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

TAIWAN is now VISA-FREE for FILIPINOS!

Last April 2017, the Taiwan 🇹🇼 (ROC) Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) announced that they will relax the visa rules for visitors from Philippines under the country’s ‘New Southbound Policy.’ MOFA said they will introduce a 1 year visa exemption trial program for Philippine passport holders. There was no exact date mentioned but rumors say it can start as early as 1 June 2017.

A month after, MOFA advised that they had to delay the visa-free trial program implementation to September 2017 due to internal matters. There was no exact date mentioned when the visa-free entry will start.

You no longer need a visa to see the iconic Taipei 101 in person! 🇹🇼

The long wait is over! Earlier today, the Taipei Economic & Cultural Office in the Philippines announced that Philippine passport holders can enter Taiwan visa-free starting 1 November 2017. Filipino nationals can stay in Taiwan up to 14 days.

According to the TECO website, Filipinos can enter the country visa free provided they meet the following requirements:

⦁ An ordinary / regular passport with validity of at least 6 months from date of entry

⦁ Return ticket to the Philippines or an onward ticket to a next destination (plus visa if required)

⦁ No criminal record in Taiwan

⦁ Proof of accommodation (hotel or hostel booking) / sponsor’s contact information / tour arrangements

Those who intend to stay in Taiwan for more than 14 days need to undergo the usual visa application process. TECO has also advised that the “Travel Authorization Certificate” for qualified visa-free travellers & the payable e-visa system will temporarily be suspended from 1 November 2017. Taiwan’s visa-free entry trial program for Filipino passport holders ends on 31 July 2018.

Jiufen is now just a passport stamp away! 😍

So what are you waiting for? Book your next trip to Taiwan! I’m 100% sure you’ll love it there. In case you missed it, I’ve been to Taipei, Taiwan twice – first in May 2015 & June this year. Make sure to check out those two posts.

What a great news to start the week! I’m happy that the Taiwan government 🇹🇼 has finally announced the details of this visa-free trial program. Taiwan is a beautiful country! I’d love to go back to there soon; hopefully I can squeeze a weekend trip in the coming months. ✌️

PS. Most of the photos were taken using my HTC Re & HTC U11.

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

Last May 2015, my high school friends & I had a short weekend in Taipei. We got our tickets for less than ₱3,000 & spent less than ₱15,000 for the whole trip. Click here to know more about our previous trip. We were not able to visit a few places so I told myself I will go back for another weekend in the so-called Heart of Asia.

Taipei 2017 crew while having breakfast (R-L: Rona, Shiela & yours truly)

Fast forward to June 2017, my colleagues & I were able to book another batch of tickets less than ₱3,000; ₱2,877.48 to be exact. That’s roughly ₱100 pesos more than our ticket in 2015. Tickets were booked 2.5 months before the trip. Pretty good deal, right? We scheduled our 3-day trip during the Eid Muslim Holiday, where it was declared a special non-working holiday in the Philippines.

₱5,754.96 for 2 round trip tickets to Taipei. Super cheap, right?

Note: The Office of the Philippine President has just declared the regular & special non-working holidays for 2018. Click here to have an idea on the 2018 long weekends. You can now start planning your trips for next year.

Note 2: I previously blogged about travelling with your full-time job. Check out this link to help you plan out your trips & your vacation leaves.

Going back to our 3-day weekend trip, let me elaborate below how it went. I will also discuss our entry permits & accommodation, pre-trip bookings, the places we visited & some random stuff.

Entry Permit

Last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Republic of China (Taiwan) announced that they will ease the visa application scheme for Filipino passport holders. In addition to that, those with valid & expired visas (for the last 10 years) for certain countries like Japan, South Korea & the like can enter Taiwan visa free but with a valid entry permit. You can apply for the entry permit here.

A few months ago, he Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Republic of China (Taiwan) announced that they will try a 1-year visa-free entry scheme for Filipino passport holders. Due to some internal matters, the visa-free entry scheme was postponed to a later date, possibly September 2017. Watch out for the official announcement soon.

My friends & I all have valid/expired Japan & South Korea tourist visas so we only needed an entry permit to enter Taiwan. To be fair, the application process & the approval of the entry permit took us less than 5 minutes. Make sure to bring your valid / expired visas + the printed entry permit with you during your trip.

