Taiwan

(Still) Finding my way around Taipei

It’s a month and two weeks before the Taipei Adventure with my Unnie — and for the first time, my travel research skills is being put to the test.

photo not mine

photo not mine

the incredible, simply amazing view (pic not mine)

the incredible, simply amazing view (pic not mine)

I find it hard to believe but I noticed that there’s not a lot of information source about traveling on a budget in Taiwan. Yes, there were blogs here and there but not as much when I was researching about other countries. And honestly, I find it really odd. Based from initial research, Taiwan and yes, Taipei City seemed like a very beautiful and exciting place. This early, I was already overwhelmed just thinking where we will spend the limited 4 days while there. Shall we visit first the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, or the National Palace Museum where the biggest collection of Chinese artifacts are stored? What about a trip up Taipei 101? The Beitou Hot Springs? A visit to Elephant Mountain Trail for a magnificent view of Taipei? Of course, how can I pass up the chance to see the palm-lined boulevard of National Taiwan University — the same boulevard where a bullied Shancai rode her humble scooter while F4’s sleek cars were passing by? Shall I haunt for Jay Chou’s restaurant first or should I instead look for the restaurant where Dao Ming Sui brought Shanchai for their first date? (You know, the one where they have car cases as booths).

In one of the travel blogs I read, they said that not a lot of people go to Taiwan – maybe for varied reasons. For my kababayans, it might be the hassle of getting a visa. For others, it might be because Taiwan is more subdued and quiet compared to the marketing initiatives of countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand. The article states that NOT going to Taipei and NOT discovering its many beautiful places, the amazing culture and the awesome cuisine is something that all serious travelers should NOT do. Taiwan has so much to offer and so much beauty to share — maybe it’s time that we go beyond our usual comfort zones (multiple trips to HK Disneyland and Resorts World Sentosa, erm, hello?)

So, while I find it doubly hard to piece together a simple itinerary, I can’t help but feel excited. It’s another new experience, another adventure. This early, I already know where to go to mass (St. Christopher Church, a few MRT rides from Taipei Main Station. The church is called “Little Philippines” every Sunday due to the number of migrant Filipino workers attending services there.) I am also starting to get the hang of researching street names and the corresponding MRT stations near it.

I just need to tick off hotel reservations on my list, start preparing for the visa application and I am good to go.


* NOTE: We plan to stay at Keyman’s Hotel in front of Taipei Main Station. Feel free to drop me a note if you have recommendations on where to go!

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Central Luzon, Philippines

The Climb – Mount Pico de Loro, Philippines

When I said that I am not the mountaineering-type, I really mean it.
First, because I am deathly afraid of snakes. Second, because I am aware that my poor body, especially my knees, cannot take the strain of conquering a mountain. And lastly, because I am the type of person who loves my little comforts.

So, it really doesn’t make sense why I decided to risk life, limb and my remaining dose of self-preservation by agreeing to be part of the mountain-climbing activity of my Fitness group.

The mountain in question is Pico de Loro, nestled in a Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) sanctuary in Ternate, Cavite, Central Philippines. At 664 meters above sea level, Pico de Loro is considered a medium-difficulty level mountain for climbers and is perfect for a day climb.

Pico de Loro summit

Pico de Loro summit

In spite the raging alarm bells in my head a day before the climb, I still showed up faithfully for the early morning call time in our meeting place. From there, our rented van was able to reach Ternate by 8AM. At the jump off point, we divided ourselves into two — the advanced group where most of the people are, made up of experienced climbers and the athletic, active types in the group; and the beginners group, a ragtag group of 10 who were already having second thoughts even while still in civilization, i.e. the group where I was part of.

in to the woods

in to the woods

The trek started uneventful, until the 30th minute when one of my companions decided to get her knees closely acquainted with the rocks and protruding roots. In a span of an hour, she fell one after the another, collecting a series of abrasions and minor cuts along the way. In my head, I was a bit happy for my achievement — apparently, I will emerge unscathed from this activity. Well, almost.

After the gloating, I started getting acquainted too with the protruding roots and sharp, jagged edges of the rocks littering the forest. Nothing major. Just the typical war wounds I get even while sitting in bed. Moving a bit to inspect a tree *kzzzzzzh — knee connects with boulder* walking along the trail *kzzzzzh — stubs toe on tree root*. But, yep — I didn’t fall down one bit.

There are specially marked trees within the forest that served as trail and place markers, telling the next batch of mountaineers where to turn, etc.

I was already dying of exhaustion by the time our second hour rolled by, and we aren’t even anywhere near the first base camp where one can refresh, do the number one or two, and eat courtesy of the kind family who maintains a “kubo” (hut). Maybe we were too preoccupied with getting the job done that when we finally had the chance to look up, we realized that we were letting a lot of awesome views go by.

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While on our way to Base Camp 1, we chanced upon this cutie:

One of the resident "guides" in the area. He loved the KFC Chicken Burger I gave him

One of the resident “guides” in the area. He loved the KFC Chicken Burger I gave him

This handsome fella was one of the dogs raised in the mountain and calls the DENR office home. Our guide, JP told me that the dog pretty much guides the mountaineers who goes up Pico de Loro. JP suggested I give doggie something and true enough, the little schmuck immediately warmed up to me after the third piece of bread was given to him. But, after finding some of his “friends” (a pack of dogs) whom he proceeded to wildly chase around the area — the dog left us to find our way to the summit.

After a quick rest at the base camp, we proceeded to scale the rest of the way, finally reaching the viewing deck just when our friends (the advanced group) were finishing their lunch. It was clear that in the viewing deck alone, the pain (and the bruises) were worth it.

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I initially had reservations if I will push through with the final ascent going to the summit. From where I was standing, I can see that there were no trees to serve as guides or even safety nets. But I figured out in the end that I might as well do it. I was there, anyway.

On my way to the summit and trying to find my footing

On my way to the summit and trying to find my footing

And the picture above is my own definition to the term, “…hanging on for dear life”. Please note that I was desperately clutching a few clumps of dead grass.

After the ordeal seen above, I finally reached the summit and it was worth it.

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I keep thinking, “God, I really do have a beautiful country…” To our front was the Corregidor Island, a tiny island glistening in the middle of the azure ocean, further up was Bataan, while to our left was the beaches of Ternate, Cavite. And well, directly below us is a dense forest, where hawks circle the air just beneath our feet. It was simply magic.

Of course, we eventually had to go down (another death-defying stunt) and continue the trek down the mountain, until we reach civilization by 8PM. Yes, we got caught by sunset in the middle of the forest! Imagine, finding your way down with barely 3 flashlights (one was already malfunctioning) and with the moon just leading your way. I tell you, my over active imagination was on overdrive and I was close to crying already due to the insane fear of being in the middle of the forest at night. When we finally made it down, I was so profuse with thanks that I managed to do what I used to dread way back.

And yes, I managed to come out of the dark forest in one piece.

IF YOU WANT TO CLIMB PICO DE LORO:
1. Transportation going to Ternate is not easy. Best to rent a van and split it amongA your group.
2. Always make sure you have complete gear, especially the flashlight which will come handy should you get stuck like us at Pico de Loro at night.
3. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but memories.

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Central Luzon

Conquering New Heights…

I’ll be seeing you two months from now…

My next destination -- Taipei, Taiwan (Picture not my property)

My next destination — Taipei, Taiwan (Picture not my property)

Finally, after years of hankering for the land of the F4 (and Meteor Garden), the birthplace of the milk tea and of course, The Taipei 101, I finally took a big step and booked tickets for this wonderful place for March. Yes, this means that the mad ass researching and itinerary making begins now.

But before I head for the man-made wonder that is Taipei 101, I’ll be scaling this wonder first:

Please be nice to me...

Please be nice to me…

Close to heaven (photo from Pinoy Mountaineer.com)

Close to heaven (photo from Pinoy Mountaineer.com)

This thing of beauty is called the Pico de Loro, a medium sized mountain located in Cavite, Central Philippines. I don’t know how I get myself in things like this. I am a world-class klutz and I always somehow manage to hurt myself even just sitting down. Imagine the gall I have, setting out for a mountain such as this on Sunday!

Anyway, I expect to come home with an aching body and maybe memories of the wonderful time I have with the mountain. I am really excited, I only wish that I’ll be less of a klutz this Sunday so that I won’t slow down my fitness group.

