LONG WEEKEND TRIP IN BRUNEI AND KOTA KINABALU: Free Things to Do plus Itinerary

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I am currently working on my goal to travel all the countries in Southeast Asia. As I hit Brunei, the second to the last country of my Southeast Asia leg, I also included another country nearby. If you’ve been a follower and a long time reader of mine, you know that whenever I have a chance to hit another country I go all in and travel it even if I have a very little time.

*This travel itinerary can be very chill to others but some may find it very busy and compact in schedule. It all depends on your preference but I still hope you will find it helpful.

BRUNEI

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Abode of Peace as marketed by their tourism organization is still an unknown destination for many people. Some people would even find it boring as I read blogs while doing my research and talked to my friends who have been there. Most of them didn’t actually recommend it. However I know to myself that there will be something in this place that others may not find attractive but something worthwhile for me. It just all boils down to our preference. So I took a leap of fate and book the flights for a long weekend holiday.

How to Get There

Cebu Pacific serves 8 pm direct flights to Brunei from Manila on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays only, while Airasia flies twice a day daily. Average cost of round trip plane tickets may cost Php 3,000-5,000 depending on the season. In my case it was a New Year holiday so I paid ₱5,600 one way and ₱3,000 from Kota Kinabalu to Manila.

Places to Visit

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Brunei has a lot of museums, art galleries and mosques to check out that are free of entrance. If you are looking for an authentic Bruneian experience check their 38 kilometer floating village. Want nature tripping? Go and see their proboscis monkeys via river cruise or hiring a water taxi driver to drive you around. You can also include Ulu Temburong National Park to witness their virgin rainforest while walking on the treetop canopies. But since this trip is only a long weekend holiday and the fact that Kota Kinabalu is squeezed in, I only settled in the capital city, Bandar Seri Begawan.

Yayasan Sultan Haji Hasannal Bolkia Complex

A nearby mall from Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque where you can get good angles for photos and sight of the mosque. It is just a typical mall where you can shop and chill to avoid the midday sun of Brunei with lots of shops and restaurants to choose from. It has a souvenir store called BWN Souvenir Centre worth checking out because of its lots of good finds to bring home.

Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque

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Built on artificial lagoon on the banks of the river, the mosque is a place of worship for Allah but also an attraction to visitors. This place is picturesque and not very tourist infested compared to the other mosque. In fact, when I was there I witnessed two local pre-nuptial photo shoots.

Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque

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It is probably the more popular mosque in Bandar Seri Begawan out of the two because of the influx of tourists when I was there. It is built in 1992 to celebrate the 25th year of the sultan’s current reign. At night, when it is lit, its golden domes are shinning and very stunning to look at. Just be aware of the schedule where it is open to have fully access of the mosque. Although visitors are still welcome around the vicinity and in front of the mosque even when it is closed, it is still better to have a full experience of the place.

*I checked the schedule of the opening hours thru google maps.

Istana Nurul Iman

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The palace is the official residence of the Sultan of Brunei and the biggest private residence in the entire world with 1,788 rooms. However, it is only worth a visit during the Hari Raya public holiday where it is open to public and visitors have the chance to meet and greet his Highness and the rest of the royal family.

Gadong Night market

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A place to quench thirst and satisfy hunger! With a lot of food selections to choose from, from Borneo cuisines to flavorful fruits at very affordable prices, it is surely the answer for your food trip.

Kampong Ayer

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This is a must-see place when visiting Brunei. The century-old village on stilts above the water is a reflection of the ancient Bruneian life. The village has a mix of ancient and modern houses because a lot of them these days are made of 2 story concrete cement with attic. It also houses Kampong Ayer Cultural and Tourism Gallery where visitors can learn the history or the floating village.

Getting Around the City

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Bandar Seri Begawan is a small city that you can actually walk from one site to another. However, the strong sun does not allow it. From the airport there is a public bus that can take you to the city center which only costs B$ 2 but it only runs from 6 a.m to 6p.m. After that your only option is to take the taxi which is B$ 20-25 (₱756- 943). There’s also no taxi app available in this city and the bus routes are not registered in google maps. So in taking the city buses, better ask the driver if it is going or passing by your destination. English is widely spoken there anyway so there’s no problem in communicating with the locals and asking directions. In case of tours, you can book with a travel agency or water taxi drivers would politely approach you and offer you an hour or more tour. The cost varies from B$20-35 (₱756- 1,312) depending on the site s you want to visit.

Traveling To Kota Kinabalu

Going to Kota Kinabalu from Brunei can be both accessed by bus or ferry. I chose the bus because it is the easiest, less complicated and most certain one. I booked a Jesselton bus thru Sipitang express online. The fare is MYR 100 (₱1,300). The bus leaves from its station in Jalan McArthur just be there 30 minutes before your scheduled trip. The journey is about 8 hours with 3-4 times entry and exit between Brunei and Malaysia territories. So if you want to collect stamps in your passport, this is the way to go.

KOTA KINABALU, MALAYSIA

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The city is the capital of Sabah, Malaysia. It is known for its stunning beaches perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving and home for the 4,095m-high Mount Kinabalu.

*Unfortunately I didn’t get the chance to explore this city too much and didn’t have the chance to check out any of the places mentioned above because I only stayed here for around 32 hours which means, I have to go back here. Anyways here’s my city tour and places I visited for the limited time.

Places to Visit

Filipino Market

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I don’t know why it is called Filipino market because most of the products sold here are wide range of Malaysian produce. It serves clothes, accessories, gadgets and food so if you are on the hunt for some souvenirs you may want to check this place out.

Kota Kinabalu Waterfront

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A one-stop dining and entertainment centre and a popular hangout place for both locals and foreigners. Here, you can chill and enjoy the beach view while waiting for the sunset.

Signal Hill Observatory Platform

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The highest point in the city with an open deck area where visitors can witness an amazing view of the city extending until the beach. It is also a good spot to catch the sunset. It requires a little exercise when you hike up the 250m stairs, but if you are not up for that you can take a taxi going up the hill.

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque

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The second main mosque in Sabah is another stunning attraction worth visiting. The mosque seems to float on top of the water but it is just a man-made lagoon nestled around the mosque that creates a reflection and illusion. This place can hold 12,000 worshipers. Non-Muslims can’t have an access inside but you can still view the mosque from the front. Be aware to dress modestly because this is a place of worship.

Entrance Fee: MYR 5

Getting Around the City

Similar with Bandar Seri Begawan, Kota Kinabalu is also a small city that can be accessed on foot. Public buses are also working but no visible route in google maps so better ask the drivers if the bus is passing by your destination. Again, English is widely spoken here so it is not difficult to ask for directions. Unlike Brunei, taxi apps are available too with friendly drivers to keep you entertain during the ride.

ITINERARY

Brunei

 Day 1: City Tour

  • Istana Nurul Iman
  • Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque
  • Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Complex
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Day 2:

  • Proboscis Monkey River Cruise (book through travel agency or water taxi driver)
  • Kampong Ayer
  • Jame Asr Hassanal Bolkiah Mosque
  • *Gadong Night Market

 Day 3: Travel to Kota Kinabalu

  • Arrival in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
  • Filipino Market
  • Cente Point
  • Kota Kinabalu Waterfront

 Day 4: KK City Tour

  • Signal Hill Observatory Platform
  • Kota Kinabalu City Mosque
  • Sunset Cruise (book through travel agency or hostel)

HOW TOAVOID GETTING OFFLOADED BY THE PHILIPPINE IMMIGRATION

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Offload is such a nightmare for every Filipino traveler. Your time, money, excitement, expectations and effort in preparing for your dream travel or overseas vacation is put to waste because of this. The Philippine Immigration is known to be very strict in executing the departure formalities for international travel. Don’t hate them. They are just doing their job to avoid undocumented Filipino workers abroad.

As for my personal experience, I have never been offloaded for my years of traveling but I experienced a very strict 10-minute interview with an Immigration Officer. It’s nerve racking! So, I am sharing with you useful tips for this nightmare not to happen.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated nor part of the Philippine Immigration. All the tips I will be sharing is based on my pure experience and encounter with Immigration interview.

