Throwback Thursday Treat: They Call It El Nido, I Call It Paradise

In 2014 & 2015, Palawan was voted as the most beautiful island in the world by the Condé Nast Traveler’s Reader Choice Awards. Last year, it slipped down to 2nd place, behind another island gem, Boracay Island. This annual poll is participated by travelers from all over the world. Looks like most foreigners really love going to the Philippines, eh?

Palawan is one of the isolated islands west of the Philippine archipelago. It is not connected to any mainland in Luzon, Visayas or Mindanao. The island can only be reached either by plane or ferry. It has 3 famous cities / towns where most visitors go to – Puerto Princesa, the home of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (locally known as the Puerto Princesa Underground River); Coron, where the famous Kayangan Lake & Twin Lagoon are location & El Nido, where white sand beaches & luxury resorts are found in the very small islands of Bacuit Bay.

One of El Nido’s main attractions – The Big Lagoon in Miniloc Island

Exactly 3 years ago, my friends & I went to explore the not-so-known beauty of El Nido. Not yet famous in the local tourism scene, the town only had a few accommodation choices, a handful of restaurants & limited hours of power supply (only from 2:00 pm to 6:00 am). The town doesn’t have a bank or an automated teller machine. Very few restaurants / establishments accept credit card payments (with surcharges). The locals lived very simple lives & mostly depend on agricultural livelihood & tourism.

Bacuit Bay – View from El Nido town’s beach

Being in El Nido that time felt like being in a different country – with foreign travelers & backpackers everywhere in town.

Manila to El Nido ✈️️🚐

There are two ways to reach El Nido if you are coming from Manila – the expensive & comfortable direct flight & the affordable flight plus tiring land transfer. My friends & I cannot afford the ₱12,000 (estimated) direct round-trip tickets with Air Swift, so we opted to fly with Cebu Pacific Air to Puerto Princesa (for an affordable rate); then took the 6-hour land trip to El Nido. The van transfer costs ₱500-600 per way, depending on your haggling skills. You can also take the bus at a much cheaper rate, but the trip last up to 7 hours due to various stops.

El Nido 2014 crew @ Cudugnon Cave

Back in 2014, the last 2 hours of the 6-hour land trip were purely through rough roads. With the recent improvements in road infrastructure, the trip can be shortened to 5 hours through paved roads. There were only 3 van operators in 2014 – Lexxus, Eulen Joy & DayTripper Palawan. Apart from DayTripper Palawan, I would also recommend taking the recent addition to the van operators – Camarih Transport. My friends and I had a very safe trip last year (blogpost for the 2016 El Nido trip to follow!)

Where We Stayed

There were only a few accommodation choices in El Nido that time. My friends & I stayed in Casa Cecilia for 4 days & 3 nights. We got the deluxe room for ₱2,500* per night. The room rate includes 2 double beds, private toilet & shower (with toiletries), air conditioning, free Wi-Fi in the reception area & 4 breakfast meals per day.

The property staff were one of the nicest people I met in El Nido. They helped us arrange everything (van transfers, tours, etc) during our stay. We also met the owner who was also super nice.

When you & your tour group are the only visitors of the island 😉

*As per the Casa Cecilia website, the rate of the deluxe room has increased from ₱2,500 to ₱3,000 per night. I think it’s still affordable for 4 people, right?

El Nido Eco-Tourism Development Fee

The local government of El Nido collects an eco-tourism development fee of ₱200 (valid for 10 days) from each person taking the island tours. You can pay this fee in your hostel, hotel or the travel agency where you availed the tours. Back in 2014, they only give you a receipt; but from what I heard, they now issue small green environmental cards which you present to the boat captain every time you take the island tour.

Snake Island is connected to mainland Palawan through this sand bar

What We Did During Our Stay

We only had a few days in El Nido & we wanted to do + see as much as we can. There are 4 island tour options being offered in town – Tour A (Lagoons & Beaches), Tour B (Caves & Coves), Tour C (Hidden Beaches & Shrines) & Tour D (Island Beaches. Tours A & C are the popular ones but we took Tours A & B.

Note: These are group tours; you or your group will be combined with other people in a boat. You can go for a private boat tour but it would cost you more that the usual rate.

Tour A (Lagoons & Beaches) – A MUST IN EL NIDO!

