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Ocean Park Hong Kong 2013

January 8, 2013

Hong Kong



Disneyland is more often the theme park on our minds when thinking of  Hong Kong but we shouldn’t forget the classic Ocean Park Hong Kong! I remember back when the Philippines didn’t even have the small Enchanted Kingdom (only decent theme park we have), Ocean Park Hong Kong was the place to go to during summer vacations.


Grand Aquarium: 68 cm thick glass aquarium!



Grand Aquarium




Ocean Park has done quite well in staying with the competition; the park is well maintained and the staff accommodating as well. Although Disneyland is connected to the MRT system; Ocean Park is much nearer to the city, only a couple of minutes drive on Hong Kong Island. Our taxi fare was only HKD 40 from our hotel! They say that the locals would go to Ocean Park more than Disneyland and I could understand why. A yearly pass for a local would be easy to maximize due to the proximity of Ocean Park to the city. Going to Ocean Park for a short afternoon walk would not be too much of a waste of travel time. 





Amazing Asian Animals: Panda Village



The theme park map was not as confusing as the Lotte World map (click here for blog entry) that I navigated in Seoul, but still far from the precision of Disney maps. I actually arrived at the park 5 minutes before the Emperors of the Sky Bird Show, tried to get to the venue, got lost and could no longer watch the show as we arrived late. I believe that part of the difficulty in reading the map is the terrain; the park is built on hills/mountains. It’s tough to visualize 3D ups and downs on a 2D map. 




Tuxedos Restaurant: Eat with a view of the penguins!




A definite win for Ocean Park being situated on mountains is the Cable Car or Ocean Express Train transportation that you have to take to get to and from The Waterfront (lower section) to The Summit (upper section). We took the Cable Car up (scared the hell out of me; heights = no good) and the Ocean Express down. The Ocean Express passed inside the mountain and made it look and feel like you are riding in a submarine.





Ocean Park Cable Car



The problem with mountains though is the whole park is up and down. It takes a lot of effort to go around the park; especially when pushing a stroller around. Escalators are located to circumvent the need to go around the hills but no elevators are present for the strollers. We actually walked around the whole park on sloping roads just to get to the very end of the park (Adventureland). Then the problem sank in… how do we get back up?? It would almost be impossible to push the stroller back up the steep road to Adventureland. We decided to just disregard the rule and bring the stroller up using the escalator (3 sets of really long escalators!) and carry the stroller (with a sleeping baby) up some flight of stairs. Whew! Back pain anyone? I think this is a big issue that Ocean Park has to address to truly be in the same class as Disneyland.





Crazy Long Escalators!






Wow! Shortcut for strollers at the Ocean Express! One of the very few advantages of having a stroller at Ocean Park.


Ocean Park has done well in focusing on thrill rides. This caters to a big group of teenagers, students and young adults looking for some weekend fun. These thrill rides are located on the Summit separate from the areas for kids which are found mostly at the Waterfront. The Show areas, animals and aquariums, on the otherhand, are spread out across the park. 





North Pole Encounter: Spotted Seal





South Pole Spectacular: Penguins! (silly and natural slapstick comedy in action!) 



All in all Ocean Park is still an awesome theme park and definitely worth your time. If you are in Hong Kong often, alternating theme parks on your Hong Kong trips would be smart as going back to the same theme park after just a year or two is kind of boring (I went to Disney in late 2011 and early 2013 and thought so). What Ocean Park lacks in character-recall (Mickey, Buzz Lightyear, etc) it makes up for with amazing aquatic creatures that you can see and interact with all throughout the theme park. From pandas to penguins, no other giant theme park I know could beat that :).


Grand Aquarium: Jellyfish Lava Lamp!




for more photos of Ocean Park Hong Kong on my flickr click here
Ocean Park Hong Kong 2013
January 8, 2013
Hong Kong

Disneyland is more often the theme park on our minds when thinking of Hong Kong but we shouldn’t forget the classic Ocean Park Hong Kong! I remember back when the Philippines didn’t even have the small Enchanted Kingdom (only decent theme park we have), Ocean Park Hong Kong was the place to go to during summer vacations.

Grand Aquarium: 68 cm thick glass aquarium!

Grand Aquarium

Ocean Park has done quite well in staying with the competition; the park is well maintained and the staff accommodating as well. Although Disneyland is connected to the MRT system; Ocean Park is much nearer to the city, only a couple of minutes drive on Hong Kong Island. Our taxi fare was only HKD 40 from our hotel! They say that the locals would go to Ocean Park more than Disneyland and I could understand why. A yearly pass for a local would be easy to maximize due to the proximity of Ocean Park to the city. Going to Ocean Park for a short afternoon walk would not be too much of a waste of travel time. 

Amazing Asian Animals: Panda Village

The theme park map was not as confusing as the Lotte World map (click here for blog entry) that I navigated in Seoul, but still far from the precision of Disney maps. I actually arrived at the park 5 minutes before the Emperors of the Sky Bird Show, tried to get to the venue, got lost and could no longer watch the show as we arrived late. I believe that part of the difficulty in reading the map is the terrain; the park is built on hills/mountains. It’s tough to visualize 3D ups and downs on a 2D map. 

Tuxedos Restaurant: Eat with a view of the penguins!

A definite win for Ocean Park being situated on mountains is the Cable Car or Ocean Express Train transportation that you have to take to get to and from The Waterfront (lower section) to The Summit (upper section). We took the Cable Car up (scared the hell out of me; heights = no good) and the Ocean Express down. The Ocean Express passed inside the mountain and made it look and feel like you are riding in a submarine.

Ocean Park Cable Car

The problem with mountains though is the whole park is up and down. It takes a lot of effort to go around the park; especially when pushing a stroller around. Escalators are located to circumvent the need to go around the hills but no elevators are present for the strollers. We actually walked around the whole park on sloping roads just to get to the very end of the park (Adventureland). Then the problem sank in… how do we get back up?? It would almost be impossible to push the stroller back up the steep road to Adventureland. We decided to just disregard the rule and bring the stroller up using the escalator (3 sets of really long escalators!) and carry the stroller (with a sleeping baby) up some flight of stairs. Whew! Back pain anyone? I think this is a big issue that Ocean Park has to address to truly be in the same class as Disneyland.

Crazy Long Escalators!

Wow! Shortcut for strollers at the Ocean Express! One of the very few advantages of having a stroller at Ocean Park.

Ocean Park has done well in focusing on thrill rides. This caters to a big group of teenagers, students and young adults looking for some weekend fun. These thrill rides are located on the Summit separate from the areas for kids which are found mostly at the Waterfront. The Show areas, animals and aquariums, on the otherhand, are spread out across the park. 

North Pole Encounter: Spotted Seal

South Pole Spectacular: Penguins! (silly and natural slapstick comedy in action!) 

All in all Ocean Park is still an awesome theme park and definitely worth your time. If you are in Hong Kong often, alternating theme parks on your Hong Kong trips would be smart as going back to the same theme park after just a year or two is kind of boring (I went to Disney in late 2011 and early 2013 and thought so). What Ocean Park lacks in character-recall (Mickey, Buzz Lightyear, etc) it makes up for with amazing aquatic creatures that you can see and interact with all throughout the theme park. From pandas to penguins, no other giant theme park I know could beat that :).


Grand Aquarium: Jellyfish Lava Lamp!

for more photos of Ocean Park Hong Kong on my flickr click here
Pipho 2012 Photo Trip: Baler
Baler, Aurora Province, Philippines
Nov 29 to Dec 2, 2012
PHOTO: Museo de Baler

Pinoy Photography Organization held our traditional year ender photo trip for 2012 at Baler, Aurora. As per usual, we left the city late night to reach our target sunrise destination with enough time for preparations and such. As a non-landscape photographer, I have always jokingly complained about this habit and actually did not join them for the 2nd sunrise of the trip (sleep is always good). :)





Baler Sunrise



Baler is aesthetically pleasing for photography with it’s rough coastal/beach areas and strong waves. For tourism purposes though, the options are limited pretty much only to surfing. The beach was pretty good with fine sand but the waves were really strong. I tried to go swimming for a bit to relax, but ended up having to be wary every couple of seconds of the incoming wave. I also was not prepared enough to bring the proper gear to shoot the surfers but at least was able to take some snapshots for documentation.





Baler Surfing



The town was pretty much complete with the standard wet market, dry market, some places to eat, drugstore, etc. I don’t expect much anymore when I venture to the provinces and found Baler amenities sufficient. I’ve seen more progressive provinces but not many either, especially this far from the metro. 





Baler Fishport





Arrested Illegal Chinese Fishing Vessel (notice the bullet holes on the side)



We took some time to go around some of the more touristy areas during the off photography hours (not sunrise nor sunset). We went to Museo de Baler (see main photo) which was quite new and well maintained. The Museum dedicated a big part of the space to documenting the role of Baler during the uprising in the Spanish Era. We also went up to Ermita Hill; a very nice hilltop park, open and free for the public! 





Museo de Baler: 1937 Cadillac Carbriolet of Gen. Mac Arthur





Ermita Hill





View from Ermita Hill



The most interesting place we visited was the Baler Balete Tree! It’s over 600 years old and the largest Balete Tree in Asia! Magnificent and amazing! Walking around and inside (yes, inside!) this tree is definitely a new experience and something truly special. The way the branches and the roots intersect and cross each other and how the same branches would become a natural ladder for people to climb up to the top from both the outside and the inside of the tree, really amazing. My architect friend estimates it to be at around 6 stories high! and believe it or not, no one has ever fallen off it! They say that the “bantay” or guardian of the tree is kind and most likely protects the climbers as well. These are the type of stuff that make you think more of the world around us. Truly truly amazing.





Baler Balete Tree: Largest Balete Tree in Asia (600+ years old!)





Photo from the inside of the Balete Tree



As more of a travel story photographer (definitely not landscape) and since I’m not planning on trying out surfing, I honestly found Baler lacking enough interesting things to do or to build stories about. There are a bunch of very beautiful waterfalls which we were not able to visit; but again, that’s roughly in the realm of landscape as well. Nevertheless, the trip was definitely worth it, if only for the company! My photo friends are awesome and all the jokes, alcohol and horse play can truly freshen one up from the daily grind. 





Baler Mangrove Shore/Farm





Baler Mangrove Shore/Farm



Thanks Pipho Org (my friends) for a wonderful and successful Photo Trip! 



click here for more photos of Baler, Aurora Province

Pipho 2012 Photo Trip: Baler
Baler, Aurora Province, Philippines
Nov 29 to Dec 2, 2012
PHOTO: Museo de Baler

Pinoy Photography Organization held our traditional year ender photo trip for 2012 at Baler, Aurora. As per usual, we left the city late night to reach our target sunrise destination with enough time for preparations and such. As a non-landscape photographer, I have always jokingly complained about this habit and actually did not join them for the 2nd sunrise of the trip (sleep is always good). :)

Baler Sunrise

Baler is aesthetically pleasing for photography with it’s rough coastal/beach areas and strong waves. For tourism purposes though, the options are limited pretty much only to surfing. The beach was pretty good with fine sand but the waves were really strong. I tried to go swimming for a bit to relax, but ended up having to be wary every couple of seconds of the incoming wave. I also was not prepared enough to bring the proper gear to shoot the surfers but at least was able to take some snapshots for documentation.

Baler Surfing

The town was pretty much complete with the standard wet market, dry market, some places to eat, drugstore, etc. I don’t expect much anymore when I venture to the provinces and found Baler amenities sufficient. I’ve seen more progressive provinces but not many either, especially this far from the metro. 

Baler Fishport

Arrested Illegal Chinese Fishing Vessel (notice the bullet holes on the side)

We took some time to go around some of the more touristy areas during the off photography hours (not sunrise nor sunset). We went to Museo de Baler (see main photo) which was quite new and well maintained. The Museum dedicated a big part of the space to documenting the role of Baler during the uprising in the Spanish Era. We also went up to Ermita Hill; a very nice hilltop park, open and free for the public! 

Museo de Baler: 1937 Cadillac Carbriolet of Gen. Mac Arthur

Ermita Hill

View from Ermita Hill

The most interesting place we visited was the Baler Balete Tree! It’s over 600 years old and the largest Balete Tree in Asia! Magnificent and amazing! Walking around and inside (yes, inside!) this tree is definitely a new experience and something truly special. The way the branches and the roots intersect and cross each other and how the same branches would become a natural ladder for people to climb up to the top from both the outside and the inside of the tree, really amazing. My architect friend estimates it to be at around 6 stories high! and believe it or not, no one has ever fallen off it! They say that the “bantay” or guardian of the tree is kind and most likely protects the climbers as well. These are the type of stuff that make you think more of the world around us. Truly truly amazing.

Baler Balete Tree: Largest Balete Tree in Asia (600+ years old!)

Photo from the inside of the Balete Tree

As more of a travel story photographer (definitely not landscape) and since I’m not planning on trying out surfing, I honestly found Baler lacking enough interesting things to do or to build stories about. There are a bunch of very beautiful waterfalls which we were not able to visit; but again, that’s roughly in the realm of landscape as well. Nevertheless, the trip was definitely worth it, if only for the company! My photo friends are awesome and all the jokes, alcohol and horse play can truly freshen one up from the daily grind. 

Baler Mangrove Shore/Farm

Baler Mangrove Shore/Farm

Thanks Pipho Org (my friends) for a wonderful and successful Photo Trip! 

click here for more photos of Baler, Aurora Province
Duaw Davao 2012: Philippine Eagle, a photo by jovijovijovi on Flickr.

Duaw Davao 2012: Philippine Eagle Center

August 17-20, 2012

Davao City, Philippines



We visited the Philippine Eagle Center (the Conservation Breeding Facility of the Philippine Eagle Foundation) one afternoon during our trip to Davao in 2012. Our friend Zer (a Davao local) insisted that we visit the place and the trip was definitely worth it. Seeing the Philippine Eagle with my own eyes; I am finally able to appreciate the magnificence of this “King” Eagle.







The facility seems fairly maintained especially since the place isn’t new. Yet I really still feel the lack of improvement and the same feeling I get when I visit government managed parks/locations in Metro Manila. The Foundation is doing well in preserving (and even breeding!) the Philippine Eagle but the facility is definitely not world-class (appearance wise I mean) probably because of budget constraints.







Nevertheless, I salute the people at the Foundation for doing a great job in preserving the Philippine Eagle. I actually thought of including these photos and thoughts in the main blog entry of my Davao Trip (click here) but decided to keep it separate to emphasize the good things that the Philippine Eagle Foundation is doing. 







The Philippines is a very bio-diverse area that could benefit greatly from eco-tourism. Protecting and preserving our treasures is important and I feel that the Philippine Government is not doing enough in this regard. The Philippine Eagle Foundation is a bright spot with regards to this issue and hopefully the government will support more of these types of eco-programs for the Philippine’s future ecological situation and eco-tourism industry.



for the blog entry on Davao City click here


for the blog entry on the Kadayawan Festival held in Davao City click here

for the blog entry on the food in Davao City click here




for more photos of the Philippine Eagle Center click here

Duaw Davao 2012: Philippine Eagle, a photo by jovijovijovi on Flickr.

Duaw Davao 2012: Philippine Eagle Center
August 17-20, 2012
Davao City, Philippines

We visited the Philippine Eagle Center (the Conservation Breeding Facility of the Philippine Eagle Foundation) one afternoon during our trip to Davao in 2012. Our friend Zer (a Davao local) insisted that we visit the place and the trip was definitely worth it. Seeing the Philippine Eagle with my own eyes; I am finally able to appreciate the magnificence of this “King” Eagle.


The facility seems fairly maintained especially since the place isn’t new. Yet I really still feel the lack of improvement and the same feeling I get when I visit government managed parks/locations in Metro Manila. The Foundation is doing well in preserving (and even breeding!) the Philippine Eagle but the facility is definitely not world-class (appearance wise I mean) probably because of budget constraints.


Nevertheless, I salute the people at the Foundation for doing a great job in preserving the Philippine Eagle. I actually thought of including these photos and thoughts in the main blog entry of my Davao Trip (click here) but decided to keep it separate to emphasize the good things that the Philippine Eagle Foundation is doing. 


The Philippines is a very bio-diverse area that could benefit greatly from eco-tourism. Protecting and preserving our treasures is important and I feel that the Philippine Government is not doing enough in this regard. The Philippine Eagle Foundation is a bright spot with regards to this issue and hopefully the government will support more of these types of eco-programs for the Philippine’s future ecological situation and eco-tourism industry.

for the blog entry on Davao City click here
for the blog entry on the Kadayawan Festival held in Davao City click here
for the blog entry on the food in Davao City click here

for more photos of the Philippine Eagle Center click here
Duaw Davao 2012: Davao City!

August 17-20, 2012

Davao City, Philippines
PHOTO: Davao City: San Pedro Cathedral



I’ve been to quite a few cities in the provinces and most of them were pretty far in development from what I’m used to here in Metro Manila. I was thus not expecting too much from my trip to Davao City but as soon as I landed, I have to say… I was quite impressed! The Davao International Airport itself was among the top 5 I’ve been to in the Philippines. 



My impression may also have been influenced by my friend Zer who was our tour guide and whose house we stayed at in Davao. Zer is quite the Davao fan being from the place; but being a fan is definitely justifiable given the excellent living conditions in Davao. Davao is the center of trade in Mindanao and despite the instability of the region; Davao City has been able to stay in control of their peace and order. I actually felt very safe walking around Davao even while carrying very expensive camera gear; even safer than most places I’ve shot in here in Metro Manila! Davao City is clean, organized and most importantly has excellent policies to stop crime such as a curfew, a no smoking city wide policy and strict enforcement of anti-drug and crime laws (in fact, bordering on extrajudicial enforcement which seems quite effective). 






Davao City Taxi Credit Card Payment!




The iron-fist and discipline-first policy of the Lady Mayor Inday Duterte (and the past mayor, his father) has a lot to do with Davao City’s success. Davao City has not fallen with many other provinces/cities in the country where voter-friendly policies and actions of the local government have become detrimental to the long term good.


