Island Girl, Concrete Jungle

I Changed… Yet Again!

I’ve decided to rename my blog again–Postcardpretty.com is now IslandGirlConcreteJungle.com.

An ubiquitous source on travel with a third-world passport and surviving life in general. The reason being, I moved on to becoming more adult.

My current life goal: to be as productive as I can before my next mid-life crisis and finally decide to join the circus.

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Nightlife Guide: How to Party in Cebu

For a lot of travelers, nightlife is ineluctably part of their itinerary. Sure, sightseeing and tours are a great way to see the city–but how do you truly know a city unless you’ve seen the night lights… unless you’ve mingled with the locals?

I myself love to socialize. Hence I’ve decided to make a series of nightlife guides to different cities around the globe I’ve been to–and why not start with my home base, Cebu City?

To upcoming tourists and travelers to Cebu, this is a comprehensive-as-possible guide on nightlife in Cebu, and on how, where and when to party when in the Queen City of the South.

party in cebu

Mind you, this guide features bars and clubs that I personally frequent–bars great for socializing, drinking and just having clean, good fun. So, this isn’t exactly the guide on bars that can help you ‘score’ some girls… sorry, not an expert in that department.

How to Drink and Party in Cebu?

There’s this widely known credence that Asians ‘can’t drink’… but this does not apply to Filipinos! A lot of guys have beer as drink accompaniment with their meals–breakfast, lunch or dinner. Whether you are in the city or the province, you can walk around and will see groups of men huddled in a table, drinking together. They will often invite you to drink with them.

Filipinos love their beer and alcohol. Beer is the poison of choice for most Filipinos. In more formal occasions such as family gatherings where the titas and titos are sure to make an appearance, then they will take out their wine glasses. Otherwise, gin, rum and beer are a safe bet. Filipinos drink to get drunk. Period.

It’s amazing to see how many activities Filipinos can do intoxicated–they can drive, cook, go to work, and do their errands while under the influence of alcohol. It’s not something we’d recommend though.

Tagayan‘ is popular especially among Vis-Min area, a manner of drinking wherein instead of separate glasses for every drinker, only one cup is used and passed around. I know, it sounds very unsafe and unsanitary, but this is how Filipinos bond and show camaraderie.

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Filipinos like to drink with some food, known as ‘pulutan‘. These are often fatty deep-fried foods like chicken skin, sisig or nuts.

Karaoke is another popular nightlife activity, as majority of the Filipino population aspire to become famous singer-celebrities someday.

In Cebu, EDM or electro dance music is the preference of most partygoers, although the hiphop/r&b scene is slowly gaining momentum lately. A lot of visitors complain that Filipino bars and clubs tend to be ‘too loud’, where you can barely hear or speak to each other.

Cebu parties start late and end late. The clubs start getting packed by midnight. The party usually starts to subside by 3AM, although on high peak season party could last until 5-6Am.

It’s customary for partygoers to eat after-party, to regenerate some lost energy. Cebuano’s favorite post-party food of choice is bulalo. Other favorites include siomai and puso, ramen or noodles, silog (breakfast) food at Gian’s or fast food like Jollibee or McDonald’s. Cebuanos don’t care much about eating healthy…

When to Party in Cebu?

There seems to be an annual trend in the party scene in Cebu, with a high peak and low peak season–plan your trip accordingly. The night scene is pretty dead during the summer school break, around on April time, before it starts to pick up again during July when school season starts and tourists coming in. It gets even busier during ‘-ber’ months, peaking on December and January, before winding down again on February.

The best time to come to Cebu to party is during December to January, which is holiday season leading up to Sinulog season. Cebuanos are on ‘party mood’ during this time, as many balikbayans and overseas relatives come home during the holiday season. This means an endless string of christmas parties, reunions, homecomings, family parties, and more. Lechon, lechon, lechon. And plenty of Jose Mari Chan.

Sinulog is a different experience on its own that i would like to immortalize in a separate future blog post. But it’s definitely something one needs to experience, to get to know what Cebu party life and hospitality is all about. I met the best people and had the best experience every Sinulog!

 

Off-peak season is a bit trickier. Unlike major Asian cities like Bangkok, Hong Kong or Manila where something’s always happening every day of the week, Cebu City still has some sleepy days. Nightlife is pretty good on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, Saturdays being the busiest time of the week.

On Wednesdays, the most popular activity is Salsa Nights at MAYA, a Mexican restaurant of the Abaca Group in Crossroads, Banilad. Salsa night is every Wednesdays from 9PM to 12PM every Wednesdays. The crowd is hip and international, sharing the same love for latin music.

Where to Party?

Cebu nightlife is colorful, lively and loud. Filipinos  always have energy to go out and mingle.

  • LIV Superclub

LIV is the biggest nightclub in Cebu offers a club experience set at international standard. Famous local and international EDM DJs have played here, including Otto Knows, Dirty South, EVO-K and more. Even the Maria Ozawa has graced her presence here!

LIV Superclub is located at The Times Square, Mandaue City, Cebu. There is usually an entrance fee of Php300.

(photos grabbed from the LIV Superclub FB page)

  • Distillery

distillery crossroads cebu

Distillery is the default drinking place of choice for the people within my crowd. Distillery is located in the Crossroads, Banilad Cebu City. I could easily go there any day of the week alone, not make plans with anyone, and still find a friend or acquaintance lurking by (I’m looking at you, Jedd and Alvin…).

The problem with Distillery is it can get a bit… clique-ish, because everyone knows everyone in here. It’s still a nice place to have drinks and listen to good music though.

 

  • The Sentral

The Sentral is Cebu’s first all-hiphop bar and lounge, providing the best of hiphop and R&B music in Cebu.The Sentral is located at Norkis Cyberpark, AS Fortuna, Mandaue.

  • Maya

Maya Mexican Restaurant is part of the Abaca group of restaurants and located in The Crossroads, Banilad, Cebu City.

