2016 Recap: Going Solo

In less than 25 hours, another year will come to an end. Before I start another calendar year in my life, I believe it is a good time to look back where this year took me.

2016 was mostly about solo travel. After years of travelling with various sets of friends, I finally had the courage to go on my own, (re)discover old & new places, experience different cultures & meet new friends.

Let me give you a recap of how this year of solo (& some of not-so-solo) travels went.

Yangon, Myanmar

I initially planned this as the first solo trip of the year but my friend Geof tagged along. There are no direct flights from Manila to Yangon; so we had to book tickets to Bangkok, then onwards to Yangon. We had a 16-hour layover in Bangkok so we took the chance to go out of the airport, stay in a hostel over the night & see the Grand Palace in the morning.

           Team Philmar at the Yangon Amazing Games 2016

Then, we took the afternoon flight to Yangon & spent the rest of the trip there. We joined the Amazing Game Yangon & attended the Global Village 2016 Program, both organized by AIESEC in Myanmar. We also went around the city by foot, discovered different temples & pagodas & experienced Chinese New Year in Yangon Chinatown. We went to different markets, tried their street food & watched football (with beers) with our roommates in the hostel.

                   A visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda

Of course, a visit in Yangon will never be complete without visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s definitely a place to visit in Yangon.

Koh Lipe, Thailand

This should have been a beach trip to the Gilis in Indonesia or a weekend in the forests of Luang Prabang, but plans changed when Carl, the Brit guy we met in Ao Nang last year, recommended Koh Lipe. This place is also known as the Maldives of Thailand.

It was my first international solo trip, to an island unknown to all people I know back home. It took me 2 flights (Manila to Kuala Lumpur, then to Langkawi) & 1 ferry ride (Langkawi to the island) to reach Koh Lipe.

                 Walking at the shores of Koh Rawi

I had the most relaxing 3 days of my life there. I literally walked around the beautiful island, sipped some fresh fruit shakes while sitting on the shore, enjoyed some quiet time in paradise, got sun-kissed in the scenic beaches & met some cool new friends in the hostel & in the island tour.

Koh Lipe is truly a paradise; it’s a place I will definitely go back to in the future.

      With my sister in the grounds of Petronas Twin Towers, KL

I had a one night stopover in Kuala Lumpur before I flew back to Manila. I dropped by to visit my sister who was assigned there for work. We heard mass & had lunch together; also made a quick visit to the grounds of the Petronas Twin Towers.

Pangasinan

For the 2nd year in a row (& maybe for the last time), my friends at work decided to have a beach weekend trip somewhere far from the metro. We, a group of 16 fun people, went to Pangasinan for a weekend last May.

           View from the Governor's Island, Hundred Islands

We spent the first day around the Hundred Islands in Alaminos City. We walked around a crowded island, went to caves & jumped over a cliff. We then went to a lighthouse, a beach, another cave & into a market on the 2nd day.

                      With the best colleagues!

The road trip was really long, we enjoyed each other’s company.

Boracay Island, Aklan

This trip pushed through just because I didn’t want to waste the cheap roundtrip tickets I booked. I went to Boracay all by myself, stayed in a party hostel & ended up having a great time up to the point I didn’t want to leave.

                 Mad Monkey Hostel Boracay's pool

The weather wasn’t that favourable during my stay. Good thing, Mad Monkey Hostel had a swimming pool & a bar / restaurant. I found myself staying in the hostel all throughout the trip, talking to different people from all parts of the world, drinking with new-found friends & exchanging travel stories with everyone.

                           Boracay Beach

It was also one of the days where I had too much alcohol, passed out & woke up in my bed the next day not knowing how I went back the night before.

El Nido, Palawan

Just like the Yangon trip, this was supposed to be another solo trip. Days & months after, my high school travel buddies joined, making it a reunion trip for the 4 of us. The last trip the 4 of us were complete was way back in Singapore 2 years ago.

           With my highschool travel buddies / constants!

El Nido is place I will never get tired of visiting. It was my 3rd time to visit the paradise & I still am in awe of how beautiful the place is. I took my friends to Nacpan Beach twice (Yes, twice!) then joined them in the famous Tour A (Lagoon Tour).

                    Small Lagoon, Miniloc Island

It’s one of the trips where we made great memories together & enjoyed each other’s company.

Bangkok, Thailand

This is the best trip of my 2016. I wasn’t able to see much of what Bangkok has to offer but I surely had fun drinking, socializing & partying.

   One of those nights in Khao San Rd with 10 other solo travellers

I flew to Bangkok with a roundtrip plane ticket, a hostel booking & no plans at all. The only ‘tourist-y’ I probably did there was to go on a day tour in Ayutthaya. The rest was all about meeting people, eating ฿40 pad thai on the streets, drinking Chang beers & partying in Khao San Rd.

