Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Family Trip To Canyon Cove

Last January, my family and I took the 3-4 hour-trip from Manila to Canyon Cove in Nasugbu, Batangas. Canyon Cove is a relatively small resort but it still offers a lot of activities for its guests. You can either lounge around whole day in the resort's swimming pool or beach. Or if you are the more adventurous type, you can sign up for the different water activities the resort offers. You can also book for an island hopping tour or you may want to go scuba diving in the popular dive spots of Batangas. However, there is only one restaurant in the whole resort and the food is kinda pricey. You can opt to eat out, but you still have to drive around 10-15 minutes to get to the nearest restaurant.

Canyon Cove (taken on Jan. 10, 2009)

Canyon Cove at Sunset (taken on Jan. 10, 2009)

Beach in Canyon Cove (taken on Jan. 10, 2009)

Canyon Cove at Night (taken on Jan. 10, 2009)

Taal Volcano - had a stopover in Tagaytay (taken on Jan. 10, 2009)

Access (Manila to Nasugbu)
1) By car: Take the South Luzon Expressway and exit at Sta. Rosa. From the Sta. Rosa Exit, turn right and go up to Tagaytay. When you reach the T-junction in Tagaytay, turn right and go straight (you will pass by Taal Vista) for an hour or two until you reach Nasugbu.
2) By bus: Buses such as the Crow Bus Line and Erjohn & Almark have trips to Nasugbu from Manila.

For more information, you can visit Canyon Cove's website.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Nara In A Day

So you have a day to spare in your Kansai trip? Why not go to Nara. Nara, like nearby Kyoto is an important ancient city in Japan. This city houses a lot of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other important structures in Japanese history. But unlike Kyoto, Nara is easier to get around in. In fact, you can explore this city by foot (if you have the time and the energy), or take short bus rides to the different destinations. If you only have a day in Nara, you must not miss the following places.

** But before that, I just want to show you the mascot of Nara - a Buddha with antlers. This mascot is the mix of two of the most famous icons of Nara - herds of gentle deer roaming around Nara Park and the Big Buddha in Todaiji. **

Mascot of Nara - cute right? (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

1) Todaiji (東大寺)
This is one of the most famous destinations in Nara. This temple houses the biggest buddha in Japan. Just a side note, the second biggest buddha in Japan is in Kamakura. Ok, back to Nara. Aside from this, Todaiji is said to be the largest wooden building in the world. Because of these, Todaiji is declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and no trip to Nara will be complete without a visit to this temple. The temple is open from 8am - to 4:30pm from November to February, 8am to 5pm in March and October, and 7:30am to 5:30pm from April to September. Admission is ¥500. It is recommended to go here early in the morning so as to avoid the crowds of tourists.

Todaiji Temple (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

The Great Buddha of Nara (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

Another Buddha in Todaiji (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

Wild deer near Todaiji (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

a) 15-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station
b) 5-minute walk from Nara Kotsu Bus Daibutsuden Kasugataisha Mae Stop

2) Kasuga Taisha (春日大社)
From Todaiji, you can walk around 15 minutes or take the bus to Kasuga Taisha which is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you are not yet tired, I recommend walking to Kasuga Taisha because the path is very scenic and the approach to the shrine is just beautiful. Kasuga Taisha is famous for its stone lanterns and it also houses a lot of national treasures. The shrine is open from 9am to 5pm and entrance fee is 525 yen. If you go here in Obon (around the second week of August), you can see the stone lanterns lit at night. :D

Kasuga Taisha (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

Lanterns in Kasuga Taisha (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

a) 25-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station
b) 5-minute walk from Nara Kotsu Bus Kasuga Taisha Omotesando Stop

3) Koufukuji (興福寺)
From Kasuga Taisha, you can opt to walk around 20 minutes or take the bus to Koufukuji. This temple is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its five storey pagoda. You can enter the temple from 8am to 430pm everyday for a 500yen entrance fee.

Koufukuji Temple (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

Pagoda Near Koufukuji Temple (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

Access: 5-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station

4) Nara Park (奈良公園)
Nara Park is a very big park in the heart of Nara City. It houses all three temples mentioned above. This is a great place to rest and relax when you get tired from all the sightseeing and walking.

