The Vietnam Project: Hanoi Free Tour Guides

One big tip of knowing a particular place?

Converse with the locals, and from them, you’ll learn something quite different.

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Old Quarter

Anyway, are you familiar of this kind of program in which there are some organizations in Hanoi that gives free tours to its foreign visitors?

But the tour is not technically free. For you will be the one who will pay for its transportation, snacks/lunch/dinner, entrance fees, and other gratuities. All you have to do is book online, inform them of the list of places/sites that you wanted to see, and wait for some confirmation from them if there’s a vacant schedule for you.

My first choice was the Hanoi Kids Organization, but upon booking, I wasn’t able to have a slot for our requested schedule which was on the 3rd day.

So I’ve decided to change our bookings to the Hanoi Free Tour Guides. A similar organization from my first choice, but this time, these are being handled by some college students who wants to do this kind of thing in order for them to practice their English language.

The organization had assigned us to someone who majors in economics named Bui Duy Khanh. He’s very friendly, and his English is really good. And as our private tour, he’s also very informative of its background and history on every major site that we’ve visited.

But I only did have one major concern, and that is in all of our tours, we’ve mostly used a taxi as our mode of transportation. So it had taken a big part of our budget. Luckily, we’ve only consumed for about 80% of what I’ve already set aside for that day.

Well if you are the very thrifty type of traveler, I would definitely suggest the Hanoi Free Walking Tours.

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Maison Centrale/Hoa Lo Prison

So what is the advantage of doing this?

Well aside from the fact that we will able to help these younger generations to practice their English. The good thing about availing for this free tour is that each traveler will have the chance to learn from a local’s perspective about the history, the culture and the people of Vietnam. Which is something that you won’t get to experience if you’ll just decide to do the tour on your own now that the Google Map is very handy nowadays in terms of traveling or exploring an unfamiliar place.

 

For our first tour, it was the Maison Centrale, or mostly known as the Hoa Lo Prison. It’s the place where the Vietnamese that went against the government were imprisoned, and tortured during the French Occupation. While exploring, I almost vomited inside, and I ‘am so not joking when I tell you that I was feeling nauseated while going to every cell, and see in person the kind of place that for sure would really disturb its every visitors. It’s just that, the thought of how they were tortured in some ways beyond your imagination was so insanely hard to grasp, and to think of all the pain that these people had gone through during those tough times. It’s just so sad and at the same time insanely creepy.

We were there for almost two hours before we’ve headed off to our next destination which was the Temple of Literature.

 

The Temple of Literature is an ancient temple and the very first university that was built in Vietnam. A thousand years old building which was dedicated to Confucius, sages, and scholars.

It was a very hot and humid late morning, and as much as we were trying our best to really listen to our tour guides’ insights about the place. My sister and I were really beyond exhausted to keep up and felt so bad for him. But then at the same time, we felt so grateful towards him because he was entirely patient to wait for us to rest, before we continue exploring.

 

After that, we had a short break by taking our lunch somewhere near the temple, (a place that was recommended by Mr. Khanh). But before our very short journey to the restaurant, I would like to share an experience in which we were actually scammed by our taxi driver. What happened was that, the driver acted out like he was not familiar of the place (it’s kind of hard to believe since his vehicle has a GPS), so he was driving off from one block onto another, and then go back as to where we were picked up at the main entrance of the temple; and from there, that’s when he had finally went straight ahead to the restaurant. And instead of paying the usual fare of 30,000 dong (P68 or $1.32); we were charged for about 60,000 dong (P135 or $2.64).

I know it’s not much compared to what we’ve heard from some Filipino travelers that we met on Halong Bay. Sharing that experience to its fellow travelers on how they were scammed from 100,000 dong (P225 or $4.50) all the way to 500,000 dong (P1,126 or $23) in just a matter of seconds. So I would definitely advice for you to be very careful in terms of booking a taxi especially from the airport to the city proper.

And at that time, I was kind of disappointed in our tour guide for not saying anything since he should know the exact direction of the place. But as already mentioned, we were so tired and hungry that we just sort of let it slip away and forgave the driver for doing something like that.

So moving forward at the restaurant, each one of us in our very small group had ordered such heavy meals for our lunch and it was very delicious.

 

We were there for about an hour, and during that time, we’ve had a sort of an open forum. In which Mr. Khanh was very generous to share with us about his experiences as a personal tour guide, and also enlightening with us the modern day culture of Vietnam, and how the war had molded them to aim a life in peace and tranquility. Also, in our part, my sister and I had pointed out some important information about the Philippines. Our history, our culture, the food, the day to day living of the Filipinos, and so many other things.

Then after eating our sumptuous meal, we went to visit the monument as to where Ho Chi Minh’s body was laid out and preserved for all the people to see. However, the place is only open for public viewing in the late morning. And in our case, we went there in the afternoon so we weren’t able to have the chance to go inside but had decided to take a picture of the monument.

 

Furthermore, who was Ho Chi Minh? And why is it that up to this day, he’s considered to be a very important figure in Vietnam history?

According to our tour guide, this man came from a very poor family background who leads a simple life, but because he love his country so much, and wants to help its people gain their freedom against the French government. He has decided to travel the world, working from one odd job to another, to learn about each country, and get some insights about its style of leadership, and from there, did some writing; for he’s also a journalist. And when he came back, he has done everything that he could to help his fellow countrymen in attaining their independence, and later on, was voted as the new leader of Vietnam.

 

Our next tour was the Presidential Vestige, the residential area of Ho Chi Minh during his leadership. Not the glamorous and French palace as you’ve surely seen in one of our pictures. Although at present, it is being used as a guest house to all of its very important foreign visitors.

His first house was located at the main entrance, in which he stayed there for about four years before moving into a simple bamboo structured type of residence. At first glance, the massive area kind of looks like that you’re in the French or English countryside. It is because the president loves to be with nature that he has requested to put up a variety of plants and a certain number of animals in which today still remains. I remember our tour guide sharing with us a story that when an Australian journalist had asked the president about his favorite working spot. He said that it was being outside in the garden that he tends to have the concentration that he needed the most in order to work.

An overview from a very inspiring leader who has dedicated his life to save and serve the people of Vietnam.

 

Anyway, my sister and I had both agreed that in our third day of exploring, this is definitely our most favorite place that we’ve visited. I mean, the place looks so picturesque that how we wish that we could live in that kind of peaceful environment. Then, for the last site to visit with Mr. Khanh, we head off to the One Pillar Pagoda. Which was a short walking distance from the Presidential Vestige. Legend has it that when a married man had prayed for a son, it was in that very same spot that he’d prayed wholeheartedly, and where his wish was granted.

That ends our day tour with Mr. Khanh, and after that, he guided us back to our hotel in the Hoan Kiem District. For our token of appreciation (cause giving cash is not allowed), Fatimah and I were actually not prepared as to what would be our gift for him. So we’ve decided to give him my sister’s “Privacy Glass Protectors for iPhones” in which she just bought before our trip to Vietnam. The reason was that we’ve both noticed in one of our discussions with him that he seems to enjoy talking about gadgets specifically about some iPhone accessories. So upon arrival at the hotel, my sister went back to our room to get it and give it to him. Then before saying our goodbyes, we took some photos together as a group.

 

Mr. Khan, if there’s an opportunity that you will be able to read this blog of mine. I just want to say that, Fatimah and I are so grateful that you’ve been our assigned tour guide on that day. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you so much for all the things that you’ve shared to us. We wish you all the best, and hopefully, after attaining your college degree, you will be able to pursue your plans of traveling to Singapore and Australia, and also to so many other places. Hope to keep in touch with you via email or Facebook. Again, Maraming Salamat (Thank You) and God Bless.

The tour ended at around four in the afternoon, so we still had time. And since it’s the last day of the night market, we had to make sure that we will be able to finish buying the souvenirs that we wanted to give for our friends and family back home. So after staying at the hotel to rest and freshen up. We went out again to start exploring the night market for the second time around.

 

Just a little thought before we continue, I would like to point out that our trip to Vietnam was not just about visiting some of the best spots that the country could offer. But we also took the chance to explore one of the most authentic parts of its main capital.

So wanna see the real Hanoi?

Wander around to every nook and corner of its old alleyways like the old quarter, and you will see the culture and day to day living of the Vietnamese people. Well, it was truly a mind-boggling experience, but it was something that we will never ever forget.

An insight that made me so grateful because I have gained something new in my quest to learn more about each place that I would visit and explore.

 

So on our last chance to experience the night market in Hanoi, I would definitely say that it was truly an evening to remember because the crowd had gotten way bigger than the other night. Plus, we really had a great time walking from one corner to another, trying to blend in with everyone around us.

Another advice, try to make sure that your visit to Vietnam falls on the weekend. For you will have so much fun experiencing the night life there; almost to the point that you’ll lost track of the time, and the next thing you’ll know, it’s already way past midnight.

 

As for buying some souvenirs, I’ve already mentioned that shopping in there can be very cheap. That for about P 2,000 ($40 or 1M Dong), you can insanely buy tons of items not just for yourself, but also for also for your friends and family. Just don’t forget to bargain at a very big discount.

So that’s how our third day have turned out to be, and I’m so looking forward to share with you our fourth day in Vietnam. Which was a side trip to the Ninh Binh Province to visit its Hoa Lu Temples, and enjoy a river cruise in Tam Coc.

Thank you so much for reading.

 

 

DAY 1: The Vietnam Project: First Day in Hanoi

DAY 2: The Vietnam Project: Halong Bay Tour

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The Vietnam Project: Halong Bay Tour

“Search the globe, and you will never find a place that looks remotely like this.”

-Anthony Bourdain

Our second day in Vietnam is a full day trip to the 2,000 islets of Halong Bay, a very popular destination, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Well I remember on that early morning when I was kind of worried about the weather since it was raining on our first day in Hanoi, but luckily it had slowly turned into a sunny day.

It was expected that it’s going to be a long trip, so my sister and I had to wake up way too early in order to prepare for it, and also because we don’t want to keep our travel agent waiting for us. By 8:30 in the morning, we were picked up by our tour guide at the hotel lobby, and assisted us to the bus that was already waiting outside.

Along with some fellow Asian travelers on board, the shuttle bus was kind of full packed. So it’s a good thing that we were still able to get such comfortable seats since the trip will take for about four hours to travel, and while we were halfway through our journey, we’ve had a short stop over at a souvenir shop in order to take a break for about 15 minutes.

I think it was around lunch time when we had finally arrived at the port, and from there, head off straight as to where our assigned boat was located. Then upon boarding and at the start of our cruising around the bay, all of its travelers were given a sumptuous and delicious seafood with Vietnamese dishes for lunch. Of course, we all ate right away due to the fact that all of us were so hungry from that road trip; and while eating, we were utterly enjoying the wonderful view outside.

After that, we were given the free time to relax at the sun deck, to explore around the boat, to take it all in the amazing views around us, and as usual, to take some photos.

In our tour, we were also given the option to Kayak in the emerald-green waters of the bay, or go for a bamboo boat ride. But all of us in our group had decided to go for the latter option.

By the time it was our turn, my sister and I were paired with a young Indian woman and her mother.

So while our designated local guide was rowing the boat for all of us, we both take turns in taking some pictures to one another, and for that, I will always remember them for being so nice and so kind towards me and Fatimah.

Moving forward, the Bamboo boat ride was such a fun experience especially when we get to see some islets of the bay in a much closer look, including some local families who actually live in a boat. But I was kind of disturbed because I’ve noticed that there are some scattered pieces of a Styrofoam floating around near the small caves. I just hope that the locals would do something about it, because it’s such a pity to see a marvelous place slowly turning into a garbage area.

I almost forgot, by the way, in case that you will have the opportunity to encounter a local seller in Halong Bay that sells some souvenir items for a price of 15,000 dong (P34) or below. I truly suggest that you will buy it right away because it’s such a bargain, and those products back in Hanoi would cost for about 20,000 – 40,000 dong per item.

For our next stop, it was the Thien Cung Cave (Heavenly Palace Cave). I think this part in our tour was definitely the most exhausting thing that we all did. Probably it was due to the fact that we had to climb quite a number of stairs just to get there. Moreover, it was so crowded. Tons of foreign visitors. So it’s either you’ll enjoy it there, or you won’t. Well in our case, we’ve had a wonderful time wandering in that area.

