TOP THINGS TO DO IN LAOS

Laos is a favorite of mine since the day I step on it. For five years traveling in Asia and nearly touched down all the countries in the Southeast, Lao PDR stood out and has a special place in my heart. With the country’s slow pace life, kindness of people, cleanliness, simple and peaceful living, I won’t mind coming back over and over. This underrated paradise sitting in the landlocked area of China and the rest of Indochina countries has a lot to offer. From food, nature, temples, water activities and parties, you definitely can’t ask for more. When you set foot here, it will surely be part of your top destination. For my two previous journeys from the northern to the southern part these are the top things worth doing.

Chase Waterfalls

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Laos will never disappoint you with waterfalls. It has the reputation of possessing the biggest, tallest with clearest blue water worth chasing for. From Kuang Si and Tat Sae in Luang Prabang to Tat Fan twin waterfalls in Paksong Bolaven Plateau, you can’t help but to be amazed how postcard worthy the images are.

Waterfalls Entrance Fee: ₭ 10,000- 20,000 (₱58- 115)

Catch the Sunrise and Sunset in Mt. Phousi

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The most stunning ig worthy view is the sunrise and sunset of Mt. Phousi in Luang Prabang. Hiking up the temple on top of it will bring you closer to witness the huge sun rising and setting. I would advise to get there earlier because along the way you will surely stop to take photos and appreciate the overlooking beauty of Luang Prabang. Be sure to check out the temples you pass by while going up the hill and get a nice spot while waiting for the sun.

Entrance Fee: ₭ 20,000 (₱115)

Learn to Cook Authentic Laotian Food

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Isn’t it frustrating to know that you can never have authentic Laotian food again once you leave? Well, might as well learn how to make it by signing up for a cooking class. Many restaurants in Vientiane and Luang Prabang offer 4-hour small group classes. The class covers picking ingredients to the garden or local market, learning about local herbs and produce that makes the dishes flavorful and interactive know-how discussion with local chefs to gain more understanding about the dish. It is a perfectexperience especially for those who love to cook. Who knows this might land to be your next business. *wink wink

Cooking class: $60-80 (₱3000-4000)

Tubing

DSC00909-01 Tubing is one of the signature activities in Laos. Vang Vieng Province, the center of water activities offerscountless package tours for tubing. There are many ways to enjoy this activity such as tubing through a cave, chilling in a blue lagoon and half day tubing activity in Namsong River. Sitting on a tube and letting the river flow takes you is the most classic and preferred by many visitors. This activity includes different stops along the river. Each stop has drinks and games you can play. It is an opportunity to meet and bond with other travelers. Although local guides are everywhere to check on people tubing, be sure to take care and make safety your priority. Be warned that the river flow might be rough in some parts. If that happens, hold on to the rope and make a stop at the side of the river and wait for the water flow to be calm again. When you book your tubing activity, you are advised not to consume too much alcoholic drinks. Bring waterproof camera or dry bag because you will be soaked in water and will surely leave all your things wet.

Half Day Package Tour: ₭ 50,000 (₱286)

Whole Day Package Tour with Lunch: ₭ 200,000 (₱1,150)

Party For Free in Vang Vieng

C360_2020-03-02-09-53-25-572-01For party goers out there Vang Vieng is for you. It is not only known for water activities but for parties too. It is comparable to our very own Boracay (before the close down). During the day, visitors are busy doing their water activities and at night the main road is lit with music from different bars and pubs. Two of the most popular are Sakura Bar and Vivo Pub. They offer customers wide range of upbeat music and FREE UNLIMITED whisky during their happy hour. Yes! You read it right. Drinks are free and unlimited from 9 to 10 pm in Sakura Bar and 11 pm to 12 midnight in Vivo Pub. They are just few meters away from each other. So be sure to arrive at those bars during their happy hours. Just head to the bartender and grab those free glasses.

Learn their History at Lao National Museum

DSC00850-01If you are a museum person and curious about how Laos evolved through the years, check out Lao National Museum in the capital city, Vientiane. Learn their colorful history, from colonial time to their current leadership. How Laotians started their country, its struggles, how they end up after the world war and their current political situation. It is mind blowing and very interesting. Reading their manuscripts will make you intellectual too.

