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January 24, 2011

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Seoul: Changing of the Guards – Asian Style

October 21, 2010

When you hear the phrase “Changing of the Guards”, what comes to mind are guards in red military shirts marching in front of the Buckingham Palace. Now let’s change that picture and go nearer into a country in Northeast of Asia where you can find chinky-eyed men in traditional garb doing the “Changing of the Guards” ceremony in the land of Samsung appliances – South Korea!

Be transported into the Korea of the Joseon Dynasty as you watch a re-enactment of the ceremony of the Royal Guard Changing
Ceremony in front of the ground of Seoul’s famous palace which is the Gyeongbokgung Palace. There are two ceremony that lasts for 20 minutes and additional four more ceremony that lasts for 7 minutes. Men wearing colorful traditional Korean clothing will come marching into the front of the palace grounds accompanied with the beat of the drum. The men will parade and conduct the ceremony of changing the sentry duty.  As a tourist most of the time one can get preoccupied snapping the souvenir photos here and there, my advice snap some few shots of the actual ceremony and just observe and soak in the experience since after the ceremony you will have a lot of time to get up close with the “guards” for you take your souvenir photos.Once the ceremony is finished the new sentries will stay for quite some time and they can be approached (but I think you cannot touch them – I’m not sure though because I never dared to touch them) and photographed.

If you are pressed for time or you just want to explore one palace in Seoul, Gyeongbokgung will be your best bet.


Changing of the guards - KPop Style

Leave Details:

Place: Gyeongbokgung Palace

How to get There: Take the Metro to Gyeongbokgung Station – take Exit 5

Special note: Gyeongbokgung station is like a metro station/mini museum as there are small exhibits displayed within the station.

Operating Hours: 9am – 6pm : Wed to Mon,   9am – 7pm: Sat to Sun

Schedule of Changing of the Guards: 10 am and 3 pm (20 mins. ceremony), 11am,12nn,1pm,2pm (7 mins.ceremony)

Fees: Watching of the Changing of the Guards – none

Palace entrance – 3000 KRW

Disclaimer: Fees and schedule as of March 2010

Dumaguete: Of University Town and Wondrous Food

August 1, 2010

Being a small city,the best thing about Dumaguete is that you can get a decent hotel/hostel in the downtown area and you can just walk to most of the tourist and dining spots in the city. Situated in the heart of the city are several hotels that are priced reasonably and with ample facilities. Getting a hotel/hostel near the famed Rizal boulevard can save you the multicabs fare and one thing I noticed in Dumaguete that most multicabs driver would hike up their fare if they knew that you are a tourist.

A stone’s throw away from Dumaguete port is the American founded Protestant university which is Silliman University. The layout of the campus is comparable to a scaled down version of the prestigous state university – The University of the Philippines. Most of the campus building is designed after colonial American architecture. There is a large open field and numerous huge trees that provides the much needed shade. The university is not really what you can consider an ‘open’ university where one can just go in the university ground, as a visitor you are required to leave an id with the guard at the university’s gate so you can get the visitor pass.

Silliman University

Fronting Silliman University is the famous Rizal Boulevard which can be considered as Dumaguete’s version of the Manila Baywalk. This ubiquitous boardwalk is lined with lamposts and rows and rows of trees. As the sun starts to set, most locals will flock the baywalk to walk or sit around and talk as the sun begins its descent. On the opposite end of the boulevard are several small stalls selling tempura (but this is not the Japanese tempura) where you can sit amongst the multitude of plastic monoblock chairs bathed by the glowing rays of the setting sun as you dip your hot out of the frying pan tempura into a tangy sauce.

Dumaguete - Rizal Boulevard

Along Perdices street, is the Dumaguete Belfry which stands out amongst the modern buildings and the busy street because of it’s century old stone structure. This bell tower is considered as one of the historical places in Dumaguete.