Access: 5-minutes walk from Kintetsu Nara Station

5) Horyuji (法隆寺)
If you still have time, go to the nearby town of Horyuji which is around 15 minutes from Nara City. This place houses another UNESCO World Heritage Site - the Horyuji Temple. This temple is one of the oldest and most beautiful temples in Japan. Even with its size, the whole Horyuji Temple can be explored by foot. It is open from 8am to 430pm. However, the admission fee is 1000yen so if you do not want to pay that much, you can just opt to walk around the peacefully beautiful temple grounds.

Horyuji Temple (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

Horyuji Temple "Guard" (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

Horyuji Temple "Guard" (taken on Sept 23, 2008)

Access: JR Yamatoji Line Horyuji Station

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Beautiful Port City Of Kobe

Kobe is not just about Kobe Beef. In fact, the port city of Kobe, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful cities in Japan. Because of its long history of foreign interaction, this city is considered as one of the more foreigner-friendly places in Japan and a lot of expats live here. There are a lot of must-see places in this city and allow me to list some of the best places to go in Kobe.

1) Mt. Rokko Tenrandai (六甲山展覧台)
The Tenrandai (or viewing deck) in Mt. Rokko is my favorite place in Kobe. Go here at night time and you will be amazed by the view of the whole Osaka Bay at night. The view is so beautiful that it is referred to as the 10-million dollar view and considered as one of the Three Great Night Views of Japan. From here, you can see the lights from Kobe, Osaka and even Kyoto glittering against the night sky. The temperature here is around 10 degrees colder than the rest of Kobe so bring a jacket if you are afraid of the cold like me :D

Osaka Bay from Mt. Rokko (taken on August 14, 2008)

Kobe from Mt. Rokko (taken on August 14, 2008)

Osaka Bay from Mt. Rokko Tenrandai (taken on August 14, 2008)

Access to the Base of the Rokko Cable Car:
a) Hanshin Mikage Station
b) JR Rokkomichi Station
c) Hankyu Rokko Station
** After taking option a, b or c, ride the Kobe City Bus # 16 going to the Rokko Cable Car Base Station

Access to Tenrandai:
From the Rokko Cable Car Base Station, ride the Rokko Cable Car upto Sanjo Station (1000yen roundtrip, 570 yen one-way) then walk to the Tenrandai

Note: The Rokko Cable Car is open from 7:10 am to 9:10 pm (9:55 on weekends and public holidays) with a 20-30 minute interval

2) Meriken Park (メリケンパーク)
This park was built in commemoration of the Great Hanshin Earthquake which destroyed Kobe in the 90s. It also houses the unofficial landmark of Kobe - the Kobe Tower. This place is a good place for relaxation. I recommend going here at night because the lights from Kobe Tower and the different establishments around it make the view more beautiful.

Kobe Tower (taken on August 13, 2008)

View From Meriken Park (taken on August 13, 2008)

a) 10-minute walk from JR Motomachi Station
b) 10-minutes walk from Hanshin Motomachi Station
c) 10-minute walk from Kobekousoku Hanakuma Station
d) 10-minute walk from JR Maiko Station

3) Ijinkan (異人館)
Barbarian Houses (yes you read it right) in English. This part of the Kitano Area of Kobe housed the different consulates and foreigners in Kobe. They might be long gone, but their influence on Kobe lasts until now. This place is one of the most famous tourist spots in Kobe and it makes you forget that you are in Japan. So for those who need a change of scenery, go to Ijinkan.

Weather Cock House in Ijinkan (taken on August 14, 2008)

Moegi House in Ijinkan (taken on August 14, 2008)

Kobe City Bus Loop in Ijinkan Area (taken on August 14, 2008)

a) 9-minute walk from Kobe City Bus Loop Kitano Ijinkan Stop
b) 15 minute walk from JR Sannomiya Station
c) 15-minute walk from Hanshin Sannomiya Station
d) 15-minute walk from Hankyu Sannomiya Station

4) Motomachi Area (元町)
This is where the shopping areas and the Chinatown can be found. So what you do here is shop till you drop then grab a bite in Chinatown. Yummy and cheap food :D

Kobe Chinatown (taken on August 13, 2008)

Kobe Chinatown (taken on August 14, 2008)

Kobe Motomachi Shopping Street (taken on August 13, 2008)

a) JR Motomachi Station
b) Hanshin Motomachi Station

5) Sannomiya Station Area (三宮駅)
Since Sannomiya Station is one of the busiest stations in Kobe, expect a lot of establishments around this area. You can also find tourist offices, shopping areas and restaurants here. If you want authentic Japan, you can try visiting the nearby Ikuta Shrine which is one of the most famous shrines around this area.

