Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Dilemma

A few months ago, when I learned that my badminton friends bought tickets to Davao, I thought it's a good time to revisit the place.  It has been years since my last trip there and there seems to be a few interesting things to do there since.  When Cebu Pacific Air went on sale, I decided to join them and purchased a ticket to Davao.  The group will arrive a day earlier and play badminton while three of us will follow the next day and have agreed not to play but just to explore other stuff in Davao like ziplining and/or wakeboarding.   Unfortunately, the two who will be joining me are backing out.  Here comes my dilemma!  Proceeding with the trip without these two will definitely put me out of place.  I guess, I'm all too quiet, prim and proper for their standards!  Hay,  I feel left out lately already, what can I do in Davao for two days to make the most out of my stay there (even with my lonesome self)?

Then I bumped into this ad!  For a thousand roundtrip via Seair, I can spend the weekend in Boracay instead.  Last weekend, I got an invite from my bestfriend to join her in Boracay Shangri-la (courtesy of Coca-Cola Philippines).  Seven months ago, I was with the same group in Regency Boracay.  This time, after a day use in Shangri-la, we plan to resort hop the next two days in Station 2.  However, I have to go on leave for three days but the offer is simply irresistible and the sea breeze is calling me...

Oh my, I'm torn but I better have a good excuse.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Skycable Cebu Channel List

For the longest time, I've been blinded with the cable channels simply because our old Sony TV ceased to show the channel number.  So if you ask me what channel is which, then I wouldn't know.  I normally go channel surfing with its auto scan and just randomly lands into whatever channel looks interesting, but ends up with the local channels.  Then sometime last month, our TV ceased to show anything... a good reason to buy one.  Sony has always been the household preferred brand, but we can't resist the good deal of Samsung's flat screen tv.  (I'm still not used to the wide screen setting, everyone on TV looks fat!)

I cannot find a good skycable cebu channel list online (even in their official website) so here, I'm making a list and checking it twice!
  • 04 NBN
  • 05 TV 5
  • 08 GMA 7
  • 10 ABS-CBN 2
  • 12 RPN 9
  • 13 IBC
  • 14 SUGBO TV
  • 15 SKY
  • 17 HERO
  • 20 ANC
  • 21 BBC WORLD
  • 23 STUDIO 23
  • 24 AXN
  • 25 JACK TV 
  • 28 W
  • 29 HBO
  • 30 MAX
  • 31 DIVA
  • 32 ESPN
  • 33 BALLS
  • 36 RCTV
  • 39 FX
  • 40 VELVET
  • 45 Q TV
  • 46 MYX
  • 47 CNTV
  • 48 EZ SHOP
  • 49 FOX
  • 50 CNN
  • 52 DZMM
  • 58 NET 25
  • 60 EWTN
I just realized, Arirang TV and KBS World are no longer available on a basic package (and it has been like that for a couple of months)!  No wonder my roommate has not been watching the koreanovelas, and I have the TV (and computer) all to myself these days.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Backpacking Japan: Arriving in Tokyo

3rd stop of Backpacking Japan.

From Kawaguchi Lake we took the highway bus for two hours to Shinjuko Station, Tokyo.  Out of all the stops, I was looking forward to Tokyo the most.  I was curious to see how chic this city is.

Shinjuko Station was overwhelming,  it is said to be the busiest station in Japan.  Considering that it was not rush hour, the crowd was just too much.  I could just sit (if I could find a seat but there seems none) there all day and watch the crowd go by.  Looking at the complexity of the route map, you will just refuse to understand it.