Synonymous to the city of the Gentle People is the term “Food trip” .Unofficially dubbed as Philippines ultimate Food Trip Capital,Dumaguete did not fail to deliver these gustatory delights. Head to the famous SansRival store/bakeshop at San Jose street to grab any daily lunch special and satisfy you sweet tooth with the famous sylvannas and sansrival. Their sansrival and sylvannas are nice,smooth and creamy and I personally noticed that the butter is not overpowering rendering a distinct taste that make you want to grab another piece. If you want to bring a slice of Dumaguete’s famous sylvannas you can preorder a 10pcs. boxed sylvannas for P105 which you can pick up before your flight back to Manila.

Move over Starbucks because Dumaguete got it’s own Cafe Antonio with a wonderful spanish-inspired interior. With antique like chairs and tables, old pianos, stained glass windows and even wooden porch swings transporting you to a scene in Noli Me Tangere. I did not try any coffee drink but I can highly recommend their very own Hot Choco which is priced at P65. It is what a hot choco must taste like because you can really distinctly taste the cocoa.

If there is one food place that Dumaguete is known for it will be Jo’s Chicken Inato along Silliman Avenue. A dish of grilled chicken (Chicken Inato) is priced at P85 which is reasonable and affordable enough. For less than a hundred you get to feast on a tasty grilled chicken and a cup of rice.Chicken Inato is similar to chicken inasal but it has a distinct taste which makes it more flavorful and juicy than the inasal dish which tends to be dried.

Aside from these three places there are still a lot more food havens in Dumaguete that I personally haven’t sampled (which are reasons enough to find myself back in this university town) – Fried Icecream, Mamias and one of the well known seafood restaurant (which I forgot the name).

For your pasalubong shopping you can head to Handumanan along Perdices st. You can grab native home decors, kitschy cellphone charms, various designs of keychains and ref magnets as well as Dumaguete and Silliman University shirts.

They say that food is the way to a man’s heart, the same thing goes for Dumaguete as well. Dumaguete’s food and laidback charm is the way to any traveler’s heart.

Siquijor: Loco Over Coco

June 8, 2010

Tucked in the Island of Fire is a resort that promises quality service and total relaxation. Roughly fifteen minutes from the port of Siquijor is a little gem of a resort called Coco Grove. You will be greeted by a unassumming gated establishment with a small well-maintained garden. The reception area is very Filipino in architecture and interior from the nipa thatched roof to the wood decorations and rattan chairs. You will be warmly received by the hotel receptionists in their very cute and floral uniforms. They would address their guests by their name and not the usual generic greeting of ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’. The reception area also houses the resident parrot named ‘Macky’ but a word of caution you can take picture and admire but you are not allowed to touch him.

welcome to Coco Grove

Beyond the reception area are stone steps leading to the grounds of the resort.There are two swimming pools in the resort, one is near the reception while the other one is near the diveshop. The one near the diveshop got a swim up bar so you can literally sip your cocktail in the pool.

The cottages/rooms in the resort are done in a sort of Bahay Kubo architecture but no need to worry it is totally concrete it’s just that the design is made of nipa and bamboo to evoke a Pinoy cottage house. Each cottage comes with it’s own veranda where you can stay and enjoy the breeze from the sea or just to chat with your next door neighboor. There are several types of cottages that you can avail depending on your required capacity. The bigger cottages or villas have lofts to accommodate a whole group or family perfect for your bonding getaway. To truly make you relax and unwind, there are no television sets in the room, so make sure you pack some engaging paperback if your going solo or a mean boardgame that you can play with your travel buddies. With no pesky television set which glues you on that comfy bed and under the sheets, you can walk along the shore, sit and soul search in the many small huts scattered within the resort or just chill out and admire the stars while lying in one of the hammocks.

The resort boasts of a white sand beach that stretches for about 800 meter as well as a clear sea. The shore are dotted by tall and magnificent coconut trees that renders a very picturesque quality of the beach.
Though you have to go farther in the sea during late afternoon because of the low tide. You might find that morning and early morning are the best time to enjoy swimming in the beach. If you are an avid snorkeller, there is Tubod Marine Sanctuary near the diveshop but you need to pay an additional 50 Php to snorkel here. This fee is for the marine conservation.

