Wednesday, September 30, 2020

"Snowless" Shirakawa-go

Before lockdown was implemented in Philippines in March we were lucky to visit Japan, our "happy place," in last week of February. Yes, the wife and I love Japan due to its culture, beautiful places, food and it is the nearest place to enjoy snow. Though I was able to enjoy snow in Grenoble, France in 1997, it was a truly memorable experience to enjoy snow again with the wife, it was her first time, during our visit to Sapporo a couple of years back.

We booked our Japan trip as early as 2019 without expecting that there would be less snow in Japan in 2020. The last time we visited Sapporo, Japan was experiencing its heaviest snowfall in the last 40 years.

Moving ahead, the wife included in our itinerary the historic villages of Shirakawa-go in Gifu; it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Area. If you are not familiar about this place then just Google it to learn about this place that turns magical during winter. Wife drooled for several months before our trip.

Upon learning that there would be less snow in Japan in February, wife and I gambled and decided to push through with our visit. We did a DIY tour; trust me it is pretty easy to make a DIY tour in Japan. From Osaka we travelled to Nagoya station where we bought our round-trip bus tickets to Shirakawa-go. We disembarked at the lone bus station of Shirakawa-go and would be picked up later in the afternoon. By the way, in case you want to change the time of your return ticket you may ask assistance from the counter staff at Shirakawa-go; we changed our return trip from 3:55pm into 2:30pm.

In short, we reached Shirakawa-go on Feb 29. As expected, the village was "snowless." Though we were a bit disappointed we still enjoyed our stay here since the chilly but "snowless" weather allowed us to fully explore the area including the observation hill.

There are two golden rules to follow while in Shirakawa-go. Since the entire village uses thatched roof and wooden material it is strictly forbidden to smoke in public places. There are designated area where you can enjoy your nicotine shots. Second rule is to respect the privacy of the locals. This place is not a museum; people are living in those old houses.

We walked through narrow side streets and reached river bed at the backside of the village. We returned back through the main roads and strolled up to the observation hill. Considering our age, wife and I stopped several times before reaching the peak.

Once we were at the top of the hill, we were mesmerised by the surreal beauty of the entire village. The wife told me that we were at the same point where those travel magazines or websites have taken some of the famous village photos.

After an hour here, we decided to have our lunch at one of the local restaurants. We ordered beef with rice.

After lunch we strolled for some time searching for souvenirs and local sweets for our kids in Philippines.

Soon afterwards, we trekked back to the bus station and waited for our bus. Take note that the bus station has several departure gates so make sure you know which gate your bus would be waiting. Also, look for the main entrance because it would be improper to enter the station through exit or departure gate.

Given a chance, the wife and I would love to return here as long as snow would be there too, lol. 

Monday, September 28, 2020

Our Mom is a Covid survivor

On Aug 31, one of my sisters brought our mom to RMC or Rizal Medical Center in Pasig City due to extreme fatigue and fever. Prior to that, she brought our mom to a different hospital due to continuous fever for three days; our mom's initial diagnosis was UTI and high blood sugar.

She was immediately admitted at RMC ER and considered as person under investigation (PUI) since she was manifesting Covid symptopms. She underwent PCR or "swab" test. Hence, all family members exposed to her were also considered PUI and must quarantine. I haven't visited my mom since February to minimize her exposure. Our mom is considered as immunocompromised individual due to her Hypertension and Diabetes not to mention that she is already 72 years old.

Initial diagnosis at RMC, aside from suspected Covid positive, was uncontrolled Diabetes, her blood sugar was above 300, and controlled high blood pressure plus sign of mild pneumonia.

She needs to be admitted but considered as PUI so she followed Covid protocol; meaning she would be isolated and won't be transferred to "clean" room unless her swab test result is negative.

The following day, my mom was transferred to a Covid "private" room since the swab test result is not yet released; my sister stayed at the waiting area of RMC. With the help of nurse on duty, she provided a celphone to our mom so we could call her from time to time. More so, she needs to talk with our Dad because he wouldn't eat or take his medicines without talking to our mom. 

They treated my mom's high blood sugar, hypertension and pneumonia while waiting for swab test result. She was in oxygen the whole time. Aside from medications, my mom was put in "proning" position from time to time to aid her breathing. Her vital signs were stable according to her doctors though blood sugar remained high.

On Sept 3, we got the result. Our mom was positive for Covid.