Well anyway, the Cave was enchanting and colorful to look at; but instead of taking photos, I’ve used my time there to just walk around, observing the place, and just letting my sister Fatimah take most of the pictures. After that, we were back once again to our boat in preparation for our trip back to the mainland, and while on cruise, we’ve had the rare opportunity to witness the beautiful sunset around Halong Bay. Which is truly a magnificent sight to see.

The thing is, for years I’ve been wanting to see Halong Bay in person, and never mind that it was such a long road trip because from the moment that our boat had started cruising around the bay, I’ve tried to grasp everything right before my very eyes. Already getting an idea of what my idol Anthony Bourdain had felt back then when he went to visit there for two days. Furthermore, it looks so beautifully majestic that made the journey all worth it. And because we really had a great time conversing with our fellow travelers on board, my sister and I are also grateful to the them for making that day a very memorable one; like our tour guide, two travelers from Thailand, one Singaporean, and a group of Filipino travelers from Manila (who are also our fellow passengers on our flight going to Hanoi), and so many more.

Then at around eight in the evening, we were officially back to Hanoi, and all of us were dropped off back to our respective hotels.

It was still an early evening, so my sister and I had decided to go out again after taking a short break; and since it was also the weekend, we had the chance to experience the night market in Hanoi; an awesome evening with a big crowd and lots of stalls that sells so many affordable products (in which Hanoi is already getting known for). From food, clothes, shoes, souvenir items, bags, toys. There are just so many things to buy!

Even for a budget of 500,000 dong (P 1,000 or $20), there are tons of items that you can purchase in that kind of amount.

Some tips, bargain all the way and go for the reasonable price that you are aiming for. So how can you do it? Be a good negotiator, and don’t just buy right away, because not all stalls sell the same price for a certain product and it actually differs from one corner to another. So be very meticulous in terms of purchasing an item that you wanted to buy.

Plus, we also had the chance to try the Vietnamese edition of KFC. And I’m so sorry that I’m going to say this but, I think our Filipino version is so much better and tastier.

Overall, it was a very unforgettable night and we really had so much fun blending in with such a massive crowd, which also made us look forward to the next night market.

And that’s the story of our second day of exploring.

Thank you so much for reading, and will keep you posted to the next part of our story.

 

DAY 1: The Vietnam Project: First Day in Hanoi

DAY 3: The Vietnam Project: Hanoi Free Tour Guides

The Vietnam Project: First Day in Hanoi

Vietnam is the kind of an exotic country that will always leave a huge impression to all of its visitors.

However on your first day, it’s going to be a real adjustment; and sometimes, you might have this vague and disturbing thoughts into your mind like,

“What am I doing here?” or “What have I gotten myself into?”

Well that kind of impression is quite normal on day one, and don’t worry, as you go along on your stay there, you will realize that it may seem a bit chaotic at first, but, it is a beautiful and authentic country. Plus, you will insanely and hopelessly fall in love of the place.

But if someone is going to ask me as to why I have chosen this country as my next trip abroad. The answer is, I still don’t know. It’s just that, when I had the chance to book a promo fare online, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I just booked some round-trip tickets from Manila to Hanoi for me and my younger sister, and that’s it; even I was surprised after I did it. And since we still have months to prepare for it, we’ve both decided to slowly do some research about Vietnam, then plan and finalize everything.

It was a sisterhood team-up that took months and months of researching and planning in order to hopefully make sure that we will be able to make the most out of our trip. For my part, I did the booking of airline tickets, hotel accommodations, arranging of our day tours, planning our itineraries from day one to five, and budgeting our finances. Then for my younger sister, she mostly did the navigating (which is a huge weakness on my part), finding the best spots for our food trip, checking out some useful information from other Vietnam visitors, my partner in taking photos (cause she’s really good at it), and of course, the bargainer for our pasalubong (souvenirs) for our friends and family back home.

After all the planning and preparing, we were officially on our way to Vietnam, and we arrived at the Noi Bai International Airport Terminal 2 at around 12mn. By the way, in terms of its time difference, Hanoi is one hour behind in Manila.

Moreover, one advantage of the Philippines as part of the ASEAN is that Filipinos can go to Vietnam without having to apply for its Visa on Arrival. Just set off straight to the immigration and look for the ASEAN sign as to where you will go to present your passport.

Then at the arrival area, we were quite surprised to know that the driver who was supposed to pick us did not arrive. So I contacted the hotel staff with regards to it, and he gave us an option to just take a taxi from the airport going to Hanoi HM Boutique Hotel, and also informed us that he is going to pay for our fare. The journey took for about 30-40 minutes, and upon arrival, we were so beyond exhausted that we had slept right away at 3 am. Then we woke up at 6am to get ready for the day, and ate some breakfast at the hotel’s small dining area with an overlooking view of the Hoan Kiem Lake. After eating our buffet meals, we went to the Thang Long Water Puppet Theater to buy our tickets in advance for the 6:30pm schedule; in which I recommend to buy the tickets way too earlier since it’s mostly a full pack show, and also to get the best seats.

Hoan Kiem Lake

Since we’ve already planned our itineraries, my sister and I already know what to do on our first day; so the first site that we’ve chosen to explore was the Hoan Kiem Lake. The reason is that if you will decide to go there in the late morning and beyond. Tendency is that you will bump into a lot of foreign visitors. After that we went to the Café Giang 39 to try its famous egg coffee, a place that can only be found in the middle of an old alley. For our next stop, we went to Café Pho to try its other version.

Both were very delicious, so it’s kind of hard to say as to which one is our favorite. The only thing that I could say about it is that each coffee is so fluffy, so foamy, and so yummy. Definitely worth trying.

Old Quarter, Hanoi

For our lunch, we ate at the Green Tangerine – an old restaurant in which the place looks like a touch of Paris in Hanoi. I must say, the food and its dessert taste delicious; and while eating you’ll really enjoy the ambiance of the area.

