Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hong Kong Attractions :Getting to Know Mickey ,The Giant Buddha and Jackie

                         We only had few hours of sleep on our first night in Hong Kong as we had to get up early since our itinerary was full on the second day. It was drizzling early in the morning when we searched for a place to eat . We ended up at Maxim’s , (a fastfood but at least  it's not Mcdonalds).I hate eating at fastfoods when I'm abroad because it defeats the purpose of the trip which is to experience new things. 


                  Our first stop was the Wong Tai Sin Temple. I included it in our itinerary not for any historical significance ( it’s not even that old) but because I wanted to see an authentic chinese temple and to observe how the Chinese pray. I bought joss sticks which was very important as it would serve its sole purpose of being a prop during picture taking. I just bought the cheapest bundle for HK$5. When I asked the vendor how much it cost , she simply showed me a HK$5-coin. Okay. I went on and lit the sticks and then “hoy !”, Anna called my attention. She had noticed that I lit the wrong end of the sticks. Ooops! Suddenly, I became hesitant to have Anna take my picture because they might perceive it as a mockery of their customs and religion or worse blasphemy. Right next to me  was another tourist , a Chinese-looking woman at that who didn’t have a clue either of what she was doing. She was holding the joss sticks while grinning to the camera. Realizing that I had company, I continued. We went inside the temple. Everything that we saw was really foreign to us. There was one thing in particular , I was not sure what ritual it was but I saw someone shaking a bamboo cylinder full of sticks. When one of the sticks fell, it was exchanged for a piece of paper bearing the same number as the stick. They read what’s on the paper so I figured it was probably one way of fortune telling. After a few shots (outside at least as cameras were not allowed inside the temple ) we left and made our way back to the MTR station to head to our next destination, Disneyland.

                  We had agreed not to get inside the park and pay an absurd entrance fee when there’s nothing there to see except mascots and other kiddie stuffs. I was never a fan of those cartoon characters , not even as a kid. But just for the sake of having something to brag on facebook we still wanted to have our pictures taken at the entrance at least. We took the MTR  from the Wong Tai Sin station on the Kwun Tong line then we got off at one of the interchange stations on the Tsuen Wan line. “Interchange” is one of the two words you’d often hear at the MTR, the other is “Mind the freakin’ gap”. It annoyed me after hearing it a thousand times. From the Tsuen Wan line we got off at Sunny Bay interchange then headed to Disneyland Resort station. The train looked different this time. It had the Disney theme. The windows and handles were shaped like Mickey’s head and were really cute. Instead of the usual seats at metros it had blue couches covered with velvet. At every corner in each carriage was a statuette of a Disney character. If I’m not mistaken I sat next to Minnie. The station at Disneyland also had the same theme. It’s designed in a Victorian style making it looked so magical. You’d feel like being lost in a magical kingdom , in the middle of nowhere since the park’s location is in a remote part of Lantau island. ” A Whole New World”, which is from the movie Alladin was being played when we arrived at the park, so even from the outside we could still feel the Disney air. It was only 10am but the sweltering heat from the sun was becoming unbearable that we decided to leave, again, not without a dozen or so pictures taken of course. We headed to our next destination , Tian Tan Buddha.
               Also known as the Giant Buddha, Tian Tan Buddha is a large bronze statue of  Buddha, and located at Ngong Ping Village, Lantau Island. We took the train again from Disney station to Sunny bay then to Tung Chung , thanks to the unlimited ride on the MTR courtesy of our Octopus card. Taking the MTR is very convenient, fast and cheap especially with an Octopus card. The downside though is you’d be missing out on the sights as it’s a subway on most lines. The Tung Chung station is just across the Ngong Ping 360 which is a cable car. The ride takes you to the Giant Buddha in just 25 minutes. TWENTY FIVE ? It sounded scary , it meant we would be dangling over the ocean and the mountains for almost half an hour. Nevertheless, we were looking forward to experience it as we’re up to a little adventure but only to find out it’s closed for a week to undergo maintenance. Aaaaargh ! It was the first letdown on our trip. There was another option though , a second option , a very far second.... we traveled by bus instead but it took much of our time as one way took 45-boring minutes.
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                         When we got to Ngong Ping Village it was raining "pandas and dragons" so we took to one of the souvenir shops in the village. I didn't expect a storm during our trip because I had checked the weather in Hong Kong during that time of the year .We checked out the items, ngeeeh! way too expensive. When the rain stopped I looked for the Buddha but I couldn’t get a glimpse of any enormous bronze structure. I thought the Buddha was still covered with the thick fog. When I turned around I was stunned by the size of the statue looking down from the top of the hill. He was so huge and it was kinda’ eerie because I felt like He was just observing everyone below. We climbed up the hill and enjoyed the view from the top. I realized that the storm earlier was a blessing in disguise because after it had cleared up the 268-step-climb became a breeze sans the humidity.

