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.

taipei electronics taiwan

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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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Mum & Baby: My Toddler’s First Trip to the Movies

Caleb knew how to get my attention.

He wasn’t that subtle, either. After half a dozen times of sitting on my laptop and GMAT books, I gave up any hope and concluded no studying is going to happen for the rest of the week.

We need to do something. Mum and son are quickly getting cabin fever at home. I’m the kind of human who gets bored of routine and I have all the reasons to believe that my offspring is the same. The rest of the family were in USA, his nanny went home to the province–what else was there to do? I decided to take him to the cinema.

Finding Dory is already showing, and Caleb already loved Finding Nemo–that movie has been on replay since he was 12 months old. In fact, Caleb can identify more marine animals than land animals. Sharks are his favorite. Finding Dory will make the perfect first mother-and-son movie date.

finding dory

Plus, I already had some Ayala Center Cebu credits that we could use, by being featured at the A Guide (Ayala’s Shopping Style Guide). So I’d like to thank Ayala Cebu for making our first movie date possible!

As we queued up for tickets, I started getting a mini-panic attack. Caleb was already running around back and forth and pretending not to hear me. Was this really a smart idea, to take a 2-year-old to the movies? Will he cry, shout and annoy the other moviegoers?

This should be interesting. Knowing my little man, I was sure he wouldn’t cry or shout–but he’ll probably run around in the movies. I decided to take the 2:00pm schedule and the front row seats for my two-year-old’s viewing purposes.

After buying the tickets, we got the snacks. A lot of patronizing parents will judge me for getting him unhealthy Potato Corner french fries, but it’s his favorite snack and I wanted to indulge him once in a while. If you want a healthier alternative, I also got us Tater’s tofu chips. I tried to feed him these but he barely touched them. I also got Tater’s sugar-free lemonade for our drinks.

Of course, the success of movie-going depend largely on the parent, the child and the movie. Not all kids are the same, and some may find the loud sound and darkness overwhelming. I’m thankful Caleb is unfazed by most things (I am more scared of the dark than he is!) and he tries to help me by carrying the food and drinks. He likes having a role, it makes him feel responsible and has a purpose in life (to take care of this absent-minded adult who calls herself ‘mom’).

Upon coming inside, the cinema staff asked if we would want to have a high seat for Caleb. I didn’t know cinemas offer this because it was my first time taking a kid out to the movies, but it was great. So even if we were sat at the front I still decided to take one. I also took a snack tray because we brought a lot of food!

two year old baby first trip to the movies

The movie is around two-hours long, so I didn’t want to strain Caleb too much. We went outside during the ads and trailers part–I didn’t see the point of him watching the trailers. For toddlers, they don’t see the difference between film and ad content, so I had him run around outside the cinema to entertain himself before the movie starts.

There is a animated short skit before the start of Finding Dory about a baby bird in the beach. The visuals are so impressive now, I couldn’t believe even a single grain of sand is well-defined and high-def!

Caleb was smiling like silly from the first scene to the last. He kept on saying ‘Dory!’ ‘Nemo!’ He was pointing at the sea animals he knew–whales, turtles, octopuses and fish. He was laughing at all the appropriate scenes, and imitating the famous Dory whale talk. One thing about Caleb–he has a great sense of humor, that kid.

So yes, when Sia was already heard singing ‘Unforgettable’ and the credits rolled out, I sighed in relief. Wow, my two-year-old actually sat throughout the whole film! I didn’t even notice the 120 minutes pass by. Sure, in the middle of the film Caleb took out his high seat (it was actually very hard and uncomfortable) and he spilled the lemonade towards the end, but other than that, it was a gratifying experience for both of us!

I would recommend Finding Dory to even little kids like mine. The movie is colorful, funny and full of lovable characters–Dory, Nemo, Marlin, Hank, Destiny, Bailey… and even the hugging otters, they were all so adorable.

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 11.23.51 PMFor doing a very good job in behaving at the movies, I treated Caleb to some post-movie treat, The Suite Room matcha ice cake.

So yes. It is possible to take a two-year-old to the movies. Did he enjoy it? Yes. Will he remember it? Probably not most of it. It was a great experience nonetheless!

As a recap, here are some tips and pointers on what to expect on your little one’s first trip to the movies:

  • If possible, choose an afternoon schedule on a weekday. Choose a not-so-busy movie schedule.
  • You can miss watching the trailers. Your child can’t tell apart movie and ad or trailer content, so why bother?
  • What’s a movie without snacks? You can get the usual popcorn and soda, but there are also healthier alternatives such as the tofu chips and sugar-free lemonade that we got from Tater’s.
  • Your child will be slightly disadvantaged by height, so choose the front row seats whenever possible, or avail of the high chair.
  • Know your child’s interests and preferences as well. Caleb loved aquatic animals and the film kept him interested all throughout. He would also probably love animated movies about cars and animals.
  • Be mindful and respectful of other moviegoers. If your child starts crying or screaming, or kicking on the front seat, don’t pretend like it’s normal. Apologize, and if you can’t control the situation go out of the cinemas to calm your child.