Come to Maya at Wednesdays, when the second floor transforms into a salsa dance floor! Wednesday salsa nights attract a lively and international crowd. Maya Restaurant the best mojitos in town–which is 2-for-1 on salsa night! Starting mid-2016, Maya also has Salsa Sundays with 2-for-1 margaritas!

maya mexican restaurant cebu philippines

  • The Social

The Social is a restaurant and cafe by day, and a bar lounge by night. A lot of expats and foreign tourists prefer The Social because of its location and convenience, located in the 4F Ayala Center Cebu. They have Havana Nights on Tuesdays and one can also easily make friends by just chilling on the bar and watch football.

  • Ibiza

Ibiza Beach Club is a chic bar and lounge located in Movenpick Resort, Mactan. Modeled after the actual Ibiza in Spain, it offers a unique drinking and dining experience with a breathtaking ocean view. They have happy hour everyday from 3-5pm where drinks are 2-in-1, and have a lovely view of the sunset too.

Ibiza is one of my favorite spots in Cebu and would be here more frequently if it wasn’t so far away from the city central.

  • Morals and Malice

Morals and Malice is a posh and stylish lounge bar located about the Tinder Box, and right beside The Crossroads, Banilad. The interiors are a work of art, masterfully crafted by the famed Cebuano designer Kenneth Cobonpue himself.

The bar’s interesting namesake is based on the two-part, yin-and-yang concept nature of the establishment. Half of the place will be serving coffee and brunch (Morals), whereas the Malice part serves drinks and cocktails.

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Image from The Inquirer
  • Mango Ave

I am not an expert when it comes to the party scene in Mango, but I’ve stumbled here on rare occasions when I already had that much to drink to make it ‘okay’ for me to venture out here. Something’s always going on in Mango–popular bars are J-Ave and Alchology. Things always seem to get weird here, one way or another… It’s definitely not boring though.

  • Other Chill Drink Areas

For wine nights, La Vie Parisienne and Ampersand are personal favorites. La Vie is affordable, while Ampersand is the more high-end choice with great food choices. Marriott Hotel offers unlimited wine on the evenings for only Php699/head, and is conveniently located beside Ayala Mall. Gusto Urban Deli + Cafe, District 53rd and Planet Grapes are also good choices.

Cebu has a growing number of pubs around the city to accommodate the growing population of expats and foreign visitors coming in. Aside from The Social, Marshall’s Irish Pub and Emerald Isle are recommended pubs to watch football or rugby (or your sport of choice).

For cocktails, I think Bellini is beautiful and underrated-this champagne lounge is located beside Anzani Restaurant in Nivel Hills, Lahug and offers a nice view. I’d recommend this place if you want some privacy or a quiet date night.

bellini-bar
Bellini (image source: Zee Lifestyle)

Other Nighttime Activities

Not really a party animal? There’s still tons of activities to do in Cebu when the sun goes down. If you enjoy singing as much as most Filipinos do, karaoke is a good nighttime activity. There aren’t many hookah bars in Cebu–although I’ve seen some in IT Park (Figola) and in Times Square, Mandaue City.

If you’re a self-proclaimed geek, you will enjoy trivia nights, slogos nights and board game nights which happen on various days of the week. Cebu Trivia Night is every Wednesdays at Alejandro’s and every Thursdays at Politics. Slogos Night is every Wednesdays at Monkey’s Belly and every Friday’s at Handuraw Kasambagan. Tabletop Nights allow you to play board games with fellow enthusiasts, held every Mondays at Bubble Bee Tea House Escario Central.

 

What To Do If You Lose Your Philippine Passport

Losing a passport is one of the most stressful things that could happen to a traveler, especially when abroad. In fact, it is also one of my biggest fears (gasp!)–I can imagine the headache and the hassle you have to go through, as well as the change of plans and expenses you will incur. Losing a passport is not very fun.

Even if you haven’t lost your passport, some preparedness and knowledge will come in handy in case the event arises (we hope it won’t!). This will help diminish stress levels. Read on if you want to know what to do in the case that you, or a loved one, lose a Philippine passport.

First, How NOT to Lose Your Passport

First of all, let’s talk about deterrents–how NOT to lose your passport.

Your passport should be the first and last thing you check when leaving or arriving at all times.

Most hotels have safe boxes–use them. Leave your valuables and passport when not needed. You’re less likely to lose your passport if you kept it safely locked in your hotel room than bring it with you everywhere. I don’t carry my passport unless I have reason to.

Granted, there are countries that do require mandatory identification checks. If you do choose to carry it around when touring, just make sure your wary of your valuables and keep your handbag close to you at all times.

Also, carrying a passport when clubbing is a bad idea.

Finally, always bring a photocopy of your passport when traveling. Leave a copy to trusted family and friends too, or even keep a digital version of your passport so you can easily print it when the need arises.

Losing Your Philippine Passport at Home

If you already lost all hope and resign to the fact that you have indeed lost your passport, you need to file an Affidavit of Loss and a Police Report. Get the Affidavit of Loss from a lawyer, where you will have to state all the details on how you lost your passport: when, where, how, etc. This document must be notarized.

For the Police Report, go to the nearest police station that covers the area where you lost your passport. Even if you lost your passport by sheer carelessness and not through criminal activity like theft or arson (hey, it can happen), you still need to file a police report.

Apart from these two requisites, you need the usual documents to passport application: your NSO birth certificate, valid Government-issued ID, etc.

Just go through the same process of applying for a passport, just pay an additional Lost Passport fee of Php200. To learn more about the new passport application process in Cebu, read my blog post here!

Losing Your Passport Abroad

If you lose your passport while traveling abroad, you need to act fast. The first thing you need to do is to file a Police Report. You’ll also need the police report for travel insurance claims and declaration of lost passport. Immediate action will also prevent anyone from using your passport illegally.

The next step is to locate and contact the nearest embassy or consulate (For a list of Philippine Embassies and Consulates around the world, refer to this link). You need to make a personal appearance, so book an appointment (as walk-ins are generally not allowed). The Philippine embassy or consulate or normally available for appointment on weekday mornings, so let’s hope you didn’t lose your passport over the weekend!

philippine_embassy

Bring your police report, passport photos, itinerary, flight details and proof of citizenship.You will need to pay some fees in cash and should be able to get your temporary passport within 24 hours. The embassy or consulate can either give you a replacement passport that will allow you to finish your trip or an emergency travel document that will get you back home ASAP.

