Taiwan seems to be high on the list of most Filipino travelers right now, and for good reason.
It’s only a couple of hours away, and with low cost carriers flying the Manila – Taipei route daily and visa-free entry* (please check first if you’re eligible), it’s the perfect weekend getaway.
And did I mention it’s pretty affordable too? We spent a little over Php10,000.00 (USD200.00) each (exclusive of shopping/souvenirs), and this wasn’t even a budget trip. I traveled with senior citizens so comfort and convenience were priority.
Visiting our East Asian neighbors have been a lot easier for Filipinos in the recent years with the relaxation on visa applications.
Sure, Japan and South Korea are now lenient, but Taiwan even made it easy as pie under certain conditions.
Citizens of India, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos possessing a resident card, valid entry visa, or visa that has expired less than 10 years prior to arrival to Taiwan from any of the following countries: Australia, Canada, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, any of the Schengen countries, UK, or the United States are eligible for an (ROC) Taiwan Travel Authorization Certificate. The visas mentioned does not include work permits.
When it comes to Southeast Asia, there is so much choice to pick from in terms of countries. Obviously, you want to visit every single country because Asia is, well, Asia is Asia! But, for some, that isn’t possible. Not everyone can swan off for a year and take in the sights, sounds and tastes you know. If you are apart of this unlucky category, don’t worry because there is always a solution. In this case, the solution is to choose one country and go back to do the rest later in life. So, which one do you choose and why? The answer is Singapore and the why is spelled out below.
I think everyone will agree when I say that 2016 is one of those years that we all want to forget because of all the crazy sh*t that happened in this world.
Personally, my year didn’t start off right when I spent the second week of January confined in the hospital for 4 days for facial cellulitis. Ironically, it’s also when I found out I got the big project I was waiting for which kept me busy the whole month of February.
In March, my mom and I went back to Hong Kong and Macau where we enjoyed 13-degree weather even though it was already supposed to be spring.
We went back to Disneyland, the happiest place in the world, but skipped the other tourist sites. It was the first time in 4 years that we traveled again after her second breast cancer ordeal, so I wanted the trip to be as relaxed as possible.
Unfortunately, weather wasn’t on our side on our way to Macau. The fog was so thick there was zero visibility. We were stuck at sea for about an hour before we were allowed to dock at the ferry terminal.
Similarly, our flight to Manila the next day was cancelled because of the fog.
Within 24 hours, we went from sleeping in a 5-star hotel to sleeping on the floor of Macau International Airport. But my mom was such a trooper. I’m so proud of her. 😀
April and May were months of canceled trips to Palawan and Cebu, respectively, but at least we still got to squeeze in a little family outing at South Forbes before summer ended.
June to September was crazy! I had to juggle a full-time job and 4 side projects because I decided, you know what, it’s high time I go to Europe! Work hard, travel harder, ika nga!
I honestly didn’t keep my hopes high of getting a Schengen visa, but I guess the travel gods love me after all. haha I couldn’t believe I’m finally going to fulfill a childhood dream!
This Euro trip was the second time I traveled solo. Sure, I feel resfeber prior to embarking on one, but I never feel alone, lonely or afraid when I’m already on the road by myself.
Anyway, my first stop was Prague, the capital of Czech Republic.
I couldn’t have picked a better jumping-off point. I was totally smitten! It was everything I imagined Europe to be (and more).
The city is brimming with beautiful structures, lively squares, and each neighborhood has so much history the world know so little of.
And did I mention it’s pretty affordable too?
Next stop was Vienna, Austria.
I tried to soak in some culture, so I joined a guided tour of the Schönbrunn Palace.
More than the impressive rooms of the palace, I learned a lot about the House of Habsburg – one of the most powerful royal houses of Europe of their time. I’m not even a museum kind of girl, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
Also met Vins and Yosh of The Poor Traveler because we coincidentally stayed at the same hostel!
After a few days of gloomy weather, Mr. Sun finally came out when I went to Salzburg.
