Travel Tips

No Bill Shock: Say goodbye to atrocious data charges when you travel – thanks to MyPAL Roam 

Traveling nowadays doesn’t stop when one reaches the destination. The dawn of technology has given rise to the need to be always connected – whether sharing amazing photos of sunrise on top of Mt.Fuji, of well-worn but romantic path along Nami Island or reunion photos with long-lost cousins in California – some travel moments were just too good to be NOT shared. 
While I love the sense of “aloneness” that traveling affords me, there are days when I wish I could have shared the moment immediately to my mom and dad, or the husband who was back home: 

emoting in Nami Island



just one of the crowd in Shibuya (can you find me?)


lost in tokyo


writing on a post card in a random stoop in Jiufen County, Taiwan


More than keeping my social media feed happy, having the opportunity to connect to my loved ones back home means letting them know that I am safe and happily enjoying my gallivanting. 

However, being a budget traveler means being dependent on hotel wifi (or worse, public WIFI) to call home using either Messenger or Skype. Like any other traveler, I avoid connecting to my data whenever I go on vacation – the cost can literally maim you after a fun vacation and disputing charges (if any) is like trying to catch a ride with the Lochness Monster (read: pointless). 

Connectivity woes is now a thing of the past thanks to Philippine Airlines’ MyPAL Roam – a global mobile hotspot that provides easy, fast, secure and affordable mobile data anywhere in the world. Made possible through a partnership with SkyRoam, this latest innovation from the country’s flag carrier allows up to five devices to connect on the mobile hotspot for just a reasonable fee of P499 a day


PAL president and COO Jaime J. Bautista


Launched in an exciting affair, spearheaded by PAL head honcho Jaime J. Bautista, who feted this latest innovation from PAL. “We are aware of our passengers’ need to stay connected anywhere in the world. Your flag carrier continues to innovate to further enhance the travel experience. So whether you’re flying across the country or halfway around the globe, we made sure we’ve got you covered,” said Bautista in a statement distributed to the media. 

MyPAL Roam, the first of its kind in the country today, was made possible through the efforts of two gentlemen, PAL’s Ancillary Business Unit VP Kevin Hartigan-Go and SkyRoam’s Buddy Novenario. 

Skyroam’s Buddy Novenario and PAL’s Kevin Hartigan-Go


In an interview, with Hartigan-Go shares gnat the idea for the MyPAL Roam originates from PAL’s desire to improve the over-all passenger convenience. “We understand the passengers’ need to be connected. And we want this connectivity to complete the overall passenger experience. With almost everything  just a click away, getting connected is key…” Hartigan-Go shares. 

According to SkyRoam’s Novenario, the secret behind the nifty little gadget’s power lies in the virtual SIM device it employs. It uses unique technology which allows its users to get connected in any of PAL’s 80 destinations worldwide. Yes, even when you’re in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Latvia, Uzbekistan, The Vatican, Christmas Islands, Liechtenstein or San Marino, among others – MyPAL Roam has you covered. 


The first of its kind in the country


The device may be rented through the PAL boutique, located at the PAL ticket lobby, PNB Financial Center, Pasay. Other rental channels are the NAIA Terminal 2 Departure Area and roam.philippineairlines.com. The device maybe retuned through the PAL Boutique, the NAIA Terminal 2 Arrival Area, home pick-up and Onboard Return service.  

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Taiwan, Travel Tips

Taipei Part 2 Series: Getting a tourist visa as a couple

 

Single entry tourist visas for the Hubby and myself


This year, my husband and I vowed to discover new things together. Fortunately, we are blessed to have the opportunity to travel together at the end of the month to Taiwan for a short vacation  and as an early celebration for our wedding anniversary. 
The truth is – I already visited Taiwan, particularly Taipei two years ago with my sister. It was one of the best places I visited: friendly locals, affordable and yummy food anywhere you go, interesting sights and culture, plus the opportunity to fan girl to Meteor Garden and Jay Chou (which my sister and I both did). 

So, when the hubby and I discussed possible trip destinations other than Osaka (we are still saving for it), we both agreed that Taipei is a nice place to discover (for him). We were lucky to land round trip tickets MNL-TPE-MNL for only PHP5,500 per person. The ticket was booked in August, three months before the planned trip. We paid for the tickets via SM Bayad Center (wait for a separate post on this), our flights were immediately confirmed upon payment – thus, the only thing left to do is get the tourist visa. 

In my case, I am confident that getting a tourist visa will be a breeze: I already had a prior tourist visa to Taiwan plus Japan and S.Korea (twice). What I was more worried about is the hubby who works freelance. While he already had prior visits to Singapore and HongKong, the hubby’s passport is new (hence no travel stamps) and his freelance work status means he has no ITR and Certificate of Employment — two things, in my opinion, that always seal the deal for any visa application. 

So how do you take your chances and apply for a visa when your traveling companion doesn’t have these very important requirements? 

Note: I have previously blogged about getting a visa to Taiwan, see here – this is the UPDATED version. 

  1. First thing I did is do my research and look up online if there are tips and to do’s for a situation like mine. There is none. That is the reason why I am writing this post – it is my means to give back for the good fortune of being issued a visa. 
  2. Prepare all documents needed – I always believed that in any battle, being prepared means increasing any chances of winning. Here are the documents needed in applying for a visa: 
  • Visa Application Form – to be filled in online. Head to https://visawebapp.boca.gov.tw/ Note that you will need to fill it up online and print on A4 size paper. The Taiwan visa will only accept computer-filled forms, avoid leaving any space blank (you can put N/A). 
  • Two passport sized photos 1.5″ X 2″ – should be taken within the last 3 months 
  • Valid passport (with more than 6 months validity) 
  • NSO-issued birth certificate 
  • Marriage contract issued by NSO (if applicable) 
  • Financial documents like bank certificate and ITR 
  • If you are employed, Certificate of Emplyment and Approved Leave form 
  • Supporting documents like airline tickets and hotel booking forms 

Have your documents photocopied. 