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Travel News

Conde Nast Traveler names The Philippines as one of the “Travel Destinations” to watch in 2013

Oh my! Conde Nast Traveler, one of the premiere travel magazines in the world today, has included good ol’ PH as one of the destinations to watch in 2013.

See here the amazing recommendation for the Philippines:

“For travellers willing to go the extra thousand miles for a deserted beach, the Philippines has around 7,000 of the most heavenly islands in the world. It’s still not the most obvious beach-holiday destination, but it soon will be.

It’s becoming particularly popular among serious divers, who come for the incredible underwater life, unspoilt coral gardens with rainbow-bright fish, green sea turtles and dugongs. In Bicol you can swim with the biggest fish in the world, the whale shark. While fish-fans of a different nature can go deep-sea fishing in one of the deepest trenches in the oceans, not far from the little-known island of Siargao.

The archipelago of Palawan ticks all the boxes: palm-fringed white-powder beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters, natural lagoons for wild swimming on Miniloc Island – all of it protected by UNESCO. Its Bacuit Bay is something like Halong Bay in Vietnam, only without all the tourists – for the time being, at least. There are just a handful of resorts, which are tasteful and deliberately low-key. Two of the newest are Ariara Island and El Nido Pangulasian Island, a private-island resort with palm-thatched villas, a spa, its own dive centre, and sea views to melt the heart.

Another super-stylish new opening is Dedon Island, on Siargao; it’s owned and designed by contemporary furniture brand Dedon. And a perennial favourite is Amanpulo, yet another high-design private-island hotel on Pamalican Island. Or sail around them all on Alila’s new boat, the Phinsi.”

The current online issue also includes a guide to discovering the many facets of the Philippines.

That indeed is good news. Considering the hard work being put in by the Department of Tourism (DOT) which seemed to experience a resurgence following the appointment of Secretary Ramon Jimenez. A former ad man, Secretary Jimenez was able to bring interest back to this country of 7,000 islands. Maybe it’s the catchy campaign, “Its More Fun in the Philippines” or the fact that our best beaches are being discovered by the rest of the world just now. Truth is, the emergence of the Philippines as a top travel destination is something that this government should take seriously.

Here are the things that should be our top priority:

1. The Airport
On top of our obvious concerns would be that danged prehistoric building called, “The Ninoy Aquino Internal Airport, Terminal I.” The reputation of this terminal is lower than the Marianas Trench. It’s been called the worst by some of the world’s leading travel sites and yet still, it is still in operation (leaky faucets, unappetizing lounge food, stomach-churning arrivals waiting area and all.)

I really hope the government can do something about this airport, and not just be proud of the fact that “travelers are out of the NAIA in 25 minutes flat.” I don’t know what this tourism executive is smoking, but I can assure him that given the facilities in that airport, I’ll strive to be out of there too in 25 minutes flat, maybe 20 minutes if I am really desperate. If you have nothing to do inside the dimly-lit, aging building, would you want to stay there?

I can understand the hesitation to leave if there’s no available facility to use, but we have the humongous Terminal 3 gathering dust and sorely underutilized. I hope that this year, more international flights will get transferred to T3.

2. Reliable transportation system to get in and out of the airports
The few countries I’ve been to had one thing in common: an efficient transportation system that allows travelers to get in and out of the airport using their transpo of choice. Meaning, they are not stuck with cabs — and can opt to use the MRT (linked directly to the airport, like in HK and SG) or by bus with direct routes to the airport (in Seoul and Busan). Unfortunately, right now, all we can offer are “official” airport cabs that will charge you an arm and a leg just to be able to travel. Let’s not make it hard for the tourists. While we are at it, can we do something about dilapidated cabs that smelled like a forgotten public rest room.

3. Safety!
Every country has its security and safety problem. But, it gets really embarrassing whenever we hear tourists being mugged or taken for a ride by touts. I hope that the government will make tourists feel more secure traveling our country. After all, it’s the memories they make that will either keep them coming back or make them stay away for good.

These are the things that are on top of my mind. I know that they’re basic requirements for every traveler, something that can make or break a trip.

