Hong Kong

Disneyland: Bringing out the child in all of us

For me, a trip to Hong Kong won’t be complete without visiting Hong Kong Disneyland. While I have been to Hong Kong thrice already, I still choose to go to Disneyland over Ocean Park all the time. I know I maybe missing out by insisting on going to Disneyland all the time but hey, the little kid in me is quite loyal to the Kingdom of the Mouse.

Entrance to a Magical Place

Of course, playtime in paradise does not mean that there won’t be small things that threaten to put a damp on your happy camper kiddie mode. Here are some of my tips to maximize your stay at Hong Kong Disneyland!

1. Buy your tickets ahead – there are many ways to secure your Disney tickets ahead of time. You can buy online through the Disney website, buy through recommended travel websites like AsiaTravel.com or choose to purchase your ticket through your hotel or guesthouses. During our planning, I insisted on buying our tickets ahead of time and even asked the guesthouse if they were selling Disney tickets.

Some of our Disney tickets bought ahead at City Econo Guesthouse

Think of the long line you will have to weather if you ended up buying your ticket while on site. Good thing if it’s a slow day, but who can tell? Especially on the number of tourist groups and school field trips usually scheduled within the day. Buying it ahead saves you time — time which can be sent lining up on attraction. Plus, if you are lucky, buying your tickets ahead can save you money. In our case, we were able to get our tickets for just HKD380 (original rates at HKD399). I might be just HKD19 saved, but it’s money that can be used if you want to eat or buy something inside the park later.

2. Get to the park early and leave late (or at least, after the fireworks show) – When we first visited Disney, we arrived at noon and ended up missing a lot of the park’s attractions. The long line in all of the rides and shows didn’t help either. This time, with mom and dad in tow, we arrived at the park at 10AM just in time for the park opening. And since we have our tickets ahead, we strolled immediately to the entrance and started lining up for attractions and photo opportunities with the Disney characters.

3. Never miss the fireworks show – For me, the Disney Fireworks Show at the end of the long day (usually happening at 8PM or 9PM – check your schedules) is one of the highlights of the whole visit. When I first watched it four years ago, I was crying by the time the final strains of “A Whole New World” faded. Well, guess who cried when she saw it again three weeks ago? Yep, crybabies represent! Aladdin was my favorite Disney cartoon growing up and somehow, the familiar strains never failed transport back in sixth grade where I always wanted to grow up like Jasmine and marry a guy who will invite me on “a magic carpet ride, and show me the world — yes, shining, shimmering, splendid of course!”

The magical castle, in all its glory

4. Get your Park Map and schedules – Usually located by the entrance and at the City Hall, the maps will help you plot your way around the park, while maximizing your time in order to see the rides an attractions of your choice. The schedule meanwhile indicates the time where the characters usually appear for photo op, as well as the show schedules. For me, one of the biggest time eaters is the photo op with characters, lining up usually takes a lot of time especially if we are talking about Mickey and Minnie Mouse here. Knowing when and where they appear saves you the time and energy of lining up.

TIP: Mickey and Minnie Mouse is usually found on the first gazebo that you will see upon entering the park.

5. FASTPASS – know it and use it to your advantage – Fast passes are tickets that will allow you to jump a line at a specific time period. They are usually found on attractions that has a lot of crowd and lining up usually takes 30-45 minutes, like the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. You can only use your Fast pass one at a time. To do so, you have to insert your ticket on a special fast pass machine which will print out your fast pass. You can only use your fast pass at the specified time period. The Disney Cast Member will advice you when to come back. In the meantime, you can see other shows and enjoy other attractions.

6. Try Dining in, even just once – I will not sugar coat it. For a budget traveler, everything inside Disneyland is EXPENSIVE. Mineral waters sell for like HKD20 while soda goes for HKD25. Bringing in of food is also prohibited except for snacks like a chocolate bar, candies or biscuits. If you are on a budget and keeping rehydrated is important to you, you can also bring in your mineral water bought outside and refill it in any of the refilling stations inside the park. (TIP: Water refilling stations are usually near the comfort room. Whenever there’s a comfort room, you can pretty much bet there’s a water fountain nearby.)

curry rice for only HKD46.