 

 

Jiufen & Shifen: Taiwan’s Old Streets

Did you know that Taiwan was actually Japan’s first colony? You can still feel it, once you step on the shores of Taiwan–you can feel a little bit of China, and a little bit of Japan… but don’t tell the Taiwanese that.

Japan wanted to show off to the world that they can also do the imperial colonizing thing like the Westerners can, and wanted to set Taiwan as a model example. You can still see the remnants of Japan especially in Taiwan’s old towns, particularly Jiufen and Shifen. If you want to experience more history and culture, these old mining towns give a feel of what Taiwan was like during the late 20th-century Japanese occupation.

In the late 20th century, gold was discovered in the area which ushered the gold rush and brought in a lot of people in that area. Mining was a lucrative industry in the hey-day: naturally rich in sulfur, gold, clay and gold. Nowadays, however, Taiwan now relies on imports to meet their mineral demands.

Jiufen and Shifen are good to visit in a day’s trip, as they are quite nearby and accessible. (Personally, I think it would be better if you allocate one day for each town!)

How to Get There?

Jiufen and Shifen is 40km and 30km away from the capital, respectively.

To get to Jiufen and Shifen, you need to get to Ruifang Train Station. You can also take the bus (approx $15-22 NTD/trip). . The commute is fairly inexpensive and easy to navigate, and takes approximately 40 minutes to 1 hour to get to your destination. The travel offers scenic views of the Taiwanese countryside.

shihfen flying lanterns

I should warn you that the commute back is a lot less pleasant. Queues at the bus station get pretty long after sunset. Day visitors often have to compete for a seat to the bus ride home.

So if you’re not the hustling kind, it would be better if you take the train (buying a roundtrip ticket in advance gets you a guaranteed seat) or simply hire a cab for the day. It will be more comfortable that way.

Jiufen

Jiufen is a charming little mining town in Northern Taiwan where time literally froze. It used to be a bustling gold mining town, until the gold depleted and it became a deserted, forgotten gem. There was a revived interest in the town when it appeared in the acclaimed movie City of Sadness, and it became a famous tourist attraction.

Although there is some dispute regarding this, Jiufen is said to be the real-life inspiration behind Hayao Miyazaki’s film, Spirited Away. If you haven’t seen the animated film, it’s about a little girl whose parents transformed into pigs and enters into a spirit world. Jiufen offers the magical backdrop of the film, from the winding, cobblestone streets  down to the  pork dumplings the Chihiro’s parents devoured greedily in the film.

Jiufen is filled with shops selling unique food and quirky things you will never find elsewhere. Shops sell trinkets, calligraphy art, peanut ice cream, shaved ice desserts… all sorts of things!

One particular shop had a handmade mask exhibit that reminded me again of another scene from the Miyazaki film.

The bathhouse is inspired by the A-mei Teahouse nestled in the highest part of the mountain. The teahouse is said to be a century old, where you could have traditional tea served with a good view of the town

Shifen

Located in Pingxi Disctrict is another charming town famous for another thing: their magnificent flying lanterns. Annually, they hold the Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival every February wherein thousands of sky lanterns are flown. I bet that is a sight to behold.

Once a bustling town with a railway that was a major player in Taiwan’s coal mining industry, the city is now best known for two things: the Shifen Waterfalls, lovingly dubbed as ‘Taiwan’s Niagara Falls’, and the flying lanterns, where visitors could send their wishes to the sky.

Wishes are color-coded and prices could vary from NT100-NT150, depending on the lantern you wish to send to the sky.

Just like most people, we wished for good health, love and more travels. Oriental characters on the flying lanterns seem more awesome than the English alphabet though… Watch our lantern go up in the sky!

It was magical to see your lantern fly up the sky and see your wishes reach the heavens… Unfortunately, I was told that the lanterns fly up for 10 minutes before it comes down to the ground. The lantern shops have workers whose job is to retrieve the fallen lanterns. Boo. Not as magical as I thought.

photobombing pixie sticks shifen taiwan

In the evening, we bought some fairy sticks and acted like kids. Who knew it was so much fun to light these things? Thanks fairy light photobombers for making this photo of me awesome! 🙂

So here you go! Do yourself a little favor and have a side trip to Jiufen and Shifen when you’re in Taiwan.

Uber for Traveling, Uber for Cebu!

I don’t know about you, but there’s something ‘off’ or ‘weird’ when getting a cab in another country. There’s a ton of things to worry about. Is this safe? Did I bring enough money? Should I tip? Did I give him the right directions? My anxiety levels are high when I feel vulnerable, as I am normally the one behind the wheel at home. Now I have to give my trust to a complete stranger.

I tried to avoid getting a cab abroad because it’s horrendously expensive (especially in London!). However there are times when you really need to cab it: when you’re carrying a giant backpack plus a 30 kg. luggage; and when you’re on the way to a party looking like a million dollars.

I thank the stars that the idea of Uber was conceived where you can hail a cab with a touch of a button. Moreover, there is no awkward exchange of cash (my least favorite thing, especially when you’re handling with alien currencies)–everything is tabbed to your credit card.

My First Uber Ride.

My first Uber ride was in Paris. I was living with a friend in Universitaire and transferring to another friend’s at Cite de Phalsbourg. I know getting there via Metro would be impossible–I did have my 30 kg. luggage this time, and the Paris Metro is infamous for their lack of escalators and elevators. Plus the last time I took the metro, someone stole my box of pizza.

Yes, someone took off with my pizza. That really happened. Everything happens in Paris!

I figured out it was the perfect time to try Uber for the first time. Interestingly, I later learned that the idea of Uber was conceived when the founders couldn’t get a cab in a cold winter night in Paris.

I used my friend’s referral code and got 10 EUR off my first Uber ride. The 10km ride cost me less than 20 EUR. If I had taken the traditional cab, I would’ve paid around 30-40 EUR.

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My Uber Obsession in Manila

If the Uber founders found it difficult to get a taxi in Paris, they haven’t been to Manila.