View of Big Lagoon from our tour boat 😍

This tour costs ₱1,200 per person. The rate includes pick-up from your hotel/ hostel accommodation, motorized boat transfers to & from the islands, picnic lunch, life jacket & English-speaking boatmen. Always ask your guide if the snorkeling gear is for free or is for rent (we got ours for free!). Tour starts at 9:00 am & ends at around 4:00 pm.

Route: Seven Commando Beach -> Big Lagoon -> Shimizu Island (for lunch) -> Secret Lagoon -> Small Lagoon

PS. We enjoyed our time there we forgot to take photos of the places we visited. I’ll make it up in the next El Nido blogs. 😉

Tour B (Caves & Coves)

My favorite view from Pinagbuyutan Island!

This tour costs ₱1,300 per person. The tour has same inclusions & tour duration as that of Tour A’s.

Route: Entalula Island -> Snake Island (for lunch) -> Cudugnon Cave -> Cathedral Cave -> Pinagbuyutan Island

Crew jump shot at Entalula Island taken from the coconut tree~

We met some awesome people (both foreigners & fellow Filipinos) in these tours. We all ended up hanging out after the tour/s – had some good laughs over food & alcohol.

Las Cabanas Beach & Sunset

Aside from the island tours, there are also other spots you can visit like the Las Cabanas Beach, Nacpan Beach, Nagkalit-Kalit Falls & Duli Beach. We didn’t have enough time to go the last 3 so we only visited the Las Cabanas Beach (10-minute ride from town proper).

Back to when Las Cabanas Beach was almost empty

We rented a tricycle for ₱150. The driver waited for us up until we finished walking around the beach. Back then, there were only a handful of accommodations & restaurants in the area. It was so quiet & beautiful. It also offered one of the most beautiful sunsets by the beach I’ve witnessed in my entire life.

Las Cabanas sunset 😍


El Nido has its own charm. It is truly a paradise where you will always want to go back. It instantly became one my favorite places in the Philippines. I fell in love with the place I actually went back twice in the last 3 years (separate blogs to follow!)

I’ve heard from people I met in my recent trips that El Nido has gained attention in the local tourism scene. There are so many people visiting the place compared to the numbers 3 years ago. I strongly suggest that you visit El Nido as soon as possible before it becomes full of tourists.

Have you been to El Nido in the last 3-6 months? Can you tell me & the other readers how is the island hopping experience lately? Is the town already full of tourists? Feel free to comment below or send me an email to contact@thewkndtravel.com. You can also send me a message on Facebook, drop a comment on Instagram or send me a tweet on Twitter.

Until the next blog post. Thank you for reading! 🤠

PS. Thanks to my good friend Rodel for allowing me for allowing me to use some of his photos.

Tuesday Tip: 4 Easy Steps On How To Get Your Japan Visa (Tips Included!!)

Getting a Japan tourist visa is probably the most nerve-wrecking part of planning your trip. The fate of your trip will depend on the outcome of your application. Some say applying for a Japan tourist visa is a difficult process. I say it’s not – coming from someone who has already applied for tourist visas twice. It’s just like any other visa application process.

In 2015, I applied for a tourist visa with 2 friends for our 9-day Japan trip. All 3 of us were granted a single entry visa valid for a 15-day stay. Last year, I applied again for another tourist visa for my 13-day solo trip. Few days after, my passport came back with a 5-year multiple entry visa up to 2021. Good stuff, right?

My first ever Japan tourist visa!~ Of course I had to cover the visa details 😏

Let me show you how you can easily get your own Japan tourist visa. It’s simple as downloading & filling in the application form, preparing the necessary documents, applying through an accredited travel agency & getting back your passport after a few days. I will discuss these 4 easy steps in detail below (will also include some tips based on my personal experience). Allow me to also share some snaps I took in my past 2 trips to Japan.

Note: Some details below were obtained from the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines website. The tips below apply to people who are employed in a private company. Business owners can also use the steps below but they might need to submit a few more papers related to their businesses. 

Step 1: Download & fill in the application form

The first step is to visit the Embassy of Japan in the Philippines website & check on the visa application requirements. Kick start your application by downloading the application form from the website. Make sure to print this form in an A4-size paper with proper margins. Alternatively, you can ask for application forms in the embassy entrance or in the accredited travel agencies.