The Coco Boat

There are two restaurants within the resort, the prices of most meals are quite pricey compared to the standard restaurants. Price range of a single meal is around Php200 and onwards. Breakfast is free and already included in your room price but don’t expect much they do have an extensive lists of breakfast menu but the serving is measly.Here you can enjoy a candlelit dinner by the beach serenaded by the resort’s singers which has a very extensive songs repertoire.

Coco Grove’s rate is actually pricier when compared to the other beach resorts in Siquijor but when you consider the service, facilities and beach it is good value for money. Quality service, well maintained facilities and a magnificent sunset will make you go loco over Coco.

View from Sunset Restaurant

How to get Here: You can take a habal-habal/multicab from Siquijor’s port. I was charged Php200 pesos for the ride from the port to the resort. Another option is to avail of the resort’s own pick up service this is convenient and economical if you are in a big group since you have to basically rent the jeep (the resort’s transport service is a converted jeepney) or you can try to check with the resort if they can tag you along if there is also a group that will be picked up in the port on the same time of your arrival so you can split the pick up rate with them.


Siquijor:Enchanted by a Visayan Island

June 2, 2010

I did not have any expectations with Siquijor, knowing that it boasts of white sand beach is enough for me just like a contented little girl with a lollipop. Until I disembarked in Siquijor’s port, my initial decision is just to stay at the resort since I am not comfortable of hiring a multicab (trike) countryside tour considering that I’m a lone female traveler. Talk about a serious case of paranoia – I just kept on remembering the incident of a US peace corps volunteer who got murdered in the Mountain Province. I was among the last passenger to approach the exit gate of the port which explains that there seems to be a lesser crowd of multi cab driver offering their services. I walked along without any eye contact with any of the multicab drivers (in Pinoy slang, dedma lang). One persistent driver, followed me and continued to ask if I need a service going to the resort. He quoted 200 Php, I’m not sure if this is a good enough rate but it is cheaper compared to getting the resort’s own pickup transport. I agreed and told him the name of the resort and when I was about to get into his multicab, he told me to get the ferry ticket first for tomorrow’s return trip to Dumaguete (Note: It is advisable to get your return ticket once you reached the island, there is a small ticketing booth just outside the Siquijor port’s gate. If you can’t find it just ask around). After purchasing my return ferry ticket, the driver offered me my ‘dreaded’ countryside tour and he quoted 1000 Php for the whole package inclusive of dropping me first in the resort so I can leave my backpack and returning me back to the resort at around 4-5pm. I don’t know why or how, but i just found myself agreeing and even haggling for the rate (Blogger’s Note: The rate seems to be reasonable since during my trip research it is around 1000 for the tour package with multicabs).But I remember uttering a simple prayer before I reach the island that may the good Lord provide me with a trusty and good multicab driver since I also want to see the other places of interest in the Island instead of getting holed up in the resort. Answered Prayer? for sure.

Kuya Romeo (multi-cab driver) toured me in the following places:

  • 400 years old Balete Tree – spend a few minutes to snap some photos.
  • Crocodile Point – An elevated point where the sky, road, trees and sea meets. Considered as an overlooking point in the Island. Don’t expect much, it is just a shabby cottage like structure nestled between two private houses.
  • Lazi Convent – Old convent building that uses the design principle of Bahay na Bato. There is a small museum inside the convent but I personally did not went into the museum.There is a minimal entrance fee into the museum.
  • Cambughay Falls – This is one of the reason why I want to go back, I want to take a dip here. The water looks inviting and clean. There is a group of guys that were having the time of their life swimming and diving into the falls during the time I was there. But before you can see this work of nature – you have to trek down 135 steps. No problem going down but it’s definitely tough going back up. There is a parking fee of Php15 (parking fees are not included in the tour package rate quoted)
  • Salagdoong Beach – This is the government owned beach property. The beach is very picturesque but the shore is littered with coral like stones. There is a Php 15 entrance fee and Php 15 parking fee. Before you reach the beach you will traverse a road that is canopied with trees creating a rainforest like ambiance.
  • Souvenir shop – I personally requested to drop me off in a Souvenir shop so I can get some souvenirs/pasalubongs. I overheard one customer looking for the ‘love potion’ – apparently this is a well known souvenir item to get when you are in Siquijor.