But before I move forward into our story, I would like to share some insights on our first morning of exploring in the old quarter, and that is, one of the surprising things that we’ve observed is that Hanoi is a very old fashioned type of city, and the locals there are kind of laid back. Well it’s just that, they don’t seem to be like the kind of people who are in such a hurry. But the ironic thing is, in terms of crossing the street, you have to be very alert because they ride their scooters way too fast. So if you’re someone who lives in a place in where crossing the street is too convenient for you, then be prepared to be surprise, and master the art of doing it.

Another useful tip for future Vietnam visitors, when buying a drinking water, or other important items. I suggest that you purchase it at a grocery or convenience store that has an actual price tag. It is because there are some local sellers who tends to take advantage of its foreign visitors. One example from our many encounters was that when my sister was trying to purchase one liter of drinking water at a street vendor, she was informed that it cost for about 200,000 dong (P450 or $9), and then it was lowered to an amount of 50,000 dong (P110 or $2). But when we went inside a convenience store like Circle K, we were so glad to know that such an item was only 10,000 dong (P20). So we bought a gallon for refill purposes (cause I had a tumbler with me), and it only cost for about 25,000 dong (P56 or $1.36). Which is definitely the right price.

Plus, it’s a good thing that they we’ve made a note by doing a list on certain amounts of dong if it would be converted into Philippine peso; something that we did so that we would not be scam by some local sellers, and of course to know how much to bargain.

And that covers up our first morning of exploring.

Cafe Pho

In the afternoon, we went to explore every nook and corner of the French Quarter. A beautiful district in where you can see tons of houses and buildings in the French style. And for one moment we thought that we were actually in Paris. Which was totally awesome.

Although it did rain in the middle of the afternoon, but it still didn’t stop us to wander around. As long as we have our umbrella and offline Google map, then we’re good. So while we were walking from one block to another. Little did we know that we were already near the place in where it sells a Beef Pho. In which according to my younger sister is definitely one of the yummiest noodle soups in the country. So we went there to try it, and I tell you, it taste so good.

Green Tangerine

Also, one of the places that we’ve passed by was the small restaurant in where my idol Anthony Bourdain ate some Bun Cha, and drank some local beer while conversing with former US President Barack Obama. Wish we could go inside, but we were sort of in a hurry since it was already past 5pm, and we have to walked back again to the Hoan Kiem District, in order to catch up on the Water Puppet Show. And my goodness, upon arrival, we were soaking wet due to all the walking that we did in the rain. However, we still have 30 minutes to change, so we first dropped by at the hotel, went to our rooms to change in our dry clothes, and when we’ve arrived at the Theater, we were just in time for the next show to start.

French Quarter, Hanoi

The Water Puppet Show is about the day to day living of the locals in Vietnam during the old times, with some local background music that makes it so enjoyable to watch. Since the dialogues are in Vietnamese, my advice is to read some information about the program before heading off to the theater. And one of the things that I really enjoyed there was that I was so amazed of its audience; so many foreigners from different countries all over the world. Plus, to hear them talking in their own native language was definitely a cool experience especially when it’s all blending as one.

By the way, please avoid taking too much photos or videos while the show is ongoing. It is because you will miss the real essence of being there. Moreover, you’re supposed to be watching the actual live show, and not through your gadgets. Trust me; it’s worth putting aside your phone or camera for one moment.

French Quarter, Hanoi

After that, we still had some time to explore the district, so we walked around the area before we head back to the hotel to sleep, since we really need to have an early start in preparation for our long journey to Halong Bay. And that’s it, our very exhausting and exciting first day in Hanoi.

Thank you so much for reading! 🙂

Thang Long Water Puppet Theater

 

Hoan Kiem District

 

DAY 2: The Vietnam Project: Halong Bay Tour

DAY 3: The Vietnam Project: Hanoi Free Tour Guides

Jassy’s Fun in Taiwan: The Story of the Unexpected Solo Adventure

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To travel solo to an unknown country takes a lot of guts, and a very meticulous planning, especially for a female wanderer. And in my case, the unexpected thing happened that resulted for me to go to Taiwan a bit earlier than I’ve already planned. For this travel was supposed to happen next year with some friends. But a month before the trip, I was informed that I’ve made a huge mistake in my booking, that instead of December 2017 it was booked for the month of December 2016. So when I knew about it, I was totally shocked, and since it’s a promo fare, I was not allowed to rebook it. But it made me think to go for it (even if two of my friends who were supposed to travel with me on this trip couldn’t come); in order for me to try it just once on how it feels to travel alone.

So with only a month to go before the big trip, I’ve utilized every free time that I’ve had to plan everything for I’m a very meticulous traveler; and since I work at the government, that also includes processing my certificate of “Authority to Travel Abroad” and my clearance. Well, it’s kind of exhausting right? But for the love of traveling, I didn’t mind it at all.

The thing is – to travel to Taiwan; you need to apply for its visa. But I’m so grateful that I got exempted for applying because of my visa from South Korea. All you need to do is apply online, and by the time that it would be approved. You could just download/print the Travel Authorization Certificate and present it to the Immigration upon your arrival at the airport, along with your round-trip tickets. It’s as simple as that.

How to apply for the Visa-Free Entry to Taiwan

Then on the day for me to go to Taiwan, I was utterly mixed up with such nervousness and excitement, since it’s going to be a first for me to travel abroad alone. And when our plane had landed at Taoyuan International Airport on December 2, 2016 at 12m.n., I was totally jumping from such happiness because I had finally arrived there. But it was too early for me to go to the city of Taipei. So as I’ve already planned, I’ve stayed there at the airport till 5 am, and I took the 1819 bus going to Taipei Main Station, along with a fellow Pinoy passenger as to whom I’ve just met at the airport. Her name is Eudelle, and she was very kind to travel with me in going to Taipei City. Plus, I had a wonderful time chatting, and eating noodles with her while we were waiting for our bus schedule. It was almost a one hour journey. And when our bus had dropped us off at the bus station, we both went our separate ways (cause she’s heading off to Ximen District), then I took a taxi going to my hotel which is located at Ningxia District so that I could catch up on my travel agent who was also going there to pick me up at around 9am.

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It was a cold and cloudy first day in Taipei City, but lucky for me it didn’t rain at all throughout the day.