The cab drivers from hell live in Manila. The moment you arrive the airport, taxi drivers try to rip you off as much as they can. They will pretend to be oblivious on where the hell Greenbelt is even if they’ve lived in Manila all their lives. When you show them the map, they pretend to be stupid and will go around avenues just so they can charge you more.

Fuckers.

If you’re traveling to Manila soon, my advice is to just stick to Uber. Honest taxi drivers are mythical unicorns in Manila.

My stress levels are high every time I get on a traditional taxi in Manila, so I Uber almost everywhere when walking is not an option. Uber cars have a GPS so they can never say ‘I don’t know where that is’. And the tracking makes it harder for them to go around in circles so they can charge higher. All I needed was to get in the Uber car and not worry about anything.

Why Uber is Awesome

Uber is perfect in the Philippine setting for those number of reasons, and more. Philippine taxi drivers will rip unsuspecting tourists off any opportunity they can. With Uber, you have a rating system where riders can rate drivers (and vice versa) so customer satisfaction is optimally better.

Another aspect of customer satisfaction is the quality of the ride. Uber drivers own the car they drive, hence they take care of it and better maintained than the traditional taxi counterparts. A/C will be working, seats will be more comfortable and the car will be cleaner.

UberX, which is available in the Philippines, is the low cost option, which is generally 30% cheaper than getting a regular cab ride. The GPS app they use ensure that they will know where they are going and won’t drive you in circles just to mess with you.

Who says car owners can’t use Uber too? Studies confirm that it is a lot cheaper to Uber than to own a car in Manila, with the hidden costs of maintenance and upkeep. Plus, won’t it be awesome if we could just sit in the backseat, not worry about driving and play Pokémon Go? If you want to go out without the worry of parking or who will be driving after a few beers, just Uber it!

Uber’s advocacy is to have less cars on the road. Traffic is getting worse in the Philippines, and if you could lessen the quantity of cars, we make it easier for all commuters on the road. I myself personally hate driving even if I have my own car, so the convenience Uber brings make ‘owning a car’ a less priority to millennials than before.

More butts into the backseats for fewer cars in the road. The UberHop feature allows you to split costs and carpool with fellow Uber riders going on the same direction as you. I don’t know about you, but sounds like a grand idea.

Uber Celebrates Cebu

Uber is now available in 480 cities around the world, including Manila and Cebu in the Philippines.

Cebu City will be the first city in the Philippines to have a cash payment option for Uber riders! This is good news, as in the Philippines credit card penetration is only 2%. This makes it more accessible to more Cebuanos!

In line with that, all first-time Uber riders in Cebu get 50% off their first five rides from today until July 17. Simply enter the promo code: CELEBRATECEBU upon sign up to avail of the discounted rides.

cebu bloggers society smartlife
CBS with Uber PH heads, Laurence Cua, Uber PH GM and EJ dela Vega, Uber Cebu City lead

How to Use Uber

Simply download the app and register for an account to start using Uber.

Uber How-to JPG

How to use the Cash Payment Option in Uber?

Choose the uberX option in the app. Before requesting a ride, change your payment option to cash on the confirmation page. The payment bar is located at the lower half of your screen. Enter your destination and request a ride.

You’ll see your driver’s details straight away–name, photo and the details of the car. These drivers have professional driving licenses and have undergone an extensive screening process.

At the end of your trip, the app will reflect the fare that you need to pay. Hand your payment to your driver and you’ll receive an electronic receipt via email.

Download Uber now and use my promo code to get your first free ride!

My promo code: rachela5448ue

Or just click this link! https://www.uber.com/invite/postcardpretty

The Filipino Traveler Identity Crisis

On my numerous trips, I’ve been constantly approached and asked where I come from. For fun, I make a game out of it to let them guess. Most commonly, I’ve been perceived to be Thai. I’ve also been thought to be: Singaporean, Nepali, Kazakhstani, and on rare occasions, Chinese or Japanese.

filipinos what do we look like
But never Filipino. When I tell them my real identity (like Batman), two reactions alternately happen.
Either: “Oh really? You don’t look Filipino!” they say it like a genuine compliment, so I say smile. But I couldn’t help but wonder what they really mean by that. What’s a Filipino supposed to look like, anyway?

Or: Utter ignorance. “Where is the Philippines? Oh wait, wasn’t that in the Bible?” During these times I sometimes wished we have something notoriously spectacular, like the Fidel Castro or the Angkor Wat or the Dalai Lama. Oh wait, a lot of people aren’t even familiar with these. Oh wait, we have Manny Pacquiao.
pacman_3490363b

‘So, are Filipinos Asians or Pacific Islanders?’  

A fellow traveler asked as follow up, seeking to ensue an intellectual debate.

This gets a little more interesting. Before I could answer, another one butted in: ‘Neither? They seem more hispanic or latino to me.’

To note, these were raised by people who were neither Filipinos, but Americans. As westerners try to lump us into a particular ethnic group, we become more alienated and confused. Hence the understandable Filipino identity crisis. In the first place, we never classified ourselves as such or such before. It is all a western invention.

The Philippines is a creation by Western colonizers to begin with. If the Spanish never came, force-baptize the natives and named our islands after a historically unimportant king, there never would have been ‘The Philippine Islands’ in the first place. Our islands would probably have been absorbed by Chinese civilization from the north, or be integrated into the Muslim Malay nations from the south. Who knows?

To get back to my nationality guessing game, there was only one person who got it right once. Once. A Slovakian Arnold Schwarzenegger-esque guy we encountered in Ibiza.

Wow, you’re the very first person who got that right the first time!” I said, really impressed.

“It’s not that difficult. You’re a tan Asian with very good American English. So there you go. Filipino.”
I was stammered, because now this includes another element to the whole equation: the Filipino Americanization. This is getting more complicated than I thought.

Geography 101

southeast_asia_pol_2003

Geographically, we are in Asia. Hence, we are Asians! I cross-checked and consulted the world map and I confirmed that we are in the right continent.
Likewise, we love our rice to death. There’s nothing more Asian than that!
To be more specific about it, we are Southeast Asians, particularly, of the Austronesian or Malay0-Polynesian ethnic group. Identifying features include: short face, mild epicanthic fold, straight, black hair, and a happy, light-hearted disposition. Sounds familiar?
filipina girls

‘Orphans of the Pacific’

On the other hand, being labeled as ‘Pacific Islander’ is not entirely wrong, either. Historically, we used to be part of the Spanish East Indies, which comprised of Moluccas (Indonesia), Guam, Mariana Islands and the Philippines.