Do Your Research

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When it comes to traveling, preparation is always the key especially when you are on a budget. The same is true with your immigration departure interview. Go to the Philippine Immigration website for the requirements to be presented on your departure interview, depending on your employment status. Also, it is important that the guidelines are coming from them so it means that it is accurate. Reach out to them too through Facebook. They are very responsive and would give you the right answers to your queries. You can also check blogs and YouTube videos on the web regarding other’s experience regarding offload and immigration departure interview. Learn from their experience, avoid the mistakes they did and follow the tips they give.

Get Your Travel and Employment Documents Ready and Printed

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These documents prove that you will just travel and not going to seek employment abroad. Also, these will back up your departure interview proving that you are employed and will come back to our home country. Immigration Officers usually look for your valid passport, return ticket and visa. But you can also include hotel/accommodation booking and itinerary just in case they look for them. For proof of employment, prepare your company i.d, Certificate of Employment (COE) stating you are currently employed in the company and Leave of Absence (LOA) form. Print them out and present them nicely to the Immigration Officer when they ask for it.

P.s. I write my itinerary at the back of my leave form to make it more convincing.

Practice Immigration Interview Questions

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Since you already did your research and you heard others experience regarding their immigration interview, you have idea what questions the immigration officer might ask. With that, you can also start preparing your answers with the expected questions you gathered on your research.

For your reference, these are the common questions I encountered during my departure formalities. Some might make your eyebrow raise but let’s believe they have reasons for asking them.

  • What is your job?
  • What company are you working with?
  • Where are you going?
  • Where will you stay in (destination)?
  • Is the travel for work or vacation?
  • Is it your first time abroad?
  • Why are you traveling alone?
  • When are you coming back?
  • How long will you stay?
  • Who are you traveling with?
  • What will you do in (destination)?
  • Where did you graduate in College?
  • What is your major/ degree?
  • When did you graduate?

 

Be Confident and Honest

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Remember, your confidence will show your honesty. If you keep on stammering and can’t answer the Immigration Officer straight, that might be a red flag and subject to offload. Always keep a confident tone of voice and look at them straight in the eyes while answering their questions.  Know to yourself that you have nothing to hide. You will just travel, explore new country, learn new culture and live your best life!

 

HOW I PLAN FOR MY TRAVELS: Step by Step Guide on Budget Traveling

 

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“What? How?” These are the common reaction I get when I answer my friends questions about my budget on my travels. Most people think that traveling is expensive and luxury. Yes it is, but if you plan it carefully and prepare for it, you will save tons of money, time and can make travel smoothly. I am a planner ever since and I must say that not everything turns out how I want it to be but it works better for me than having no plan at all. If a sudden problem and changes occur at least I can call for a Plan B. For all the years I’ve been traveling whether a long weekend holiday or a month-long backpacking I always make sure to plan it right and set deadlines to make sure there’s progress on my planning. I am presenting to you my seven key steps on planning my trips both local and international.

Disclaimer: We all have our own travel style, not everyone is a planner or has time to plan. This post is made to showcase DIY budget traveling and for those who want to jumpstart their travels and backpacking but don’t know where to start.

  1. DOING MY RESEARCH
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Researching about the target destination gives idea about what to expect, do’s and don’ts, itinerary, cultural practice and also expected budget. Some blogs mention what airlines you can take and recommended areas to book your accommodation. The web is a huge playground for useful information that can make traveling smooth. Depending on my type of travel it takes me three to six months before the target date of my travel I am gathering the data I need.

  1. BOOKING A FLIGHT

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This serves as my stepping stone and my motivation in my upcoming travel. It convinces me that my travel is really happening. I start searching for available flights and routes that I can take. Since I am subscribed to social media accounts and websites of different airlines, it is easy for me to know if they have seat sales for my target destination. I also check fare compare apps like “skyscanner” and “cheapoair” to give me more airline options.

  • Usually it takes me 1-2 weeks of stalking and checking on my target flight just in case the price would be cheaper. After every search I delete my search on my google search history because airlines’ websites use cookies that can recognize my previous searches and it will not change the plane ticket price or worse will make it higher.
  • I check and book flights in the middle of the night or dawn time as early as 4 a.m because they change like magic during these time.
  1. BOOKING FOR ACCOMMODATION

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I’m done with my flight, I am all set to book my accommodation. I usually choose accommodation in the city center because all the essentials for my travels such as restaurants, convenient stores, banks, travel agencies (for day tour package), money changers, and even visiting sites is just few distance away. That way, I can save time and money for transportation. I am more of a hostel person than a hotel one because aside from being cheaper, some of them even have free breakfast. They also have everything you need from money changing, day tour packages and bus tickets to your next destinations. I use booking.com to book my accommodation since they offer book now pay later system. You can pay in the hostel when you arrive for either cash or card, depending on the hostel system.

P.S: If I transfer from one city or country to another through land travel, I always opt for a sleeper’s bus so I can save a night cost of accommodation.

  1. PLANNING MY ITINERARY

 

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Since I already determine how long will I stay in my target destination then I list down the visiting sites that I want to go. I read and search about every visiting sites and cities I am going. That way I can estimate how long I will stay in one city or country especially for month long backpacking. I search how to get there, if there are entrance fees, how much would they cost and what is the appropriate attire for that site. I set my routes from the sites nearest to my hostel to the farthest. That way, I can determine which sites I can walk and which sites I can take with public transportation. If the site is quite far or outside the city I book for a day tour package with travel agencies or my hostel. As I mentioned before, hostels offer package tours. If there’s none, I do my Plan B which is to be friendly with my hostel mates, hoping they would tag along with me especially if they drive motorbikes and we can split the cost. For five years of traveling in Southeast Asia it always works for me.

  • If you drive motorbikes, this is the best way to go around the city or take a day trip outside the city. Most countries in Southeast Asia offer motorbike rentals for only ₱ 300 a day. The cost of diesel is not so high plus one advantage is you can stop anytime to rest or enjoy a perfect view.
  1. SETTING MY BUDGET

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Planning the itinerary helps me estimate my budget for the whole trip and set my daily allowance during the trip. In case that my budget for the day exceeds the settled amount, I must do free things the next day to balance it. In Southeast Asia I can live by ₱ 500- 1,000 ($10-20) a day depending on my activities.

 

  1. SAVING UP FOR THE TRIP

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Although I already have my travel fund that I use for every trip, I still make sure to save up when I have remaining time. Since I already know my target budget, I set aside a percentage of my every paycheck so I don’t have to pull out much from my travel fund.

  1. PREPARING MY TRAVEL DOCUMENTS (For International Travel)

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I usually do this a week before my trip for immigration purposes. For Filipino travelers there is a thing called “offload” where you cannot board your flight because you were not able to comply with guidelines on departure formalities for international travel. To avoid this, back up your immigration interview with travel documents such as return ticket and accommodation reservation also include employment certificate, company I.D and leave form plus itinerary.

P.S: I write my itinerary at the back if my leave form that way I can prove more about my travel to the immigration officer. It’s better to be over prepared than under prepared.

HOW I BUILD MY TRAVEL FUND: Ways To Save Up for Travels

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I got asked a lot of times how I am able to travel. How do I afford to go overseas when I don’t make much? Some of my close friends would even joke I have a secret sugar daddy who is sponsoring my trips which I just laugh about since it is NOT true.

Traveling is deemed as privilege and luxury especially to where I am from. That’s a sure thing if you are hustling an 8-5 job and you are not paid well, you have bills or loans to pay or a family to support. Traveling would be your least priority.

I am lucky enough since I am making decently more from standard living cost. I don’t pay rent and I don’t have much responsibility so I am able to save up and build a stable travel fund. It also takes a lot of cutting back and sacrifices but it’s a matter of priority and consistency. I am sharing to you the following ways I learned from my personal experience in order to save up for my travels and might work for you too.