                   The Giant Buddha is not old, it was completed in 1993. It sits on what looks like a lotus flower. Underneath the statue is a building. We went inside and we saw framed photos of how the statue was assembled after it had been shipped from mainland China. One particular photo shows how big the statue is as one of the construction workers is only as tall as the statue’s index finger. 
                 Around 3 pm we went back to Hong Kong island to go to Victoria’s Peak , said to be the highest point in the island. We hopped on a tram , it cost HK$2. It moved at a snail’s pace but we didn’t mind because we were busy observing everything that we passed by. After a while we realized that it wasn’t moving to any higher ground so we decided to get off. Several nose bleeds later after asking directions from the locals we learned which tram to take to the Peak.  It turned out that there’s a specially designated tram that takes tourists and locals to the Peak and not just any other tram. We agreed to postpone our trip as it was almost 6pm and we still wanted to watch the Symphony of Lights show which takes place every night at 8pm. That being our last night in Hong Kong ( it was only a 3D2N trip) meant that it would be our last chance to watch it.


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

At Large at Ocean Park HongKong

                   Hong Kong Ocean park is one of the most famous theme parks in Asia. When I was creating an itinerary for our Hongkong trip I made sure that it would be on our list of must-visits since I would have a lot of firsts there. Anything that I hadn’t experienced or seen yet would be worth a visit. Among the things that I was looking forward to were the rides in the park like the roller coaster that  I hadn't tried yet as I had never been to any theme parks . I was also excited to see the pandas , the dolphins , the sealions , and the list of attractions worth seeing or experiencing goes on .The entrance fee of $208 was $23-higher than what was quoted online. After paying for our tickets we went to buy bottled water and I got worried when I found out that it cost HK$16 or around P95 for something that would normally cost P15 in Manila. It seemed like I had underestimated the cost of everything in this tiny island but still it didn’t dampen my spirits at all. 

                   After the expensive bottle of water quenched my thirst , we looked for the pandas right away. They are housed in a fully airconditioned building that mimics their natural habitat. That section of the park is aptly named Amazing Asian Animals. The pandas were so adorable that a little girl screamed in excitement when one of them walked towards our direction.  I'd seen a lot of panda pictures but i did not expect those lazy creatures with their big round black eyes and thick black and white fur to really look like stuffed toys in reality. The whole time we were there one of them was just sleeping , at least I thought he was ( or maybe he was just leaning on a rock). Another one hardly moved and when he did it was because he had to poo which I fortunately or unfortunately captured every moment of it!  In that part of the park we also saw their cousins the red fox pandas who were as lazy as them as they were just perched on the tree the whole time. Another creature that we encountered was the giant salamander. I’d only read about it from my college textbooks ( I took up BSBiology ), I had no idea what it looked like. Unlike the adorable pandas, the salamander is the creepiest looking animal I’ve seen in my life. It resembles lizards only uglier and it is aquatic. From the Amazing Asian Animals section , we took the cable car to get to the other side of the park. The park covers a vast area that walking to get to the other side is impossible unless your itinerary is just hiking the whole day. It was a shaky ride but the view was so gorgeous  I managed to ignore the occasional shaking. The view was pretty much like in Tagaytay but instead of a lake you’ll see the ocean below. An observatory tower stood on the other side of the park , it’s called -what else?- The Ocean Park tower. It rotates upwards and gives visitors a panoramic view of the park. Not so far from the tower was the Pacific Pier where you can see the playful sealions . At this point my companion Anna could no longer wait to try the rides. I initially protested since we hadn’t taken our lunch yet but later I gave in since I also felt the excitement mounting within me. We tried the roller coaster first. I enjoyed it so much, at some point during the ride I couldn’t tell whether I was facing up or down, everything happened so fast. Afterwards, the nausea I was feeling proved that trying the rides with an empty stomach was utterly stupid. I just wanted to puke at Anna for convincing me to do it.