The Commemorative Monument of Peace and Unity




A day before the festivities (see my post on Kadayawan Festival here), we took time to walk around the city center to check out the area. We passed by many of the points of interest in the area namely San Pedro (St. Peter’s) Cathedral, Rizal Park Stage, the Davao Museum, the Clock Tower, etc. We also spent some time in the People’s Park where a lot of the works of Kublai Milan (a famous artist of Davao) were displayed. The security in the park was very tight! It was worst than getting into the Vatican! All bags where checked a full body frisk is done as well. 






Rizal Park Stage with the Philippine Eagle Design by Kublai Milan




We spent some time and some eating at the various shopping centers in the City. We went to SM, Abreeza (Ayala) and Gaisano Malls. Most of the stuff you could buy and place to eat in Metro Manila, you can find in Davao as well. The malls were actually pretty big! A sign of a big city in the Philippines (where malling is the main past-time :P).


Davao City Clock Tower redesigned by Kublai Milan




We traveled across the ocean to Samal Island for some Beach Time. It took us only 20 minutes by boat from a port in Davao City to get there! We spent our time there at the Paradise Island Resort, the first resort on the island but still very well maintained (the restrooms were very clean!). As with most things in Davao City, the entrance fee, food and other rentables (bliiards, ping-pong, etc) are very affordable. The place was awesome and the fact that it’s just 20 minutes from the city is amazing! In metro manila, you need at least 2 hours to get to a decent beach.


Beautiful Beach just 20 minutes away!




Zer did his best to show us around while showing Davao off as well. I was truly impressed and was glad to have been able to be brought around by a local. Thanks to Zer and his family for their big hospitality!


Replica of David (in Florence) called David Davao found in Queensland Park




Awarded by the Department of Tourism in 2008 as the most livable city in the Philippines, Davao is truly impressive and definitely one of the best cities in the Philippines. I haven’t been to Cebu City in a while but it seems Davao City (if given the right conditions such as more stability in the region) could very well possibly overtake Cebu City and take the number 2 top city spot in the Philippines!



for the blog entry on the Kadayawan Festival held in Davao City click here

for the blog entry on the food in Davao City click here
for the blog entry on the Philippine Eagle Foundation click here



for more photos of Davao City on my flickr click here

for more photos of Samal Island on my flickr click here

Duaw Davao 2012: Davao City!

August 17-20, 2012
Davao City, Philippines

PHOTO: Davao City: San Pedro Cathedral

I’ve been to quite a few cities in the provinces and most of them were pretty far in development from what I’m used to here in Metro Manila. I was thus not expecting too much from my trip to Davao City but as soon as I landed, I have to say… I was quite impressed! The Davao International Airport itself was among the top 5 I’ve been to in the Philippines. 

My impression may also have been influenced by my friend Zer who was our tour guide and whose house we stayed at in Davao. Zer is quite the Davao fan being from the place; but being a fan is definitely justifiable given the excellent living conditions in Davao. Davao is the center of trade in Mindanao and despite the instability of the region; Davao City has been able to stay in control of their peace and order. I actually felt very safe walking around Davao even while carrying very expensive camera gear; even safer than most places I’ve shot in here in Metro Manila! Davao City is clean, organized and most importantly has excellent policies to stop crime such as a curfew, a no smoking city wide policy and strict enforcement of anti-drug and crime laws (in fact, bordering on extrajudicial enforcement which seems quite effective). 

Davao City Taxi Credit Card Payment!

The iron-fist and discipline-first policy of the Lady Mayor Inday Duterte (and the past mayor, his father) has a lot to do with Davao City’s success. Davao City has not fallen with many other provinces/cities in the country where voter-friendly policies and actions of the local government have become detrimental to the long term good.

The Commemorative Monument of Peace and Unity

A day before the festivities (see my post on Kadayawan Festival here), we took time to walk around the city center to check out the area. We passed by many of the points of interest in the area namely San Pedro (St. Peter’s) Cathedral, Rizal Park Stage, the Davao Museum, the Clock Tower, etc. We also spent some time in the People’s Park where a lot of the works of Kublai Milan (a famous artist of Davao) were displayed. The security in the park was very tight! It was worst than getting into the Vatican! All bags where checked a full body frisk is done as well. 

Rizal Park Stage with the Philippine Eagle Design by Kublai Milan

We spent some time and some eating at the various shopping centers in the City. We went to SM, Abreeza (Ayala) and Gaisano Malls. Most of the stuff you could buy and place to eat in Metro Manila, you can find in Davao as well. The malls were actually pretty big! A sign of a big city in the Philippines (where malling is the main past-time :P).

Davao City Clock Tower redesigned by Kublai Milan

We traveled across the ocean to Samal Island for some Beach Time. It took us only 20 minutes by boat from a port in Davao City to get there! We spent our time there at the Paradise Island Resort, the first resort on the island but still very well maintained (the restrooms were very clean!). As with most things in Davao City, the entrance fee, food and other rentables (bliiards, ping-pong, etc) are very affordable. The place was awesome and the fact that it’s just 20 minutes from the city is amazing! In metro manila, you need at least 2 hours to get to a decent beach.

Beautiful Beach just 20 minutes away!

Zer did his best to show us around while showing Davao off as well. I was truly impressed and was glad to have been able to be brought around by a local. Thanks to Zer and his family for their big hospitality!

Replica of David (in Florence) called David Davao found in Queensland Park

Awarded by the Department of Tourism in 2008 as the most livable city in the Philippines, Davao is truly impressive and definitely one of the best cities in the Philippines. I haven’t been to Cebu City in a while but it seems Davao City (if given the right conditions such as more stability in the region) could very well possibly overtake Cebu City and take the number 2 top city spot in the Philippines!

for the blog entry on the Kadayawan Festival held in Davao City click here
for the blog entry on the food in Davao City click here
for the blog entry on the Philippine Eagle Foundation click here

for more photos of Davao City on my flickr click here
for more photos of Samal Island on my flickr click here

Duaw Davao 2012: Food Trip with a Local!
August 17-20, 2012

Davao City, Philippines
PHOTO: Davao City Food: PInaypay (Fried Banana Dish)




Spending four days in Davao means four days of eating in Davao! We were brought around the local restaurants by our friend Zer (born and raised in Davao until college) and thus were treated to a tour of some of his childhood food memories as well! 


CHICKEN INATO: If Chicken Inasal is popular in the Ilonggo region, their counterpart here in the south is Chicken Inato! A sweeter blend but very similar in that they are both barbecued and served with soy sauce, siling labuyo (small chili peppers?) and calamansi (small lemon?). We were able to taste this sweet blend in a variety of restaurants but the best I tasted was at a small carinderia (eatery) outside a mall near Matina Crossing. The prices were very cheap and the food awesome! The shop probably had so many sales that they don’t even need to fix their dilapidated sign.






KINI ROGERS & LECHON BABOY: Kini Rogers have good roasted chicken and the name alone makes discussing this shop essential :P. The Lechon Baboy (Roast Pig) from a shop near Zer’s house is also very tasty and very affordable too! (only 350php per kg compared to the 700+ php/kg here in manila.






BLUGRE DURIAN COFFEE: Blugre is the most popular coffee shop chain in Davao established in 1995. They serve the very special Durian Coffee! The Durian is not actually mixed in the coffee beans (as I initially thought) but mixed in small bits on the cream above the coffee served as a cappuccino.






MERCO’S: A vital part of Zer’s food list in Davao is the pizza at Merco’s. Merco’s has been around for the longest time and their classic home style pizza brings back memories (even for me)… back when the home style pizza of Greenwich was the thing and the overloaded and greasy pizzas of today weren’t so popular.








DENCIA’S RESTAURANT: A well established restaurant in Davao serving Filipino food in a sit-down setting. 






MANDARIN TEA GARDEN: A chain of Chinese restaurants that has branches everywhere! I am unsure if they started in Davao or in a nearby province but they definitely have a presence in most of the cities/towns in the area. The food was very affordable and the servings quite generous as well. Their classic rice bowl dishes and noodles are delicious! They can easily match the restaurants in Manila’s Chinatown. 






FRUITS: A lot of fruits in Davao; the volcano-fertile soil is probably a big factor contributing to the abundance. Durian, Suha (Pomelo), Mangosteen, Rambutans, Lanzones, etc; all types can be seen in huge quantities at their wet market (palengke). A quick visit to pick up a friend at the Religious of the Notre Dame of the Missions Monastery gave us a chance for a truly special treat… Durian and Rambutan fresh from a tree! I can’t even remember the last time I have eaten fruit fresh from a tree. The Durian Tree we ate from was a different variety that grew very high (the one we ate from was at least 4 stories high). The Durian falls of from the tree by itself when it is ready for eating and they say that the tree is loving and only drops their fruit at night so that the fruit doesn’t hit anybody. The only targets of the trees are bad people such as burglars trying to get into your house! Big thanks to our host that day at the monastery for the wonderful experience.




Monastery Host with the Rambutan Tree!





Fresh Durian from a Durian Tree!



JACK’S RIDGE: A great place to bring family or friends as the area is on a hill overlooking the city. You can lounge around in the various recreational locations that they have, have seafood grilled dinner or just relax with your favorite drink. 






KANTO BAR in the MATINA TOWN SQUARE: After some drinks at Jack’s Ridge, we moved to a nosier bar with live music called Kanto Bar in the Matina Town Square. Matina Town Square is the night drinking place of the city with various music or dance bars situated beside each other. 






CECIL’S BAKESHOP: A bakeshop local to the area. They make excellent pastries, very sweet though but they definitely look and taste good!






Apologies for the long story but Zer brought us to a lot of places to eat and experience the food in the wonderful city of Davao! Thanks to Zer for sharing Davao and some of his childhood food trips with us!


for more photos of Davao City on my flickr click here
Duaw Davao 2012: Food Trip with a Local!

August 17-20, 2012
Davao City, Philippines
PHOTO: Davao City Food: PInaypay (Fried Banana Dish)

Spending four days in Davao means four days of eating in Davao! We were brought around the local restaurants by our friend Zer (born and raised in Davao until college) and thus were treated to a tour of some of his childhood food memories as well! 


CHICKEN INATO: If Chicken Inasal is popular in the Ilonggo region, their counterpart here in the south is Chicken Inato! A sweeter blend but very similar in that they are both barbecued and served with soy sauce, siling labuyo (small chili peppers?) and calamansi (small lemon?). We were able to taste this sweet blend in a variety of restaurants but the best I tasted was at a small carinderia (eatery) outside a mall near Matina Crossing. The prices were very cheap and the food awesome! The shop probably had so many sales that they don’t even need to fix their dilapidated sign.



KINI ROGERS & LECHON BABOY: Kini Rogers have good roasted chicken and the name alone makes discussing this shop essential :P. The Lechon Baboy (Roast Pig) from a shop near Zer’s house is also very tasty and very affordable too! (only 350php per kg compared to the 700+ php/kg here in manila.





BLUGRE DURIAN COFFEE: Blugre is the most popular coffee shop chain in Davao established in 1995. They serve the very special Durian Coffee! The Durian is not actually mixed in the coffee beans (as I initially thought) but mixed in small bits on the cream above the coffee served as a cappuccino.



MERCO’S: A vital part of Zer’s food list in Davao is the pizza at Merco’s. Merco’s has been around for the longest time and their classic home style pizza brings back memories (even for me)… back when the home style pizza of Greenwich was the thing and the overloaded and greasy pizzas of today weren’t so popular.




DENCIA’S RESTAURANT: A well established restaurant in Davao serving Filipino food in a sit-down setting. 



MANDARIN TEA GARDEN: A chain of Chinese restaurants that has branches everywhere! I am unsure if they started in Davao or in a nearby province but they definitely have a presence in most of the cities/towns in the area. The food was very affordable and the servings quite generous as well. Their classic rice bowl dishes and noodles are delicious! They can easily match the restaurants in Manila’s Chinatown. 



FRUITS: A lot of fruits in Davao; the volcano-fertile soil is probably a big factor contributing to the abundance. Durian, Suha (Pomelo), Mangosteen, Rambutans, Lanzones, etc; all types can be seen in huge quantities at their wet market (palengke). A quick visit to pick up a friend at the Religious of the Notre Dame of the Missions Monastery gave us a chance for a truly special treat… Durian and Rambutan fresh from a tree! I can’t even remember the last time I have eaten fruit fresh from a tree. The Durian Tree we ate from was a different variety that grew very high (the one we ate from was at least 4 stories high). The Durian falls of from the tree by itself when it is ready for eating and they say that the tree is loving and only drops their fruit at night so that the fruit doesn’t hit anybody. The only targets of the trees are bad people such as burglars trying to get into your house! Big thanks to our host that day at the monastery for the wonderful experience.


Monastery Host with the Rambutan Tree!

Fresh Durian from a Durian Tree!

JACK’S RIDGE: A great place to bring family or friends as the area is on a hill overlooking the city. You can lounge around in the various recreational locations that they have, have seafood grilled dinner or just relax with your favorite drink. 



KANTO BAR in the MATINA TOWN SQUARE: After some drinks at Jack’s Ridge, we moved to a nosier bar with live music called Kanto Bar in the Matina Town Square. Matina Town Square is the night drinking place of the city with various music or dance bars situated beside each other. 



CECIL’S BAKESHOP: A bakeshop local to the area. They make excellent pastries, very sweet though but they definitely look and taste good!



Apologies for the long story but Zer brought us to a lot of places to eat and experience the food in the wonderful city of Davao! Thanks to Zer for sharing Davao and some of his childhood food trips with us!


for more photos of Davao City on my flickr click here
Kadayawan 2012: Street Dancing/Indak-Indak, a photo by jovijovijovi on Flickr.
Duaw Davao 2012: Kadayawan Festival!
August 17-20, 2012
Davao City, Philippines
Me and my photobuds were fortunate enough to shoot this year’s Kadayawan Festival! Finally, I was able to shoot a major festival after so long! 



The first day of the parade (Saturday) is the street dancing or indak-indak in the local dialect. The groups consisted mostly of grade/high schoolers dressed in colorful costumes. After shooting the preps (preparation shots), we struggled to find a good place to position ourselves as the parade moved mostly north/northwest, against the morning sun!













The parade route was relatively short and the whole parade quite short as well (done by lunchtime). Though not as top-notch as the 3 most famous festivals in the country (Sinulog, Dinagyang and Masskara). Kadayawan is definitely one of the next in line. The colors were there, the organization, the dedication and lastly the visitors! Local and international tourists visiting the Kadayawan are growing more and more in number. It also helps that Davao is a great city with a disciplined population due to the strict rule of the local Mayor.











The second day (Sunday) is the parade of the floats. The decorated floats are designed by the various tribesmen of the area, organizations and companies as well. Examples would be Big TV networks such as ABS-CBN and GMA 7, Coca-Cola, Abreeza (Ayala Mall in Davao), Camella Homes, UP Los Banos, MNLF, etc.



Giant Puppets!





puppet masters control the puppets like this. they dance to the music as well!





puppet masters hands-free replenishing device

The floats were decorated in flowers and fruits! Fitting as if there is one thing abundant in Davao, it’s fruits! My photobud Zer (who is from Davao) noticed the lesser number of tribesmen floats. This goes to show how the parade is starting to get more and more commercialized; the bigger floats with the bigger budgets definitely from the big organizations and corporations.



The number of floats weren’t so many and the whole parade would probably be done by lunchtime. We left early as we were already able to take photos of the floats at the starting point of the parade route. What was interesting is more people watched the floats than the street dancing. I am not certain if it’s because of the day (Sunday instead of Saturday), or if the floats are really the more popular attraction.



Though not the biggest or the most popular, the Kadayawan Festival is definitely up and coming and should be in every photographer’s festival to-do-list!



Korean Community in Davao Float. Traditional garments but K-pop music and dancing at the back!

I would like to thank Zer and his family for their hospitality, the great opportunity to shoot the Kadayawan Festival and to go around the great city of Davao. Nothing beats being toured by a local! Thanks Zer!

for more photos on my flickr of kadayawan festival click here

Kadayawan 2012: Street Dancing/Indak-Indak, a photo by jovijovijovi on Flickr. Duaw Davao 2012: Kadayawan Festival!
August 17-20, 2012
Davao City, Philippines

Me and my photobuds were fortunate enough to shoot this year’s Kadayawan Festival! Finally, I was able to shoot a major festival after so long!

The first day of the parade (Saturday) is the street dancing or indak-indak in the local dialect. The groups consisted mostly of grade/high schoolers dressed in colorful costumes. After shooting the preps (preparation shots), we struggled to find a good place to position ourselves as the parade moved mostly north/northwest, against the morning sun!





The parade route was relatively short and the whole parade quite short as well (done by lunchtime). Though not as top-notch as the 3 most famous festivals in the country (Sinulog, Dinagyang and Masskara). Kadayawan is definitely one of the next in line. The colors were there, the organization, the dedication and lastly the visitors! Local and international tourists visiting the Kadayawan are growing more and more in number. It also helps that Davao is a great city with a disciplined population due to the strict rule of the local Mayor.





The second day (Sunday) is the parade of the floats. The decorated floats are designed by the various tribesmen of the area, organizations and companies as well. Examples would be Big TV networks such as ABS-CBN and GMA 7, Coca-Cola, Abreeza (Ayala Mall in Davao), Camella Homes, UP Los Banos, MNLF, etc.


Giant Puppets!

puppet masters control the puppets like this. they dance to the music as well!

puppet masters hands-free replenishing device

The floats were decorated in flowers and fruits! Fitting as if there is one thing abundant in Davao, it’s fruits! My photobud Zer (who is from Davao) noticed the lesser number of tribesmen floats. This goes to show how the parade is starting to get more and more commercialized; the bigger floats with the bigger budgets definitely from the big organizations and corporations.


The number of floats weren’t so many and the whole parade would probably be done by lunchtime. We left early as we were already able to take photos of the floats at the starting point of the parade route. What was interesting is more people watched the floats than the street dancing. I am not certain if it’s because of the day (Sunday instead of Saturday), or if the floats are really the more popular attraction.