Since I’m only for a very short stay in Taiwan, I’ve decided to book a travel agency. Cause I really wanted to utilize my stay there. Honestly, it was a bit expensive on my part. But, it was definitely worth it. For I was able to see and experience what I really wanted to achieve on this trip. I was a tourist and at the same time a traveler. And all of it was thanks to My Taiwan Tour, especially to my newly found friends Miss Iris and Miss Ting, for both of them were our assigned tour guides in the city.

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This famous “My Taiwan Tour” travel agency was actually recommended to me by a high school friend who also went to Taiwan on her own. This travel agency allows you to both book and choose your own day tours via online thru TripAdvisor or Viator. And for my 3 days stay, I’ve chosen to book its Ultimate Taipei Sightseeing Tour, Taroko Gorge Full Day Tour, and Tea of Taipei Tour for days 1, 2, and 3 respectively.

As for my first day tour which was the “Ultimate Taipei Sightseeing Tour”, it is a one day tour that focuses on visiting and seeing the must-see attractions within the city of Taipei. The assigned tour guide will pick you up from your hotel at around 9am. Moreover, I was totally lucky because my fellow companions in our group were all Filipinos except for one (for the other one was an Indian girl). So it was easier for me to get along with them including our tour guide Miss Iris, because she is so friendly, charming and approachable. Plus, she really shares a lot of insights in every place that we would visit. Moreover, my fellow companions were having these shocked reactions towards me for being so brave to travel alone, and that they were also amazed by my fierceness to do such a thing. But being part of their group, I didn’t feel that way. Cause I really had a great time with them.

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So here is the sequence of our Ultimate Taipei Sightseeing Tour:

The Presidential Office Building

The first part of our tour was a short side trip to this political building in order to see the place and to take some pictures. Moreover, I was so surprised while we were on the road because I’ve noticed that most of the buildings there in Taipei are kind of old. Something like an old school thing that makes you feel like you’re in the 60’s or 70’s.

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Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall

We were there for about an hour. Just in time for us to see the changing of guards. And Ms. Iris was very informative by giving us a summarized and detailed history of Taiwan.

Longshan Temple

It is the biggest temple in the city; in front of it is a Buddhist temple and at the back of it is a Taoist temple. Oh you’ll be surprise when you’ll get to enter inside, for it is so lively and festive to look at.

Taipei 101

This is definitely my most favorite part of my day tour. So even though that it has taken a big part of my budget in order to get to the observatory, it was definitely worth paying for. And the 37 seconds elevator ride to the 89th floor was totally awesome! Plus the view at the top? My goodness! Utterly spectacular!

I would also like to point out that Anthony Bourdain was actually the very reason why I really wanted to visit and go at the top of the Taipei 101. I guess it’s because, even for one moment. I just want to have a share of his experience during that Layover episode of his in Taipei. And the thing is – I actually saw that episode twice before my trip there. Watching it in advance in order to have an idea about the place, its friendly people, an insight to their history, exploring their exotic foods, and of course, learning about its culture.

Lin An Tai Historical House

I really enjoyed this tour because it feels like we were transported back in time during this country’s old era. And I was fascinated while listening to our tour guide’s discussion on how the rich girls during those times were being served and well maintained. Talk about being pampered way too much. Oh I would love to experience something like that. Joke!

Pass by the Grand Hotel

The very first 5 star hotel in Taiwan.

Yangmingshan Sulfur Valley

This one really looks spectacular. But we weren’t able to appreciate it all in our group because of the odd smell of the sulfur. Totally weird.

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Beitou Thermal Valley

This famous hot spring really looks entirely picturesque, and it was one of our favorite visits within the city. But of course, its visitors are not allowed to go near the water. Because it is way too hot (boiling point), and that it could totally damage your precious skin. So please don’t take the risk.

National Palace Museum

It was the second to the last league of our tour, and also one of the most informative one. For this world famous museum has thousands of collections from all over the world especially from the main land China. But for the reason that almost all of us in our group were already tired from all the tourist spots that we’ve visited since that morning. We really weren’t able to appreciate it as much as we wanted to. However, we were still trying our best to be as attentive as possible to our guide, because we don’t want to waste all of her efforts in giving us some insights about all the famous artifacts in the museum.

Shilin Night Market

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There are tons of night markets in Taiwan, but this particular one is actually the biggest night market in the city. Then this was where our tour for the day has ended and where we were dropped off by our tour guide. The reason was that the area is so big for shopping and food trip that you could just get lost there for hours and hours. And our tour guide really wants us to have a one heck of a night time experience in Taipei.

But in my case, I only stayed there for an hour because I was so exhausted from the lack of sleep, that I just couldn’t take it anymore. So I’ve decided to go back to the hotel to rest and prepare for the next day. Overall, it was a very enjoyable first day in Taiwan.

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As for my second day, I’ve decided to go for the “Taroko Gorge Full Day Tour”. It is an outside of the city trip. This day tour consist for about 11 travelers (including six Filipinos), and we were picked up from our respective hotels at 5am so that we could catch up on the 6:15 am express train going to Hualien City. Although the train ride was almost for about three hours, I didn’t mind the time difference at all, because I really enjoyed watching all the stunning sceneries outside.

Then upon arrival, we were welcomed by our tour guide named Miss Josephine. Oh you’ll really enjoy her company because she’s really a funny one to listen to, but most of us in our group had a hard time understanding her English. But still, she was really trying her best. So we totally understand.

And there goes our tour in Hualien City and Taroko National Park.

Taroko Gorge is actually considered as one of the 7 natural wonders of Asia. A mountainous area which is definitely a must see in Taiwan. For this place is so damn beautiful that it would truly take your breath away and makes you speechless all throughout the trip. And my advice for those who plans to go for a visit, please take a picture first, and after that, use the rest of your free time to really absorb everything around you. For no matter how hard you will try to capture everything. No camera could ever give such justice on how spectacular this place is to really look at. Moreover, I assure you that it is entirely worth traveling all the way from the city of Taipei.

