Happy New Year, Happy 2018…

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year!🥂🎉

May all your dreams and aspirations in 2018 come true. My wish is that I could be more active in updating my travel blog. That I could write and share my travels and some other interesting things in cyberspace.

For the past three years, I welcomed the new year in a place I don’t call my home. The first two was in Japan and now I’m in the neighboring country, South Korea. They had an amazing fireworks and LED show in Lotte World Tower that we watched ftom the sidewalk. It was freezing but we braved the cold just to witness how the Koreans welcome the new year.

My tips if you are planning to experience seeing their fireworks display:

1. Bundled up especially if you aren’t used to the cold weather. Temperature drop is common in the middle of the night.

2. Eat your dinner on or before 8 p.m. Most restaurants in the area closed early.

3. Stay inside the mall while waiting to escape the cold. Lotte Mart is open and you can do some shopping if you like.

4. If you’re saving money and taking the train, buy the return ticket before you go out of the train station.

5. After the fireworks, rush to the nearest train station. The crowd is huge with all the Koreans and foreigners catching the late night train. Train will run until 1:35 a.m.

It was an experience to board the Seoul Metro earlier today with the mob of people trying to get in. It was wild but had fun even if we were squeezed silly. If you don’t want that kind of thing, you can probably take the bus or taxi back to your accommodations. If you have young children with you, I advise you take a taxi!

xoxo,

the traveling KANGaroo

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Travel Tips for Tokyo…

I have shared Japan travel tips in a previous post but let me add some more from our last trip to Tokyo in December. First stop was always the grocery since we need food supplies to fill up the refrigerator in the apartment we rented through Airbnb (www.airbnb.com). Remember, we are budget travelers and therefore cost efficiency is important. 😄

Tip: Prior to booking, make sure the place is near a grocery store. Some items are cheaper and choices are better than the convenience store.

Grocery store Comodi-IIda


Store entrance below street level

Mini Grocery in front of the apartment


Tip: Near closing time some of the meals are already discounted up to 50% off.  Grab some to eat at your rented place or hotel. 

Maki Sushi Plates at the Grocery Store


Different Kinds of Tea


You can find different kinds of Japanese green tea at the grocery store. I always buy a box or more to give away to relatives and friends. It’s always a gift that they appreciate. I personally liked the roasted green tea. 

Tip: Choose your location wisely. Always research before you book and ask the landlord about the area 😊 Is it quiet and safe? Near the train station?

We got an apartment in Bunkyo area which is a quiet part of Metropolitan Tokyo. The train station is 3 to 5 minutes away. There’s a shrine nearby and the Shin-edogawa Park is walking distance. Restaurants and food places are aplenty. The Catholic church is also a 10 minute walk away.

Winter time view while walking towards the park


The winter view at the park


Tip: Prior to finalizing your booking, check out the area for restaurants or food markets. What we did was to use google earth to view the area. Bunkyo had good restaurants near the train station street level exits.

Tempura Place

Ramen and Gyoza Place


The go to food place 😄 Yoshinoya!


Japanese Curry House


Korean Burger Joint Lotteria


Fast food are always a happy sight for when you’re weary and tired from walking around Metropolitan Tokyo. Especially if you’re with family with growing kids who seem to be always hungry! 😄

Tip: Drop by the convenience stores like Lawson, Family Mart, 7-11. They do have instant meals that they can heat for you. Kids love the chicken kaarage that can fill their little tummy plus it’s affordable. 

Chicken Kaarage at a convenience store


You will not get hungry anywhere in Japan. For as long as there’s a convenience store! You will not get thirsty either for there are numerous vendo machines! Plus some even offered chips and sandwiches. 