    3. Once you have the documents,  you are ready to submit it to the Taiwan Economic and Culture Office (TECO) located at the 41st floor of the RCBC Plaza in Makati. 

    Note: Due to the One-China Policy, Taiwan does not have an embassy in the Philippinss. TECO services all consular and diplomatic efforts in the Philippines 

      

    TECO accepts visa applications from Monday Friday’s from 9AM to 11AM only. Meanwhile, releasing of visa is from 2PM to 4PM. 

    Now that you’re at RCBC, here are some tips to make your visa application hassle free: 

      
    Be there early – this endeavor involved a lot of lining up: you will be asked to line up first in order to register your name for the giving out of numbers. This line usually starts inside the RCBC but only ten people can line up inside at any given time, so the rest will be asked to wait outside until the first ten has registered (see photo above) 

    Note that you will be lining up with applicants for work visas so be there early. 8AM is a good time. After you have registered your name, you will be asked to go back outside and proceed to the area near the entrance of the RCBC museum to wait for the distribution of numbers. 

    Have a valid ID with you – note that they are very strict when it comes to IDs – valid IDs are SSS, unified ID, Drivers License. Company IDs are not official government ID but you can use them provided you will leave a PHP1,000 deposit which will be returned to you after you have filed your application. 

    A TECO staff will approach the waiting area and will start calling name. Once your name is called, show them your ID, claim the queu stub and go back inside the RCBC Plaza to surrender your ID at the registration area where you will be finally issued building IDs and asked to go up the 41st floor. 

    Curve the urge to bring a companion with you if they are not applying for a visa also. They will not be allowed to go up TECO anyway. 

     

    The waiting game


    Once at the 41st floor, wait for your number to be called, proceed to the assigned window and submit your document. 

     Once the documents are perceived to be in order and received by the staff, you will be asked to wait for your name to be called by the cashier. 
    Pay the visa application fee – single entry tourist visa is PHP2400 per pax. A receipt will be issued to you upon payment – the receipt contains the date of release of your passports. Please note that you may or may not be issued a visa, depending on the evaluation of the consul. TECO reserves the right to withhold reason for denial. 

    Do you have valid visas to the US, Japan, UK, Australia or Shengen? If yes, you don’t need to apply for a visa. You just need to fill out a special form which you can get from this page.

    In the end , the hubby and I were issued single entry tourist visas. I guess what did the trick was that the hubby and I were able to provide substantial financial capacity through our bank certificates, we submitted a certificate for our joint account and another one for my savings account. I was also able to prove strong ties to the Philippines through my CoE. Lastly and for good measure, I took the risk of writing TECO a letter expressing that while my husband has no ITR and COE, we are confident that we can fund our trip and assured them of our intention to return. 


    Note: this is based on my experience applying for a tourist visa for Taiwan. Outcome of individual visa applications may vary, depending on the evaluation of the consul. 

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      Travel Tips, Traveling on a Budget

      (Must Do) Fare Alerts is the Cheapo Traveler’s Best Friend

      If you’re the type to religiously monitor the ebb and cost of plane tickets for your choice destinations, how do you do it?

      For those who swear by budget airlines, I am sure you follow your favorite budget carrier on social media: be it Facebook, Twitter or their Instagram pages. In fact, it was through my Facebook feed which allowed me to travel to Tokyo, Japan on a PHP6,000 (USD134) plane fare. Yes, it also meant that I woke up at three in the morning just to check my FB wall, almost stepped on the Hubs on my way out of bed to get my passport and credit card and losing sleep until 6AM just because I was too hella excited.

      The bottom line is this: following your favorite airlines on social media works and has its benefits. Here are some of the social media pages of our leading budget carriers:

      Cebu Pacific

      a reliable airline with affordable rates (picture not mine)

      a reliable airline with affordable rates
      (picture not mine)

      A lot of Filipinos have a love and hate relationship with their airline company. While there were a lot of grumblings about how their customer service needed improvement and that some of their flights are always delayed, we can’t discount the fact that this airline company changed the way Filipinos view traveling and tourism. Whereas before many believed that traveling overseas is just for the moneyed, the launch of Cebu Pacific’s crazy plane fares and its aggressive promo campaigns gave Filipinos the opportunity to travel and discover other countries on the cheap. It allowed the middle class to realize that with conscientious saving and proper planning, you can see your dream destination without winning the lottery. I am one of those people. I used to believe that traveling is for the rich only, but Cebu Pacific changed that.

      Of course, in a perfect world — Cebu Pacific SHOULD improve how it provides service to its customers. But meantime, the best dealing mechanism is to prepare and overprepare for unexpected travel delays, lots of patience and good manners. And most of all, do not expect too much — especially if your plane fare cost less than your phone.

      Stalk Cebu Pacific’s plane fares here: Website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

      AirAsia
      My second time in South Korea last November was my first time to use AirAsia. The plane fare for the return trip was PHP8,000 — a steal considering that plane tickets to SK usually cost about PHP19K on regular rates. The trip was uneventful, the flight staff was very efficient and courteous that I have nothing but good memories of my flight with AirAsia.

      (photo credit to owner)

      (photo credit to owner)

      Stalk AirAsia on: their website, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. AirAsia also has an app which you can download on your mobile phone which allows you to book, ugrade and even check in your AirAsia flights.

      JetStar Philippines

      (photo credit to owner)

      (photo credit to owner)

      JetStar always holds a special place in my heart because this is the plane I took when I went on my first ever trip out of the country back in 2007. yes–the seats are cramped that sometimes it felt like riding in a bus; the flight stewardess rarely smiled and can be on the snooty side but all my experiences with JetStar are always pleasant and they always reminded of the quality of its pilots.

