Wednesday, June 29, 2011

NEGROS ORIENTAL: Budget and Itinerary

SATURDAY: June 25, 2011
Taxi (to NAIA 3) - 125.00
Terminal Fee (NAIA 3) - 200.00
 Cebu Pacific (Manila - Dumaguete) - 96.00
Hot Choco (Cebu Pacific) - 80.00
Ham and Cheese (Cebu Pacific) - 100.00
Tricycle (Downtown) - 50.00
Grand Pensionne (Single air-con/2 nights) - 1,360.00
Sans Rival (Silvana/Sans Rival/Lasagna/Coke) - 113.00

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DUMAGUETE: 02 - Grand Pensionne Plaza

I already had made reservations prior to my arrival in one of the popular guesthouses in town. The problem was that I came across a negative write up about a bad experience there. I was ready to give it the benefit of a doubt but the tricycle driver also only had bad things to say about the said place. If the place is getting so much bad rep then there must be some truth to the rumors. So I decided to heed the advice of the tricycle driver. He brought me to a place called Grand Pensionne Plaza, which he said was fairly new.

Monday, June 27, 2011

DUMAGUETE: 01 - Emo Tambay Mode at Rizal Boulevard

Dumaguete is the capital of Negros Oriental, a province in Central Visayas sharing the island of Negros with Negros Occidental, which belongs to Ilonggo speaking Western Visayas. The dominant language here is Bisaya. Crossing over to Cebu or Siquijor could easily be done through ferry. The city is fondly called the City of Gentle People.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

[ILOILO] Budget and Itinerary

SATURDAY: June 18, 2011
Cebu Pacific (Manila - Iloilo - Manila) - 1,159.68
Taxi (to NAIA 3) - 120.00
Terminal Fee (NAIA 3) - 200.00
Hot Choco (Cebu Pacific) - 80.00
Van (Iloilo Airport - Molo Bus Terminal) - 50.00
Ceres (Molo Bus Terminal - Miagao Plaza) - 44.00
Lunch (Burger Machine) - 76.00
Ceres (Miagao Plaza - Molo Bus Terminal) - 36.00
Jeep (Molo Bus Terminal - SM City) - 7.50
Taxi (SM City - Highway 21 Hotel) - 64.50
Highway 21 Hotel (Single air-con/1 night) - 975.00
Jeep (Leganes) - 7.50
Dinner (Bauhinia ) - 435.71
Dessert (Nothing but Desserts) - 50.00
Taxi (Smallville - Highway 21 Hotel) - 74.50

[ILOILO CITY] Iloilo Doesn’t Love Churches

Iloilo shares the island of Panay with Aklan, Antique, and Capiz. Together with Negros Occidental and the island province of Guimaras, they form the geographical region of Western Visayas. Aside from the various Eco-tourism sites scattered across the province, Iloilo is more popularly known for its churches.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

[MIAGAO] How Baroque is Your Church?

Considered as the country’s largest municipality comprised by 119 baranggays, Miag-ao is popular mainly because of its church which is on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list of Baroque Churches in the Philippines. The main campus of the University of the Philippines - Visayas can also be found here, with the entrance around ten minutes walking distance from the church and the plaza.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Okay John You’re Not Gay, May I Shower Now?

John told me with his broken English that I was handsome. Well thank you, John. I like your sense of humor. Either you have drunk too much of this spa water we are wading on or you just have very poor taste. In any case, you are starting to annoy me, and the maintenance guy is looking at us.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Game of Thrones (HBO): Season 1/Episode 10

1.10 Fire and Blood
As news of Ned’s fate spreads across the kingdoms, Robb mourns and vows revenge. The northerners pledge allegiance and declare him King of the North. Cat breaks down herself before taking out her anger on Jaime, who admits he’s the one who pushed Bran off the tower. Jon Snow deserts the Wall to join Robb in avenging their father’s death, but is persuaded by his comrades to come back and keep his oath. Arya is taken by one his father’s men, passes her off as a boy, and they escape north. Sansa is continuously tortured by Joffrey, even forcing her to look at her father’s head on a pike. Acknowledging his son’s skills in strategy, Tywin names Tyrion Hand of the King and sends him back to King’s Landing in an effort to avoid any more crucial mistakes by both Cersei and Joffrey. Daenerys wakes up childless, without a tribe, and with an alive but catatonic Khal Drogo. The witch admits to tricking her as revenge against the Dothraki who pillaged her homeland. The Khaleesi smothers her husband, and later on joins him in his funeral pyre along with her three dragon eggs. But she does not burn, and they find her the next morning unscathed, with a trio of hatched dragons in tow.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

