Southeast Asia Part 2: Philippines and Japan

Man, do I miss the hot 33 degree weather! It seems like only a short time ago when our group was relaxing on the beaches of Boracay, with those unbelievable mango shakes from Jonah’s. After being home for the last week, it’s time to catch up on some work, before the New Year! On my last post, I left off in Vietnam, continuing our travels to the Philippines and finishing in Japan. Check out the first part here.

Our 18 hour travel day was just beginning, as we left Vietnam late in the evening onto our next destination in Boracay. We would land in Manila, where we needed to catch our domestic flight to Boracay. Landing so early, in Manila we had a breakfast early before catching our connecting flight. As we were heading to breakfast, I couldn’t believe the traffic! I thought Vietnam was crazy, but Manila’s traffic was a standstill ( more on that later). Another side note, terminals are far apart. Unlike Vancouver’s international and domestic terminal, Manila’s terminal are not.

We had a few minor delays, before landing in Caticlan, the international airport for Boracay. After landing, our 18 hour trek wasn’t quite over as we still needed to take a ferry, and another 30 minute drive to our Airbnb. Trying to find our way to Airbnb took longer then anticipated as our villa was hidden up a cobble stair way reminiscent of the Grouse Grind. After being dropped off at the wrong spot, we managed to navigate our way, with limited data, and communication. After finally settling in after our 18 hour trek, our villa was exactly what we needed. The villa managed to accommodate all 8 of us, and was in a remote location away from the streets. We were greeted by our lovely host who showed us around!

The group knew if we took a nap, we wouldn’t wake up, so we all rallied and went straight to dinner by station 1. Boracay, has three stations with 1 and 2 being the busiest of the three stations. We had dinner at a local Korean joint, before quickly roaming the streets and heading back to the villas before an exhausting day of travelling.

I won’t get in-depth of our week in Boracay, as it was mostly filled with lots of lounging, beach bumming, island hopping, sports activities, and mango shakes. However, I’ll definitely give you some of my favourite highlights!

Our second day in Boracay, our group was lounging, before we started tossing a frisbee around. For those who still new to the frisbee world, Boracay is home to one of the best beach frisbee teams, known as the Boracay Dragons. After a few minutes of tossing, a group approached us a challenged us to a game. These kids were no older than 16? Little did we know, after our game against these kids, we found out they were part of the Boracay Dragons Junior program. Although not a close game for us, it was fun to experience a beach gamewith them. A few days later we had a rematch and although another defeat was imminent, it was fun nonetheless. It was a great way to exercise while traveling! After the scrim, the coach invited us to their practice, where myself and Kristin decided to join. One of the best things about frisbee, is there is no language barrier. It’s such an easy way to connect and meet new people from around the world.

First night's sunset as practice was just ending!  First night’s sunset as practice was just ending!

On Drew’s last night, we headed to the Boracay Seafood market, D’ Talipapa! When you step foot into the marketplace, stands of seafood and vendors are ready to haggle with you. Although it takes a while, you end up with a bag of seafood, where you take it to your choice of restaurant, where they prepare your seafood and dishes to your liking. Some of the highlight dishes were the chilli prawns!

With Drew departing the next morning, our group went island hopping before expecting Amy to join us the next day! The day we went, it was unfortunate the weather had a bit of overcast, but it was worth doing. With three separate stops to 3 different islands, a lot of snorkelling was in order. However, on Magic Island a small group of us decided to go for an early morning adrenaline rush, by doing cliff diving! With three different heights myself, Ryan, Stala and Einer, decided to start small at 3 meters, before moving jumping off the 10 meter. My only regret while doing this jump was looking down at crashing waves, just before the jump. Otherwise, worth checking out during your island hopping tours. Although Ariels Point, was another recommended spot in Boracay for cliff diving, the price of that one steered us away from going there. With the clouds rolling in, our island hopping tour ended shorter then anticipated.