      One of my most memorable JetStar rides was in 2013 on a flight to Singapore with my whole family. It was the middle of July and Manila is in the middle of the storm. We met the worst possible turbulence during take-off where the plane was shaking so badly. I looked to where my mom and pop was sitting and I could see my mom clutching her rosary while my dad sat grim-faced (it was his first out of the country trip). For a bit, I was convinced that we will all die. But no, the gentlemen at the helm steered the plane efficiently and gracefully amidst Manila’s raging storm. By the time we reached cruising altitude, the plane was so steady and was gliding so peacefully that it felt like you were sitting at home in your living room, instead of being 30,000 feet in the air.

      To this day, JetStar remains our top choice whenever we go travel to Singapore.

      Stalk them here: website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

      Philippine Airlines (PAL)
      PAL is not a budget airline — but is considered one of the best when it comes to personalized service. You might find this funny, but one of my goals is to go on an out-of-the-country trip using PAL, just because I haven’t tried it yet. I wanted to experience and see the difference on traveling using a budget airline and a non-budget airline.

      (credit to owner)

      (credit to owner)

      Because I haven’t tried PAL yet for an international flight, I cannot give you a more in-depth description of the experience. Though I have flown with them before for business trips domestically, I don’t know if there’s a difference in service and experience for international flights.

      Follow PAL here: website,Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

      But if you are the type who prefer having someone else look for cheap plane fares for you — then why don’t you subscribe for a fare scanning site?

      Right now, I am a heavily depending on SkyScanner to find me cheap fares for Osaka for February 2015. You can also use SkyScanner to look for cheap hotels, airport transfers and car hires.

      My current search

      My current search

      Other Fare Alert sites include:

      * Trip Advisor Cheap Flights
      * FareCompare
      * Kayak

      The bottomline in finding cheap plane fares is to be patient and continuously search. If you are not comfortable with the amount you found and is convinced that there are better fares out there — keep searching.

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      Manila!, Travel Tips

      Love in the Time of No Pera (Or dating with barely a money in your pocket)

      When the Hub and I were just dating both of us were just struggling fresh college grads that were either bumming around (him) or struggling to survive in their first writing job (me). Most of the time, we were broke and barely getting by. However, the strict (to non-existent) budget did not hamper us to spending a day together, discovering new sights and basically slowly getting to know each other’s quirks. The challenge then was to find ways to enjoys ourselves without putting more dent in our pockets.

      For this post, I will teach you how to have a fun date with your loved one for less than PHP1,000 bucks. Let’s use the old City of Manila as our destination for this “cheapo date”.

      Some more cheap ideas

      Some more cheap ideas

      I. Transportation
      Don’t be afraid of taking the public transportation together.Who knows, it can strengthen your bond since if you are guy, you’ll have the opportunity to protect your girlfriend; and if you are a girl, you can show her that you’re not high maintenance and can kick it with him for spontaneous stuff.

      When the hub and I started dating, we used to take public transpo all the time going to our Manila haunt. I would recommend though that you wear comfy clothes and footwear since you’ll be walking all the time. Don’t forget to bring a cap or a bandanna to shield yourself from the sun.

      A budget of around P40 per person for a return trip from Makati to Manila is good already. Our first destination for the day is in Intramuros and its environs. To go to Intramuros from Makati (JP Rizal), take the jeepney headed for Taft Avenue (Jeepneys with “Bukid” or “L Guinto” on the signboard all end up in Taft). Fare is about PHP8.50. At Taft Avenue, ride the jeep marked “City Hall”, “SM Manila”, “Divisoria” or “Quiapo” — all of these are passing by Intramuros.

      credit goes to owner

      credit goes to owner

      You will alight at the jeepney stop in front of the Manila City Hall. Take the underpass going to Intramuros and walk straight to the entrance along Victoria Street.

      credit to owner

      credit to owner

      II. A little bit of history and sightseeing
      While in Intramuros, you can spend time looking at the ruins of the former walled city. There’s a lot to be learned about the cracked nooks and crannies of the former glorious Walled City. Intramuros (or “Within the Walls”) was the former capital and Seat of Power of the City of Manila during the Spanish Empire. If your other half is a history buff (like me!) they’ll get a kick out of reading the many plaques scattered along the walls telling the story behind the now-crumbling walls. For those who always slept during history class, the walls served as an amazing background to your selfies and “emo” shots which–of course–would look great in your Facebook walls.

      From Muralla Street, walk left going to General Luna Street pass the Manila Bulletin building and the Department of Labor building; turn right to General Luna and you will be on your way to San Agustin Church and the San Agustin Church Museum.

      The San Agustin Church was one of four Philippine churches constructed during the Spanish colonial period to be designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and is now considered as a National Historical Landmark. (SOURCE)

      credit to owner

      credit to owner

      Inside, take time to say your prayers and be amazed at the unique Baroque architecture of the church. While you’re at it, try searching for the resting place of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, a Spanish navigator who founded the City of Cebu and was named the first Governor-General of the Spanish East Indies (which includes the Philippines, Guam and Marianas Islands). When Lopez de Legazpi died of heart failure in Manila in 1572, he was laid to rest inside the church.

      But the best part is yet to come. Inside the San Agustin Church complex is the San Agustin Museum which shouldn’t be missed. Entrance fee is PHP100 per person but I guarantee you that it will be worth it. The opportunity to see artifacts and collections from hundreds of years ago. There is no time limit and you can take as long as you like admiring paintings, scupltures and the architecture of the church. Who knows, you might have a newly-found appreciation to our history. Flash photography is not allowed on the upper floors.

      The hub and I went here a few years before, out on a whim. While the tall religious structures terrified me at first, there is a surreal feeling of walking along these century-old halls. You can’t help but wonder if you’ll be passing by Jose Rizal as he ponders the fate of the nation in the church’s many halls — for the record, if that happens, you have the option of running away, fast.