HAVE A SEPARATE BANK ACCOUNT FOR YOUR TRAVEL FUND

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As an adult who works hard to make ends meet at the same time preparing for the future, it is practical to have multiple bank accounts for your investments, long term or short term goals, emergency fund and also your travel fund. Treat it like money dedicated just for traveling. In that way you won’t feel guilty when you are traveling since you are being responsible and smart in your finances. You won’t be broke too after every travel since you know you have your other accounts filled. If you have a bank account only for traveling, you don’t have to re-adjust your budget, pull out money from your savings or worse borrow from someone.

  • I would suggest you use a passbook over an ATM so it won’t be accessible whenever you are tempted to withdraw it and use it in unnecessary things.
  • I’m not sure if there’s a psychology behind it but whenever I see the numbers in the passbook, it makes me happy and motivates me to increase it.

ALLOT A SPECIFIC PERCENTAGE OF YOUR PAYCHECK ON YOUR TRAVEL FUND

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I was asked a million times before how to save up for traveling and I always tell them that it is like a tithes in the church, or monthly insurance that you deduct on your paycheck. You set a percentage and you have to be consistent in depositing it in your travel fund. There are many ways on how to divide or allot your paycheck on the internet. There’s a 20-30-50 rule, a 10-20-20-50 rule and a lot more. There are tons of financial advice that you can read or watch on the web depending on the goal you are achieving and the lifestyle you are living. You just have to live below your means to make ends meet and be religious on putting that money on your travel fund.

DO SOME SIDE HUSTLE OR HAVE AN EXTRA INCOME

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In today’s world where inflation is fast and high, you hustle a lot but it seems you still don’t have money then consider making money on the side. . Anything that can be turn into extra cash, whether a hobby or a passion you have been working on or simply selling your pre-loved items is extremely encouraged to build or increase that travel fund. In my case, I teach online in the evenings or weekends when I’m free. I also do sponsored product reviews and freelance writing gigs. Even though I don’t make much on these side jobs but it can pays my get together with my friends, daily expenses for a week or increases my travel fund especially if my travel is fast approaching.

KEEP TRACK OF YOUR EXPENSES

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The number one advice I would give whenever people ask me how to start saving up. Whenever you keep track of your finances you will realize how much you are spending on unnecessary things. Then you will realize what if I just put that on my bank account or use it for my travels. There are many money tracking app you can download. I personally use “money manager” because I can set my budget on each month. It has calendar where it shows how much I spent that day, week or month. It also has statistics categorized how much you are spending on households, social life, apparel, beauty, health etc. You can also input your savings so you can monitor how much money you are making, saving and spending. With this simple tip you can jumpstart your adulting 101, improve your budgeting skills and also increase your travel fund.

CUT BACK ON UNNECESSARY EXPENSES

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Along with tracking your expenses, it will also make you cut back on things not part of your necessities. A lot of my friends told me it’s difficult to save. I always answer, yes! It is difficult to save when you always get your coffee every morning to collect your stickers to get a free planner. It is definitely difficult to save when you go shopping every paycheck. It is totally difficult to save when you eat out three to four times a week.  And it’s more difficult to save when you are always queuing in the cinema just to keep up with the latest movies.

Disclaimer: I am not shaming those people who do these. You have all the right to spend your hard earned money to whatever you like but if you are saving up you might want to do some sacrifice by cutting them back or having these in moderation. Before buying or doing something, weigh it first if it’s a need or want and you will be surprise how much money you can save.

MINIMIZE EATING OUT OR TAKEAWAYS

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Surely, there are pros and cons of eating out especially for those who don’t cook like me. It is delicious, convenient and time saving. But think about how much money you kiss goodbye in one sitting on your favorite restaurant compare to making it at home. One of the tip I learned when I was saving up to finance my travels is to make my favorite food in small batches at home. That way, when I crave for it, it is ready to be made or reheat. I realized the three meals I make is equivalent to one meal I pay in the restaurant. Sure thing, we can’t get away with eating out especially with get together but if you can make it two to three times a month and just put those bucks on your savings since you will be eating out when you travel anyway.

P.S: I’m a huge snack person so, I buy my bulk of snacks in grocery store good for a week plus I make my own drinks. That way, I don’t spend a lot on grabbing these food in cafe or cafeteria.

DON’T BE A SLAVE TO CONSUMERISM

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Yes gurl!! Been there, done that. Youtube, instagram and my favorite celebrity made me buy stuff. My friends have these cool things so I should also have them and so much more reasons to buy stuff that aren’t really working or needed in our life. The power of digital marketing and influencers these days makes us have this “buy buy buy” notion as if we “need need need” them not thinking it’s just a “want want want” instead of just “save save save” to make travel happen.

HAVING AN UPGRADE IN INCOME DOESN’T MEAN AN UPGRADE OF EXPENSES

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The Team! Photo Credit to Mr. Abel Sanyver

The title says it all. It happens especially to single young adults and professionals who got a promotion or salary increase. We tend to think since we have more money so we can now upgrade our phone, our car, our wardrobe etc. We miss the point that as long as our stuff is still running or hanging in there and we are still surviving with the lifestyle that we have, we don’t need to upgrade. We don’t need to change our old stuff and old lifestyle just because we have more money. Our extra money, we can use it for investment, savings or add it to our travel fund.

HAVE A TRAVEL JAR

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I would credit this tip to Laureen Uy. I learned it when I was watching her youtube video about saving money for traveling. She mentioned that at the end of the day, whenever she has loose change she always put it in her travel jar so that whenever she travels, she use those coins for food and drinks. I do that too. I set a daily budget and when I have something left for that day I put on a jar in my room and I use that money for food or additional budget for souvenir shopping when I travel. You wouldn’t realize how far those coins can get you. It might even fund your transportation allowance for your next travel.

So these, my friends are the things I learned and I am practicing for five years of traveling and having a wanderlust lifestyle. I hope it helps you and motivates you to start saving up for your travels.

DIY BUDGET TRAVEL TO BANGKOK, THAILAND

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Bangkok is a bucket list to a lot of people around the world. With its rich culture, stunning cityscape, wild night life and well preserved temples there are a lot of things you can do here. I can compare the cost of living here to be the same as the Philippines and Vietnam so you can gorge on their streetfood, visit their temples, relax on their Thai massage and learn Muay Thai at a very reasonable price. I consider Thailand as a must visit country especially for those who wants to jumpstart their travel or backpacking journey.

A lot of people asked me about this city’s cost, accommodation, places to visit and things to do.  So I compiled some tips on how to travel this country on a budget.

BOOKING A FLIGHT

Flights to Bangkok vary from seasons. When I booked my first flight in the month of June a round trip ticket cost around ₱5,000- ₱7,000. When I attempted to book a flight in January the ticket goes from ₱10,000- ₱12,000 two-way. Decent amount of airlines  fly directly to Bangkok from Manila or Clark airport. If you want to score a great bargain ticket you have to constantly check the airline website. Ticket prices changes from time to time. You can subscribe to their newsletter so that you can get updates if there are ticket sales. I also compared the tickets in the morning and midnight as it varies on different time of the day. Booking your tickets online during midnight is lower than the day time. But, if you have no time for this, you can just simply check on skyscanner.com or http://www.cheapoair.com to compare ticket prices of different airlines. You might be surprised that Philippine Airlines has cheaper tickets than other airlines because they also go on sale like others.

WHERE TO STAY

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Bangkok is one of the most visited countries in Asia so it has a lot of accommodations to choose from that suits your budget. I suggest that you book your accommodation in Khao San Road since it is nearby visitor’s sites such as Wat Pho, Royal Palace and Wat Arun. It is a backpacker’s hub so you will find numerous stores, street food, restaurants, massage parlors, souvenir stores, even Muay Thai classes and so on. Khao San has it all. At night the road gets lively as the bar and clubs open and play loud music. I strongly don’t recommend you staying in hotels near the airport. They are good and offer reasonable prices but the location is far from the sites and will make you spend more on the transportation going to the city center plus the traffic in Bangkok is also a hassle.