As mentioned, water sports was a must during our time in Boracay! With our group doing a various of water activities, I opted to do flyfish. Not having heard of this activity before, it’s exactly what it sounds like. With a group of 6, mounted on the back of the “flyfish” the driver speeds around the waters, creating waves, with the purpose of flipping you over! The pictures were taken by Kristin!

And Einer flies off the Flyfish... And Einer flies off the Flyfish… Grabbing some custom wooden keychains for souvenirs!  Grabbing some custom wooden keychains for souvenirs!

Lastly, one of the biggest things we had to do on the beach was watch the sunset! There was no better place to do it, than Spyder House, a 5 minute walk from our villa. We had our own little deck, where we were able to lounge and dive off the deck straight into the waters ( although as Einer quickly found out, it was a little shallow). With food, drinks, friends, and a nice sunset, there was no better way, to end our time in Boracay.

Nightly fire show at the beach!  Nightly fire show at the beach! Boodle fight was our last meal in Boracay! Not knowing this before it Boodle fight was our last meal in Boracay! Not knowing this before it “originated from the Philippine military where a big pile of food are served in the middle of a really long table in a mess hall where every hungry soldier eats with their hands symbolizing of camaraderie, brotherhood and equality in the military. The “fight” in the name refers to the act of grabbing and eating as much as the soldier can before others grab them or runs out, remember this is served to very hungry men so if you’re slow you will definitely run out of food”- Wikipedia

Making our way back to Manila the week after, I was excited to play a three day frisbee tournament, Manila Spirits! It was in Manila as well, where Paul joined us from Beijing. You’ll remember Paul from my previous Japan trip where he’s known for his rice ball eating skills. This was the first time, playing in an international tournament, and I was super excited. Myself, Einer, Stala, Kristen picked up with a team known as Huckuna Matata, with Paul, Ryan and Amy joining another. Unfortunately, I don’t have many shots of this as I left my camera at home for safety reasons. However, during this three day tournament, I met people from all over. Our team consisted of teammates, ranging from Thailand, Vietnam, to Taiwan! Everyone was such a pleasure to play with, and as mentioned, frisbee has no language barriers. The tournament consisted of teams from all over. It was a high paced tournament with plenty of skill! Some phone photos of our three days.

The team's awesome Airbnb!  The team’s awesome Airbnb!

Absolutely exhausted after three days of playing in 30 degree temperature, we were ready to move on to more scenic beaches! The next morning, we headed to Puerta Princessa, home of one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Unfortunately for me, this part of the trip wasn’t the best as I picked up some food poisoning the night before in Manila. Our evening there was mainly spent relaxing and recovering in Puerta Princessa.

In the early morning, our group took a tour to the Underground Rivers. If you ever choose to do the Underground Rivers, and want to save time, you may want to skip the tours. We opted to do it with a tour company which took us to a few other places ( tourist traps) before, we actually arrived at the Underground Rivers. When we finally arrived, to the base of the Underground Rivers, we were greeted with a lunch buffet, before taking a short ferry ride to the island.

The Underground Rivers itself were breathtaking. It really is incredible, to see something form from thousand of years ago into what it is today. The 15 minute boat tour, was pitch black except for the lamp that the tour guide had on. In order to preserve the natural habitat, they really limit light usage ( from phones, cameras etc) as the rocks, and wildlife, are quite delicate, which didn’t make it ideal for photos. Having had to put my camera away, I had the chance to really appreciate the rock formations throughout the tour. Besides, the rock formations, the bats were quite active as well, flying overhead. It was mentioned to us before the tour to make sure we never looked up, or had our mouths opened, as you could accidentally ingest some unwanted things.

Entrance of the Underground River cave.  Entrance of the Underground River cave.

Promptly after our tour we headed back to our hotel where we needed to grab our bags before our 6 hour drive to El Nido. The ride itself was smooth for the most part, with a quick pit stop at a local food tent. The roads we’re pretty windy, much like our Sea to Sky highway. However, with food poisoning still affecting me, I mainly slept for the duration of our 6 hour ride.