Our islands were once called ‘The Philippine Islands of the Pacific’. We are located in the Pacific Ocean; a tropical island paradise, 7,000 of it. Even if most of the comprising ‘Pacific Islands’ are 4,000-8,000 km away, we see plenty of similarities in physical features and culture among people in Guam, Hawaii, etc.

Filipino migration to Guam has been happening for several centuries– the Spanish were fond of exiling Filipino rebels and prisoners to Guam. The Americans continued the practice when they took over.

Kumusta / Como estas?

The term Hispanic is a broad representation of the people and cultures with historical linkages to Spain. This term commonly referring to her former colonies, although strictly speaking, it refers to the former Spanish colonies in Latin America.

After 333 years of colonization, we have a rich hispanic heritage. The native tsokolate and mais made its way to the Philippines after centuries via the Galleon trade with our latino brothers. We share our fervent Roman Catholic faith with other hispanic cultures; as well as our love for lechons, siestas and fiestas. Do you know that ‘Filipino time’ and ‘Latino time’ is exactly the same?

And who else do we share our enduring obsession with boxing and beauty pagaents?

Today, very few people in the Philippines speak Spanish, although many of our abuelos still do when they’re angry. A few Filipinos also claim Spanish ancestry. I’d like to think my aquiline nose and freckles proves some European descent. Disclaimer: I swear I’m more modest in person.

are filipinos hispanic?

So the whole debate was really much ado about nothing.Our islands have been a melting pot of cultures for centuries.It’s okay to be a little confused about demonyms assigned to us. Identity crisis have always been part of us, and maybe that’s why it was so easy for foreign entities to colonize us. Who cares if you identify yourself as Asian, or Pacific Islander, or even Hispanic? It’s all a western invention.

 

 

Taipei, Taiwan: What to Expect

For Filipinos, Taiwan isn’t something we typically think of as a ‘tourist destination’. When it comes to traveling abroad, we dream of going to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore or Thailand–we often forget about visiting Taipei, Taiwan, which is only 1,000 km from the Philippines.

This is why Taipei is so beautiful in its own way–an underrated and unassuming city that has a lot to offer. Cebu Pacific now offers direct flights from Cebu to Taipei thrice a week, which will get you to the capital of Taiwan in two hours.

Veer away from the mainstream and try visiting this eastern gem for a change. There’s a reason why, when Portuguese sailors caught a first glimpse of the island, they named it ‘Formosa’ (literally meaning ‘beautiful island‘).

how to apply taiwan visa free

Before you put Taipei into your next stop of destinations to visit, here’s a few things you need to know, before you go.

1. You may or may not need a visa.

Philippine passport holders are required a visa to visit Taiwan. Failure to present the necessary travel document will mean refusal of entry. For more details on visa application, read about it on my blog post, How to Apply for Taiwan Visa for Philippine Passport Holders.

If you have a valid visa or permanent residency in: Japan, UK, US, Schengen, Canada, AUS or NZ, you can travel to Taiwan without a visa by simply applying for a visa exemption certificate online. For more details, read on How to Apply for Visa Exemption for Philippine Passport Holders.

2. The Taiwanese are genuinely kind and helpful people!

I mostly relied on the kindness of strangers in Taiwan. Even their cab drivers. That statement needs to be bold for emphasis. Kind and honest cab drivers are like unicorns in Manila–they simply don’t exist in our ‘hood!

Case on point: When I first arrived to Taipei in the dead of the night (1AM), I took a cab from Taipei Main Station to get to the place we booked via Airbnb. My friend arrived a day before, and we decided to meet in a Family Mart near the address. When I hopped on the cab, the driver said there were actually three Family Marts in that area. I told my cab driver to drop me wherever and I can figure it out on my own.

“No, it’s too late for a lady to be out on her own!” he said, like a concerned grandpa. Instead, he took me to all three Family Marts and even accompanied me to look for my friend.He was also sweet enough to teach me a few Mandarin words that came really useful throughout my trip.

It is easy to befriend the Taiwanese people, and have had random friends we met in a restaurant, bar, or even on the streets. They will go out of their way to help you.

3. Taiwan is well-known for its gluttony.

Foodies will love Taiwan; because they have a great love affair with their food. You can’t talk about Taiwanese culture without mentioning their street food cuisine. Kinda unfair– they never seem to get fat.

I will go as far as to say that food should be the primary reason you’re going to Taiwan. Go all out and don’t think about dieting! Some of the famous Taiwanese food include: pearl milk tea, stinky tofu, oyster omelette, steamed dumplings, crispy chicken cutlets… everything. Most times, I don’t really know what type of animal or animal part I ordered–they surely don’t waste any animal part, and it all tastes good anyway.

Michelin-star restaurant Din Tai Fung originated here, so make sure to try their world-famous xiao long bao while in Taiwan.

They have the oddest restaurant and cafe concepts I’ve seen, probably only second to Japan. They have restaurants dedicated to Hello Kitty, the toilet, hospital, and more. It will be a good idea to go cafe-hopping and discover for yourself!

4. Things to see in and out of the city.

NYC has the Statue of Liberty and Paris has the Eiffel Tower… what iconic landmark Taipei have? There are two main landmarks in the city: The Taipei 101 tower and the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial.

Taipei 101 was the tallest building in the world until the completion of Burj Khalifa. Taipei 101 is the tallest building in Taiwan and the largest green building in the world. You can see the whole of the city on their 89th Floor Observatory.

If you have the luxury, I recommend you go out of the city. Taiwan has so much beauty to offer with their unspoilt nature. Most famous day trips are the mountain towns Jiufen and Shifen, which I will write about in another blog entry soon.

5. They have sizzling nightlife.

There are plenty of things to do in Taiwan at night. With a lifestyle of 24-hour convenience stores, there’s always something happening–even at 5 in the morning.