Japanese Custard Cake Stall


A must try Takoyaki in Akiba area


Don’t hesitate to try out the street food stalls selling snacks like Japanese Custard Cakes. It’s a favorite of my kids and filled their tummy while walking around. Aside from the Takoyaki, of course. 😄



xoxo,

the traveling KANGaroo

Japan! Japan!…

Japan is now becoming the most popular destination for tourists from my mother land, Philippines. Previously I think it was Hong Kong and I too was a visitor numerous times in that place. Back when the exchange rate was low that you can shop til you drop and there were no tensions yet between our country and China. Now, Hong Kong is just a memory. Not in the travel destination list anymore. Most people when ask where they want to go will say: Japan! Japan!… 

I can honestly say that going to Japan is better for Filipino tourists. Not only because it’s the new “in” destination and you also want to have a photo in Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, Osaka, Kyoto or as far away as Sapporo. But basically it’s the culture immersion that I think is much more important. We can definitely learn a lot from the Japanese people. From their inventions to their polite ways. I probably had faux pas during our trips there and maybe made the Japanese secretly cringe. But their politeness ruled and I got away with it. Sorry about that. Ha!ha!

Our latest Japan visit was winter time. I think I should also go during summer time as it’s the only season I haven’t been to yet. I should complete all the seasons and see which is the best one. So far, it’s still Autumn time for me because I love the “bearable” cold weather and the colour of the leaves. I know some will prefer Spring time with Sakura in full bloom. While others say Summer time is better because it’s warm and you can wear pretty outfits. Whatever you prefer, let’s all try to visit all the seasons if we can. Anyway, there are a lot of things to do there and exploring is fun!

During our recent Osaka trip, we decided to rent and stay in an apartment through AirBnB (www.airbnb.com) which was hosted by Genesis Ltd. It was near Namba area (3 Chome-3-36 Ebisunishi, Naniwa Ward) and the train station (Ebisucho Station) going to the city and to/from the airport was just a mere 3 minutes walk. The area where we stayed had one of my favourite discount store “Don Quijote” (www.donki.com) nearby. The apartment had 4 bedrooms, dining and living rooms. Of course, the rooms aren’t that big but 11 people were definitely comfortable. We saved money on food since we bought from the grocery store and cooked meals. Plus, the bonding time was great because the dining table and living area was the preferred hang out place for everyone. The downside with the accommodation was that the toilet is located outside, in the landing between the floors. I guess it’s easier for the host to clean it and for security purposes also since they don’t need to go inside the apartment anymore. Still, I prefer a toilet inside the apartment if possible! Must take note of that next time we decided to stay again using AirBnB. Overall, the stay was pleasant. The host was accommodating and can easily be contacted for minor issues during the stay like the wi-fi connection problem. We stayed for 7 nights and was billed 2,199 Euro or approximately USD 2,482 (PHP 114K) at the current exchange rate. Accommodations in Japan are expensive especially during peak season so I guess it was a good deal. If we stayed in a hotel, we will pay more as we need to book at least 5 rooms. It was also booked ahead of time. Like 6 months in advance so imagine the cost if we booked it a few weeks before our trip. 

A few tips when staying in a Condotel or Apartment for rent:

  1. Don’t forget to research for the nearest grocery store in the area. If none, a good convenience store will do which is really aplenty in Japan like Lawson and 7-11. A bit expensive than a grocery store for items such as water, drinks, bread but they do sell ready to eat food too. 
  2. Although shampoo and bath gel are provided, don’t forget to bring your own toilet essentials. If not, the nearest convenience store can help.
  3. Before you book for your accommodation, ask questions first. Is it near the train station? If not, what is the recommended mode of transportation. You can also google the place to check it out before you finalise everything. Having a place (be it a hotel or apartment) near a train station really helps a lot. Unless of course, you can afford to take the taxi. If you’re a big family or group, better take the train!
  4. Check out the food places in the area. We were happy to see my children’s favorite affordable restaurant “Ohsho”  nearby and it was the first stop for hungry tummies on the day we arrived. The gyoza is a must!
Osho

Gyoza no Ohsho Restaurant

We were near the Tennoji area. And if you opt to explore that way, you will be able to see and visit Abeno Harukas which is the tallest building in Japan at the time of our visit. It housed the Kintetsu Department Store which is huge. When you visit on New Year’s day then you might want to grab some lucky bags from any store you fancy in Japan! Who knows you might be lucky and get something of great value for less.

