? ¬†Here’s why:

I wish I had time to check out Quitinday falls and Hoyop-hoyopan cave which was on the way, but I had to go back to Embarcadero to view the sunset and I had to be within Legazpi City so I won’t miss my flight back home. Still no luck seeing Mayon, and the sunset was on the other side of the port, but I still enjoyed the scenery.

After I had my fill of shots from the port, I had dinner at a local coffee shop then headed to the airport.

So, the itinerary:

6:00 am – land at Legazpi Airport

6:15 – 8:00 am – Lignon Hill

8:00 – 9:30 am Cagsawa Ruins

10 am – 12:00 nn Legazpi City center

1:00 – 4:00 pm Quitinday Hills

5:00 – 6:00 pm Embarcadero de Legazpi

6:00 – 7 pm Dinner at Artisan’s Specialty Coffee

7 pm – Head back to Legazpi Airport

 

Breakdown of expenses:

PhP 3400 : Roundtrip ticket (MNL – Legazpi)

PhP 40 : Entrance fees (20 pesos each for Cagsawa park and Quitinday)

PhP 500 transportation

 

 

Viewing the Majestic Mt. Fuji

Being Japan’s icon and rightfully so,¬†seeing Mt. Fuji is definitely a must for me. ¬†There are so many ways and so many places to enjoy the view, but for my trip, I chose to see Mt. Fuji from three vantage points¬†in two days from the Fuji Five Lakes region. ¬†I tried viewing Mt. Fuji from the Chureito Pagoda, Mt. Shakushi and Lake Kawaguchiko. ¬†So yeah, these are the more nature-leaning sightseeing spots for Mt. Fuji.

I’ve read that Mt. Fuji’s visibility is somewhat unpredictable, so choosing the date to see Mt. Fuji (which I set practically four months in advance) was a gamble for me. ¬†But as you’ll see, it did pay off ūüôā

Access to Fuji Five Lakes Region Coming from Tokyo

Let me start though by sharing how to get to the Fuji Five Lakes region. ¬†If you’re coming from Tokyo, the cheapest and fastest way to get to Fuji Five Lakes is via bus from the Shinjuku Bus Terminal. ¬†The trip roughly takes 2 hours and it costs JPY 1750 up to Kawaguchiko. ¬†You may purchase in advance and just approach the counter so you can get your ticket and have your seat assignment, or just purchase upfront. This is a hard lesson learned for me: to make the most of¬†your trip, check the timetable and be at the bus terminal at least half an hour early so you can purchase your ticket.

Shimoyoshida

I was originally going to alight at Kawaguchiko Station, but the bus would stop at Shimoyoshida first, where Chureito Pagoda is, so alight at Shimoyoshida station I did. ¬†And then I wish I didn’t, because I felt I was in the middle of nowhere. ¬†Don’t get me wrong; the town was quiet and lovely, but save from a couple other passengers–a lady and a man–who got off, there was no one else around because the town was covered in snow. ¬†And there were no signage near the bus stop that tells you how far Chureito Pagoda is, or which direction you need to head. ¬†So I mustered up my courage and asked one of the other passengers. ¬†She started telling me that I had to walk, and when I asked how far, she was hesitating. ¬†That got me nervous, for sure, until the other passenger spoke up and told me that he’ll show me the way. ¬†So we kept walking for at least 10 minutes until he spoke up and pointed at the mountain on the other side of the road. ¬†And boy, he did point way up to the mountain’s summit. ¬†For the second time that day, first being the moment I got off the bus, I thought of giving up. ¬†But I didn’t want to waste the gentleman’s kindness so I kept on. ¬†He pointed¬†the way to the train station, i.e., my save point, and then he gave me instructions on how to get to the shrine entrance. ¬†I walked on, but didn’t find the way, so I retraced my steps. ¬†I came across another couple and this time, they took me right at the steps to¬†Arakura Shengen shrine (where Chureito Pagoda is). ¬†So here it is, in pictures:

For a second, I wanted to cry after my phone shut down. ¬†I haven’t texted my host yet to pick me up, and it was about to get dark in the next 10 minutes or so. ¬†But I steeled myself and focused on getting to the train station. ¬†Thankfully, I was able to charge my phone when I got to Shimoyoshida station, texted my host, and then waited at Fujisan station. ¬†I then spent the night at Peace & One resort which I wrote about here.