[GYEONGGI] Budget and Itinerary

FRIDAY: June 10, 2011
Seoul Metro (Myeongdong - Gangnam) - 1,100
Dunkin Donuts (Munchkins x20 + Iced Choco) - 8,200
Bus (Gangnam - Everland) - 1,800
Entrance Fee (Everland) - 38,000
Locker (Fee) - 2,000
Locker (Fee) - 2,000
Snack (Pineapple Slushee) - 2,500
Snack (Corn Dog) - 2,500
Snack (Churros) - 2,800
Souvenir (T-Coaster Photo) - 7,000
Dinner (China Moon) - 10,300
Bus (Everland - Gangnam) - 1,800
Seoul Metro (Gangnam - Sadang - Seoul Station) - 1,100
KRW81, 100.00

Estimate of KRW1,000.00 = PhP40.00
TOTAL - PhP3,244.00

[YONGIN] Everland!

Considered by many as Korea’s very own Disneyland, Everland offers a lot of thrills for both theme park enthusiast and plain wanderer alike. Located at the city of Yongin in the province of Gyeonggi, the park is just around an hour away by bus from Gangnam Metro Station. Another station in Southern Seoul where bus connections can be found is at Jamsil in Songpa, meaning you could combine your Lotte World and Everland tours for one day of jam-packed thrill, but I would suggest that you allot a day each for both. Inside the theme park are various gardens including a big rose garden, Mardi Gras inspired parades in the afternoon, an animal safari, various rides including a wooden roller coaster considered as the steepest in Asia and second worldwide, and lots more. Next door is a water park called Caribbean Bay, the entrance fee for which you have to pay for separately.

Friday, June 17, 2011

SEOUL: Budget and Itinerary

SATURDAY: June 4, 2011
Taxi (Makati - NAIA 3) - 125.00
Travel Tax (NAIA 3) - 1,620.00
Terminal Fee (NAIA 3) - 750.00
Cebu Pacific (Manila - Incheon - Manila) - 7,182.91
Hidden Spring (500 ml) - 50.00
Hot Chocolate (Cebu Pacific) - 80.00

McDonalds (6 pc Nuggets w/Fries and Coke) - 4,300
AREX (Incheon International - Seoul Station) - 4,300
Siloam Spa (1 night Spa + Bath + Sleeping Area) - 12,000

YONGSAN-GU: 01 - Cheap Electronics and a Lot of Foreigners

Directly north of the Han River and right smack in the middle of Seoul, Yongsan could probably be referred to as the “heart” of this city if based on location alone. Other than that this district is popularly known for its Electronics market and that area of the city notorious for its night life, party scene, and foreigner attendance. Yes, I am referring to you, Itaewon. If it is night life you seek, in Itaewon it is night life you get.

I was supposed to be at Ganghwa County in Incheon that Saturday but due to a sudden wave of depression and katamaran I thought, WTF, I’ll stay in Seoul and watch their version of Jekyll and Hyde at the Charlotte Theater! The problem was that the ticket for the said musical costs 100,000 won, which was roughly equivalent to the hundred dollars left in my wallet that I was no longer planning to spend. That’s for a VIP seat by the way. Another thing is that it was going to be in Korean, but what the heck, I would love to hear “This is the Moment” in Korean! Anyway, I decided not to go. Boo, me. Instead, I decided to spend my last day in Seoul touring the favorite sights I’ve seen during the week. That and a side trip to a highly recommended bookstore called Kyobo.

My depression just got worse at Kyobo because I wanted to shop for books. Their foreign language book collection is huge. They have whole shelves dedicated for Spanish, French, and German, from course books to popular and classic literature. The dilemma was how to bring them back home. My 7-kilo backpack was already full as it was and I still had a laptop and a paper bag full of souvenirs to carry. I’m not a GMO, I only have two hands; and the plane only allows two hand carry items. And again, I no longer wanted to spend. And so I settled for one book -- a comic book offering a satiric yet honest view of Korean society. Perfect. It was thin too, fit quite well in the laptop sack. We’ll meet again Kyobo, and my plastic will be so ready for swiping when that time comes. And my backpack too!