We kept on calling our mom day and night since we are aware that there are cases of Covid patients not being able to say goodbye to their loved ones. We are also aware that we won't be able to even hug her body if the worst thing happens. We were  praying and all eight sibllings and grandchildren were united in this trial.

Since our mom was Covid positive, the family members that have been exposed to her went for swab test in Pasig City. All of their tests returned negative. Though we were happy with the result we were wondering how come that only our mom became infected? She never went out of her house when the pandemic started.

What lifted our spirits was our mom's determination to recover. Though she started getting annoyed and sometimes raising her voice whenever we call her we were happy to know that she is stable and "grumpy" when she run out of diapers, lol.

My sister signed a form allowing my mom to undergo "Remdesivir" treatment; she needs 6 vials, two vials on first day and one vial daily for the following days. I asked another sister who is a nurse why we need to sign a separate form. According to her, this is because Remdesivir is a new and costly drug. One vial costs around 7,000 pesos.

To make this short, our mom completed 6 shots of Remdesivir. She also completed her moderate pneumonia treatment and now taking insulin for her diabetes. After two weeks in RMC, her swab test result returned negative and she is now recuperating at home.

Her bills reached 203,000 pesos including professional or doctors fees. After Philheath and senior citizen's discount we paid 43,000 pesos.

My (nurse) sister told me that in private hospital, the bill could easily reach 500,000 pesos. 

We need to ensure that she wouldn't be reinfected by Covid because Philheath discount would dramatically decrease in case she got reinfected by the same disease in 3 months.

All told, we are very thankful to God that our mom is back "online," lol. Many thanks too to RMC staff for taking good care her.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Dad's Review - Beware of Eastar Jet

My wife, daughter and I planned to explore jeju Island on third week of April 2020 but due to pandemic out flights were cancelled from Manila - Hong Kong - Jeju Island.

We booked one-way ticket for three from Hong Kong to Jeju Island through Eastar Jet since it was the only airline offering flights on our preferred date. We paid around 18,000 pesos for the three of us.

On March 11, we received notice from Easter Jet regarding flights cancellation due to pandemic so we ended up filing for refund which they agreed. 

On March 25, I received an email from Eastar Jet informing me that they had refunded the full amount to my credit card.

Several months have passed, I haven't received any amount from Eastar Jet. I tried sending emails to them but it seemed that the only way to contact them is through phone call in South Korea. I checked their FB page and realized that they haven't refunded any of their clients that were affected by flight cancellations caused by the pandemic.

Moreover, a take over plan by Jeju Air to Eastar was scrapped putting the low cost airline in deeper financial trouble. Obviously, this airline would find it extremely difficult to fly again due to its existing loans and delayed payment of wages of its staff. Not to mention its tarnished image due to non-payment of ticket refunds.

So guys, stay away from this airline!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Noni's Resort - Alitagtag, Batangas

My family enjoys celebrating Christmas Day outside Manila. The road trips would be a breeze and a welcome respite to daily traffic and mall congestion during the holiday season. In addition, we intend to celebrate our eldest son's birthday the following day.

Hence, we planned a "staycation" in our favorite get away place, Tagaytay City, since we used to think that Tagaytay City has the best accommodation and landscape view of Taal Lake. In fact, we stayed in this area a couple of times during our out-of-town trips.

However, on our recent Christmas Day trip the family decided to see the other side of Taal Lake that led us to Noni's Resort in Alitagtag, Batangas. That was our first time to visit that town though we have been to other places in Batangas such as Taal.

Using Android Auto I drove through SLEX and Star Toll way passing through provincial roads criss-crossing different towns. Unknowingly, there were two narrow and rough roads connecting this resort to the main highway. I missed the first one and fortunately was able to spot the second one due to a big Noni's Resort signboard. Be aware that this second road is just a couple of meters wide and passing through a residential subdivision. After passing through it, we were surprised that the remaining road can be a perfect location for an horror movie. Sugar canes at both side and without any houses for several kilometers; nobody would know if you met an accident in this area. If not for the signboard directing us through this way I would have turned back and search the first road along the highway. We passed through this road again early morning the following day after check out and encountered a police mobile car doing a routine patrol in the area. The whole family was eerily silent; it was obvious that crimes could have been committed here before thus the presence of this mobile car. Nevertheless, this post is not about this road though, lol.