Changing lines is not as easy as going to the train across the platform.  It could mean going up or down stairs, in and out of the station.  If you bring your luggage around, finding escalators is not easy, but there should be one somewhere.  Each stop has several exits but generally, there is only one elevator per stop; lucky if you happen to use that particular exit.

thank goodness, there is english!  one day subway pass for 1580 yen
Going around within Tokyo city on the Tokyo Metro Subway is actually easy.  The Tokyo Metro is composed of several lines.  Separate fees (about 200 yen each) apply every time you get on and off different lines to get to your destination.  To make life simpler, we got the unlimited day pass called Tokyo Round Tour Ticket for 1580 yen.  When navigating the subway map, simply plot which station you are coming from and your destination and note which stops you'll change trains.  No worries, the stops are in English alphabet and signs are tourist friendly.

To learn more about taking trains in Japan read here (good luck!).  After a while, you'll get the hang of it, it's not as complicated as it seems.

From Shinjuko, we were heading to Asakusa to find our hostel.  Finding Yamanote line could have been easy, if you're a local and don't have a luggage in tow.
one of those murals on the subway

The good thing about being on a tour was leaving the navigation to the tour leader, the bad thing about it was, when the tour leader is a tourist himself, you get lost with him.   We exited at Asakusabashi Station, walked up several flights of stairs with our luggage only to realize that Asakusabashi is different from Asakusa.   Waaaaah.  We had to go back down the subway (with our luggage!), took the train again, exited Asakusa Station, walked passed the crowded Asakusa Market. After an hour, we finally reached Asakusa Hostel exhausted.
the corridors of our hostel, reminds me of prison
Upon check-in at Sakura Hostel in Asakusa, we were provided with bed linens and blankets, which means, you need to fix your own bed and return them upon check-out.  While we were better off to share a room for four with wooden bunk beds on the third floor.

private room for 4 at 12600 yen/room

Eight of them cramped in a room for eight at the basement.  There was not much space and there was a lack of ventilation unless you keep the glass door open.  Their room became a little stinky with those old clothes and shoes especially by the boys which prompted one of them to join us the following night not minding sleeping on the floor.
private room for 8 at 23,520 yen/room

Sakura Hostel can be reached at  Rooms are equipped with air conditioning, individual bed light and outlet, a small cabinet, clean common toilet and bath with shower enclosures, an elevator, friendly & helpful english speaking staff and free wifi at the lobby.  If you're on a budget, Sakura Hostel should be one of your options.  You would not go wrong with K's House Tokyo too.

Backpacking Japan even with four-wheel strollers?  Never again.  But don't get me wrong, I enjoyed the trip, lagging our luggage around was worth the experience at least once in your life :p

Up next:  Exploring Tokyo and how we emptied our pockets. :)

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Backpacking Japan: Going Around Kyoto

We went around Kyoto using a combination of Kyoto City Bus and Kyoto Subway One Day Card.  To be honest, it's not easy to figure out the map, since there's too many of us, I left the navigation to my peers and get lost with them... yes, getting lost is an integral part of the experience.

You can read through how to access public transport at Kyoto City Web.  This pastel colored kyoto city bus and subway map likewise gives you a visual guide around Kyoto.  The day card doesn't always mean unlimited access, extra fees may be required for certain stops marked as "squares", so do take note of the legend.  The bus or subway stops doesn't normally stop near the entrance of these tourist attractions; 5 to 15 minutes walk may be necessary.

  • Kyoto Sightseeing Card (1,200 Yen for one day, 2,000 Yen for two days) - Unlimited usage of Kyoto City Buses, Kyoto Buses and the two subway lines in the city of Kyoto. The 2-day pass can be used on two consecutive days.

  • Kyoto City Bus One Day Card (500 Yen) - Unlimited use of Kyoto City Buses in central Kyoto. The area of validity is smaller than that of the Kyoto Sightseeing Card, and doesn't include some of the city's more outlying districts, such as Arashiyama.

  • Kyoto Subway One Day Card (600 Yen) - Unlimited use of Kyoto's two subway lines on one calendar day.