 

Mum & Baby: Kidzoona in Robinsons Galleria Cebu

As a parent I always encourage my son active play and social interaction with other kids. And for Caleb, he doesn’t need much ‘encouragement’ at all. Every time I take him to a playground full of kids, he instantly comes running to them in a panic and forget about me. Not that I minded, I’m thrilled by his energy and independence.

Unfortunately Cebu City does not offer parks and safe public places for children to play. The malls are this generation’s playground–offering safe and indoor play for children. While I would’ve preferred for us to explore the mountains and forests, I’m going to save that when he’s older. Caleb, please hurry up so we can backpack across South America together. So we explored the newest indoor playground, Kidzoona, has to offer.

Kidzoona is located in the 3F Robinsons Galleria Mall, Cebu City, Cebu. Kidzoona is owned by a Japan-based corporation and already has 800 branches across Southeast Asia! There are 20 outlets around Philippines already. They are set to open their 2nd and 3rd branch in SM Seaside City and SM Consolacion, respectively.

Play Fee is Php250 for 1.5 hours and Php400 for 3 hours, including one parent or guardian. Kids 1-12 years old can enjoy the indoor fantasyland for hours! Even a 26-year-old (ehem) enjoyed her time and wished we had facilities like these when we were younger.

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Shoe Lockers in Kidzoona

Upon coming in, we are given a locker for shoes and bags (locker rental is also free!). Hence we could run and play hands-free without worrying about our valuables and stuff.

Kidzoona was much bigger than we expected! On the right side of the room is a massive ball pool with inflatable slides and a pirate ship! Kids can go climb into the island and jump in the sea of balls!

On the left side of the Kidzoona center is the role play area where the little people can pretend to be firemen, doctors, ice cream vendors, florists or sushi chefs.

On the front part of the playzone with a giant zorb ball where little kids pretend to be hamsters and try to run over each other! Little kids should be more careful of the bigger kids!

play toys kidzoona

Finally, this area of the playroom has train sets, playhouses, puzzles and other toys for children to explore. Just beside it is an open space for kids to bike around.

train toys in kidzoona

Aside from that, they also have activities and mini-games–in fact during our time there Caleb won a one-hour free play GC from their raffle! The Kidzoona official mascot pops up once in a while to dance and play with the kids.

So would I bring him here again? Of course! But not too often–I always try to bring my little man to as many new, different and exciting environments as possible.

Kidzoona Cebu is located at Robinson’s Galleria and SM Seaside City. For more information, you can visit their Facebook and official website.

Postcard Eats: The Suite Room’s Ice Cream Cakes

I must’ve been living under a rock, because I only recently knew about this piece of heaven.

Of course I’ve heard of The Suite Room. The Suite Room is located at Ayala Center Cebu Rooftop and Ramos branch (their pioneer branch). It is part of the Casa Verde group and is often known as the more posh and upscale version of the Casa Verde. I’ve tried Suite Room’s main course and steaks, and these were quite good.

This entry however isn’t about The Suite Room’s main course menu. We take a closer look at their dessert choices, particularly their honest-to-goodness ice cream cakes.

They have six different ice cream cake flavors, While they are all so good, everyone has their own preferences as well. As I devoured every spoonful, I kept on thinking: ‘where were you all my life?!’

Okay, that was a bit of overkill. Still, I love ice cream and I love cake. I thank Babe for Food for bringing me here and introducing me to what will be a new cheat favorite. These are their ice cakes’ six different offerings: Matcha Green Tea, Apple Cinnamon Raisin PIe, Caramel Macchiato, Mixed Berry, Double Strawberry and Peach Mango Ice Cake. The serving is huge! One order costs Php 238.

ice cake offerings at the suite room ayala cebu

  • Matcha Green Tea Ice Cake

My favorite. It’s not too sweet, and the slightly bitter taste of matcha perfectly cleanses the palate making it the perfect dish to cap off a full course meal. Matcha green tea paired with cream cheese is genius. I would have this all the time.

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Matcha Ice Cake
  • Apple Cinnamon Raisin Pie Ice Cake

This is the frozen version of the All-American favorite dessert, the apple pie. I always have my apple pie warm, but this one I don’t mind served cold at all. The cinnamon smells tempting!

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Apple Cinnamon Raisin Pie
  • Caramel Macchiato Ice Cake

Caramel Macchiato is the frozen cake version of the beloved coffee drink. This is my friend Justinne’s favorite. Caramel Macchiato is rich, flavorful and sinful.