                                               In case you're wondering, it's a sea horse

                  We agreed to take lunch after the ride but I thought I wouldn’t make it to the nearest foodstall without passing out. When I could already manage to walk we bought a bowl of rice with toppings of assorted meat. It cost HK$35. I didn’t like it but I just had to stuff myself to get by. We still couldn’t get enough of the park so we watched the Dolphin Show , another first for me. The tricks they performed were no different though from what I’d seen on tv but still it’s fun to watch them live. At the show we met a Filipina , a nanny to cute Aussie kids. Anna chatted with her since she was recommending a friend’s place that had an extra room they’re renting out to tourists from the Philippines. Anna got her number then we parted ways. My daredevil of an officemate persuaded me again  to try another ride , this time the “Abyss”. It looked kinda’ “interesting”. I wanted to do it last since I hadn’t fully recovered yet from the roller coaster and still felt a bit dizzy but more than that I hadn’t gotten back at Anna yet by puking at her…..Aaaargh! In the end Anna won. Abyss is a ride which lifts you on an open seat several stories- high then drops you so fast without warning. There was something weird about that ride that I was screaming the whole time while the aforementioned daredevil-female-officemate was laughing at me. I wasn’t scared that we’re being dropped from a several stories -high tower , it was the feeling of not feeling anything at all that freaked me out. At that time we were probably weightless due to freefall hence the feeling of not feeling anything at all.




                    We also went to the other sections until the park closed.We had a blast although one day wasn't enough.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Hong Kong Trip : My First Passport Stamp

                   Since the cheapest tickets to Hongkong on our travel dates were the ones via Clark, being budget travelers we had no choice but to book the tickets and travel from Manila to Dau by bus just to catch our flight.The flight was at 7:15 AM. We were not sure though of the availability of buses in that route early in the morning ,so we thought the safest thing to do was to travel the night before our flight to ensure that we’d get to the airport on time.        I was with my officemate Anna on this trip. We left Manila around 10pm. I only had three hours of sleep that day after a night shit at work…wait , that one should have an “f” , night shift at work .Despite being sleep-deprived, I was still energetic and was really excited about my first  trip abroad.From a terminal in Cubao we boarded a bus bound for Dau. I had never been to Pampanga so that bus ride alone was already something to look forward to. On the bus they played the movie “Taken” starring Liam Neeson.  I asked the driver how long it would take to get to our destination and I didnt believe him when he said “just 45 minutes”, yeah right.
                 Just when the story of the movie was starting to unfold and I was getting interested already, I realized that we had arrived in Dau. We got off the bus while it was raining and I kept on wondering what would happen to Liam’s daughter in the movie who had been abducted ( I have to watch that movie again). In Dau we took a jeep  to get to another terminal and from there it’s another jeep ride to Diosdado Macapagal International Airport. When we got to the terminal we found out that the jeep bound for Clark wasn’t a 24-hour thing.There were some drivers who were willing to take us to the airport but they’d charge us P200, which I thought was too much considering that from what I had read its only a 15-minute ride.We decided to wait for other passengers so we could share the fare with them. After three hours a couple arrived and they agreed to share the fare with us.The jeep left around 3 AM.