The next morning, we had breakfast at our hotel overlooking the blue waters of El Nido. It was a small sample of what we were going to see on our island hopping tour. As chance would have it, one of my friends I met during my 2011 Disney Program happened to be in El Nido with us. Of all places, Nicole was in El Nido as well ( cue It’s a Small World). We met up a on the beaches before starting our island hopping tour. With 4 different tours ( A, B, C. D) we opted for Tour C, which was recommended to us. Unfortunately, we found out once we started, that two the islands we were suppose to visit, was closed off due to the filming of Survivor, so we had to change the itinerary. However, the islands we visited were still beautiful!

Unfortunately one of the islands I enjoyed, has slipped my mind, but the snorkelling there was unbelievable! It reminded me of Hawaii once again, but slightly better with the amount of coral, and marine life. My other favourite island was Secret Island. With boats surrounding this huge limestone rock, and a small entrance we plunged into waters hoping to see what was behind the rock. As you swim closer to the entrance, you need to dive into the waters and swim past the entrance which are nestled between rocks. Once your emerge out the waters, you arrive at Secret Island! Due to the risk of my camera getting damaged, I didn’t bring it along with me. However, you can see from my Gopro shots of the islands!

In addition to all the scenery, I was impressed with the lunch they had on the island. With all the food prepared on the boat, the food was quite delcious with grilled fish, crab, and other local cuisine. They brought everything off the boat, and prepared into a buffet style right onto the beaches.

After the tours, our group spent the evening looking wandering the different restaurants of El Nido. We also spent a short time looking for transportation to our next destination Coron. In order to get to Coron, the two options were a fast ferry ( 3 hours) or the normal ferry ( 7 hours). Unfortunately after checking with the many different travel agents, we were stuck with the normal ferry. With that putting a small damper into our night, we went out looking for halo-halo a local icy plate dessert!

Our initial plan for the second day was to do tour A. However, as a group we felt like  too much of our time was spent on transportation and felt a beach day was in order. We spent the whole day at Las Cabanas Beach, where zipline is offered. With the majority of the day spent there, one of the highlights had to be the sunset. Unfortunately, little did we know it would be one of our last sunsets in the Philippines. We concluded our evening in El Nido, at a seafood restaurant, which we spotted the night before. With our eyes set on Coron for the early morning, we said our good bye to Nicole who was heading to Cebu the next day.

With our bags packed for the long 7 hour journey ahead to Coron, we were greeted with some unfortunate news as we got to the terminal. Due to a typhoon warning, all ferries were going to be postpone until further notice. As a group we decided, the best plan was to head back to Manila from Puerta Princessa. With that said, we had to grab a van for another 6 hour ride back to Puerta Princessa and an additional flight back to Manila. After several delays, we managed to finally make it back to Manila in the wee hours.

With a few extra days in Manila, we ended saying bye to Amy who headed back home to Vancouver. With only a small handful of us left, a lot of the days were spent in malls. The malls in Manila are some of the nicest malls I’ve been to. The majority of the malls had nice marble floors, and nicely designed architecture. It was odd feeling to see the malls decked out in Christmas ornaments, with the summer like weather in Manila. During our time in the malls, it was when one of my eye opening experiences happened as well.