Though not the biggest or the most popular, the Kadayawan Festival is definitely up and coming and should be in every photographer’s festival to-do-list!


Korean Community in Davao Float. Traditional garments but K-pop music and dancing at the back!

I would like to thank Zer and his family for their hospitality, the great opportunity to shoot the Kadayawan Festival and to go around the great city of Davao. Nothing beats being toured by a local! Thanks Zer!

for more photos on my flickr of kadayawan festival click here
Splendid Seoul!
Seoul, South Korea
June 2012
PHOTO: Seoul Shopping: Myeongdong
Seoul is a wonderful city; I was actually surprised by how advanced Seoul is and admire (and envy) their development very much. I’ve never been to Japan but Seoul was very close to what I think Japan would be. Everyone was respectful, they valued art, history & tradition, and things were being run quite well by their government to say the least from garbage collection to security measures; all signs of a developed economy.


Interesting Korean Restaurant: Vandalism is used as a decor/design!




Coming from a third world country on a decline (Philippines), a part of me envy people who by chance or fate ended up in countries that have real and timely development for the benefit of all the people in their country. If my info is right, 50 years ago, we were way ahead of Korea already. Look at us now, nothing that the Philippines has can be compared to South Korea. We were exporting tires to them before, now we are importing whole vehicles from them! Yes we have the beaches, mountains, etc (these were given by God, not because of our efforts btw) and yes we have a colorful culture (these are very nice and sentimental things to have, I value them personally); but (to be harsh) these things will not make our lives better let alone feed us without proper use of them. The Philippines had and still has so much; yet development of economy (even just tourism) is just so dead and slow. Yes we see efforts but lets be honest, we are doing negligible amount of things (and so slowly) compared to our counterparts and thus 50 years from now we will probably still not reach what South Korea (and others; even China!) have done for their people.





Hi-tech Toilet Seat even in our middle priced hotel



Back to the topic at hand :-P, Seoul is a very modern city yet the Asian feeling is still very much there. It looks clean and everything but unlike the feeling I have from Singapore; it ain’t too sanitary! (spoken like a true 3rd world person!) Seoul for me is like a mix of Hong Kong and Singapore; you get the safety, modernity and manners (how people act) of Singapore/Singaporeans while at the same time get the Asian feel and great weather (perfect 21 degree weather) of Hong Kong.


Creative Ad for the Naked Museum




Seoul is an expensive city; things are just more costly and the expenses do add up. Tokyo/Osaka would probably be more expensive but comparing to my recent trips to Singapore and Hong Kong; we definitely spent more and got less for it in Seoul. Our hotel room for example was 40% more expensive in Seoul, but roughly the same size as what we got from Singapore. The food costs weren’t so different but definitely pricier and less tasty at the same price. The mass transit transportation costs weren’t so bad and I think these are subsidized; the cost of riding a taxi though is very expensive.




Northern Circuit


I wound up in this place when trying to
find my way to the Namsangol Hanok Village. The road that you see is closed off
to vehicles. The red part that you see is the cushioned part of the road, excellent
for walking/jogging! The yellow line are for the visually impaired and normally
i would see this line but unsure if anybody actually uses it, but in Seoul’s
case I saw at least three people use the yellow line in my short 45 minute walk
on the circuit!





Tourist Attraction and Places to Go



Tons of places to go to in South Korea and aside from the Traditional Places (palaces, hanok villages; click here for my blog entry), they also have museums, parks, a really tall tower or structure (N-Seoul Tower story click here) and even world class amusement parks (click here for my story on Lotte World); all similarly present in most developed cities.


Cheonggyecheon River




We were able to go to Gwanghwamun Square in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It’s technically a park where you can hang out or schedule to hold activities such as a photo exhibit, a bazaar maybe or the charity mission activity we chanced upon during our visit there.





Gwanghwamun Square




Works of Students (I think) displayed in the Museum


What’s interesting is that there is an underground museum under the square (free admission)! It is about Korea’s history and focused on particular national heroes. The museum used a lot of high tech stuff like touch screens and electronic displays to make the story more interesting for kids and adults alike. 






VIDEO: Museum using multiple LCD Screens




Shopping in Seoul



There was just so much Shopping in Seoul! From bazaar type stalls to high-end department stores, shopping was everywhere! Dongdaemun and Namdaemun are two of the big areas where you can shop; they are both areas with clusters of buildings where shopping is happening both inside the buildings and outside on the street!


Pedestrianized Insadong Street




I prefer the street shopping though as boutique shops offer more interesting things unlike the stall shops that each sell almost the same things. Outside the hotel we stayed in is the Myeongdong area where all the streets are just lined with boutique stores and restaurants. A similar place also is Insadong where a street lined with shops is closed to traffic on weekends (pedestrianized). Near the Gyeongbokgung Palace on the way to Bukchon Hanok Village is also another area of the same sort. Another place would be Tree-lined Garosugil Street with more of the high-end shops. I think these types of shopping streets can be found everywhere in Seoul!


Tree-lined Garosugil Street





All this shopping (and not the cheap budgeted shopping like is common here in the Philippines) is really the direct result of the local’s having disposable income. The main market is the local people and so they are not dependent too much on tourist shopping. I really honestly feel it all starts with a good government as the government is the only entity that can really control an economy. In a good economy everyone has jobs, everyone has money, and so the quality of life increases. 



Korean Food



Food in Korea was of good quality (as expected from a developed country) but not as tasty as Singapore’s or Hong Kong’s. Maybe I’m biased but Chinese food is still better. Though Korean food is also good and special as it has its own character. Korean food I think (in my very non-professional opinion) is a rough mix of kimchi type foods and Japanese food. They have many foods similar to Japan like Sushi, Udon and Katsu, but with a twist of “Korean” (like kimchi or galbi rice on the side). Ofcourse the standard appetizers will always be present… even the Chinese restaurant we ate at served some sort of pickled relish at the start of the meal.


Caffe Bene: Korean Starbucks with Deserts!





Bonjuk: Korean Porridge with the meat/veggies seemingly meshed into the chewy rice!




LAST NOTES



Some things to expect when going to Seoul:

1)Visit during the best times May or October for the best weather. Their rainy season may not be like our tropical Philippine’s rainy season but still a nuisance (touring while raining). And their cold season I hear is mighty cold! We barely made it before the rainy season (early June).

2)Bring more money than usual; it’s a pricey place for a city in Asia. 

3)Most places are closed once a week depending on their schedule (not necessarily Sunday), even the tourist and shopping areas so make sure you schedule appropriately. 

4)The language barrier is an issue; better research first before leaving a place with internet as asking around is not easy. Not many English words around and although the Koreans are generally helpful, hand signals and Korean words can only instruct you so much. 

5)The city is generally safe and quiet (lots of people laughed at and took photos of me with my son on a child harness :-P)

6)Go shopping! (shopping seems everywhere!)



Seoul is just a beautiful city and definitely worth going to. So go go go! Travelling is the best!



For other stories of Splendid Seoul on my blog click the topics below:

Traditional Places

Lotte World!

N-Seoul Tower



for more photos of Seoul, Korea on my flickr click here
Splendid Seoul!
Seoul, South Korea
June 2012
PHOTO: Seoul Shopping: Myeongdong

Seoul is a wonderful city; I was actually surprised by how advanced Seoul is and admire (and envy) their development very much. I’ve never been to Japan but Seoul was very close to what I think Japan would be. Everyone was respectful, they valued art, history & tradition, and things were being run quite well by their government to say the least from garbage collection to security measures; all signs of a developed economy.

Interesting Korean Restaurant: Vandalism is used as a decor/design!

Coming from a third world country on a decline (Philippines), a part of me envy people who by chance or fate ended up in countries that have real and timely development for the benefit of all the people in their country. If my info is right, 50 years ago, we were way ahead of Korea already. Look at us now, nothing that the Philippines has can be compared to South Korea. We were exporting tires to them before, now we are importing whole vehicles from them! Yes we have the beaches, mountains, etc (these were given by God, not because of our efforts btw) and yes we have a colorful culture (these are very nice and sentimental things to have, I value them personally); but (to be harsh) these things will not make our lives better let alone feed us without proper use of them. The Philippines had and still has so much; yet development of economy (even just tourism) is just so dead and slow. Yes we see efforts but lets be honest, we are doing negligible amount of things (and so slowly) compared to our counterparts and thus 50 years from now we will probably still not reach what South Korea (and others; even China!) have done for their people.

Hi-tech Toilet Seat even in our middle priced hotel

Back to the topic at hand :-P, Seoul is a very modern city yet the Asian feeling is still very much there. It looks clean and everything but unlike the feeling I have from Singapore; it ain’t too sanitary! (spoken like a true 3rd world person!) Seoul for me is like a mix of Hong Kong and Singapore; you get the safety, modernity and manners (how people act) of Singapore/Singaporeans while at the same time get the Asian feel and great weather (perfect 21 degree weather) of Hong Kong.

Creative Ad for the Naked Museum

Seoul is an expensive city; things are just more costly and the expenses do add up. Tokyo/Osaka would probably be more expensive but comparing to my recent trips to Singapore and Hong Kong; we definitely spent more and got less for it in Seoul. Our hotel room for example was 40% more expensive in Seoul, but roughly the same size as what we got from Singapore. The food costs weren’t so different but definitely pricier and less tasty at the same price. The mass transit transportation costs weren’t so bad and I think these are subsidized; the cost of riding a taxi though is very expensive.

Northern Circuit
I wound up in this place when trying to find my way to the Namsangol Hanok Village. The road that you see is closed off to vehicles. The red part that you see is the cushioned part of the road, excellent for walking/jogging! The yellow line are for the visually impaired and normally i would see this line but unsure if anybody actually uses it, but in Seoul’s case I saw at least three people use the yellow line in my short 45 minute walk on the circuit!

Tourist Attraction and Places to Go

Tons of places to go to in South Korea and aside from the Traditional Places (palaces, hanok villages; click here for my blog entry), they also have museums, parks, a really tall tower or structure (N-Seoul Tower story click here) and even world class amusement parks (click here for my story on Lotte World); all similarly present in most developed cities.

Cheonggyecheon River

We were able to go to Gwanghwamun Square in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It’s technically a park where you can hang out or schedule to hold activities such as a photo exhibit, a bazaar maybe or the charity mission activity we chanced upon during our visit there.

Gwanghwamun Square

Works of Students (I think) displayed in the Museum

What’s interesting is that there is an underground museum under the square (free admission)! It is about Korea’s history and focused on particular national heroes. The museum used a lot of high tech stuff like touch screens and electronic displays to make the story more interesting for kids and adults alike. 

VIDEO: Museum using multiple LCD Screens

Shopping in Seoul

There was just so much Shopping in Seoul! From bazaar type stalls to high-end department stores, shopping was everywhere! Dongdaemun and Namdaemun are two of the big areas where you can shop; they are both areas with clusters of buildings where shopping is happening both inside the buildings and outside on the street!

Pedestrianized Insadong Street

I prefer the street shopping though as boutique shops offer more interesting things unlike the stall shops that each sell almost the same things. Outside the hotel we stayed in is the Myeongdong area where all the streets are just lined with boutique stores and restaurants. A similar place also is Insadong where a street lined with shops is closed to traffic on weekends (pedestrianized). Near the Gyeongbokgung Palace on the way to Bukchon Hanok Village is also another area of the same sort. Another place would be Tree-lined Garosugil Street with more of the high-end shops. I think these types of shopping streets can be found everywhere in Seoul!

Tree-lined Garosugil Street

All this shopping (and not the cheap budgeted shopping like is common here in the Philippines) is really the direct result of the local’s having disposable income. The main market is the local people and so they are not dependent too much on tourist shopping. I really honestly feel it all starts with a good government as the government is the only entity that can really control an economy. In a good economy everyone has jobs, everyone has money, and so the quality of life increases. 

Korean Food

Food in Korea was of good quality (as expected from a developed country) but not as tasty as Singapore’s or Hong Kong’s. Maybe I’m biased but Chinese food is still better. Though Korean food is also good and special as it has its own character. Korean food I think (in my very non-professional opinion) is a rough mix of kimchi type foods and Japanese food. They have many foods similar to Japan like Sushi, Udon and Katsu, but with a twist of “Korean” (like kimchi or galbi rice on the side). Ofcourse the standard appetizers will always be present… even the Chinese restaurant we ate at served some sort of pickled relish at the start of the meal.

Caffe Bene: Korean Starbucks with Deserts!

Bonjuk: Korean Porridge with the meat/veggies seemingly meshed into the chewy rice!

LAST NOTES

Some things to expect when going to Seoul:
1)Visit during the best times May or October for the best weather. Their rainy season may not be like our tropical Philippine’s rainy season but still a nuisance (touring while raining). And their cold season I hear is mighty cold! We barely made it before the rainy season (early June).
2)Bring more money than usual; it’s a pricey place for a city in Asia. 
3)Most places are closed once a week depending on their schedule (not necessarily Sunday), even the tourist and shopping areas so make sure you schedule appropriately. 
4)The language barrier is an issue; better research first before leaving a place with internet as asking around is not easy. Not many English words around and although the Koreans are generally helpful, hand signals and Korean words can only instruct you so much. 
5)The city is generally safe and quiet (lots of people laughed at and took photos of me with my son on a child harness :-P)
6)Go shopping! (shopping seems everywhere!)

Seoul is just a beautiful city and definitely worth going to. So go go go! Travelling is the best!

For other stories of Splendid Seoul on my blog click the topics below:

for more photos of Seoul, Korea on my flickr click here
Splendid Seoul: N Seoul Tower

Seoul, South Korea

June 2012



Most of the advanced cities I have been too boast of a really tall building overlooking the metropolis. Seoul’s version of this is the NSeoul Tower; it’s quite tall and considering that it’s built on top of a mountain, makes it in essence even taller!



CABLE CAR AND TOWER PARK AREA



There are two ways to get to the Tower; one is by trekking stairs up the mountain and the other is by cable car. While buying tickets for the cable car, I wondered why they sold one way tickets… I later realized that some people would opt to walk down (instead of riding the cable car) after enjoying the mountain top.



Based on the map, the cable car area is near our hotel in Myeongdong (2 blocks away). So we decided to walk to it and were surprised by the very steep streets! What made things worst was after the steep walk up the streets, a relatively high staircase greeted us. It wouldn’t have been so tough but we had our 2 year-old baby with us and his stroller and pushing up a stroller on a steep street was pretty tough (in fact going back to the hotel, we used a taxi; if going up a steep street with a stroller is tough, going down is even tougher!). Once in the cable car terminal, the stroller was again a hassle as stairs greeted us once again. The cable car itself required folded up strollers as well and when we finally got to the top, more energy draining stairs greeted us! Truly a tough place to bring a stroller or a 2 year old kid! 





Steep Street to the Cable Car Area



We went on a Sunday and the place was kind of crowded due to the many locals going up to the tower. I found it weird as I would think that only tourists would visit the area, but upon reaching the top the reason was quite clear: the surrounding area of the tower was made into a recreation park! You could relax and enjoy the mountain weather and have some food and refreshments from the establishments there. A lot of them wouldn’t spend the extra money for the tickets to go to the observation deck but would just hang around the park area, relaxing and enjoying the day. 





Park Area



LOVE PADLOCKS



Another interesting thing we discovered around the tower area is how padlocks were used as decoration! Meters and meters of railings were filled with padlocks, each marked with messages or names! We also saw trees (metal frames shaped like trees) decorated in padlocks as well! It’s similar to Juliet’s wall in Venice and apparently these padlocks are called Love Padlocks. You can leave your own padlock to symbolize your everlasting love with someone or maybe just to leave your mark in Seoul. There is just one rule: don’t throw your keys anywhere especially down the mountain! You might hit someone 230 meters below at high velocity!





Love Padlocks

Love Padlocks back in 2007!
photo from buhay sa korea blog



TEDDY BEAR MUSEUM AND OBSERVATION DECK



We spent for the tickets to the Teddy Bear Museum and the Observation Deck. The museum can be found at the basement of the tower. Teddy bears were used in dioramas depicting important parts of their country’s history. Outside the Museum are the elevators that would bring you up to the Observation Deck. We didn’t stay long at the top as the air conditioning was broken that day and the place was quite warm and crowded. There are also restaurants at the top with a beautiful view of the city but their prices were quite expensive. 





Teddy Bear Museum





Dioramas





Observation Deck View



LIGHT SHOW



Before going down, we rested a bit at the park area and were delightfully surprised by the amazing light show! The tower (which looked too plain to me IMHO) is converted into a giant projector screen and made it look like the tower was transforming into various objects! It’s a very smart use of the plain exterior of the tower. At first I thought that the Marina Bay Casino in Singapore or the Sky100 in Hong Kong was more interesting but after the light show; hands down N Seoul Tower and the surrounding area tops them both! 





Light Show





Light Show Video



N Seoul Tower and the surrounding park area is truly a great place to visit for both tourists and locals alike. The temperature when we went was around 20+ degrees C and adding the cool mountain wind resulted in the most wonderful afternoon/evening of our trip! N Seoul Tower is definitely a must see; not just once, but every time you visit Seoul!



for more photos of N Seoul Tower on my flickr click here

for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here
Splendid Seoul: N Seoul Tower
Seoul, South Korea
June 2012

Most of the advanced cities I have been too boast of a really tall building overlooking the metropolis. Seoul’s version of this is the NSeoul Tower; it’s quite tall and considering that it’s built on top of a mountain, makes it in essence even taller!

CABLE CAR AND TOWER PARK AREA

There are two ways to get to the Tower; one is by trekking stairs up the mountain and the other is by cable car. While buying tickets for the cable car, I wondered why they sold one way tickets… I later realized that some people would opt to walk down (instead of riding the cable car) after enjoying the mountain top.

Based on the map, the cable car area is near our hotel in Myeongdong (2 blocks away). So we decided to walk to it and were surprised by the very steep streets! What made things worst was after the steep walk up the streets, a relatively high staircase greeted us. It wouldn’t have been so tough but we had our 2 year-old baby with us and his stroller and pushing up a stroller on a steep street was pretty tough (in fact going back to the hotel, we used a taxi; if going up a steep street with a stroller is tough, going down is even tougher!). Once in the cable car terminal, the stroller was again a hassle as stairs greeted us once again. The cable car itself required folded up strollers as well and when we finally got to the top, more energy draining stairs greeted us! Truly a tough place to bring a stroller or a 2 year old kid! 

Steep Street to the Cable Car Area

We went on a Sunday and the place was kind of crowded due to the many locals going up to the tower. I found it weird as I would think that only tourists would visit the area, but upon reaching the top the reason was quite clear: the surrounding area of the tower was made into a recreation park! You could relax and enjoy the mountain weather and have some food and refreshments from the establishments there. A lot of them wouldn’t spend the extra money for the tickets to go to the observation deck but would just hang around the park area, relaxing and enjoying the day. 

Park Area

LOVE PADLOCKS

Another interesting thing we discovered around the tower area is how padlocks were used as decoration! Meters and meters of railings were filled with padlocks, each marked with messages or names! We also saw trees (metal frames shaped like trees) decorated in padlocks as well! It’s similar to Juliet’s wall in Venice and apparently these padlocks are called Love Padlocks. You can leave your own padlock to symbolize your everlasting love with someone or maybe just to leave your mark in Seoul. There is just one rule: don’t throw your keys anywhere especially down the mountain! You might hit someone 230 meters below at high velocity!

Love Padlocks

Love Padlocks back in 2007!
photo from buhay sa korea blog

TEDDY BEAR MUSEUM AND OBSERVATION DECK

We spent for the tickets to the Teddy Bear Museum and the Observation Deck. The museum can be found at the basement of the tower. Teddy bears were used in dioramas depicting important parts of their country’s history. Outside the Museum are the elevators that would bring you up to the Observation Deck. We didn’t stay long at the top as the air conditioning was broken that day and the place was quite warm and crowded. There are also restaurants at the top with a beautiful view of the city but their prices were quite expensive. 

Teddy Bear Museum

Dioramas

Observation Deck View

LIGHT SHOW

Before going down, we rested a bit at the park area and were delightfully surprised by the amazing light show! The tower (which looked too plain to me IMHO) is converted into a giant projector screen and made it look like the tower was transforming into various objects! It’s a very smart use of the plain exterior of the tower. At first I thought that the Marina Bay Casino in Singapore or the Sky100 in Hong Kong was more interesting but after the light show; hands down N Seoul Tower and the surrounding area tops them both! 

Light Show

Light Show Video

N Seoul Tower and the surrounding park area is truly a great place to visit for both tourists and locals alike. The temperature when we went was around 20+ degrees C and adding the cool mountain wind resulted in the most wonderful afternoon/evening of our trip! N Seoul Tower is definitely a must see; not just once, but every time you visit Seoul!

for more photos of N Seoul Tower on my flickr click here
for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here
Splendid Seoul: Traditional Places
Seoul, South Korea
June 2012


Seoul has plenty of places where they display their history and traditions. Some of these places are the original structures that were restored while others are newly made to replicate the old structures. They have done pretty well and although smaller in size and area (compared to traditional structures and areas lets say in Beijing’s or Bangkok’s), Seoul’s traditional structures and areas are better restored and maintained. Truly a sign of an advanced country where traditions and history can be afforded importance (in short, they have money to spend to maintain and restore :-P)


Gyeongbokgung Palace


This is the northern most palace of a group of 5 palaces. This Palace was built in 1395, burned down in 1592 and rebuilt in 1852. These were ofcourse palaces of the royalty and are roughly the equivalent of the Forbidden City in Beijing albeit smaller. It also has a Square in front of the entrance called Gwanghwamun Square; similar to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.








Unlike the structures in the Forbidden City (Beijing), the structures here were well maintained and seemed freshly painted/restored. Although very much smaller than the Forbidden City (not even 1% of the Forbidden City in my rough estimate), the value placed for the restoration and maintenance is impressive. Even the parking area for the tourist buses and cars were very organized and clean. 








This was the only palace we went to as we didn’t have much time and I was assuming that the other palaces were pretty much the same. We wanted to spend more of our time touring around the other parts of Seoul.


Bukchon Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village


The Bukchon Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village is located just uphill from Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was very tough to find as it isn’t really a tourist area. Aside from the usual language barrier, many of the locals didn’t know what and where the area really was. It’s essentially a village of old houses (Korean style) that were restored (to roughly the same design) and are still being used today. For the locals these house designs are probably a common sight. 










The uphill climb wasn’t easy especially pushing a stroller with a 30 lb baby and stuff inside it. Downhill was tougher as some of the roads were quite steep. Manageable though and interesting enough to go to as just a short portion downhill you have a semi-pedestrianized street for shopping and eating. 




uphill!



The houses were very nice and I think that the owners maintain the houses well to show-off to visitors as well. You would see interesting choices of sturdier materials to replicate the old materials but still maintaining the general look and feel of the Traditional Village. Some of the houses are a mix of modern and traditional architecture; a very nice Asian-modern feel. They would try to hide most of the modern parts of the house but ofcourse you can’t hide everything like the cars and the doorbells and lights. Quite impressive as I have also been to traditional villages in the Philippines and all I saw are dilapidated structures and really bad restorations of some of them (truly a waste). 


Namsangol Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village


Our loose itinerary could not fit in a trip to Namsangol Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village so I decided to visit it by myself early in the morning. It seemed like an important place to visit and I didn’t want to regret not being able to see it, even if it was closed on Tuesdays (slipped my mind unfortunately).






The photographer in me got me up at 5AM and I was off walking by 5:30AM. It was another place that was tough to find and my info from the very mistaken receptionist at the hotel was that it was near the cable car area going to N-Seoul Tower. After walking uphill to the cable car area, I eventually ended up in the Northern Circuit for joggers. I didn’t lose hope as I kept seeing signs leading towards the Namsangol Village but the walk was quite tiring (though the exercise was much needed). I eventually got to the village after walking back downhill, across a road and through Namsen Park. I later found out that the main entrance of the village was just two blocks from the road of my hotel! I spent at least an extra hour to get there and at least an extra 8 kilometers walking! A good experience still but really the language barrier is not as easy as I thought it would be. Only a few old people and garbagemen were on the street that early in the morning, making inquiries almost impossible. 






I actually thought that it wouldn’t matter if the attraction was closed (Tuesdays) as I thought I was going to a similar location as the Bukchon Village where the village was just open to the public and are actually modern houses still being used today. The Namsangol Village was very different as it is actually a replica of an old village in the area and built in 2003. Unfortunately, they replicated the walls and the gates as well and so I couldn’t get inside. From the literature I read near the entrance, they simulate the activities of that time such as the carpentry in the carpentry shop and other stuff. I tried my best to go around the perimeter and peek above the walls to at least get a feel and some photos of the village. If it weren’t a Tuesday I would definitely have come back with my family later in the day as it was truly a nice and interesting place to go to.






There are tons of places in Seoul where you can experience and see their history, traditions and culture. I truly envy them and hope the Philippines would one day be strong (and rich) enough to restore and maintain Intramuros, Vigan, our century-old churches and all the so many other beautiful historical and cultural structures and areas in our country.



for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here

for more photos of Palaces and Hanok Villages on my Flickr click here

Splendid Seoul: Traditional Places

Seoul, South Korea

June 2012


Seoul has plenty of places where they display their history and traditions. Some of these places are the original structures that were restored while others are newly made to replicate the old structures. They have done pretty well and although smaller in size and area (compared to traditional structures and areas lets say in Beijing’s or Bangkok’s), Seoul’s traditional structures and areas are better restored and maintained. Truly a sign of an advanced country where traditions and history can be afforded importance (in short, they have money to spend to maintain and restore :-P)


Gyeongbokgung Palace


This is the northern most palace of a group of 5 palaces. This Palace was built in 1395, burned down in 1592 and rebuilt in 1852. These were ofcourse palaces of the royalty and are roughly the equivalent of the Forbidden City in Beijing albeit smaller. It also has a Square in front of the entrance called Gwanghwamun Square; similar to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.





Unlike the structures in the Forbidden City (Beijing), the structures here were well maintained and seemed freshly painted/restored. Although very much smaller than the Forbidden City (not even 1% of the Forbidden City in my rough estimate), the value placed for the restoration and maintenance is impressive. Even the parking area for the tourist buses and cars were very organized and clean. 




This was the only palace we went to as we didn’t have much time and I was assuming that the other palaces were pretty much the same. We wanted to spend more of our time touring around the other parts of Seoul.


Bukchon Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village


The Bukchon Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village is located just uphill from Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was very tough to find as it isn’t really a tourist area. Aside from the usual language barrier, many of the locals didn’t know what and where the area really was. It’s essentially a village of old houses (Korean style) that were restored (to roughly the same design) and are still being used today. For the locals these house designs are probably a common sight. 





The uphill climb wasn’t easy especially pushing a stroller with a 30 lb baby and stuff inside it. Downhill was tougher as some of the roads were quite steep. Manageable though and interesting enough to go to as just a short portion downhill you have a semi-pedestrianized street for shopping and eating. 


uphill!


The houses were very nice and I think that the owners maintain the houses well to show-off to visitors as well. You would see interesting choices of sturdier materials to replicate the old materials but still maintaining the general look and feel of the Traditional Village. Some of the houses are a mix of modern and traditional architecture; a very nice Asian-modern feel. They would try to hide most of the modern parts of the house but ofcourse you can’t hide everything like the cars and the doorbells and lights. Quite impressive as I have also been to traditional villages in the Philippines and all I saw are dilapidated structures and really bad restorations of some of them (truly a waste). 


Namsangol Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village


Our loose itinerary could not fit in a trip to Namsangol Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village so I decided to visit it by myself early in the morning. It seemed like an important place to visit and I didn’t want to regret not being able to see it, even if it was closed on Tuesdays (slipped my mind unfortunately).




The photographer in me got me up at 5AM and I was off walking by 5:30AM. It was another place that was tough to find and my info from the very mistaken receptionist at the hotel was that it was near the cable car area going to N-Seoul Tower. After walking uphill to the cable car area, I eventually ended up in the Northern Circuit for joggers. I didn’t lose hope as I kept seeing signs leading towards the Namsangol Village but the walk was quite tiring (though the exercise was much needed). I eventually got to the village after walking back downhill, across a road and through Namsen Park. I later found out that the main entrance of the village was just two blocks from the road of my hotel! I spent at least an extra hour to get there and at least an extra 8 kilometers walking! A good experience still but really the language barrier is not as easy as I thought it would be. Only a few old people and garbagemen were on the street that early in the morning, making inquiries almost impossible. 



I actually thought that it wouldn’t matter if the attraction was closed (Tuesdays) as I thought I was going to a similar location as the Bukchon Village where the village was just open to the public and are actually modern houses still being used today. The Namsangol Village was very different as it is actually a replica of an old village in the area and built in 2003. Unfortunately, they replicated the walls and the gates as well and so I couldn’t get inside. From the literature I read near the entrance, they simulate the activities of that time such as the carpentry in the carpentry shop and other stuff. I tried my best to go around the perimeter and peek above the walls to at least get a feel and some photos of the village. If it weren’t a Tuesday I would definitely have come back with my family later in the day as it was truly a nice and interesting place to go to.



There are tons of places in Seoul where you can experience and see their history, traditions and culture. I truly envy them and hope the Philippines would one day be strong (and rich) enough to restore and maintain Intramuros, Vigan, our century-old churches and all the so many other beautiful historical and cultural structures and areas in our country.


for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here
for more photos of Palaces and Hanok Villages on my Flickr click here
Splendid Seoul: Lotte World!
Seoul, South Korea
June 2012


Seoul has two theme parks, Lotte World and Everland both located just 45minutes to an hour from the city center. We only had time to visit one of them so we chose the one closer to the city, Lotte World! Lotte World is actually more accessible as there is a subway stop (Jamsil Station) just outside the Complex; for Everland, you would need to ride a bus. 


Apparently, Lotte World is not just a theme park… it’s a whole complex of stuff! A department store attached to a mall, attached to hotel, attached to a museum and so on. We actually couldn’t find the theme park entrance despite all the Korean and hand signal instructions I was getting from the staff of the department store. Koreans are very helpful, they try their best to help out but the language barrier is just real tough. Eventually, a kind lady who we asked was actually very kind and went out of her way to bring us to the entrance! 




Magic Castle on Magic Island (outdoor theme park)


As we went in June, rainy season just started and so the indoor amusement park of Lotte World (the biggest indoor theme park in the world) was a big plus. It was actually a new experience, walking around an amusement park and then every now and then realizing that the area is air-conditioned and that you are actually indoors!




Lotte World’s Special Parade: Lotty’s Adventure Parade



The ticketing system was not made easy (unlike in Disneyland); to maximize their customer base, they had tickets for entrance with ride-all-you-can and for entrance only. To lessen the hassle, we got the ride-all-you-can one but later found out that my 2 year old son (who had free entrance) had to pay extra for “child-only” rides. 


Navigating through the Amusement Park (both indoor Adventure and outdoor Magic Island, but especially indoor Adventure) was pretty confusing even with the map. The numbering on the map was not smart at all (IMHO) and indoor Adventure had 4 floors of activities that were marked on a 3D rendition of the park (instead of per floor). I eventually got the hang of it… until we wandered into Fantasy Forest which (much as I tried) could not find on the map. Not that I’m complaining that there are extra stuff to do but now I’m wondering if I missed some things in my visit.




Bird’s Eye View of Magic Island


Many of the signs and the shows we saw are in Korean, but it wasn’t too much of a hassle as the map had an English version and the food for sale had drawings and all you had to do was point. The Lotte World staff is also proficient in English unlike the majority of Koreans. 


Funny story was how we were able to get into the Adventures of Sinbad ride. I was confused with all the map navigating that I thought it was a ride for 2 year-olds; apparently the attendant also got confused with our conversation about the baby’s age as well. The ride was actually for 36 months or older (looking at the map now). A bit scary especially with the two steep drops (steep for 2 year olds I’m sure) but my little Josh got through it without a single cry (whew!).




very smart! food on top, soda in the bottom! easily eat and drink while walking around!


We had a fun time in Lotte World and actually had the most relaxing day in our 4 day tour of Seoul. There were plenty of places to rest and we easily covered all the rides and shows (that was suitable for a 2 year-old kid) in 5-6 hours despite all the diaper and eating breaks. Though I did not feel the Disneyland feeling that I get when visiting Disneyland (feeling like a kid again, like in a different land altogether, etc), Lotte World is still a very good theme park with excellent facilities and tons of fun for everyone. Definitely World Class and definitely a fun place to be.




The Claw Game with Ice Cream as Prizes!



for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here

for more photos of Lotte World on my flickr click here

Splendid Seoul: Lotte World!

Seoul, South Korea

June 2012


Seoul has two theme parks, Lotte World and Everland both located just 45minutes to an hour from the city center. We only had time to visit one of them so we chose the one closer to the city, Lotte World! Lotte World is actually more accessible as there is a subway stop (Jamsil Station) just outside the Complex; for Everland, you would need to ride a bus. 


Apparently, Lotte World is not just a theme park… it’s a whole complex of stuff! A department store attached to a mall, attached to hotel, attached to a museum and so on. We actually couldn’t find the theme park entrance despite all the Korean and hand signal instructions I was getting from the staff of the department store. Koreans are very helpful, they try their best to help out but the language barrier is just real tough. Eventually, a kind lady who we asked was actually very kind and went out of her way to bring us to the entrance! 




Magic Castle on Magic Island (outdoor theme park)


As we went in June, rainy season just started and so the indoor amusement park of Lotte World (the biggest indoor theme park in the world) was a big plus. It was actually a new experience, walking around an amusement park and then every now and then realizing that the area is air-conditioned and that you are actually indoors!


Lotte World’s Special Parade: Lotty’s Adventure Parade


The ticketing system was not made easy (unlike in Disneyland); to maximize their customer base, they had tickets for entrance with ride-all-you-can and for entrance only. To lessen the hassle, we got the ride-all-you-can one but later found out that my 2 year old son (who had free entrance) had to pay extra for “child-only” rides. 


Navigating through the Amusement Park (both indoor Adventure and outdoor Magic Island, but especially indoor Adventure) was pretty confusing even with the map. The numbering on the map was not smart at all (IMHO) and indoor Adventure had 4 floors of activities that were marked on a 3D rendition of the park (instead of per floor). I eventually got the hang of it… until we wandered into Fantasy Forest which (much as I tried) could not find on the map. Not that I’m complaining that there are extra stuff to do but now I’m wondering if I missed some things in my visit.


Bird’s Eye View of Magic Island


Many of the signs and the shows we saw are in Korean, but it wasn’t too much of a hassle as the map had an English version and the food for sale had drawings and all you had to do was point. The Lotte World staff is also proficient in English unlike the majority of Koreans. 


Funny story was how we were able to get into the Adventures of Sinbad ride. I was confused with all the map navigating that I thought it was a ride for 2 year-olds; apparently the attendant also got confused with our conversation about the baby’s age as well. The ride was actually for 36 months or older (looking at the map now). A bit scary especially with the two steep drops (steep for 2 year olds I’m sure) but my little Josh got through it without a single cry (whew!).




very smart! food on top, soda in the bottom! easily eat and drink while walking around!


We had a fun time in Lotte World and actually had the most relaxing day in our 4 day tour of Seoul. There were plenty of places to rest and we easily covered all the rides and shows (that was suitable for a 2 year-old kid) in 5-6 hours despite all the diaper and eating breaks. Though I did not feel the Disneyland feeling that I get when visiting Disneyland (feeling like a kid again, like in a different land altogether, etc), Lotte World is still a very good theme park with excellent facilities and tons of fun for everyone. Definitely World Class and definitely a fun place to be.


The Claw Game with Ice Cream as Prizes!

for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here
for more photos of Lotte World on my flickr click here
Ocean Park Hong Kong 2013

January 8, 2013

Hong Kong



Disneyland is more often the theme park on our minds when thinking of  Hong Kong but we shouldn’t forget the classic Ocean Park Hong Kong! I remember back when the Philippines didn’t even have the small Enchanted Kingdom (only decent theme park we have), Ocean Park Hong Kong was the place to go to during summer vacations.


Grand Aquarium: 68 cm thick glass aquarium!



Grand Aquarium




Ocean Park has done quite well in staying with the competition; the park is well maintained and the staff accommodating as well. Although Disneyland is connected to the MRT system; Ocean Park is much nearer to the city, only a couple of minutes drive on Hong Kong Island. Our taxi fare was only HKD 40 from our hotel! They say that the locals would go to Ocean Park more than Disneyland and I could understand why. A yearly pass for a local would be easy to maximize due to the proximity of Ocean Park to the city. Going to Ocean Park for a short afternoon walk would not be too much of a waste of travel time. 





Amazing Asian Animals: Panda Village



The theme park map was not as confusing as the Lotte World map (click here for blog entry) that I navigated in Seoul, but still far from the precision of Disney maps. I actually arrived at the park 5 minutes before the Emperors of the Sky Bird Show, tried to get to the venue, got lost and could no longer watch the show as we arrived late. I believe that part of the difficulty in reading the map is the terrain; the park is built on hills/mountains. It’s tough to visualize 3D ups and downs on a 2D map. 




Tuxedos Restaurant: Eat with a view of the penguins!




A definite win for Ocean Park being situated on mountains is the Cable Car or Ocean Express Train transportation that you have to take to get to and from The Waterfront (lower section) to The Summit (upper section). We took the Cable Car up (scared the hell out of me; heights = no good) and the Ocean Express down. The Ocean Express passed inside the mountain and made it look and feel like you are riding in a submarine.





Ocean Park Cable Car



The problem with mountains though is the whole park is up and down. It takes a lot of effort to go around the park; especially when pushing a stroller around. Escalators are located to circumvent the need to go around the hills but no elevators are present for the strollers. We actually walked around the whole park on sloping roads just to get to the very end of the park (Adventureland). Then the problem sank in… how do we get back up?? It would almost be impossible to push the stroller back up the steep road to Adventureland. We decided to just disregard the rule and bring the stroller up using the escalator (3 sets of really long escalators!) and carry the stroller (with a sleeping baby) up some flight of stairs. Whew! Back pain anyone? I think this is a big issue that Ocean Park has to address to truly be in the same class as Disneyland.





Crazy Long Escalators!






Wow! Shortcut for strollers at the Ocean Express! One of the very few advantages of having a stroller at Ocean Park.


Ocean Park has done well in focusing on thrill rides. This caters to a big group of teenagers, students and young adults looking for some weekend fun. These thrill rides are located on the Summit separate from the areas for kids which are found mostly at the Waterfront. The Show areas, animals and aquariums, on the otherhand, are spread out across the park. 





North Pole Encounter: Spotted Seal





South Pole Spectacular: Penguins! (silly and natural slapstick comedy in action!) 



All in all Ocean Park is still an awesome theme park and definitely worth your time. If you are in Hong Kong often, alternating theme parks on your Hong Kong trips would be smart as going back to the same theme park after just a year or two is kind of boring (I went to Disney in late 2011 and early 2013 and thought so). What Ocean Park lacks in character-recall (Mickey, Buzz Lightyear, etc) it makes up for with amazing aquatic creatures that you can see and interact with all throughout the theme park. From pandas to penguins, no other giant theme park I know could beat that :).


Grand Aquarium: Jellyfish Lava Lamp!




for more photos of Ocean Park Hong Kong on my flickr click here
Ocean Park Hong Kong 2013
January 8, 2013
Hong Kong

Disneyland is more often the theme park on our minds when thinking of Hong Kong but we shouldn’t forget the classic Ocean Park Hong Kong! I remember back when the Philippines didn’t even have the small Enchanted Kingdom (only decent theme park we have), Ocean Park Hong Kong was the place to go to during summer vacations.

Grand Aquarium: 68 cm thick glass aquarium!

Grand Aquarium

Ocean Park has done quite well in staying with the competition; the park is well maintained and the staff accommodating as well. Although Disneyland is connected to the MRT system; Ocean Park is much nearer to the city, only a couple of minutes drive on Hong Kong Island. Our taxi fare was only HKD 40 from our hotel! They say that the locals would go to Ocean Park more than Disneyland and I could understand why. A yearly pass for a local would be easy to maximize due to the proximity of Ocean Park to the city. Going to Ocean Park for a short afternoon walk would not be too much of a waste of travel time. 

Amazing Asian Animals: Panda Village

The theme park map was not as confusing as the Lotte World map (click here for blog entry) that I navigated in Seoul, but still far from the precision of Disney maps. I actually arrived at the park 5 minutes before the Emperors of the Sky Bird Show, tried to get to the venue, got lost and could no longer watch the show as we arrived late. I believe that part of the difficulty in reading the map is the terrain; the park is built on hills/mountains. It’s tough to visualize 3D ups and downs on a 2D map. 

Tuxedos Restaurant: Eat with a view of the penguins!

A definite win for Ocean Park being situated on mountains is the Cable Car or Ocean Express Train transportation that you have to take to get to and from The Waterfront (lower section) to The Summit (upper section). We took the Cable Car up (scared the hell out of me; heights = no good) and the Ocean Express down. The Ocean Express passed inside the mountain and made it look and feel like you are riding in a submarine.

Ocean Park Cable Car

The problem with mountains though is the whole park is up and down. It takes a lot of effort to go around the park; especially when pushing a stroller around. Escalators are located to circumvent the need to go around the hills but no elevators are present for the strollers. We actually walked around the whole park on sloping roads just to get to the very end of the park (Adventureland). Then the problem sank in… how do we get back up?? It would almost be impossible to push the stroller back up the steep road to Adventureland. We decided to just disregard the rule and bring the stroller up using the escalator (3 sets of really long escalators!) and carry the stroller (with a sleeping baby) up some flight of stairs. Whew! Back pain anyone? I think this is a big issue that Ocean Park has to address to truly be in the same class as Disneyland.

Crazy Long Escalators!

Wow! Shortcut for strollers at the Ocean Express! One of the very few advantages of having a stroller at Ocean Park.

Ocean Park has done well in focusing on thrill rides. This caters to a big group of teenagers, students and young adults looking for some weekend fun. These thrill rides are located on the Summit separate from the areas for kids which are found mostly at the Waterfront. The Show areas, animals and aquariums, on the otherhand, are spread out across the park. 

North Pole Encounter: Spotted Seal

South Pole Spectacular: Penguins! (silly and natural slapstick comedy in action!) 

All in all Ocean Park is still an awesome theme park and definitely worth your time. If you are in Hong Kong often, alternating theme parks on your Hong Kong trips would be smart as going back to the same theme park after just a year or two is kind of boring (I went to Disney in late 2011 and early 2013 and thought so). What Ocean Park lacks in character-recall (Mickey, Buzz Lightyear, etc) it makes up for with amazing aquatic creatures that you can see and interact with all throughout the theme park. From pandas to penguins, no other giant theme park I know could beat that :).


Grand Aquarium: Jellyfish Lava Lamp!

for more photos of Ocean Park Hong Kong on my flickr click here
Pipho 2012 Photo Trip: Baler
Baler, Aurora Province, Philippines
Nov 29 to Dec 2, 2012
PHOTO: Museo de Baler

Pinoy Photography Organization held our traditional year ender photo trip for 2012 at Baler, Aurora. As per usual, we left the city late night to reach our target sunrise destination with enough time for preparations and such. As a non-landscape photographer, I have always jokingly complained about this habit and actually did not join them for the 2nd sunrise of the trip (sleep is always good). :)





Baler Sunrise



Baler is aesthetically pleasing for photography with it’s rough coastal/beach areas and strong waves. For tourism purposes though, the options are limited pretty much only to surfing. The beach was pretty good with fine sand but the waves were really strong. I tried to go swimming for a bit to relax, but ended up having to be wary every couple of seconds of the incoming wave. I also was not prepared enough to bring the proper gear to shoot the surfers but at least was able to take some snapshots for documentation.





Baler Surfing



The town was pretty much complete with the standard wet market, dry market, some places to eat, drugstore, etc. I don’t expect much anymore when I venture to the provinces and found Baler amenities sufficient. I’ve seen more progressive provinces but not many either, especially this far from the metro. 





Baler Fishport





Arrested Illegal Chinese Fishing Vessel (notice the bullet holes on the side)



We took some time to go around some of the more touristy areas during the off photography hours (not sunrise nor sunset). We went to Museo de Baler (see main photo) which was quite new and well maintained. The Museum dedicated a big part of the space to documenting the role of Baler during the uprising in the Spanish Era. We also went up to Ermita Hill; a very nice hilltop park, open and free for the public! 





Museo de Baler: 1937 Cadillac Carbriolet of Gen. Mac Arthur





Ermita Hill





View from Ermita Hill



The most interesting place we visited was the Baler Balete Tree! It’s over 600 years old and the largest Balete Tree in Asia! Magnificent and amazing! Walking around and inside (yes, inside!) this tree is definitely a new experience and something truly special. The way the branches and the roots intersect and cross each other and how the same branches would become a natural ladder for people to climb up to the top from both the outside and the inside of the tree, really amazing. My architect friend estimates it to be at around 6 stories high! and believe it or not, no one has ever fallen off it! They say that the “bantay” or guardian of the tree is kind and most likely protects the climbers as well. These are the type of stuff that make you think more of the world around us. Truly truly amazing.





Baler Balete Tree: Largest Balete Tree in Asia (600+ years old!)





Photo from the inside of the Balete Tree



As more of a travel story photographer (definitely not landscape) and since I’m not planning on trying out surfing, I honestly found Baler lacking enough interesting things to do or to build stories about. There are a bunch of very beautiful waterfalls which we were not able to visit; but again, that’s roughly in the realm of landscape as well. Nevertheless, the trip was definitely worth it, if only for the company! My photo friends are awesome and all the jokes, alcohol and horse play can truly freshen one up from the daily grind. 





Baler Mangrove Shore/Farm





Baler Mangrove Shore/Farm



Thanks Pipho Org (my friends) for a wonderful and successful Photo Trip! 



click here for more photos of Baler, Aurora Province

Pipho 2012 Photo Trip: Baler
Baler, Aurora Province, Philippines
Nov 29 to Dec 2, 2012
PHOTO: Museo de Baler

Pinoy Photography Organization held our traditional year ender photo trip for 2012 at Baler, Aurora. As per usual, we left the city late night to reach our target sunrise destination with enough time for preparations and such. As a non-landscape photographer, I have always jokingly complained about this habit and actually did not join them for the 2nd sunrise of the trip (sleep is always good). :)

Baler Sunrise

Baler is aesthetically pleasing for photography with it’s rough coastal/beach areas and strong waves. For tourism purposes though, the options are limited pretty much only to surfing. The beach was pretty good with fine sand but the waves were really strong. I tried to go swimming for a bit to relax, but ended up having to be wary every couple of seconds of the incoming wave. I also was not prepared enough to bring the proper gear to shoot the surfers but at least was able to take some snapshots for documentation.

Baler Surfing

The town was pretty much complete with the standard wet market, dry market, some places to eat, drugstore, etc. I don’t expect much anymore when I venture to the provinces and found Baler amenities sufficient. I’ve seen more progressive provinces but not many either, especially this far from the metro. 

Baler Fishport

Arrested Illegal Chinese Fishing Vessel (notice the bullet holes on the side)

We took some time to go around some of the more touristy areas during the off photography hours (not sunrise nor sunset). We went to Museo de Baler (see main photo) which was quite new and well maintained. The Museum dedicated a big part of the space to documenting the role of Baler during the uprising in the Spanish Era. We also went up to Ermita Hill; a very nice hilltop park, open and free for the public! 

Museo de Baler: 1937 Cadillac Carbriolet of Gen. Mac Arthur

Ermita Hill

View from Ermita Hill

The most interesting place we visited was the Baler Balete Tree! It’s over 600 years old and the largest Balete Tree in Asia! Magnificent and amazing! Walking around and inside (yes, inside!) this tree is definitely a new experience and something truly special. The way the branches and the roots intersect and cross each other and how the same branches would become a natural ladder for people to climb up to the top from both the outside and the inside of the tree, really amazing. My architect friend estimates it to be at around 6 stories high! and believe it or not, no one has ever fallen off it! They say that the “bantay” or guardian of the tree is kind and most likely protects the climbers as well. These are the type of stuff that make you think more of the world around us. Truly truly amazing.

Baler Balete Tree: Largest Balete Tree in Asia (600+ years old!)

Photo from the inside of the Balete Tree

As more of a travel story photographer (definitely not landscape) and since I’m not planning on trying out surfing, I honestly found Baler lacking enough interesting things to do or to build stories about. There are a bunch of very beautiful waterfalls which we were not able to visit; but again, that’s roughly in the realm of landscape as well. Nevertheless, the trip was definitely worth it, if only for the company! My photo friends are awesome and all the jokes, alcohol and horse play can truly freshen one up from the daily grind. 

Baler Mangrove Shore/Farm

Baler Mangrove Shore/Farm

Thanks Pipho Org (my friends) for a wonderful and successful Photo Trip! 

click here for more photos of Baler, Aurora Province
Duaw Davao 2012: Philippine Eagle, a photo by jovijovijovi on Flickr.

Duaw Davao 2012: Philippine Eagle Center

August 17-20, 2012

Davao City, Philippines



We visited the Philippine Eagle Center (the Conservation Breeding Facility of the Philippine Eagle Foundation) one afternoon during our trip to Davao in 2012. Our friend Zer (a Davao local) insisted that we visit the place and the trip was definitely worth it. Seeing the Philippine Eagle with my own eyes; I am finally able to appreciate the magnificence of this “King” Eagle.







The facility seems fairly maintained especially since the place isn’t new. Yet I really still feel the lack of improvement and the same feeling I get when I visit government managed parks/locations in Metro Manila. The Foundation is doing well in preserving (and even breeding!) the Philippine Eagle but the facility is definitely not world-class (appearance wise I mean) probably because of budget constraints.







Nevertheless, I salute the people at the Foundation for doing a great job in preserving the Philippine Eagle. I actually thought of including these photos and thoughts in the main blog entry of my Davao Trip (click here) but decided to keep it separate to emphasize the good things that the Philippine Eagle Foundation is doing. 







The Philippines is a very bio-diverse area that could benefit greatly from eco-tourism. Protecting and preserving our treasures is important and I feel that the Philippine Government is not doing enough in this regard. The Philippine Eagle Foundation is a bright spot with regards to this issue and hopefully the government will support more of these types of eco-programs for the Philippine’s future ecological situation and eco-tourism industry.



for the blog entry on Davao City click here


for the blog entry on the Kadayawan Festival held in Davao City click here

for the blog entry on the food in Davao City click here




for more photos of the Philippine Eagle Center click here

Duaw Davao 2012: Philippine Eagle, a photo by jovijovijovi on Flickr.

Duaw Davao 2012: Philippine Eagle Center
August 17-20, 2012
Davao City, Philippines

We visited the Philippine Eagle Center (the Conservation Breeding Facility of the Philippine Eagle Foundation) one afternoon during our trip to Davao in 2012. Our friend Zer (a Davao local) insisted that we visit the place and the trip was definitely worth it. Seeing the Philippine Eagle with my own eyes; I am finally able to appreciate the magnificence of this “King” Eagle.


The facility seems fairly maintained especially since the place isn’t new. Yet I really still feel the lack of improvement and the same feeling I get when I visit government managed parks/locations in Metro Manila. The Foundation is doing well in preserving (and even breeding!) the Philippine Eagle but the facility is definitely not world-class (appearance wise I mean) probably because of budget constraints.


Nevertheless, I salute the people at the Foundation for doing a great job in preserving the Philippine Eagle. I actually thought of including these photos and thoughts in the main blog entry of my Davao Trip (click here) but decided to keep it separate to emphasize the good things that the Philippine Eagle Foundation is doing. 


The Philippines is a very bio-diverse area that could benefit greatly from eco-tourism. Protecting and preserving our treasures is important and I feel that the Philippine Government is not doing enough in this regard. The Philippine Eagle Foundation is a bright spot with regards to this issue and hopefully the government will support more of these types of eco-programs for the Philippine’s future ecological situation and eco-tourism industry.

for the blog entry on Davao City click here
for the blog entry on the Kadayawan Festival held in Davao City click here
for the blog entry on the food in Davao City click here

for more photos of the Philippine Eagle Center click here
Duaw Davao 2012: Davao City!

August 17-20, 2012

Davao City, Philippines
PHOTO: Davao City: San Pedro Cathedral



I’ve been to quite a few cities in the provinces and most of them were pretty far in development from what I’m used to here in Metro Manila. I was thus not expecting too much from my trip to Davao City but as soon as I landed, I have to say… I was quite impressed! The Davao International Airport itself was among the top 5 I’ve been to in the Philippines. 



My impression may also have been influenced by my friend Zer who was our tour guide and whose house we stayed at in Davao. Zer is quite the Davao fan being from the place; but being a fan is definitely justifiable given the excellent living conditions in Davao. Davao is the center of trade in Mindanao and despite the instability of the region; Davao City has been able to stay in control of their peace and order. I actually felt very safe walking around Davao even while carrying very expensive camera gear; even safer than most places I’ve shot in here in Metro Manila! Davao City is clean, organized and most importantly has excellent policies to stop crime such as a curfew, a no smoking city wide policy and strict enforcement of anti-drug and crime laws (in fact, bordering on extrajudicial enforcement which seems quite effective). 






Davao City Taxi Credit Card Payment!




The iron-fist and discipline-first policy of the Lady Mayor Inday Duterte (and the past mayor, his father) has a lot to do with Davao City’s success. Davao City has not fallen with many other provinces/cities in the country where voter-friendly policies and actions of the local government have become detrimental to the long term good.