           A game of cards turned into one big party group!

I also met & hangout with a lot of people from all over the world – England, United States, Canada, The Netherlands, Poland, India, Gibraltar & a lot more.

Japan

When I went to Japan last year, I made a promise to myself that I will definitely go back to explore more. It didn’t take long for me to book tickets back to Japan; thus this trip was born.

      European city vibe in a middle of a Japanese City (Nagoya)

This 13-day trip brought me to the beautiful gardens of Nagoya, the historical sites of Hiroshima, the ancient temples of Kyoto, the busy shopping streets of Osaka, the friendly deers of Nara, the tender beef cuts of Kobe & the delicious ramens of Fukuoka.

                   Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto

I was able to experience the Japanese culture again but this time with the luxury of time.

                          Deer selfie 😉

That sums up all my travels for this year. I may have explored fewer places & countries this year; but I surely made awesome memories with different people.  I might not have anything booked or planned as of yet, but I look forward to another year of solo (& maybe not-so-solo) travels for 2017!

*Yangon photo credits to Geof & Nappark photo credit to Danielle.

The Japan Series | 1 of 3: TOKYO

Hey, I hope you’re having a really good day. I apologise I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been really busy the past 2 months plus I also just came back from a well-deserved holiday. I feel like it’s time to catch up with the planned contents for the site.

As mentioned in my previous post about enjoying a 9-day Japan trip on a shoestring budget, I will post separate & detailed contents of trip whereabouts. I have decided to divide it into 3 different blog posts & these posts will be called “The Japan Series”.

Japan Series | 1 of 3: TOKYO

My friends & I were lucky to have booked a very affordable roundtrip Japan tickets (Manila-Tokyo-Osaka-Manila) last year. Considering we will fly to one city & leave from the other, the three of us sat down few weeks before the trip & planned on what would be the flow of our itinerary. We’ve decided to spend the first 5 days in Tokyo because there’s so much to see in Japan’s capital city.

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Japan 2015 crew! (L-R) Paolo (me), Majo & Junelle

Day 1

It took us 4 hours from Ninoy International Airport (MNL) to Narita International Airport (NRT). After clearing immigration & getting our bags, we decided to try McDonald’s. They give you an option to choose between 6 pieces of nuggets & fries to go with your burger & drink. As expected, all 3 of us chose nuggets over fries. We were so hungry we finished our own orders.

There are a few ways to choose from going to the city center. Since we were not in a hurry, we took the cheapest option – the local train to Tokyo. Other options include Keisei Skyliner & Narita Expess (N’EX). We went to the station counter & bought loadable IC cards. The IC card is like Seoul’s T-Money, Singapore’s EZ Link & Taipei’s EasyCard. You can use the card almost everywhere – from all JR & subway lines (except bullet trains) all over Japan, to convenience stores & fast food restaurants.

After 1 transfer & about 1.5 hours of train ride, we got off JR Uguisidani Station & headed over to Oak Hostel Zen where we booked our 1st 4 nights. The cold weather greeted us when we get off the train. I believe it was around 15°C. It’s something we don’t experience in Manila so we obviously loved it.

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Sensō-ji Temple at night

After an hour of rest, we went to Ueno Park for a late afternoon stroll. It is one of the sakura parks flooded by tourists during spring. We went for another 10 minute walk to Asakusa Temple. It is Tokyo’s famous red Buddhist Temple; also the oldest in the city. We also had our first takoyaki fix here. We were so excited to try it up to the point we forgot to take a photo of it. After spending a few minutes in the temple complex, we had dinner in a local Japanese restaurant then headed back to the hostel.

Day 2

We spent the most of Day 2 in Shibuya Ward. First, we went to Takeshita Street, just outside Harajuku Station. This street is famous for cosplayers walking around in their respective costumes. We’ve seen a few in their costumes but I believe we were too early for us to witness the big number of cosplayers walking around. Takeshita street is also a good place to go when you like all things fancy – from accessories, chocolates, footwear, souvenirs to hoodies & clothes.

From Harajuku Station, we took the subway to Yoyogi Station. If I’m not mistaken, from Exit 2 we walked about 600 m to reach the Meiji Shrine. It is Tokyo’s most famous Shinto Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji. We were lucky to witness a traditional Japanese wedding while we were there. The place was full of tourists & local Japanese families enjoying the hot sunny Sunday. There were also a few adorable Japanese kids walking around in their kimonos.

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On our way to Meiji Shrine

On our way back to the train Station, we dropped by a local restaurant to have lunch. We then headed to Shibuya crossing, dubbed as Japan’s (not sure if also the world’s) busiest intersection. Crossing the intersection was fun & time chaotic. Thousands of people cross the street every few minutes. It gets busier during late afternoon & night-time. We checked out the shops at the other side of the intersection – specifically went to H&M, Uniqlo in Shibuya 100, ABC Mart & some other ones.