So in a scale from 1 to Filipino, how seriously do the Taiwanese take their karaoke? Their KTVs are serious, lucrative business, and atmosphere is first-grade. It would be an experience to try it, but they don’t come cheap compared to our hulog-piso karaoke machines.

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Ahh, and Taipei nightclubs are happening. There are too many nightclubs and I remember their names very vaguely; so after a quick Google searchI remember being or passing by most of these clubs: Barcode, Myst, OMNI, Room18–the clubs are all clustered in one area near Taipei 101 so they’re not that hard to spot.

One thing I noticed though: Taiwanese love to party without limits–they drink until they can’t stand up on their own feet. I always see Taiwanese men and women passed out drunk in toilets, in and out the clubs. In the nightclubs, all the toilets are expected occupied with puking girls by 2 in the mornin. I like to control my alcohol content and avoid losing my shoes, thank you.

6. Don’t haggle so much, don’t leave tips.

You don’t haggle so much in Taipei markets. You can ask for a discount, but you can’t get an item 80% 0ff its original price like you can in Mainland China or Thailand. This is because Taiwanese don’t like overpricing their goods, as they believe that the practice is dishonest and unethical. Try haggling 15%-20% off the price, and if you do, you’re lucky.

Tipping in Taiwan is generally not expected. On one occasion a friend was chased after the waiter when he left the restaurant for leaving his money behind. Tipping is also not expected by the Taiwanese taxi drivers, who are quick to give you your change to the last cent. 10%-15% service charge is already included in restaurants. Rule of thumb, 10%-15% tip is generally accepted in spas, salons and tour guides.

7. Internet?

Taiwan has the fattest internet service I’ve experienced, even compared to Western countries! The Taiwanese are just as obsessed as getting connected, so Filipinos won’t have any problem with wi-fi service at all.

Taiwan is the very first destination in the world that provides free wi-fi access for tourists for up to 30 days all over the country via iTaiwan. Simply go to the Tourist Service Center near you and show your passport or entry permit (if you’re from Mainland China) to staff.

Aside from that, wi-fi hotspots are available almost everywhere–cafes, restaurants, convenience stores, mini marts, MRT stations, everywhere! So you don’t have to worry about uploading your Snaps or Instagram posts on time. You’ll have no problems being connected while in Taiwan.

Another tip, the Taiwanese don’t use Whatsapp much. Instead, they prefer Line or Wechat. Maybe you can download these apps before your trip for easy communication access.

8. Shop for electronics, hoard in the night markets!

Taipei is also a shopper’s dream. Especially for electronics! As you know, a lot of technology brands originated here in Taiwan: Acer, Asus and HTC, to name a few. Everything is much cheaper here, and of higher quality than, say, China. Get your share of electronics at Guanghua Digital Plaza.

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Taiwan is also known for their night markets. Their biggest and most famous one is the Shilin Night Market with thousands of stalls selling food, toys, clothes, shoes and souvenirs of all sorts!

For a first-world nation, Taiwan is surprisingly peso-friendly! 1 Taiwanese Dollar is pegged almost the same as the Philippine peso (Around our time of visit, 1NTD = 1.4 PHP) so no need to make annoying conversions in your head.

9. 24 Hour Convenience Stores is part of life.

24-hour convenience stores are an indispensable way of life in Taiwan. I mentioned earlier that our Airbnb place had three different Family Marts in one street. This isn’t actually commonplace across Taiwan–with over 10,000 convenience stores with one store to every 2,000 residents, the country has the highest mini mart density in the world. They sure love their convenience, and you will too. If you’re hungry post-party, you’re sure to get your fill, there’s bound to be a restaurant or shop open for you.

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Suggested Itinerary: 4 days in Siargao, Philippines

Siargao is just one of the 7,000 islands in the Philippines, but it is quite well-known around the world for one thing: surfing.

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Siargao has now become synonymous to surfing, attracting an international crowd of surfers during surfing season to experience the island’s acclaimed large, smooth and hollow-tubed waves. Siargao is best known as the Surfing Capital of the Philippines, and the 9th Best Surfing Spot in the World (CNN).

Don’t surf? It doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the island! If you want to learn surfing, the island offers the best spots with beginner waves. If you’re not into the surfing scene at all, there’s tons of activities you can do aside from the main event. Read my guide on Siargao for Non-Surfers and Best Spots to Eat in Siargao.

The 4-day itinerary I drafted is pretty lax, but what’s there to hurry? This is the island life! If you want more activities, you can always pump up your days with more surf lessons, and some.

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First of all–When to go and How to get there?

When is the best time to go? There are big waves in Siargao all year round, but on months August through November marks the surfing season when the international surfing competitions are held. The island can get pretty busy during these times with surfers from around the world coming in to experience Siargao’s famous 7 ft. waves.

There are two ways to get to Siargao: by air or by sea. Cebu Pacific offers once-daily flights to Siargao from Cebu. Be wary though, as I have heard that a lot of these flights get cancelled because of the unpredictable weather. You can also get to Siargao via bangka (small boat) from Surigao.

Day 1: Relax, Explore the Island

Take it easy on the first day if you will.

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Relax! Tomorrow is another day in paradise.

Hire a motorbike or bicycle and explore the island itself. I read that tarsiers are also present here, and unlike Bohol, these small primates still roam free in Siargao forests.There’s so much more to discover–General Luna is just one municipality! In Del Carmen, Siargao is home to the largest mangrove forest reserves in Mindanao, where saltwater crocodiles thrive.

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Day 2: Surf, Boardwalk, Cloud 9

Let’s get down to business–let’s learn to surf! Where are good places to surf?

Once again, Siargao is one of the best places to learn to surf. gThere are around a dozen other surf breaks in the island, accommodating to all difficulty levels. The most famous one, of course is Cloud 9. The site of international surfing competitions, but for advanced skill surfers only. Right beside Cloud 9 is Quicksilver, with easier wave rides but can often get too crowded.

Other surfing areas include: Cemetery is located in an actual cemetery–I hear it is a bit of a journey to get there, but when you do, there won’t be any crowds at all. Daku has pretty strong waves and popular among intermediate surfers. One ride can get you around 200m closer to shore–so the current is strong and paddling back can take a bit of effort. You can get there by renting a small boat.