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Caramel Macchiato Ice Cake
  • Mixed Berry Ice Cake

A surprising favorite to most of us! It’s something I would order to share with girlfriends who want to eat something sweet, but not be too guilty about it (Hey, it’s berries! High in antioxidants!)

mixed berry ice cream cake
Mixed Berry Ice Cake
  • Double Strawberry Ice Cake

Double Strawberry was another satisfying one. Probably children’s favorite, and my son could probably eat all this on his own. He hates sharing his desserts!

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Double Strawberry Ice Cake
  • Peach Mango Pie Ice Cake

Another frozen version of the famous Jollibee Peach Mango Pie. Peaches and mangoes are always a great combination.

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Peach Mango Ice Cake

I’m no food blogger, so I’ve easily run out of things to say to describe food! Let us know what you think of The Suite Room’s ice cakes. Which flavor is your favorite?

The Suite Room – Ayala Branch is located at 4th Level, Ayala Center Cebu, Archbishop Reyes Ave Cebu Business Park, Cebu City, Philippines.
Their Ramos Branch is located at 69 Lim Tian Teng Street (right beside Casa Verde), Ramos, Cebu City, Philippines.
For more information you can check out their Facebook page and official website.
Contact number: Ayala – (032) 266 3860 Ramos – (032) 254 0508
Opening Hours: Everyday from 10AM to 10PM

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.

boardwalk surfing siargao mindanao

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.

philippines siargao beaches

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.

‘The Green Man’ Matthias Gelber Comes to Cebu

Climate change is already happening. Global warming is no longer a myth. We have already felt the effects, such as recent climate idiosyncrasies that weren’t supposed to happen, but are already transpiring. A cynic would always say, ‘but… can we really make a difference?’ Well, can we?

I was excited to hear that fellow Climate Reality leader Matthias Gelber is coming to the Philippines’ two biggest cities (Manila and Cebu) in order to give talks on tackling environment issues and climate change. He will also be here as one of the presiding judges of Miss Earth 2016, happening tonight, June 11, 2016.

Matthias Gelber, better known as the ‘GreenMan’, is a professional speaker, green activist, eco-warrior and key advocate to pro-environment living. He is voted the ‘Greenest Person on the Planet’ on 2008 by 3rdWhale, Canada.

Gelber was born and raised in a small German village close to nature, and hence developed a strong connection with the Earth from a young age. Matthias is now based in Malaysia, where he lives without a car and a $10 USD/month electric bill. In Malaysia, he started Eco Warriors, a community movement on taking a proactive stance to fighting climate change.

Malaysia and Philippines are very similar when it comes to climate, geography and demographic, but our buildings are designed for purely aesthetic but totally inappropriate for our hot and humid climate. Gelber shares that the traditional houses, the Philippine bahay kubo and Malaysian kampung houses are more efficient in ventilation and designed for our tropical weather. Industrial progress does not necessitate cemented roads and concrete buildings. A progressive city can live communally with nature and thrive in it, rather than destroy the greenery.

We can all be agents of change through small, lifestyle changes that we can make in your own offices and homes. The first step to green living is assessing our electric consumption. 1kwh generates 600+ g of CO2 emissions. Hence, reducing our electricity bill not only saves money but also reduces our carbon footprint. Of course, making the conscious change of behavior is the biggest challenge we face as we try to live greener.

For more interesting eco-stories, practical tips and ideas, catch the GreenMan on  “A GREEN TALK at the Queen City of the South”, this Saturday, June 18, 2016 from 1PM to 5PM at the Greenery, Mabolo, Cebu City. The event will also feature fellow Cebu green advocates: Joseph Castillo of the JoeGreen Project; Rachel A. of DAKILA & Climate Reality Project; and Archt. Joy Onozawa, Certified Green Design Professional.

To register and know more about the event, you can check their Facebook event page on this link.

greenman in cebu

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.

streets of paris

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

louvre postcardpretty guide philippines

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.

eiffel day itinerary philippines.jpg

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.

sacre coer tourist attraction paris.jpg

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.

paris catacombs
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.

Around Cebu: Starbucks PH New Offers and my First Coffee Tasting Experience

As a traveler, I collect stuff. Souvenirs provide great memories to trips and unforgettable experiences. I started my Starbucks mug collection last 2014 and it’s the first store I look for in every city I’ve been.

starbucks travel mug collection

As an advertising graduate and later, an educator, I appreciate the brand marketing and PR efforts. They appropriately reach out to its customers and create meaningful relationships with them. As part of Cebu Bloggers Society, I was invited to their coffee tasting event so we could sample their latest food and drink offers.

It was my first coffee tasting experience and a very educational one for a coffee novice like me. We were asked to smell the coffee, and to sample it hot, iced and blended. We were asked to share stories, and to remember experiences as we sampled the taste and aroma of the particular coffee bean.