Write down your details neat & clear using a black or blue pen only. The accomplished application form should not have any erasure.

Tokyo DisneySea is a must-see in Tokyo; allot 1 day for this theme park~

Step 2: Gather the necessary documents

The embassy requires certain documents to be presented in order for them to decide on your application. Why is this so? It’s because they need to see that you are a registered Filipino citizen, you are qualified to go out of the country, you are capable of supporting your trip & that you will come back to the Philippines after your trip.

So what are the documents the Embassy of Japan require? Please see the not-so-long list below:

Valid Passport – Your passport must be valid for more than 6 months during your trip. The laminated part should be in perfect condition. It must have your signature & have at least 2 blank pages.

Birth Certificate & (if married) Marriage Contract – Both documents should be obtained from the National Statistics Office & must be issued within the past 12 months. You can check lower left portion of your document (near the bar code) to see the date your document was issued. If you do not have time to go to the NSO to get these documents, you can always request from the E-Census & NSO Helpline websites & they’ll have them delivered to your doorsteps.

Note: If you have a used Japan visa in your old or valid passport, you are exempted from submitting this requirement. The embassy already has a copy of your documents when you submitted them before.

Photo – The embassy website mentions that the photo should be 4.5 cm x 4.5 cm with white background. It’s best to wear something formal when having your photo taken. You only need 1 photo that you will attach in the application form.

Don’t miss the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in Kyoto! 😍

Income Tax Return / BIR Form 2316 – You need to submit a copy of your latest income tax return. The form needs to have your signature. This will show the amount you earned for the past year as well as the amount of taxes you paid to the Philippine government.

Certificate of Employment – This is not listed in the embassy’s requirements but the agencies require this. You need to ask for this certificate from your HR officer. The certificate should contain your gross annual income, position & date when you started working for your employer. It’s best to get it on the same week of the application.

Bank Certificate – The embassy won’t tell you how much money you need to have in your account when you apply for the visa. However, the agencies require that you need to have at least ₱100,000.00 in your account. I know it’s quite a big amount of money. If you need help on how you can have that in your account at the day of getting your bank certificate, feel free to send me an email. I’ll try to help you, not monetary though. 😉

Daily Schedule in Japan / Taizai Nitteihyo – Japan is one of the very few countries that ask for the detailed itinerary of your stay. The embassy needs to see what days are you arriving & leaving Japan, where will you stay (includes physical address, email address & phone number) & which places / areas are you going to explore. The embassy DOES NOT REQUIRE confirmed airline tickets & hotel / hostel reservations; you can just indicate your intended flights & hotel accommodations in the daily schedule. If you want a sample itinerary, I can send you the one we used 2 years ago. Feel free to send me an email to request for the said copy.

Osaka’s Dōtonbori canal at night + the famous Glico Man

TIP: It is always better to apply for a visa as a tourist rather than a visitor of a friend or a relative. The latter requires additional documents (invitation letter, photo, etc) that need to be submitted together with your application.

TIP 2.0: Some people previously ask me why did I book my airline tickets without having a Japan tourist visa. I told them that I would take a risk & spend less than ₱5,000 (before) for round-trip ticket rather than spend ₱15,000 – ₱20,000 pesos on a round-trip ticket last minute. I’ve saved more which I can add up to my daily expenses in Japan. Of course, you lose ₱5,000 if you get denied. If your documents are complete, I don’t see any reason why your application will rejected.

Step 3: Apply in a Japanese Embassy accredited travel agency

Now that you already have your application form & requirements, it’s time to submit them to the relevant agency. The Embassy of Japan in the Philippines does not directly accept visa applications. The office has authorized a handful of travel agencies that can accept these visa applications with, of course, a handling fee. These applications are compiled daily & are being sent to the embassy for processing.

I personally recommend Reli Tours & Travel Agency. They have one of the cheapest visa handling fees among the agencies (only ₱950) for tourist visa applications with no guarantors. They have different branches here in Metro Manila; my last 2 applications were handled by their Dusit Thani Hotel office.

All documents will be checked before your application will be accepted. After everything has been checked & accepted, they will ask for the visa handling fee. They will give you a receipt + a stub which you will present when claiming your passport. Applications usually take 3-7 working days.