If you want to surf, please be mindful of ‘surf etiquette’–who gets to ride the waves first, etc., or you’re likely to get enemies in the ocean!

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If you don’t surf, you can just watch and admire the art form at the Boardwalk. You can also just chill, have coffee or drinks by the sea. We love taking a seat and just relax here–I could definitely be lazy here forever!

Oh–another fixture here is the very friendly Oscar the dog! If you see him, please give him a big hug for me!

Day 3: Island Hopping: Naked Island, Guyam Island, Daku Island

Go island hopping and check out Siargao’s three nearby islands: Naked Island, Daku Island and Guyam Island. Depending on your negotiation skills, you can rent a boat to visit the three islands from P1,000 to P1,500.

Don’t get disappointed–Naked Island isn’t a spot for people to go nude sunbathing. Naked Island is called such because you would not find any trees or vegetation, just a stretch of fine white sand. Daku Island is, ‘dako’ or big, in terms of the other islands we visited. Daku even has its own barangay. (The ancestors didn’t seem to try being creative with naming their locale) We had our lunch in Daku Island before we went to our last stop, Guyam Island.

Day 4: Magpupungko Tidal Pool, Caving

From General Luna, it’s a 40 minute car ride to Magpupungko. Entrance is 50 per person.Magpupungko is named such from a unique rock formation in the area. The large boulder looks like it’s sitting on top of another flat rock. The beautiful pool only unveils itself during low tide.

There’s also a beach right next to the pool with massive waves that will wipeout any entity who dared swim in it! We saw a small boat get overturned when we were here–luckily, no one was hurt!

From General Luna, it’s a 40 minute car ride to Magpupungko. Entrance is 50 per person.

Optional: Sohoton Cave

If you have more time to waste in paradise, make a day to see Sohoton Cave.Sohoton is famous for its jellyfish sanctuary and enchanting caves. Sohoton is three hours away from Siargao though and is closer to Surigao del Norte, so we decided to reserve Sohoton for another future trip. Unfortunately I don’t have firsthand experience but I hear from friends this place is majestic.

It takes 2.5 hours to get to Sohoton from GL. It’s more expensive to get there, but you can get a boat rental for around Php4,000, depending again on how well you can negotiate.

How to Score Cheap Flights to Europe

 

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‘You must lead a very glamorous lifestyle, traveling to Europe a lot.’

One of the biggest misconceptions of my life. I wish I had Blair Waldorf’s problems, but sincerely, I don’t.

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I wish I had Blair Waldorf’s problems.

The truth is, I’m just very resourceful. You can score tickets to Europe for as low as PHP 20,000 round trip, if you know how and where to look. Personally, most of my flights to Europe were around Php25,000-Php32,000 round, all-in.

Don’t Fly Direct

Very important tip: don’t fly direct from Philippines. Fly out to Hong Kong, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur first, where I’m sure you can get a handful of deals from Cebu Pacific or AirAsia). From there, you would then have multitudes of budget flight options that will take you to Europe.

Fly Budget Airlines

Fly budget carriers. Some airlines that provide the cheapest rates are: Aeroflot (you can read my review on this airline), Air China, Air France and KLM.

Don’t expect stellar service however–you get what you pay for. I have flown Aeroflot four times and each time would remember telling myself: never flying Aeroflot again!!! but then end up booking flights with them again.

Watch out for promo deals from star airlines. You can get good deals from Etihad and Emirates. Just make sure to check their sites every once in a while.

Buy on the First Month of the Year!

Airlines seem to love giving their best rates and promos on January. So make sure to plan your travels at the start of the year to get the most of your buck.

Use Airfare Comparison Websites

Not all comparison websites are created equal, and no website is also the best–but I do have my own favorite. I prefer Google Flights, but there are also other fare comparison sites such as SkyScanner and FareCompare.

Be Flexible with your Travel Dates

Of course, flying off season will greatly reduce fare costs than traveling during peak season. So generally try to avoid traveling on summer season and holiday season. Fortunately, Philippine summer is from April-May, hence I can easily get cheap flights as I prefer to travel during these months.

These are my short-and-sweet foolproof guide to getting dirt cheap flights to Europe. Nowadays, everyone can fly–it’s just about how to travel cheaper and smarter.

Suggested Itinerary: 5 days in Paris, France

Ahh, Paris.

Some people hate it; some people love it.

On one spectrum people describe the city as overrated, dangerous and touristy. On another side it’s described as romantic, mysterious and timeless. Paris is a Gemini, and will reveal to you a side of her according to her moods. She is never boring and never the same.

I’ve been to Paris thrice already but it’s always new and magic to me every time I step into the city. If it’s your first time in Paris, I’ve crafted a suggested itinerary for 5 days in the world’s most romantic city to help you through.

By the way, Philippine passport holders need a Schengen visa to enter Paris, France. Read about it on my blog post How to Apply for Schengen visa (France) for more information.

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This isn’t a comprehensive guide though listing ALL the tourist attractions of Paris. There’s just too many, you can’t see possibly all of the city’s tourist attractions and 153 museums in a matter of days! This blog post, however, will cover my personal must-see’s, especially for a first timer in the city.

Walking is your main mode of transport in the city. Paris subway system is known as the ‘Metro’, which is old, noisy and clunky, but full of character— like your spunky arthritic grandmother with a motor mouth. You can save money by purchasing a carnet, which is a book of 10 individual tickets for €14.10.

Day 1: Louvre, Eiffel Tower

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Let’s start with the world’s most famous art museum: Louvre. Louvre is notorious for its long queues by the Louvre Pyramid, but do you know that there are actually many secret entrances that can get you inside without the maddening crowd?

Louvre houses over a million works of art–they say that if you spend 5 seconds looking at every piece of art in Louvre, it will take you 3 months (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) to see everything!

Louvre is like Disneyland for an art enthusiast like me. I could lose hours there getting lost in awe with all the great works of art surrounding me. In a few hours you will get overwhelmed. The museum is massive, so allot 5 hours there to see what you need to see. I recommend: Mona Lisa (of course!), Venus de Milo, and Napoleon’s apartments.