I’ve already posted this on my Facebook page, but here’s a quick excerpt from it:

It’s been a memorable trip so far as we conclude our trip in Southeast Asia. However none more memorable than this day. On our first day in Manila walking through a pass way, our group noticed children famished, asking for money. We briefly turned to each other and all agreed it was sad, and continued along to our destination. A couple days later, back at the same pass way, the same children were there. Again we walked by, acknowledging them for a brief moment before continuing our travels to our next destination. For a few minutes, my curiosity wanted to know more about their situation, only to have my attention quickly focused back on our group. As we walked back from lunch, I had stopped along the pass way, keeping my distance and observing these group of kids. A young girl not older than 8, was carrying her younger brother no older than 2. As I stood there, for 10 minutes observing this group of children, I had wanted to do something for them. With hundreds of people walking by, with the occasional person giving them a half drank drink and food, I wanted to do a little more. I struggled on how to approach them as language barrier would be a main issue. As I was thinking of the best way to greet them, she turned to me and smiled. I squatted down and did my best to have a conversation. For the first minute, as hundreds of onlookers walked by it was nerve racking to have people look at you. That feeling quickly bypassed. Myself and Helen, left shortly after discussing ideas of things we could do. We headed to the nearest toy store with the smallest of gifts before heading back. As we approached them once again, we were both nervous as to what onlookers would think. But again, as we sat down beside them and opened their gifts, the feeling of nervousness turned into a sense of joy. The young girl, had turned her colouring book and had started writing her name, Kimberley. The language barrier, was easy to overcome as we had started using illustrations and drawings. We ended up sitting for another 30 minutes before, we had to leave. The joy from these 4 kids, made this such a memorable moment of our trip. Kimberley and Mhay, were the two girls. Unfortunately we didn’t get the names of the other two. As a photographer, I struggled if taking a photograph was appropriate. In the end, seeing their smiles and knowing that people, sometimes just need a bit of help goes a long way. I asked Kimberley and the group if it was okay. I showed them the photo afterwards, followed by a thumbs up! The smile the kids gave us, as we left was worth every moment.

Within a short distance of these mega luxury malls, to the streets with famished children, was a crazy sight to see. However, it was a reminder to realize how fortunate we are, living in a city with so many necessities easily accessible to us.

After a few days spent in Manila, it was ready for us to head to Japan! Myself and Helen were separating from the rest of the group, with Einer and Stala joining us later on in Japan two days later. Our next destination was in Osaka with a quick layover in Tokyo. The moment we landed, I knew I should’ve packed a bit of winter gear. The frigid air, and huge temperature drop, was something we were unprepared for. We dropped off our bags at our Airbnb, and were on the hunt for warm clothes and food. It was already late with most clothing shops and restaurants closing do we settled for a quick rice bowl, with Helen hunting for Japan’s best takoyaki.

Due to the amount of traveling, leading up to Osaka, we had a later start and used our first day to relax and ponder the good eats of Osaka. Forewarning, a lot of upcoming photos will be of food as we literally ate our way around Japan. Thanks to Taishi, a friend I met on my last Japan trip for making a reservation to Shunsaiten Tsuchiya one of Osaka’s, Michelin star tempura restaurants, which was recommended by a friend in Vancouver.

When we arrived, as you do in most Japanese restaurants, we were greeted by the whole staff. We were seated by the bar where we were able to watch the chef’s prepare each dish with so much care, and delicacy making the experience that more enjoyable. Before the 12 course tempura meal started, our cold and warm appetizers of different local Japanese foods we’re first served to us. Due to the language barrier, we were unsure of some items but for the most part, we enjoyed all the items. With the appetizers finished up, our 12 course tempura meal started. I won’t go through all 12, but my favourites had to be the crab, squid, and shrimp! Each one was perfectly battered, crisp, with flavours and not too oily! Our meal concluded with warm rice, red miso soup, and dessert which was a delicious custard of some sort. Although the location of the restaurant is more in the suburbs, and takes quite a little bit of transit, I would highly recommend it!

Outside of the the house!  Outside of the the house!

Not having a chance the night before to buy warm clothes, we headed to main district of Dotonbori, to look for some warm winter clothes. We ended up spending the majority of the day here, with so much to explore. With this being Helen’s first time in Osaka, we didn’t rush too much. One of daily rituals was having a Pablo’s cheesecake tart! If your ever in Japan, do yourself a favour and try one of these mini tarts which come in three flavours ( green tea, regular, and chocolate).

