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

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.

How I enjoyed a 9-day Japan trip for less than ₱40,000 ALL IN!

 

 Disclaimer: Currency rate during our trip was 1 JPY = 0.39 PHP

Last July, ABS-CBN News reported that the Japanese embassy issued 225,676 visas to visitors from the Philippines for 2015. It was 38% higher than the number of visas issued the previous year. The increased number of Filipino tourists in Japan is a result of a more relaxed visa policy & the increased number of budget airline flights going to Japan on a daily or weekly basis. My friends (Majo & Junelle) & I were 3 of the 225,676 Filipinos who were given Japanese visas last year.

Many Filipinos think travelling to Japan is expensive. People say you need to at least have ₱100,000 to be able to enjoy 5-7 days in Japan. That is partly true; but only to people who are fond of staying in hotels, eating in fancy restaurants & taking guided tours. I say, there is always a cheaper way of doing things. In this post, I will show you how my friends and I enjoyed a 9-day Japan trip for less than ₱40,000 each. Please note that I won’t talk about the places we’ve been to because that is reserved for another post.

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It was mid-October when we flew to Japan for 9 days. We spent the first 5 days in Tokyo, then headed south to Kyoto for 1.5 days & finally to Osaka for the remaining 2.5 days. It was the start of autumn so the trees & leaves were really beautiful. The temperature were just about right, not as hot as Manila & not as cold as Seoul.

I will divide the discussion into 5 parts – plane ticket, accommodation, things booked / bought before flying, daily expenses & chocolates / treats (pasalubong in Filipino).

Plane Ticket

Junelle & I were able to book a round trip ticket to Japan (with 20 kgs baggage per way) for less than ₱5,000 (₱4,912.56 to be exact) about 6 months before our trip. We took advantage of Cebu Pacific Air‘s Easter fare sale. Majo was able to book her ticket during a random fare sale 3 months before the trip for around ₱5,500.

japan-ticket-screenshot

A normal round trip ticket to Japan would cost you ₱15,000 – ₱20,000. Getting a ticket for less than ₱5,000 is definitely a great deal!

By the way, we also paid ₱1,620 for the Philippine travel tax before leaving Manila. This is mandatory to all Philippine passport holders who are leaving the country for vacation.

Accommodation

Japan has probably one of the most expensive hotel rates in Asia. A room for 2 in a nice hotel can cost you around ₱8,000-₱12,000. Very expensive. Even hostels have higher rates compared to the usual $10-$15 rate in Southeast Asia. For this trip, we only needed a place to take a shower, rest & sleep so we decided to stay in hostels. We also opted to stay there to save money.

In Tokyo, we stayed for 4 nights in Oak Hostel Zen. It’s a very cozy hostel located in Taito area, a few minutes walk from JR Yamanote Line’s Uguisudani Station. The girls stayed in a twin room with common bathroom while I stayed in an 8-bed dorm room also with common bathroom. I payed ¥13,100 (around ₱5,109) for all 4 nights, roughly ₱1,280 per night. Each dorm bed had its own reading light, universal plug & curtain + super fast WiFi. I had my own privacy even if I stayed in a room for 8 people.

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For the 5th night, we decided to take the night bus from Tokyo to Kyoto. The bus trip takes 7-8 hours so that saved us one night hostel accommodation. We booked our tickets via the Willer Express website. We took the Relax bus where each passenger has a plug beside him/her plus luggage check-in is allowed. The bus ticket costs ¥5,900 each (around ₱2,301).

We spent our 6th night in Kyoto. We also stayed in a hostel named Backpackers Hostel K’s House. It is about 15 minutes walk from JR Kyoto Station. We got ourselves a triple room with common bathroom. The room cost ¥9,600 for 3 people; that’s ¥3,200 per person (roughly ₱1,248).

The last 2 nights were spent in a room in Taichi’s flat. We were supposed to stay in Osaka Hana Hostel but since Majo joined us last minute, we had to look for another one. Accommodations in Osaka fill up pretty fast, we were lucky we found Taichi’s place. The last 2 nights cost us €122; that’s €40.67 each (around ₱2,130 each that time).

Our Tokyo & Kyoto accommodations were booked via Hostelworld while our Osaka accommodation was arranged with Airbnb. These platforms help travellers a lot in looking for accommodation in almost all places. They also feature reviews done by previous guests which contain ratings & comments about their respective stays.

Things booked / bought before leaving for Japan

There were 2 things we purchased before leaving for Japan – pocket WiFi & DisneySea tickets. Since we were staying for 9 days & we were afraid of getting lost (which we did by the way!), we rented a 3G pocket WiFi from E-Connect Japan. We got it for ¥6,986 or ₱2,825.97 (₱942 each) for the whole duration of the trip. We had it delivered to our hostel a day before our arrival. We also purchased our Disney Sea tickets ahead of time to save us from lining up in the park ticket counters. Each ticket costs ¥6,900 (₱2,776.89 rate reflected in my credit card statement).

Daily expenses in Japan

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I can’t remember exactly how much we paid for each meal or for each subway ride; but what we did was to allocate a daily budget for food, transportation & temple entrance fees. An average good meal in Japan costs around ¥400 – ¥500 while a subway ride could cost you around ¥150-¥200 depending on the distance. We didn’t want to deprive ourselves during the trip so we had a daily budget of ¥3,000 yen. That daily budget turned out to be too much for a day. You can survive with ¥2,000 a day.

Daily budget - ¥3,000 x 9 days = ¥27,000 x ₱0.39 = ₱10,530

**We weren’t able to buy Universal Studios Japan (USJ) tickets while we were still in the Philippines so we bought it on the day itself. An entrance ticket costs ¥7,400 per person (₱2,886 pesos).

Chocolates / Treats

A trip to Japan will never be complete without buying chocolates, treats or anything matcha-related. I remember I bought different kinds of chocolates & biscuits plus some random goodies in Harajuku & Daiso. I don’t exactly remember how much each item costs but I believe I spent around ¥12,000 (roughly ₱4,680).

Summary of Expenses

Let’s now sum up everything mentioned above:

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There you go! We only spent ₱39,139.45 all in for a 9-day trip to Tokyo, Kyoto & Osaka! Yes, that already included airfare, accommodation, food, transportation, park tickets & even pasalubong (treats & chocolates).

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!

PS. Thanks to Junelle for allowing me to use our photo in Roppongi.