Mt. Shakushi

Mt. Shakushi’s summit is one of the underrated viewing spots for Mt. Fuji, but when you conquer the two-hour hike, it’s said to be worth it. ¬†Note that I wrote “said to be” because it was too cold for me and I didn’t have enough time. But the trail is beautiful, too:

 

Lake Kawaguchiko

Following my¬†failed quests to reach Chureito Pagoda and¬†Mt. Shakushi’s summit, I had to ask my host several times if Lake Kawaguchiko is at sea level or not. ¬†The lake is¬†one of the most scenic spots to view Mt. Fuji and this spot is the most accessible of the three, and is actually within the busy town. ¬†The lake is just a 5 – 10 minute walk from Kawaguchiko bus station and there are plenty of signs to guide the way. ¬†I was running on a tight schedule so I just managed to take a few shots of Lake Kawaguchiko:

This time, Mt. Fuji wasn’t completely visible at all (or maybe I was just looking at the wrong direction^^;;) In any case, it was still worth checking out Lake Kawaguchiko, mostly because I’d lose sleep for days in regret if I didn’t! Haha!

Two days, three spots, priceless encounters with places and people.

Japan Tourist Visa Tips for Philippine Passport Holders

Have you been wanting to go to Japan, but are intimidated by the visa application?  Read on then as I share with you tips on how to improve your chances of getting a tourist visa!

Before I continue though, let me just remind you that

  1. I’m not guaranteeing 100% approval.  That’s really up to the embassy to decide!
  2. I’ll be talking about how I prepared and what I think helped me bag a multiple entry visa, and most importantly:
  3. Check what’s stated in the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines’ website.  I did, and still do from time to time.

So, let’s continue!  Japan started granting multiple-entry tourist visas for Philippine passport holders residing in the Philippines only in 2013 but they have further relaxed the requirements as of September 30, 2014.  That makes Japan even more accessible for us, and we can be granted a visa valid for up to 5 years with a maximum stay of up to 30 days.  Sweet, huh?  ūüėÄ

Now, on to the tips:

  1. Whether you’re aiming for a single entry or a multiple entry visa, you need to have a valid passport first.  This may be common sense but I can’t stress enough how important it is.  And, renew your passport six months before it expires!
  2. This is just my personal preference, but my preparation took years.  I didn’t aim for Japan right away; I traveled to other countries first and went to South Korea before attempting my first Japan visa application.  This is to build a good travel record and prove that I’m really just visiting for recreation and not for any other business.
  3. Know the type of visa you intend to apply for.  Check here what best suits you.  What I did was apply for a single entry visa last year and this year, multiple entry.
  4. Gather the documents.
    • Make sure you completely and correctly fill out the visa application form.  Read the instructions carefully!  It doesn’t hurt being neat, either; avoid erasures and corrections as much as possible.  The form is actually editable, so use it to your advantage.
    • For photos, it’s best go to photo studios and tell them you want your picture taken for Japan visa application, and they’ll know what to do.
    • If you’re a first-time applicant, you will most likely need NSO documents such as a copy of your birth certificate and/ or marriage certificate.  If you’re dreading long lines and stress-inducing waiting times, fear no more because you can now order said documents online and be delivered to your doorstep in three working days, for your convenience!
    • In getting your bank certificate, it’s best to do so days before you submit your visa application.  In this case, I believe the more current your document is, the better.  As to how much money you should have in the bank, the Embassy hasn’t really specified; but when I applied for a five-day stay in Osaka last year, I had ~PhP50k and more than ~PhP100k when I applied for my Tokyo trip (also for a 5-day stay).  The rule of thumb is they want proof that you’ll have enough money to cover your expenses for your trip.
    • The daily itinerary need not be too detailed, but it has to show that you do have a pretty concrete plan of what you’re gonna do during your stay.
    • Other documents that are not required but will boost your application are transportation and accommodation bookings (if not staying with a friend or relative).  As much as possible, choose plans that have a flexible cancellation policy.  For first-time applicants who are employed, a certificate of employment (COE) is not required, but it’s a good supporting document nonetheless.
    • In general, remember that the documents should be within the prescribed validity and format, and your documents should be neat.
  5. Submit your requirements.
    • Except for a few cases, visa applications should be submitted through travel agencies accredited by the Japanese Embassy.  This option is actually easier, hassle-free, and they will review your documents before accepting the application.
    • Remember that not all travel agencies process all types of visa application, so read and confirm with the agency/ies of your choice.
    • Visa application itself is free, but the travel agencies charge processing fees.
    • When is the best time to submit?  Personally, for tourist visa application with no guarantor, 6 – 8 weeks before travel is enough.  If you think this is too close to call, I’d say the advantage of applying close to your intended travel dates is that your documents are more up-to-date.  You might want to check with your travel agency of choice as well.
  6. Wait and hope for the best!  Processing time is officially around 7 – 10 working days, but you can get yours in as early as 2 – 3, which I did in my two applications.  If you have a guarantor, expect the processing time to be longer since there will be more papers to verify.  Your travel agency will inform you when your passport is available for pickup.