TIP: If you want Reli Tours to submit your documents next day , make sure to hand over your applications before 5:00 pm in the Dusit Thani Hotel office. Any application submitted after 5:00 will still be accepted that same day; but will be submitted 2 days after. Note that other Reli branches have different cut-off times.

USJ’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter should be in everyone’s list!

Step 4: Go back to the agency & claim your passport

The agency will normally send you a text message once your passport is ready for claiming. Note that they will not inform you if you have been granted a visa or not. You will only know if you were granted a visa when you sign the passport release sheet with a check mark in the ‘Yes‘ box.

You can either be granted a single entry visa valid for 3 months from the date of issue & is valid for a 15-day stay in Japan or a multiple entry visa valid for x years (can be 1, 2 or up to 5 years) from the date of issue & is valid for a 30-day stay per entry.

TIP: Passports can only be claimed in the afternoon from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. Make sure to go there on time.

The list of requirements might be a little intimidating; but I tell you, once you are done gathering all the necessary requirements, the visa application process will be as easy as these 4 steps! So what are you waiting for? Book your plane tickets, gather all the needed documents & apply for your Japan visa as soon as possible. A trip to Japan is something you won’t regret. 😉

My 5-year multiple entry Japan tourist visa issued last year 😏


Have you encountered any problem when you applied for your Japan visa? Did the agency require additional documents from you? Do you have any questions or clarifications with the things mentioned above? Feel free to post them in the comments – it’s always nice to hear from you guys.

Alternatively, you can also send your questions & thoughts to contact@thewkndtravel.com or via FacebookInstagram & Twitter. Thank you for reading & have a nice day!

PS. All photos above were shot using my HTC Re & HTC One M8.

Going Solo in Japan Series: NAGOYA

Three weeks ago, I shared to you how I conquered the ₱50,000 x 13-day Japan trip challenge. I went around 7 different cities in the southern part of Japan. I mentioned there that I will blog about the 7 cities I visited in 4 different posts. So yeah, here’s the first one!

European vibe in Noritake Garden

The first 3 days & 2 nights of the trip were spent exploring the beautiful & laid-back city of Nagoya. Nagoya is the capital of the Aichi Prefecture & is also one of Japan’s famous port cities. People normally skip this city because they say there isn’t much to see compared to Tokyo, Kyoto & Osaka; but I am here to debunk that notion. This city has some of the most beautiful gardens I’ve been to in my whole trip. Let me elaborate below on where I stayed & what I did in my short stay in Nagoya.

Meijō Park near Nagoya Castle grounds

Accommodation

It’s not a secret that accommodation is one of the most expensive in all of Asia. Just like my previous Japan trip, I stayed in hostels. You still get a your private space (beds with curtains) in a room for 3-6 people at a very affordable rate. I stayed in 7-bed dormitory room in Glocal Nagoya Backpackers Hostel in Nakamura Ward. It is a 5-10 minute walk from the JR Nagoya Station & also near to both Willer Express pick-up & drop off points. The hostel is also located near different convenience stores & local restaurants. You won’t have any problem looking for food in the middle of the night. 😉

My dormitory room in Glocal Nagoya Backpackers Hostel

The hostel staff were really nice & helpful. I remember one of the staff told me he loved the Philippines when he visited a few years back. He also wants to fly back soon & explore more places / provinces. The hostel has an on-site bar & restaurant in the ground floor where you can meet & interact with local people & tourists. It also has a communal dining & lounge area in the 3rd floor exclusively for the guests. The property also offers free Wi-Fi to all guests. If you ever plan to go to Nagoya, I recommend that you stay in Glocal Nagoya Backpackers Hostel. The hostel also has private rooms for those who do not want to stay in dormitory rooms.

Transportation

Going around Nagoya is not difficult. The city has numerous JR & local subway lines that take you to almost all tourist attractions. Transfers between train stations & lines are convenient & tourist-friendly.

I didn’t get the Japan Rail Pass or the 1-day tourist pass during my stay; I only re-used my IC card from last year’s trip. I added credit & used it in every train ride. I also used this IC card in convenience stores, fast food restaurants & other shops.