      Let’s say you started the date at 9AM, by this time — you’ll be starving. If you’ll walk further along General Luna, you will find the Manila Cathedral and in front of it are the many fast food restaurants where you can have your lunch. But if you want to stay classy (you are on a date, after all) you can also try Ristorante Delle Mitre which is owned by the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and is directly in front of the Manila Cathedral. Their rice toppings go for PHP118 per order while there are other more expensive items on the menu. There are also pastries, coffee, iced tea being offered so it all depends on your budget. (Their Facebook page here)

      By the time you finish lunch, it’ll be mid noon and the sun will be shining at its brightest. You can head out and trace your steps going back to Muralla and then to City Hall and then to the airconed confines of SM Manila if you like. By then, you would have spent about PHP600 for the museum tour and the lunch, plus enough for round trip fares. You can either pass time window shopping or at the game arcade located at the mall’s 5th floor.

      Or if you want from San Agustin Church you can ride the jeep going to Rizal Park where you can pass time on the park’s many gardens. Entrance for the Japanese Garden is very minimal and the strong shade of many trees can protect you from the stifling heat.

      The point of this post is that if we want to spend time with our loved ones, money shouldn’t really be a concern. There are a lot of free attractions within the city and everything is pretty much accessible–horrendous traffic be damned. What’s important is we discover new things and share new experiences together. After all, that’s the point of being in a relationship?


      PS: I will try to look for our old photos inside the San Agustin Museum and update this post with the pics. It’s been a long time that I am now tempted to return to San Augustin and make new memories.

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      Travel Tips

      What’s on your suitcase?

      10686809_978709775477893_4589402179212667933_n

      What’s on your suitcase?

      Are you the type of traveler who crams every imaginable dress in sight, tucking about ten shirts, five pants and three shoes for a 5 day, 4 night trip? Or are you someone who can fit an entire wardrobe choices in a small, carry on backpack.

      For this trip: I am carrying:

      • A pair of jeans
      • 1 NorthFace winter jacket
      • 2 black skirts
      • 3 shirts
      • 3 leggings
      • 2 pairs of gloves
      • 2 beanies/hat
      • 1 wrinkle-free dress (to be paired with black tights and worn during the trip to the DMZ)
      • 2 long-sleeves sweaters
      • 2 scarves
      • my pink winter boots
      • appropriate number of underwear/socks

      Plus: my “blankie” — the old bear stuff toy I always carry with me wherever I go

      When I first started traveling, I didn’t know any better. I will cram every imaginable dress in sight, the same as my accessories and shoes (like three types of shoes for a 4D, 3N trip!) — I was that clueless. Thus, I was always the one waiting on the baggage carousel, lugging heavy bags and basically looking like a complete klutz every time I emerge out of the airport and/or airport train.

      My grand aspirations to look like this, has remained nothing but an aspiration:

      jet-setter

      It was until a particularly inconvenient and annoying dragging of the luggage in Busan and Seoul in 2012 that I finally said to myself that I had to stop carrying my whole house, save for the cat, each time I travel. I ditched the last-minute packing, stopped myself from carrying my shoe collection and instead learned to identify key pieces in choice colors in my wardrobe. Hence, I limit my colors to two or three colors then pick a shoe that would work best with the clothes I have at hand. I also got myself a 10-kilo luggage with expandable zippers so that I no longer have to check my luggage at the plane.

      In the end, I learned to edit, edit and have one final edit of my clothes the night before the trip. This way, I save luggage space which I can then use for my souvenirs (which are also not that many, considering I am not a big fan of omiyage shopping).

      I also referred to the internet for good tips coming from well-known and experienced travel writers on how to pack smartly and efficiently. Here’s a really good one from Rick Steves.

      Little by little, I have learned to pack smartly until I have learned to plan ahead the clothes I will wear — often times, I will bring clothes that I can wear more than once, like good sturdy jeans and sweater (if its cold). I also opt for soft, wrinkle-free items.  I also managed to limit my toiletries to small items, usually in small carry-on, clear bottles and packaging. In packing and sealing liquids and gels, know that bringing zip-lock is your best friend.

      When I went to Tokyo, I updated my luggage to 20 kilos but still made sure to pack smartly. While I will need to check-in my luggage for the Seoul trip next week, I have already managed to whittle down the things I will bring, taking into consideration that I will need to also bring thick jackets, scarves and warmers since it’s already winter there according to Accuweather.

      I will still do a final edit of the items above the night before my trip. I am sure that I will still manage to limit the things I will bring, making way for the early Christmas shopping I can do in Seoul.

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      Japan, Travel Tips

      A Quick Guide to getting your Japan Tourist Visa

      For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. My dream started when I was still a snot-nosed eight year old kid with a bad case of crush with Alexis (aka Shaider). In my mind, Japan was the land of flying robots, of magnificent hide outs under volcanoes, of cute felines and their friends. As years passed, I fell more and more in love with the culture of Japan.

      When I started working–I made a point to save up in order to travel. I started with visa-free countries, until I got to the nerve to apply for a South Korean and Taiwanese tourist visa. While a part of me wanted to try my luck to get a visa for Japan, a bigger part of me was holding me back–afraid that I might not qualify for a tourist visa. I knew the disappointment will kill me.

      However, this year I resolved to throw caution to the wind and just do it.

      chibi

      I began to religiously follow fare guides and forum exchanges for tips and tricks in scoring cheap airline tickets and of course, getting a tourist visa. I made sure to have money available and saved up any extra money six months before the trip. I read and re-read blogs and attended travel fairs. While I cannot control the outcome of my visa application, being ready and preparing for the application has made me more sane and more confident on my chances to get the visa. All the hassles and heartbreaks and stressful moments preparing for the trip has made me more determined than ever.

      To give back to the many blogs and forums that helped guide me during my visa application process, I am sharing some tips based on my experience in getting that coveted Japan tourist visa.

      REQUIRED DOCUMENTS
      First, the list of document requirements — Submitting a completed requirement is winning more than half the battle and in my opinion, will probably dictate the processing of your application. Here are the documents that you will need to prepare:

      1. Visa Application Form – downloadable here and here. Note that applying a visa to Japan is only possible through the following accredited travel agencies: Friendship Tours (the one I used. Highly recommended!), Universal Holidays, Discovery Tour, Rajah Travel, Reli Tours, Attic Tours and Pan Pacific Travel (for applications without Japanese guarantor).