So after our adventure at the Taroko, we went on a short side trip back to the city, specifically at the souvenir gift shop, the local marble museum, and at the Pacific Ocean Seashore. And then we went back to the train station in order for us to catch up on the 4:32 pm train schedule back to Taipei City. It was a very satisfying second day, and I was totally sad because I had to part with these two Filipino friends that I’ve also met during my first day in Taiwan. I guess, I was totally lucky that we all booked the same schedules except for the next day tour. Wherever they are right now, I will always remember them, and all of the things that they’ve shared about their experiences from traveling to so many different places around the world. Oh I miss you Ate Ruby and Ate Beverly.

Then by the time that we were back to the city, we were dropped off at our respective hotels. Actually, I was supposed to go to the Ximen district with my fellow companions cause I was told that it’s a must see area in Taipei. But because of the rainy weather, we weren’t able to. So after an hour of resting in my room, I’ve decided to go out again (since it already stopped raining) to explore the Ningxia Night Market, which is only a walking distance from the hotel as to where I’m staying at. I was there for almost two hours, just strolling and exploring the area; searching for some pasalubong to bring back home, and some good food to eat. Moreover, it was a very overwhelming experience that I will never ever forget.

Ningxia Night Market

As a reader of my story, you could say that my first day in Taiwan was mostly about visiting some of the famous tourist destinations within the city of Taipei; while my second day was about going on a short adventure at the stone mountains of Taroko. So for my third and last day, it was actually a very unique and authentic one. For it was about learning something about the famous tea culture of this diversified country. So I had the chance to experience a breathtaking cable car ride going to Maokong, a visit to the tea museum, learning the art of drinking tea from the tea masters/experts, a road trip to the Bagua tea plantation, and an overlooking view of the Qiandao thousand island lakes.

But my most favorite part of that day would be the food trip at a local Taiwanese open restaurant at Maokong, which also gives its customers an overlooking view of the city of Taipei. Serving us with such local cuisines and delicious dishes mixed with tea leaves. Definitely a very enjoyable lunch date with my new friends Miss Ting (Taiwanese) and Miss Ruth (From Singapore). Overall, it was such a beautiful and memorable day with them. For not only was I able to make such new friends, but I had a great time conversing with them; talking about a lot of things especially about my beloved country the Philippines, and vice versa. Cause they were also sharing something about their own country – their people and its culture. Plus, I would definitely describe my third day as a very Anthony Bourdain kind of tour, a very satisfying day in Taiwan before heading off to the airport at 6:30 pm.

However, I was a bit too early at the airport. And I would have to wait for about 3 hours before the check-in counter would be open for its Cebu Pacific Passengers. So what I did there was just stroll around the area, its food court, and went surfing online while waiting. But I never thought that I would bump into a stranger, a fellow Pinoy traveler who was also waiting for the check-in counter to open. And what made me so impressed of this particular person was that he has traveled to so many different places in the Philippines; and a total of nine countries in Asia. I mean, I was totally intrigued that I was asking him a lot of questions. Even asking for some tips for a new traveler like me, and that’s what I like about wandering, you get to meet a lot of people who will inspire you along the way to be better as to what you are aiming to be more passionate about. So Aleks, it was really nice meeting you. Moreover, I wish you all the best to all of your future travels.

 

As for my mistake, the wrong booking on this trip has led me to a one heck of an adventure that I will never ever forget. Talk about destiny of being a year earlier from my plans of visiting Taiwan. 

Oh thank you so much Taiwan for such a very fun and memorable adventure. For this trip has been another eye opening experience for me to explore and to see a lot of places; the thirst and desire to travel more. So even though I still have no idea as to where the wind will take me again. One thing is for sure, it is better to  be prepared in advance, like don’t spend way too much, research more about some tips about traveling, look for possible potential next destinations, and always save a part of your income for future travels.

So for those who are still in doubt of traveling solo? Just once, try it. Who knows you might like it and wants to do it again. I hope I’ve been an inspiration to my fellow friends back home; the girl who has some kind of anxiety problems was able to travel abroad on her own. And hopefully, when I’m fully ready, I would like to travel solo again, and this time it’s going to be a do-it-yourself all throughout kind of trip. Hoping and Praying for it.

Thank you so much for reading everyone!

Seoul Searching 101: Nami Island

On our third day in South Korea, the weather for the day wasn’t actually in our favor; and as much as I love the rain (especially to walk along with it is one of my favorite things to do back home), I wasn’t just up for it. For when you’re in an exploring adventure and you’re in that kind of weather, of course, it’s really going to be a bit difficult to go on sightseeing.

The first thing that we did on that day was to rise up early, so that we could have an early head start on our journey to Nami Island. Moreover, we also wanted to be earlier than those couple who we’re going to guide us there. And while we were having our breakfast at the lobby at around 6am. I did noticed that it’s still quite dark outside. I guess I’m quite used to it back home in the Philippines to see the light of the day at around 6am.

Well I must say, even if it was raining and the weather just keeps on getting colder than ever. But it still didn’t stop me from getting way too excited. I mean, talk about having the opportunity to visit one of the famous shooting locations of this awesome Korean drama entitled Winter Sonata. Of course, I was totally giddy and all!

For our journey on the way to Nami Island, the wife has said that the fastest way to get there is to ride the K-Rail/KTX at the Seoul Train Station. So we rode the subway from Myeong dong to Seoul Train Station. And from the moment that we’ve arrived there, I was in total shock! Why? Because I still can’t believe that I’m actually seeing right before my very eyes the famous SEOUL TRAIN STATION! I mean, it’s just a building that I only get to see in the series. So to stand and actually see it in person feels like a defining moment for me. And for that I was totally grateful for that wonderful experience.

By the time that we’ve arrived at the Seoul Train Station, we’ve purchased our tickets (which cost for about 4,800 won per head) that would take us all to Yongsan, and from Yongsan – that’s where we took the KTX for Gapyeong. It was a one hour journey, and along the way I was totally amazed that such a train contains for about 3 floors! Plus, it’s very fast. But even if that were the case, it was a smooth journey.

Moreover, I really enjoyed my time watching such views outside. So while the rest of us in our group we’re doing their own thing like using the free WiFi on board, taking pictures, taking a rest, playing games with their phones and etc. As for me, I took out my phone and headphone, then played some music from my playlist while absorbing everything that I’ am seeing. Again, it was truly a very defining moment for me, and it was also an experience that I can never truly explain.