Museum Entrance Fee: ₭10,000 (₱58)

Lie in a Hammock In Front of Your Bungalow along the River

C360_2019-10-03-21-21-17-514-01Don Det one of the three islands in Si Phan Don, South of Laos is known for the real slow pace Laotian life vibe. Backpacking or traveling long term can be tiring sometimes because of the amount of things to do and enjoy. For travelers looking forward to lazy days, making a stop in this island for a few days will address the issue. You can stay here to take a break from the busy activities during your journey. There are activities to enjoy in this island such as Irrawaddy dolphin watching and Li Phi waterfalls tour but the highlight of this place is lying in a hammock all day being carefree of what will happen throughout the day. It is an ideal place to totally relax and recharge by doing nothing. Imagine a day riding around the island by bicycle and lying in a hammock in a hot lazy afternoon. How does that sound? For me, it’s paradise.

 

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)

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.

 

BALI, INDONESIA: A DREAM COME TRUE

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Many things influenced me to dream of traveling Bali. Aside from its reputation as honeymoon place or #TravelGoal #RelationshipGoal destination, it is also tagged to be the last paradise on earth. I won’t disagree with that! The island has complete list of things to do from the peaceful and relaxing natures and waterfalls of Ubud to the noisy nightlife and beach of Kuta .

My first sight of Bali was back in 2004 when I was still in first year high school through a Korean drama entitled “Memories of Bali”. The fact that I was in love with the story and characters of it, it also convinced me to visit Bali one day. Starting that day I made it a goal to travel Bali someday when I grow older. That burning desire grew stronger when I was in university, I came across with a newspaper article entitled “Bali, The Last Paradise on Earth”. It talks about the beautiful sceneries, cultures and clear blue ocean of Bali. So I said to myself I really must go to Bali. After a few years I was already working when I watched Julia Roberts movie “Eat, Pray, Love” where it featured Ketut: the Medicine Man in Bali who predicts Julia’s future saying she will lose everything but she will gain it back and she’ll return to Bali and he will teach her everything he knows. It also shows the beautiful town of Ubud where Ketut is living and some of a must visit islands. She ended up being in love again, settling in Bali and raising some funds to help the people of Bali. Finally, the year 2017 after 13 years when a friend and I decided to backpack for a month in Southeast Asia and included Bali in the list of countries we’ll be visiting. My dream came true!

Disclaimer: Bali is one of my dream places. Yes! But not all the things I’m going to mention here will be positive or in favor of Bali! There are fair share of good and bad experiences I had during this trip and I am completely honest in writing about them. This blog is not to bring negativity but to give you an idea of what to expect. In my opinion Bali is still a must-see place.

HOW TO GET TO BALI

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Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines fly directly to Bali from Manila at approximately 4-5 hours. A round trip ticket cost from ₱8,000- ₱20,000 depending on the season. Airasia also flies to Bali with a layover in Kuala Lumpur at an estimated cost of ₱7,000- ₱12,000. In our case we flew from Bangkok, Thailand to Bali, Indonesia via Airasia for 4 ½ hours that cost us ₱ 6,150 each with no check in baggage.

GETTING AROUND BALI

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Bali has no fix and systematic mode of public transportation which I think is the number 1 drawback of this place. The most common mode of transportation here is either taxis and private cars (which are overprice) or renting a motorbike to go around. I read some about Kura-Kura van that goes from Kuta to Ubud however we haven’t experienced it when we were there. So we usually walk from one site to another or use Grab and Uber. However, most of tourist sites in Bali ban these taxi apps from picking up passengers due to strikes from drivers saying they’re losing their jobs so a good haggling skill is necessary to avoid being ripped off. There are also circumstances that the Grab driver will ask you to pay 3x more than what is in the app rate. My tip, book a driver that has 5 stars rate only.

WHERE TO STAY

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Originally we plan to stay for the whole time in Ubud and just do day trips in Kuta however seeing the transportation problem in Bali then it won’t be smart for us to do so. For 6 days in Bali we decided to stay in two places, Ubud and Kuta so we’ll not be very far from our day trips in each area. There are various accommodations to choose from in Bali from private villas to hotels, homestays and guesthouses. We booked our first place in Ubud in Made Arsa Homestay (totally recommended). It is 1 kilometer away from the center of Ubud but I am very satisfied with this place. I observed that unlike in other cities in Southeast Asia where it is more convenient to stay in the center, Ubud has the opposite approach. In Ubud center the restaurants and stores are more costly than in our area. Although 1 kilometer away from the center there are many cheap local eateries and food stall around here. Luckily our homestay also provides free breakfast and transportation to the center although that is not necessary for us since we are used to walking.

