I have never believed in Santa Claus until now. Well not the big guy with reindeers and gives gifts based on a kid’s naughty or nice meter, but the real-life santas. I realized that Santa is but a symbol of those people who can make your Christmas wish come true. In my case, my Santa Claus is my dear friend, Cai (Travelosyo). You see, one of my wishes in my imaginary Christmas stocking is to stay in a 5-star hotel. Not that I can’t afford it, but let’s just say that it’s not something I can do out of a whim. So when Cai told me we’d be staying in this new hotel, I couldn’t contain my excitement. My Christmas gift has come a tad early! Last month, I was one of the first two bloggers (the other being Cai) who had the opportunity to stay in the first 5-star hotel in Poblacion, Makati; I’M Hotel.
In the old time it seemed impossible to give up a full-time job and travel the world because traveling is not exactly a cheap pursuit. But in 2015, I have seen more and more people, mostly bloggers, who have quit the corporate in exchange for a much adventurous, much liberating life of a nomad. As a person born with an itchy feet I can definitely understand the allure. And while I am still envisioning this kind of life for myself, I have met people who are already there. One of them is Chummy, a Graphic Designer who is now living the life most of us could only dream about. How does it feel to live a life free from the shackles of a 9-5 job? Read on to find out.
I sat there and watched everyone ease into conversation like trying on clothes for the first time but it fits them nicely as if it’s been tailor-made. Some of them have just met for the first time yet they made it look so easy. I, on the other hand, enters a social situation like a person who attended a funeral in a red outfit. This is pretty much how I behaved when I met my KTG friends over lunch to try the new offerings of Sugi Japanese Restaurant.
We were welcomed by the marketing manager, Ines Cabarrus who welcomed us all like she had known us forever. I sat right across from her on the table and I remember admiring this woman not only for her beauty and wit, but more importantly for her effortless ability to engage people in conversation. In my head I was like, why can’t I act like that. Not that I’m incapable to do that, but don’t count on me with people I just met. A friend even observed that I automatically clam up when put in the sea of strangers.
I find one of the easiest ways to deal with social awkwardness is through dining. Eating together is one of the best social activities. So I was quiet most of the time but I knew I would be fine especially when Ines explained that they are serving us some of the Sugi classics, a secret off-the-menu dish, and dishes that are specially served this month of December.
So let’s begin with their December menu. Saba Mirin Boshi is a Japanese Mackerel marinated in soy sauce and Japanese rice wine. Yes, we are starting with my favorite and it’s delicious with or without rice (but of course, it’s better if you have it with rice). The meat of the fish is so soft and savory that I couldn’t get enough of it. I think if there is any dish worth fighting for, this is it. And by that I mean order it for yourself and don’t let anyone else touch it hahaha… I just loved it.
Another December special is Tuna Salada Isobe Maki; it’s miso marinated tuna and spicy tuna atop fresh nori wrapper. By the way, I didn’t misspell salada, it’s the Portuguese word for salad.
They also have a secret off-the-menu offering, which means you can’t find this dish on the menu but if you order then they are going to cook it for you. I think that’s quite cool, kinda like having a dish only you know about. The secret dish that we had is called, Salmon Aburi Maki; it’s Ebi fry roll topped with torched salmon dressed with spicy mayo and teriyaki sauce. This is the bomb, I think I had 3 rolls of it, that’s how good it is.
For the Sugi classics, we had Ebi Tempura, Beef Steak Teppanyaki, and Sukiyaki. The Ebi Tempura was crisp and the breading is not overkill (as the case in most tempuras that I’ve had in the past). The beef steak teppanyaki was cut into bite size pieces. It was very juicy and tender and it was served with mung sprouts. The Sukiyaki was cooked by two of their staff right on the spot. This reminded me of the dinner that I had in Shiga where the chef cooked Sukiyaki in our room. Makes me wonder if this is how Japanese restos serve sukiyaki.
We were allowed to choose our own dessert and I picked my favorite, matcha ice cream. Eating this made me quite nostalgic. Its taste was very similar to that matcha ice cream that I enjoyed in Kyoto and somehow it made this dessert more delicious for me.
I have no conclusion about my social ineptitude, I have been like this since time immemorial. But I am thankful for the existence of people who are naturally sociable like my KTG friends because they do help in making me feel comfortable. And because we had a very satisfying lunch at Sugi, it made the whole dining experience perfect for me.