                 It was so dark inside Clark, I could barely see the establishments and the former military facilities that we passed by.When we arrived at the airport I thought it was too small for an International Airport and to my surprise it was still closed. An airport employee told me that it would open at 5 am. We decided to just sleep on the seats at the waiting area outside.
                 When we woke up the first plane had arrived , it came from Macau. It’s the day that I had been anxiously waiting for in the past months. At around 6am we were already lining up at the immigration. I was worried the whole time that the officer might deny me for some reason so I really tried to compose myself. After the officer went through my passport  he gave me back  the departure form that we had filled out, oh boy! I thought I was in trouble. It turned out that he just wanted me to correct something because for the "date of birth" I had written down September 19, 2009 instead of September 19?? ( I will never reveal my age to the readers), a mistake I always make whenever I fill out forms , hahahaha. To my relief I corrected it right then and there and  the officer stamped it and let me in.
                 Whenever I go home to the province I always fly Cebupacific so this time I was expecting at least a 30 -minute delay but surprisingly we were asked to board the plane before 7:15am. WOW! I put on my mask ( this trip was made at the height of the birdflu outbreak in the world , something that wasn’t enough to stop us) and had my picture taken. I was hoping to get some sleep on the plane during the two-hour flight but I guess I was too excited that I stayed awake and was looking out the window of the plane the whole time. I remember seeing islets as we were approaching the Hong Kong International Airport and all of a sudden all I could see was just the ocean and the plane was flying so low. I didn’t know what was happening….I slightly (just slightly) panicked. I thought we’d crash into the ocean. I felt relieved later when I realized that we’re actually hitting the runway which is by the sea. When we stepped out of the plane we were greeted by two Chinese airport employees and upon hearing their accent it hit me that I was already in a foreign territory for the first time. I had dreamed of this since I was a kid.
                   Steps away from where the airport employees welcomed us was the toilet  (not the CR  as I’m used to calling it backhome) and when I went in I heard men speaking in different tongues. I didn’t understand a single word but I was thrilled. After clearing the immigration we had our US$ exchanged to HK$ (rate : US$1 = approx.  HK$ 6 ). We also picked a free map of Hong Kong from one corner of the airport.I remember the airport was so huge that we had to take a train to get to the other side. We then bought an Octopus card which is a stored value card that can be used to pay for a train ride from the airport to the Central area and unlimited ride of the MTR for three days. On our way to Central via the Airport Express ( a really nice train) we caught our first impressive glimpse of Hong Kong. Its topography is not so different from the Philippines’ , you can see mountains on one side and the ocean on the other , with islets scattered around the bigger islands. However, it’s noticeable how the modern structures all over the place compliment its topography. The sight of the high-rise buildings at the foot, on the sides and on top of the mountains was just breathtaking.
                 We hadn’t booked a hotel so from the airport we went straight to Central then to Ocean Park. From the Central MTR station we had to walk few meters to the bus terminal. It was such a welcome relief that their bus station was devoid of the noise, filth and chaos that are common in the ones backhome. After waiting for maybe fifteen minutes the bus arrived. It was a double-decker bus, yehey!. I wonder why we don’t have any of those in the Philippines. I relished the sights again this time as we were heading to the park. Hong Kong is a bustling city , its residents seemed to be always chasing someone, they walked really fast. There were huge billboards, modern glass buildings and a lot of skyscrapers way taller than the ones in Ayala and Ortigas. Few minutes later we passed by a residential area which was composed of high-rise apartments. This time it’s the not -so -glamorous part of Hong Kong. It’s cramped , we could see clothes hanging outside the windows of the buildings and even the plumbings were visible from the streets. It took around thirty minutes to reach Ocean Park from Central or maybe it took longer , I’m not sure because we’re having a blast already.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


                    Camiguin is an island province of the Philippines located off the northern coast of Misamis Oriental in Mindanao. When I was a kid I would hear stories from my friends about their summer vacation spent in the island. In college I would see it from a distance every time the bus passed by Balingoan,Misamis Oriental (the jump off point to Camiguin) as I would travel from my city Butuan to Cagayan de Oro. I never got to visit the island until 2008 when I took my younger siblings for a tour.
                   Balingoan, Misamis Oriental , the jump off point to Camiguin is 2 hours away by bus from our hometown so we had to get up early. When we arrived in Balingoan we had breakfast first at the famous eatery in town called "Baling ni Juan"which I suspect was also the origin of the town’s name. The eatery is just a tricycle ride from the bus terminal. It was almost 10am when we got to the port (actually the port is just across the street from the bus terminal) so we had to take the 10:15 ferry. The sea was calm so we were smooth sailing for an hour to the Benoni port in Camiguin. As soon as we got off the boat we were met by multicab drivers offering their services for a tour of the island. Since it was almost 12 noon we hopped on to the first multicab we saw after the driver qouted the price for a day tour around the island.We agreed on a P1500 package that includes the important attractions in Camiguin.
Balingoan Port