PLACES TO VISIT

WAT PHO

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If you are staying in Khao San Road, Wat Pho is 20 minutes away on foot and nearby the Grand Palace. The most touristic temple houses the 150 meter gold-plated Reclining Buddha and other temples that serve as prayer room. Like other temples it also requires you to remove your shoes in entering their temples. Free bottled water and pamphlet is given on the entrance.

Entrance Fee: TBH 100 (₱170)

WAT ARUN

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If you can’t get enough of Wat Pho, head over to Wat Arun also known as Temple of Dawn. It is almost directly opposite to Wat Pho so it is easy to get to. From Sapphan Taksin boat pier you can take a river boat that goes to the other side of the river for only 3 baht (₱5). Go up the stairs until the top of the temple to see a beautiful view Chao Praya River.

Entrance Fee: TBH 50 (₱85)

WAT TRAIMIT

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Located at the end of Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road, near Hualampong Railway Station, Wat Traimit also known as Temple of the Golden Budha houses the world’s largest massive gold seated Buddha measuring nearly five metres in height and weighing five and a half tons. The place also includes a museum. Be aware that the dress code here is more strict than the other temples. The Buddha is housed in a temple on top of the long stairway passing by its museum.  You will be stopped before entering the main temple to remove your footwear and to check if you are modestly dressed. Sleeveless shirts, revealing neckline, mini dress or skirt and shorts are not allowed. Sarongs and cover ups are available for rent anyway just in case you are not informed.

Entrance Fees: TBH 40 (₱70): Buddha Temple

TBH 100 (₱170): Museum

LUMPINI PARK

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Lumpini Park is an inner-city haven of tranquility, fresh air and shade – offering city dwellers the perfect connection to nature. The park is more than half a million square meters big, and the habitat of various flora and fauna. Locals and tourists usually simply walk, stroll or jog in this wide man-made with lake park. You can also rent a boat for 30 minutes and stroll on the lake. Iguanas and some animals are freely strolling around the park by the way so don’t you dare miss them.

Foot Paddle Boat Rental, 30 minutes: TBH 40 ((₱70)

Deposit:         TBH 40 ((₱70)

 

BANG KRACHAO

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Also known as Green Lung of Bangkok. This place is pure nature haven found 5 minutes away from Bangkok by boat. This is a popular day trip for those who are looking for nature tripping just near Bangkok. You can rent a bicycle to go around this area. It has a lovely park called Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park, Botanical Garden and bird watching tower. There are bicycle tours that are organized to go around the village but you can also Do-It-Your-Own since signages of attractions and directions are posted everywhere. To get here take a bus to Klong Toei pier and from there take a boat for 5 minutes.

Expenses: Boat fee: TBH 10 (₱17)

Bike Rental: TBH 30 (₱50) 1 hour

TBH 80 (₱135) whole day

SAMPENG MARKET

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It is a street market in China Town one kilometer away from Wat Traimit. There’s nothing unique in this market just the usual RTW products however if you plan to buy retail products in bulk for you to sell back in your home then this place is for you.

 

CHATUCHAK MARKET

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The most famous 35 acre weekend market and home to more than 8,000 market stalls. Once only popular among wholesalers and traders, Chatuchak Weekend Market has reached a landmark status as a must-visit place for tourists. Its sheer size and diverse collections of merchandise from souvenir items, silks, home decors, organic beauty products, accessories and many more that will bring any seasoned shoppers to their knees – this is where you can literally shop ‘till you drop’. If you get hungry, you don’t have to worry since food stalls are lined up outside for your stomach needs.

 

 

ADDITIONAL TIP:

Avoid using the taxi especially in the airport. There is a subway station in Suvarnabhumi International Airport to Phaya Thai station in the city center, then ride a taxi or bus going to your hotel. You can also take the airport bus going to city center Bus number A4 leaves from Don Muang for TBH 50 (₱85, $1.5) and Bus number S1 is from Suvarnabhumi airport that only cost TBH 60 (₱102, $2). The journey takes 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the traffic. If you are left with no choice but to take the taxi make sure to tell the driver to use the meter. If the driver asks you if it is your first time in Thailand say NO. They will surely take advantage of you to pay higher saying the location you want to go is too far or there’s too much traffic.  Bangkok has a good transportation system like BTS subway and free city buses are also everywhere however I must warn you as any capital city in Southeast Asia the traffic is too heavy.

7 REASONS TO CONVINCE YOU TO VISIT MYANMAR

 

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Myanmar also known as Burma is a country of faith with thousands of temples, pagodas and stupas bordered by China, Laos, Thailand, Bangladesh, and India. An off the beaten path destination that recently opened its doors to visitors witnessing its stunning sunrises and sunsets. A place where everything is affordable, people are friendly and it has the most stunning natural sceneries and train ride views. What more can you ask for? Here are some reasons and experiences I listed down to convince you to pack your bags and book that ticket to Myanmar.

  1. IT IS VISA FREE

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Yes! My dear Filipino friends, we are blessed with 14 days free visa entry to Myanmar granting that it is for tourism purpose only. Although I experienced extra work in checking in with the airline both in Manila and my connecting flight in Malaysia because my tickets leaving Myanmar is from different city to where I’m landing. I had to explain to them that I will land travel from Yangon to Mandalay and that was the only time that they allowed me to board the plane. It is just a minor challenge but other than that we are still free to enter Myanmar and experience the country.

  1. IT IS OFF THE BEATEN PATH

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It was 2011 when the country opened its door to tourism after the 5-decade military government. Due to some safety issues, it was difficult to market Myanmar as a tourist destination compared to its neighboring Southeast Asian countries. But with the hard work of their government, the country slowly emerges in tourism attracting many tourists and travellers. Even when the numbers of visitors continue to rise, it is still not as touristic as other countries in Southeast Asia. You can still take hundreds of photos in one spot without being photobombed. Traveling this country is quite a challenge too since the best and cheapest way to go around is via motorbike. Although taxis are available in big cities like Yangon and Mandalay but it is not applicable in ancient city of Bagan. You can also experience being up close and personal with the locals by riding the Yangon Circular Train and visiting Minnathu Village. These activities will give you a chance to interact with locals and see the real country and not just the touristic side of it. If you are up for this type of adventure then this country is for you.

  1. IT IS EXTREMELY CHEAP

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When I say “extremely” I am not exaggerating. I remember having a decent meal in Bagan for only Ks 1,000 (₱35, $0.66) VIP first class bus for only Ks 16,000 (₱541, $11) and entering waterfalls without paying any cent. What more can I ask for? Don’t be surprise if I say that I only spent ₱ 10,000 ($200) for my 9 days stay.

  1. THERE’S LOW TO ZERO CHANCE OF BEING RIP OFF

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As a budget traveler for five years, I always make sure to work on my budget without sacrificing my safety and comfort. Since I have a limited budget I always make sure I am paying the right price of any goods or services I am getting. But since you are a tourist and sometimes unaware of the normal prices of the country you are visiting, sometimes you cannot get away being ripped off or overcharged. I have millions of experience being ripped off or overpriced by taxi drivers, travel agencies or locals. I started to believe that, it is part of traveling experience and a norm. Fortunately when I visited Myanmar that belief changed.  Locals are very helpful and precise in giving directions, instructions and will lead you on the cheapest option that you can take. I remember when I asked my hostel receptionist about the bus going to Bagan, he told me to take the cheaper bus because they are all the same when it comes to amenities. They’re just different companies. He also told me to walk two block pass by the hostel because it is where the van going to bus terminal instead of taking the taxi. Plus the local sellers are not pushy in selling their goods to you. They know how to step back when you tell them you are not buying. And again the prices of goods are cheap so you don’t feel you are being overcharged.

  1. THE LOCALS ARE THE HAPPIEST

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For my nine days stay, I never felt that the locals I met are stressed with something. They have the aura of contentment and satisfaction in life. When I was riding the Yangon Circular Train, this was my chance to get up close and personal with locals. I am amazed how they still manage to smile and laugh on the train after an epic experience of rushing into the train carrying heavy sacks of their crop to be transported to the local market. Myanmar is a struggling country but you couldn’t see that on their faces. Somebody told me that it is because of their belief in Buddhism. People strongly believe in karma that if they do something bad, things will not go their way. So they always stay honest and contented as it will give them happiness.