But even if you are on a tight budget, I would recommend to at least try one of the many dishes sold inside the park. We chose one of the food houses nearest Space Mountain and the food was to-die-for! Plus, at HKD46 per serving, it’s not as expensive compared to the other food choices inside the park. The servings are also huge! Will pretty much fill you up until late dinner where you have the option to splurge (read: eat at restos) or eat a light snack at the bakery over at Main Street and have a late dinner when you got home.

7. Patience at all times! – respect other people’s cultures and as much as possible try to be polite and patient, even if you think some people are rude. Nothing ruins the “magical vibe” more than a silly spat over standing in line!

8. Slather on SPF or bring an umbrella, especially if you are coming on a very hot day – It can be quite hot, especially when you are sitting on one of the curbs at Main Street waiting for the Afternoon Parade to start. Slather on SPF or bring an umbrella to avoid burning to a crisp. The parade can be quite long, and there are times when the giant floats stop moving to wait for the tail end to catch up. Skin cancer is not okay!

These balloons are pretty! They also sell for HKD150 each.

Mr. Donald Duck

9. Remember that you don’t have to see all the attractions and the show. Choose only what you like! – Life is too short to spend wallowing on rides that bore you to death (I am talking about you, Slinky Dog!), no one will judge you if you insist on riding the Racer or Space Mountain four times! Remember, you are a kid — you play where you want to play! If you are in a group, you can agree to check out the rides you want and just meet up after a while on a designated spot. This works well of course, if you’re mobile phone is on roaming.

10. Don’t be a killjoy. It’s okay to be a kid, even for just one last time – No one’s gonna judge you if you happen to morph back into your ten year old self the moment you see Mickey or Minnie or Donald. Relive your childhood by enjoying the rides, eating the junk foods, gushing over Minnie’s dress and telling Mickey you love him! Ride the carousel if you want or sing along to the theme of “Beauty and the Beast” at the Golden Mickey if you wish. Believe and be swept away by the magic of 3D at Mickey’s Philharmagic Orchestra.

Lastly, if you feel like crying once the fireworks start dazzling the sky and the familiar refrains make your heart beat faster then ever, do it. Childhood is a wonderful thing where our worries are only limited according to our imagination.

Asia, South Korea, Travel Tips

Step by step visa application for South Korea

the South Korean Embassy – Manila (from the embassy’s FB page)

After a successful and memorable Busan and Seoul trip last March, I posted a step-by-step South Korean tourist visa application in my other blog. Following the trip, many of my friends have sent me text messages or even asked me personally about getting a tourist visa for South Korea. I am reposting my experience as well as the tips that worked best for me so that other people might use it as they start planning for their own Seoul Searching trip.

First, my trip was completely, right off the bat, unexpected. Only my sister was supposed to go but her travel buddy had an unexpected family tragedy. Prior to the trip, I have been researching her Korea trip for the last four months, realizing that it won’t cost me anything to apply for a 59D visa (single entry). After finding that I have enough in my bank account to risk getting a bank certificate, I decided that I won’t lose anything should I take a chance an apply for a 59D.

First, allow me to address a misconception. No one knows how much money you should have in your bank in order to get approved. To be honest with you, I have less than PHP50,000 in the bank (more on the lower five figures). There are other factors that the consul consider other than your bank account. It can either be your tenure at your current job, your stability or connection in the Philippines or maybe even the money in your bank account. So for those with less money in the bank but is willing to risk it…I say go for it. Applying for a visa is free. No one really knows if you’ll get approved or not.

“Winging it” and “risking it” turned out positive for me. Valentine’s Day 2011 was made extra memorable not because of any undying declarations of love, but because I realized that I am indeed going to Seoul in three weeks time.

As my way of giving back to the unnamed faces whose post in the internet who helped me get through the visa application process, I am sharing what I knew based from my experience and the many researches that I did early this year.

Process explained below is for TOURIST VISA (59D), SINGLE ENTRY.

Here’s the step-by-step process:

1. Make sure all your documents are complete. This includes the following:
– Application form (downloaded file from the South Korean embassy) which you print using A4 paper. On the application form, attach your most recent passport-sized photo (white background). Please have your photo taken on a really good photography shop.

– Photocopy of the first page (the information page) of your passport.

– Certificate of employment from your current employer indicating your tenure in the company, salary and position. It’s important that in your company letterhead, the company’s complete address and telephone number is indicated. For the love of God, do not even ATTEMPT to submit a fake employment certificate. I heard that someone from the embassy really calls our employers to verify. Please do not do anything stupid which will affect the reputation of other Filipino travelers.

– Bank certificate. The certificate usually indicates how much you have in the bank as of date of request. This is easy to request. In BPI for example, you can get your bank certificate for as less than an hour. You will just have to pay PHP100 (USD2) to facilitate your request. For BDO account holders, my friend told me that you will get your bank certificate the next day.

– Income Tax Return (ITR) Form 2306 – this is a non-negotiable requirement. If you don’t have your current ITR, try submitting your old ITR either from the year before. In fact, I used an ITR issued to me by my former company. I stayed for less than six months in that company hence my contribution rate was minuscule. I was most worried about this document, but apparently the one I submitted qualified.

2. As soon as you have all your documents in order, you are ready to take the next step! Go directly to the South Korean Embassy located in McKinley Hill in Taguig. If you are based in Manila and can spare a few hours of your time, you do not need to have your applications coursed through a travel agency. Coursing your visa application through a travel agency will just cost you money. If you don’t have anything else to do, do it yourself. The application process is easy and very fool-proof. The embassy accepts visa applications from 9AM to 12NN from Monday to Friday. Please bring valid ID so that you can go past the kind guards manning the gate.

3. Submit all your documents. As soon as you enter the Visa Application area, you will see a receptionist stationed near the door. She will ask you if you have a visa in any of the OECD countries (like Japan, USA, Australia, Shengen, etc) — she will ask you this in order to identify which window will accept your application. If you are a first time traveler or don’t have visa from any of the countries indicated in the list, you will be referred to Window 1. She will give you a stub indicating your number.

My sister and I was assigned to Window 1 — while waiting for our number to be called, we arranged our documents and made sure they are neat and presentable. We also arranged them based on the order indicated in the embassy website. Make sure that your documents are neat and presentable. It never hurts to give a good impression to the consul.

When your number is called, approach the assigned window and give your papers to the Consul. He may or he may not ask you questions about your trip. Don’t get nervous and answer him as truthfully as possible. Tell him you are going to Seoul so that you can make Lee MinHo realize that he is meant to be your better half. Or that you are there on a mission to stalk Super Junior. RULE OF THUMB: Please do not lie.

4. After submitting your documents, the consul will hand you a piece of paper which will indicate when you can pick-up your passport. Whatever happens, do not lose that paper. Guard it with your life.

Indicated is the date and time when you can come back to get your passport. Do not lose the paper since that is the only requirement in getting your passport.

After you have the paper, you can now go home and hyperventilate in the safety of your room. You have done your share, let the universe (and fate) take over.

First, a word of caution –just because you submitted the documents does not mean that you are automatically granted a visa. No one knows what will get you approved or denied, except the Consul. You can pick-up your passport on the date indicated on the piece of paper (2PM to 4PM ONLY).

Leave your ID at the guard, pass by the receptionist and get a number and wait for your number to be called. The consul will hand you your passport, and you may check if you have been granted a visa before leaving the embassy grounds.

If your passport does not contain anything but a stamp indicating “APPLICATION RECEIVED” and you are handed a piece of paper with procedures for reapplication printed, it means your application was denied. You will have to wait another six months before you can plot your KPOP staking campaign once again.

REMEMBER — These are based on my personal experience only, and should not be taken as hard facts. For a more comprehensive process, go to the embassy website.

So what did I learn?
1.It pays to do your research.
2. Always be nice to people. You will never know when you will be left wanting for their help and assistance.
3. Do not lie. Be honest always.
4. If in doubt, do not be afraid to ask for directions.

getting a SK tourist visa

Our 59D Visa last March 2012

I hope this post will be of help to you. It may look daunting at first, but I am the perfect example that it is not impossible.