Unique Building Around the Sannomiya Area (taken on August 14, 2008)

Outside JR Sannomiya Station (taken on August 13, 2008)

Ikuta Shrine (taken on August 14, 2008)

a) JR Sannomiya Station
b) Hanshin Sannomiya Station
c) Hankyuu Sannomiya Station

So there you have it, I hope this post can be helpful in your future travels to Kobe. Feel free to ask any questions or give more insights about Kobe. :D

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Short Trip To Himeji

In August last year, my company told me to move from Tokyo to Osaka. It was kinda sad because I have grown to love Tokyo, but at the same time I felt lucky since living in Osaka will give me the opportunity to explore the Kansai Region. So I packed my bags and moved to the warm and friendly city of Osaka. I will save my Tokyo stories for later posts. In the meantime, I will let you in to my short trip to Himeji - the first place I visited outside Osaka in the Kansai Region.

Himeji is known for Himeji Castle - a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered to be the most beautiful castle in Japan. The castle, just like other castles in Japan was transformed into a "museum" and is a popular tourist destination. You can also have a nice view of Himeji from the top floor of the castle. Even if there is an entrance fee of 600yen, do not worry cause it is worth it. :D

Himeji Caste (taken on Aug. 13, 2008)

Himeji Caste (taken on Aug. 13, 2008)

Himeji Caste World Heritage Site (taken on Aug. 13, 2008)

Inside Himeji Caste Grounds (taken on Aug. 13, 2008)

View on top of the Himeji Castle (taken on Aug. 13, 2008)

JR Kobe Line Himeji Station: Speical rapid trains are available from JR Osaka Station and will take you to Himeji in around an hour charging the same price as local trains. However, you can still take the local trains if you want but travel time is longer.

I have read from Himeji's wikitravel entry that Himeji Castle will be under renovation from fall this year to 2014. It will still be open but some parts may be off limits or covered.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Summer Getaway At Lingayen

I spent my first summer getaway this year in Lingayen, Pangasinan. I have been here once before but I did not stay long due to lack of time. This time around, I made sure I will make the most out of my stay in this place.

I and my college friends stayed at El Puerto Marina Beach Resort And Spa which is a short walking distance to Lingayen Beach for 3 days and 2 nights. The whole of Day 1 was spent bumming around and relaxing on Lingayen Beach which by the way is a historic beach as this is where General McArthur landed during the second world war. We also tried surfing since the waves were strong. This was my first time to surf so it was such a memorable experience. Since there were only few people around, it feels like we had the beach to ourselves. On the second day, we had a day trip to The Hundred Islands which is around 1 hour from Lingayen. After Hundred Islands, we went back to Lingayen and had a bonfire night. On the third day, we left Lingayen and stopped by Dagupan to eat lunch then made our way back to Manila.

Lingayen Beach (taken by Tin on March 27, 2009)

Lingayen Beach and Kayak (taken by Kate on March 27, 2009)

El Puerto Marina (taken by Tin on March 27, 2009)

Bonfire by the beach (taken by me on March 28, 2009)

Lingayen beach may not be as popular as other beaches in the Philippines, but I still love this place. I love its fine sand (think Boracay sand but gray) and long wide shore. I love its clear water and the sound of the strong waves. I love the feeling of calmness this place gives and having the whole wide beach to yourself. Just perfect.