What else did I see at Kyobo? DVDs! I was eyeing a complete set of Queen Seon Deok which was selling for more than a hundred thousand won. Suddenly a name flashed in my mind: Yongsan. They say that electronics are cheap there. Maybe I’d find cheap DVDs! I did, but only in two stalls. And I didn’t find anything Korean in there aside from documentaries about Korean History. And some porn. Okay. But the rumors are true; the place is an electronics haven! And that made me more depressed.

Why? Well, I saw my laptop in there selling for almost half the price when I bought it a couple of months ago in Manila. Damn that. The mall connected directly to Yongsan station has more than five floors, each of which is dedicated to a certain electronic item. There is a floor for laptops, a separate one for mobile phones, and then another one for PC games. On the ground floor are various stalls selling camera stuff with different kinds of lenses displayed in glass compartments. There is also a Gundam Store in that building featuring various types ranging from those expensive giant ones all the way down to those cute Baby Gundam robots. I also saw musical instruments on one of the floors. There is a directory there anyway so just look and take your pick.

I went out of the building, crossed the overpass, and found myself in the middle of another block of “malls” selling the same stuff. People who go gaga over electronics would die of a heart attack in this place because of pure excitement. As for me I came home empty handed! At least now I know where to go when I decide to upgrade my repertoire of electronic gadgets.

I decided to make Itaewon my last stop in Seoul. I didn’t know that it was in the same district. Going there was a bit difficult because I had to change trains in two or three stations just to connect to the Itaewon stop in Seoul’s Metro line. I think Yongsan-gu has its own subway system, with which I wasn’t familiar. For that it took me quite a while to get there, despite being in the same district, using the Seoul Metro that I’ve come to love.

It was already dark when I reached Itaewon and it was just teeming with people, a lot of them foreigners. I did nothing there aside from crossing streets and dodging cars. The sparkling lights gave me a mild headache and the crowd did not help at all to improve the situation. To add to my paranoia I came across a middle-aged man while crossing an intersection. I almost bumped into him so I looked back. He stopped and stared and started following me after that, attempting for eye contact every time I looked back. Freaky. Don’t call me assuming. I know when people follow people. I do that too. Sometimes. I don’t need a stalker’s handbook for this one.

Anyway I could no longer spot him when I arrived by the church area, so after snapping a photo I decided to head back to the station. I was hungry so I decided to try one of the eateries. I’m leaving the next day and I haven’t eaten Korean food yet. So I sat in one of the eateries and ordered fried rice. What? Yes, I’ve been craving for fried rice ever since I got here, which is really Chinese. Is it just me or is it really hard to find Chinese food in Seoul? Anyway I only paid 5,000 won and that came with a Korean food sampler: plain rice, Kimchi, and two more side dishes that I could no longer recall. What I could remember is that I really did not like the taste. The Kimchi was cold but spicy, such a weird combination. No offense to all Koreans out there but I really don’t like Korean food. Sorry for that, just being honest.

I went home after that and spent the night at Silloam again. I already had an adaptor so charging my laptop and my phone was no longer a problem. What remained a dilemma though was the WiFi access. Each time I tried connecting the page brings me to the website of T-Mobile (or was it Olleh?), asking me for a username and a password. There was a PC Bang inside anyway so it wasn’t really a problem.

I left after lunch the next day to go back to Incheon. My flight wasn’t until the evening but I wasn’t able to tour the place. I couldn’t find the lockers at the airport and the storage fee on the third floor was a bit expensive. I just drained my laptop and phone batteries surfing the net courtesy of the free airport WiFi. When I got into the boarding area an hour or so before the flight I found a power socket and I was still able to charge both laptop and phone to full capacity. Good.

The flight back was okay, with some turbulence along the way. We arrived back in Manila on time and there were no hassles at customs and immigration. I loved Seoul, and my feet are already itching to come back. I have promised myself that I will really come back, whether it be through a short-term language course, a government scholarship for a Master’s degree. It doesn’t matter. We’ll meet again Seoul. We’ll meet again.

YONGSAN-GU: 01 - Cheap Electronics and a Lot of Foreigners

Thursday, June 16, 2011

YEONGDOUNGPO-GU: 04 - Wish Upon a Tower

There is an island in the middle of the Han River dubbed as Korea’s Wall Street and is said to be one of the most affluent regions in Seoul. There you would find the offices of Korean TV Network Giants MBC and KBS. There also is a tower that goes by the alias “63 Building”, which houses the highest art gallery in the world. I went there for that tower, and I got lost in that island.