    Kyoto is everything cultural heritage sites; there are more than seventeen temples, castles and shrines.  Visiting all of them would definitely be overload.  Since most sites close by five in the afternoon, it's best to start early.  The best season to walk around these sites should be between mid to late November, when there's an explosion of colors brought about by the autumn season.  late March to April would also be best for cherry blossom viewing.  And here I am, walking around in August, at the height of summer, and I tell you, it was such a bad idea.  At an average, I could consume three or more iced desserts in a day.  The vendo machines that you can find anywhere served its purpose to keep us hydrated.  A bottle of water costs about 100 yen on the vendo machine.
        Day 1
      Tenryuji is a Zen temple in the Arashiyama area of Kyoto. It has been ranked first among the city's "Five Great Zen Temples". Last summer, the zen garden looked so pretty, but I sat there  imagining how much prettier it would be in autumn.
      • To get there: Tenryuji is just a few steps from the Keifuku Arashiyama terminal station. The small Keifuku trains connect Arashiyama with the Ryoanji/Kinkakuji area and Shijo-dori.  The JR Saga-Arashiyama Station is a 5 minute walk from Tenryuji and is served by the JR Sagano Line (San-in Line) with frequent trains that take about 15 minutes to Kyoto Station.
      • Hours: 830 - 1700 daily
      • Admission: 500 yen
      Nijo Castle was built by Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Edo Shogunate, as the Kyoto residence for himself and his successors.  It took some time to go around the premises, the garden was huge and twas interesting to step on those so called "nightingale floor".  The floors of the outer rooms at the castle squeak whenever someone steps on them. The squeaking sounds much like the singing of the nightingale but they weren’t designed because the shogun liked to hear birds singing but he was very fearful for his life, and the squeaking floors were designed to alert the ruler if anyone approached his chambers.
      • To get there: Nijojo-mae Station on the Tozai Subway Line
      • Hours: 845-1700
      • Closed: Tuesdays (Wednesday if Tuesday falls on a national holiday)
      • Admission: 600 yen
      Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf.  Looking from across the lake (photo above), it looked picturesque with it's reflection on the lake. However, up close, it looked plain and simple.  Its premises was also not promising.
      • To get there: Kyoto City Bus number 101 or 205 in about 40 minutes and for 220 yen. Alternatively, it can be faster and more reliable to take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station (15 minutes, 250 yen) and take a taxi (10 minutes, around 900 yen) or bus (10 minutes, 220 yen, bus numbers 101, 102, 204 or 205) from there to Kinkakuji.
      • Hours: 900 - 1700, all days
      • Admission: 400 yen

      Day 2
        Fushimi Inari Shrine is the most famous of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari across Japan. Inari is the Shinto god of rice, and foxes are thought to be his messengers.  It is also famous for the countless torii gates, offerings by worshipers.  These are etched with Chinese and/or Japanese characters of names of businessmen who made those offerings. that cover the hiking trails of Inarisan, the wooded mountain behind the shrine's main buildings. It takes about two hours to walk along the whole trail.  We hiked up those steps just half the way.
        • To get there: JR Inari Station on the JR Nara Line. The train ride takes five minutes and costs 140 yen from Kyoto Station.  We took the bus and we waited for about 45 minutes for it on the way back.
        • Hours: Always open, all days
        • Admission: free
        Kiyomizudera ("Pure Water Temple") is one of the most celebrated temples of Japan.  There's obviously a good number of couples and locals compared to other temples.  IMHO, this is probably the most interesting among all temples, aside from me being unmindful of the walk uphill because of the numerous small stores and tea houses along the way.
        Jishu Shrine
        Behind Kiyomizudera's main hall stands Jishu Shrine, a shrine dedicated to the deity of love and matchmaking. In front of the shrine are two stones, placed 18 meters apart. It is believed that if you successfully find your way from one to the other with your eyes closed is said to bring luck in finding love. You can also have someone guide you from one stone to the other, but that is interpreted to mean that an intermediary will be needed in your love life as well.  And yes, I was able to find my way to the other end with my friends' help, does it mean I need a matchmaker to find my match?! :)
        Otowa Waterfall
        The Otowa Waterfall is located at the base of Kiyomizudera's main hall. Its waters are divided into three separate streams, and visitors use cups attached to long poles to drink from them. Each stream's water is said to have a different benefit, namely to cause (left to right) wisdom, beauty and longevity. However, drinking from all three streams is considered greedy.  We knew little about this fact during the trip, we thought it was all for "love"; no wonder an old woman lined up for this too! (I drank the one on the left.) :)
        • To get there: by bus number 100 or 206 (15 minutes, 220 yen). Get off at Kiyomizu-michi bus stop, from where it is a ten minute uphill walk to the temple. Alternatively, Kiyomizudera is about a 20 minute walk from Kiyomizu-Gojo Station along the Keihan Railway Line.
        • Hours:  600-1800 
        • Spring & Fall Illumination: 1830-2130 mid March to mid April and mid November to early December
        • Admission:  300 yen (400 yen for illumination)
        WHAT TO EAT:
        Aside from the heritage sites, one thing I love about Kyoto is food!  We did not find so many typical Japanese restaurants like those serving sushi, sashimi, tempura, ramen (save these for Tokyo).  When in Kyoto (or southern Japan), have these interesting meals part of your to do list:
        Okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza) served in a small diner outside Tenryuji
        Quail yakitori is popular outside Inari Shrine. (Fox's hunt them.)
        everything green tea at a desert shop on the way up to Kiyomizudera
        Takoyaki (octopus balls) pitstop after Kiyomizudera
        (you won't miss this when heading to the restroom by the vendo machines)
        After a scorching hot day at Kiyomizudera, the skies started to rumble, so we had to swallow those takoyaki and rushed downhill to the bus stop.  It was not long before the rain poured.  We all cramped into a corner, under the roof of a restaurant extending on the sidestreets and screamed as we rushed inside the bus when it arrived several minutes after.  We must looked so poor yet clumsy, the people on the bus had a good laugh.  An unusually big japanese guy seated next to me can't stop giggling and laughing til the next bus stop.  We finally caught the attention of the locals who are generally reserved with their actions.
        • PONTOCHO. Pontocho is one of Kyoto's traditional nightlife districts. It is a narrow street running from Shijo-dori to Sanjo-dori, one block west of the Kamo River. Overlooking the Kamogawa River, there is a row of restaurants and teahouses, ranging from inexpensive to highly exclusive establishment offering good ambience.  We would have wanted to sit at those alfresco tables but were taken aback by the cover charge of 300 to 500 yen per head on top of a 2000 to 4500 yen set menu.  Although there's a good selection of restaurant with plastic food display window, it took us a good thirty minutes to find a restaurant with english menu at a reasonable price.  We ended up on the third floor of the first building, in a restaurant that serves a wide range of bento boxes, yet we still got a table by the window overlooking the river (indoor).
          Pontocho: large eel bento for 2400 yen (L), all sushi plate for 1400 yen (R)
        • SHIJO DORI.  Perpendicular to Pontocho, the 4th Avenue must be it for shopping at high-end department stores like Takashimaya.  We kept coming back here, not to shop but to take advantage of its luxurious restrooms!  This avenue looks like one of Kyoto's main (accessible) street since after a day of sightseeing, we almost always end up here to change to the bus stop to our hostel.
        • NISHIKI MARKET. Known as Kyoto's Kitchen is a narrow, shopping street, lined by more than one hundred shops. Various kinds of fresh and processed foods including many Kyoto specialties, such as pickles, Japanese sweets, dried food, sushi, and fresh seafood and vegetables are sold.  Unfortunately, we missed out on this since we got lost in those small alleys and ended up going back to Pontocho for dinner.
        • GION.  Crossing that bridge on Shijo Dori leads you to Gion.  You might bump into a Geisha as you walk through Gion or if you don't find one, dress yourself up!  We didn't make it to Gion, but we were lucky to get a glimpse of a Geisha at the Kyoto Station and I was so tempted to run after her to take a photo, they simply walk too fast.
        Next stop:  Mt. Fuji, Kawaguchiko

      Friday, November 12, 2010

      Backpacking Japan: Arriving in Kyoto via Kansai, Osaka

      1st stop of backpacking Japan.