Then after an hour journey on the rail road, we have officially arrived at Gapyeong! And from the moment that we’ve stepped foot outside the train, it was one of the coldest weather that we’ve truly experienced. I mean, it was so much colder than in Seoul, and it’s still raining. Which is something that we’ve truly did not prepare ourselves for.

As I’ve written earlier, the weather was totally not in our favor. But since we’re already there, we might as well go for it. So we went outside of the Gapyeong Train Station so that we could find a ride going to the Ferry Station that would take us to the famous Nami Island.

We took a taxi instead of the bus on our way. And it was such a perfect timing, for by the time that we’ve arrived there. The ferry was still waiting for some passengers. By the way, the cost for the ferry ride back and forth is 8,000 won per head.

While inside the ferry, I was totally amazed of all those people around me. For I have never had that experience of going on a journey with tons of people with such different nationalities. And most of the passengers were totally from the different countries of Asia. So while we were already on our way to the Island, I was fascinated with all the different languages that I’ve been hearing around me.

So we’ve officially set foot into the famous Nami Island! And that would also mean, that we had to say goodbye to the couple who’ve been our guide on our journey. At that moment, I knew that it’s either we may never get to see them again, or if fate would have it. We might be able to see them back in the Philippines. But who knows. We took some group pictures, and I’ve also asked for their number. Plus, at the very last minute before saying our goodbyes, the husband just told us that his wife is a lawyer! Wow! Well that explains why she speaks in a smart and confident manner. I may never know where they are right now, but I always be forever grateful for them for being so kind to us, and for being part of our journey. And if there was one advice that was given to me by the wife was that when it comes to traveling “JUST GO WITH THE FLOW.”

After going on our separate ways, we were at the first part of exploring the Island. Well, if there’s one word to describe the place, I think it would be “Enchanting”. Even in such a cold and rainy weather, it seems like it’s the kind of place that really pulls you within. Something that I myself couldn’t truly explain. Unless you’re exactly in that moment of just standing between those tall trees and just absorbing everything around you. Just simply amazing.

As your any typical traveler, we took our time exploring and taking pictures of the Island. But let me tell you this, we had a huge struggle! It’s because as time passes by, it seems that the weather just keeps on getting colder and colder than ever. Plus, the rain had made it worst. So while we were walking, we had to stop from one bonfire onto the next so that it could keep us warm. But we’ve also reached that point that we just couldn’t take it anymore. So we had to go inside a restaurant in order for us to rest and eat since it was almost lunch time. And we were totally relieved that they had a heater inside! Oh that heavenly feeling of being warmed again!

Inside the restaurant, we took our time warming ourselves from the cold, choosing such different varieties of food to order for our lunch, and of course! Updating our Facebook accounts! We were there for about an hour. The place is quite nice, for there’s a mini library at the other side of it. However, I actually did noticed that in South Korea, whenever a waiter would actually take your order, he/she would also place it right away in your table the total bill of your orders. And as their customer, it is you who should go to the cashier to pay the bill; which is quite different from what we’re used to in the Philippines.

Before I forgot, I had a weird experience inside that restaurant. What happened was that, after taking our lunch, I went back to the heater to keep me warmed again. Then suddenly, there was this girl who works at the restaurant (who is totally pretty), and she approached me. She was asking from what country I was, so I told her that I’m from the Philippines. At that moment, I thought she was actually the one who was curious, and I was surprised for she went to her friend and told him something about our mini conversation. And both of them went back to me and we’re already asking me some questions which I was happy oblige.

After an hour at the restaurant, we were back once again to continue the last part of our exploring (which was also the very main purpose as to why we have to visit Nami Island); and that is to see the exact shooting location of the famous Bicycle scene in the Winter Sonata TV Series. So our first stop was a Souvenir Shop that sells a lot of memorabilia items from the said series. And also inside the shop is a free wall in where you can write anything you want into it.

Then we’ve finally arrived at the land of Winter Sonata! So even if it was such a rainy day, the place totally looks so beautiful. And for one moment, I just couldn’t contain myself from such happiness that I’m feeling. I know it’s been more than a decade since that famous Korean Drama have been aired in Asia, but to have the chance to actually set foot and to have the actual experience. It is definitely a dream come true.

While we still hav the time before we set off to our next destination, we took our time taking pictures of the area. And after that, we’ve decided to go back to the ferry so that we could go on to our next destination which was the Petite France.

So even if it was a total struggle in our part, but over-all, it was totally fun. And hopefully, when I go back to visit Nami Island, it is definitely going to be in the season of autumn.

That’s it for now and to be continued.

Thank you so much for reading! 🙂

Seoul Searching 101: Myeong Dong Food District

“To travel to a new place isn’t just about getting an idea of its culture, and exploring such famous landmarks. It’s also about trying their authentic food, something that you don’t get to see or eat from where you live.” – A thought that I always bear in mind whenever I go on a travel.

For our last stop of our second night in South Korea, we’ve decided to take on a food trip to the famous Myeong Dong Food District. And as to what I’ve already written from my last blog which was entitled “Seoul Searching 101: Bukchon Hanok Village”, I actually did mentioned that if we weren’t sort of lost after our bus ride had dropped us off at the wrong Myeong dong station, we wouldn’t have found its famous food district by accident. The funny thing is that, this famous food trip area is just right across the street from the area that leads to the place where we were staying, which was truly a surprised for us; for we had never expected that one of the places that we’ve been looking forward to visit was just right under our noses. Oh well, talk about destiny!

Anyway, we were on our way back downtown after our night time exploring of Namsan Tower Park (via cable car and part of our 8,000 won fare per head). So we went straight ahead to Myeong dong food district. It was just a walking distance from the guesthouse for about 10-15 minutes. It’s either you can walk across the street, or go down and walk along the pathway inside the subway station, and take a short cut there going up the district (which we actually did on our way back to the guesthouse).

It was a cold night, but I couldn’t care less, because from the moment we’ve arrived there. I was totally excited especially seeing all those different stalls of food along the small streets of Myeong dong. Plus, I was utterly looking forward to take on my pick on which food should I try for the night. But such street foods that are being sold are a bit expensive (which in the Philippines cost for about 100-200 pesos each). And most of its stalls would sell their products at a price of 2,500 won, 3,000 won, and 5,000 won.