Places Visited in Nagoya

Atsuta Jingu

Atsuta Jingu entrance

Atsuta Jingu is one of Japan’s most important Shinto shrines in all of Japan. This is somewhat similar to Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine. Each entrance to the shrine grounds has a torii gate. I went there on a Sunday & there were many Japanese families spending some quality time in the shrine grounds. Anyway, the shrine can be reached by a 5-minute walk from Meitetsu Nagoya Line’s Jingumae Station or Meijo Line’s Jingunishi Station. (No entrance fee)

Shirotori Garden

Shirotori Garden is a traditional Japanese garden with pathways around ponds & streams. This garden is also home to different events & fairs. Luckily, there was an organic food fair the day of my visit. The garden can be reached by a 5-minute walk from the Atsuta Jingu Shrine. (Entrance fee: ¥300)

Beautiful morning in Shirotori Garden

Noritake Garden

Noritake is one of the world’s leading tableware brand that originated in Nagoya in the 1900s. Noritake Garden was built in the former production grounds of the company. It has a craft center where you can see & experience how these wares are being done. There is also a museum which houses the exceptional crafts of Noritake through the years.

Inside Noritake Garden

The garden & recreation area provides a European vibe making you think if you are really in Japan. This is one of my favorite places in Nagoya; I will definitely visit again when I go back. (Entrance fee: Garden grounds: free | Craft center: ¥500)

Peaceful yet beautiful walkways around Noritake Garden

Osu Kannon Temple & Osu Shopping Street

Osu Kannon Temple is Nagoya’s most famous Buddhist temple. The temple’s center of attraction is the wooden status of Kannon, the Japanese goddess of mercy & pets. I went to the temple grounds during night time I wasn’t able to get a decent photo of it. (No entrance fee)

Beside the temple is the Osu Shopping Street. Compared to Tokyo’s Akihabara District, it has hundreds of shops specializing in electronics, anime, cosplay & Japanese goods. This shopping street is a good place for buying souvenirs . (No entrance fee)

Osu Shopping Arcade at night

The Osu Kannon Temple & Shopping Street can be found a few steps from Tsurumai Subway Line’s Osu Kannon Station. Alternatively, you can go down at Kamimaezu Station, a common station of Tsurumai & Meijo subway lines.

Sakae Ward

Afternoon stroll at Nagoya Central Park

Sakae is Nagoya’s downtown district. Department stores, specialty stores & restaurants are all located in this area. The local party scene can also be found here. It is also in this area where you will find 2 iconic Nagoya landmarks – the Oasis 21 & Nagoya TV Tower plus their own version of Central Park.

The futuristic Oasis 21 in Sakae Ward

Nagoya TV Tower from the Central Park

This area can be accessed by going down at Sakae Station or by a 20-30 minute walk from JR Nagoya Station.

Meijō Park

Don’t get me wrong, my initial plan was to go & see the Nagoya Castle. When I walking at towards the entrance, I saw a park full of red, orange & yellow leaves. Since I already know how Japanese castles look like (from my visit in Osaka Castle in 2015), I opted to just go to the nearby Meijō Park. Autumn was definitely at its peak when I went there. I enjoyed walking around, sitting on different wooden benches, observing people & thinking about random stuff. I tell you, it was the best decision I made that day.

The Meijō Park can be found a few meters walk from Meijō Kōen Station (nearest) or Shiyakusho Station (other station; this one is near Nagoya Castle). (No entrance fee)

Best decision I made that day – skip Nagoya Castle & walk around Meijō Park 😍


You might notice I didn’t go to so many places in Nagoya. Um… Yes. To be honest, I wanted the itinerary to be as flexible as possible. I didn’t plan on where to go or what to do; I only asked a few suggestions from the hostel staff & people I met plus check some online sites. I took my time in exploring & enjoyed every single minute I spent in these places.

Also, I missed a number of notable places in Nagoya like the Tokugawa Garden, Nagashima Spa Land, Nabana no Sato Flower Park, Toyota Automobile Museum & Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture.

3 days (or strictly speaking 2 full days) are not enough to explore the beautiful city of Nagoya. The city has so much to offer I want to go back there soon!

It was also announced last year that Legoland Japan will open a theme park in Nagoya. It will be the 8th in the world & the first in East Asia. Legoland Japan is expected to open to the public next month, 1 April 2017. Another park to add in the list for my next visit!

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or send me an email to contact@thewkndtravel.com. You can also send me a message on Facebook, drop a comment on Instagram or send me a tweet on Twitter.

PS. All photos above were shot using my HTC Re.