First few pieces of sushi in Osaka!  First few pieces of sushi in Osaka!

The next day was literally our eating day! We made it our goal to have small portions, with all the restaurants we were going to visit. Our first stop of the day was Mizuno, a restaurant we saw the day earlier with a line out the door. After a little bit more research we found out it was actually another Michelin Star restaurant, famous for the Japanese pancake, Okonomiyaki. We started lining up at 10:45, with doors opening at 11. The restaurant itself, is only about 10 seats. Apparently there’s an upstairs section which we didn’t see. With only about 4 popular menu items on the menu, we ordered two of the 4. The instant we saw the size of the Okonomiyaki, our goal of having small portions was over. We opted for the “mazeyaki” the classic with cabbage, pork, octopus, shrimp, scallops, and the ” modanyaki” the one with noodles. By the time we ate half of each, we both knew we were in trouble as we both couldn’t finish. If you ever come to Mizuno, be sure to have to save space.

With stomachs full, we walked around the Dotonbori area to digest as much as we could. After a bit of walking, we made our way to Kuromon market, stopping by Kamatake Udon famous for their fried squid, and egg. Again, the noodles, were perfectly cooked, with the squid and eggs battered to perfection.

Following lunch, we continued down to Kuromon market, a local public market, where fresh seafood, fruits and meats are sold. Kuromon market is very reminscient of the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Only a few blocks of stalls, we couldn’t resist and try a skewer of the famous Wagyu beef, and a grilled scallop skewer. As Helen will admit, she wasn’t thinking anything special of the beef. The second she had the first bite, she said her mind was blown how delicious the beef was. For $20.00, we had three pieces of the Wagyu beef. Luckily for Helen, we had dinner reservations for a restaurant that I visited last year while I was in Osaka for the Matsusakagyu beef.

One of the reasons I love Japan are the people. This gentlemen preparing our Wagyu skewers, was so enthusiastic I couldn't resist taking a photo of him.  One of the reasons I love Japan are the people. This gentlemen preparing our Wagyu skewers, was so enthusiastic I couldn’t resist taking a photo of him.

We made in effort to digest as quickly as possible, with dinner approaching quickly. After Helen, had the a taster of the beef, she was super excited for dinner. I can probably say, my meal here is probably still one of my most favourite meals ever. We got a set menu where the chef prepares a platter of beef for you to self grill, served with their to die for garlic rice. If you have to visit one place in Osaka, be sure to come to Matsusakagyu Yakiniku for a meal you won’t regret. After our day eating around Osaka, we were Tokyo bound the next day.

After a 3 hour train ride from Osaka, and some crazy walking we arrived at our friends Anita house. We dropped off our bags, before making our way to Shibuya, to visit a beef tonkatsu restaurant, Gyukatsu Motomura, a place we tried to visit the first night. When we arrived, the queue was still long, but with time to spare this time, we decided to wait it out.  It was about an hour and half wait, with the hostess taking your order while you wait. After the long wait, it only took a matter of minutes before the server placed out meal in front of us. Was it worth the long wait? It was worth every minute! I’m a steak lover. The beef is fried on the outside, with the inside of the beef prepared rare. They place a little grill at your seat for you to prepare the beef to your liking. For myself and Helen, this was another memorable meal! So memorable, that we visited the day after.

Night shot while wandering around the city. Night shot while wandering around the city.

Due to our short time in Tokyo, we only visited a few districts this time around! Harajuku, was on our list, with its unique stores and personality. With Harajuku taking up the majority of our day, our evening was spent at local event, at Rikugien National Park, where they were hosting a special event much like the Vandusen Gardens. With Einer and Stala joining us in Tokyo, we wandered the gardens with them, before meeting Stala’s friend Laila who was from Vancouver but now lived in Tokyo. It was nice having a local show us around Tokyo as we wandered around the Shibuya area.