Looking at a map of Seoul you would see how small Yeouido seems to be. Don’t be fooled. Two stations of the Seoul Metro Line could be found here: Yeouido and Yeouinaru. All I could remember was that after my Jung-gu excursion I decided to hop on the Metro and go there to see this building that according to many had been popularized by that Korean Drama My Geol, which is a personal favorite. I couldn’t recall having seen the said building from the series given that it’s been years since I’ve last seen it, but still it piqued my curiosity so why not visit, right?

All I could see were buildings when I got out from the underground. If this building is as tall as they claim it to be then it should dwarf the others around it! But I can’t see such a tall building anywhere. Most of those in sight were almost of the same size. And so I walked. Perhaps due to its popularity as a landmark you could see road signs bearing its name and an arrow pointing to its direction. I saw a park with a futuristic looking bridge. I went there to rest for a while.

The name of the park is Hangang and it is located by the banks of the Han River. I think it surrounds the whole island in that you could tour its entirety and find yourself at the same spot after who knows how many hours. I did not test that theory, by the way. No thanks. I love the bridge because it looks so modern, and you could bring your bike up there because they have a special gutter to guide your bike as you climb the steps. It was all wandering around the city after that side trip.

The 63 Building is actually the headquarters of Korea Life Insurance. “63” refers to the 60 floors of the building above ground plus another three at the basement. On the 59th floor is an art gallery which doubles as an observation deck. People don’t really go there for art’s sake. They come for the view, which is awesome by the way. Bring a 500-won coin with you to use the binoculars they have up there. Are those even called “binoculars”? Whatever. Anyway the view is nice and they also have information about the scenes on various stands around the floor. The elevator trip takes more than a minute and at night it is said that there are special elevators meant for couples to enjoy an exclusive one-minute ride. Wonderful view of Seoul as you go up!

There is a “wishing wall” next to the cafeteria where you can post a wish and it would come true, at least according to them. Well they better get ready to shed a few million won for me because my wish doesn’t come cheap. Hahaha. I wrote it in Tagalog, and for that I fear that they might remove it because they might think I wrote something vulgar. Most of the wishes there are written in Hangul, but I saw one in Russian, which gave me more reason to write mine in Tagalog, haha. Anyway if you see a Tagalog wish there stating a desire to study Korean at SNU for three weeks (but one year would be better), that wish is mine. My online handle is there anyway so it will be pretty obvious. No, my dears, wishes don’t come for free. You have to pay 3,000 won for the orange star. It does come with a Hershey’s Bar though. Your sweet tooth be damned in the name of one wish.

It took me half an hour wandering around that island to find a way back to the guest house. At last I found the other subway station after passing by the MBC office. I don’t know a lot of Korean stars so I am not sure if I saw one, although even the security guard did look like a TV personality. Someone needs to review his Korean Pop Culture, hehehe.

YEONGDOUNGPO-GU: 04 - Wish Upon a Tower

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

JUNG-GU: 04 - The Tower and the Palace

The N-Seoul Tower a.k.a. the Namsan Tower is probably the most famous in Korea despite the existence of other more interesting rivals such as the Jongno Tower or the 63 Building in Yeouido. However, although the last two might both have their own gimmicks to lure tourists in, Namsan actually has more tricks up her sleeves: a Teddy Bear Museum, a veranda full of “love locks”, an observatory, and a revolving restaurant. Oops, I forgot the cable car. The two skyscrapers suddenly became boring.

The tower was very accessible for me because all my accommodations were located within Jongno-gu, particularly in the Myeongdong area. I only had to walk to reach the elevator going up the hill to the cable car station. Still, I reserved the tower within the last few days of my stay. It’s weird like that, how one place so near has to be visited last. The important thing was I was able to visit it, although I limited myself to just some of its features, or perhaps just one: the Observatory.

I paid 9,000 won for the admission to that observatory, which was as much as you would pay for an admission ticket for a movie. A tandem ticket for the Teddy Bear Museum is available for 14,000 won, I think. I wasn’t able to memorize the prices, okay. Sorry, just human. I decided to no longer visit the said museum because from my experience at the Lotte Folk Museum and at the National Folk Museum of Korea, DIY museum tours take a lot of time, especially for people who are very keen to details. It was already late when I arrived at the tower via cable car, and I was very sleepy. What if I fell asleep there? It would have been awkward since I don’t look like a Teddy Bear at all.

The observatory was crowded with people. I actually enjoyed the elevator ride better. Why? Since a lot of tourists flock there you have to wait for your turn at the elevator. Perhaps anticipating this scenario, whoever built those elevators decided to include a visual show for you to enjoy, just weird images of comets zooming, a group of squares disintegrating, and a lot more abstract concepts turned into colorful visual effects. And that’s just the elevator door. Once inside the roof would give you a heart attack because it suddenly erupts into an array of colors, again with various colorful displays.

The observatory is small and on the walls you would see names of locations. I guess what this means is that if you look straight with a powerful telescope you would be staring directly at the said destinations. I took a picture of the portion of the glass wall saying, “Manila, Philippines” of course, but all I could see outside were tiny dots of light coming from urban Seoul below. At the center are various souvenir items that are obviously overpriced. Go splurge.

One floor down is a wall filled with square wooden tiles with messages of undying love and admiration from various tourists. Some of them express their grief for not being able to do the trip with someone they left back home. Some shower Seoul with well-deserved raves. Take your pick. Some even have drawings. Well you would have to buy the wooden tiles. You really thought they were for free? Naive much? You take the elevator down from there, and then you either go to the Teddy Bear Museum or eat very expensive steak on the topmost floor so you could experience eating in a revolving restaurant with a splendid view of Seoul’s skyline after dark. Obviously I didn’t do that. Who am I, Bill Gates? Instead I went back to the lobby and saw a flight of stairs behind the ticket booth. I followed the path and it led to a balcony whose railings could no longer be seen because of the locks locked on them. Padlocks.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the popular story regarding the tower that you often hear about. Lock a padlock at Namsan Tower and you are guaranteed eternal love. If it doesn’t, could I get a refund? I no longer bothered buying an unnecessarily expensive padlock from the souvenir store, not because I’m a cheapskate but because there is no one to offer the lock to. Or maybe both. Fvck whoever it was who thought of this pesky gimmick. I’m not bitter! I’m not bitter! I’m not bitter! Hahahahaha.

There is an oddly placed pavilion next to the tower by the way, used by many as a resting place before riding the cable car back down to the city. Seoul is really proving to be a city of contrasts, huh. There are various restaurants cum bars within the vicinity. I’d bet they are also overpriced.  Well nobody said that being a tourist comes cheap, being a traveler maybe. Anyway let’s leave the tower alone for now and let me introduce you to one palace that went astray in another district, the Deoksugung.

“-gung” already means “Palace” so saying “Deoksugung Palace” would be like saying “Deoksu Palace Palace.” You know, not that different from people saying “TIN Number” or “ATM Machine”. Funny. Haha. Hahaha. As always, I digress. Haha. Back to topic! Deoksu Palace Palace is rather small, but this is mainly because most of the area it used to cover has fallen victim to the urban sprawl around it. There are considerably fewer palaces and two modern looking buildings inside, one of which has something to do with American Art. Yes, separate entrance fee.

The palace is pretty good-looking as a park and I enjoyed just sitting there on one of the benches while watching the people do their thing. I forgot that there is also some sort of party venue used for events nowadays. At least it still serves its purpose because according to the info stand the said “pavilion” has always been used to entertain guests and hold functions even before.

Cross the street from Deoksugung and you’d find yourself in a huge patch of green grass with a stage and an ongoing construction in front of it. That building being renovated is the namesake of the Metro station you find in front of the palace. Yes, the Seoul City Hall. The grassy area is aptly called the Seoul Plaza. A lot of skyscrapers surround them, by the way. Head south from there and you end up in yet another ongoing construction: The Namdaemun Gate. The said gate is a victim of an arson attack from some random Korean citizen who decided to take out his frustrations over the government on the helpless gate. Hmmm, someone’s confusing nation for state.

Across the gate is the Namdaemun Market, which is pretty much like Divisoria except that you could eat Kimchi from some random stall and then buy winter clothes made of faux fur from another. Shopping is not my thing so I only passed by the said market en route to the nearest Metro station. Myeongdong Cathedral is also located in Jung-gu’s Myeongdong area but I never visited it despite staying there for almost a week, haha.

JUNG-GU: 04 - The Tower and the Palace

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