  1. THEIR COSTUMER SERVICE IS ONE OF A KIND

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As a struggling country with low cost of living, I didn’t have high hopes when it comes to their services. But, I was amazed whenever I eat even in small eateries, after I placed my order they usually give complementary peanuts, water and tea while waiting for my food. The owner would also take time to sit with the customers and ask if the food is suitable for their taste or too spicy. They explained how it is made or cooked and where they get their ingredients. What surprised me is when they give complementary fruits as a dessert to think that I only paid Ks 3,000 (₱100, $2) or less for my meal. Their VIP buses are also great. Aside from having a comfortable -air conditioned seat with warm clean blanket. They also hand out free bottled water, soda drinks, disposable wet towels and small plastic bag (for you to vomit, just in case) the fact that I only payed Ks 16,000 (₱500, $10). On our way to Mingun Pagoda we stopped by a gasoline station to gas up our motorbike. The lady was handling us cold bottled water. I thought she’s selling them to us so I refused because we already have water with us. Then she told me it’s a “present” they give for free to motorists who pass by their station to gas up. She said it’s a hot sunny day so a lot of motorists are thirsty so they give complimentary drinks to them. You might say I’m impressed with their services because of the freebies I got but the thing is you are paying less of what you are getting. Sometimes you just suck it if the service is not that good because that’s what you get from paying less but not in Myanmar. I always admire the kindness and patience of the people here. I never experienced someone throwing an attitude nor find reason to complain because they are doing their best to give you the best service.

  1. IT IS VEGETARIAN FRIENDLY

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I am not a vegetarian but traveling for five years I met a lot of people who are very strict with their diet or practice vegetarianism. I met a lot of them in Myanmar. A lot of vegetarian travellers I talked to told me they don’t struggle in selection of food in Myanmar because it caters to their needs. I remember a small eatery in Bagan where the menu is labeled and categorized with V for vegetable meals, C for chicken and B for beef so it is easy to know what to order.

Isn’t that awesome? I hope this list will convince you to add Myanmar on your bucket list. I assure you it is something worth it and unique.

BACKPACKING IN MYANMAR FOR 9 DAYS WITH PHP 25,000 BUDGET ALL-IN

 

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Going around Bagan via e-bike. 

Myanmar also known as Burma is home to thousands of temples, pagodas and stupas. Although the country is faced with political and safety issues like civil wars that make other people doubt to set foot here, I must say that I never felt in danger during my nine days stay. One thing that I love about this country is that it is not very touristic compared to other neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. This off the beaten path destination attracts many backpackers and travelers looking for adventure. The locals are so friendly and helpful to visitors. They look so happy and stress-free even in big cities. I never felt being ripped off whenever I’m buying some goods or paying for services. Truly my nine days stay here is one of the best experiences I ever had.

THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO MYANMAR:

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Yangon Circular Train for only Kyats 200 (Php7)!

*Myanmar’s currency is Kyat/ Ks but US dollar is widely accepted in hostels, souvenir shops and travel agencies.

*Bring new crispy US dollar currency. I had this problem when the banks in the airport would not accept one of my $100 bill because of a tiny ant-size ink stain. When I went to a money changer downtown they told me that the value of my bill is lower than the usual exchange rate because of the stain on it.

* Schwedagon Pagoda has strict conservative dress code even leggings and skinny jeans which I thought as decent enough are a big no no. But that’s okay, because they can lend you some sarong that you can use to cover up you just pay Ks 3,000 for deposit. When you return the sarong you get your money back.

*Night buses are popular here especially with long rides. Most of the night trips leave at 9pm. It is good when you want to save on accommodation. The air conditioned buses are comfortable as well with warm clean blankets and free drinks.

*Prepare lots of sunscreen and brace yourself because Burma heat is no joke. When I was there in June I was told that May to August is the cooler season because of the rainy weather in but it still burning hot for me.

*Don’t be surprised when you see some people having yellow sand-ish on their face. They call it “thanaka”, Burmese sunscreen. It is a must try experience.

*Sandals and flip flops will save you time and energy in entering and leaving the temples. They implement strict dress code and being barefoot in entering “all” the temples and pagodas.

YANGON

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Schwedagon Pagoda!

The first city I touched down. It usually serves as the jumpstart of Myanmar journey if you are flying in via Malaysia lay over or entering via Miso border from Thailand. It has quite a reputation of having heavy traffic so it will be convenient if you stay in Downtown Yangon or visiting sites. There are a lot of things to do here but the highlight of my stay are Sule Pagoda, Bogyoke Aung San Market, Kandawgyi Lake, the ever famous Schwedagon Pagoda, and Botahtaung Harbour. My most favorite experience is riding the Yangon Circular Train. The 3-hour train slow phase ride gave me a great experience about Burmese life. It gave me a glimpse of different sights of Yangon as the train runs and stops in different stations. The journey opened my eyes about the simple Burmese way of living and how happy the people are living their life despite their everyday struggles. It also taught me to appreciate and be grateful with what I have because what I am complaining as a struggle could be a decent life to others. If you want an authentic experience, I strongly recommend this trip.  I skip some of the pagodas here such as Chauk Htat Kyi Pagoda and Botahtaung Pagoda because I know I’ll be having more of them in Bagan. But if you are staying longer in Yangon I suggest you to pay a visit. I explored the city on foot armed with GPS but if I’m too tired to walk then I book a grab taxi since they are everywhere. If you can drive a motorbike then I would advise to rent one. It would be cheaper and more convenient in going around.

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Just a typical train ride sight in Yangon Circular Train! Locals are batching their harvested crop ready to be sold in the market! I met the happiest, most contented and selfless locals here.

MyTel sim card (2-8 GB data for 1 month): Ks 3,500- Ks6,000 (₱120-205, $2.3-4)

Grab Taxi fare :Ks 2,500-11,000 (₱ 86- 376, $ 1.7- 7.4)

Yangon Circular Train: Ks 200 (₱ 7, $ 0.13)

Accommodation per night (Shared dorm room): Ks 5,500- 15,000 (PHP 187-509, $ 3.7-10)

Sule Pagoda Entrance Fee: Ks 4,000 (₱ 136, $ 2.7)

Schwedagon Pagoda Entrance Fee: Ks 10,000 (₱ 340, $7)

Karaweik Garden Entrance Fee: Ks 300 (₱ 11, $ 0.20) Camera Fee: Ks 500 (₱ 17, $ 0.33)

Food (Average cost per meal): Ks 1,000- 6,000 (₱ 34-204, $ 0.66- $4)

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BAGAN

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Bagan Sunset!

From Yangon I took ten-hour bus ride to Bagan, an ancient city and former capital of the country during Pagan Kingdom (9th to 13th century). The city has over 10,000 Buddhist temples constructed, unfortunately only 2,200 survived up to the present. One of the reasons the government prohibits visitors from climbing temples and pagodas is to preserve them for the next generation of Burmese. The city is a famous location for hot air balloon riding especially during the sunrise. Unfortunately when I was there in the month of June it was rainy season so the schedule for hot air balloon is not certain. I read from travel forums that the hot air balloon season runs from October to April. Anyway, there are still other things to enjoy in Bagan such as renting an e-bike and going around the temples in New Bagan and Old Bagan to chase the sunrise and the sunset. The most popular and most recommended temples for sunrise or sunset viewing are the Shwesandaw Pagoda, Thatbyinnyu Phaya, Ananda Temple, Htilominlo, Shwezigon Pagoda, Sulamani Temple and Thambula Temple. On my first day I ended up in Dhammayan Gyi Temple for sunset view. It is a large temple with a hill in front so you can be a bit elevated as you watch the orange sun setting and buried in the clouds. If you want a harbor view for sunset, head to Bu Phaya Sunset View. It has a temple by the river where locals pray and visitors to witness the sunset. There are local boatmen offering boat ride by the river for a closer glimpse of the sunset. Bagan Nan Myint Tower is the most popular for sunrise view with MMK 7,500 (₱ 250, $ 5) entrance fee. However, we spotted a lot of tourist buses so we opted to drive to different direction and went for the second place recommended by locals which is the Sulamuni Manmade Sunset Hill. It was later when we realized that it is for sunset and not for sunrise so we drove back to the main road which brought us closer to the sunrise view. Minnathu Village is another to visit place in Bagan. It is close to temples in New Bagan and gives you an up close and personal experience with Burmese cultural, traditional and village life. The best and cheapest way to go around Bagan is via e-bike. If you are amateur in riding or want to start learning, Bagan is perfet place for you. The roads are almost completely empty anytime of the day. There’s no such thing as traffic even during the rush hour and kudos to Burmese drivers for being so chill and not reckless on the road. Upon entering visitors are asked to pay Ks 25,000 (₱ 850, $ 17) for Archeological Entrance Fee for the maintenance of the temples in the city. The advantage is you don’t have to pay for any entrance fee in any temples or pagodas you are going to visit within the city. Upon paying it is suggested that you take a photo of your receipt just in case you lose it.

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92-year old granny in Minnathu Village still smoking Burmese tobacco.

Bus to Bagan: Ks 16,000 (₱ 550, $ 11)

Taxi from bus station to hostel (fixed price): Ks 8,000- 12,000 (₱275-410, $6-8)

E-Bike Rental: Half day: Ks 3,000 (₱103, $2) Whole day: Ks 6,000 (₱206, $4)

Accommodation per night (Shared dorm room): Ks: 13,000-30,000 (₱450-1,000, $9-20)

Food (Average cost per meal): Ks 500-4000 (₱20-137, $0.33-2.7)

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MANDALAY

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Dee Doke Waterfalls! Believe it or not, it is free entrance here!

My original plan is to fly to Yangon then visit Bagan and go back to Yangon to fly back home however, a good friend of mine told me that Mandalay has an airport and it is close to Bagan. It is only 5-hour bus ride from Bagan, so I decided to add one more city on my list. It is the same as Yangon by nature, atmosphere and construction. It houses Mandalay Palace which is located in the heart of the city. It also has a very stunning sunrise and sunset view from Mandalay Hill and U-Bien Bridge. The thing I love about this city is that it has tons of day trips that you can take with 1-2-hour drive like Dee Doke Waterfalls, Dee Doke Elephant Camp and Anisakan Waterfalls which is close to each other. You can also do a temple day trip starting from Hsinbyume Pagoda to Mingun Bell and Mingun Temple. The same as Bagan when you visit Mandalay Palace you will be paying Archeological Admission Ticket but for only Ks 10,000 (₱350, $7). This ticket is valid for 5 days free entrance to all the temples within the city except Mandalay Hill.

Bus to Mandalay: Ks 8,000 (₱273, $5.4)

Motorbike rental: Manual: 10,000 ((₱350, $7) Automatic: Ks 15,000 (₱512, $10)

Diesel: 1 liter Ks 1,000(₱35, $0.66)

Share bus to the airport: Ks 5,000 (₱171, $3.4)

Accommodation per night (Shared dorm room): Ks 9,000- 25,000 (₱308- 854, $6-17)

Mandalay Hill Entrance Fee: Ks 1,000 (₱35, $0.66)

Mingun Archeological Admission Ticket: Ks 5,000 (₱171, $3.4)

Food (Average cost per meal): Ks 1,500-3000 (₱52-103, $1-2)

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Hsinbyume Pagoda also known as The Taj Mahal of Myanmar. Totally worth it!

Overall Myanmar is a must visit country especially if you are looking for adventures or something unique and authentic off the beaten path backpacking experience. If you have a chance to visit Myanmar now, you visit it real quick. With the fast phase development that is going on in the country especially in big cities there might be a lot of changes and it might not be the same when you here five years from now.

Curious about my budget? Here is the breakdown:

Plane tickets via Airasia: ₱12,258

Accommodation (Share Dorm Room):

Yangon(3 nights): ₱558

Bagan  (3 nights): ₱1,240

Mandalay (3 nights): ₱886

Pocket Money: ₱10,000

Total:                    ₱24,942

TACADANG CIRCUIT: OVERNIGHT HIKE

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Benguet, a province in Cordillera Region in the Philippines is blessed with scenic views of countless mountains. Some of the most popular mountains like Mt. Pulag, Ugo and Ulap don’t need introduction but there are still a lot of underrated mountains and trails waiting to be discovered. One of those is a trail lying in the municipality of Kibungan. The municipality has a lot of trails scattered throughout and somewhat connected with nearby provinces. One safest and simplest trail is Tacadang Circuit. This trail can be done by both beginners and professional since the pathway is paved decently. Using this trail will give you opportunity to pass by rice paddies, blue mountains, waterfalls and hanging coffins. Unfortunately, for us, it was summer when we were there so the waterfalls gone dry or the others don’t have enough water.

 

DAY 1

 

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Tanap Rice Terraces

We started the journey upon arriving in Municipal Hall in Poblacion, Kibungan, Benguet for the registration and breakfast. The view deck greeted us with a scenic view of the untouched steep slope mountains and rock formation. The trail starts in Sitio Tanap where we pass through Tanap Rice Terraces which was such a good start. The way is decent with narrow but cemented pathway. However summer heat, lack of air and consistent assault trail are the biggest challenges. We marched for four hours until we reached Buga campsite for our lunch and water source. Luckily until here, cellphone signal is consistently strong.

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After lunch, we rest and nap for a while. At one thirty in the afternoon, we continued to hike up to Mt. Tagpaya. Unfortunately in the middle of the hike we were greeted with quite heavy rain. We had some rest along the hike because the heavy fog continued to block our way and our view until we reached the summit. I guess we were not that lucky at that time. Our guide joked that our photos resulted to i.d picture with white background. (LOL)

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After the summit we trek down to Tacadang where we will spend the night in our homestay. The place is used as a multi-purpose hall. It is not a room with bed that you expect so it is advisable to bring your sleeping bag. For toilet and bathroom you will be guided to houses nearby. Just ask permission if you can use their bathroom and toilet. The people there are nice, they would allow you to use their resources so make sure to always say “Thank you.” They don’t even take payments even if you insist so just be nice and be sure to clean as you go. Don’t litter, the locals are very responsible on their trash so as you. Also there’s no network signal here.

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DAY 2

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My most favorite view!

For our second day, on our way back to Poblacion we trek and pass through Barangay Polis going up to Barangay Poblacion where we started our hike from yesterday. The view in this trail is much better or maybe because the weather is calmer than yesterday. But the biggest challenge to us is the summer heat especially the trail is not shady, more exposed, and lesser wind compared to our trek the other day. The path is always decent with enough size to walk and mostly cemented too. There’s not many loose soil but expect a lot of assault which is personally my weakness plus the heat. When we reached Barangay Polis the cellphone signal comes to life again. Overall, it took our team ten hours to finish the hike for this day including our rest from the heat, exhaustion and lunch.

 

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Polis Elementary School

Personally, I would recommend this hike for everyone beginners and experienced. What I like in this trail is that, it may be long but the pathways are decent, cemented and has enough size to walk with two feet. There’s no cliff to deal with and not many loose soil to worry about. As a person that has issues with heights these are the factors that weigh me down during hikes.