In Kuta we stayed in Legian Road near the beach. It is very convenient place, near stores and restaurants, pubs and clubs and all the wild night life.

PLACES TO VISIT

UBUD

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Ubud is more of countryside, nature tripping mood. The town is known as a center for traditional crafts and dance. The surrounding Ubud District’s rainforest and terraced rice paddies, dotted with Hindu temples and shrines, are among Bali’s most famous landscapes.

UBUD MONKEY FOREST

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Ubud Monkey Forest, also known as the Sacred Monkey Forest of Padangtegal, is one of Ubud’s most popular attractions; a natural forest sanctuary that is home to a horde of grey long-tailed macaques. The village’s residents view the Monkey Forest as an important spiritual, economic, educational, and conservation center for the village. You can watch or see the monkeys and be entertained as they play or remove lice from each other. You can also feed them with bananas that can be bought in the forest or if they are curious enough they might jump into your shoulders or head and hang in there for a while. One funny thing I experienced when a monkey jumped into us for some cuddling or food the staff guarding the place would immediately shoo the monkey away but if you pay some cash they would invite the monkey to stand on your head or your shoulders so you can take pictures with them. However be warned that these monkeys are curious of everything so it is advised to watch out for your belongings and don’t bring food and tissue because chances are they might snatch those things from you. This place doesn’t only let you hang around with monkeys but also will give you a bit of a hike since it is a large forest type of place.

Entrance Fee: IDR 50,000 (₱188)

Banana:           IDR 50,000/ bundle (₱188)

 

CAMPUHANGAN RIDGEWALK

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A free and easy nature trek, popular among Ubud visitors. The area provides a great retreat and escape from the contemporary boutique, guesthouse and restaurant-lined in Ubud. The hike doesn’t only let you enjoy cool fresh air and see gorgeous hillside vista in the region, it also allows you to shed off some calories with its nine-kilometer hill track. The place is not difficult to reach since it is present in google maps and signages are present as you do your trail. At the end of the trail you will see rice paddies, some hostels and cafes that are present there.

Entrance Fee: Free

TEGENUNGAN WATERFALLS

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Hmmm.. What can I say, when we searched google for waterfalls this is the number one recommended place to us. The closest natural attraction that you can reach within half-hour transfer southeast from Ubud town. Getting to the falls is a pleasant drive down paved village roads lined with stretches of green rice fields on both sides. There are hot springs where you can take a dip if you want to be away from the crowd or a little side trip after taking photos on the waterfalls.

Entrance Fee: IDR 15,000 (₱56)

Additional IDR 10,000 (₱38) if you go on top of the waterfalls.

 

TIBUMANA WATERFALLS

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A bit of an underrated waterfalls in Bali but a bit of a so so too, maybe because when we were there, there’s not much water and I’m kinda disappointed with the trash gathered in the hole at the back of the waterfalls. It is not that popular so don’t expect much crowd in the place which is good however because of that reason also there are no taxis standing by when you leave. So travellers usually either have their own drivers waiting for them or they have their own motorbikes. There’s also no restaurant around the area but there’s a store selling snacks and drinks only.

Entrance Fee: IDR 10,000 (₱38)

GOA GAJAH (ELEPHANT CAVE)

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We discovered this place by accident when we were desperately looking for a taxi going home from Tibumana waterfalls. This is an archaeological site of significant historical value that makes it a special place to visit. Located on the cool western edge of Bedulu Village, six kilometres out of central Ubud. You do not need more than an hour to descend to its relic-filled courtyard and view the rock-wall carvings, a central meditational cave, bathing pools and fountains.You are required to wear a sarong upon entering and you can also hire a guide as you go around but not necessary.

 

*note: Female visitors who are on their period are NOT ALLOWED to enter the temple.

Entrance Fee: IDR 15,000 (₱56)

 

UBUD WATER PALACE

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Located in Jalan Ubud Raya, very near the market and next door to the Lotus Café can be reached on foot if you are staying in Ubud center. In the daytime, it is nice, with large lotus ponds reflecting the gorgeous Balinese architecture of the Palace facade. The palace is closed to public so you will just settle outside for pictures.