Let me tell you about two of my best gal pals whom I share some great similarities. We’re all single, writers, and travelers. That’s where my similarity with friend #1 ends. Now if I could describe this friend in an interesting way, this is what I would say, “She isn’t me.” And by that I mean 2 things:
She moves on quickly
She meets guys easily
In fact, not long after her breakup with her boyfriend, she met a guy at Circle Hostel in Zambales. The guy sports a long blonde hair reminiscent of the Hanson brothers’ do. Hence, we start referring to the guy as Hanson.
Here comes friend #2, whom I would describe as somebody like me.
She doesn’t move on quickly
She doesn’t meet guys easily
Like I said, me.
And just like me, friend #2 is hoping to meet a guy. Feeling inspired about the “luck” friend #1 had, friend #2 and I went to the Circle Hostel some time in May hoping to snag our own Hanson brothers.
It’s a 6-hour ride to Zambales. At 8:00 p.m., we took the overnight bus at Victory Liner in Pasay terminal. Fare is PHP 223 (USD 4.48). We reached Olangapo City at around 11:00 in the evening where we had to take another bus to San Felipe, Zambales. Bus fare is PHP 61 (USD 1.22).
In Olongapo, we too an old aircon-less bus with open windows that let the air in. A drunkard got in somewhere along the way and sat in front of us. We were in the middle of the bus, near the opened door where drunkard guy and his friend were standing as there were no more seats available. Drunkard guy clearly couldn’t keep himself upright so his friend had to support him the entire trip. Because of drunkard guy and the possibility he would suddenly fall off from the bus, I was restless the entire ride.
At 2:13 a.m., we reached the dark town of San Felipe and approached one of the tricycles that were spotted in the corner of the street. I told the trike driver to take us to sitio “aliw liwa,” (the correct name is Liwliwa); whether he found my blunder funny he didn’t show it. The fare ride is worth PHP 30 (USD 0.60). From the main road it took about 17 minutes to reach Circle Hostel.
There we were met with stillness and darkness. Since we came very late, there was no one to greet us. The entrance has no lock so we were able to get in with no problem. I’m not sure if this is a good thing, because what if some crooks enter the place.
We tried to find anyone who could assist us to no avail and we weren’t sure which part of the hostel should we spend the night over. We decided to enter one of the houses; we left our flip flops at the bottom of the stairs. The room was bare and we wondered where the other guests are. We picked a spot, each of us taking the lower bunks of the double-deck beds. It was equipped with a mosquito net and curtains to allow a bit of privacy, but since none of the staff saw us coming, we slept sans pillows or blankets.
The next morning, the staff was quite apologetic that they weren’t able to receive us properly. We did text them last night but they were already asleep when the message came through. We told them it was okay. That mosquito net did a ton of difference.
The few guests the hostel had were already leaving that morning to our dismay. Our goal was to socialize, meet new people, maybe meet a Hanson, but it looked like none of these were going to happen.
The Circle Hostel Zambales is one of the three from this eco-hostel chain; the other two can be found in Baler, Aurora and La Union. It’s categorized as a budget-friendly, art hostel, and sure enough, the hostel is designed using environmentally friendly materials. The place didn’t go shy with art; the lockers, the walls, even the bahay kubos themselves are painted in cool graphic designs and graffiti. There are paints and brushes available to those who want to share their artistic prowess. I am artistic and a very creative person, the problem is, I cannot draw. So I made do by painting the name of my blog on the wall.
As with the accommodation, they have 50 dorm style bunk beds (44 co-ed and 6 in an all-female bunkhouse) and hammocks. Bring your own towel, toiletries, and padlock for the locker. They do provide towels for additional price, I say just bring your own.
e is free breakfast but do not expect it to be anything other than some bread and peanut butter, coffee, and banana.
There is a common area equipped with bean bags, playing cards, guitar, and hammocks. This is where guests can stay to hang out and maybe make friends. Problem is, we didn’t find other guests to socialize with. As shown in the photo below, it’s empty.
The beach is a 5-minute walk from the hostel. It’s a gray-sand beach, bare save for some boats, and a few small cottages. It was real peaceful, with only a few people around. My friend and I spent a few hours in the morning lying on the sand, taking pictures, and generally taking in the beauty of the beach.
Another friend of us who lives in Olongapo came over to hang out with us. Check-out time is 11:00 a.m., so we just left our belongings downstairs and went to the beach where our friend went swimming. Like we needed more proof that friend #2 and I are like twins, both of us skipped the swimming part. I just like staring at the beach, appreciating it from afar.