If you’re going to Louvre, I don’t recommend you to see other museums after that. Even a great art lover such as I can get ‘art fatigue’. Not advisable to dump yourself with too much art in one day.

After Louvre, you can take lunch nearby. One of my favorite things about Europe is the luxury of enjoying a scenic view for free. Sometimes I just buy croissant and salad in the local store and take my food to the nearest park. I don’t need to buy drinking water, either–drinking fountains are aplenty. This saved me tons of money!

Every first-time visitor in France will want to see Eiffel Tower the first day. The iconic tower is beautiful during the day and at night, so make sure to catch a glimpse of it on both times of the day.

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I tend not to cramp too many activities on the first day, because we’re all still slightly jet-lagged on that day. Relax and take it easy, maybe do some people-watching while sitting in a Parisian cafe.

Day 2: Notre Dame Cathedral, Tuileries Garden, Champs-Élysées, Arc de Triomphe

notre dame cathedral parisNotre Dame Cathedral is the most famous Gothic cathedral in the world, most famously immortalized by the famous Victor Hugo novel.

The church is a magnificent symbol of Gothic art and architecture, with all the classic elements in place: highly ornamental portal, flying buttresses, stained glass windows and of course, the glorious gargoyles.

Shakespeare & Company is a beautiful bookshop on the left bank, very near the Notre Dame. If you’ve seen Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’ and Linklater’s ‘Before Sunset’, you’re probably familiar with it already. Famous historical figures and intellectuals have frequented the place, including F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller. Make a quick stop to appreciate this darling little place to have a feel of what it’s like to be in a century-old bookshop. (Don’t forget to pet the white cat for me please!)

After Shakespeare & Co., you can wander around the picturesque city’s small streets to find cute shops and cafés. After this, I walked to the Tuileries Garden to relax and unwind. The Tuileries Garden dated way back in 1560 as part of the Tuileries Palace for Catherine de Medici. It became a public park following the French Revolution. It’s a massive garden surrounded by beautiful nature and art, such as the sculptures of Rodin.

In the west end of the park is the Orangerie Museum where you can find a collection of Impressionist paintings from the French masters themselves. Claude Monet’s famous ‘Water Lilies’ series is a fixture here. I am a big fan of Monet, and the paintings were way bigger than imagined!

waterlilies monet orangeri

In the late afternoon, one can go shopping to the world famous Champs-Élysees, known as the world’s most beautiful avenue. Champs-Élysees stretches from the Obelisk of Luxor in the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe in Place Charles de Gaulle. Here you will find plenty of well-known, mainstream brands such as Hugo Boss, Banana Republic and Abercrombie and Fitch.

Day 3: Palace of Versailles

The Palace of Versailles is a royal chateau and the seat of political power in France during the Ancien Régim, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital following the French Revolution. and the center the perfect manifestation of pre-French Revolution opulence and austerity.

Chateau de Versailles is not located in the capital, but is located some 20km from Paris. It is easily reachable via the Metro.

Everything in Versailles is grand–when the chateau was completed, it was 67,000 sq. m. in area size. They stationed 14,000 servants and soldiers to cater to the palace alone!

The palace employs the High Baroque architectural style and classic elements rococo interior design: gold leaf, pastel colors, highly ornamental and dainty flowers. Below are photos of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom.

The gardens at the back are just as impressive. It is a fine example of a French garden, with perfectly manicured lawns, with beautiful flora, sculptures and fountains. In the center of it all sits an immense manmade lake where one can go on a rowboat if the weather permits. You can also rent bikes or go on a picnic during the summer!

Day 4: Musee d’Orsay, Eiffel Tower, Latin Quarters

Paris is home to 153 museums and you would be crazy to go to every single one of them in one trip. But if there were art museums you can go apart from Louvre, I’d recommend Musee d’Orsay, mostly because I have a preference of post-impressionist art compared to postmodern art. If you prefer the latter I would advise Centre Pompidou.

Musee d’Orsay is an absolutely beautiful museum in its own right. The museum used to be a railway station–but when the station’s platforms later proved to become too short to accommodate the new and longer trains, they decided to turn it into a museum instead of demolishing it. The museum was addressed to accommodate the gap between the art between the Louvre (too ancient!) and the Centre Pompidou (too new!).

At Orsay Museum you will find works from Post-impressionist masters such as Vincent Van Gogh, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, Edgar Degas, to name a few.

eiffel at night itinerary

It’s worth seeing Eiffel again in the evening. Watch Eiffel sparkle–this happens on the evening every hour for five minutes. It’s magical, you will never grow tired of it!

Afterwards a night stroll around the city of lights provide me with instant therapy. If you’re a fan of the movie Amelié, you can take a self-tour at night and maybe experience Parisian nightlife.

On one occasion, I had a date with a local, and he took me around the Latin Quarters where we walked and retraced all the film’s locations–which made the night quite unique and lovely. You can be creative and do this too, or maybe other films of your choice: Before Sunset is next on my list!

Day 5:  Sacre-Couer, Moulin Rouge, Paris Catacombs, Pere Lachaise Cemetery

Start your day at Sacre-Couer Basilica. It is located at the summit of Montmartre, the highest point in Paris. You can then make your way down from there.

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The basilica is a sight to behold, and provides a breathtaking view of the city.

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Make your way down to the infamous Moulin Rouge. If you have the time, you can also check out the Erotica Museum nearby to know more about–well, all things erotica–sex, prostitution, and more.

The last two attractions are an interesting attractions: as they revolve around death. Head to the Catacombs of Paris first to see the remains of some 6 million people. The Catacombs is basically an underground ossuary built in 1774 to solve the problem of overflowing cemeteries in the city. It is known as the ‘world’s largest grave’ due to the number of dead buried.

The winding tunnel stretches for miles and miles with thousands of skulls and bones. It’s a pretty morbid tourist attraction, but it’s also very interesting to see, especially if you’re into that kind of thing.

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Catacombs of Paris

You can finish the day at Pere Lachaise Cemetery, which is a beautiful cemetery featuring the graves of famous historical figures such as Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, Camille Pissarro, Honore de Balzac and more.