 

Feeling more confident now?  Great! Now plan, prepare and go for it!

Kimono Ken, a Review

It’s been a gruelling but rewarding week so I thought of treating myself to some of my good old favorites from Kimono Ken.

Kimono Ken is a chain of Japanese fusion restaurants that’s been around for about a decade. ¬†It may be homegrown here in the Philippines but they certainly deliver. ¬†(Restaurants in Little Tokyo are on another level, though.)

It’s a little heavy on the pocket, but the price is comparable to how food costs in Japan. ¬†Taste-wise, the flavors are definitely there. ¬†So for today’s snapshot of their offerings:

Service is efficient and the staff are¬†cordial. ¬†I don’t eat out as much as I used to anymore, but Kimono Ken will stay as one of my favorite go-to restaurants if I want a treat. ¬†If you like Japanese food and haven’t gone to any of their branches, do give it a try!

Windows

Hi there!

I haven’t been able to post as often as I want to these past few weeks because my laptop kept acting up. ¬†Stubborn me refused to go to the repair shop though I was already starting to warm up to the idea that I needed to format my hard disk soon.

Still, I tinkered as far as I can, so every other day or so I’d run chkdsk c:/r. ¬†Then just this weekend, a techie friend of mine made the switch to Windows 10, so I thought I’d give in to Microsoft’s pesky free upgrade reminder and get it over with. ¬†So now¬†my laptop’s into its third day of running under Windows 10.

After writing down the pictures’ captions, I realized that¬†Windows 10 almost has a feel of Android OS sometimes. ¬†At first, I had apprehensions too at how Windows 10 might be, but my laptop’s been actually performing faster than when I was still using Windows 7. ¬†More importantly,¬†the upgrade seemed to have fixed my laptop somehow.

Stuff I don’t like as much–the audio is a little lower in volume now, and continually pressing F8 doesn’t get you to the boot screen/ repair menu anymore. ¬†I also can’t access some sites in https when I’m using Firefox.

Despite these minor inconveniences though, I’d say it was worth upgrading to Windows 10. ¬† Now let’s hope I don’t jinx it!


And since we’re on the topic of windows, let’s switch gears and talk about windows (Á™ď). When designed right,¬†windows can become a spectacular view in themselves. ¬†I want to share with you some shots of windows which I find interesting:

 

So there. ¬†I hope you found the Windows 10 review helpful and that you enjoyed the mini-windows gallery. ¬†„Āĺ„Āü„Ā≠ÔľĀ