2017 In Review: Discovering The Known & The Unknown

In less than 2 days, 2017 will come to a close. Another great & memorable year will soon come to an end. Before we welcome 2018, let us look back how this year went. I do not consider this a major travel year because I think every year is a major travel year for me.

My solo travel adventures, which started in 2016, continued this year. I went to most places all by myself & then met amazing people whom I shared good memories with. I also had the chance to reunite & travel with good old friends.

Selfie with Broken Beach in the background 📷

In 2016, I went to places which are known to most of you (perhaps except Koh Lipe). These places gave me unforgettable experiences & different insights. 2017 was a bit different. I’ve been to known places like Coron, Taipei & Ubud, but I’ve also visited unknown places (to many Filipinos) like Port Barton, Nusa Penida & Komodo. 2017 was a year of discovering the known & the unknown.

Let us rediscover the the known & unknown places I visited for 2017.

Port Barton

Port Barton’s village beach

My first solo trip for 2017 happened in March where I spent a weekend in Port Barton. It is a small undeveloped village in the northeast coast of Palawan. It is a more basic version of El Nido.

Enjoyed the tour to untouched islands & pristine beaches 😍

Everything in the village is limited – from accommodation choices, restaurants, electricity to mobile network access. These limitations didn’t hinder me from enjoying a weekend away from the busy city life. I went on an island tour which took me to untouched islands & pristine beaches. I had my first close encounter with a turtle in German Island. I also made good memories with people I met on the tour & in the hostel.

Close encounter with a turtle in German Island 🐢

Blog: PORT BARTON: Palawan’s Secret Paradise

Coron

I had my second Palawan weekend trip for 2017 in Coron. I decided to go there during the Labor Day weekend (to save work leave credits) & booked my round-trip tickets using my GetGo (Cebu Pacific Air‘s loyalty program) points.

Met these amazing people in Coron

I walked around the town & hiked Mount Tapyas on my first day. I took the Ultimate Island Tour on my second day & the Island Escapade Tour on my third day. I flew back to Manila on the fourth day.

Coron’s crystal clear waters 😍

I prefer the escapade tour over the ultimate tour. I think Kayangan Lake, Siete Picados & Twin Lagoon were really beautiful; however, these places were super crowded. I enjoyed the relaxed & laid-back escapade tour to the jaw-dropping Malcapuya, Banana & Bulog Dos Islands.

Malcapuya Island – the highlight of this Coron trip 😍

Blog: CORON – Paradise Beyond Words

Taipei

Taipei was my first international trip for 2017. It was also my first time to use my renewed passport. I’ve been to this city in 2015 with my high school friends. This time, I went on another weekend trip with my work colleagues.

Taipei ’17 buddies – Rona & Shiela 😎

We went to the usual places like Taipei 101, Ximending, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, Liberty Square, Shilin Night Market & 228 Peace Park. We also went up north to the countryside to visit Shifen & Jiufen.

Colorful vibe of Jiufen 😍

We loosened up a bit by joining TourMeAway‘s Pub Crawl Activity. It was a long fun drinking night with people from all over the world. Our pub crawl photo even made it to the activity’s Klook page. I also got my new HTC U11 during this trip – definitely worth the investment.

Got a new phone in Taipei -the HTC U11

BlogTAIPEI Revisited: 3-Day Weekend in the Heart of Asia (Less than ₱15,000 all in!!!)

Siquijor

I went on a last-minute weekend Siquijor trip with friends last July. I flew to Dumaguete with a friend & boarded the next ferry to Siquijor. We then met another friend in Siquijor & started exploring the island.

 

Reunion with Geof & JE in Siquijor

We had lunch at Larena Triad Restaurant overlooking the island, went exploring at the Guiwahon Mangrove Park, (they) had fish spa in the century old balete tree, walked around the Lazi Convent & Church, jumped off (a number of times) the famous Cambugahay Falls & enjoyed some lazy (except me who tried the cliff diving) afternoon at Salagdoong Beach.