Accommodation

Taipei has a wide range of accommodation choices; from affordable & top-rated hostels, simple & beautiful guesthouses, modern-themed boutique hotels to the luxurious branded hotels. Just like every trip, I searched & read through different platforms where is the best place to stay in the city.

We decided to stay in Hostelworld‘s 4th Best Large Hostel for 2016 – Star Hostel Taipei Main Station. Going by the name, the hostel is located a few minutes walk from the Taipei Main Station & also to Taipei’s central bus terminal. The hostel has both private & dormitory rooms. Since we are traveling on budget plus we don’t mind sharing the room with other travelers, we each got a dormitory bed for NTD 620 a night.

My dormitory bed for 2 nights

Each bed includes a comfortable bed & pillow with sheets (plus comforter), curtains for privacy, a reading light & plug & access to a fast Wi-Fi. Each guest is given an electronic locker & a security key card (no need for padlocks). All rooms are air-conditioned & fitted really well. Common shower areas & toilets are clean & well-maintained. Luggage storage is free before check in & after check out (before 11:00 pm).

Taiwanese burger, hard-boiled egg, fruits & a cup of milk tea for breakfast!

Free breakfast is offered to all guests. Breakfast set differs per day; but it always has fruits & eggs plus coffee (or tea), toast with butter & jam. Guests also have access to a common kitchen & spacious lounge areas.

Star Hostel Taipei Main Stations spacious common area 😍

The hostel rates in Taipei are very close to that of rates in Japan & South Korea. Yes, it may be a little expensive than the hostel rates here in Southeast Asia, but you definitely get more than you pay for. For someone who has stayed in a number of hostels around Southeast & East Asia, the rates of Star Hostel Taipei Main Station are reasonable & super affordable. Make sure to check this hostel when you’re flying to Taipei soon. They are fully booked most of the time; make sure to secure your dormitory bed early.

Things To Book Before Leaving The Philippines

Have you ever heard of Klook? It is a website that offers discounted travel activities & itineraries, attraction tickets, airport transfers & pocket Wi-Fi rentals in major tourist destinations all over the world. We decided to avail some offers prior to our trip to Taipei.

List of pre-trip bookings we made with Klook.

Pocket Wi-Fi

We got out pocket Wi-Fi for only ₱91 per day, a total of ₱273 for 3 days. Pick-up & drop off was super fast & easy. You just need to present your voucher (either printed or via the mobile application) & your passport to the attendant & you will be given your pocket Wi-Fi package.

Jiufen & Shifen Bus Tour

We initially thought of getting the Yehliu Geopark – Shifen – Jiufen Tourist Bus (costs a little over ₱1,000 per person) but we ran out of slots on our preferred date; we opted to get the Shifen & Jiufen Tourist Bus worth ₱763 each. The pick-up & drop-offs were on time. The guide spoke very basic English, but he could still understand us. The bus seats were comfortable. We were given enough time to explore & walk around the Shifen Old Street & Jiufen.

Taipei 101 Observatory Tickets

Observatory tickets cost a little over ₱1,000 each if you buy them in the ticket counters. Klook offers the admission ticket at a discounted price; we got ours for ₱846 each. Ticket redemption is as easy as 1, 2 & 3. You just need to show your voucher (either printed or via the mobile application) to the attendant at the ticket counter.

It doesn’t end there, Klook offers promo codes on top of these discounted rates. We saved ₱500+ each because of a promo code that only valid at the time of booking. Make sure to look for Klook promo codes before booking your next activity & attraction ticket.

Places Visited

I’ve been to most of these places way back in 2015 so I won’t talk about them anymore; instead I will show more photos of these beautiful places. There will be minor details about the places I’ve been to for the first time.

Taipei 101

Outside Taipei 101, on a hot cloudy day. ☁️

Taipei City Hall Public Square

The Taipei City Hall Public Square is located at the back of Taipei 101. You will pass by this square if you decide to walk from Taipei 101 to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. The square is located in front of the City Hall Building.

Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

My friend, Shiela & her rainbow flag outside the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall

The Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall was built in memory of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, the founder of the Republic of China. The hall shows the life & achievements of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. The nearest train station is the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall Station on the Blue Line.

National Theater

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall

Trivia: This iconic gate of the Liberty Square & Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall is called Dahzongmen.

