Lion and Safari Park

South Africa was never part of my list. You know, that list that we all make and tick off before we’re too old to do anything? That list. But I got curious. I’d been hearing about how good the meat is there, and boy do I love myself some juicy, tasty meat. So I went.

Not only did I help myself with a 480 gram Prime Rib, and another 280 gram Ostrich Meat, I also got to see and touch animals native of South Africa.

Lion and Safari Park is only one of the many wild life sanctuaries in Johannesburg -Kruger National Park being the biggest of all of them, boasting a 2,000,000 (yes million) hectare lot. But I made it a point to visit Lion and Safari Park because I knew it would be a guarrantee for me to see the animals that were advertised.

In this particular park, they have divisions keeping one animal species from another, making it safe for the herbivores from being eaten by the carnivores. To be able to see the animals, guests ride a jeep and enters into each division. The driver stops right where the animals are and gives a few fun facts about the creature on sight. If that sounds touristy to you, I won’t argue because it is. But it’s not so bad. I think it’s actually worth the money because I’ve talked to other people who’d done Kruger Park and they said they drove the entire day to see only two or three kinds of animals. Although, going to a 2,000,000 hectare national park is also something that’s worthy to be on anyone’s bucket list.

My Expenses: 

  • Transpo from Hotel to Lion & Safari Park + Entrance to Park + 1 hour Tour + Lion Cub Encounter = 800 South African Rand
  • Cheetah Encounter = 70 Rand
  • Tips for Tour Guide and Driver = 40 Rand
  • Fridge Magent = 59 Rand

Total: 969 ZAR

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Seeing Taipei for Less (than 500 php)

In every country that I went to, I made it a point to see the city from a different point of view. This has resulted to me bringing my family to the observatories of the Eiffel Tower, the Space Needle, the World Trade Center in New York, the Tokyo Tower, and the N Tower in Seoul.

For my trip to Taipei, it would have been against tradition not to do the same, even with the absence of my family. But because I had no one else’s company (read no one to share expenses with), I had to think of ways to see the city without breaking my budget.

Good thing I found two solutions to the past dilemma: 1. Brave the Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail and; 2. Reserve a spot for Starbucks on the 35th floor of Taipei 101. I’m proud to let you know that I completed both tasks. How’s that for extra?

The Elephant Mountaing Hiking Trail, also known as the Xiangshan Hiking Trail.

There’s a funny story behind my quest to reach the start of the trail. I have Google Map’s inefficiency to thank for it!

I planned for my second day in Taipei to be all about the touristy areas, which included the trail. You would think that, because so many tourists have gone to the mountain, Google Maps would also be familiar with it and show you the easiest way to get there. Big NO. GM, which I will henceforth call the app, showed me the directions on which way to walk to Elephant Mountain. And of course I, being the extremely reliant tourist that I am, followed GM without question. She had me walking for 30 minutes!

I’m making sure that the same won’t happen to you though. Instead of walking from  the Taipei 101 building, as I did, you will need to ride the MRT to reach the Xiangshan Station, which is the station right after Taipei 101’s. I should have known this, since the trail is apparently of the same name!!! But it wasn’t like I was looking at the MRT Line-Maps to know it that well.

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Once you get out of the station, proceed straight towards the pole where multiple bicycles are lined up. Just get to the end of the bicycle line and read the pointing signages from there. You can’t miss it.

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I’m really talking about this pole (haha):

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The pole behind the tree

You’ll see that the trail is just 580 meters away. Follow the road until you’ll get to a fork, with one road going uphill. Need I say more?

Trust me, you’ll know once you’re there (or see this sign:)

How to see Taipei for Less

Arriving at the very top of the trail can take a while, and since it was raining, I didn’t give myself the privilege of time. I wasn’t about to throw caution to the wind and ruin my camera! So make sure you check the weather on the day you choose to go to the mountain.

Seeing Taipei, Taiwan for Less Budget

Fortunately for me, the hiking trail has a couple of baby viewing decks before the ultimate viewing deck. Like levels before you reach the end of a video game (lol). So if you don’t have enough time to finish the entire hike, or if you don’t need the work out, the first viewing deck should suffice. On it you’ll still see this beautiful view:

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I’m sorry if this picture’s overused, okay!! haha. Also, my camera died right after this was taken *tears*

The Starbucks on the 35th floor of Taipei 101

I’ve talked about this starbucks and how it’s one of the things I admire about the Taipei 101 building. But that post was a bit general and somewhat like an introduction to the basics: a 200 TWD minimum charge and a limited stay of 1 hour and 30 minutes.  On this one, you’ll know how you can get a spot up there!