Cambugahay Falls – the highlight of my Siquijor trip 💦

We had a short Dumaguete side trip; we stayed there for a night before our flight back to Manila. Our friend, who is based there, took us on a late night city tour (?? haha) just to see how it looks like.

BlogLast-Minute SIQUIJOR Weekend (For Less Than ₱7,000 Including Airfare)

Ubud

Explored Ubud with Mary Ann & Lyza

I spent half of my annual birthday month trip in Ubud in Bali, Indonesia. I’ve been to Ubud in 2014 but I didn’t have enough time to explore the place. I went back for 3 full days to explore different temples, hike up & down the rice terraces, eat the famous crispy duck, walk around the town, tried the luwak coffee in a coffee plantation & go to the waterfall.

World famous Tegallalang Rice Terraces 😍

I also attended a cooking class with Paon Bali. I learned to prepare local dishes & ended up eating them as well after. This Paon Bali Cooking Class was the highlight of my Ubud visit.

Local food we ate after the cooking class 😋

BlogThe Wonderful Indonesia Series: UBUD – From Temples To Rice Paddies

Nusa Penida

Instagram-famous Broken Beach 😍

The other half of my week-long birthday trip was spent in a relatively unknown off Bali called Nusa Penida. For 2 straight days, I hopped on a motorcycle & explored this untouched island.

Atuh Beach – a cove between 2 cliffs 😍

I went to ‘Instagram-famous’ places like Angel’s Billabong, Broken Beach & Kelingking Secret Point. I also went to the hidden Crystal Bay for swimming & relaxation. On my 2nd & last day, I spent the whole day in Atuh Beach, another ‘Instagram-famous’ cove that is between 2 high cliffs.

Another Instagram-famous – Kelingking Secret Point 😍

I stayed in Kuta for a night before my early flight back to Manila. I’ve been to this place in 2015 but I still walked around the crowded beach & waited for the beautiful Kuta sunset.

Kuta sunset – what a beautiful view to end this week long birthday trip 🌅

BlogThe Wonderful Indonesia Series: NUSA PENIDA – Hidden Paradise Off Bali

Komodo

Kanawa Island 😍

Two months after spending a week in Indonesia, I decided to fly back & sneak out a short weekend trip to Labuan Bajo. This small village / town is the gateway for the more famous Komodo National Park (Komodo Island).

Worth the 30-minute hike up the mountain 😍

I took the shared overnight boat trip to the islands. The islands were hours away from each other by slow boat. On the first day, we went snorkeling on Kanawa Island, swam with the manta rays in Manta Point & hiked up Padar Island for some amazing views. We parked somewhere near Komodo Island & stayed there for the night. The boatmen prepared all our meals while on the boat. We slept under the stars & clear skies.

Ha, once in a lifetime photo with a Komodo dragon 🦎

The following day, we walked around in Komodo Island to spot Komodo dragons, went snorkeling & swimming in Pink Beach & spotted some wildlife on Rinca Island (more Komodo dragons lol). Our boatmen allowed us to snorkel & jump off the boat in a random snorkeling point right before going back to Labuan Bajo.

Met up for dinner with the people I was with in the overnight boat trip

Blog: To Follow

Tokyo & Kawaguchiko

Dinner in Tokyo with Laura & Leon (former HTC people) & Kristin

The week-long trip to Japan was my last trip for 2017. It was not my first time (I’ve been there in 2015 & in 2016) so I decided to explore the not-so-famous areas like Kawaguchiko. I flew to Tokyo in the morning, then I met Laura & Leon (people I met in HTC Elevate years ago) in late afternoon until evening.

Picture-perfect Mount Fuji 🗻😍

The following day, I took the bus to Kawaguchiko where I stayed for 2 full days. I met good friends in the hostel which I went around the place with. We went up to Mt. Fuji 4th Station, walked around Kawaguchiko town & we even went cycling around Lake Kawaguchiko. I saw Mt Fuji at its finest (a lot of times!!) during my short stay in this quiet town.