The Commemorative Monument of Peace and Unity




A day before the festivities (see my post on Kadayawan Festival here), we took time to walk around the city center to check out the area. We passed by many of the points of interest in the area namely San Pedro (St. Peter’s) Cathedral, Rizal Park Stage, the Davao Museum, the Clock Tower, etc. We also spent some time in the People’s Park where a lot of the works of Kublai Milan (a famous artist of Davao) were displayed. The security in the park was very tight! It was worst than getting into the Vatican! All bags where checked a full body frisk is done as well. 






Rizal Park Stage with the Philippine Eagle Design by Kublai Milan




We spent some time and some eating at the various shopping centers in the City. We went to SM, Abreeza (Ayala) and Gaisano Malls. Most of the stuff you could buy and place to eat in Metro Manila, you can find in Davao as well. The malls were actually pretty big! A sign of a big city in the Philippines (where malling is the main past-time :P).


Davao City Clock Tower redesigned by Kublai Milan




We traveled across the ocean to Samal Island for some Beach Time. It took us only 20 minutes by boat from a port in Davao City to get there! We spent our time there at the Paradise Island Resort, the first resort on the island but still very well maintained (the restrooms were very clean!). As with most things in Davao City, the entrance fee, food and other rentables (bliiards, ping-pong, etc) are very affordable. The place was awesome and the fact that it’s just 20 minutes from the city is amazing! In metro manila, you need at least 2 hours to get to a decent beach.


Beautiful Beach just 20 minutes away!




Zer did his best to show us around while showing Davao off as well. I was truly impressed and was glad to have been able to be brought around by a local. Thanks to Zer and his family for their big hospitality!


Replica of David (in Florence) called David Davao found in Queensland Park




Awarded by the Department of Tourism in 2008 as the most livable city in the Philippines, Davao is truly impressive and definitely one of the best cities in the Philippines. I haven’t been to Cebu City in a while but it seems Davao City (if given the right conditions such as more stability in the region) could very well possibly overtake Cebu City and take the number 2 top city spot in the Philippines!



for the blog entry on the Kadayawan Festival held in Davao City click here

for the blog entry on the food in Davao City click here
for the blog entry on the Philippine Eagle Foundation click here



for more photos of Davao City on my flickr click here

for more photos of Samal Island on my flickr click here

Duaw Davao 2012: Davao City!

August 17-20, 2012
Davao City, Philippines

PHOTO: Davao City: San Pedro Cathedral

I’ve been to quite a few cities in the provinces and most of them were pretty far in development from what I’m used to here in Metro Manila. I was thus not expecting too much from my trip to Davao City but as soon as I landed, I have to say… I was quite impressed! The Davao International Airport itself was among the top 5 I’ve been to in the Philippines. 

My impression may also have been influenced by my friend Zer who was our tour guide and whose house we stayed at in Davao. Zer is quite the Davao fan being from the place; but being a fan is definitely justifiable given the excellent living conditions in Davao. Davao is the center of trade in Mindanao and despite the instability of the region; Davao City has been able to stay in control of their peace and order. I actually felt very safe walking around Davao even while carrying very expensive camera gear; even safer than most places I’ve shot in here in Metro Manila! Davao City is clean, organized and most importantly has excellent policies to stop crime such as a curfew, a no smoking city wide policy and strict enforcement of anti-drug and crime laws (in fact, bordering on extrajudicial enforcement which seems quite effective). 

Davao City Taxi Credit Card Payment!

The iron-fist and discipline-first policy of the Lady Mayor Inday Duterte (and the past mayor, his father) has a lot to do with Davao City’s success. Davao City has not fallen with many other provinces/cities in the country where voter-friendly policies and actions of the local government have become detrimental to the long term good.

The Commemorative Monument of Peace and Unity

A day before the festivities (see my post on Kadayawan Festival here), we took time to walk around the city center to check out the area. We passed by many of the points of interest in the area namely San Pedro (St. Peter’s) Cathedral, Rizal Park Stage, the Davao Museum, the Clock Tower, etc. We also spent some time in the People’s Park where a lot of the works of Kublai Milan (a famous artist of Davao) were displayed. The security in the park was very tight! It was worst than getting into the Vatican! All bags where checked a full body frisk is done as well. 

Rizal Park Stage with the Philippine Eagle Design by Kublai Milan

We spent some time and some eating at the various shopping centers in the City. We went to SM, Abreeza (Ayala) and Gaisano Malls. Most of the stuff you could buy and place to eat in Metro Manila, you can find in Davao as well. The malls were actually pretty big! A sign of a big city in the Philippines (where malling is the main past-time :P).

Davao City Clock Tower redesigned by Kublai Milan

We traveled across the ocean to Samal Island for some Beach Time. It took us only 20 minutes by boat from a port in Davao City to get there! We spent our time there at the Paradise Island Resort, the first resort on the island but still very well maintained (the restrooms were very clean!). As with most things in Davao City, the entrance fee, food and other rentables (bliiards, ping-pong, etc) are very affordable. The place was awesome and the fact that it’s just 20 minutes from the city is amazing! In metro manila, you need at least 2 hours to get to a decent beach.

Beautiful Beach just 20 minutes away!

Zer did his best to show us around while showing Davao off as well. I was truly impressed and was glad to have been able to be brought around by a local. Thanks to Zer and his family for their big hospitality!

Replica of David (in Florence) called David Davao found in Queensland Park

Awarded by the Department of Tourism in 2008 as the most livable city in the Philippines, Davao is truly impressive and definitely one of the best cities in the Philippines. I haven’t been to Cebu City in a while but it seems Davao City (if given the right conditions such as more stability in the region) could very well possibly overtake Cebu City and take the number 2 top city spot in the Philippines!

for the blog entry on the Kadayawan Festival held in Davao City click here
for the blog entry on the food in Davao City click here
for the blog entry on the Philippine Eagle Foundation click here

for more photos of Davao City on my flickr click here
for more photos of Samal Island on my flickr click here

Duaw Davao 2012: Food Trip with a Local!
August 17-20, 2012

Davao City, Philippines
PHOTO: Davao City Food: PInaypay (Fried Banana Dish)




Spending four days in Davao means four days of eating in Davao! We were brought around the local restaurants by our friend Zer (born and raised in Davao until college) and thus were treated to a tour of some of his childhood food memories as well! 


CHICKEN INATO: If Chicken Inasal is popular in the Ilonggo region, their counterpart here in the south is Chicken Inato! A sweeter blend but very similar in that they are both barbecued and served with soy sauce, siling labuyo (small chili peppers?) and calamansi (small lemon?). We were able to taste this sweet blend in a variety of restaurants but the best I tasted was at a small carinderia (eatery) outside a mall near Matina Crossing. The prices were very cheap and the food awesome! The shop probably had so many sales that they don’t even need to fix their dilapidated sign.






KINI ROGERS & LECHON BABOY: Kini Rogers have good roasted chicken and the name alone makes discussing this shop essential :P. The Lechon Baboy (Roast Pig) from a shop near Zer’s house is also very tasty and very affordable too! (only 350php per kg compared to the 700+ php/kg here in manila.






BLUGRE DURIAN COFFEE: Blugre is the most popular coffee shop chain in Davao established in 1995. They serve the very special Durian Coffee! The Durian is not actually mixed in the coffee beans (as I initially thought) but mixed in small bits on the cream above the coffee served as a cappuccino.






MERCO’S: A vital part of Zer’s food list in Davao is the pizza at Merco’s. Merco’s has been around for the longest time and their classic home style pizza brings back memories (even for me)… back when the home style pizza of Greenwich was the thing and the overloaded and greasy pizzas of today weren’t so popular.








DENCIA’S RESTAURANT: A well established restaurant in Davao serving Filipino food in a sit-down setting. 






MANDARIN TEA GARDEN: A chain of Chinese restaurants that has branches everywhere! I am unsure if they started in Davao or in a nearby province but they definitely have a presence in most of the cities/towns in the area. The food was very affordable and the servings quite generous as well. Their classic rice bowl dishes and noodles are delicious! They can easily match the restaurants in Manila’s Chinatown. 






FRUITS: A lot of fruits in Davao; the volcano-fertile soil is probably a big factor contributing to the abundance. Durian, Suha (Pomelo), Mangosteen, Rambutans, Lanzones, etc; all types can be seen in huge quantities at their wet market (palengke). A quick visit to pick up a friend at the Religious of the Notre Dame of the Missions Monastery gave us a chance for a truly special treat… Durian and Rambutan fresh from a tree! I can’t even remember the last time I have eaten fruit fresh from a tree. The Durian Tree we ate from was a different variety that grew very high (the one we ate from was at least 4 stories high). The Durian falls of from the tree by itself when it is ready for eating and they say that the tree is loving and only drops their fruit at night so that the fruit doesn’t hit anybody. The only targets of the trees are bad people such as burglars trying to get into your house! Big thanks to our host that day at the monastery for the wonderful experience.




Monastery Host with the Rambutan Tree!





Fresh Durian from a Durian Tree!



JACK’S RIDGE: A great place to bring family or friends as the area is on a hill overlooking the city. You can lounge around in the various recreational locations that they have, have seafood grilled dinner or just relax with your favorite drink. 






KANTO BAR in the MATINA TOWN SQUARE: After some drinks at Jack’s Ridge, we moved to a nosier bar with live music called Kanto Bar in the Matina Town Square. Matina Town Square is the night drinking place of the city with various music or dance bars situated beside each other. 






CECIL’S BAKESHOP: A bakeshop local to the area. They make excellent pastries, very sweet though but they definitely look and taste good!






Apologies for the long story but Zer brought us to a lot of places to eat and experience the food in the wonderful city of Davao! Thanks to Zer for sharing Davao and some of his childhood food trips with us!


for more photos of Davao City on my flickr click here
Duaw Davao 2012: Food Trip with a Local!

August 17-20, 2012
Davao City, Philippines
PHOTO: Davao City Food: PInaypay (Fried Banana Dish)

Spending four days in Davao means four days of eating in Davao! We were brought around the local restaurants by our friend Zer (born and raised in Davao until college) and thus were treated to a tour of some of his childhood food memories as well! 


CHICKEN INATO: If Chicken Inasal is popular in the Ilonggo region, their counterpart here in the south is Chicken Inato! A sweeter blend but very similar in that they are both barbecued and served with soy sauce, siling labuyo (small chili peppers?) and calamansi (small lemon?). We were able to taste this sweet blend in a variety of restaurants but the best I tasted was at a small carinderia (eatery) outside a mall near Matina Crossing. The prices were very cheap and the food awesome! The shop probably had so many sales that they don’t even need to fix their dilapidated sign.



KINI ROGERS & LECHON BABOY: Kini Rogers have good roasted chicken and the name alone makes discussing this shop essential :P. The Lechon Baboy (Roast Pig) from a shop near Zer’s house is also very tasty and very affordable too! (only 350php per kg compared to the 700+ php/kg here in manila.





BLUGRE DURIAN COFFEE: Blugre is the most popular coffee shop chain in Davao established in 1995. They serve the very special Durian Coffee! The Durian is not actually mixed in the coffee beans (as I initially thought) but mixed in small bits on the cream above the coffee served as a cappuccino.



MERCO’S: A vital part of Zer’s food list in Davao is the pizza at Merco’s. Merco’s has been around for the longest time and their classic home style pizza brings back memories (even for me)… back when the home style pizza of Greenwich was the thing and the overloaded and greasy pizzas of today weren’t so popular.




DENCIA’S RESTAURANT: A well established restaurant in Davao serving Filipino food in a sit-down setting. 



MANDARIN TEA GARDEN: A chain of Chinese restaurants that has branches everywhere! I am unsure if they started in Davao or in a nearby province but they definitely have a presence in most of the cities/towns in the area. The food was very affordable and the servings quite generous as well. Their classic rice bowl dishes and noodles are delicious! They can easily match the restaurants in Manila’s Chinatown. 



FRUITS: A lot of fruits in Davao; the volcano-fertile soil is probably a big factor contributing to the abundance. Durian, Suha (Pomelo), Mangosteen, Rambutans, Lanzones, etc; all types can be seen in huge quantities at their wet market (palengke). A quick visit to pick up a friend at the Religious of the Notre Dame of the Missions Monastery gave us a chance for a truly special treat… Durian and Rambutan fresh from a tree! I can’t even remember the last time I have eaten fruit fresh from a tree. The Durian Tree we ate from was a different variety that grew very high (the one we ate from was at least 4 stories high). The Durian falls of from the tree by itself when it is ready for eating and they say that the tree is loving and only drops their fruit at night so that the fruit doesn’t hit anybody. The only targets of the trees are bad people such as burglars trying to get into your house! Big thanks to our host that day at the monastery for the wonderful experience.


Monastery Host with the Rambutan Tree!

Fresh Durian from a Durian Tree!

JACK’S RIDGE: A great place to bring family or friends as the area is on a hill overlooking the city. You can lounge around in the various recreational locations that they have, have seafood grilled dinner or just relax with your favorite drink. 



KANTO BAR in the MATINA TOWN SQUARE: After some drinks at Jack’s Ridge, we moved to a nosier bar with live music called Kanto Bar in the Matina Town Square. Matina Town Square is the night drinking place of the city with various music or dance bars situated beside each other. 



CECIL’S BAKESHOP: A bakeshop local to the area. They make excellent pastries, very sweet though but they definitely look and taste good!



Apologies for the long story but Zer brought us to a lot of places to eat and experience the food in the wonderful city of Davao! Thanks to Zer for sharing Davao and some of his childhood food trips with us!


for more photos of Davao City on my flickr click here
Kadayawan 2012: Street Dancing/Indak-Indak, a photo by jovijovijovi on Flickr.
Duaw Davao 2012: Kadayawan Festival!
August 17-20, 2012
Davao City, Philippines
Me and my photobuds were fortunate enough to shoot this year’s Kadayawan Festival! Finally, I was able to shoot a major festival after so long! 



The first day of the parade (Saturday) is the street dancing or indak-indak in the local dialect. The groups consisted mostly of grade/high schoolers dressed in colorful costumes. After shooting the preps (preparation shots), we struggled to find a good place to position ourselves as the parade moved mostly north/northwest, against the morning sun!













The parade route was relatively short and the whole parade quite short as well (done by lunchtime). Though not as top-notch as the 3 most famous festivals in the country (Sinulog, Dinagyang and Masskara). Kadayawan is definitely one of the next in line. The colors were there, the organization, the dedication and lastly the visitors! Local and international tourists visiting the Kadayawan are growing more and more in number. It also helps that Davao is a great city with a disciplined population due to the strict rule of the local Mayor.











The second day (Sunday) is the parade of the floats. The decorated floats are designed by the various tribesmen of the area, organizations and companies as well. Examples would be Big TV networks such as ABS-CBN and GMA 7, Coca-Cola, Abreeza (Ayala Mall in Davao), Camella Homes, UP Los Banos, MNLF, etc.



Giant Puppets!





puppet masters control the puppets like this. they dance to the music as well!





puppet masters hands-free replenishing device

The floats were decorated in flowers and fruits! Fitting as if there is one thing abundant in Davao, it’s fruits! My photobud Zer (who is from Davao) noticed the lesser number of tribesmen floats. This goes to show how the parade is starting to get more and more commercialized; the bigger floats with the bigger budgets definitely from the big organizations and corporations.



The number of floats weren’t so many and the whole parade would probably be done by lunchtime. We left early as we were already able to take photos of the floats at the starting point of the parade route. What was interesting is more people watched the floats than the street dancing. I am not certain if it’s because of the day (Sunday instead of Saturday), or if the floats are really the more popular attraction.



Though not the biggest or the most popular, the Kadayawan Festival is definitely up and coming and should be in every photographer’s festival to-do-list!



Korean Community in Davao Float. Traditional garments but K-pop music and dancing at the back!

I would like to thank Zer and his family for their hospitality, the great opportunity to shoot the Kadayawan Festival and to go around the great city of Davao. Nothing beats being toured by a local! Thanks Zer!

for more photos on my flickr of kadayawan festival click here

Kadayawan 2012: Street Dancing/Indak-Indak, a photo by jovijovijovi on Flickr. Duaw Davao 2012: Kadayawan Festival!
August 17-20, 2012
Davao City, Philippines

Me and my photobuds were fortunate enough to shoot this year’s Kadayawan Festival! Finally, I was able to shoot a major festival after so long!

The first day of the parade (Saturday) is the street dancing or indak-indak in the local dialect. The groups consisted mostly of grade/high schoolers dressed in colorful costumes. After shooting the preps (preparation shots), we struggled to find a good place to position ourselves as the parade moved mostly north/northwest, against the morning sun!





The parade route was relatively short and the whole parade quite short as well (done by lunchtime). Though not as top-notch as the 3 most famous festivals in the country (Sinulog, Dinagyang and Masskara). Kadayawan is definitely one of the next in line. The colors were there, the organization, the dedication and lastly the visitors! Local and international tourists visiting the Kadayawan are growing more and more in number. It also helps that Davao is a great city with a disciplined population due to the strict rule of the local Mayor.





The second day (Sunday) is the parade of the floats. The decorated floats are designed by the various tribesmen of the area, organizations and companies as well. Examples would be Big TV networks such as ABS-CBN and GMA 7, Coca-Cola, Abreeza (Ayala Mall in Davao), Camella Homes, UP Los Banos, MNLF, etc.


Giant Puppets!

puppet masters control the puppets like this. they dance to the music as well!

puppet masters hands-free replenishing device

The floats were decorated in flowers and fruits! Fitting as if there is one thing abundant in Davao, it’s fruits! My photobud Zer (who is from Davao) noticed the lesser number of tribesmen floats. This goes to show how the parade is starting to get more and more commercialized; the bigger floats with the bigger budgets definitely from the big organizations and corporations.


The number of floats weren’t so many and the whole parade would probably be done by lunchtime. We left early as we were already able to take photos of the floats at the starting point of the parade route. What was interesting is more people watched the floats than the street dancing. I am not certain if it’s because of the day (Sunday instead of Saturday), or if the floats are really the more popular attraction.