    Clockwise: Balete tree, Crocodile Pt. view, Lazi Convent, Cambughay Falls

It was a good enough calculated risk of hiring a multicab tour, if I have opted to just remain in the resort there is so much that I could have missed and I wouldn’t have encountered the real Siquijor which lies outside the confines of the resort.

Siquijor is truly a well kept hidden travel gem which remains uncorrupted by capitalistic tourism. It does get its fair share of tourists but it still retains the charm and mysticism that it is well known for. There are no malls or even fastfood outlets that I saw during my countryside tour but there are a lot of green fields, canopy of trees and postcard perfect beaches.It made up with its deficiency in size (considered as the third smallest province of the country) with its big heart and winsome charm. I started out as a girl happily contented with a miniscule lollipop but Siquijor gave me a feast beyond what I expected.

Salagdoong beach

How To Get There: Take a fast craft ferry from Dumaguete Port. Most popular ferry is the Delta Fast Ferry. Fare (as of May 2010) is Php 160 one way. Ferry schedule changes, you may request the latest schedule from your resort. Travel time from Dumaguete to Siquijor is about 45 minutes – 1 hour.

Out On Vacation went Solo!

June 1, 2010

Note: I am temporarily suspending my Seoul posts to giveway for my posts on a recently concluded trip.
I want to write my solo travel posts while I am still on a travel-high.

I am not a loner and I do enjoy the company of a group of friends but I also do appreciate spending “me” time and not thinking about anything and just soaking in everything during travel.I have read blog posts of solo female travellers and lurked around forums and websites dedicated to this particular topic.Ahh..just the thought of doing a solo travel sents shivers down my spine as I imagine an adventure packed travelling with no one to mind but yourself, doing everything on your schedule and following your own whims.

Flipflops and the Sand

When the year started,I remembered that I have sort of created a bucket list of things I want to achieve and experience this year and one of those entry is to do a solo travel. Before planning everything, I remember telling myself “If not now then when?”,this thought proved to be my motivation of finally booking a fight and lugging Migo for his virgin voyage (Blogger’s Note: Yes, I do give names to my favorite things which started with Eli (my camera), Faramir (my computer) and the new addition to the family – Migo (my backpack)).Let’s do away with procrastination and let me finally tick a checkmark in one of my bucket list entry for 2010.

I have three top choices for my solo trip which were derived from a so-callend intensive research during the lull moments at work – Sagada, Boracay and Dumaguete. I have always wanted to experience the mountain and what perfect way to do it but in Sagada but I have finally decided that a high octane adventure which involves hours of caving and leg numbing trekking needs to be shared with a bunch of crazy fellows thus Sagada is out. Yes, I have an ongoing love affair with the sun,sea and sand. Since I am not spending a fortune in all those whitening pills, I have no qualms in soaking up the sun and being sunkissed in the process. I also find the calmness and tranquility when I’m in the water.But this is Boracay, it I felt that it would be nice to paint the beach read with a buddy or two and I’m no party animal either and I just felt that Boracay has somewhat lost its charm with the deluge of tourists. Dumaguete promises a laidback province and a food wonderland. I also wanted to visit Silliman University and experience a University town. But there is one thing lacking – if I can’t get my mountain adventure, I would want to soak up the sun in a pretty and tranquil beach. Well I could go to Bais and see the dophins and enjoy the beauty of the Manjuyod sandbar with its pristine white sand but as I scoured the net, I found out that this option is quite costly for a solo traveller unless you can hook up with a group and tag along because you have to rent the boat which will take you for the dolphin watching and to Manjuyod.As I continue to do searches on Google regarding Dumaguete trips, a diamond in the rough emerged – Siquijor which is a 45 minute ferry ride from Dumaguete. The province famous for ‘witchcraft’,’sorcery’ and ‘black magic’ and synonymous to “Capiz” ironically consists of unspoilt white sand beaches, old churches, springs and refreshing waterfalls,definitely an off the beaten path destination. Dumaguete-Siquijor trip got me fishing out that plastic card and punching away on my computer for a two way ticket for a 3 days and 2 nights solo adventure.