 There’s also the Shinsekai area which we passed by on our way to explore Nipponbashi DenDen town and Namba Parks. It’s an entertainment district and is vibrant at night. Although, there were a lot of people too during the day. 

In our previous Osaka visit, DenDen town was a favourite. And it was still a place we dropped by for the young and the young at heart to indulge. Don’t forget to browse and explore the items in some of the shops if you visit. Sometimes they sell stuff at bargain prices. Although shopping is no longer tax free unlike previous visits, you can get a tax refund for purchased items with a total of Y10,ooo and above. 

We were very laid back this trip and wasn’t in a hurry to go from one place to another. Surprisingly, the winter weather wasn’t what we prepared for and expected. It was actually not so bad. We hardly use our thermals except for when we went to Mt. Rokko in Kobe. Probably due to the global warming or El Nino Phenomenon which is affecting the planet. 

Namba Parks (www.nambaparks.com) at night was nice. The lights were so pretty with their Super Flower Illumination. Visiting Japan after Christmas and until New Year’s day celebration was not so bad after all.

One of the favourite of my little one was the Japanese cakes. And this trip we found some tummy delights we haven’t tasted before. Pablo is definitely a popular one but you can find stalls that sell yummy cakes when you keep looking around. There’s this shop in Namba near Takashimaya named Penguin and they sell the yummiest Japanese cakes according to my 10 year old. It was her favourite from a previous trip and probably she’s right because it was always sold out. During our winter visit we went several times to the store but wasn’t able to purchase. Maybe wrong timing of the day. The little one was disappointed but good thing we found some more stalls that compensated for her Japanese cake craving.

There’s a popular store that sells pork buns and dimsum that have stalls in some train stations named 551 Horai (www.551horai.co.jp) and it’s good. Don’t compare with Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong or Din Tai Fung from Taiwan. Just give it a try when in Japan. The line is long sometimes though.

If you are by chance in Japan now or planning a visit for the first time, enjoy the place! Next time, I will post stories of other places we visited during our trip. 

xoxo,

the traveling KANGaroo

 

When in Busan…

After visiting laid back Changwon, the last stop was to spend a day in Busan, South Korea before we took a flight back to good ‘ol sunny Philippines. As with most of our travels, walking in the city is the preferred choice to do some sightseeing. But this trip was an exception. We took a lot of taxi and train rides. It wasn’t that expensive and it’s very convenient. The taxis have colored GPS route maps and complete with building photo location. Amazing! And I was impressed with Waze already. 😅 

South Korea has one if not the fastest internet connection in the planet. You will not get lost if you have a pocket wifi or if you bought a data sim to be used during your trip. Of course, the lost in translation part of the trip will still be there. Some people knows how to speak and understand English but not all. My country is home away from home to many Koreans studying English. Aside from our good command of the language they probably decided to study in the Philippines because of the generally good weather all year round and the cheap fees to play golf in the country. 😄

What to do when in Busan? Here’s some of the places we visited: 

1. Haeundae Beach – although the sun was up, the water was cold. Must be nice during their summer season but definitely not during Autumn. Just nice for some sun bathing during the cold season if the sun is out and you can bear the cold wind. 😅 I wonder if the sunset view is also nice. 

Haeundae Beach

Beach View


2. Busan Tower in Yongdusan Park– a nice tourist spot to have a city view of Busan. A bit of an uphill climb which is good for the heart. The garden is very nice and obviously well maintained. Plus they have the “love locks” to make the visit a little bit more fun. You can buy the lock & key at the kiosk. I can’t remember how much it was but it’s not expensive. Or, you can bring your own. ❤️

Busan Tower


Love Locks in Busan Tower

3. Shopping Areas – no trip should end without checking out what the city has to offer. Be it souvenirs, home or fashion stuff. You can buy if there’s some shopping money allocated. Or one can just window shop and drool. 😜

  • Gwangbok-Dong shopping street in Busan where you can window shop or actually shop Korean fashion apparel from bags, clothes to socks. I wanted to buy Bean Pole but found out it’s a bit expensive. There are stores of international brands too. I had to restrain myself from shopping too much but still went home with some loots from this place!