Cycled around Lake Kawaguchiko with these guys 🚴

Blog: To Follow

Takayama & Shirakawa-go

Takayama Old Town 🏠

After spending 2 days in Kawaguchiko, I took a 5-hour bus ride to Takayama. Takayama is a city that is located in the rural, mountainous Hida region in Gifu Prefecture. Just like any other Japanese rural centers, the city retains traditional character. This is shown in the preserved old town. I walked around the old town & the city for one whole day. I was able to visit various temples & museums along the way. I also tried the famous Hida beef in one of the restaurants near JR Takayama Station.

Hida beef for lunch 😋

I went on a half day side trip to Shirakawa-go, a UNESCO World Heritage site located at the foot of Mt. Haku-san. Located about an hour away from Takayama, this old village is characterized by gassho-style farmhouses. I spent 3 hours walking around the village, hopping from one house to the other.

Shirakawa-go from the view point 😍

The visits to Takayama Old Town & Shirakawa-go were the highlights of my stay in Gifu Prefecture.

Gassho-style farmhouse in Shirakawa-go 😍

Blog: To Follow


The list above doesn’t account the number of times I went to my hometown in Albay for family functions & random weekends. I plan to continue going home (every few months) to my parents in 2018. There’s definitely no place like home.

Picturesque Mayon Volcano 🌋 There’s no place like home 😍

The trips above pretty much sum up my 2017. It was a year of discovering known places like Coron, Taipei & Ubud, to not-so-known places like Siquijor & Kawaguchiko & to relatively unknown places like Port Barton, Nusa Penida, Komodo & Takayama. It was another year full of memories I will cherish for the rest of my life. I already have a few trips planned for 2018 & I look forward to exploring more of what this beautiful world has to offer.

PS. Photos were taken using my HTC Re & HTC U11

Going Solo in Japan: 13 days & 7 cities for less than ₱50,000

Last October 2015, my friends & I went for a 9-day x ₱40,000 (each) journey around 3 key Japan cities. We enjoyed our first 5 days in the very busy Tokyo, literally walked around the ancient capital Kyoto & sort-of relaxed in the hippie city of Osaka. Towards the end of the trip, I kept on telling my friends that I will go back to the country really soon.

It didn’t take long until the next Japan trip happened. 3 months ago, I went on a 13-day solo Japan trip around 7 cities. I met 2 friends along the way, but I was on my own most of the time. It was a life-changing experience! I want to do it again.

Deer selfie at Nara Park

In 2015, I only spent ₱40,000 for the whole 9 days in Japan. For the 2016 trip, I challenged myself to try to fit in ₱50,000 (all in!) for the whole 13 days in. That’s additional 5 days & 4 nights, but only an additional ₱10,000 from the last budget. I may not have someone to share the cost of getting a pocket Wi-Fi, but not buying tickets for theme parks like DisneySea & Universal Studios Japan helped stretch the budget for a few more days.

The Japanese Yen (¥) to Philippine Peso (₱) exchanged rate changed from ₱0.39 in 2015 to ₱0.45 last year. This change in the currency rate affected the budgeting a lot; but it was all good. I was able to fit in ₱50,000 for the whole 13 days (including tickets); I even managed to hoard some chocolates & treats for my family & friends back home.

Hiroshima’s Shukkeien Garden

Let me elaborate below how I conquered the challenge. The discussion will be divided into 6 parts – Plane ticket, Bus pass, Route / itinerary, Accommodation, Pocket Wi-Fi & Everyday expenses.

Plane Ticket

It was late January 2016 when I came across a Cebu Pacific Air seat sale to all their destinations. I randomly checked possible dates of a Japan trip; I found a round-trip ticket for November for less than ₱5,000 (fare only). With no hesitations, I booked the said Manila-Nagoya-Fukuoka-Manila ticket. The trip was 13 days long; it includes 2 weekends & 1 Philippine holiday. What made me more excited is that my trip coincides with the peak of autumn in most places in Japan.

