According to Kurt Vonnegut, “bizarre travel plans are dancing lessons from God”.
This is exactly what I, JB and MJ underwent. We initially planned and agreed to go hiking on a mountain and a nature reserve east of Metro Manila. But when all plans has been ironed out and only a couple of days left prior to leaving, we suddenly changed our mind. We simply agreed to scratch the plan and instead proceed at the heavenly Villa Escudero, some 2 hours travel south of Metro Manila.
And unlike the previous 2-hour travel adventures that we had in the past in which we would either rent a private van or drive our own car, we used the public transport. We simply commuted from Manila to Quezon via passenger bus and the ever reliable tricycle. One bizarre mode of travel for us yet surprisingly comfortable!
I am glad to have changed our plans. Villa Escudero has remained an amazing Filipino destination! In summary, this is how fun we had in this beautiful place…
It’s been several times that I have been to Villa Escudero and with all those repeated moments that I have been there I always fail to have my photo right at its famous waterfalls. Maybe it’s because in my previous visits, I feel discouraged because this prominent spot at Villa Escudero is always full of people trying to have their selfies or pictures taken. There is always a frustrating photo bomber lurking within your camera frame.
But with my recent revisit, I made sure that I not only be taken a picture with, I also made sure that the whole waterfalls is all mine!
Here’s a great tip for those who are planning to visit Villa Escudero and have the waterfalls all by yourself. All you need to have is your mobile phone, a gorilla pod (a camera tripod) and an alarm clock. First thing you need to do is to set the alarm clock the night before you plan to have your awesome photos taken. Set it at 6:00 AM and make sure to wake up at 6:00 AM.
Then early in the morning bring your camera and tripod to the waterfalls. Set it up and have awesome photos and videos taken! Be there while everyone are having their breakfast. Be there before all tourists flock the site.
Nengkoy (my mother) is used to check-in a 5-star hotel or resort every time she goes on a domestic vacation. Because of budget constraints and weak Philippine peso, it is the downgraded to 4 or 3-star hotels during international travels. However, in Nengkoy’s recent international trip her accommodation experience was further downgraded from a hotel to a hostel!
I am the culprit. It is because I am the one who booked and reserved a tiny room for three at A Dot Homestay via Booking.com.
Upon clearance from the immigration and retrieval of our luggage at Taoyuan International Airport, I Nengkoy and my sister proceeded to the nearest airport transport service. We booked a return exclusive luxury car service that will drive us to our hostel and pick us up to bring us back to the airport on our last day’s stay. The driver was quite surprised upon finding out that we have to be dropped not to a luxurious hotel but instead to an ordinary building where our hostel was located.
Actually, upon alighting the luxurious car, I never noticed where A Dot Homestay was located for there was no signage. Upon noticing that I seem to look confused, the driver was kind enough to point to us the building and entrance gate were the address of our hostel was. Shockingly, there was no reception desk where to transact our check-in. Instead, we proceeded to the 5th floor of the building, were asked to take off our shoes and was led to a dining table where we settled our payment and where the crew issued us our electronic keys to our room.
Nengkoy and my sister then told me after we have settled inside our room that both of them were already contemplating of pushing me to transfer to a legit hotel. It was obviously their first time to be in such a type of a lodging. They were not used to a guesthouse without a front desk, a concierge and an elegant chandelier in a lobby.
I have no intention of under estimating this hostel. It is because I, my sister and Nengkoy were quite impressed by the facilities, cleanliness and offerings of A Dot Homestay. After our first night, we easily adjusted and came to appreciate this cozy and comfortable establishment.
A Dot Homestay basically grew in us. Maybe it is because it offers remarkable facilities (comfy bed with fresh and spotless linens, clean and big common/shared toilet & shower rooms, a free-to-use washer and dryer, very fast internet connection, hot, warm and cold drinking water, a fridge that all guests can use and even a kitchenette if guests wish to cook their food). They even offer us to eat and try the free snacks placed and made available at the main table.
But aside from all these pleasant and amazing features, there are two things that I like most about A Dot Homestay. First is the warm, gracious and well-mannered staffs. All their staffs whom I encountered can speak English (Sarah, one of the staffs, according to her actually studied English here in the Philippines for 3 months) and everybody were so genial and are so willing to assist so as to make sure that we enjoy our visit to Taipei. They can even give you tips on where to dine and where to go to.
Second is the location. A Dot Homestay is literally just a couple of steps away from Exit 3 of Daan Station. The nearness of the train station is one of my main considerations why I chose and booked A Dot Homestay. I know that Taipei weather is like Manila weather. It is hot, boiling and very humid. Thus, it would be too difficult to walk on the streets so as to reach the station if the hotel would be too far a distance. I was also glad to have chosen this lodging establishment because I am with Nengkoy and my often-complaining sister who hates to walk under a blistering climate. Thus, the location of A Dot Homestay is just perfection!
Thanks to A Dot Homestay! It is because this establishment made Nengkoy’s first hostel experience a very pleasant and remarkable one.
Oh and by the way, on our last day, it was a different driver who picked us up and drove us to the airport for us to catch our flight back to Manila. He was driving a Mercedes Benz. It was so noticeable that the driver was puzzled and bamboozled why we were not picked from a luxurious hotel but instead by the bustling Xinyi Road in front of an ordinary-looking building.
People in New York are called New Yorkers while folks in Rio De Jainero are known as Cariocas. Here in Manila we are called Manileños while those in Sydney are called Sydneysiders. Residents of Paris are called Parisians while those born and raised in Tokyo are called Edokko.
But what about the people in Taipei? How do they call themselves as a people? I know that Taipei is located in Taiwan and its people are known as Taiwanese. But what about the specific state of Taipei? What is their demonym? Strangely, even google doesn’t seem to have an answer.