I didn’t have any expectations of Salzburg. All I know prior to going there was it’s Mozart’s hometown and where they filmed The Sound of Music. But man, Salzburg is gorgeous! I actually regret that I only stayed there for 2 nights.
Still, I’m grateful I got to visit one of my top dream destinations – Hallstatt! It still makes me giddy just thinking about it.
I spent a night in Zurich just to break the journey, and went to Interlaken the following day.
On the train to Interlaken, I met two Pinay nurses who work in Saudi Arabia who were also traveling around Europe. We planned on going to Grindelwald and Lauterbrunnen together the next day, but we didn’t see each other at the Interlaken Ost Station at the time we agreed and the train was about to leave, so I hopped on without them.
It rained the whole time I was in Switzerland, but that didn’t stop me from exploring. I think it even made me a pluviophile (at least while I was there).
Swiss people are some of the jolliest and nicest people I’ve met. Good vibes lang sila lagi!
Yes, Switzerland is ridiculously expensive, but it’s worth every damn centavo IMO.
Finally, I spent the last leg of my Euro trip in Italy.
My first stop was Florence – capital of the Tuscan Region, and often referred to as the cradle of the Renaissance.
Florence and I started on the wrong foot when a bus inspector tried to extort €50 from me, so we had an altercation. I demanded to be taken to the police station to which he sheepishly said “No. No. No polizia.” He must have been bummed I didn’t fall for his modus operandi. Laking third world ‘to, huy!
As a result, I missed the earlier train I was trying to catch so that I could go to both Pisa and Cinque Terre on the same day. Oh well!
Another item ticked off my bucket list was Cinque Terre – the 5 colorful fishing villages along the Italian Riviera.
It was crowded, as expected, but tolerable.
Of course I didn’t pass up the chance to eat the quintessential seafood spaghetti in Vernazza while watching people frolic in the beach.
Finally, no trip to Italy is complete without going to the eternal city of Rome!
I love how most of Rome’s famous landmarks are kind of close to each other, but man, I’ve never seen as many tourist per attraction as in Rome. It was crazy! Hindi uso off season sa Rome, bes. Eternal city kaya eternal rin ang pila. hahaha Even thoughI bought my tickets to the Colosseum and to the Vatican Museum & Sistine Chapel online, I still had to line up to go inside.
And the food…oh my goodness, Italian food! Grazie mille for contributing to my ever expanding waistline. LOL If you’ve seen Eat Pray Love, the part where Julia Roberts had to buy a new pair of jeans just because she couldn’t fit in her old ones anymore, yup, pretty much the story of my life. haha
So that’s it! That pretty much sums up my 2016.
I’ve been vitamin sea-deficient this year, so I’ll probably focus more on beach trips and local destinations next year. I also hope to explore more of East Asia.
Happy Holidays, everyone! See you on the road and cheers to more adventures! 😀
This is my contribution to the Pinoy Travel Bloggers’ 2016 Year End Blog Carnival. The compilation will be hosted by Mervin of Pinoy Adventurista.
I received a call from a BPI sales rep back in May saying that I am pre-qualified for a BPI Gold card. I immediately declined the offer because credit card = debt. She gave me an email address where I can reach them in case I change my mind, but I wasn’t paying attention and did not bother writing it down.
For some strange reason, I had an urge to check out the card’s features as soon as we ended the call, and I saw their Imagine Your Korea promo. It says that BPI Gold cardholders will be entitled to a 3-year multiple entry Korean visa while BPI Platinum and Gold Express Teller Debit cardholders may be issued 3- or 5-year multiple entry visas. Additionally, said cardholders will be exempted from submitting financial documents (ITR and bank certificate).
So I did what any travel junkie would and frantically searched online for BPI sales’ email address. LOL Thanks to their responsive Twitter account handler, I got hold of the email address and was able to request a call back. I think my card arrived within a week from our correspondence.
Now, I could have applied a month after receiving my first statement of account, but I was so swamped with work.
When my schedule finally cleared up earlier this month, I decided to lodge our Korean visa application. I made a last-minute decision to include my mom in the application because why not? It’s free anyway, and you’re not even required to book tickets and accommodation. Totally risk-free!