By calling this number: +886 2-81010701 because guess what, getting into this starbucks is by reservation only. 

No need to worry since the representative speaks fairly good English – at least in my experience. Other bloggers have said that they had a bit of trouble talking with the representative.

Make sure that you call a day before your intended visit, because Starbucks won’t take on-the-day reservations. Although, there’s no stopping the daredevils from trying! Also be informed that Starbucks has a fixed schedule for your reservations, so you can only choose from 4 time slots on the weekdays and 3 on the weekends.

To make sure that you’ll quickly find your way to Starbucks’ designated waiting area, on the day of your reservation, it’s best if you enter through Door 7 facing Xing Yi Road or the door facing the SongZhi Street.

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As you can see, there’s a big 7 by the side of the glass doors

Once you enter Door 7, go right towards the security “round table.” Behind that is the waiting area, which is marked by a stand with this sign:

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You’ll see that Taipei 101 has a dress code, and even though I did see a couple of tourists wearing shorts and slippers, it’s still better to abide by the code lest you lose your reservation. You wouldn’t want that to happen because up there is such a good viewing point, that is if you get a good seat.

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all seats are taken – by bags! lol

Seeing Taipei, Taiwan for Less

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I wasn’t joking. 200 twd is definitely worth this big a coffee
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and this beautiful a view.

Hostel Review: Travel Talk Taipei

Quite a number of people have expressed to me their surprise that I was only able to spend around 5,000 PHP during my entire stay in Taipei. Some have told me that they couldn’t believe that I only spent 1,925 on a 3 night accommodation. At that point I remind them that I stayed in a hostel.

I can’t say that this is generally true, but from what I see, hostels aren’t a Filipino’s first choice of lodging. We like to stay in comfy hotels, and we value our privacy. Because of our strict Catholic upbringing, and because of how we’ve always been told to be wary of other people, we’re not comfortable sharing rooms with strangers. So you can imagine my surprise when I was told that I was going to be in a two-bedroom with a man, even though I originally booked for a six-bedroom. In my head, security alarms went off. But thankfully, my roommate was just the sweetest Japanese tourist you could ever meet. I would give him a shout out here, if I only remembered his name. Haha. 

Generally, I loved my very first stay in a hostel, which is why I thought of making a review. The Travel Talk Taipei Backpackers’ Hostel will be reviewed in 4 categories: location, amenities, comfort, and cleanliness.

First up:

Location

Since I was traveling alone, I made sure that I could get around easily. I Google mapped Travel Talk Taipei and found that it was only a few hundred meters away from bus stops, and the Xingtian Temple Train Station. There’s also a temple 400 meters, away from the hostel, where we can look around to kill time before check in. The Lin An Tai Old House is also just a kilometer away.

Travel Talk Taipei is right smack in the middle of the touristy destinations. The Shilin Night Market and The Grand Hotel are 4 kilometers north from the hostel. Just a 20 minute train ride away. The Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, Taipei 101, and Elephant Mountain Hiking Trail are just 3 km, 6 km, and 7 km south from the hostel, respectively. The popular Ximending District is 5 km also just south of Travel Talk Taipei. So I would say that the hostel is very conveniently located.

To top that, once you go out of the Travel Talk, you’re faced with a big main road and you’re already right next to a 7/11, massage parlors, and some restaurants. At the back of the hostel, there’s a mini night market, dessert stores, and boutique shops that one can just easily reach at night for when you no longer want to go out.

Location’s a 5/5 for me.

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Amenities

It’s a hostel, so it’s all about the basics, baby! Bathrooms, beds, and common room, I mean. There are about two toilet cubicles and two shower cubicles, together with three sinks, on the first floor. On the second floor, they have the main bathroom, a much comfortable space in comparison to the ones on the first.

The bedrooms are a bit small but have more space than what backpackers need. But what is the standard size for hostel bedrooms? I wouldn’t know; this was my first time staying in one. Lol. I personally had no complaints about the space since I only needed a place to crash in, not do jumping jacks. The only major downside is that when you’re placed on the second floor, you can hear people taking their showers in the main bathroom. You can hear noise in the first floor bedrooms too, but even worse. You can hear horns from the streets and people taking their showers in the other building. Between the two, the upper floor bedrooms are a better choice.

A review of Travel Talk Taipei Backpacker's Hostel

A review of Travel Talk Taipei Backpacker's Hostel

Inclusions in Travel Talk Taipei Backpacker's Hostel

I give amenities a 4/5 because all the necessary ones are there.

Comfort

To make up for the noise and lack of space is the fact that the beds, pillows, and duvets where surprisingly very comfy. I slept like a baby when I was placed on the second floor. It felt like I was still at home, in my own bed. And for the sake of comparison (also because I am currently writing this post on a hotel bed in another country that I will soon be blogging about), Travel Talk Taipei’s pillows are more comfortable than the ones I have now!

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But I unfortunately got transferred to the lower floor after two days. For that last night, I almost cried in the middle of it because, not only did I hear noise from the outside, I heard noise from the inside too! I’m so sure that one of my roommates grinded his teeth while he was sleeping. So it’s easy to say that I didn’t get any sleep, at all, during that one night.

But I give all the people, who run Travel Talk Taipei, all the credit for trying to make me feel welcomed while I was there. Even the other lodgers did their best to make small talk, no matter how awkward it was. Even that roommate, with the bad sleeping habit, made the effort to talk to me whenever the silence in the common room got overwhelming.

So comfort is still a 5/5 for me.

Cleanliness

Cleanliness could be debatable, depending on what’s important to you. The bathrooms were spotless. The trashcans were always emptied out, and they always had tissue paper. I would say that the bathrooms were pretty well maintained for such an inexpensive place. The bedrooms were the same, although they won’t fix your bed for obvious reason. It’s just that I noticed that whenever I went in barefoot, I couldn’t feel any grit on the floors. Lol!

The common room, though, needs a bit of tidying up. The floors are always swept and mopped, that’s for sure. I just meant that it needs arranging. The common room just doesn’t seem neat for some reason. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s because of all the baggage on different corners of the room, and the notebooks, books, and papers just strewn on the tables.

The sofas are a bit old and needs redressing. To solve that, they cover the entire furniture with big cloths, which I had no problem with. I rarely used those sofas anyway. I just thought that it was worth mentioning, for the people who may be a little ma-arte on that area.

Cleanliness is a 4/5 for me.

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Conclusion

So the hostel’s not perfect. It has its cons, but I think that its pros completely override the negative. Would I stay there again? Definitely. In terms of overall experience, I’m rating the hostel a 5/5.

My mom’s passport was mistakenly reported as lost/stolen (Japan Edition)

So my family and I flew to Japan on May 7. At 11:30 a.m., I went through immigration without a hitch. Each one of us was checked by a different officer. My brother, my sister, and my uncle all went through smoothly as well. My mom didn’t.

She was brought in by another officer to that secluded room everybody knows about. So we waited in that area where passengers can loiter, behind the immigration booths. 10 minutes passed, no update. 20 minutes, nothing. I thought,  “Okay, so my mom didn’t tell them that she had people waiting for her? We couldn’t be talked to by these officers?”

When 12:00 came by, I decided to approach one of the guards walking around. He was nice enough to talk to the immigration officers for me. A pretty Japanese lady came out and informed me, in broken english, that my mother’s passport had been reported as lost (maybe stolen? I got distracted). Mama made no such report.

We were assured that, in terms of her rights and security, she was fine but they were still calling the Philippine Embassy in Roponggi District to clarify the report. So she had to be kept there until a staff from the embassy picked up. Apparently, after 30 minutes of trying, no one had. At 12:50 p.m. we were told to transfer to the waiting area that’s past customs and wait for my mom there. One airport staff was holding my mom’s luggage. Uh oh, this doesn’t look good, I thought. We couldn’t take it because “it wasn’t ours.” At this point, my mind was getting ahead of me. My mother is going to get deported!

So I asked if there was even the slightest chance this could happen, but they couldn’t give me an answer. Fine. We’ll transfer.

At 1:45 p.m. – a realization.

Today’s a Sunday. Is the embassy even open? So I kept calling anyone who needed to know about our situation -our travel agent, my aunt in Shizuoka -in case we had to wait there until the next day. Finally, my mother came out at 3 p.m. with news that she was cleared but that she had to go to the embassy the next day to straighten things out.

So here’s what happened the next day,

From the Shinjuku Station to Azabu-juban Station

Our hotel was in Shinjuku. We rode the train to Roppongi, where the embassy is located. We went down at the Azabu-juban Station, the nearest station from the embassy. We followed the arrows that directed commuters to the exit for the other Asian embassies. Once we exited, we asked for directions and were told to turn right up the hill by the stop light.

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By that stop light is the road going up hill on the right

Up on the hill

It’s about a 7-10 minute hike to the corner for the Philippine Embassy. There are alleys where the other embassies are. Like the Embassy of Singapore is in the very first alley that we reached since the start of the hike. We kept walking straight, thinking that the embassy will be in the other official-looking buildings right by the main road. By the time we saw a Snoopy Museum, that’s when we decided to ask around. Apparently, the Philippine Embassy is in the alley right after the museum.

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After this door/building is the road to the Philippine Embassy

In the embassy

Where is the Philippine Embassy in Japan Located

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Inside the embassy, we were asked to write down, in detail, our dilemma, the events that led to it, and the actions we took to solve the problem. And so we did. We gave it to the young man managing the door, as instructed, and waited for a little over 10 minutes.

Next thing I knew, my mom’s name was being called. She was given another piece of paper – a format for an affidavit, in which she had to state that she is the rightful owner of the passport that was flagged as lost/stolen and that it was mistakenly reported. She also put her purpose for being in Japan and how long she’s staying. Talk about stressful.

So what happens after your passport gets flagged as lost/stolen?

Apparently, the Philippine Embassy in Japan submitted a certificate to immigration, clearing my mom of any passport-related problem. So on the day that we left Japan, she went through immigration again without delay. But it was also suggested to my mom that she renew her passport once we were back in our country (even though she still has another year on her passport), because the flag is irreversible.

All that took less than an hour, even though the embassy was full with other Filipinos bearing their concerns. Now that we are actually back in the Philippines, and thankfully in one piece, what’s left to be done now is to renew my mom’s passport for our future travels!

 

 

DIY trip to Jiufen: How to get there

If you enjoy street food, cheap shopping, mersmirizing views of the Pacific Ocean, or if you’re just a really big fan Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” then you need to get yourself to Jiufen.

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A former, almost forgotten gold mining town, modern day Jiufen has transformed itself into one of the most visited tourist destinations in Taiwan. This comes as no surprise, as the energy from hawking food vendors and shuffling tourists is a cultural experience of its own – one that you wouldn’t want to miss.

Going to Jiufen is one of the easiest excursions that I’ve done in my five years of DIY traveling. If I, the most worrisome person that I know, was able do it alone then I’m pretty sure that everyone else can. So if you ever find yourself planning a trip to Taiwan and including Jiufen in your itinerary, here’s how to get there:

1. By Tripool

Great news! I recently found out that Round Taiwan Round has come up with a revolutionary, but most importantly, cost efficient way for group travel. They’ve introduced to us Tripool, which enables us travelers to enjoy the cost-benefit of carpool, but also have the luxury to customize our itineraries for our chosen areas.

For only 30 USD per person, or 70 USD per person for an English tour guide, not only will you enjoy the privacy of a smaller group during your ride to Jiufen, you will also have the chance to see other notable spots within the area! This is the easiest way to go, if you ask me.

The even greater news?

You can get 5% off your purchase if you use the code CebuAdv at https://www.rtaiwanr.com/jiufen/jiufen-custom-shared-tour

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2.  By Train

This is probably the fastest (50-60 mins.) way to get to Jiufen, although it won’t bring you directly to Jiufen.

For around 50 to 80 TWD, your first leg of the ride will start in Taipei Main Station, from there you will need to ride whichever railway train that will bring you to Riufang Railway Station. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you which platform or what color line the trains run on, because their platform numbers change and railway trains do not have colors like the MRT. You’ll be on your own on that one, buddy.

Once you step out of Riufang Station’s main entrance, make sure that you’ll face Mingdeng Road Sec. 3. Cross to the other side of the road and look for the lone bus stop. Wait for the Keelung bus with Jinguashih as its last stop. I’m not sure about the bus number but the bus will most likely have a big flashing sign in front of it that says JINGUASHI. If not, you can ask for the number from the personnel at the information booth inside the station.

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Jiufen is the last stop before Jinguashi. It will take about 10 – 15 minutes to get there from the station.

3. By Bus

By bus is how I traveled to Jiufen, so I can be a little more specific here. This takes about 2 hours and it will bring you directly to Jiufen for 113 TWD, which isn’t so bad.

You will need to start from whichever MRT you’ll be nearest at and navigate your way to Zhongxiao Fuxing Station, which is where the blue and brown MRT lines meet.

This is the train station that you need to go to for Jiufen Old Town Taipei

At the station, get out at Exit 2 and follow the sidewalk to your right until you find a bus stop below an overpass. You can also go through Exit 1 and just cross the street towards the second exit.

Exit two for bus stop for bus 1062 bus to Jiufen Taipei
The bus to take to get to Jiufen Old Town in Taiwan

At the bus stop, wait for the bus 1062 with Jinguashi as its last destination. As I previously mentioned, Jiufen is the destination right before Jinguashi so watch out for that on the indicator inside the bus. You’ll know you’re there once the bus stops in front an extremely fine view of the ocean.

The view from Jiufen Old Town, Taipei Taiwan