Liberty Square

228 Peace Park

Located a few minutes walk from the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall, the 228 Peace Park is a memorial park dedicated to the victims of the February 28, 1947 massacre in Taiwan where thousands of people were killed during an uprising. The park can also be accessed by going down the National Taiwan University Hospital Station of the Tamsui Line (Red Line).

Shilin Night Market

Crowded market on a Sunday late afternoon

Shilin Night Market is Taipei’s biggest & most famous night market. We went here for street food. Yes, the market has so many kinds of street food to try – from stinky tofu, oyster mee sua, oyster omelette, pork knuckles to fried milk, xiao long bao & flame grilled steak cubes. Make sure to go there with an empty stomach, you’ll definitely eat a lot.

One of the hundreds (if not thousands) of stalls in Shilin Night Market

The Shilin Night Market can be accessed via Jintian & Shilin Stations of the Tamsui (Red Line).

Ximending

Shifen Old Street

Flying lanterns & people taking photos

View from the local Shifen Station

Jiufen

Came across this small restaurant in Jiufen which serves 8 pieces of really good xiao long bao for only NTD 120. I finished 2 servings! 🐷🐷🐷

Vibrant colors of Jiufen 😍

Tour Me Away Pub Crawl*

Tour Me Away is one of the well-recommended Taipei ‘things-to-do’ in TripAdvisor. This organization is a group of adventure-seeking & easy-going Taiwanese locals who want to meet people & show their beautiful city to visitors. They offer various walking tours & activities, depending on your interest.

Pub Crawl group! Thanks to Rona for the photo. 🤳

My friends & I took their Saturday night pub crawl activity. For only NTD 700, we had different kinds of drinks (Taiwanese beer, gauliang & the 81-shot roulette) in 3 different bars. We also met a bunch of amazing people whom we spent the night (& early morning until around 3:30 am) with. The pub crawl fee also includes a free entry to Triangle, a bar / club in Zhongshan District. It was a fun fun night!

Check out the TourMeAway website for all available tours during your trip to Taipei. You’ll definitely enjoy it!

*We went home from the Pub Crawl minutes before 4:00 am & decided to stay in the hostel common area until around 5:00 in the morning. We were so tired we woke up super late that morning. We were supposed to go to Yehliu Geopark; but we thought sleep was far more important that those rock formations. I promise to go back to Taiwan for the Yehliu Geopark day trip!

Trip Agenda

One of the reasons why I flew to Taipei was to try my luck in buying the new HTC U11 smartphone. I’ve been an HTC user for some years now & it’s been a while since I changed my phone. I thought the HTC U11 will be a great upgrade from the HTC One M8.

My new phone!!!! 📱😍

I bought my new phone in the HTC store in Guanghua Digital Plaza. The 6 GB RAM x 128 GB Blue variant cost me NTD 21,990 or ₱36,856.85 (amount reflected in my credit card statement) minus ₱1,488.14 tax refund = ₱35,368.71. For a phone with such high end specs + super big memory, the price is super worth it.

Breakdown of Expenses

Curious how much I spent for this trip? Let’s have a look below (doesn’t include the phone). Note that we exchanged a few NTD here before we left. Exchange rate that time was NTD 1 = ₱1.85.

Note: We set a daily budget of NTD 1,000 for lunch & dinner plus transportation, possible entrance fees & beers. This daily budget was just right; we even had some extra dollars in our pockets at the end of each day.

Thoughts: Spending less than ₱15,000 for a 3-day overseas trip (airfare included) is such a great deal. We visited a number of beautiful places, stayed in a high-rated hostel, drank enough dose of alcohol, walked around while having a constant Wi-Fi connection for such a low cost. Taipei isn’t as expensive as you think. If given the chance, I would add a little more in the budget & stay for a few more days.


This basically sums up my recent Taipei trip. It was nice to go back & explore this beautiful city for the 2nd time. I’ve been to the city both during summer or ‘almost’ summer; so for the next trip, I want to check it out during winter season. I wonder when would that be?

Have you been to Taipei recently? What do you think of the city? Were there other places I need to put in my list when I go back for the 3rd time? Feel free to post your suggestions in the comments below. You can also send me an email to contact@thewkndtravel.com. Drop me a message on Facebook, drop a comment on Instagram or send me a tweet on Twitter.

Curious how I book these super duper low fare tickets? I’ve just shared by secret. Head over to this post (and this post too) to know more.

PS. Most of the photos were taken using my HTC Re & HTC U11.