      Travel agency contact details here

      Some tips:
      * It’s up to you to choose the embassy of your preference. Note that, technically there is no cost in getting a single entry tourist visa to Japan, but since you have to do the application through an embassy, it is only understandable that the agency will collect a handling fee. Handling fee varies depending on the agency — when my sister applied for her first visa in 2013 via Reli Tours, she paid close to PHP2,500. We only paid Friendship Tours PHP1,200 for our most recent visa application and my sister was even issued a multiple entry visa!
      * Fill up the Visa application form electronically – It’s neater and more presentable. Avoid erasures and do not leave blank spaces. Put N/A when the question does not apply to you. Remember: First impression counts!
      * Have your photo taken on a professional photo studio. Just tell them that you need visa application photos — more established photo studios have a format already for visa requirements of different countries. For Japan, measurement is 4.5cm x 4.5cm with white background. You will be asked to remove your jewelry. If you are wearing a tank top or collarless blouse, you will need to borrow from the studio’s collection of blazers. If you have a thing against wearing other people’s clothes, I suggest you wear a professional looking top when you have your photo taken.

      2. Passport – should be valid for more than six months. I know people who didn’t realized that their passport validity is up until the very last minute, so I suggest you go OC (even for a bit) and check your passport validity before even booking that flight.

      3. National Statistics Office (NSO)-issued Birth Certificate and Marriage Contract (if you are married) – The certificates have to be issued the year of your visa application. Avoid the hassle–do not use your old NSO birth certificates, I assure you the agency will double check if your documents are recent. If you can spare a few thousand bucks to go to Japan, I assure you — you can spare a few hundred to get new documents.

      If you already have an existing visa to Japan (used or not), you no longer need to submit this. You may skip this part.

      4. Tour Itinerary, also called “Schedule of Stay” – there is a recommended format of this downloadable on the travel agency’s website. Bottom line, the Tour Itinerary will be used by the agency to gauge if the money you have is enough based on the activities you plan to do. The schedule of stay contains your whereabouts on the dates you are in Japan, your accommodation options, your contact numbers — in short, it’s your schedule while you are in Japan.

      Take note: what you put here is not set in stone. This is just a guide and a reference.

      For example, for our five day stay in Tokyo, I indicated the places I will visit per day (but not too specific — just general places no need to indicate specific sites or areas of interests if you are not too familiar). But since I am also a bit OC, I also indicated the possible time where I will return to the hostel.

      Just my two cents: if you don’t have too much money in the bank, then do not too much pricey places or attractions. For example, you can’t claim that you will be going to Disneyland, Disney Sea, Hello Kitty Puro Land, a day tour in Mt. Fuji then stay in a posh Shibuya hotel with less than PHP50,000 in your travel budget.

      5. Proof of Financial Capability – this is your Bank Certificate, indicating your current bank balance. If you are a BPI bank account holder (like I do), you can get your Bank Certificate in less than an hour. A PHP100-processing fee applies.

      Some of you might ask what constitutes an acceptable amount of savings account in the bank in order to qualify for a visa. Honestly, I do not know. I only had PHP7X,XXX in my bank account and yet, I was issued a visa.

      6. Proof of strong economic ties to the Philippines – this is to prove that you have a reason to go back to the Philippines. These are usually your Employment Certificate and your most recent Income Tax Returns. For the love of God, please do not be tempted to submit a fake employment certificate. It will be very embarrassing for you if you are caught.

      Since I am also traveling with one of my good friends from high school (we were friends since we were 13!) who works independently and does not have an ITR, I was actually a bit nervous if she will be issued a visa. What I know is that she submitted a letter explaining why she doesn’t have an ITR and an employment certificate. I will have to verify with her what she said in the letter. I guess, it also helped that my friend has tons of immigration stamps on her passport already since she is a keen traveler.

      If you are in doubt regarding this requirement, do not hesitate to call your travel agency.

      Since I am also shamelessly OC, I also attached the following in my application letter:
      * A signed leave form annotated by my company’s HR department
      * Return airline tickets (MNL-NRT-MNL via Cebu Pacific booked three months before the trip)
      * Confirmed hotel reservations from K’s House Tokyo Oasis (rated number 1 on TripAdvisor’s Guesthouses in Taito)

      HOW TO APPLY
      1. Choose a travel agency and complete your documents even before you drop by the agency. By completing your documents, you have already won half the battle (cos the other half, I believe, is luck). Processing of application usually takes 5 to 7 days (mine took four days) so I will recommend that you apply for your visa a month before your trip.

      2. Go to the agency and submit your documents. Pay for the processing fee.

      3. Leave and start praying to the Travel Gods for a successful visa application.

      Honestly, my travel time from my office in Bonifacio Global City to the Friendship Tours office in Dusit Thani Hotel in Ayala, Makati took longer than the time I have spent inside the agency office. Friendship Tours have very efficient and friendly front liners — who will check your documents one by one before getting your payment and issuing you a receipt. You will present this receipt when you claim your passport after five days.

      finally.

      finally.

      FINAL WORD
      If you are from Manila, I hope you will find this guide helpful as you make your dreams come true–the same way that I relied on the tips and tricks shared by others online. While there’s talk that there’s a big possibility that Japan will announce visa-free entry to tourists come June, I will definitely believe it once it’s officially posted on the Japan Embassy Manila website. This is a welcome development and something long-awaited by travelers and Japanophiles alike. In fact, I have already dreaming about my next trip should this happen — visit Osaka and Kyoto with the husband this December, perhaps?

      However, I have to admit that I still have reservations should this happen. My only prayer is that, if granted, may this privilege be not abused by those who plan on taking advantage of the opportunity to seek long-term employment in Japan. I hope that when and if this privilege is issued to us, we will respect and honor the trust that will be given to us.