Batangas Villa

Kids' Room

Our room

Free refill of mineral water

Pool at the backside of the villa

The wife booked Batangas Villa for an overnight stay. It is like a small house with two bedroom and dining area with an infinity pool at the back. Though there is a kitchen with fridge, electric kettle and dining table, we didn't find any kitchen utensils and glasses. Nonetheless, we have welcome sweets and instant coffee mixes and teas. Later on, they provided coffee mugs and spoons after we requested them.

Both rooms have flat screen and own bathroom. Bed is comfy while towels and linens are in pristine condition. Toilet is top-notch if I may say so.

The entire villa can be locked, including both rooms in case you want to explore the resort.

Reception Area

Breakfast buffet at the restaurant

Upon arrival, we parked outside the resort and searched for the lobby or reception area. Check-in area is at the main building housing the restaurant and other facilities as well. Waterproof wristband is attach on your arm to identify that you are a guest. Wifi password sadly was a hit and miss; for the first set, only two of us were able to connect. Later on, they provided us another set of passwords. Yes, one unique password for each gadget. Wifi signal is strong even inside the room.

After check-in, they told us that we can park our car at the front of our villa making it easier to arrange our things.

The place is overlooking the scenic view of Taal Lake and has a clear view of the actual Taal crater, the flat one that erupted recently and not the taller crater that you normally see from Tagaytay City. We had al-fresco snacks and drinks outside the restaurant. Sadly, some items in their menu were not available at that time. Koi fishes abound the small pond outside the restaurant.

At around 5pm, the family decided to enjoy the heated infinity pool. We had a great time. Since we were lazy to walk to the restaurant, we opted to take our dinner in our villa. We ordered their local specialties but some of them were not available. Not a big deal since the menu boasts wide varieties of Filipino foods.

We arranged the plates and left-over after dinner and left them outside. We brought with us USB drive with downloaded movie and watched it inside the kids' room. After watching the movie, the wife and I proceeded to our room while our eldest son decided to have another dip at the pool; he really loved the heated pool. He waited for his birthday in the pool; I suspect he was chatting with his girlfriend until midnight.

The entire experience was truly unforgettable especially due to the heated and lighted infinity pool, not to mention the creepy road on our way here, lol. The following day we had a sumptuous breakfast and fortunately deep fried "Tawilis" was already available. We checked-out early and drove around the lake towards Tagaytay City to celebrate my eldest son's birthday at Josephine Restaurant.

Given a chance, the family would love to come back here. I hope, Noni's Resort has been spared by ashfall from the recent Taal eruption.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Day trip to Norh Coast from Ximen - Yehliu Geopark, Jiufen, Shifen & Golden Waterfall

The wife and I booked a day trip to Taiwan's north coast through Klook.

The meeting point is near Ximen MRT Station which is coincidentally near our hotel.

The area is crowded because this is also the meeting point of other tour operators; no worries since the coordinator would be holding a sign and announcing their tour company and destination.

Since it was an early morning trip, there were less traffics in going out of Taipei City. The lady tour guide tried her best to explain everything about our trip. She even acted as our photographer. Surprisingly, almost all of us in the tour group are Filipinos. There were around three who were of different nationalities.

Geological Rock Formations

Restricted Area

Yehliu Geopark

Our first destination was Yehliu Geopark. At that time there was a slight drizzle aside from strong sea breeze so we were not able to explore the entire area but nevertheless we had plenty of times to enjoy the views and the astounding rock formations. Some of the visitors purchased raincoats from the vendors; our umbrella didn't hold out in such strong winds so we preferred to loiter near the observatory deck. There is a famous rock formation and they called it "The Queen's Head" since it really looks like a head of a queen. We stayed here for an hour.

Golden Waterfalls

Next in line was the Ying Yang Sea. It seemed that this is an abandoned military camp facing the sea. After a few minutes of sightseeing we proceeded to Golden Waterfall. The guide has explained to us that the golden color of the waterfall was due to certain mineral or chemical; nothing especial actually in this area. We stayed here for a couple of minutes.

After a while, we reached the old street of Jiufen. We stayed here for around two hours. Since it was raining we found it hard to find a place to take our lunch. We ended up taking a bowl of steaming hot soup with dimsum and noodles. Shops selling different local delicacies and souvenir items lined-up the main street while old houses serve as food shops. We strolled along the crowded main street and bought sweets and souvenir items. Since it was chilly due to rain we opted to spend our free time and have a cup of coffee at Family Mart if I remember it correctly. If not for the rain we would have fully enjoyed the place.