We just had an overnight stay. When we checked out of the Circle Hostel, we went to Olangapo where we had dinner and coffee. Friend #2 and I went back to Manila that day, with a failed attempt to snag a Hanson. Girls like us have a hard time meeting men, but if there is something true about us that I am proud of, is that we have a full life with or without men. We didn’t feel like something was missing, if at any, I found our trip pretty invigorating.
The Circle Hostel
Sito Liwliwa, San Felipe, Zambales
Telephone no.: +63 917 505 4329
Seems like everyone has gone to Nuvali save for me. I didn’t even know that it’s in Laguna, all this time I thought it’s in Tagaytay. Recently I went and corrected the error by accepting the invite to try this newly opened burger joint called, Beefy’s New York Grill. It’s located in Ayala Malls Solenad 3. I and the rest of the rest of the KTG gang were received warmly by one of its owners, Chef Marc Nocon.
You thought I was done with Japan? Nope! I’m just bad at prioritizing topics, it tends to happen when you accept too many blogger gigs you know. So anyway, this time let me talk about Osaka, the points of interest that you can see, food spots where you can eat, accommodation where you can sleep, among others. But first where is Osaka?
Osaka is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan (the first one is Tokyo) and previously, it goes with the name, Naniwa. It is a large port city and commercial center on Honshu island. The people here are polite and disciplined, the streets are spotless, the infrastructures are modern and impressive. Most especially, it’s the ultimate foodie destination. Are you planning to go to Osaka? Here comes an easy guide to exploring this marvelous city.
How to get there
There are two airports that serve as the entryway to Osaka, Kansai International Airport (KIX) and Itami Airport (ITM). ITM is located in the north of central Osaka and handles domestic flights to more than 30 destinations in Japan. If you’re coming from another country though, your point of entry is KIX, which is on a man-made island, about 40 kilometers south of central Osaka.
Cebu Pacific, the largest airline in the Philippines. Cebu Pacific flies between Manila and Osaka five times weekly, with lowest year-round fares starting from Php 6,399. Cebu Pacific also flies from Manila to Tokyo (Narita), Nagoya and Fukuoka, as well as from Cebu to Tokyo (Narita). Book its trademark lowest fares now through CEBsakaflights or (+632)7020888, or follow its Facebook or Twitter pages for the latest seat sales.
Where to stay
Our group stayed at Rihga Royal Hotel, an ideal place to stay in as its in close proximity with some of the best tourist spots in Osaka. But if you are on a budget and not traveling with family, your best bet is to stay in a hostel. Here are some of the options that you may want to consider:
Chuo-ku Minamisemba 1-8-17, Chuo Ward
Rate: Starts at USD 59 (PHP 2,900+)
|Poly Hostel Osaka|
2-6-12 Ebisu-nishi, Naniwa district, Namba
Rate: Starts at USD 52 (PHP 2,500+)
2-5-15 Kawaramachi,Cyuou-ku, Chuo Ward
Rate: Starts at USD 28 (PHP 1,300+)
|The Dorm Hostel Osaka|
Shinsaibashi building 2/F, 1-12-20,
Rate: Starts at USD 27 (PHP 1,300+)
3F, 2-9-6 Sennichimae, Chuo-ku, Namba
Rate: Starts at USD 25 (PHP 1,200+)
|Osaka Hana Hostel|
1-8-4, Nishi-shinsaibashi, Chuo-ku, Namba
Rate: Starts at USD 22 (PHP 1,000+)
How to get around
There are two major mode of public transportation in Osaka, train and taxi. The vintage-looking taxis are driven by senior drivers who are impeccably dressed it would make you feel like you have a personal chauffeur. Taxi fare starts from JPY 600-700 (PHP 200-300/USD 5-6). Majority of the Japanese do not speak in English including the cab drivers so communication might be a little challenging.
Tip: Keep a list of basic Japanese phrases, complete with one written in Japanese characters. This proves to be helpful when communicating with non-English speaking locals. Here are some basic phrases to use with the taxi drivers:
- Hello – Konichiwa
- Excuse me/Sorry – Sumimasen
- Thank you – Arigatou
- I don’t speak Japanese – Nihongo ga wakarimasen
- Do you understand English? – Eigo wa wakarimasu ka?
- Where is the train station? – Eki wa doko desu ka
- Take me to the airport please – Kuukou kudasai
- To the ____ Hotel, please – ____ Hoteru kudasai
- How much? – Ikura
- Please give me a receipt – Ryoshusho kudasai
The cheaper alternative is to ride the train especially if you are planning to visit the nearby cities like Kyoto. Read this article to know more about Japan Rail Pass.