      Mt. Hibok-Hibok as seen from the White Island

               The driver and his companion started asking us questions as we drove off . All of a sudden I became paranoid. I realized that we didn't check if the driver was registered through the Department of Tourism of the province.I saw the emblem of DOT at the port where the multicabs were parked. I started thinking negative things.What if they're gonna rob us?
                Good thing the other guy who I thought was the driver's assistant got off the vehicle. I felt relieved, I knew the driver alone was not capable of hurting us as he was shorter than me. I asked the driver to take us first to a place where we could have lunch (which I shoudn’t have done because he took us to a small resort and the worms in my tummy went on a hunger strike for an hour until they finally served us lunch). The food was good though but we paid for a day tour only so we wasted so much time already.
                After lunch our first stop was the Sto. Nino cold spring. I loved the crystal clear water flowing from the spring to a few large swimming pools in the resort. The water was so clean that we could clearly see a school of small fish in the pool.Since summer just started there were only few tourists at that time. What I hate about the resort is its location, It’s way off the main highway. Another issue I have about the resort is the blaring karaoke right next to the pools.
               Due to time constraints we didn’t spend so much time at the resort so we proceeded to the next stop, the ruins of the 16th century Guiob church which is nothing more than a ruin, I mean I couldn’t even picture it out as a former church. I closely examined its walls and I could see some corals as one of the materials used. 

                From the church we drove off to what they call the "Sunken Cemetery". The thing is , if you don’t dive you’ll only see the marker because… duh it’s a sunken cemetery. A man approached us and offered us a ride to the marker which is a huge cross. I wanted to help the man because I knew that he makes a living out of that but we could not afford the price for a boat ride just to see a marker of a sunken cemetery which is totally submerged.
Katibawasan Falls

                    So far none of the sites we’d visited impressed us ,so we moved on to the next one, the Katibawasan falls. I was excited about seeing the falls up close as I had only seen one before from a distance. It was late afternoon when we got to the falls. Even before we laid our eyes on it ,as the place is surrounded with trees ,we could already hear the sound of the water gushing down to the pool below.I was in awe of the sight of the water dropping abruptly from a high cliff to the pool . The cold water in the pool was inviting but the place had a creepy feel to it. The few people swimming that time left shortly after we arrived so the thought of swimming in the pool with no one else except my younger siblings , surrounded with thick foliage and listening to nature’s sound coming from the water, the birds and maybe some creatures lurking somewhere around the pool or under the water was not so tempting.
One of the pools at Ardent Hotsprings                    
                    After marveling at the amazing sight we left and headed to the Ardent hot spring. It's at the hot spring where we spent the longest time as we'd never experienced swimming in a 39degree- pool before. 
                    After a day of touring the island we asked the driver to take us to a place where we could spend the night at. I forgot the name of the place but it's close to the beach and we paid P1500 for a cottage good for 4 people. It had 2 beds and an ensuite bathroom. It was the perfect location as we were going to the "White Island" early the following morning. Technically the "White Island" is a sandbar and what's amazing is its shape ,which resembles the letter "C",as in Camiguin. We informed the owner of the cottage that we wanted to tour the "White Island" the following morning so she could get us a boatman.

White Island

                    Almost 6AM the following morning when we left for the island and the owner of the cottage specifically mentioned that it takes 7 minutes to reach the place. I was surprised to see that there were already a lot of people in the island. It would be better if a tour to the island starts as early as 5AM because it gets so hot since it's barren, there's no available shelter of any kind. My brother's tent came in handy so we were able to last for a few hours of swimming and just sitting on the sand people watching. By 9 AM we texted the boatman to fetch us. Camiguin's slogan is "Come again to Camiguin", and with what we saw we may do it again.