Category: Travel

Taiwan National Theatre

6 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Went to Taiwan 

I’ve never been outside the country until last month. I’ve always had this irrational fear of traveling by plane, which has kept me from visiting many places (that, and time and money haha). This year, I wanted to change that, so I tagged along with my friends’ trip to the heart of Asia.

What’s in Taiwan, anyway? Many Filipinos think that there are only two things in this country: factories and beef noodles. Although I knew that there’s a lot more to Taiwan than Meteor Garden and tea, I admit that I didn’t know enough. I could have had more fun if I prepared for my trip properly. Here are six important things I wish someone had told me before I went:

1. It’s very helpful to learn basic Mandarin, but not really necessary.

Actually, it just felt like it’s impolite not to learn the language. It’s also a mighty inconvenience not being able to communicate when you need to transfer trains, order food, buy something from the store, or look for the right bus station.

In our experience, however, getting around was not as difficult as I imagined it would be. The Taiwanese are very friendly and kind; we’ve never met any person, even in the countryside, who wasn’t willing to help us. I’m not even exaggerating.

Fenqihu Station

2. Keep a good offline map with names of places in English and Mandarin.

Mostly for your peace of mind. It’s overwhelming to hear the public announcements while onboard a train and not understand a thing. So if you’re a worrier like me, do get a map so you don’t have to feel anxious while commuting. 

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Almost everything’s in Mandarin, so it’s important to be assertive and ask questions if you need help. