Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Six Days in South Korea: Barely Made it to Spring

It was May in Year 2010 and Spring was almost fading in the scene. We barely made it to  the cherry-blossom season and actually had our share of the first strike of monsoon season in South Korea on our last two days.  I couldn't help but keep on rummaging my external drive to view our photos - those were surreal, so beautiful and seems everything so perfect!

And the best way to keep those memories alive are through this post. Here I am sharing how we spent our six full days in South Korea.

My Itinerary:
  • Day 1 : Arrived Seoul 11:30 PM and just had our midnight snack of streetfoods along Hongdae area.
  • Day 2: We tried to catch the Cherry Blossoms in Yeouido but flowers were no longer in bloom. Kimchi is more than a side dish... it has more interesting stories and a lot of varieties - that's what we learned from its tailored-fit museum housed inside COEX mall.  After lunch, we then spent our magical afternoon and night at Everland Resort. 
At the entrance of Kimchi Field Museum located inside COEX Mall
Holland Park in Everland Resort

  • Day 3:  Not able to catch the shuttle bus to Nami, we changed our itinerary right away and spent the rest of the day in Gyeongbokgung Palace and Myeongdong area.  That was a good chance to let go of our addiction to shop and hoard lots and lots of Skin Food products. Towards late afternoon, we took the full view of the beauty of Seoul from the top of N. Tower and Namsam Park.
Gyeongbokgung Palace with some Aussie tourists
N. Seoul Tower

  • Day 4: We explored the other provinces outside Seoul and spent the whole day biking and strolling in Namiseon Island.   Then, made it to the night shopping at Dongdaemun.
Nami Island

  • Day 5: We went back to Incheon and took the ferry to Si-do Island for the setting ground of the Korean drama "Full House" .  We then transferred to Bukchon Village and experienced Hanok-stay.
Full House location
  • Day 6: With our flight back to Manila scheduled at night, we spent our last day in Seoul shopping at Nandaemun Market.
My Helpful Tools:

I planned out our itinerary with some research from different websites.
From the official Korea Tourism Organization to a lot of travel blogs (personal and official). The travel guide book, "Seoul 100" from a colleague was very helpful. 

I made my own DIY Seoul 101

My Take-Aways:

My trip to South Korea marked the many firsts in my travel chronicles.

1. My first travel with tourist visa
    - my first stamp for more travels (hopefully Europe in 2014)
2. My first Spring experience
    - how I love Spring that I had to feel it again in Beijing
3. My first South Korea taste of authentic Kimchi and other cuisine 
     - just to personally experience how my eyes feast on the food in K-dramas (Though it was not appealing to me in real life)
4. My first travel abroad with Anna, Joan and Vivian
    - that made them officially my travel buddies. Been together for so many travels in the Philippines and abroad.
5. Finally, making it to see the K-drama locations
    - like Korean cuisine, it's more of personally being in the place!

South Korea left a spot in my heart that I wanted to go back again.  It is named as the Europe of Asia, where East meets West, existence of nature-themed parks and beautiful flowers and scenery that only a cold weather can provide.  

I had encountered difficulties in conversing with locals but with a few hand gestures and pictures, was able to pull it through. It only shows that people around the world can still communicate, even not in words but with a few genuine smiles and friendly gestures.

On March 2013, I will be living my dream for a solo travel in two weeks and I choose South Korea again, my gateway to Europe Experience.

Bonus Link: Here's my post on how to apply for tourist visa to the Embassy of South Korea in the Philippines.

Travel Dates: May 19-24, 2010
Joiners: Anna , Joan, Vian, Lea and Ai
IT Planner: Claire

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

My Four Days in Davao City and Samal Island

I decided to join my travel buddies only weeks before the actual trip because of my prior commitments. Fortunately, AirAsia and TigerAirways/SeaAir offered promo airfare.   Coincidentally, our scheduled trip falls on Davao's 29th Kadayawan Festival! What a chance to witness the King of Festivals in the Philippines.