      For the first time, I met the rest of the participants of Travel Factor at the airport.  On board the budget airline Cebu Pacific, we flew from Manila to Kansai International Airport (KIX), Osaka and won for the 2nd time the on-board fun games a pouch perfect for my shades.

      I was seated next to a Japanese guy in his early twenties.  I knew he was eager to strike a conversation and so we engaged in one.  He shared some valuable tips and showed some of the pictures he took around Japan.  He speaks English fluently and a little Tagalog.  He has been in the Philippines for several years, working for the Philippine Retirement Authority and owning a hotel in Angeles, Pampanga.   He loves the Philippines but thinks that he will die young eating Filipino food... oily and salty. :))  That LV wallet and lexus car that was meeting him was a status symbol that he was one wealthy kid!  haha  Our chit-chat made the 3-hour flight short.

      It was quite a long and slow queue at KIX immigration.  The interiors of the airport seems not impressive, in contrast to what I was expecting after watching the Mega Structures documentary on National Geographic.

      With some pencil pushing, I budgeted 3,000 yen a day for pocket money but my peers brought 3 times more.  Is it really that expensive out there? After immigration and getting our luggage, I had to exchange more US dollar to yen at the airport.  (Forex rate in the Philippines was a better deal.) Gladly I did, you can hardly find any money changer in the city.

      Our ultimate destination for that day was Kyoto, so we had to take an hour van ride from Kansai to Kyoto. TF pre-arranged with MK Skygateshuttle Counter a shared van ride from  Kansai to Kyoto which costs 3,500 yen per person.  The van sits nine pax and is necessary to book two days in advance.
       MK Shuttledesk can be reached at +81(0)75-778-5489 and the counter is open from 7am to 10pm.

      From Osaka's cityscape, we drove into a quaint and quite neighborhood then we thought, we must already be in Kyoto. The side streets were narrow, you had to hold your breath on behalf of the driver but even on these alleys, the streets are well paved and clean.  Since we occupied the whole van, the driver dropped us right in front of the guesthouse where we will be checking-in.  It would probably be difficult to locate it on our own.

      Bola Bola Guest House is one typical Japanese home, small and clean.  It's quite cramped to fit 20 guests but I love the interior, it was truly a local experience to keep shoes off all the time, to squat whenever you wish to rest, to figure out how to flush the toilet, to use common bath and to sleep on those mats on the floor.

      Guest House BOLA-BOLA
      25-17 Horigauchicho Uzumasa
      Ukyo-ku Kyoto-city, Japan
      rates are from 2500 to 3500 yen per pax, sharing rooms, common toilet and bath
      The owner is very nice, helpful and speaks fluent english.  It would probably be nice to rent the whole place for a group of 8 to12.  Food is not served but the kitchen is available for use.  Seven-eleven and Sukiya Restaurant are within walking distance.  The place is far from the main city but there's a bus stop at the corner and the JR train station is about 10 minutes away by foot.

      However, sharing rooms wasn't such a pleasant experience.  The snore echoed through the night on that tiny room and air conditioning wasn't cool enough on a hot summer night (the same case in all the places we checked-in), which kept us awake all night.

      We arrived Kyoto at nine in the evening,  lucky we found Sukiya around the corner.  Sukiya (すき家?) is a Japanese restaurant chain serving gyūdon, other donburi, and curry but we had a dilemma... they don't understand english and there was no english menu available, although the menu came with pictures, guessing game and sign language was put to test...  viola, to my surprise, my meal came with a snoopy spoon on a snoopy plate. :))

      Search This Blog