Gwangbok-Dong Shopping Stree

  • Somyeon Underground Shopping where you can also buy lots of stuff from clothes, shoes and trinkets. A good place to shop especially when it’s too cold. And it’s convenient for commuters. Got some thick sweaters for only KRW 4,000 or approximately PHP 150 since we were planning to go to Japan in the winter. A story that is yet to be posted! Good buys are aplenty in this underground shopping haven. Too bad, no time during my visit as we went to check it out just as stores were getting ready to call it a day. But no problem because my wallet remained happy and still fat. Ha!ha!ha!

IMG_4069

  • Jagalchi Market which I viewed from afar since we lacked time to further explore. Maybe on the next visit, we can spend some time in this place. To try the food and check out the market stalls.

Version 2

During our visit it was the BIFF (Busan International Film Festival) but I didn’t see one Korean actor or actress. How I wish I had the time to just stay in the BIFF square area to try to get a glimpse of Korean celebrity. Wishful thinking. Maybe a trip to Seoul to stalk Korean K-Pop and Actors in the future! 

DSCF7959

One of the places my travel buddy wanted to try was the “famous” Korean resto Mr. Pizza. Wish granted! We had to google the nearest one in the area and looked for it even if there were a number of good restos around. Ha!ha!

DSCF7952

Tips:

  • Try the street food if you think your stomach can handle it.
  • Look out for some super bargains in the sidewalks or stalls, there are a lot!
  • Ride the bus to the airport instead of taking a taxi. You will save a lot of money plus you can have a little bit of city tour since the bus will stop at some of the other hotels to pick up passengers. And therefore you can see this view.

DSCF7966

  • In the train station, there’s a place that sells very good croquettes. You can see the long line of Koreans and tourists. Buy some and you won’t regret it. Can you see my fingers itching to pick  one of the yummy goodness? 

DSCF7819

When you do visit Busan, I hope you will enjoy it as much as I “unexpectedly” did too! Previously, South Korea is not in our list of travel destinations. But the experience of our short visit somehow changed it. There are many things to enjoy and explore. So, I am looking forward to a “Seoul Searching” in the near future!

xoxo,

the traveling KANGaroo

Flying the Friendly Skies…

Whenever there is a chance to travel, no one will probably say no to it unless the person has a fear of traveling (hodophobia) or fear of flying (Pteromerhanophobia). Nowadays a lot of people are exploring the world and beyond or dreaming about going around the world. I am one of them.. the dreamer! 🙂

Not totally a dreamer because I do travel from time to time as it has always been my favorite thing to do. Be it road trips around my country or flying from one destination to another. I just wish that I can do it all the time without thinking of the cost. Now, that’s the dreaming part.

So back in 2013 when our local carrier Philippine Airlines offered a very good deal to travel to London for only US$ 830 all-in and in business class, I wasn’t able to resist the temptation! I did not waste time and bought tickets for me and my travel buddy then worried about paying it later. LOL 😛 Good thing it was near to the time when Christmas bonuses were given so the worrying immediately ended with funds around the corner. 🙂 It was my “once in a blue moon” to travel in business class and it was totally worth it. Rich people probably take it for granted but for the ordinary, business or first class travel is definitely a treat!

I am one of those people who are constantly on a budget when traveling. I seek and find good deals whether it’s the airline, hotel or simply shopping for something that is usually under the “want” and not the “need” list. Although there are a lot of good airlines to choose from including budget ones, I still prefer to travel with our national carrier Philippine Airlines whether domestic or international (if they fly to my destination). It’s not because I’m being nationalistic but I just felt safer and it’s also a plus that they are the only airline in NAIA Terminal 2. Even if PAL’s meaning to some is “Plane Always Late”, it does not deter me from flying with them because they also offer good deals aside from their direct long haul flights. Check them out at: http://www.philippineairlines.com

Me and my family also travel using other airlines. Here’s some of those that we’ve used in the past:

1. Singapore Airlines http://www.singaporeair.com – a bit pricey but the service is excellent. The leg room even in the economy section is good.