Though not the biggest or the most popular, the Kadayawan Festival is definitely up and coming and should be in every photographer’s festival to-do-list!


Korean Community in Davao Float. Traditional garments but K-pop music and dancing at the back!

I would like to thank Zer and his family for their hospitality, the great opportunity to shoot the Kadayawan Festival and to go around the great city of Davao. Nothing beats being toured by a local! Thanks Zer!

for more photos on my flickr of kadayawan festival click here
Splendid Seoul!
Seoul, South Korea
June 2012
PHOTO: Seoul Shopping: Myeongdong
Seoul is a wonderful city; I was actually surprised by how advanced Seoul is and admire (and envy) their development very much. I’ve never been to Japan but Seoul was very close to what I think Japan would be. Everyone was respectful, they valued art, history & tradition, and things were being run quite well by their government to say the least from garbage collection to security measures; all signs of a developed economy.


Interesting Korean Restaurant: Vandalism is used as a decor/design!




Coming from a third world country on a decline (Philippines), a part of me envy people who by chance or fate ended up in countries that have real and timely development for the benefit of all the people in their country. If my info is right, 50 years ago, we were way ahead of Korea already. Look at us now, nothing that the Philippines has can be compared to South Korea. We were exporting tires to them before, now we are importing whole vehicles from them! Yes we have the beaches, mountains, etc (these were given by God, not because of our efforts btw) and yes we have a colorful culture (these are very nice and sentimental things to have, I value them personally); but (to be harsh) these things will not make our lives better let alone feed us without proper use of them. The Philippines had and still has so much; yet development of economy (even just tourism) is just so dead and slow. Yes we see efforts but lets be honest, we are doing negligible amount of things (and so slowly) compared to our counterparts and thus 50 years from now we will probably still not reach what South Korea (and others; even China!) have done for their people.





Hi-tech Toilet Seat even in our middle priced hotel



Back to the topic at hand :-P, Seoul is a very modern city yet the Asian feeling is still very much there. It looks clean and everything but unlike the feeling I have from Singapore; it ain’t too sanitary! (spoken like a true 3rd world person!) Seoul for me is like a mix of Hong Kong and Singapore; you get the safety, modernity and manners (how people act) of Singapore/Singaporeans while at the same time get the Asian feel and great weather (perfect 21 degree weather) of Hong Kong.


Creative Ad for the Naked Museum




Seoul is an expensive city; things are just more costly and the expenses do add up. Tokyo/Osaka would probably be more expensive but comparing to my recent trips to Singapore and Hong Kong; we definitely spent more and got less for it in Seoul. Our hotel room for example was 40% more expensive in Seoul, but roughly the same size as what we got from Singapore. The food costs weren’t so different but definitely pricier and less tasty at the same price. The mass transit transportation costs weren’t so bad and I think these are subsidized; the cost of riding a taxi though is very expensive.




Northern Circuit


I wound up in this place when trying to
find my way to the Namsangol Hanok Village. The road that you see is closed off
to vehicles. The red part that you see is the cushioned part of the road, excellent
for walking/jogging! The yellow line are for the visually impaired and normally
i would see this line but unsure if anybody actually uses it, but in Seoul’s
case I saw at least three people use the yellow line in my short 45 minute walk
on the circuit!





Tourist Attraction and Places to Go



Tons of places to go to in South Korea and aside from the Traditional Places (palaces, hanok villages; click here for my blog entry), they also have museums, parks, a really tall tower or structure (N-Seoul Tower story click here) and even world class amusement parks (click here for my story on Lotte World); all similarly present in most developed cities.


Cheonggyecheon River




We were able to go to Gwanghwamun Square in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It’s technically a park where you can hang out or schedule to hold activities such as a photo exhibit, a bazaar maybe or the charity mission activity we chanced upon during our visit there.





Gwanghwamun Square




Works of Students (I think) displayed in the Museum


What’s interesting is that there is an underground museum under the square (free admission)! It is about Korea’s history and focused on particular national heroes. The museum used a lot of high tech stuff like touch screens and electronic displays to make the story more interesting for kids and adults alike. 






VIDEO: Museum using multiple LCD Screens




Shopping in Seoul



There was just so much Shopping in Seoul! From bazaar type stalls to high-end department stores, shopping was everywhere! Dongdaemun and Namdaemun are two of the big areas where you can shop; they are both areas with clusters of buildings where shopping is happening both inside the buildings and outside on the street!


Pedestrianized Insadong Street




I prefer the street shopping though as boutique shops offer more interesting things unlike the stall shops that each sell almost the same things. Outside the hotel we stayed in is the Myeongdong area where all the streets are just lined with boutique stores and restaurants. A similar place also is Insadong where a street lined with shops is closed to traffic on weekends (pedestrianized). Near the Gyeongbokgung Palace on the way to Bukchon Hanok Village is also another area of the same sort. Another place would be Tree-lined Garosugil Street with more of the high-end shops. I think these types of shopping streets can be found everywhere in Seoul!


Tree-lined Garosugil Street





All this shopping (and not the cheap budgeted shopping like is common here in the Philippines) is really the direct result of the local’s having disposable income. The main market is the local people and so they are not dependent too much on tourist shopping. I really honestly feel it all starts with a good government as the government is the only entity that can really control an economy. In a good economy everyone has jobs, everyone has money, and so the quality of life increases. 



Korean Food



Food in Korea was of good quality (as expected from a developed country) but not as tasty as Singapore’s or Hong Kong’s. Maybe I’m biased but Chinese food is still better. Though Korean food is also good and special as it has its own character. Korean food I think (in my very non-professional opinion) is a rough mix of kimchi type foods and Japanese food. They have many foods similar to Japan like Sushi, Udon and Katsu, but with a twist of “Korean” (like kimchi or galbi rice on the side). Ofcourse the standard appetizers will always be present… even the Chinese restaurant we ate at served some sort of pickled relish at the start of the meal.


Caffe Bene: Korean Starbucks with Deserts!





Bonjuk: Korean Porridge with the meat/veggies seemingly meshed into the chewy rice!




LAST NOTES



Some things to expect when going to Seoul:

1)Visit during the best times May or October for the best weather. Their rainy season may not be like our tropical Philippine’s rainy season but still a nuisance (touring while raining). And their cold season I hear is mighty cold! We barely made it before the rainy season (early June).

2)Bring more money than usual; it’s a pricey place for a city in Asia. 

3)Most places are closed once a week depending on their schedule (not necessarily Sunday), even the tourist and shopping areas so make sure you schedule appropriately. 

4)The language barrier is an issue; better research first before leaving a place with internet as asking around is not easy. Not many English words around and although the Koreans are generally helpful, hand signals and Korean words can only instruct you so much. 

5)The city is generally safe and quiet (lots of people laughed at and took photos of me with my son on a child harness :-P)

6)Go shopping! (shopping seems everywhere!)



Seoul is just a beautiful city and definitely worth going to. So go go go! Travelling is the best!



For other stories of Splendid Seoul on my blog click the topics below:

Traditional Places

Lotte World!

N-Seoul Tower



for more photos of Seoul, Korea on my flickr click here
Splendid Seoul!
Seoul, South Korea
June 2012
PHOTO: Seoul Shopping: Myeongdong

Seoul is a wonderful city; I was actually surprised by how advanced Seoul is and admire (and envy) their development very much. I’ve never been to Japan but Seoul was very close to what I think Japan would be. Everyone was respectful, they valued art, history & tradition, and things were being run quite well by their government to say the least from garbage collection to security measures; all signs of a developed economy.

Interesting Korean Restaurant: Vandalism is used as a decor/design!

Coming from a third world country on a decline (Philippines), a part of me envy people who by chance or fate ended up in countries that have real and timely development for the benefit of all the people in their country. If my info is right, 50 years ago, we were way ahead of Korea already. Look at us now, nothing that the Philippines has can be compared to South Korea. We were exporting tires to them before, now we are importing whole vehicles from them! Yes we have the beaches, mountains, etc (these were given by God, not because of our efforts btw) and yes we have a colorful culture (these are very nice and sentimental things to have, I value them personally); but (to be harsh) these things will not make our lives better let alone feed us without proper use of them. The Philippines had and still has so much; yet development of economy (even just tourism) is just so dead and slow. Yes we see efforts but lets be honest, we are doing negligible amount of things (and so slowly) compared to our counterparts and thus 50 years from now we will probably still not reach what South Korea (and others; even China!) have done for their people.

Hi-tech Toilet Seat even in our middle priced hotel

Back to the topic at hand :-P, Seoul is a very modern city yet the Asian feeling is still very much there. It looks clean and everything but unlike the feeling I have from Singapore; it ain’t too sanitary! (spoken like a true 3rd world person!) Seoul for me is like a mix of Hong Kong and Singapore; you get the safety, modernity and manners (how people act) of Singapore/Singaporeans while at the same time get the Asian feel and great weather (perfect 21 degree weather) of Hong Kong.

Creative Ad for the Naked Museum

Seoul is an expensive city; things are just more costly and the expenses do add up. Tokyo/Osaka would probably be more expensive but comparing to my recent trips to Singapore and Hong Kong; we definitely spent more and got less for it in Seoul. Our hotel room for example was 40% more expensive in Seoul, but roughly the same size as what we got from Singapore. The food costs weren’t so different but definitely pricier and less tasty at the same price. The mass transit transportation costs weren’t so bad and I think these are subsidized; the cost of riding a taxi though is very expensive.

Northern Circuit
I wound up in this place when trying to find my way to the Namsangol Hanok Village. The road that you see is closed off to vehicles. The red part that you see is the cushioned part of the road, excellent for walking/jogging! The yellow line are for the visually impaired and normally i would see this line but unsure if anybody actually uses it, but in Seoul’s case I saw at least three people use the yellow line in my short 45 minute walk on the circuit!

Tourist Attraction and Places to Go

Tons of places to go to in South Korea and aside from the Traditional Places (palaces, hanok villages; click here for my blog entry), they also have museums, parks, a really tall tower or structure (N-Seoul Tower story click here) and even world class amusement parks (click here for my story on Lotte World); all similarly present in most developed cities.

Cheonggyecheon River

We were able to go to Gwanghwamun Square in front of Gyeongbokgung Palace. It’s technically a park where you can hang out or schedule to hold activities such as a photo exhibit, a bazaar maybe or the charity mission activity we chanced upon during our visit there.

Gwanghwamun Square

Works of Students (I think) displayed in the Museum

What’s interesting is that there is an underground museum under the square (free admission)! It is about Korea’s history and focused on particular national heroes. The museum used a lot of high tech stuff like touch screens and electronic displays to make the story more interesting for kids and adults alike. 

VIDEO: Museum using multiple LCD Screens

Shopping in Seoul

There was just so much Shopping in Seoul! From bazaar type stalls to high-end department stores, shopping was everywhere! Dongdaemun and Namdaemun are two of the big areas where you can shop; they are both areas with clusters of buildings where shopping is happening both inside the buildings and outside on the street!

Pedestrianized Insadong Street

I prefer the street shopping though as boutique shops offer more interesting things unlike the stall shops that each sell almost the same things. Outside the hotel we stayed in is the Myeongdong area where all the streets are just lined with boutique stores and restaurants. A similar place also is Insadong where a street lined with shops is closed to traffic on weekends (pedestrianized). Near the Gyeongbokgung Palace on the way to Bukchon Hanok Village is also another area of the same sort. Another place would be Tree-lined Garosugil Street with more of the high-end shops. I think these types of shopping streets can be found everywhere in Seoul!

Tree-lined Garosugil Street

All this shopping (and not the cheap budgeted shopping like is common here in the Philippines) is really the direct result of the local’s having disposable income. The main market is the local people and so they are not dependent too much on tourist shopping. I really honestly feel it all starts with a good government as the government is the only entity that can really control an economy. In a good economy everyone has jobs, everyone has money, and so the quality of life increases. 

Korean Food

Food in Korea was of good quality (as expected from a developed country) but not as tasty as Singapore’s or Hong Kong’s. Maybe I’m biased but Chinese food is still better. Though Korean food is also good and special as it has its own character. Korean food I think (in my very non-professional opinion) is a rough mix of kimchi type foods and Japanese food. They have many foods similar to Japan like Sushi, Udon and Katsu, but with a twist of “Korean” (like kimchi or galbi rice on the side). Ofcourse the standard appetizers will always be present… even the Chinese restaurant we ate at served some sort of pickled relish at the start of the meal.

Caffe Bene: Korean Starbucks with Deserts!

Bonjuk: Korean Porridge with the meat/veggies seemingly meshed into the chewy rice!

LAST NOTES

Some things to expect when going to Seoul:
1)Visit during the best times May or October for the best weather. Their rainy season may not be like our tropical Philippine’s rainy season but still a nuisance (touring while raining). And their cold season I hear is mighty cold! We barely made it before the rainy season (early June).
2)Bring more money than usual; it’s a pricey place for a city in Asia. 
3)Most places are closed once a week depending on their schedule (not necessarily Sunday), even the tourist and shopping areas so make sure you schedule appropriately. 
4)The language barrier is an issue; better research first before leaving a place with internet as asking around is not easy. Not many English words around and although the Koreans are generally helpful, hand signals and Korean words can only instruct you so much. 
5)The city is generally safe and quiet (lots of people laughed at and took photos of me with my son on a child harness :-P)
6)Go shopping! (shopping seems everywhere!)

Seoul is just a beautiful city and definitely worth going to. So go go go! Travelling is the best!

For other stories of Splendid Seoul on my blog click the topics below:

for more photos of Seoul, Korea on my flickr click here
Splendid Seoul: N Seoul Tower

Seoul, South Korea

June 2012



Most of the advanced cities I have been too boast of a really tall building overlooking the metropolis. Seoul’s version of this is the NSeoul Tower; it’s quite tall and considering that it’s built on top of a mountain, makes it in essence even taller!



CABLE CAR AND TOWER PARK AREA



There are two ways to get to the Tower; one is by trekking stairs up the mountain and the other is by cable car. While buying tickets for the cable car, I wondered why they sold one way tickets… I later realized that some people would opt to walk down (instead of riding the cable car) after enjoying the mountain top.



Based on the map, the cable car area is near our hotel in Myeongdong (2 blocks away). So we decided to walk to it and were surprised by the very steep streets! What made things worst was after the steep walk up the streets, a relatively high staircase greeted us. It wouldn’t have been so tough but we had our 2 year-old baby with us and his stroller and pushing up a stroller on a steep street was pretty tough (in fact going back to the hotel, we used a taxi; if going up a steep street with a stroller is tough, going down is even tougher!). Once in the cable car terminal, the stroller was again a hassle as stairs greeted us once again. The cable car itself required folded up strollers as well and when we finally got to the top, more energy draining stairs greeted us! Truly a tough place to bring a stroller or a 2 year old kid! 





Steep Street to the Cable Car Area



We went on a Sunday and the place was kind of crowded due to the many locals going up to the tower. I found it weird as I would think that only tourists would visit the area, but upon reaching the top the reason was quite clear: the surrounding area of the tower was made into a recreation park! You could relax and enjoy the mountain weather and have some food and refreshments from the establishments there. A lot of them wouldn’t spend the extra money for the tickets to go to the observation deck but would just hang around the park area, relaxing and enjoying the day. 





Park Area



LOVE PADLOCKS



Another interesting thing we discovered around the tower area is how padlocks were used as decoration! Meters and meters of railings were filled with padlocks, each marked with messages or names! We also saw trees (metal frames shaped like trees) decorated in padlocks as well! It’s similar to Juliet’s wall in Venice and apparently these padlocks are called Love Padlocks. You can leave your own padlock to symbolize your everlasting love with someone or maybe just to leave your mark in Seoul. There is just one rule: don’t throw your keys anywhere especially down the mountain! You might hit someone 230 meters below at high velocity!





Love Padlocks

Love Padlocks back in 2007!
photo from buhay sa korea blog



TEDDY BEAR MUSEUM AND OBSERVATION DECK



We spent for the tickets to the Teddy Bear Museum and the Observation Deck. The museum can be found at the basement of the tower. Teddy bears were used in dioramas depicting important parts of their country’s history. Outside the Museum are the elevators that would bring you up to the Observation Deck. We didn’t stay long at the top as the air conditioning was broken that day and the place was quite warm and crowded. There are also restaurants at the top with a beautiful view of the city but their prices were quite expensive. 





Teddy Bear Museum





Dioramas





Observation Deck View



LIGHT SHOW



Before going down, we rested a bit at the park area and were delightfully surprised by the amazing light show! The tower (which looked too plain to me IMHO) is converted into a giant projector screen and made it look like the tower was transforming into various objects! It’s a very smart use of the plain exterior of the tower. At first I thought that the Marina Bay Casino in Singapore or the Sky100 in Hong Kong was more interesting but after the light show; hands down N Seoul Tower and the surrounding area tops them both! 





Light Show





Light Show Video



N Seoul Tower and the surrounding park area is truly a great place to visit for both tourists and locals alike. The temperature when we went was around 20+ degrees C and adding the cool mountain wind resulted in the most wonderful afternoon/evening of our trip! N Seoul Tower is definitely a must see; not just once, but every time you visit Seoul!



for more photos of N Seoul Tower on my flickr click here

for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here
Splendid Seoul: N Seoul Tower
Seoul, South Korea
June 2012

Most of the advanced cities I have been too boast of a really tall building overlooking the metropolis. Seoul’s version of this is the NSeoul Tower; it’s quite tall and considering that it’s built on top of a mountain, makes it in essence even taller!

CABLE CAR AND TOWER PARK AREA

There are two ways to get to the Tower; one is by trekking stairs up the mountain and the other is by cable car. While buying tickets for the cable car, I wondered why they sold one way tickets… I later realized that some people would opt to walk down (instead of riding the cable car) after enjoying the mountain top.