Interesting, things around Japan!  Interesting, things around Japan!

One of the biggest attraction I missed out on last time was the Cup Noodle Museum. The museum was definitely a popular spots for locals and tourist. The museum consisted of 3 full floors of artifacts, displays, and a DIY cup noodle station, which seemed like the most popular thing to do. Myself and Helen, each created our own cup noodle, with unique designs and toppings. The movie showcasing the history of cup noodles was also a learning experience!

Grabbing our cup to start the design process. Grabbing our cup to start the design process.

For lunch we met up with Amy, Helen’s good friend from high school, who was visiting from Korea! These two had a blast, catching up over our stroll at Shinjuku Gyoen National Park. Although it was a short and sweet catch up, it was nice seeing friends from a different country. The national park itself was covered with the fall like colours, making for some great photos. With Amy departing back to Korea during the evening, myself and Helen had a reservation for Sushi Matsue.

Sushi Matsue, was recommended to us by Kristin, who went here previously. The restaurant is an omakase style where the chef prepares the food of his choice. I’ll admit, this was a small challenge for me as I’m quite the picky eater. However, being in Japan, I decided to be a little more adventurous with my seafood. If there was ever a time to try new seafood and sashimi, it was going to be here! Again, a lot of dishes were outstanding. I won’t go into each dish as there were a various of hot and cold foods our chef prepared for us. We didn’t find language barrier an issue here, as our chef spoke some english. My favourite sashimi, was going to be the eel! It was a lot different than other bbq eel’s I’ve previously had. The eel was so tender, it literally melted in your mouth. For grilled food, I throughly enjoyed the black cod, which had a small amount of miso flavour. My overall favourite dish, was the tuna salad. The tuna in Japan, is in it’s own different league. It was prepared with a small salad, and just the right amount of dressing, with the fish super tender. I’ll let the images speak for itself! Overall, I throughly enjoyed the omakase experience, where I had the chance to try new seafoods and fishes I wouldn’t otherwise try. For those picky eaters out there, omakase in Japan is the best way to do it!

The care they put in storing their fish. The care they put in storing their fish.

Our wonderful chef preparing our whole meal!  Our wonderful chef preparing our whole meal!

We couldn’t go to Tokyo and not visit Tsukiji Fish Market. Although we had an outstanding sushi meal the night before, we were back looking for more. With no line, we found Sushi Zanmai ranked #3 on Tripadvisor. We decided to go ahead with and eat here, with ratings being so high. Quickly after we sat down, the lines started forming out the door. Needless to say, we got quite lucky. The restaurant was fairly big, helping the lines move along. After an adventurous night at Sushi Matsue, I resorted back to my old time favourites, with the tuna, bbq eel and grilled sable fish! Helen ordered the tuna tartar with quail egg, was also phenomenal.

Using the last day in Tokyo, we headed to another district venturing Ginza, where we did some more shopping before, heading out to an early dinner with some ultimate frisbee friends, that I met last year. Again, ultimate frisbee is such an awesome community. We met up for, Japanese bbq, where I was reacquainted with old and new faces.

We couldn’t leave Tokyo, without having one last meal before we left. Steiner, met up with us in the early morning as they were catching a train to leave Tokyo as well. We met up for one last udon meal, at Shin Udon, where bacon tempura was on the menu. Like most of the Japan restaurants we visited, this again was a smaller restaurant, which made the dining experience more homey. The noodles perfectly cooked to al dente, with a soft boiled egg, and the bacon tempura. A perfect way to end our trip before leaving for the airport!

With no interest in visiting any of these places originally, I’m glad my friends started the initial process of planning, and asking me to come. I’m so grateful to have traveled with a great group of friends, and encountering many eye opening things along the way. For those who stuck out it for the entire blog, mad props to you! Looking forward now to my next adventure in Australia in February! Leave a comment below, and let me know what your favourite part was. Until next time!

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