Sunday, February 28, 2016

Puka Beach

The highlight on my last day in Boracay was a quick trip to the far end of the island, to Puka Beach. It is named after the puka shells which made up most of the beach. I took my drone there as well, and I was able to take several breathtaking photos.

White Beach Ninja

I brought my drone to Boracay because I wanted to take photos of the island from a different vantage point. I also know that White Beach will be too crowded, and flying a drone safely can be tricky. I have a suspicion too that it might not be even allowed.

White Beach, facing Willy's Rock

So what I did was I woke up early, before 8 am and set down to the far end of the beach, towards Willy's Rock. I found a patch of the beach (it was also low tide, which gave me a bigger real estate where to launch) where there's not a lot of people, and assembled to drone there. I launched it as soon I have it ready and flew it to about 60-65 meters and took photos and a video of white beach. I thought I had the money shot for the whole trip.

Drone selfie

I packed up as soon as I had the photos, and went back to the hotel for breakfast.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Dive and Paddle

It was raining hard like half the day in Boracay. We thought Arvy's flight will be canceled (I heard some flight were). Luckily the flight pushed through and Arvy arrived in Boracay late noon. After lunch we went to the beach and decided to do helmet diving. I thought it's something we won't be doing any more because both of us had experience scuba diving already, but it was a kind of different experience altogether.

From Station 1 we were whisked to a platform at the sea, and then we were given instructions on what to do and expect while helmet diving. It's like a diving bell of old, only that it has a clear face plate so you can see, and the helmet resembles the headgear of a hydrocephalic Stormtrooper. It's heavy too - 35 kilos normally, but we were told it will weigh like 2kg underwater. As soon as I descended I realized that I haven't scuba dived for a while. I had difficulty equalizing and my ears hurt like crazy for a while.

We spend about 15 minutes under water. There were some underwater sculptures there and we fed the fish too, which is always cool. Arvy went up first after a while then I signaled that I was ready to go up too.

Back in terra firma we went walking in the beach again until somebody offered to rent out a stand-up paddleboard. I took up his offer and I spent about an hour paddling. It was better than the last time I tried it in San Juan. I was able control and make turns better, and I didn't fell off as much.

I was famished afterwards; we had dinner at an Indian restaurant called True Food before retiring in our room. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Boracay Again

I'm currently in Boracay for a three-day weekend. This is my fourth trip to the island, the first of which was in 1999, then in 2007, then in 2013. Incidentally the trip in 2007 was the one that started this wanderlust of mine. It was after I spent my birthday week here that I started making trips almost every month until now.

I flew here via Skyjet Air, which uses a British Aerospace BAe-146 regional jet (I flew on the same airline last December to Busuanga). The plane was late, so my initial plan of scouting a place in Puka Beach for launching a drone was scuttled. I spent most of the afternoon just walking around White Beach, and I got a massage in the evening after dinner.

Boracay still has its charms but it seems to be getting more crowded everytime I come here. It has gotten too mainstream also, the McDonald's and Starbucks can attest to that. There are also a lot of visitors from mainland China now (before it was the Russians, then Koreans, who frequented the island). I noticed that they spend a lot too; they buy even the lamest touristy trinket on sale. Which is good for the local economy I guess.

I am staying in Hey Jude, which was just a bar before. The place is adequate, I chose only the standard room when I booked. The WiFi isn't working so I am blogging using my 4G connection. I wanted to check out Epic but I might just turn in early tonight.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Boarding and No Liquid Policy

I got through the whole check-in and immigration process with no snags until I got to the final security check. I didn't realize that ICN is very strict with the 100-ml limit for liquids. I hand-carried Silvia and Min's New Year's gift for me, an LG box (I didn't know LG also manufactures cosmetics and toiletries) of shampoo, conditioner and toiletries, and they caught it in security check. Since the 3 bottles of shampoo and conditioner is already equal to 600 ml (and I'm also carrying a bottle of contact lens fluid in my handcarry, I was given the choice of going back to the check-in counter or have them confiscated. I opted for the latter since I don't want to fall in line again (sorry Silvia).

I am now at the boarding gate waiting for my flight. I'm still bummed about losing three bottles of shampoo. 

Gangnam Style

After packing my luggage I made two quick trips today, before I head out to the airport. First, around noon, I went back to Namdaemun market to pick up some pasalubong - a shirt for my brother, ref magnet with "Seoul" for my mom, and aome colorful socks that seems to be in rage in Seoul now. The area is mostly empty, because it's the Chinese New Year.

From there I went to check out Gangnam, the area in Seoul with the most expensive real estate prices. One could say this is the playground of the 1%, and made famous by that eponymoua song by Korean artist Psy. It did look the park, probably rivaling Fifth Avenue or the Magnificent Mile. It probably more dazzling in the evenings, unlike during a hazy, cold afternoon when I went there.

From Gangnam I went back to the hostel to pick up my stuff and continued on to Incheon Airport. My flight is around 9pm local time so I may have to find creative ways to kill time while I'm there.

And the airport is quite impressive, probably better than Changi or Chep Lap Kok. Any American airport won't be able to hold a candle compared to this one I think.

The xheck in counter is atill closed when I arrived so I ate at a cafe called Paris Baguette. I noticed that they use a lot of foreign wotds, like Fremch, for foreign branding in Korea (the chain Tous Le Jours comes to mind). Their cheese Danish is delicious.

Reconnecting with Old Friends

Chef Chaouen,
Samcheong-Dong , 9 pm Feb 7

When I was in college I tutor Korean students to augment my allowance. Two of my students were Min and Silvia. They met in Manila and eventually got married and have two kids. I met them (and their family) today in Seoul after so many years. We met at a hip resto owned by Min's brother, in a gentrified neighborhood called Samcheong-dong . He closed it down early so they can host me; i felt so honored for that. I was great to reconnect with them after a long time. We got to chat over a nice dinner (another one for the night, and more soju!). In a way they were the travelers before and I have met them again, with me doing the traveling this time. What's a better travel story than that? 

Samgyeopsal and Soju

Hongdae, 7pm, Feb 7

The owner of the hostel invited us guests to have dinner in a local restaurant in Hongdae serving very delicious samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly slices served with kimchi, garlic, lettuce leaves, and mushrooms). We washed it down with soju and beer. It was a great time to bond with my fellow guests at the hostel and some locals, and a great way to sate my hunger after the whole day at the ski resort. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

The Unintended Trip to Incheon

I somehow doing an unintended trip in Incheon today.

I got up around eight and I got to the Gangbyeon station to get a bus to Jisan ski resort. I got on the bus to Incheon, thinking that it was the immediate stop before that, but I got the rude awakening when I asked the tourist officer inside the Incheon bus terminal that I should be in Icheon.

 It was already almost twelve by then that I decided to just put off the ski trip for another day and instead go back to Seoul. I took another bus (the red one with 1400 number) and it went through the city that it felt like I boarded a tour bus. The unintended tour actually made it less the booboo less sucky.

When I got to the hostel I talked to the owner, DJ, who then helped me book a day ski trip to Jisan but one which I will be picked up from the hostel so it will save me the trouble of commuting by myself. It's also cheaper that the published rates on the website too. Added bonus to make up for today: DJ cooked some lunch and served me a big portion, and he gave me a pack of Mycoal handwarmers as a gift. 

Friday, February 5, 2016


Changdeokgung is the first UNESCO World Heritage site that I visited in South Korea, and my ninth overall.

As I mentioned Changeokgung was a palace constructed in 1405 by the Joseon dynasty, which ruled  Korea for five centuries, starting in the 14th century. The palace was initially built to function as a secondary one, but its role eventually got more important to the royalty.

It was late in the afternoon when I arrived at the complex; I had difficulty navigating and decoding the subway map at first. It was also starting to get cold, according to Google Now the temp when I was there was 1°C but felt like -1°C due to wind chill factor. I find it hard to take pictures; either I fumble with the gloves on, or my fingers feel like freezing whenever I take them off to click the shutter.

There weren't a lot of visitors when I was there. There were a young Korean couple in costume taking selfies, and a very noisy mainlander. The couple even asked me to take their photo when I passed them by.

I explored the complex by going from one building to the other. The visit to the palace was actually my introduction to Korean history. I don't remember it was mentioned substantially when I was taking up North Asian history in UP. Of course their history is tied up with Japan's and China's, though I understand that it is an sensitive topic even until now.

I got as far as the residence of the king's concubine. There was a section called The Secret Garden, which was the area where the royalty used to relax, but I didn't get the ticket for it, so basically my exploration ended in the concubine's house.

I am planning to visit a few more historical landmarks in Seoul in the coming days so I hope that my understanding of Korea's history and culture will further deepen by then. 

South Korea, Day 1

February 5, 5:53am, Sky View Lounge

My first trip of the year is off to a start. I'm already done with my check-in and immigration procedures, and I'm currently having some breakfast at the Sky View Lounge in NAIA T3 while waiting for boarding. I got in as a perk for my card, which is great since I don't have to buy ny grub and it's so much nicer to wait while seating in padded seats away from the crowds in the boarding gates. I'm flying AirAsia Zest, a budget airline, and I'm waiting for my flight inside a business class lounge. Langit at lupa, as they say in Filipino.

I'll be boarding in about 30 minutes so my next update will be when I land in ICN.

12 noon, Incheon International Airport.

We landed ahead of schedule. Going through immigration was a breeze, and I was able to buy a top-up subway card and a ticket for A'Rex, the high-speed train going to Seoul. I was impressed by how modern the station is. The service is also very efficient, and fast. We left around 1:30pm

2:12pm Seoul Station
This is the last and only stop of the A'Rex service. I need to get another train to Hongdae, where my hostel is.

3:00pm Time Travelers Party Hostel
I was finally able to find the hostel. I had to take a detour to a Starbucks near the Hongik Station so I can get some hot macchiato, WiFi, and find my bearings. The person manning the concierge is an Aussie named Troy. He's helpful enough, and I asked him about where to sign up for the DMZ tour. After checking in I went up my room to freshen up and fix my things. I will be going round the city after this.

4:00pm Changdeokgung
After wasting some time finding the right line and station to get on and off I finally was able to locate and reach the Changdeokgung via subway. The palace was constructed in 1405 by the Joseon dynasty. The complex was composed of several buildings, including a throne hall, the residences of the king, the crown prince, the queen and the king's concubine. There was also a secret garden where the royalty relaxed.

It was almost dusk when I was done exploring the complex so I didn't go on to the next on my list. I went back to the hostel instead, dropping by a local restaurant to grab some dinner.

8:00pm, Hongdae
After dinner I took a shower to freshen up (even if it was -1°C outside). I recharged the battery of my phone, and went down to the common area of the hostel to talk to Troy about how to get to Jisan, which I plan to visit tomorrow.

After our conversation I went out to explore the area around Hongdae. It was bustling, the crowd mostly young people from the universities around it. The area is full of pubs, caf├ęs, restaurants and shops, like that one above that sells lingerie. I got too deep into exploring the area that I forgot where I started and wasn't able to go back right away. Good thing there was free public WiFi in the area and I was able to get my bearings using Google Maps. After a while I got back to the hostel to call it a day.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Hello, world.

Welcome to my new travel blog. I decided to have a new one since I thought that the, unintentionally or otherwise, has morped into a travel guide of sorts, and the spontaneous stuff that I wanted to tell about my trips would seem out of place in there already. I also wanted to have a blog where I can concentrate with telling my adventures while on the road and not worry about SEOs and how it would rank in the SERPs. I am also tired of trying to come up with click-bait posts in the quest for more views, and I'd like to go back to the original intent of having a travel blog - to tell travel stories. 

While I will still maintain the other travel blog, this one will be updated more often, while I am traveling, akin to an online diary or a live blog. I will reserve Boarding Gate to featuring places and activities that I think could be interesting to the readers, while here I will be writing "live" updates during the trips, and will concentrate on stories and musings that generally won't fit in a travel guide-type blog. 

With that I am launching this blog to coincide with my first foreign trip of the year (and my first abroad since I visited Thailand with my mom last April 2015). Tomorrow I am flying to Seoul, South Korea. I will be posting updates here for my first visit to that country, so keep posted on those. I'm also planning several trips for this year so I think this blog will be busy.