The last minute changes in our plans - accommodations, van rental arrangements and even itinerary - are worth them all!

the welcome banner at the Domestic Arrival Area of Davao International Airport
the Kadayawan photo booth for tourists arriving at the Airport
Check out each day's itinerary in the next few days for a more detailed blog. 
  • Day 1 : Davao Pearl Farm Resort
    • The first batch (Anna, Joan & Vivian) arrived Davao City at 6:00AM from NAIA 3 while I & Jesi arrived at 12NN from Clark International Airport.  Third batch (Lea & Emily) arrived 11PM from NAIA 4 on a delayed flight and not able to join us in Pearl Farm Resort.
Pearl Farm Resort Davao
Photo credits: Jesi Tuyay

  • Day 2 : Samal Island 
    • We explored the other side of  Island Garden City of Samal. It marked another firsts in my travel adventures! I conquered the giant waterslide that dropped me into the sea.
Welcome banner at Samal Island dock 

Samal Island Map
Taken from:

  • Day 3: Davao City Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan
    • We braved the sun and witnessed the Indak-Indak (or the street dance competition) as part of the Kadayawan Festival in the morning and explored the other tourist destinations of the city in the afternoon.  We visited the Crocodile Park and Japanese Tunnel. We also tried the famous Bulca Chong, the restaurant that serves carabao meat in various cuisine (bulalo, fried and buttered).
Kadayawan Festival
Photo credits: Jesi Tuyay
Davao Gulf Map
Photo taken from :

  • Day 4: Floral Parade and outside of Davao City
    • We watched the Floral Parade and had fun screaming at local celebrities like Coco Martine, John Lloyd Cruz and Jake Cuenca who joined the parade.
    • We then spent the afternoon in Malagos Garden Resort, Philippine Eagle Sanctuary and Eden Nature Resort.  We spent our last night in Davao with seafoods dinner along the sea at Liza Times Restaurant.
It was my first time in Davao and Samal Island and enjoyed a lot of the new things that I tried.  It was different as I took everything as my firsts, thus, with so much surprise and anticipation.  I acted as the "trying-hard" translator/interpreter for my travel buddies struggling with my little Bisaya words and more of Ilonggo words as I conversed with the locals. 

With my recent trip, it ignited me to go back to my Social Studies and History subjects back in High School with the facts that I learned from the trip:
  • Davao Pearl Farm Resort is not part of Davao City but of Garden Island City of Samal
  • How the Japanese Tunnel was accidentally discovered by a local engineer and how Marcos got the Golden Buddha and gold bars.
  • Pangil, the largest Crocodile before Lolong
  • Local words in Davao with similarities in Ilonggo
  • How disciplined people of Davao is, especially about the "No Smoking" ordinance.
  • Kadayawan Festival being the king of all festivals
  • Davao City being the second largest city in the Philippines
  • And more!
Kudos to Davao City Tourism also for providing free Davao City Tourist Map at the Arrival Area of Davao International Airport.  It was a great help to the local and foreign tourists who can tour around Davao City and nearby towns at ease. From my list of domestic travels, I vow at DIA as the best in my list, next to Cebu then Bacolod.
Davao City Tourist Map
Photo taken from :
With the different adventures (nature, extreme and gastronomic) in Davao and Samal, it was another travel experience that I can look back in my life.  

Travel Dates:  August 16-20, 2012
Joiners: Anna Bano, Joanna Guanlao, Vivian Siccuan, Jesi Tuyay, Lea Javier and Emily Sembrana
IT Planners : Pearl Farm Resort (Claire), Accommodation & Itineraries (Joan), Van Rentals (Anna)
Credits: Some photos from Jesi Tuyay and Emily Sembrana

Friday, August 10, 2012

Day 3 in Kota Kinabalu: Exploring Sabah

On our 3rd day in Kota Kinabalu, we got a tour guide arranged by a Pinay receptionist of City Lodge for a total fee of MYR 380 (MYR95 each for the four of us).  He drove us to other towns of Sabah.  It was slighty drizzling when we left Kota Kinabalu, thus, the existence of  fog along the road.
along the road to Kinabalu View Deck

we drove up hill and how beautiful looking down at the tip of the mountains with fog like floating smoke 

foggy areas, imagine the chill!
We were picked up at 7:00 AM and our first stop was Mt. Kinabalu View Deck.  Longing to see more of Sabah, we were all awake and took the travel time enjoying the green-patched scenery of trees and plants that were looked familiar to me. We drove up-hill most of the time, thus, looking at the mountains like we were on top of them.  The fog seemed like smoke coming out of the tip of the mountains for their morning greeting to Ms. Sunshine.

Kinabalu View Deck
After one hour, the van stopped at Mt. Kinabalu View Deck.  When we opened the door, freezing cold wind welcomed us and we were a bit unprepared with clothes most fit for Poring Hot Spring.  We just took some pictures and of course, our jump shots.  Stayed for a half hour only, we were chilling already when we got back to the van.
Prep for a jump shot! And I did it my way =)
From the View Deck, our tour guide drove at the other side of the street to the nearby souvenir market for a quick stop supposedly for breakfast and shopping, of course. But we were not hungry yet nor interested to shop so we just roamed around the place quickly and there did we find the viewing tower.  Out of courtesy, we bought a few key chains from the old lady, only to feel regret at the end of our trip that we did not buy much! It was much cheaper than those in KK City.