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      Singapore, Travel Tips

      The lowdown on staying at backpacker hostels

      So, you want to save money and stay at a backpacker hotel. After all, you reason out — you are a seasoned traveler, there is nothing that will faze you and you will not part with your travel fund to pay for an overpriced hotel you’ll only be staying in to sleep.

      This is my exact train of thought as I scour the hotel booking sites for an affordable place to stay in Singapore. It’s common knowledge that booking a place to stay in Singapore is not cheap, especially when you are a group of six trying to save a few bucks.

      After a bit of searching in the internet, we finally agreed that we’d rather book in a back packer hostel. After all, we really didn’t have much requirements in a place: as long as it has a nice flushing toilet, it’s safe and relatively clean — we are all set. After much searching, we ended up booking Footprints Hostel, located in a quiet neighborhood in the fringes of Little India and about a ten minute walk to Bugis Junction.I obsessively read the reviews at Trip Advisor and concluded that the stay can’t be that bad since good reviews heavily out weight the bad reviews. The fact that a six-person room is going for SGD20 (PHP750) per person as opposed to the usual SGD160 for a 4 person bed in a 3-star hotel convinced us.

      Booking the room was effortless and we only paid 10% deposit, with the rest to be settled in cash as soon as we arrived (read more on my TripAdvisor review).

      The living room at Footprints Hostel -- all sots of peeps, you are not entitled to be snooty

      The living room at Footprints Hostel — all sots of peeps, you are not entitled to be snooty

      Anyway, after a four day staff at a backpacker hostel, I realized a few things:

      1. Staying in a back packer hostel is best done when you are with friends, not with family – Friends, the type who loves traveling and is the no-frills-type, who will appreciate the all-nighter drinking sessions or the fact that you will be in close proximity with other travelers. It is the young types who will enjoy meeting new friends or likely acquaintances. Never bring two senior citizens who cower with the sight of various nationalities in a place where the United Nations is aptly represented.

      2. Manage your expectations – the fact that you are paying SGD20 for a bed to sleep in a country where the same amount is expected to buy you a full meal at McDs means you shouldn’t expect service of the Ritz. Expect to find dust when you reach for your shoes under the bed, expect to find a bleary-eyed foreigner slumped on the ground floor terrace clearly with too much to drink, you will find used tissues on the edge of the toilet instead of the trash can. Looking for things that are clearly not in the horizon will only make your stay miserable – don’t look for TV in your rooms, don’t look for super clean areas and do not look for the ambience because it is not existent.

      3. Open your mind – there’s a big chance that you’ll see an old man with his foot up the table, together with his half-eaten bowl of cereal while two peeps (who seemed not to have taken a bath in a very long time) huddled on the couch plotting their next trip, you will share your breakfast with a lot of people that will not look similar to how you look. If you are not comfortable dealing with people that are very different from you, I suggest you save money and book a nice hotel where you will have less opportunity to interact with other people. Or maybe, you can save your money and NOT travel at all.

      4. Use the net to look for the best choice – Trip Advisor is helpful to find out if the hostels are good and safe. Remember, no amount of money saved is worth the bed bug bite.

      So, will I stay again at a backpacker hostel? Definitely. I might even go back to Footprints. I guess the secret really i keeping an open mind and enjoying the experience.

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      Taiwan, Travel Tips

      Hearing Mass in Taipei

      Note: Sorry for the long-delayed posts on my Taipei trip. Things in the real world has been very hectic and stressful that I had to take a breather from blogging my travel posts.

      For Filipino Catholics who want to start their Taipei trip with a quick visit to the church or to hear mass in Taipei (especially if you happen to be there on a Sunday), I highly recommend that you visit St. Christopher’s Church in Chungshan North Road near the Taipei Expo Park.

      When you are directly in front of the Expo, cross the street to the right... this is Chungshan N. Road

      Cross the street to the right… this is Chungshan N. Road

      To go there, take the MRT going to Yuanshan (Red Line), fare is not more than NTS20. Upon exiting the MRT, walk east of Minzu W. Road (this is directly in front of the MRT exit), cross the Zhongzhan N. Road and walk south of Zhongshan N. Road. This will lead you to the sign of the Taipei Expo Park.

      From there, head right. You are very near when you see this bridal studio:

      When you see this shop, you're a few steps away from the church

      When you see this shop, you’re a few steps away from the church

      Searched for the church via Google Maps and you can refer to this screen grab:

      the facade of St. Christopher's and how to find it via GoogleMaps

      the facade of St. Christopher’s and how to find it via GoogleMaps

      St Christopher’s Church is well-known as THE church where Filipinos converage for spiritual nourishment in Taipei. When you go to a mass on a Sunday and is lucky enough to catch the 12NN service, you’ll think you’re in Manila instead of Taipei. The mass is offered in Tagalog every 12NN of Sunday. The other services during Sunday meanwhile are said in English. My sister and I made it a point to catch the Tagalog service because we want to hear the local language used generously in a foreign land.

      It was definitely one of the best masses I’ve attended in my entire life — second to the experience of hearing mass offered by Pope John Paul II in Manila during the celebration of World Youth Day in 1995 when I was in junior year in high school.

      The mass was made enjoyable by the following:

      1. A very joyful and relaxed officiant who delivered his sermon without the grave seriousness that seemed to be prevalent in some masses offered in Manila. I noticed that most sermons delivered in Manila had that “hail, fire and brimstones” gravitas that scares the pants out of me. The parish priest often is too serious, leading some parishioners to fall asleep. The priest at St. Christopher’s was funny, engaging and delivered the message directly and simply — yet aided by a nice power point presentation.

      2. Church goes are very behaved — people actually turned off their mobile phones upon entering the church. There were also usherettes directing people to their seats and kindly reminding people to turn the juice off their digital devices.

      3. The choir was very good!

      After the mass, some still stay to catch up

      After the mass, some still stay to catch up

      Lastly, it was nice to see non-Filipinos attend the church, even Taiwanese men married to their Filipina wives were there, hearing mass with their kids. I love how the church serves as a good spiritual refuge for Filipinos who have been living in a foreign land yet still wanted to deepen their faith.