Round-trip Japan ticket for less than ₱6,000 was definitely a bargain!

I added baggage to my ticket a few days before my departure to & from Japan. Overall, I paid ₱5,907.87 for my round-trip ticket. A normal ticket Japan would cost around ₱15,000; so getting a ticket at this price is such a bargain.

Note that a Philippine passport holder is required to pay a travel tax worth ₱1,620 before leaving the country.

Visa

The Embassy of Japan in the Philippines does not accept personal visa applications. All applications should go through their accredited travel agencies. I submitted my requirements to Reli Tours & Travel Agency in Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati City. Visa handling fee costs ₱950.

It only took 3 working days before I got my passport back. The Embassy of Japan in the Philippines granted me a 5-year multiple entry visa valid until October 2021. Good stuff.

Willer Express Japan Buss Pass

Given I fly in to Nagoya & fly out from Fukuoka, I had to plan out my route from one city to the other. I was checking the bus routes of Willer Express when I saw their Bus Pass promotion.

The bus pass allows you to book up to 3 rides per day for 3, 5 or 7 days days at a certain amount. I took advantage of this promotion & got myself the ¥10,000 3-day bus pass which can be redeemed Mondays to Thursdays. I took 3 overnight rides & 1 night ride using the bus pass. It saved me around ¥8,000 & 3 nights of hostel accommodation.

Kobe’s iconic tower

Route

If you think about it, 13 days is quite a long trip; so I told myself I must visit as many cities / places as I can.

Note: I will not talk about where I went in these cities; watch out for the 4 separate entries about these 7 cities.

I flew in to Nagoya & stayed there for 3 days & 2 nights. People normally skip this city because they believe there isn’t much to see. To be fair, they actually have scenic temples, parks & gardens. On the 3rd night, I took a 3-hour bus to Osaka, then another 6-hour overnight bus to Hiroshima.

European vibe in the middle of Nagoya – inside Noritake Garden

Genbaku Dōmu / Atomic Bomb Dome – UNESCO World Heritage Site in Hiroshima

The following morning, I met with my friend Michiko at the Hiroshima JR Station. We spent 2 days & 1 night in Hiroshima Prefecture; we visited Miyajima Island, then walked around the historical city & ate the best okonomiyaki in the area. On the 5th night, I took a 7-hour overnight bus to Kyoto.

With my friend Michiko before in Hiroshima

Upon arrival in Kyoto, I went to the hostel & waited for my friend Rona. We went around Kyoto for 1.5 days; we’ve been to the bamboo forest, plus temples & shrines. We also went to Gion to hunt for some geisha. We also met some cool people (Japanese, Dutch & some Filipinos based in Australia) at the hostel bar & enjoyed a night of drinking & sharing stories.

With Rona in a local ramen restaurant before she left for Tokyo

After another morning of temples & gardens, Rona & I boarded the 30-minute local train to Osaka. Rona stayed for a night (before she left for Tokyo) while I stayed for 3 nights. I went to some new places in the city – those I missed when I was there in 2015. I also met some amazing locals in Osaka plus a few tourists from Malaysia, South Korea & Germany. I also took day trips to Nara (with Rona) & Kobe (all by myself) which were both 1-hour local train rides from Osaka.

A beautiful sunny day in Nara Park

Dōtonbori – Osaka’s busiest place at night

On the 10th night, I took a 9-hour overnight bus all the way to the port city of Fukuoka. My final 3 days & 2 nights were spent here. Some parks & temples basically made up my last days in Japan. There were also awesome nights of drinking & walking around with some new friends from Singapore, Argentina, France & the US.

Ōhori Park – a place of scenic beauty in Fukuoka

I made a good choice of staying 2-3 days per city; I was able to visit most of what each city has to offer.