Souvenir market near Kinabalu View Park

our souvenirs, artsy key chain
Then we took off again and had a short stop at the Falls View.  The un-melted fog was too much to handle.  It was freezing cold with my tube dress and scarf so we only stayed for a quick photo-op.
the cigarette-like falls from the deck
By around eleven in the morning, we reached the Kinabalu Park.Kinabalu Park is Malaysia’s first World Heritage Site and I'm sure always in the bucket list of mountaineers to climb.  Since we had so much to see and visit on that day, we waived going through the summit trail as it requires at least half day to reach the first stop.  
The Summit Trail of Mt. Kinabalu
Walkway to the entrance of Kinabalu Park

Records of those who conquered Mt. Kinabalu
Instead, we just stayed for a while and waited for some squirrels to come out.  It was awesome but a bit scary feeding them.  With nothing more to do, we took some photos around the park and enjoyed the scenery a bit.
one of the attractions in the park, feeding the friendly and sometimes shy squirrels
We then went to the nearby Chinese restaurant known as Kundasang Fairy Garden Restaurant for lunch which we later learned was the usual stop-over of our tour guide.   We were too hungry and ordered much to our delight! We were always big eaters during travels. =)
map of poring hot springs
With a filled stomach, we drove again going to Poring Hot Spring.  The scenery along the road was relaxing with Sabah green tea plants covering most of the fields. I saw a lot of KK and Malaysia flags even in the small houses along the road.  I did not realize Malaysians are so nationalistic to have their flags hanging anywhere in Sabah.

the common slogan in every tourist spot
"take nothing but photographs
leave nothing but footprints"

Stones colored white because of sulphur
There was so much to do in Poring Hot Spring!  We decided to start with the Canopy Walkway then later a relaxing dip in the hot spring. Our tour guide showed us the entrance and agreed on the time that we were going to leave Poring.
going to canopy walkway, you'll pass by the hot spring area

hot spring area

the so-called enclosed bath tub
Heading towards the Canopy Walkway, we passed by the slide pool, hot spring area and the enclosed bath tub.  There were cottages for rent as well for overnight stay and located near the rock pool and hot spring area.  We passed by the Butterfly Garden but waived that too.  We had so much in our tours in the Philippines to see the same place again in Sabah.  After a few minutes, we reached the entrance of Canopy Walkway.  We paid MYR5 for the entrance and MYR5 for each camera fee. (Don’t understand though why we should pay for the camera.)
ticket to canopy walk + camera fee for bringing cam in taking pictures =)
Anyways, it was not hard to follow the trail to the Canopy Walkway.  The directions are vivid and easy to follow, no need for a tour guide.  I felt like closer to nature as we trailed the steps to the walkway. 
the easy to follow directions
 There were so many creatures to see and views to appreciate.
wild flower inside the rainforest

view above
After a 550M+ hike, we reached the Treetop for our first canopy walk!  The first walkway is short (perhaps 10 meters) and was quite wet due to dew drops from the trees.  We reached Platform 1 and proceed to another which was quite long and a little bit scary.  We had to stop for a while for the first group of people to cross the walkway. 
The treetop is one option for the first canopy walk

it's like a  maze at the top of the trees
At every stop, we paused and looked around us.  The beauty of nature is beyond compare!
the view from the top

All smiles though it's a bit scary
When we completed the canopy walk, we went back for our next stop – Hot Spring.
But by the time we reached the entrance, it was raining hard and we had to wait until the weather got better.  It was a long wait and when we arrived at the hot spring area, it was too crowded already. So we just had a quick dip of our tired feet from the trail and then took off.

Our tour guide offered to drive us all the way to Jambatan Tamparuli, the old suspension bridge in Sabah.  I forgot the name of the place but this is the way going to the Kiulu White Water Rafting.  Along the way, we stop over at an overlooking restaurant for a restroom break. 
one of the tourist stopovers with the afternoon fog
After more than an hour drive, our tour guide woke us up! We were too tired from the trail and it was like a long trip. The humid and sunny weather added to our sleepiness.  He told us to cross the suspension bridge  and picked us up at the other side.  He said he had to get some coffee to keep him awake.  How I wish I can join him, I was too sleepy too.
suspension bridge
We enjoyed crossing the suspension bridge! It felt like we were in one of the provinces in the Philippines.
at the top of the bridge; feels like I'm in Pangasinan going to Manaoag Church
the signage at the other side of the bridge 
After almost an hour, our tour guide picked us up and drove back to Kota Kinabalu.  It was raining again and was inviting for a nap.  At one time, our tour guide was waking us up to look outside but we were too sleepy and tired to open our eyes.  When we were getting nearer the city and it was only past 5PM, he offered to drop us off at OneBorneo, one of the major malls in KK.  From OneBorneo, there is a scheduled shuttle bus going back to Warisan Square.  You just need to register in their log sheet for the scheduled trip at least 30 mins before the scheduled trip and you’ll be issued with ticket.