As for my first pick for the night, it was an egg bun which cost for about 2,500 won. It’s tasty and fluffy but something that I couldn’t say my favorite for the night. So we went on to continue our exploring from one stall to another.

While I was busy eating my egg bun, my friends first choice was to eat a sea shell with cheesy boiled eggs, and corns on top of it which cost for about 5,000 won. Then they went on for a Pomegranate juice, and caramelized fruit stick (3,000 won).

For our next stop, are you familiar of this famous street food called Fish Cakes? I’m sure for those who are into Korean Series would have totally seen this. This food cost for about 1,500 won each. It is very delicious, and you can either go for spicy or not spicy. And since I love spicy food, I was totally up for the challenge. But, I totally underestimated it, for it was so hot and spicy (although I really enjoyed my time eating it). It’s just that, such spiciness has almost gotten me sick. I’m not joking. Seriously, it was such a cold night, but it has gotten much colder after eating that fish cake, and drinking its spicy soup. And while walking along the streets, I wasn’t able to concentrate for I was already freezing so badly like I was having a seizure. And that almost ruined my night. So it was a good thing that after taking a short break somewhere along the area that I was able to recover from it.

Moving forward to our food exploring, and as I’ve already mentioned, such street foods that are being sold there can be a bit expensive. So I’ve decided to go for three different varieties of it, and go for the other ones on our last night. So for my third and last pick for the night, it was a food called Croissant Taiyaki, it’s a small pastry in the shape of a fish. And it taste really good, I guess it’s because of the cream cheese inside of it. For its cheesiness really did blend well with the croissant.

Then after almost two hours of exploring this famous district, one thing that I’ve observed as to what made this area quite famous for so many travelers is that, it’s a place where you can truly see its authenticity. For it is the kind of street foods that showcase South Korea for what it is; using such ingredients and recipes that can only be found in that country, but with a modern and creative twist, which is also such a big factor as to why there are lots buyers that are enticed to try and taste such different varieties of street foods along the Myeong dong food district.

And since it’s been such a day, and we were already getting exhausted from our exploring. We’ve decided to go back to the guesthouse, to rest, and to get ready for our next adventure. And that is an out of the city visit to Nami Island and Petite France!

For our second day in South Korea, I must say, what a day and what a night!

To be continued.

And thank you so much for reading! 🙂

Seoul Searching 101: N Seoul Tower

Moving forward to our exploring, (after our short break from visiting Bukchon Hanok Village), we were back once again to continue our Seoul Searching, and that was to visit N Seoul Tower – one of the shooting locations of the famous series My Love from the Star.

It was totally convenient on our part to visit such a famous landmark, because it’s quite near to where we were staying. All we need to do was just walk around the corner (but it was more like a short hiking). Then we’ve arrived to the cable car that would take us to Namsan Tower Park. Such a ride actually did cost us for about 8,000 Won per head. Well I must say, that was one heck of ride. For it was scary but at the same time, definitely exciting! Even at night time, you could totally see Seoul in such bright lights. And everything just looks so beautiful, and fascinating. Plus, there were lots of tourist with us. So I also had fun listening to the different languages that I keep on hearing around me.

Upon arrival at the Park, we went on exploring. The first thing that I was amazed of would be the Fortress Wall because I’m quite sure that I saw a particular Korean drama in which such an area was used as one of their shooting locations. And I had this reaction again of, “Oh my gosh! Am I really here? Cause it feels like a dream!”. Well that’s me when I’m utterly excited.

Another famous attraction at the Namsan Tower Park would be its Love Locks. Well I’m not surprised that with so many tourists that keeps on visiting South Korea, that there are quite a number of love locks! Hundreds? I would definitely go for thousands of it! And since we’re there, each of us girls did put our own love locks. Plus, it’s a good thing that I came prepared for I bought with me my own marker pen. So all we did was buy a lock for about 5,000 Won, but if you want a pair that would cost for about 10,000 won.

Okay, we’ve already had our own, and we’ve picked a spot where we can take some time to write something in our love locks. As for my own love lock, yes, I actually did wrote a name of a person. And since it was a private moment, I also took a picture of it; a proof that I actually did that, and something to bring with me back home.

As for the weather during that night, it was totally cold, even my hands were freezing so badly.

Moreover, there’s an experience that I wanna share. While I was waiting for the rest of the group to finish putting their own love locks, and take some pictures with it. I actually went to this small stall that sells Potato Twist (I don’t know if it’s the correct term). Anyway, I had a mistake of informing its vendor, that instead of saying that I’m going to buy one potato twist, I had a mistake of making a hand gesture of three, and he thought that I was going to buy three of it, but the hand gesture was all about the amount of money which was 3,000 Won. So we had a misunderstanding, and he was so mad at me for my mistake (which was true by the way). And without any choice, I had to buy two potato twists, for the other one was not yet cooked. In a way, I was saved to spend 6,000 won instead of 9,000, and then gave the other one to my friend since I can’t eat it all. Oh well, at least I did enjoyed my time eating it for it was so delicious.

Lesson learned, be careful when you talk to a vendor/salesman to buy something, or a food to eat, especially to a place that barely speaks English.

After putting our own love locks, we went exploring again of the park. The thing is that we actually had plans of going at the top of the N Seoul Tower, but we’ve decided not to, for it cost for about 20,000 Won per head! And we were already thinking that if we go there, we wouldn’t have much time to visit Myeong dong. So we have to go. But hopefully, when I go back to South Korea, for sure I’ am definitely going there.

Before I forgot, I actually had the chance to meet an Asian Celebrity; for there were some tourists that had recognized her, and took some pictures with her. But, I don’t know from what country she’s from. The only thing that I could say about her is that she is definitely pretty, and I was staring at her while her fans just keeps on gushing around her.

So even it was such cold evening, and we were already freezing. It still didn’t stop us to go to our next destination for the night. And that was a visit to Myeong dong food district.

Till the next part of our journey!

To be continued.

And thank you so much for reading. 🙂