Given it was a Sunday & we missed the morning English mass, we went all the way down to Roppongi to hear mass. We went to the Franciscan Chapel Center – Roppongi Catholic Church. It is a few minutes walk from exit 6 of Oedo Line Roppongi Station. They have several English masses every Sunday. You can check out their website for the updated mass schedule. The mass was mostly attended by Filipinos living & visiting Tokyo.

We can’t get over of the Shibuya crossing experience so we decided to go back after mass. We wanted to experience crossing the street at night with all the city lights. We had our dinner there & we also took a photo with Hachiko, the famous & loyal dog. We went shopping before heading back to the hostel.

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Shibuya crossing selfie

Day 3

We initially planned to go to the gardens & the palace for our 3rd day but we found out that these places close on Mondays. We had to interchange the activities & places planned for days 3 & 5.

We headed to Ueno Park again to check how it looks like during the day. Since autumn foliage is just about to start, the leaves are still green. We had a minor photoshoot in the park (haha) then we headed to Tsukiji Fish Market. Usual trips to the market start at 4:00 in the morning to see the live ‘market action.’ We opted to skip that very early activity & decided to just go there for lunch. We walked around the market, saw what each stall is selling & watched what people do.

We came across this Japanese restaurant (we didn’t understand the name) & decided to have lunch. I ordered a plate of assorted sushi & a glass of draft Asahi beer. Perfect combination! Everything was fresh delicious! The meal cost me around ¥‎2,400. It was a bit expensive but it was all worth it.

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What I had for lunch (yum!)

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Draft Asahi beer!

Then we headed back to Shibuya area to buy some treats for our families & friends. The prices of chocolates & biscuits in Takeshita Street shops were the cheapest ones we saw in Tokyo. We also went to Daiso to get goodies for ¥‎100 each (plus tax so around ¥‎108 each).

Day 4

We only had 1 activity planned for this day & that is to enjoy Tokyo Disney Sea. We opted to go for Tokyo Disney Sea instead of Disneyland because Junelle & I have already been to another Disneyland Park (in Hong Kong). Also, Disney Sea is one of its kind so we thought it was worth checking.

We purchased our tickets online, days before we flew to Japan mainly to skip the queue. I suggest you also get yours beforehand as the lines are really long. We got our tickets for ¥‎6,900 each (October 2015 price).

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Inside Tokyo Disney Sea

We spent the day there walking around the theme park & also trying as many rides as we can. Even if it was a Tuesday, the park was full. There were also many ones in their respective costumes. If we only knew about it, we would’ve been there with our own costumes as well.

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Beautiful sunset to cap off the fun day at Disney Sea

We left the park around 5:30 in the afternoon. It took us around an hour from Urayasu to Akihabara. Akihabara is Tokyo’s central shopping district for anime, manga, gadgets, computers & all other things related to electronics. We only went around the area near the station since we were all tired from a long day of walking around Disney Sea. We had dinner at CoCo Ichibanya, a famous Japanese curry restaurant, before heading back to the hostel.

Day 5

It was our last day in Tokyo. Since our Willer Express bus ride to Kyoto is at 10 in the evening, we decided to go around during the day. After breakfast & hostel check out, we headed to Tokyo’s Imperial Palace East Gardens. We walked around the garden & went to different temples & shrines. We were lucky enough to see one tree with autumn sakura (cherry blossoms).

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Autumn sakura

We planned to go to Edo Castle but we couldn’t find our way there so we just decided to go to Minato Ward. We went to the Kumano Shrine & Zojo-ji Temple, both a few meters walk from the subway exit. We also went to the Tokyo Tower grounds but decided not to go up due to time constraints.

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After a few days in Japan, we finally had ramen for lunch!

We had lunch in a local ramen restaurant. The ramen costs around ¥600+ per bowl & it includes unlimited rice & pickles. Yes, we didn’t know Japanese people eat ramen with rice. We gave it a try & it was really good. After lunch, we went back to the hostel to rest & also to get our bags.

We experienced an earthquake while we were in the hostel common area. I think it was somewhere between magnitude 4 & magnitude 4.5. Everything was shaking; I thought the structures will collapse. The hostel staff advised us that earthquakes happen a lot in Japan. It was another experience to remember.

After spending a few hours in the hostel common area, we then headed to the Willer Bus Terminal in Shinjuku & waited for our night bus to Kyoto.

We’ve been to many places in those 5 days but I feel there are still a lot more to explore. We missed out on Mount Fuji, Lake Kawaguchi, Edo Castle & a lot more. These places will definitely be in my list when I fly back to Tokyo in the future.

PS. Thanks again to Junelle for allowing me to use some of her photos.