With only one hour to shop, we did it so quickly that I managed to buy a handful of The Faceshop products and Vincci Shoes.  It was on sale and I bought a lot of nail polish! By 7:30PM, we took the shuttle bus to Warisan Square. 
We were too hungry that we were too excited that we just crossed the street and NOT through the pedestrian lane

our remnants at Port View Seafood Village
It was in our itinerary to have our dinner at The Port View Seafood Village and watch the cultural dance scheduled at 8PM and 9PM.  The food was superb so with the performance!
After dinner and too tired for a much-filled itinerary for the day, we hailed a taxi in going back to our lodge.
With the influence of Malay tradition and culture, we ended the day (or night) with the performers of cultural dance

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Day 2 in Kota Kinabalu: Sun, Sea and Sand

Map taken from
After our parasailing adventure, we went back to Jesselton Ferry Point for our boat trip to the three islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park.  There are many operators at Jesselton that arranged for island hopping in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park but we had it pre-arranged with our kababayan, Kuya Ismail. 

Among the five islands of TAR Marine Park, we chose Sapi, Manukan and Mamutik only. Prior to the trip, you need to arrange the schedule of transfers from one island to another. Any changes during the duration of the trip needs to be communicated to Jesselton Ferry Point Terminal which is quite a hassle for any fickle-minded souls.

For the three island boat transfers, we paid MYR33 + MYR 7.20 Tax and Conservation Fee of MYR10.

With approximately 20-minute boat ride from Jesselton Ferry Point Terminal, we took our first stop at Sapi Island (Pulau Sapi).

 The clear waters and the cloudy sky welcomed us at Pulau Sapi. The weather was getting good and the sun was coming out. We're a bit excited but when we were approaching, the island is a bit small for so many activities that we planned to do at Sapi.
approaching Pulau Sapi dock
We explored the island right away and indeed the water is so clear that you can see the fishes below.  The island offers water activities like snorkeling and diving and there were cottages, cafe and offered BBQ lunch package. 
We opted to take our brunch at the open cafe  first. It was nearly ten and we scheduled our transfer to Manukan Island at 1pm.
After our brunch, we took a dip with the rest of the tourists who were swamped in the small shoreline. It was too crowded to swim so we transferred to the other side. 
After awhile we got bored as we couldn't go snorkeling with the weather turning gloomy.  We just waited at the dock for our 1PM boat transfer to Manukan Island.
It was a nice waiting time at the dock enjoying the fishes in the water.
Finally, the boat arrived at 1pm and we transferred to Manukan Island. 
the welcome cottage at Pulau Manukan
Manukan Island is better than Sapi with it's long stretch of shoreline, clear waters as well where you can actually see the fishes even at the seashore and more touristy with the existence of cottages, restaurants and other amenities. We enjoyed snorkeling and walking along the stretch of the shoreline.
the stretch of Manukan Island
the things that we enjoyed the most at Pulau Manukan
Unfortunately, we only arranged to stay there for two hours so we hopped the boat transfer to Mamutik at 3pm. From our experience, I would recommend that you stay longer in Manukan than the other islands.
the beautiful walkway from the dock of Manukan Island
We took a speedboat to Mamutik Island and that added the fun! Mamutik is almost same in size as Manukan and had so much to offer. 
the welcome board at Mamutik Island
Our stay in Mamutik Island was a quick-one with only an hour to stay.  They have cottages and good for day excursion and family picnic.  The weather in KK from Mamutik was getting gloomier and neither the waves were inviting for a swim.
Shallow water good for swimming
With only an hour and a weather getting darker, we just took our shower, had some souvenir shots and waited at the island's dock for our 3PM transfer back to Jesselton Point. 
A view of KK City from Mamutik

It was a full of adventure day for us and had the opportunity to explore the other side of the world again for us.  At first I told myself, beaches in the Philippines are far better than here.  But then, I realized, it's another God's creation and the beauty is each to its own.
Ending our island tour with our souvenir photo at the dock of Mamutik Island