But no matter what the world would call their citizens, one thing is for sure, I was very impressed by the Taipei people’s character. Prior to visiting Taipei, I plucked and gathered a lot of tolerance and courage from my garden of compassion so as to bring it with me in Taipei. It is because I thought that the people of Taipei were the same and as typical as that of their mainland counterpart. But my encounters with their locals were so surprising all positive. They were unexpectedly polite, well-mannered and very helpful.
And aside from the people, the food and character, their city was surprisingly clean, modern and very organized. It’s a friendly city for a non-Chinese speaking person like me. Their hero (Chang Kai Shek), who paved the way for the molding of Taipei character, democracy and economic development was even someone to be proud of.
May they be termed Taipeinese, Taipei-siders, Taipeian or other names, Taipei people were surprisingly impressive! I think I love Taipei.
Taipei, Taiwan based on travel blogs seem not in the top list of places to go to on the planet. But I along with Nengkoy and elder sister Ester nevertheless adventured into seeing what Taipei has to offer. Actually, yesterday we were back to Manila and actually just arrived from Taipei. And before the lazy bug bit me, let me showcase an awesome experience while we were there.
Night markets in Taipei are quite popular. Shilin Night Market located near Jiantan train station is considered the largest is actually the most popular among tourists. This is the night market that Nengkoy, I and my sister chose to chill at and visit during a very short stay in Taipei.
Shilin Night Market is known to offer various food and nonfood items. Aside from a couple of cool t-shirts I purchased, I got to try two amazing stuffs at this lively, brazen and well-admired night market.
The Ampaet Drink
First, I got to try the white bitter gourd juice. Bitter gourd is known as Ampalaya in the Philippines. Here in my country, Ampalaya is green in color and never used as a juice drink flavor. Because of its bitter taste, it is one of my most hated vegetables.
But in Taiwan, they got a white/albino variety and they use it for a refreshing juice drink. Upon learning that such is mixed in a cold drink, it got me curious. I even thought that the albino variety would be a redeeming version of the green-colored variety. I was expected that it would be sweet to the taste. So as to end my pondering, I ordered a tall glass.
As for the taste, it was a disappointing bitter taste same as the green version. And same as the green variety, I hated the white kind. It was not my type! Ampaet! (Translation: so bitter!) But as a consolation, I nevertheless will no longer have to brood over on what the taste was of such a rare drink when I get back to Manila. To get rid of the bitter after taste, I, Nengkoy and my sister decided to gulp on a very cold bottle of pure and freshly squeezed sugarcane juice, which is also a popular street drink in Taipei!
The Uncut Cutlet
Second, Shilin Night Market shall be for the record the place where I actually had the largest piece of chicken cutlet. It was so big I thought it was an ostrich!
There was a long queue at store called Hot Star. I actually don’t know what people were queuing up for. And since the line is very long, I assume the food stuff that store was selling must be amazing. I just decided to fall in line and only got to realize that it was a humongous filleted chicken cutlet that was being sold when I was already paying for it.
Hot Star chicken cutlet was surprisingly very good and very tasty! The chicken meat is evenly coated with a crunchy deep fried golden brown batter. Before the ginormous cutlet was handed over to me upon payment, it was sprinkled with flavoring powder which I believe (based on the whispers of my taste buds) is composed of white pepper, sea salt and special spices. This chicken cutlet was surprisingly tender and juicy. It was so ginormous I shared it with Nengkoy!
These are just two of the million or more possible stuffs that people can try when they visit the vibrant Shilin Night Market. There is a cornucopia of stuffs that visitors can taste when they chill at this amazing night market. Try visit sometime and prove to yourself that Taipei is actually worth a visit!
I was so glad that my participation in the petition was heard and Viacom (the owners of Nickelodeon) listened. Palawan, the most beautiful island in the world, was spared! Cheers to Dora the Explorer, the Chipmunks, Spongebob and the rest of the Nick gang!
I want to travel to Japan (again) but my visa has expired. That is why I am so busy trying to collate all needed documents and requirements for me to re-visit the Land of the Rising Sun.
While trying to fill out the Japan visa application form, I realized that it is hard to be a citizen of a very weak passport. Humongous preparations are needed to be undertaken for earthlings like us so as to venture into having to experience the joys of travelling.
For other citizens with very strong passports, their first step when they want to travel out of the country is to scout for a good-priced airfare. For Filipino passport holders, scouting for a bargain airfare would be pretty much at the latter part of the multitude of complex steps that we need to hurdle, overcome and accomplish.
Photo of specific size and background, bank certifications, tax certification, employment certification, birth and baptismal certifications, approved vacation leave certifications and correctly filled up confusing application forms are some of the obstacles that we have to undertake.
Thank goodness, Japan embassy need not schedule me for a one-on-one interview with an embassy consul. Other embassies would even add up more requirements like a face-to-face interview, a digital photo, a biometric fingerprint record, a medical vaccination/s certificate and a good coverage of travel insurances to name a few.
Aside from being so confusing and time consuming, being a Filipino passport holder is more expensive. On top of all these time consuming collation of necessary and obligated documents, breathing Filipinos like me needs to pay for the expensive non-refundable visa fees!
The amount of visa fee application can already be a supposed additional budget to a sumptuous dinner in a posh restaurant or a night’s accommodation rate to a first class hotel or the total train and taxi fares of the Filipino traveler to the country of his destination. And the only assurance for Filipino passport holders applying for a visa is that they are guaranteed to pay for a visa fee, may their visa application is approved or denied!
It’s hard to be a Filipino passport holder. We are unlike other citizens of this planet, who would simply buy their plane ticket, pack their bags, bring their powerful passport and proceed to the airport so as to catch the flight to a country of their preferred destination.