Entrance Fee: Free

 

TEGALALANG RICE TERRACES

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Tegallalang Rice Terraces in Ubud is famous for its beautiful scenes of rice paddies that spread down before you and away to the rice paddies on the slopes across the valley. The high roadside location is cool and breezy however when you reach there on a sunny midday until 4 pm, prepare to be burned as the hot Indonesian sun is no joke. It is a well-known spot for tourists to stop and take photos but be aware of some locals offering to take pictures with them then suddenly would demand to pay them for it. Painters and nature lovers also enjoy visiting this spot, and there are numerous art kiosks and cafes near the ledge offering their ware. Although the entrance fee is by donation some locals around the terraces would demand you to pay them IDR 10,000 (₱38) for you to pass by since they are claiming that they own the piece of pathway way you are passing by. Some would even block the way and won’t let you pass which I find very aggressive. Anyway it is still a must see place just go there prepared.

Entrance Fee: Donation (Most visitors pay IDR 10,000 but for us we gave IDR 2,000)

 

KUTA

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An exact opposite of Ubud. Ubud is peaceful and quiet while Kuta is wild and energetic place since it is a beach and resort area in the south island of Bali, Indonesia. One of Bali’s first tourist developments where the modern era of tourism in Bali began. It’s best known for its party-centric atmosphere with wild nightlife and high concentration of bars, nightclubs, and hotels. Kuta’s Indian Ocean long sandy beach with consistent waves make it a popular surf spot, particularly for beginners, with plenty of outfitters offering board rentals and surf lessons. It is popular with younger travelers and those on a budget. There are plenty of cheap accommodation to choose from. Traffic is really mad sometimes and it can get really busy, but it is still a great place to meet people and have fun.

 

KUTA BEACH

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It’s considered Bali’s most famous beach resort destination. Once a simple, rustic and quiet fishing village, Kuta Beach has witnessed a transformation over the past years. This is due to the rise of various accommodation options, dining and shopping scenes. The rapid growth owes much to visitors, beachcombers and art lovers from nearby Australia. Expatriates also helped pioneer surfing in Kuta, as well. Don’t expect a white sand beach here or crystal clear blue sky water but be amazed with its waves that have great reputation in surfing for beginners or professional that is hyped by surfers from all over the world. Although its waves are not that high it is still perfect for beginners. Alleys of bars and cafes are lined to view the beach while relaxing on their comfortable seats or cushions with beer and live music or just simply spread your sarong and lie on the beach to get a tan.

 

SEMINYAK BEACH

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Not far from Kuta beach you will find Seminyak beach a few east feet away. The waves in this beach are way bigger than in Kuta perfect for professional surfers. The alley of bars and cafes along the beach of Kuta is stretched until Seminyak. This area is also a home to high end and luxurious beach resorts, restaurants and boutiques with a more secluded ambiance. I must say there’s no big difference between the two beaches since they’re just next to each other except their waves.

 

ULUWATU TEMPLE

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One of the comment from tripadvisor said “A so so temple located in a perfect cliff with a perfects sunset.” I kinda agree to that. First the temple is close so I can’t access and comment about it. However the location is just so perfect for sunset and ocean viewing. The high blue noisy waves of the Indian Ocean is so addicting to watch plus the fact that it has a clear blue water. Most visitors visit the temple at around late afternoon to view the sunset and for the Kecak Dance performance, a Balinese traditional fire dance that happens at 6:00 pm. Be advise to wear modest clothes in going to the temple. Sarongs and belts are provided in the entrance after you get your ticket. Be vigilant on your belongings because the monkeys here are smart or hungry enough to snatch your things away from you. When we were there several cases of snatching happened from cellphones, earrings, sunglasses, hats, cameras and water bottles. As much as possible avoid wearing accessories or just simply avoid the monkeys. Although staffs are there to help you, prevention of this situation is way better than solving it.

 

Entrance Fee: Adult: IDR 30,000 (₱112)                   Children: IDR 20,000 (₱75)

Kecak Dance: IDR 100,000 (₱375)

Private Car: IDR 300,000 (₱1,125)

  • Note: We rented a private car and a driver we met on the street. His first price for a round trip to Uluwatu temple is IDR 500,000 (₱1,870) but we haggled until it went down to our agreed price.
  • Agencies offering tours or private cars going to this temple are around Legian area. Their prices varies from IDR 350,000 (₱1,310)- IDR 750,000 (₱2,800) others include Tanah Lot Temple.

TRAVELING HO CHI MINH CITY FOR BEGINNERS UNDER PHP 4,500 BUDGET

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I remember during my first travel in my life. It was a solo and overseas travel in Bangkok, Thailand. I did a lot of impractical mistakes in traveling. I was alone, amateur and scared so I booked my hotel near the airport which is far from the city center and visitor’s sites. I used overpriced taxis. I didn’t invest in mobile data and rely on people for directions which end up unsuccessful since English is not that widely spoken in Southeast Asia. I didn’t do much of research that resulted to disappointment because I thought that this travel was unproductive. I didn’t see a lot of tourist’s sites and I didn’t learn much about their culture. As time passes I learned more practical ways to enjoy traveling without breaking the bank and would engage me more to the culture of the place I am traveling. Traveling for three years now and lived overseas for six months I learned that there are places that are meant for beginners and places for experienced travellers. Countries which English is widely spoken and have organized mode of transportation can be very convenient to travel however, these countries can also be more expensive to travel. So, when my friend and I did our backpacking in Southeast Asia and we started in Ho Chi Minh, I noticed that this city can also be good option for first time travelers.

Ho Chi Minh city formerly known as Saigon is a city in the south of Vietnam named after their late Prime Minister and National Hero, Gen. Ho Chi Minh. This bustling city doesn’t only offer sky scrapers that lights up the city at night but it is also rich in historical and cultural sites and home of flavorful Vietnamese delicacies. During our stay here I noticed how convenient it is to travel Ho Chi Minh. Although English is not widely spoken here, people are helpful when it comes to directions. Bus routes on the GPS are accurate and updated. So if you are a beginner in traveling who wants to have a mix of traditional and modern city and still have the taste of being a traveller then Ho Chi Minh is for you.

Starting in the airport, which is gladly near the city with a well-organized taxi system. You can approach any of the booths offering taxi to your hotel with a fixed price of VND 210, 000 ($10).  If you have Uber or Grab Taxi app, there’s no problem because they are also just around.

WHERE TO STAY?

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I suggest you stay in Bui Vien, District 1 where most of the backpackers stay. It is 30 minutes away from the airport by taxi. One advantage of staying here is it is near the visitor’s sites, has lots of cheap restaurants and street food with lively bars and clubs that makes the walking street alive at night. There  are a lot of affordable budget hotel rooms and dormitory rooms plus tour agencies, money changers are everywhere in this area. We also spotted a cellphone shop here that sells sim card and registers your sim for affordable mobile data plan that only cost VND 110,000 (PHP 220) unlike other stores that sell tourist sim card for VND 200,000- 450,000 (PHP 400- 900).

TIP: Get a Mobifone sim card for VND 40,000 (PHP 80) load for VND 70,000 (PHP 140) and register by typing M70 send it to 999. You get 1.6 GB mobile data plan for 1 month.

PLACES TO VISIT:

We started our travel by doing a historic city tour. From our hostel and equipped with a GPS we walked going to Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, Ho Chi Minh Central Post Office, Ho Chi Minh City Hall, and Independence Palace. We visited them in order since they are next to each other.

NOTRE-DAME CATHEDRAL BASILICA OF SAIGON

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An iconic landmark of the city located downtown and built by the French colonizers. The orange cathedral is open daily from 5:30 am to 5 pm. However with its undergoing renovation that will last until 2019, visitors are not allowed to enter for safety purposes.

HO CHI MINH CENTRAL POST OFFICE

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Another French built architecture just beside the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon is the Central Post Office. Although it is a functioning office with busy workers stamping and sorting loads of mails, we were still able to stroll around the area and get mesmerized with the architecture. On the left and right wings of the entrance there are stores selling souvenir items, postcards and lacquerware.

HO CHI MINH CITY HALL

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Just few feet away from the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, we found ourselves in Ho Chi Minh City Hall. A sunny cream-and-yellow hue European inspired building built in 1902 to 1908. It was formerly known as Hotel de Ville but when the Communist took over before 1975 it was renamed to its present name. This place is gorgeous by day and stunning at night because of the lights surrounding the building. Unfortunately since it is a government office, it is close to public.

INDEPENDENCE PALACE

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Originally the home and command center of Government General. In 1954 the Saigon government took over the place and renamed it to its current name. The palace witnessed series of historical events especially with the political life of their previous presidents. It also undergone massive renovations due to its bombing incident in 1962 and an army tank crashed on its gate in 1975. Now, it is functioning as a museum which features combination of Western and Eastern architecture.

Entrance Fee: VND 30, 000 (PHP 60)

WAR REMNANT MUSEUM

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Before I step in this museum I thought it was just another museum showing the colorful history of Vietnam. However, as I was looking around reading the caption of every picture I came across with, I learned that this place is dedicated to the saddest history of Vietnam, The Vietnam War. Photographs and military equipment are on display in this museum. Documentary videos are played to show what happened during the long bloody war and its result. Outside the museum military tanks, helicopters, aircraft fighters and rocket launchers are well preserved. One thing that I found very heartbreaking is the part of the museum where they showed photos and videos of people especially children who suffered from “Agent Orange”. It is a chemical attack done by the Americans during the war.

Entrance Fee: VND 15,000 (PHP 30)

TURTLE LAKE

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Although there are no live turtles present in this park people call it Turtle Lake because long time ago there was a turtle statue in this man- made lake. However when a group of people bombed this area the turtle statue was destroyed. At night this park lights up with colorful fountain and street food vendors start to pop. I would say this place is popular among locals enjoying the view of the fountain and gorging with street food after their long day at work or school. It is not touristy because when we were there, I only saw two foreigners beside us trying out some street food.

BINH TAY MARKET

Out front at Binh Tay Market in Ho Chi Minh City
Photo credit: synapticism.com

More local food? Head on to District 5 where Binh Tay Market is located. It is in the heart of China Town where you can find cheap goods. However early this year the French architecture building was under repair for its preservation. The stalls are extended outside the building where visitors can still buy souvenirs and taste unique Vietnamese delicacies.

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Trying some Vietnamese coolers.

JADE EMPEROR PAGODA

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The only temple that we visited in this city. To my observation it is a place where most locals visit to say their prayers. There are not much foreigners visiting this temple. There is no entrance fee and their dress code is not that strict here but I suggest you to dress modestly since you are entering a sacred place.

MEKONG RIVER DAY TOUR

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The lifeblood of Southeast Asia passing through six countries, from China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The mud-brown river also played a big role in the history of trading and diverse cultures between these countries.

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Vinh Trang Temple

We booked our day tour via agency near our hotel in District 1. Different agencies may vary in prices from $9-35 per person. We were lucky to get a deal with $11 which includes a day tour with free lunch. The tour starts at 8:30 am hotel pick up then travel for an hour and half going to My Tho, the gateway to Mekong Delta.  We took a glimpse of Vinh Trang Temple then we took a boat going to different villages where we tried their pure honey, ate tropical fruits, paddle boats and ride horses. We also went to this coconut village where we learned the process of extracting coconut oil and how they make different products out of it.

 

EXPENSES: For 4 full day- tour for 1 pax

TRANSPORTATION:

Taxi from airport to hotel: VND 210,000 (Php 440)

Motorbike from Turtle Lake to hotel: VND 50,000 (PHP 100)

Bus from Bui Vien District 1 to Binh Tay Market: VND 5,000 (PHP 10)

Bus from Binh Tay Market to Jade Emperor Pagoda: VND 5,000 (PHP 10)

Bus from Jade Emperor Pagoda to Bui Vien District 1: VND 6,000 (PHP 12)

 

ACCOMMODATION (Giang Hotel): VND 450,000 (PHP 900)

 

FOOD (Vietnamese food sold on the street stalls, eateries and convenient store food): VND 1, 000,000 (PHP 2,000)

 

ENTRANCE FEES:

Independence Palace: VND 30, 000 (PHP 60)

War Remnant Museum: VND 15,000 (PHP 30)

 

MEKONG RIVER DAY TOUR: $11 (PHP 550)

 

TOTAL: PHP 4,112

 

NOTE: plane ticket not included since we returned in the Philippines from Bali, Indonesia but we flew to Ho Chi Minh from Manila via Cebu Pacific for PHP 2599 with no check in baggage.