How about you reader, what itinerary can you suggest for a first timer solo traveler?

Seoul: Fusion Of Modernity and Antiquity

May 15, 2010

One of the remarkable thing I noticed about Seoul is the fusion of the old and new. Seoul being a bustling metropolitan is teeming with high rise buildings and remarkable architectural contructions but it still retains the richness of its heritage as several palaces are located beside these modern structures. There is no need to go out of Seoul to have a cultural experience, there are already several grandiose palaces that you can visit within the city.

Blast from Past

Right after we deposited our bags and settled our arrangements with the hostel, we headed to Changdeokgung Palace to catch the morning schedule for the palace tour.This palace can only be visited via a guided tour. We are just in time for the first English tour of the day which is at 11:30 am. The tour ran for roughly an hour and 30 minutes. Changdeokgung Palace is the second palace of the Joseon dynasty after the more popular and grander Gyeongbukgong Palace.

Palace Roof

We were ushered into the huge and sprawling courtyards and intricate palace rooms.One special feature of this palace is the Secret Garden but too bad with all this weather anomalies,spring has not yet caught up during the last week of March.So it was just bare trees and dried grass but I’m imagining that it will be very beautiful and colorful during autumn as the color of the foliage changes.

Changdeokgung Palace

How to get there: Take Line 3 to An-guk Station – Exit 3
Tour Schedule: 11:30 am, 1:30 pm, 3:30 pm
Admission Fee: 3,000 KRW (Adults)
Note: Can only be visited via guided tour
Closed Every Monday

Back to the Future

If Singapore got Orchard Road, Manila got Ayala/Greenbelt, New York got Fifth Avenue and Japan got Shibuya well Seoul got Myeongdong from brands to local bazaars they got it all just like SM. Myeongdong is one of the shopping district in Seoul and it is teeming with locals and tourists. Shopping centres and boutiques lined the whole street and makeshift mobile carts littered the streets selling optical glass frames (at dirt cheap prices and funky style), korean made shoes, bags and accessories, every conceivable styles and colors of socks (I just can’t understand the fascination with the socks) and of course street foods ranging from dried squid to chicken wraps – one can indeed shop til you drop.

Myeongdong Crowd

If you are looking for Korean facial product shops, Myeongdong is your one stop place. It seems like this particular place has a very high concentration of these facial product shops.An almost permanent fixture in the entrance of these facial shops are young Korean women waving product samples, handling small shopping baskets and urging you to go into their shops with their high pitched singsong voice

If you are a koreanovela fanatic and wishes to copy their ‘fasyon’ (fashion) statement, head to Migliore which is several floors of uniquely Korean apparel at an affordable price.It is very similar to our 168 in Divisoria but the prices are higher but the merchandise are of better quality and style. Don’t be afraid to haggle even if you are a tourist but do so in a nice manner, I was personally able to get a discount for my purchases by flashing my charming smile and saying the few korean phrases I know courtesy of Lonely Planet’s chapter on korean phrases.But if you are a brand-whore and would want to get some stuff from these high class stores, you can head to Lotte department store.

Looking to have a shopping fix of an authentic South Korean brands – the answer is  SPAO which has floors and floors of retail galore. SPAO is like South Korea’s answer to Japan’s Uniqlo. Clothes are of high quality and affordable price. Check out the Sale items because you might just get that elusive tailored white shirt at 50% discount. And if your a K-Pop fan, they have merchandise for two famous K-Pop singing group sensations which are the Girls Generation and Superstar Junior.Other stores you can checkout are Uniqlo and H&M. Though during the time we went there, H&M has just opened so there is queue to get in during the weekend but weekday should be less crowded.

How to get there: take the subway there is a Myeongdong station

Hugs anyone? (Myeongdong)

Our first day has been a full-packed day from getting lost in translation to a cultural experience in the Changdeokgung Palace and finally capping it with a retail therapy at Myeongdong.