      After the mass, I saw some kids make “mano” (a traditional Filipino of showing respect by pressing the elders’ hand to the kid’s forehead. We kids were taught to make “mano” to elders after every mass), and I can’t help but feel a surge of Filipino pride. I left the church smiling and in awe of how this little church is keeping Filipinos in touch of its roots.

      POSTSCRIPT:
      After the mass, we went back to Yuanshan MRT station in search of food. It was past 1PM and we are stark raving hungry. To the other side are family-run restaurants and we happen to get transfixed on a mom and pop restaurant selling “MeiSua”. We were able to understand each other through a series of pointing and nodding and smiling and we ended up with a really great late lunch:

      So YUMMY! Only NTS55!

      So YUMMY! Only NTS55!

      Go to the store with red signage if you want to taste really good Taiwanese misua

      Go to the store with red signage if you want to taste really good Taiwanese misua

      Like any “mom-and-pop” operation, the place is kept clean and the prices are affordable. Look out for the kind granny serving the soup.

      Address and contact information:
      ST. CHRISTOPHER’S CHURCH
      51 Chungshan N. Road, Sect. 3, Taipei

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      Taiwan, Travel Tips

      Review: Modern Toilet Restaurant Taipei (a very CRAPPY experience – literally!)

      This post is just screaming for a lot of bad puns and offensive, double-meaning titles.
      But I guess, one can summarize it best with this: if you look for crap, then you will get crap! This we realized to be true following our not-so-stellar experience at Modern Toilet, located at the Ximending District in Taipei, Taiwan.

      For the uninitiated, Modern Toilet is a theme restaurant where the main feature and novelty is being served on toilet seats, while eating in a bidet or toilet shaped plate decorated with variations of poo. It’s a sort of thing that would be really funny for ten year old boys who find humor in bodily functions.

      However, we were in Taipei for a limited time only and wanted to just get on with the experience of dining here because we were there anyway so might as well try.. We first went to Modern Toilet on our second night in Taipei, the restaurant is located on one of the alleys within Ximending and finding it is not an easy task. But we wanted to try it, so off we go following a trip to Shilin Night Market. After a bit of a search, we finally found it by 9PM.

      We excitedly went up the stairs only to be turned away, with the servers explaining that they are already closed. We wanted to argue that it’s still 9PM and their sign downstairs say that they close at 10PM. But there was a language barrier and I was just tired from roaming around (Yehliu-Shilin then a mad dash to Ximending for Modern Toilet) that I just gave up.

      Modern Toilet Restaurant, Ximending, Taipei

      Modern Toilet Restaurant, Ximending, Taipei

      You would think that the experience will be enough to make us stay-away, but no — we decided to come back the next morning for brunch and to celebrate the first meal of the day celebrating my sister’s birthday.

      hey. mr. crapman! :)

      hey. mr. crapman! 🙂

      This time, we were accommodated immediately. At first, the place was empty but then tourists and high school kids start arriving one after the other. We were given english menus and told that we have to order and pay first on the counter before food can be served. Here’s how you order:
      1. You will be given the menu and a dry-erase marker.
      2. Mark your order from the items indicated in the menu.
      3. Bring it to the cashier and pay.
      4. Wait for your food.

      Food
      My sister and I chose a set meal, Tuna Pasta (NTS 275) for her and a breaded chicken with melted cheese (NTS 260) for myself. The mains came with soup (hers was a creamy pumpkin puree while mine was flavored water with floating green bits), green iced tea (tasted awful) and soft-served ice cream which came at the end of the meal.

      my set meal (chicken, flavored water as soup, rice and green tea, with ice cream)

      my set meal (chicken, flavored water as soup, rice and green tea, with ice cream)

      my sister's pasta served in a "wash basin" type plate.

      my sister’s pasta served in a “wash basin” type plate.

      Okay, let’s talk first about the food. Honestly, it’s nothing to get excited about. The pasta was watery and needed salt and the iced green tea tasted awful we decided to stick with the water we have at hand. The breaded chicken was okay, made delicious by the melted cheese that oozed out. I did not enjoy my soup nor the rice (since I do not eat rice that much). The soft-served ice cream is okay, at best. Considering how tasty and delicious the food of Taipei is (and cheap too! Shilin Night Market proved that), Modern Toilet is a bit of a let-down considering the high expectations we had for the restaurant. The cost, in my opinion, is okay (NTS260 for a set) but note that you can get a yummier option at lower the cost in any of the many themed restos around Ximending.

      Design
      Admittedly, the allure of Modern Toilet comes with the whimsy display of poop. There are poop figures; they were selling candies shaped like poops; you can upsize your drink and order it served inside a plastic urinals for just NTS40; you are sitting on toilets with cute covers; food is served on glass-topped bath tubs and your ice cream comes shaped like poop. It’s a nice experience to have and something which can be best enjoyed with your family and friends, as you laugh on the cute poop displays and the fact that you are drinking on a miniature urinal.

      ?????????????????????

      light fixtures are shaped lovingly like poop

      light fixtures are shaped lovingly like poop

      No, this is not the ladies' restroom. This is the sink.

      No, this is not the ladies’ restroom. This is the sink.

      The sink is a whole toilet bowl modified with a faucet. This is a great idea with a weird execution. It didn’t help the sink is already dirty by the time I used it that it kinda grossed me a bit.

      It is indeed funny for a while, until you realize you are no longer ten years old and words like “poop”, “fart”, “dork” and others that may connote further bodily functions no longer amuse you.

      Here’s how to find Modern Toilet
      1. If you are coming from the metro, get out of Ximending station exit 6.
      2. Head to the right side of Eslite mall. That street is called Emei street. Just go straight until you reach the end of the road which is called Kunmimg Street.
      3. Turn right as soon as you see the parking lot.
      4. Then turn right once again. Walk a few steps. Modern Toilet is to your left and located on the second floor.

      Sorry for the crude interpretation. But here's how to find Modern Toilet

      Sorry for the crude interpretation. But here’s how to find Modern Toilet

      After you have your fill, I suggest you explore the neighborhood where Modern Toilet is located, lots of nice shops and hole-in-the-walls to discover.

      Address and contact information:
      Modern Toilet
      2F, No 7, Lane 50, Xi-Ning South Road, Taipei Taiwan.
      Tel:(02)23118822
      Website: http://www.moderntoilet.com.tw

      Prepare around NTS 250-NTS400 per person depending on your food preference.

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      Taiwan, Travel Tips

      Review: CityInn Hotel Plus Ximending – Getting 5-star service in a whimsical boutique hotel

      If you have plans to visit Taipei, here’s a recommendation. Stay at City Inn Hotel Plus Ximending!

      Forget that this little gem has comfortable, clean rooms that is just a hop, jump and cartwheel away from the Station 3 exit of the trendy Ximending district. Forget the whimsical designs, the art decorating the walls and the lifesized horse statue (lamp?) parked at the lobby. Forget its affordable rates, or that booking a room over the internet is easy.

      Exit 3 of Ximending Station. Look for the bright orange sign and count to ten -- you're now at CityInn!

      Exit 3 of Ximending Station. Look for the bright orange sign and count to ten — you’re now at CityInn!

      …at the end of the day, prepare yourself for unrivaled customer service that surely must have been prevalent only on five-star establishments.

      The first thing you’ll notice upon entering CityInn Hotel Plus Ximending, aside from the bright orange colors, is the wall of artwork…and yes, the horse:

      lobby of CityInn Hotel Plus Ximending (photo coutesy of my sister's Instagram)

      lobby of CityInn Hotel Plus Ximending (photo coutesy of my sister’s Instagram)

      The shelf near the horse sells unique souvenirs that reflect the art visible through out the building. The items are both cute and functional, the perfect souvenir for the budding artiste in you.

      If this won’t set you up for expectations that you are in for a very unique experience, then just wait until they start rolling out the virtual red carpet.

      Okay, enough with the hyperbole — some basic realizations first:

      1. Rooms are small but gets the job done. There is no closet, instead you will be provided with around 4 to 5 hangers. If you do not have the wardrobe of a famous celebrity, no problem. We booked for a twin room (for NTS 2,180 or about PHP3,270 per night) which came with two single beds, complete bathroom amenities and free munchies on the top drawer. There is a small fridge and free mineral water. The beds are super comfy. After staying at Keyman’s, where our backs were realigned no thanks to the rock-hard beds, the soft and comfortable mattress and pillows offered by CityInn were a welcome respite. We ended up oversleeping on our first night. A/C is okay and adjustable based on your preference. Room light is backlit so you don’t have to fumble through out the night as you look for a switch.

      Twin Room at CityInn Hotel Plus. Comfy beds!

      Twin Room at CityInn Hotel Plus. Comfy beds!

      2. No breakfast provided. However, you can have your fill of coffee, tea or fruit juice for free on the basement floor. There are also two desk top PCs provided if you want to browse the internet. Wifi is available throughout the building. CityInn also offers free usage of the laundry machine, also located at the basement. No need to buy soap, it’s also available at the basement.

      If you start craving for munchies or for breakfast, you can arrange for sandwiches to be delivered to your room, courtesy of the cafe nearby. Just place your order via the hotel reception and they’ll bring it up your room. Munchies (Doritos and veggie chips) are also placed on the top drawer. A small ref is also provided if you want to buy water, fruits, ice cream and other snacks from the nearby 711.

      free munchies on the top drawer. menu for room service is on the left (breakfast only, 8AM to 11AM only)

      free munchies on the top drawer. menu for room service is on the left (breakfast only, 8AM to 11AM only)

      3. Bathroom amenities are provided and even includes sanitary pads in case emergency strikes. Inside the shower area, there’s a soap and shampoo dispenser. Hot water is of course, available.

      nice shower!

      nice shower!

      complete bathroom amenities! there's even a hair dryer

      complete bathroom amenities! there’s even a hair dryer

      4. Walls can be a bit thin though. You can hear your neighbor going about, and during our stay — we can hear them turning on the shower. God forbid that you are rooming next to a pair of amorous teenagers. There’s also no window in the room so you have to make sure to always set your clock on time, especially if you have trips to neighboring counties.

      Whatever this hotel lacks, they pretty much make up for it when it comes to customer service. The reception area is always very accommodating and easy to talk to, always helpful and willing to lend a hand. As we prepare for our trip back to Manila, we asked the front office if there’s a toilet in the first floor that we can use to freshen up and change clothes. They immediately pointed to the rest room located behind the front office area. Wash room is also clean and stocked with everything that you will possibly need: soap, lotion, a bidet and even a mouth freshener (especially if you had too much grilled squid or fish ball).

      Our stay coincided with my sister’s 31st birthday. On the night before we left, we were at the basement eating and relaxing when two of the guys approached my sister and I. They were clutching a fluffy hat, oversized shades and a birthday cake for the dear sister:

      my sister and I celebrating her birthday with one of the staff of CityInn

      my sister and I celebrating her birthday with one of the staff of CityInn

      The Queen with her birthday card from CityInn!

      The Queen with her birthday card from CityInn!

      My sister said it was one of her best birthdays, ever.

      More than the birthday greeting, the staff of this hotel is truly one of the best. They are friendly and very helpful, warm and efficient and were good problem solvers. The treat guests as family and you can sense that they will truly bend over backwards just to please a guest or make their stay comfortable.

      Information:

      Address: No.63, Baoqing Rd., Zhongzheng Dist., Taipei City 100, Taiwan (R.O.C.)
      Tel: +886 (2) 7725-2288
      Fax: +886 (2) 7725-2799
      service4@cityinn.com.tw

      NOTE: I paid for my stay at this hotel and no part of this trip was sponsored.

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