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ITINERARY

Day 1

6:00 AM: Kibungan Municipal Hall (breakfast, registration)

8:00 AM: Sitio Tanap jump off (start of trek)

11:30 AM: Buga Campsite (water source, lunch)

1:30 PM: Resume trek

4:00 PM: Mt. Tagpaya Summit

6:00 PM: Tacadang (homestay)

 

Day 2

8:30 AM: Start trek

1:30 PM: Polis Bario School (lunch)

3:00 PM: Resume trek

6:30 PM: Poblacion (end of trek)

 

Expenses:

Registration Fee: Php 160/ person

Guide Fee: Php 850/ day for 7 pax

Porter: Php 850/ day (15 kilos)

Homestay: Php 30/ person

 

This post is in partnership with Team Ladaw. For more hiking activities in Benguet and inquiries visit their facebook page and follow their instagram. (links below)

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/teamladaw/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/teamladaw/?hl=en

Places to Visit in Taipei According to Locals

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Taiwan is a small country that has so much to offer from temples, historical landmarks, food and the list goes on. I like this country a lot and I can imagine living here for long term. The reasons are it is the only country I have been with very clean night markets. People are disciplined to hold their trash until they find a garbage bin. Their public transportation is so easy and convenient too. My friend and I enjoyed tapping our Easy Card in their MRT stations and buses. Oh, did I mention how their bubble teas taste so good and they’re just everywhere? Bubble tea was my new water the whole time of our stay there. But what I love the most in Taiwan are the people. They are so warm, hospitable and helpful. Even though English is not widely spoken locals are kind enough to gesture to direct you to the right station in MRT. Some would even barge in to translate your questions or what you want to say to the cashier at a convenient store. Even our Taiwanese friends who showed us around went too far on their hospitality, not only guiding and driving us to tourist sites but also talking to the receptionist of our hostel to check us up if everything is fine. I really appreciate their effort to make our stay comfortable, experience the real country and enjoy the place like a local. I would also credit them for editing our itinerary and taking us to places where most local people enjoy. So, here is the list of places to visit in Taipei according to locals.

 

XIANGSHAN TRAIL (ELEPHANT MOUNTAIN)

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For those who are active and looking for some work out this place is for you to sweat out those bubble teas you sip. A 15-minute hike to see the view of Taipei City, the highlight of this hike includes the full view of Taipei 101 and other buildings. It is best to hike this trail in the late afternoon to catch the sunset. Although it is a crowded place, it is still fully recommended and totally worth it.

Entrance Fee: Free

 

TAIPEI 101

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Used to be the highest building in Asia until Lotte Tower in Seoul, Korea opened in 2017. But still the highest building in Taiwan with 101 floors. Its 88th floor serves as an observatory with huge glass windows to see the different views of the city. It also has museums, souvenir stores and cafes. Its 91st floor is an open area with high fences to view the city without glass however the area has a limited space so you can’t really stay there long.

Entrance Fee: NT$ 600 (Php 1, 044)

 

MAOKONG GONDOLA

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Known as the most nature scenic spot in Taipei to drink quality, locally grown tea, Maokong is a quaint village located at the top of a mountain providing breathtaking views of Taipei City. Tea lovers will love this place for its wide variety of teahouses and high quality selection.  While others are here to experience the village and their tea, my friends and I came here to ride a cable car going to Taipei Zoo.

The best way to reach Maokong is to take the Maokong Gondola scenic cable car up the mountain from MRT Taipei Zoo Station, but in our case we did the opposite. We drive on top of the village and went down using a cable car to Taipei Zoo. It was at first nerve racking experience to ride a crystal clear glass cable car but it is also mesmerizing to see the view of the forest down below and the city on the window.

Maokong  Cable Car Rate:

Maokong Station –Zhinan Temple Station: NT$ 70

Maokong Station- Taipei Zoo South Station: NT$ 100

Maokong Sation- Taipei Zoo Station: NT$ 120

Easycards are given a 20% discount on weekdays, and also NT$20 discount when also used for zoo entry.

 

TAIPEI ZOO

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Obsessed with pandas? Might as well pay a visit to Taipei Zoo where you can view the pandas and koalas on a glass room. The largest zoo in Asia and home to Yuan Zai,the first giant panda cub born in Taiwan. It may take an estimated four hours to complete your animal journey but it is not your average type of zoo with its forest like atmosphere and structure. Rare and endangered species animals are also housed in the zoo. For animal lovers this is a must visit, easily accessible by public transit at the end of the MRT Brown Line.

Entrance Fee Adults: NT$: 60 (Php 105)                                 Kids: NT$ 30 (Php 53)

 

SANXIA OLD STREET

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For architectural viewing, street food and souvenir shopping, you can find them here in this less than 1 kilometer street. The architecture consists of red brick buildings with hallways connected by small lanes. The streets were lined with shops that sold dyes, manufacturing materials, tea and of course Taiwanese street food. P.S. Love their stinky tofu.

 

BITAN

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This park is a great getaway from the city. Its riverfront park is home to large choices for food, wide variety of restaurants, park amenities, as well as paddle boat rentals and is a great place to relax.  Spanning over the Xindian River is the 200 meter long Bitan Suspension Bridge connecting the two neighborhoods on the east and west side of the creek, making it one of the landmarks of New Taipei City. My friend and I had a great time paddling a two-seaters boat along Xindian River feeling the cold breeze of that late afternoon. I even had some short nap while on the boat. Lol! To my opinion this is a romantic place for couples because at night the colorful lights are turned on in the bridge and its west side with live music on the alley of restaurants on the east side. Who wouldn’t say “Yes!” if somebody proposes here?

 

HUASHAN 1914 CREATIVE PARK

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Originally built as a winery, the complex has been transformed into a multipurpose park and creative space for Taipei’s youthful art scene, and is home to multiple exhibitions and shows. When we were there the beauty cosmetic brand Shiseido is having their exhibit or product launch. We also checked out some wooden products and organic products on display. I think if you are on a hunt of something unique and creative products for souvenir this place is for you.

 

CHIANG KAI-SHEK MEMORIAL HALL

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The most prominent historical landmark in Taiwan, search “places to go in Taiwan” and it will pop first on your feed. It was built in honor of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, the former President of the Republic of China. The name of the square is officially Liberty Square, as seen above the front gate, however the name change was politically motivated and most people in practice still refer to the entire complex as CKS Memorial Hall. The octagon-shaped white building rises 76 meters and is covered with blue tiles with red accents. The eight sides represent the Chinese cultural symbolism of the number eight which is traditionally associated with fortune and wealth. The two sets of 89 steps represent Chiang’s age of death and lead up to main hall housing a large bronze statue of Chiang protected by military personnel that change hourly. And mind you, they’re not moving at all. Below the hall is a museum documenting Chiang’s life and career, as well as exhibits about Taiwan’s history, pan-Chinese culture and history, and the ROC’s development after moving to Taiwan. Besides the main hall, the large complex includes the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Park, National Concert Hall, and the National Theater.

 

TAIPEI GRAND MOSQUE

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The Taipei Grand Mosque is a center of worship for Taipei’s Muslims community. For me personally I have a thing when it comes to mosque architecture. I adore them so much that when I saw it on google maps I make it appoint not just to pass by, but also to sit, stare and stay at the place for a little while. I would love to enter however I think we are dressed inappropriately so we didn’t have the courage to do so. So, we just content ourselves to hang around in front of the mosque and take photos. When visiting Taipei Grand Mosque, please be sure to follow the mosque rules. Only Muslims are allowed to enter the main prayer hall and second floor prayer hall is for women.

 

DAAN PARK

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Right across Taipei Grand Mosque is Daan Forest Park, a huge ecological park with a forest-like environment. The park is likened to be the lungs of Taipei with its park roads lined with trees. It is perfect for active people who love to jog and it has facilities for exercising such as cardio bikes that are also accessible in the park. Families enjoy the fresh air green space for picnics since benches are around the corner. Bushes and flower beds are planted throughout the park to help make the park into a lush, green space.  And Oh! Bonus part, we spotted some squirrels too.

 

NATIONAL PALACE MUSEUM

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A fully modern museum using the latest digital technology to digitally preserve its ancient artifacts as well as high technology to improve the museum experience for visitors. It has four floors stretched with 2 exhibition halls. The museum’s exhibits continuously rotate, as only a small percentage of the museum’s collection can be displayed at a given time to prevent from being worn out. When we were there most of the things on display are lacquerwares, jars, bronze and metal decorations used during the ancient time. Those who are interested in Chinese culture and history are highly encouraged to visit the National Palace Museum, as it hosts the largest number of ancient artifacts.