Based on the map, the cable car area is near our hotel in Myeongdong (2 blocks away). So we decided to walk to it and were surprised by the very steep streets! What made things worst was after the steep walk up the streets, a relatively high staircase greeted us. It wouldn’t have been so tough but we had our 2 year-old baby with us and his stroller and pushing up a stroller on a steep street was pretty tough (in fact going back to the hotel, we used a taxi; if going up a steep street with a stroller is tough, going down is even tougher!). Once in the cable car terminal, the stroller was again a hassle as stairs greeted us once again. The cable car itself required folded up strollers as well and when we finally got to the top, more energy draining stairs greeted us! Truly a tough place to bring a stroller or a 2 year old kid! 

Steep Street to the Cable Car Area

We went on a Sunday and the place was kind of crowded due to the many locals going up to the tower. I found it weird as I would think that only tourists would visit the area, but upon reaching the top the reason was quite clear: the surrounding area of the tower was made into a recreation park! You could relax and enjoy the mountain weather and have some food and refreshments from the establishments there. A lot of them wouldn’t spend the extra money for the tickets to go to the observation deck but would just hang around the park area, relaxing and enjoying the day. 

Park Area

LOVE PADLOCKS

Another interesting thing we discovered around the tower area is how padlocks were used as decoration! Meters and meters of railings were filled with padlocks, each marked with messages or names! We also saw trees (metal frames shaped like trees) decorated in padlocks as well! It’s similar to Juliet’s wall in Venice and apparently these padlocks are called Love Padlocks. You can leave your own padlock to symbolize your everlasting love with someone or maybe just to leave your mark in Seoul. There is just one rule: don’t throw your keys anywhere especially down the mountain! You might hit someone 230 meters below at high velocity!

Love Padlocks

Love Padlocks back in 2007!
photo from buhay sa korea blog

TEDDY BEAR MUSEUM AND OBSERVATION DECK

We spent for the tickets to the Teddy Bear Museum and the Observation Deck. The museum can be found at the basement of the tower. Teddy bears were used in dioramas depicting important parts of their country’s history. Outside the Museum are the elevators that would bring you up to the Observation Deck. We didn’t stay long at the top as the air conditioning was broken that day and the place was quite warm and crowded. There are also restaurants at the top with a beautiful view of the city but their prices were quite expensive. 

Teddy Bear Museum

Dioramas

Observation Deck View

LIGHT SHOW

Before going down, we rested a bit at the park area and were delightfully surprised by the amazing light show! The tower (which looked too plain to me IMHO) is converted into a giant projector screen and made it look like the tower was transforming into various objects! It’s a very smart use of the plain exterior of the tower. At first I thought that the Marina Bay Casino in Singapore or the Sky100 in Hong Kong was more interesting but after the light show; hands down N Seoul Tower and the surrounding area tops them both! 

Light Show

Light Show Video

N Seoul Tower and the surrounding park area is truly a great place to visit for both tourists and locals alike. The temperature when we went was around 20+ degrees C and adding the cool mountain wind resulted in the most wonderful afternoon/evening of our trip! N Seoul Tower is definitely a must see; not just once, but every time you visit Seoul!

for more photos of N Seoul Tower on my flickr click here
for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here
Splendid Seoul: Traditional Places
Seoul, South Korea
June 2012


Seoul has plenty of places where they display their history and traditions. Some of these places are the original structures that were restored while others are newly made to replicate the old structures. They have done pretty well and although smaller in size and area (compared to traditional structures and areas lets say in Beijing’s or Bangkok’s), Seoul’s traditional structures and areas are better restored and maintained. Truly a sign of an advanced country where traditions and history can be afforded importance (in short, they have money to spend to maintain and restore :-P)


Gyeongbokgung Palace


This is the northern most palace of a group of 5 palaces. This Palace was built in 1395, burned down in 1592 and rebuilt in 1852. These were ofcourse palaces of the royalty and are roughly the equivalent of the Forbidden City in Beijing albeit smaller. It also has a Square in front of the entrance called Gwanghwamun Square; similar to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.








Unlike the structures in the Forbidden City (Beijing), the structures here were well maintained and seemed freshly painted/restored. Although very much smaller than the Forbidden City (not even 1% of the Forbidden City in my rough estimate), the value placed for the restoration and maintenance is impressive. Even the parking area for the tourist buses and cars were very organized and clean. 








This was the only palace we went to as we didn’t have much time and I was assuming that the other palaces were pretty much the same. We wanted to spend more of our time touring around the other parts of Seoul.


Bukchon Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village


The Bukchon Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village is located just uphill from Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was very tough to find as it isn’t really a tourist area. Aside from the usual language barrier, many of the locals didn’t know what and where the area really was. It’s essentially a village of old houses (Korean style) that were restored (to roughly the same design) and are still being used today. For the locals these house designs are probably a common sight. 










The uphill climb wasn’t easy especially pushing a stroller with a 30 lb baby and stuff inside it. Downhill was tougher as some of the roads were quite steep. Manageable though and interesting enough to go to as just a short portion downhill you have a semi-pedestrianized street for shopping and eating. 




uphill!



The houses were very nice and I think that the owners maintain the houses well to show-off to visitors as well. You would see interesting choices of sturdier materials to replicate the old materials but still maintaining the general look and feel of the Traditional Village. Some of the houses are a mix of modern and traditional architecture; a very nice Asian-modern feel. They would try to hide most of the modern parts of the house but ofcourse you can’t hide everything like the cars and the doorbells and lights. Quite impressive as I have also been to traditional villages in the Philippines and all I saw are dilapidated structures and really bad restorations of some of them (truly a waste). 


Namsangol Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village


Our loose itinerary could not fit in a trip to Namsangol Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village so I decided to visit it by myself early in the morning. It seemed like an important place to visit and I didn’t want to regret not being able to see it, even if it was closed on Tuesdays (slipped my mind unfortunately).






The photographer in me got me up at 5AM and I was off walking by 5:30AM. It was another place that was tough to find and my info from the very mistaken receptionist at the hotel was that it was near the cable car area going to N-Seoul Tower. After walking uphill to the cable car area, I eventually ended up in the Northern Circuit for joggers. I didn’t lose hope as I kept seeing signs leading towards the Namsangol Village but the walk was quite tiring (though the exercise was much needed). I eventually got to the village after walking back downhill, across a road and through Namsen Park. I later found out that the main entrance of the village was just two blocks from the road of my hotel! I spent at least an extra hour to get there and at least an extra 8 kilometers walking! A good experience still but really the language barrier is not as easy as I thought it would be. Only a few old people and garbagemen were on the street that early in the morning, making inquiries almost impossible. 






I actually thought that it wouldn’t matter if the attraction was closed (Tuesdays) as I thought I was going to a similar location as the Bukchon Village where the village was just open to the public and are actually modern houses still being used today. The Namsangol Village was very different as it is actually a replica of an old village in the area and built in 2003. Unfortunately, they replicated the walls and the gates as well and so I couldn’t get inside. From the literature I read near the entrance, they simulate the activities of that time such as the carpentry in the carpentry shop and other stuff. I tried my best to go around the perimeter and peek above the walls to at least get a feel and some photos of the village. If it weren’t a Tuesday I would definitely have come back with my family later in the day as it was truly a nice and interesting place to go to.






There are tons of places in Seoul where you can experience and see their history, traditions and culture. I truly envy them and hope the Philippines would one day be strong (and rich) enough to restore and maintain Intramuros, Vigan, our century-old churches and all the so many other beautiful historical and cultural structures and areas in our country.



for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here

for more photos of Palaces and Hanok Villages on my Flickr click here

Splendid Seoul: Traditional Places

Seoul, South Korea

June 2012


Seoul has plenty of places where they display their history and traditions. Some of these places are the original structures that were restored while others are newly made to replicate the old structures. They have done pretty well and although smaller in size and area (compared to traditional structures and areas lets say in Beijing’s or Bangkok’s), Seoul’s traditional structures and areas are better restored and maintained. Truly a sign of an advanced country where traditions and history can be afforded importance (in short, they have money to spend to maintain and restore :-P)


Gyeongbokgung Palace


This is the northern most palace of a group of 5 palaces. This Palace was built in 1395, burned down in 1592 and rebuilt in 1852. These were ofcourse palaces of the royalty and are roughly the equivalent of the Forbidden City in Beijing albeit smaller. It also has a Square in front of the entrance called Gwanghwamun Square; similar to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.





Unlike the structures in the Forbidden City (Beijing), the structures here were well maintained and seemed freshly painted/restored. Although very much smaller than the Forbidden City (not even 1% of the Forbidden City in my rough estimate), the value placed for the restoration and maintenance is impressive. Even the parking area for the tourist buses and cars were very organized and clean. 




This was the only palace we went to as we didn’t have much time and I was assuming that the other palaces were pretty much the same. We wanted to spend more of our time touring around the other parts of Seoul.


Bukchon Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village


The Bukchon Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village is located just uphill from Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was very tough to find as it isn’t really a tourist area. Aside from the usual language barrier, many of the locals didn’t know what and where the area really was. It’s essentially a village of old houses (Korean style) that were restored (to roughly the same design) and are still being used today. For the locals these house designs are probably a common sight. 





The uphill climb wasn’t easy especially pushing a stroller with a 30 lb baby and stuff inside it. Downhill was tougher as some of the roads were quite steep. Manageable though and interesting enough to go to as just a short portion downhill you have a semi-pedestrianized street for shopping and eating. 


uphill!


The houses were very nice and I think that the owners maintain the houses well to show-off to visitors as well. You would see interesting choices of sturdier materials to replicate the old materials but still maintaining the general look and feel of the Traditional Village. Some of the houses are a mix of modern and traditional architecture; a very nice Asian-modern feel. They would try to hide most of the modern parts of the house but ofcourse you can’t hide everything like the cars and the doorbells and lights. Quite impressive as I have also been to traditional villages in the Philippines and all I saw are dilapidated structures and really bad restorations of some of them (truly a waste). 


Namsangol Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village


Our loose itinerary could not fit in a trip to Namsangol Traditional Korean (Hanok) Village so I decided to visit it by myself early in the morning. It seemed like an important place to visit and I didn’t want to regret not being able to see it, even if it was closed on Tuesdays (slipped my mind unfortunately).




The photographer in me got me up at 5AM and I was off walking by 5:30AM. It was another place that was tough to find and my info from the very mistaken receptionist at the hotel was that it was near the cable car area going to N-Seoul Tower. After walking uphill to the cable car area, I eventually ended up in the Northern Circuit for joggers. I didn’t lose hope as I kept seeing signs leading towards the Namsangol Village but the walk was quite tiring (though the exercise was much needed). I eventually got to the village after walking back downhill, across a road and through Namsen Park. I later found out that the main entrance of the village was just two blocks from the road of my hotel! I spent at least an extra hour to get there and at least an extra 8 kilometers walking! A good experience still but really the language barrier is not as easy as I thought it would be. Only a few old people and garbagemen were on the street that early in the morning, making inquiries almost impossible. 



I actually thought that it wouldn’t matter if the attraction was closed (Tuesdays) as I thought I was going to a similar location as the Bukchon Village where the village was just open to the public and are actually modern houses still being used today. The Namsangol Village was very different as it is actually a replica of an old village in the area and built in 2003. Unfortunately, they replicated the walls and the gates as well and so I couldn’t get inside. From the literature I read near the entrance, they simulate the activities of that time such as the carpentry in the carpentry shop and other stuff. I tried my best to go around the perimeter and peek above the walls to at least get a feel and some photos of the village. If it weren’t a Tuesday I would definitely have come back with my family later in the day as it was truly a nice and interesting place to go to.



There are tons of places in Seoul where you can experience and see their history, traditions and culture. I truly envy them and hope the Philippines would one day be strong (and rich) enough to restore and maintain Intramuros, Vigan, our century-old churches and all the so many other beautiful historical and cultural structures and areas in our country.


for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here
for more photos of Palaces and Hanok Villages on my Flickr click here
Splendid Seoul: Lotte World!
Seoul, South Korea
June 2012


Seoul has two theme parks, Lotte World and Everland both located just 45minutes to an hour from the city center. We only had time to visit one of them so we chose the one closer to the city, Lotte World! Lotte World is actually more accessible as there is a subway stop (Jamsil Station) just outside the Complex; for Everland, you would need to ride a bus. 


Apparently, Lotte World is not just a theme park… it’s a whole complex of stuff! A department store attached to a mall, attached to hotel, attached to a museum and so on. We actually couldn’t find the theme park entrance despite all the Korean and hand signal instructions I was getting from the staff of the department store. Koreans are very helpful, they try their best to help out but the language barrier is just real tough. Eventually, a kind lady who we asked was actually very kind and went out of her way to bring us to the entrance! 




Magic Castle on Magic Island (outdoor theme park)


As we went in June, rainy season just started and so the indoor amusement park of Lotte World (the biggest indoor theme park in the world) was a big plus. It was actually a new experience, walking around an amusement park and then every now and then realizing that the area is air-conditioned and that you are actually indoors!




Lotte World’s Special Parade: Lotty’s Adventure Parade



The ticketing system was not made easy (unlike in Disneyland); to maximize their customer base, they had tickets for entrance with ride-all-you-can and for entrance only. To lessen the hassle, we got the ride-all-you-can one but later found out that my 2 year old son (who had free entrance) had to pay extra for “child-only” rides. 


Navigating through the Amusement Park (both indoor Adventure and outdoor Magic Island, but especially indoor Adventure) was pretty confusing even with the map. The numbering on the map was not smart at all (IMHO) and indoor Adventure had 4 floors of activities that were marked on a 3D rendition of the park (instead of per floor). I eventually got the hang of it… until we wandered into Fantasy Forest which (much as I tried) could not find on the map. Not that I’m complaining that there are extra stuff to do but now I’m wondering if I missed some things in my visit.




Bird’s Eye View of Magic Island


Many of the signs and the shows we saw are in Korean, but it wasn’t too much of a hassle as the map had an English version and the food for sale had drawings and all you had to do was point. The Lotte World staff is also proficient in English unlike the majority of Koreans. 


Funny story was how we were able to get into the Adventures of Sinbad ride. I was confused with all the map navigating that I thought it was a ride for 2 year-olds; apparently the attendant also got confused with our conversation about the baby’s age as well. The ride was actually for 36 months or older (looking at the map now). A bit scary especially with the two steep drops (steep for 2 year olds I’m sure) but my little Josh got through it without a single cry (whew!).




very smart! food on top, soda in the bottom! easily eat and drink while walking around!


We had a fun time in Lotte World and actually had the most relaxing day in our 4 day tour of Seoul. There were plenty of places to rest and we easily covered all the rides and shows (that was suitable for a 2 year-old kid) in 5-6 hours despite all the diaper and eating breaks. Though I did not feel the Disneyland feeling that I get when visiting Disneyland (feeling like a kid again, like in a different land altogether, etc), Lotte World is still a very good theme park with excellent facilities and tons of fun for everyone. Definitely World Class and definitely a fun place to be.




The Claw Game with Ice Cream as Prizes!



for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here

for more photos of Lotte World on my flickr click here

Splendid Seoul: Lotte World!

Seoul, South Korea

June 2012


Seoul has two theme parks, Lotte World and Everland both located just 45minutes to an hour from the city center. We only had time to visit one of them so we chose the one closer to the city, Lotte World! Lotte World is actually more accessible as there is a subway stop (Jamsil Station) just outside the Complex; for Everland, you would need to ride a bus. 


Apparently, Lotte World is not just a theme park… it’s a whole complex of stuff! A department store attached to a mall, attached to hotel, attached to a museum and so on. We actually couldn’t find the theme park entrance despite all the Korean and hand signal instructions I was getting from the staff of the department store. Koreans are very helpful, they try their best to help out but the language barrier is just real tough. Eventually, a kind lady who we asked was actually very kind and went out of her way to bring us to the entrance! 




Magic Castle on Magic Island (outdoor theme park)


As we went in June, rainy season just started and so the indoor amusement park of Lotte World (the biggest indoor theme park in the world) was a big plus. It was actually a new experience, walking around an amusement park and then every now and then realizing that the area is air-conditioned and that you are actually indoors!


Lotte World’s Special Parade: Lotty’s Adventure Parade


The ticketing system was not made easy (unlike in Disneyland); to maximize their customer base, they had tickets for entrance with ride-all-you-can and for entrance only. To lessen the hassle, we got the ride-all-you-can one but later found out that my 2 year old son (who had free entrance) had to pay extra for “child-only” rides. 


Navigating through the Amusement Park (both indoor Adventure and outdoor Magic Island, but especially indoor Adventure) was pretty confusing even with the map. The numbering on the map was not smart at all (IMHO) and indoor Adventure had 4 floors of activities that were marked on a 3D rendition of the park (instead of per floor). I eventually got the hang of it… until we wandered into Fantasy Forest which (much as I tried) could not find on the map. Not that I’m complaining that there are extra stuff to do but now I’m wondering if I missed some things in my visit.


Bird’s Eye View of Magic Island


Many of the signs and the shows we saw are in Korean, but it wasn’t too much of a hassle as the map had an English version and the food for sale had drawings and all you had to do was point. The Lotte World staff is also proficient in English unlike the majority of Koreans. 


Funny story was how we were able to get into the Adventures of Sinbad ride. I was confused with all the map navigating that I thought it was a ride for 2 year-olds; apparently the attendant also got confused with our conversation about the baby’s age as well. The ride was actually for 36 months or older (looking at the map now). A bit scary especially with the two steep drops (steep for 2 year olds I’m sure) but my little Josh got through it without a single cry (whew!).




very smart! food on top, soda in the bottom! easily eat and drink while walking around!


We had a fun time in Lotte World and actually had the most relaxing day in our 4 day tour of Seoul. There were plenty of places to rest and we easily covered all the rides and shows (that was suitable for a 2 year-old kid) in 5-6 hours despite all the diaper and eating breaks. Though I did not feel the Disneyland feeling that I get when visiting Disneyland (feeling like a kid again, like in a different land altogether, etc), Lotte World is still a very good theme park with excellent facilities and tons of fun for everyone. Definitely World Class and definitely a fun place to be.


The Claw Game with Ice Cream as Prizes!

for the main story about Seoul and other links about Seoul click here
for more photos of Lotte World on my flickr click here

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