Accommodation

I’ve mentioned in my How I enjoyed a 9-day Japan trip for less than ₱40,000 all in blog post that Japan has one of the most expensive accommodation rates in Asia. To save some money, I decided to stay in hostels. Daily rate per bed in a dormitory room costs around ¥2,700 – ¥3,200. Each bed includes free Wi-Fi, a bed sheet, a pillow, a universal plug & a reading light. Also, these beds have curtains around so you still have your own privacy.

My dormitory bed in Osaka Hana Hostel

Hostels in Japan are generally clean & quiet. Dormitory rooms have common & clean shower areas & toilet. Hostels also provide free shampoo & soap. All properties have common lounge areas & kitchen facilities where you can meet fellow travelers.

Backpacker K’s House Kyoto Communal Lounge & Dining Area

I’ve stayed in 5 different hostels for 9 nights (3 nights were spent in overnight bus rides). The Hana Hostels / J Hoppers Group gives a ¥300 yen discount for every 3rd night stay in their hostels. I was able to get 2 x ¥300 yen discounts. I’ve provided a table for a summary of my accommodation costs:

The average daily rate would cost around ₱1,320 per hostel bed. It is a bit expensive if you compare it to the hostel rates in other Asian cities, but they are pretty affordable & reasonable in Japan. Also, all the hostels I stayed there are near subway stations & have excellent reviews online.

Pocket Wi-Fi

Given I will be on my own most of the time, I got myself a pocket Wi-Fi to help me navigate around each city / place. It also helped me check on the train schedules to different places.

I got my 3G pocket Wi-Fi from Japan Wireless for ₱3,268.15 for 12 full days. The package was delivered directly to my 1st hostel in Nagoya. The package included an extra battery bank, a pouch, charger & an envelope (to be used when sending the package back). I returned on my last day by dropping it in the nearest post box (can be dropped anywhere in Japan). I recommend getting a pocket Wi-Fi every time you go to Japan to prevent from getting lost.

Arashiyama Bamboo Forest – a must-see place in Kyoto

Daily Expenses

Just like the 2015 Japan trip, I gave myself a daily budget to cover all meals, transportation costs, entrance fees & beers (lol). I raised the daily budget to ¥3,500 per day (higher by ¥500 from the last year’s daily budget) because I was on my own & I don’t have anyone to share my meals & expenses with. There were also times where I splurged on food, like when I ate at Ichiran Ramen twice! Their ramen was soooo good I had to go back. I also had a kobe beef lunch set in Kobe which was also gooood!

Ichiran ramen was sooooo good! Too bad we don’t have one here in Manila

Kobe Beef’s melts-in-your-mouth goodness!

Instead of getting daily breakfast from 7-Eleven or Family Mart, I drop by the supermarket before going home at night to buy my own bento meal. Most supermarkets offer discounted food at night because they need to sell all cooked food before the stores close. I store these packed meals at the hostel fridge & just reheat them the following morning.

One of the many bento breakfasts I had

I also had some spare money from the daily budget which I used to buy some chocolates & treats for family & friends back home.

Summary

All expenses are in. Let’s have a look how much I spent all in for this 13-day trip. Note: Exchange rate during my trip: ¥1 = ₱0.45 (doesn’t include items paid via credit card -> pocket wi-fi & bus pass)

See? I made it! I survived a 13-day Japan trip around 7 cities for less than ₱50,000. It may not be as super affordable as travelling in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City or Kuala Lumpur; but Japan offers a different kind of experience you wouldn’t want to miss.

I know I’ve said it in my previous Japan blog, but I will say it again here. Travelling to Japan isn’t that expensive as many people think. There will always be ways to make it really affordable. I’m telling you, next time you see a cheap round trip ticket to any city in Japan, go ahead & book it. It’s a trip you’ll never regret!

Watch out for the specific blog posts about the experiences I had in the 7 cities mentioned above. It will be posted here in the coming weeks. 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.

Autumn colors in Meijō Park, Nagoya 😍

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