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Traveling on a Budget

The 20th Travel Tour Expo – get your bank accounts ready!

It’s the time of the year when the bank accounts get harassed and utilized and credit cards get premium value:

travel expo

Presenting the 20th Travel Tour Expo, the most exciting exhibition of domestic and international destinations all in one roof.

I am already hyperventilating just thinking of the possible deals available!

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Inspirations

Where do you want to go and what are you doing about it?

Maybe it’s that place where you vowed to tick off a great deal on your bucket list, or maybe it’s the place that only makes sense to you. Whatever might be your reason, there is one place that you’ve been raring to see, that just thinking about it and how to get to it consumes your every waking hour.

This though came to light after reading an entry in CNN Travel where some of their best correspondents were asked their “dream destinations.” It was an inspiring piece, considering that most of these people probably have been everywhere with the jobs they have. Yet, in spite that, it is inspiring to read their plans in order to see their dream destinations, like saving for it or maintaining a separate bank account specifically for the purpose

Their reasons are varied — from the expected: like love of travel or being in the midst of a foreign culture and language, to the deep: like knowing that a piece of you will always be part of that country and you know that you just have to go. For some, it can be a lifetime obsession leading you to learn the language and study the culture, which is both foreign and oddly familiar to you.

Obviously, the cross I bear is the Land of the Rising Sun. This so-called obsession to go to Japan has reached a new low following my sister’s trip to Tokyo last September. I was given the chance to go, but knowing that I don’t have enough in my bank account to truly enjoy Tokyo, I put my foot down and said no. It’s a decision that continues to bring me heart ache till now. However, I knew then that it wasn’t the time for me to go — I have limited budget and there’s just so much of Tokyo that I wanted to see.

After missing Tokyo last year, I vowed that this won’t happen again. Hence, the obsession to fatten the bank account and build up my financial portfolio. Tickets going to Japan can be had for cheap, since there’s a plethora of budget airlines available. It’s the hassle of getting a visa and assuring the consulate that I will return to the Philippines after the trip that’s killing me. I wish I could convince them with a 1,000-word essay of how much I’m in love with their country and their culture, but something tells me that a strongly-worded essay will not actually give me a tourist visa.

In preparation for my Dream Destination, I’ve started a bank account where 30% of my current salary will be deducted and sent directly to the fund. I also vowed that all extra cash I’ll be getting this year (bonuses, leave payments) will automatically go to the travel fund. Save for the upcoming home rental and insurance payment, I lost interest in many of my inane hobbies including the need to buy shoes and bags every month.

The funny thing is while my sister was there, I was the one arranging for the whole trip, while here. I would point out every street, every building, every tourist hot spot a thousand of miles away from the city I love most. It was both pathetic and funny at the same time.

This year, where are you going?

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Travel Diaries

2012 in review – Thank you for being part of this blog’s first year

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 1,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 3 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

After my inspiring trip to South Korea last March, I was inspired to come up with a blog that mostly deals about my love of travel — hence, this blog, The Places You Will Go.

My dream is to share with you how I am able to travel in spite my usual lack of money and the limited budget I have. How can someone, who is perpetually broke, able to travel to places where you will usually need a solid amount of money and still have the time of her life?

I will not lie to you. It is not easy. For someone like me who does not possess the bank account of a trust fund baby, I usually devote limitless time and energy researching cheap flights, cheap accommodations and the best destinations that barely put a dent in my limited budget. I was hoping that this blog will become my means to encourage people to save money and travel and just freaking go for it.

Unfortunately, this blog has yet to reach its full potential. I still have a lot to share with you and hopefully in 2013, may this site be more informative. I hope to do all that in 2013. Hopefully, I can start following more travel sites, including More Fun in the Philippines which is the official site of the Philippines’ Department of Tourism. More than ever, I need to devote more time blogging and stay away from the time sucker that is Facebook (who is starting to lose its appeal on me).

In spite of the lack of recent posts, please allow me to thank you for putting up with this site. This blog is still in its infancy and I promise you that I will do my best to come up with a blog that is not only entertaining, but also informative — especially to all budget travelers who wish to see more bang for their buck.

Let’s enjoy 2013. May our footprints dot more unseen places, and our eyes be held in wonder by things we have yet to see.

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