Just to give you a brief background of our profile:
Me: 31 years old, single, self-employed, no OECD visa but traveled to 12 countries in the last 5 years
My mom: 61 years old, widow, unemployed, no OECD visa but traveled to 4 countries in the last 5 years Please take note that the requirements I’m going to list here only apply to self-employed individuals and, specifically, to BPI Gold cardholders.
When looking for accommodations in Thamel, Kathmandu, make sure you do your research well so you don’t end up in a ‘hotel’, which, really, is just a guesthouse, like we did. The first ‘hotel’ we stayed at doesn’t have a lift (and we were given a room on the 4th floor), doesn’t have an inverter air conditioner so we had to endure single digit temperature at night, we had to wait for 15 minutes (or more) for the hot shower to heat up, and breakfast takes forever to be served. It was unbearable I cannot wait to leave that place. haha
Anyway, on my remaining days in Kathmandu, I was very relieved when I stayed at Gaju Suites. It is conveniently located a few minutes away from Garden of Dreams, but far enough from the noisy and chaotic side of Thamel. There’s also plenty of restaurants, souvenir shops, ATM & foreign exchange close to the hotel.
The hotel is within a business center, and the lobby is at the ground floor while the rooms/suites are on the 3rd and 4th floors. The restaurant-bar, Reef, is at the 5th floor. The building has a small lift, so guests don’t have to worry about their heavy luggage. A staff also assists guests to the rooms.
I also appreciate that they have security guards at the building entrance, and at the 3rd and 4th floors.
I was given a modest sized Deluxe Room with modern amenities.
The first thing I noticed was the air conditioning unit. Hello, 25°C! I was still nursing a cold then, so the warm room temperature plus the comforter gave me a good night’s sleep.
“Please don’t do the acrobatics.” I told my pilot, Peter.
“We’ll see. Maybe you’ll like it when you’re up there.” he said.
This was our conversation before we walked closer to the edge of the cliff where he strapped the parachute cords onto my harness.
Picture-taking while waiting for our turn
Behind the scenes of paragliding in Pokhara
After securing everything, he said…
Peter: “You only need to do one thing, okay? Don’t jump. Don’t sit. Just run, okay?”
Peter: “Wait for my signal. When I say run, just run straight ahead.” He repeated.
We waited for a while for the clouds to clear up. The next thing I know, I could hear him saying “Run! Run! Run!”, and I ran as fast as I could to the edge of the cliff, and within seconds, my feet were no longer touching the ground.
Shortly after takeoff
It was such an incredible feeling. Even though it felt like it was just me and the elements, it didn’t feel scary at all.
I looked down at the tiny houses and winding roads. The rice terraces were various patches of green. Even though the Annapurna Range was elusive, I still got unobstructed views of Sarangkot Hill and Fewa Lake.
Joining the other paragliders
From our short conversation while we were up there, I found out that Peter used to be a builder for 20 years in Wales before finally deciding to be a tandem paragliding pilot in Nepal.
He said just like me, he was just a ‘passenger’ before. He loved the experience so much, and decided to train to become a pilot. He’s been doing this for 9 years now. He says he loves his job so much that he doesn’t mind going to ‘work’ on Mondays. 😉 Couldn’t argue with that.
I read in some blogs that pilots look for signs if the passenger is not feeling well, and maybe based on Peter’s observations, he saw that I was having fun that’s why he tricked me and did this…
Paragliding in Pokhara
WARNING: You might want to turn down the volume because I screamed like a 5-year old girl in this video LOL
I have to admit, I’m glad he did the acrobatics because I had so much fun even though I got scared a bit. haha
Happy to have landed safely 🙂
Some tips: Wear comfortable shoes with good ankle support (for landing), and just eat a light meal hours before the flight.
For NPR10,200 (USD103), the package included transfers to and from the jump-off point, the 30-minute flight, pictures and video taken with a GoPro, and oh, we also got this ‘certificate’: