The very moment you ask for directions in Japan you have a personal guide. Almost every time we asked for the way we were taken by the hand and directly brought to our destination. And that is only one example of the extrem japanese friendliness.
As we found out there is no better way to start your day than having Udon for breakfast at 12 am. Udon is mostly served hot as a noodle soup in a mildly flavored broth. Because of the language barrier we ordered Udon with ? (no idea) but both of our meals turned out to be amazing and for only 350 Yen (around 2,50€) a true bargain.
We highly recommand buying the so called “Osaka amazing pass 3 days” for only 3000 Yen (21€) which allows you to have unlimited rides on trains and buses without paying admission to 28 popular tourist sites.
After arriving late and nearly freezing to death (-14 degrees) we found our cute little hostel in the student area close to Hongik University called Hondaeg. The room was small as expected but the bunk beds were really comfy. The best thing – it was really really warm.
The next day started off with quite some sightseeing. Close to the Gwanghwamun Gate there is a great area with lots of nice little cafes, shops and restaurants. We heated up in a cute cafe before more sightseeing had to accomplished.
Exhausted and craving for good food we found an authentic korean barbeque place with only locals. Neither couldn´t we read the menu nor did we have any idea what to order. So we asked the waitress to decide for us. In the middle of the table was a built-in barbeque. Different types of meat, rice in a bamboo bowl and some other things were served to us. Having no idea how to eat it the right way we just copied our neigbours and wrap the meat with lettuce and added condiments such as – pajoeri (spicy scallion salad) and samjang (a spicy paste made of doenjang mixed with gochujang). The copy function worked very well besides the copied order of “suju” we saw on a neighboring table. Cheap alcohol with 20% (300ml for 3000kRP = 2,5€).
The next day the best tour guide ever (Niels) took me for a long walk along the Han River. The only thing he forgot about was how to get back. Completely freezing and nearly starved we found the way to the next subway station after 2,5 hours of walking. For the sunset we went for the famous “N Seoul tower” with popcorn and drinks.
On our lazy day we we took the hop-on hop-off bus but it wasn’t really worth it because most of the sights we already explored before. In Itaewon (expat area) we found a great South African-run restaurant (Braai Republic) serving traditional South African food. After walking through the door the South African hospitality and the great vibe of that place grabbed us. We chatted for an eternity with the owner Rotney who is amazingly friendly. The food was awesome (Sausages and lamm chops with mashed potato and a local salad). Strenghend from the food the exploration continued until night. In the evening we went out with two people from our hostel and explored the crazy night life in Hondgae.
After a long night out Eva needed coffee in the morning and we only made it to a cafe / library around the corner. It felt like university again. After the coffee some history was on the agenda (e.g. war memorial museum).
Do you know what to order?
Taipei? Taipei! It wasn’t on our initial schedule but Niels decided he wanted to do a real city hopping tour once in his life. So here we were. First stop Taipei.
Being back in a real city with many amenities felt very good. Easy subway system, coffee shops, bars, restaurants and everything was clean. But with all the conveniences there also come disadvantages, especially when it comes to accommodation prices.
We were used to much better accommodations for lower prices (paying nearly half the price in Hanoi for a 3 Star Hotel including breakfast). Therefore, our new home was a little shocking. Only a mattress and hocks on the wall with a shared bathroom. But at least it was clean, the staff was very helpful with lots of good recommendations and after all we were living a normal backpacker’s life.
The next days we had dumplings and buns at the famous Din Tai Fun restaurant, visited the nightmarket, climbed the elephant mountain for a stunning view of the city and last but not least visited one of Niels favorite skyscrapers in the world: the Taipei 101. The most interesting thing it is the metal ball between the 88 and 92 floor which balances the movement if an earth quake happens. The ball weights 660 tons which is the same as 2 jumbo jets. In average 4000 earth quakes occur each year. On the 89the floor is a nice observation deck.
Evas version of the last day: we visited the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall and went on a ride with the Maokong Gondola. At the last stop you can have tea in a traditional tea shop while overlooking terraced green tea fields, or hike to temples with waterfalls. But because we were lagging time and the weather was bad we headed back very quickly.
Niels (correct) version of the last day: Evas description is correct for the most of it. She only left out the fact that she mixed up the departure date. So that we had to head back very quickly because we were believing that we were running out of time and might miss our flight. We didn’t because we were 1 (!!!) day early at the airport!
The Taipei 101 from different places
Our expectations were set rather low after visting the world famous underground river – so El Nido took us by surprise!
It is absolutely worth the visit – never mind the long and uncomfortable travel: 45 mins boat ride from the Coconut Garden Resort, another 2 hr jeepney tour and finally a local bus to El Nido for another 5 hours (of cause stopping in every single village). Including waiting time this might have been a record setting 10 hr trip for 180 km!
El Nido itself is not that special but the surrounding Bacuit Archipelago is. It’s an amazing archipelago consisting of immense limestone cliffs surrounded by crystal clear turquoise water inviting everyone for a snorkelling tour. Island hopping tours are the only way to explore the archipelago with its stunning lagoons. We booked the two most recommended ones (A and C) and weren’t disappointed. In the evenings we met with Dany and Layak (a Lebanese couple we met in a shisha bar) and Maaike and Marc (a Dutch couple we met on one of the tours).
Well, El Nido itself is not a bad place after all
Booking the accommodation for Port Barton gave us a hard time. Finally, we decided to stay at a place run by a half Swiss half German who offers some known Swiss dishes at his restaurant which we were dying for. Not giving up for 3 days Niels somehow managed to get in contact via Facebook (all other means of communication failed). Not sure if everything worked out we took a local minibus for 5 hours from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton – surprisingly a boat was awaiting us.
45 mins later a small island came into sight. The Cococnut Garden Resort was the only place on the island. Therefore, we enjoyed western dishes every day e.g. Gulasch with mashed potatoes or Schnitzel 😉 After traveling for almost 10 month you appreciate western food a lot. The place was a bit like a small zoo: dogs, cats, monkeys, ducks, ducklings and many more. We are not big fans of wild animals being locked up but in this case they only treated one injured monkey with her baby.
Since there was nothing to do besides eating, swimming, and playing cards it was all about being lazy without having a bad conscious.
View from our cottage Continue reading
Go to Sebang they said – it’s going to be amazing they said… Eva wanted to organize something special for Niels birthday and booked a full-day tour to the world famous underground river in Sabang. But small changes made a big difference. Instead of getting picked up at 8 am the pick-up got prescheduled to 7am – Niels is not exactly a big fan of getting up too early. But the tour was prepaid and it was our only chance to see the underground river. Being on Palawan and not seeing the undergrund river is like being in Paris without paying the Eifel Tower a visit.
The drive from Puerto Princesa took us around 2 hrs, arriving in Sebang we needed to wait for another hr before finally a small boat took us to the cave (3 1/2 hrs total travel time). The river winds its way through the cave for more than 4 km before emptying into the sea. But you can only go for the first 1,5 km. Inside the cave there are huge chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites. Thousands of bats hanging upside down from the ceiling. But to be honest the view from the outside is much prettier than the cave itself. Niels even requested a new birthday present….
Back in Puerto Princesa we walked around the city center and ended up in a shopping-mall where Niels found a play-area. Finally, there was some happiness. Aside from various Philippine means of transport which come in all shapes, colors and sizes there is not much to see in Puerto Princesa.
Outside view of the underground river