I didn’t know there were a million ways to define coffee. I thought ‘coffee’ was only meant to be bitter… and never would i have described it as ‘citrusy’, ‘berry-like’, ‘nutty’ or ‘alkaline’!

As a writer, I consume a lot of coffee and tea. Coffee keeps me awake, and tea keeps me relaxed. Without the two I will be either slightly neurotic or completely useless with the pen.

Their new offers are interesting, because they are a bit of blend of both my elixirs: The Chocolate Black Tea Frappuccino with Earl Grey Jelly and the Double Chocolate Green Frappuccino. A perfect combination of energizing and refreshing anyone on a hot day this summer. (Wait, what am I talking about. This is the Philippines–it’s always summer!)

 

As a foodie, I am pretty psyched about their new items too. Pair these reinvigorating drinks with their new food items such as the Purple Yam Cheesecake (with red bean and macapuno..yum!), Chicken Milk Bun and Parmagiana Wrap.

Finally, as an environmentalist, I appreciate Starbucks efforts to be more green and to encourage their customers to be green. The new Starbucks BPA-free cup is means it’s reusable, recyclable and re-enjoyable. Every time you bring these cups in, you get a discount off your order. These are all responsible efforts to the company’s waste reduction objective.

reusable cups in starbucks ph

  • All new food and drink offers will be available at all Starbucks Philippine Branches from June 7 – July 25, 2016. For more information, visit them in their stores or online at their website, www.starbucks.ph.

Postcard Eats: Hamakaze, Authentically Japanese

Kanpai!’

We gave a toast as we started drinking and eating in Hamakaze, a tiny restaurant nestled in A.S. Fortuna, right beside Oftana Suites and across the new Jollibee.

Admittedly, I am not so well-versed with the Japanese pop culture and like. I never got into the whole manga thing as a child; and despite having been to Japan before, my knowledge on Japan culture is dismal.

Well, this is embarrassing.

Thus, the invite to Hamakaze with the rest of the Cebu Bloggers Society was like a Japanese food crash course. Ramen shops have been popping up like mushrooms in Cebu lately, so getting some pointers on how to order in a ramen shop truly helps!

We were greeted by the owner Taka-san, a Japanese based in Singapore. Hamakaze is his 11th restaurant venture across Southeast Asia.

According to Taka-san, ramen is the national drunk food in Japan (as ‘pochero’ is in Cebu), hence they are open after hours–from 6PM until 5AM. Good news for the party goers (although this might change after Duterte’s curfew implementation…)

Price range per dish is around P230-P300. Click on the menu to see the hi-res version.

hamakaze japanese restaurant cebu menu 2hamakaze japanese restaurant cebu menu

To work up our appetite, we were served Gyoza, Japanese fried dumplings, Tori Kaage, Japanese-style fried chicken with Kimuchi Chahan, Japanese-style fried rice on the side. The Fried Chicken was a big hit. We paired the food with different types of iced tea, which were refreshing and not as sweet as what most of the restaurants in Cebu serve (if you like it sweeter, you can always ask for some sugar syrup).

Types of Ramen

Ramen is a Japanese noodle soup dish

Call me ignorant, but I didn’t know there were that many types of ramen! I don’t want to go too technical, so here are just some of the basic types we got to try in the restaurant.

  1. Reimen (Cold Ramen)

cold ramen cebu japanese restaurant

Zaru Ramen is basically ramen without the broth–a kind of salad on a plate with different toppings. Taka-san shares that Zaru Ramen is seasonally offered in China, especially during summer season when it is too warm to have the typical hot ramen.

 

2. Yakisoba (Oily Ramen)

oily ramen hamakaze

Also ramen without the hot broth, but instead the noodles are stir-fried, tossed with different toppings on top.

3. Shoyu Ramen (Ramen with Clear Broth)

hot ramen cebu japanese

The most commonly known type,

4. Tonkotsu Ramen (Collagen Soup)

collagen soup ramen cebu

Tori Ramen or Collagen soup usually has a rich, cloudy broth, achieved by boiling pork bone, fat and collagen over high heat for at least eight hours.

Collagen is esteemed to have anti-aging effects reputed to be better than botox, with active ingredients that strengthen the joints, bones, skin and hair. Now–that makes this ramen my favorite!

5. Tsukemen (Japanese Dipping Noodles)

hamakaze as fortuna collagen

This is the most unique one I tried and a recommended must-have if you dine in Hamakaze! Japanese Dipping noodles consist of separate bowls, one containing noodles and another of the soup. Simply take a few strands of noodles and dip into the collagen soup!

Hamakaze is open daily from 12PM-3:30PM for lunch and 6:30PM-5AM for dinner and after hours. Hamakaze is located at AYS Bldg., A.S. Fortuna, Mandaue City. Contact number: (032) 505-4220. Check their FB Page here.