Which spots to see
Now that you’re settled it’s time to explore Osaka. Here are list of tourist spots that you shouldn’t miss during your visit.
Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan or USJ can be found in Konohana-ku, Osaka. It’s a theme park filled with exciting attractions, the most popular of which is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Read this article to know which rides or attractions you should check out at USJ.
Umeda Sky is a building that stands at about 173 meter tall. It has two towers linked together by a floating garden observatory.
Going up here has been a little challenging for me given my fear of heights. The elevator ride alone, which by the way is made of glass, almost gave me a heart attack. I almost book it when I found out that we still had to take an escalator, but my fellow bloggers wouldn’t let me go off easily haha… With the help of Gael (Thepinaysolobackpacker), I took the paralyzing escalator ride. For some reason though, once I reached the top the fear was gone. So I was able to go all the way to Sky Walk where I enjoyed the fantastic 360 view of Osaka. Yes, I made it!
Entrance fee: JPY 1,000 (PHP 500+ – USD 8.76)
Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade
I don’t know about you, but one of my favorite activities whenever I travel aside from eating is shopping. And in Osaka, shopping is synonymous to two places: Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori.
Shinsaibashi is a 600-meter stretch of shopping area where you can find chain retail stores and fashion boutiques. It reminded me a little bit of Divisoria albeit a much cleaner and expensive version. Famous retail-clothing companies, such as H&M, Uniqlo, and Forever 21 have their outlets here.
In my case, I was able to buy a cute brown sweater from a Japanese brand, GU. I was completely stumped when it was time to make the purchase because they use machines instead of humans to accept payments. The instructions on the machine itself was also in Japanese so I couldn’t proceed without asking for some assistance from one of the staff. Honestly though, you pay through a machine? How awesome is that?! Japan is indeed full of surprises.
Note though that some of the stores have tax-free items while some are not. If you are not sure, ask the staff.
I honestly didn’t notice that I’d been to Dotonbori until I look at the photos that I’d taken on my phone. Dotonbori is adjacent to a canal and the street is lined with food, shopping, and entertainment establishments. Its most famous landmark is the Glico Man.
When you go to Dotonbori, drop by at Don Quijote if you want to shop for inexpensive souvenir items. It’s a tall building that is a popular discount store in Japan. In the Philippines it can be likened to a department store. You can buy anything here, from matcha-infused food, toiletries, beauty products, gadgets, groceries, even home appliances. This is where I got the souvenir (pasalubong) stuff that I took home for my family and friends.
Other Points of Interest
Our time was not enough to explore the whole of Osaka (the trip included Kyoto and Shiga) so we weren’t able to see the other tourist spots. But here’s the list of some of the best points of interest in Osaka:
- Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
- Osaka Castle
- Sumiyoshi Taisha
- Museum of History
- Osaka Bay Area
- Minoo Park
- Grant Front Osaka
Where to eat
Osaka was the center of rice trade during the Edo period, gaining for itself the title, the Nation’s Kitchen (tenka no daidokoro). Today, Osaka is one of the best spots in Japan for some serious gastronomic exploration.
When you go shopping along Shinsaibashi area, try the famous cheese tart of Pablo.
Disclaimer: This Osaka fam trip was courtesy of Cebu Pacific. Some of the photos were provided by USJ. Review and opinions are my own.
If you’re born with a wanderlust, chances are you’d be dreaming about having a job that would allow you to travel all the time. Flight attendant, pilot, and seafarer are just some of these job options. JM De Guzman was one of the lucky ones who was able to make it happen. A former seafarer, JM is now a blogger and most of the time he travels with his wife and kid. He blogs about their travel adventures in his blog, Man of Wanders. Get to know about JM as we put him the spotlight in this Travel Bug feature.
Last weekend it felt like I was doing a marathon trying to get from one mall to the next to obtain some stuff. You know the Makati malls; Glorietta, SM, and Landmark, (thankfully, I didn’t have to go all the way to Greenbelt). I like malls, it’s convenient, you get everything that you need in one place, but it was one of those moments when I wished that I had everything that I need in just one spot (instead of 3 buildings). This is the exact concept that Dapitan55 is trying to promote. It’s a one stop shop that caters to the people living around Banawe in Quezon City. It’s basically a lifestyle complex with a car wash, cafe, restaurant, and other shops. Last month, I was invited with some of my fellow foodie bloggers to check out this newly opened complex.