Access from Manila to Lingayen:
Dagupan Bus takes the Manila-Lingayen route. You can also take daily buses to Dagupan and from Dagupan, catch the bus or jeepney to Lingayen. Travel time is around 4-6 hours depending on traffic.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Hundred Times The Fun At The Hundred Islands

Day 2 of our Pangasinan summer getaway brought us to the Hundred Islands National Park in Alaminos, Pangasinan. Day 1 was spent in Lingayen. I and my college friends (Carol, Kate, Tyn, Tin, Joy, Pao, Berto and Marc) spent the whole day island hopping, swimming, "caving" and just relaxing in the many beaches of the Hundred Islands. Due to my "good" memory, I forgot to bring my camera's battery (nice timing huh) to Hundred Islands so the pictures below were either taken by my friends or images I took with my cellphone.

The Hundred Islands National Park has 123 islands all in all. Because of this, we cannot go to all of them in just a day, so our guide simply took us to the more famous ones such as Governors Island, Quezon Island, Cuenca Island and Marcos Island.

Our first stop: Governors Island. Governors Island is the biggest island in the whole national park and it offers a panoramic view of the whole park from its peak. It is also home to the Big Brother House which was used during the Pinoy Big Brother Teen Edition. After Big Brother season was over, the house was transformed into a tourist accomodation. Since I think this is the only accommodation with electricity in the whole national park, it is always fully booked especially during the peak seasons. So if you plan to stay in this house, make sure to book early.

Governors Island (taken by Kate on March 28, 2009)

Pinoy Big Brother House in Governors Island (taken by Kate on March 28, 2009)

View from the Governors Island (taken by me on March 28, 2009)

After which, we proceeded to Quezon Island and had our lunch there. This island is one of the most frequented islands because of its developed facilities (such as dining halls, grills) and sandy beach.

Quezon Island (taken by Kate on March 28, 2009)

Then, we went to Marcos Island, which is named after former president Ferdinand Marcos. Our guide led us to a flight of stairs up to a cave. For me, the highlight of the trip was jumping off the edge of the cave's cliff and into the sea. The whole drop was around 15 feet. I was scared to jump at first, but luckily I did and I loved every second of it. :D Just a side note: One of my to-do things before I die is to jump from a cliff so yeyyy I accomplished it here. Ok back to Marcos Island. After jumping, we swam out of the cave and back to the beach where we relaxed and just goofed around.

Approaching the Cave (taken by Tin on March 28, 2009)

Marcos Island Cave Jump (taken by Tin on March 28, 2009)

Swimming back to Marcos Island (taken by Tin on March 28, 2009)

After an hour or so, we left Marcos Island and headed to our last stop, Cuenca Island. Cuenca Island is home to Cuenca Cave shown below.

Cuenca Island (taken by Tin on March 28, 2009)

After this, we headed back to the port in Alaminos City and made our way back to Lingayen where we stayed during the whole Pangasinan Trip.

The Hundred Islands has so much to offer to beachgoers and adventurers alike. It is a good place to enjoy the sun and the sea with your family or friends.

Access from Manila to Alaminos City:
Bus companies such as Dagupan Bus Co and Victory liner take the Manila-Alaminos Route. When you arrive in Alaminos City, take the tricycle to the port and there you can rent the bangka which will take you around Hundred Islands.

Tip: Since there are no restaurants in the whole national park, it is best to bring your own lunch and eat it in the island of your choice. :D

For more information, visit Tourism Hundred Islands National Park

Friday, June 19, 2009

Beach Break: Onjuku Beach

I missed the beautiful beaches in the Philippines last summer, so I decided to give myself a beach break and headed towards Chiba - one of the popular beach destinations in Japan. There are several beaches in Chiba but I chose to go to Onjuku Beach because it seems like the most accessible of them all. I left Tokyo at around 11am and arrived in Onjuku Beach at around 2pm. It was a cloudy day but the beach was still full of people.

Onjuku Beach has fine gray sand and is popular with beachgoers and surfers alike. It may be far from the beaches I've gotten used to in the Philippines (which in my opinion is one of the best in the world) but this is a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.

JR Onjuku Station (taken July 20, 2008)

The Statues in Onjuku Beach (taken July 20, 2008)

Onjuku Beach (taken July 20, 2008)

Onjuku Beach (taken July 20, 2008)

Stalls in Onjuku Beach (taken July 20, 2008)

Access: JR Sotobou Line Onjuku Station