2. Cathay Pacific http://www.cathaypacific.com – friendly crew and food is good. They also offer promo fares sometimes. The drawback is that you have to spend a bit of lay over time in the airport (Hong Kong) like most other airlines that do not offer direct flights.

3. Virgin America http://www.virginamerica.com – budget airline and it’s value for money when traveling in the US specifically LA to NY. I love the effects of the lights inside the cabin. It’s like I was in a club. 🙂 Plus you can just swipe your credit card to buy drinks! 🙂

4. Jetstar Airways http://www.jetstar.com – so many cheap fares. Nice for short flights like Manila to Osaka/Tokyo but for longer ones, I’ve no idea because they don’t have free food and what’s available for purchase is not so appetizing.

5. Cebu Pacific Air http://www.cebupacificair.com – there’s usually something for the common Juan (John) because this budget airline always have promo fares. If you are really good in seeking, you can get One Peso Fare (excluding fuel surcharge and tax). Just book for flights that does not fall on a weekend. But, I’ll probably refrain from using this airline for international travel because of a previous unfortunate incident that I encountered. It’s okay for domestic travel though.

6. Air Asia http://www.airasia.com – budget airline that’s also quite good. I was able to fly with them going to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and it was okay.

Anyway, whatever airline or how you travel will depend on your preference and your budget. I do suggest reading about the airline’s history first before booking that flight. I’m a bit paranoid about safety and usually pray very hard for a safe flight everytime I’m in an airplane. Talk about paranoia. Ha!ha!ha!

xoxo,

the traveling KANGaroo

Exploring Kyoto…

Kyoto is one of the top tourist destination in Japan. There are so many tourists visiting the place. I’ve been there twice and each time was almost the same. We still can’t sit on the bus because most of the time it was standing room only. The shrines were crowded especially the popular Kiyomizu-dera Shrine. But with all of that, it is still one of my favorite destination in this country.

Here’s some tips:

1.If you are visiting from nearby Osaka, it’s best if you travel to Kyoto early. The JR Rapid line takes about 35-40 minutes to get to Kyoto from Osaka.  It can get crowded in the trains and bus if you decide to leave late.

2. If you are on a day trip in Kyoto, I suggest you buy the hop on hop off bus ticket. It’s value for money and it can get you from one shrine to another. Just don’t mind standing as the bus is always full. Cost about 600 yen (adult) and 300 yen (child)

3. I suggest you visit Kiyomizu-Dera Temple first. It’s quite a long uphill walk from the bus stop to the shrine. There’s an entrance fee of about 300 yen. This place is popular and very nice during Spring as you can see some Cherry Blossom trees in full bloom. In Autumn, it is also very picturesque because the leaves are colorful.

Kiyomizu-Dera Temple

4. On your way down from Kiyomizu-Dera shrine, you will pass by the stores selling souvenirs and Japanese food. Don’t be shy to eat the samples. Grab some and drink the free tea. It will fill your tummy after all the hiking. Ha!ha!

5. Souvenirs like Japanese dolls are affordable in Kyoto. Just explore and check the stores selling the cheapest one. I got mine at the bottom area. I saved about 1,000 yen. The shops in the upper area tend to be more expensive. Explore the place and you’ll even see the Totoro shop inside one of the stores. My kids and their cousins were overjoyed to see so many cute stuff. 🙂

Totoro

6. Visit as many shrines as you can in Kyoto. Gion Shrine is also a nice one to visit. From there, you can walk to the Geisha District.

7. If you want to catch some geisha, you have to go to the Geisha District in Gion, Kyoto. Usually it’s dusk to night time that you can catch a glimpse of them alighting from a car and going inside one of the many dining places. It’s a bit expensive to dine in this area though. Also, as a tourist you have to act respectfully and take pictures discreetly.

8. If you want to experience the Shinkansen or the bullet train, I suggest you try it from Kyoto to Osaka. There’s a Shin-station in Kyoto. An expensive 10 minute train ride but totally worth it just for the experience of riding one. 🙂  In 2008, we paid about 1,200 yen per person and we were standing the whole time!

Shinkansen in Kyoto Station

Shinkansen in Kyoto Station

9. There are many dining places in Kyoto. But we were a large group and getting seats in a Japanese restaurant was quite hard. We ended up eating in our fave Ohsho restaurant near Gion Shrine. Kids also can’t get enough of the vending machines and the over the counter food at Lawson’s which made them full all the time. I can’t say the same for the adults though. 🙂

10. Kyoto station is huge and is a major transportation hub in Japan. If you want to go shopping on the way home, an Isetan department store is housed there. There’s also Yodobashi near the station that you can go to.

Explore, Enjoy, Experience. Then you’ll have many stories to tell and share. I hope you enjoy your trip as much as we did.

xoxo,

the traveling KANGaroo

The Wanderer in Osaka…

The reason why I fell in love with Japan is maybe because of Osaka and Kyoto. I’m glad I first set foot here instead of Metropolitan Tokyo. Don’t get me wrong for all of you Tokyo lovers. I appreciate Tokyo but will not tire of going back to Osaka. 🙂 Although, I am hoping to go to Hokkaido on my next trip sometime in the future. I would love to explore all of Japan hopefully before I get an arthritis. Ha!ha!

Anyway, I’d like to retrace some of the foot prints I’ve made in Osaka with this post. Hopefully it will help you or give you an idea of “touristy” places that might be interesting to visit or explore.

First is Osaka Castle. We took the JR Railway train to get to this place. Wear comfortable footwear as you will walk for about 15-20 minutes from the train station to the castle itself. Walking is good for our health and in this country I practiced walking for miles. I didn’t mind because it’s cold anyway during the times that I visited. I have no idea how it is during summer though!

Osakajokoen Station

Osakajokoen Station

View from the distance of Osaka Castle during Autumn

View from the distance of Osaka Castle during Autumn

View from the top floor of Osaka Castle

View from the top floor of Osaka Castle during Autumn

Osaka Castle from afar during Spring

Osaka Castle from afar during Spring

Osaka Castle during Spring

Osaka Castle during Spring

Autumn will bring you colorful leaves which I really like but Spring time will let you see the Cherry Blossoms which is abundant in this area. Usually it’s early April and will only be for a short time. There’s an entrance fee of about Y600 (adult) if you decide to go inside the castle and if I remember it correctly, kids go in for free.

Before the one in Singapore was built, there’s Universal Studios Japan which was the first one in Asia. I don’t know if they’ve updated it already to cater to English speaking tourist but when we went there before it was a lost in translation kind of day. But we loved it because it has the E.T. Adventure, Jaws, Jurassic Park and Back to the Future rides! The Hollywood Dream ride is also cool plus they also have the Waterworld show. It’s different from the one in America and something new to experience so if you are up to it, go and visit. Try to be an early bird though so you can experience all the rides! Check out their entrance ticket fee and new offerings at this site: http://www.usj.co.jp/e/

Even if you’ve been to other theme parks, you’ll still enjoy this one. We did because Spiderman speaks Japanese! 🙂

People young and old appreciates Den-Den Town! I was so amazed at the volume of the toys being sold in this area. Tall buildings side by side selling toys. We didn’t go home empty handed and even the hubby bought a toy that until now he has yet to start building. Ha!ha! My kids were in heaven and couldn’t get enough. And as usual, I was there to police every purchase that can or cannot be bought. There’s always a budget in every trip and we should stick to it.

 Grab some Takoyaki at Dotonbori area. One of the popular tourist spot in Osaka. It’s lively and there are a  lot of stores and restaurants in this area. I enjoyed watching all the people, locals and fellow tourist in this very busy place.

That’s all for now. Hope the foot prints you’ll make in Osaka will be as enjoyable and memorable as mine. 🙂

xoxo,

the traveling KANGaroo