There goes our sky lantern

The last on our trip itinerary is the old railway of Shifen. Before reaching the place our guide passed a list where we can select the number of colors our sky lantern would be, each color represents something good; we selected 4 colors. Upon disembarking at Shifen, we were lucky to witness an actual train passing.

We followed our guide to the shop where our sky lantern has been prepared; the staff showed us the sky lantern that we reserved and paid; the more color you choose the more expensive the sky lantern. We wrote on the four side of the sky lantern and waited for our turn to release it. Soon afterwards, one of their staff brought our sky lantern outside and started to light the small burner or candle while another staff acted as our photographer. It was a well-coordinated move so in no time at all we got plenty of selfies and our sky lantern flew together with our money, lol.

All told, it was a memorable experience for both of us since it was our first time to light a sky lantern and see the local cultures of Taiwanese people in a pretty convenient and safe way. I just hope that what we wrote or wished on the sky lantern would come true for this year.

For more details about this day trip see: Yehliu Geopark Shuttle Bus

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Westgate Hotel - Ximending, Taipei

I am going to be straight forward and enumerate why I recommend this hotel:

1. Bus station is 5 min walk

- We came here from the airport by bus. It was pretty cheap and convenient since you don't need to transfer unlike when you travel by train. Get on the bus with your luggage; get off the bus and walk for around 50 meter. That's it! No worries since Ximen bus station is right after the Taipei Main (Bus) Station.

2. Ximending MRT Station is just around the corner

- The MRT station is just around the corner. In fact, it is much nearer than the bus station.

3. Ximending district is at the backside of the hotel

Crowds are usually present here - taken early morning

- Ximending is just right at the back of the hotel. Very eager to have a selfie at Ximending? Then this is the place to be. This area is always crowded with people vying for a solo shot. Stay at this hotel and you can run to this place right after you wake up, lol.

- Restaurants, fast foods and shops abound within 100 meters.

4. Top notch hotel facilities and services

Typical Asian breakfast

- Secured entry due to key card access even at the elevator
- Strong WiFi signal even inside the room
- Spacious room
- Complete amenities
- Decent breakfast
- And my first time to use a multi-point shower heads. I don't really know how it is called but you can select whether to use the overhead, upper body or lower body shower. Hence, you don't need shower cap anymore.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village day Trip - Taichung, Taiwan

Since public transportation in Taichuung is limited, we opted to join a group tour. The wife booked this day trip through Klook. We were about twenty tourists and many of them were from the Philippines.

The meeting place is at Exit 6 of Taichung Station.

The wife and I left Taipei City early morning and travelled to Taichung by THSR high-speed train; we booked our THSR ticket through Klook too. To be honest, we find it pretty convenient and secure booking most of our trip activities from Klook.

The bus arrived on time with English speaking and courteous guide.

Aerial view of Sun Moon Lake


We disembarked at Sun Moon Lake Cable Car Station. We used the cable car in going to the Formosan Aboriginal Village. All admission fees including cable car and park entrance are included in the tour package except foods and drinks.

Meteor Garden Mansion?
We visited the place during "lean season" thus; the entire park was devoid of the usual crowds you see at many theme parks. Though we missed the Cherry blossoms, we enjoyed the tranquillity of the place and the performance of the aborigines, which was the highlight of our trip. Moreover, the wife told me that "Meteor Garden" TV series used the castle like structure inside the park if I remember it correctly.

Since it was lean season, it took us some time to locate the restaurant since some of them are closed. Fortunately, we had park map with us. On the other hand, we enjoyed the different rides and attractions inside the park.

After spending a couple of hours inside the theme park including watching the aboriginal culture village performance, we decided to return to Sun Moon Lake Cable Car station where our bus was waiting and had some snacks.

This place is quite stunning especially when the weather is clear. The wife loves this shot.


At exactly 4PM, we left the Sun Moon Lake cable car station and proceeded to Sun Moon Lake's Wenwu Temple. I have visited countless Buddhist temples but this one is massive compared to other temples.

At 4:40PM, our group left and returned to Taichung Station. From here, we boarded a THSR going back to Taipei. Actually, our trip was supposed to be at 6PM but they allowed us to take the 5:30PM trip.

Sun Moon Lake has its own magic and charm compared with other attractions in Taichung. It is like admiring the beauty of Taal Lake minus the volcano and condos.

For complete details of this trip, refer to Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village Day Trip - Taichung