Entrance Fee

Adult: NT$250                    Student with ID: NT$150

 

TAIPEI CONFUCIUS TEMPLE

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The Taipei Confucius Temple is modeled after the original Confucius Temple in Qufu, China. In keeping with the sober spirit of Confucianism, the building is made simple with southern Fujian-style ceramic applique. The main hall of the temple has a black plaque with gold lettering that reads “Educate without Discrimination.”

 

RAOHE NIGHT MARKET

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One of the oldest night markets in Taipei, the Raohe Street Night Market is a must visit destination! The epitome of a traditional Taiwanese night market, this 600 metre path along Raohe Street in Songshan District is packed with fun and interesting street food and snacks, traditional shops and stalls, and carnival games with prizes. At the eastern end of the night market outside Songshan Station is the Ciyou Temple, built by local residents during the Qing Dynasty era. Tour groups tend to concentrate themselves around the eastern edge of the market while individual travellers are recommended to walk directly past these groups for a nicer experience.

 

SHILIN NIGHT MARKET

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The Shilin Night Market in Taipei is one of the largest, most popular night markets in Taiwan with regard to food, and also one of the most popular points of Taipei’s night life among visitors. Located in Taipei’s Shilin District, the maze of alleyways is filled with a variety of local, traditional, and international merchandise that attract locals and foreigners alike. The night market consists of two major elements: general merchandise and local cuisine. Along the western edge of the market is the Shilin Night Market Food Court, an underground food paradise. Many of Taiwan’s traditional foods can be found and bought for reasonable prices from the friendly locals who are eager to let you taste the unique flavors of their traditional recipes such as Giant Fried Chicken Steak, Tempura, Bubble Tea, Oyster Vermicelli Oyster Omelet, Fried Buns and of course, the most notorious Taiwanese goodie, Stinky Tofu. Although the market usually begins bursting with activity every day in the late evening and doesn’t stop until past midnight, most food vendors will have left by midnight. So if you want to get a taste of this unique dish, get there early! The market showcases Taiwan’s culture with its vivid colours and general atmosphere, along with friendly shop keepers and plenty of delicious food and cheap clothes!

 

TAMSUI OLD STREET

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Located along the riverfront in Tamsui (Danshui), Tamsui Old Street is a boardwalk-like area full of shops, carnival games, restaurants, cafés, and xiaochi snacks. The waterfront area is a great place to watch the sunset over the Tamsui River. Vendors will generally start in the afternoon and stay open until the last MRT train at 12 midnight. I prefer this place for shopping than Shilin because it is cheaper, spacious and not crowded. There are a lot of overrun high end goods here that are sold at a cheaper price. I also saw a shirt that is similar to what I bought in Shilin for a half price.

 

JIUFEN

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Jiufen is a popular day trip from Taipei. Made popular by the Japanese anime movie Spirited Away due to its huge resemblance. This mountain town was originally built by the Japanese and now a maze of lanes and alleyways with rich history and culture. Founded during the Qing Dynasty, this small town was a relatively isolated village until the discovery of gold during the Japanese occupation in 1893, quickly developing the town due to a gold rush. However it made a huge impact as my Taiwanese friend said the reason why Huangjin Waterfalls underlying rocks are color brown is because of mining. Many buildings in the town remain unchanged to this day, reflecting the Japanese influence on both architecture and culture on the island. After the war, gold mining activities declined, and the town today exists mainly as a tourist destination remembering and celebrating Taiwanese history and culture. I like this town a lot because it caters to wider Taiwanese cultural activities. One of my favorite cultural experience is making our own tea and eating some sweet desserts in A Mei Tea House, located in the tourist hot spot where famous red lanterns line the narrow stairways. This is where many tourists flock to snap their iconic Jiufen shots and where most pictures of Jiufen you see on postcards are taken. I also enjoyed writing my wishes on a lantern in Pingxi and flying it on the evening sky hoping that the heavens will grant my wish. My friend gambled on reading her fate through a stick that fall out when you shake the container. The stick that fall has corresponding drawer where your fate is written on a piece of paper. If it is bad try another round again or drop it on a box where in someone will pray for your luck to be better. Such a unique experience for travelers visiting this town.

 

MT. ULAP DAY HIKE

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Back in the year 2016 when Mt Ulap is on the rise, making noise on social media filling my feeds with scenic views of the mountains, clouds and people enjoying the hike. It was my first time to hike this mountain when my friend beep me up and invited me for a day hike. I didn’t hesitate and welcomed the challenge. After 2 years I came back and I saw a huge difference with that short span of time. This 1846m high mountain in barangay Ampucao Itogon, Benguet is for beginners according to a group of professional mountaineer group, back then I would say  “I DON”T THINK SO”. But now I would say “YES!” because the trail is made easier and wider. According to our guide they changed some routes and made them easier because of the flock of tourists and hikers that rave this place. However, I still suggest you to be ready with loads of chocolates or trail food, liters of water and energy that would last for at least 5 to 6 hours.

 

HOW TO GET THERE

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Take a jeepney to Ampucao, Itogon Benguet from Baguio City. The first trip leaves at 7:30 am. Get down to Ampucao barangay hall for the registration, orientation and for your tour guide.

*Note: We first did our reservation through a google document on their facebook page. Three days before the hike I received a text message saying our reservation was approved. However, when I talked to my guide he told us that if we are less than 10 people (we are a group of 4 people) it is not really necessary because those are for travel agencies who are booking a huge number of visitors. In 2016 it was not like this. There’s no reservation needed now it is advisable to message their facebook page first.

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Mt. Ulap has 6 stations. These are Totombek, Ambanao Paoay, Gungal and Mt. Ulap (summit), Pong-ol Burial Cave which is currently closed and Sta Fe. This is the usual trail. Other hikers use the reverse one or the backtrail which ends in Mt. Ulap summit and skips Sta Fe.

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AMBANAW PAWAY

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The first peak and the most challenging, since the trail going there is purely assault. Starting from the barangay hall to Totombek, the entrance and gateway of the hike, is a decent cemented way. However, from Totombek to Ambanaw Paway is a steep ascending path. On our way, I noticed some changes on the trail. The pathway going to the peak is not what we used to pass by 2 years ago. I thought that the new path is wider and easier. Nearby is a camping site for overnight hikers.

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GUNGAL

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This peak has the best view and mostly seen on social media. The nerve racking location of the rock hanging by the cliff amazes every visitors and tempts them to challenge themselves to stand on it. It is advisable to start the trek early to get here early. The guide told us that starting at 2 pm the clouds starts to go down and cover the view. We went there in the month of April which is summer but still the clouds didn’t cooperate with us LOL.

MT. ULAP: The Summit

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An hour hike from Gungal, is the highest peak among the three. With the view comparable to some epic drama on television, all the long tiring trail is all worth it when you see the 360 view of Cordillera mountain.  Nearby down the summit is another campsite for overnight hikers and stores for souvenir, drinks and snacks.

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The Campsite

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Santa Fe

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One of the burial caves in Santa Fe station. Our tour guide inform us that, there used to be coffins with dead bodies in it but some drunk fellas make fun of them by throwing them away and some foreign hikers stole them to sell so they disappeared.

The mark that states you made it to Mt. Ulap! The traverse route states you will end here. Along the way getting here you will pass by some burial caves and stores that sell souvenirs, snacks and drinks. The trail getting down is very steep as seen on the trail map. From here there are jeepneys you can take to go back to Baguio. Although be aware that the last trip of jeepneys to Baguio is at 4pm.

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A heartbreaking view while we are passing by, it is called open pit in which they scrape the mountain to get the gold in it. It is just sad because they just left it hanging not even trying to restore the mountains. I just sigh of the thought that what if there’s no more clean, fresh air to breath can their gold buy them?

End of hike! Shopping for some souvenirs.

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You can buy your souvenirs in this station. There are t-shirts, key chains and ref magnets available.

Expenses

Jeep to Ampucao from Baguio: Php 30

Registration Fee: Php 100

Guide Fee: Php 600 maximum of 10 people

Jeepney from Philex trail to Baguio: Php 50 (if the jeepney is not full, the driver might negotiate with you to add a little for the jeepney to leave or wait a little longer)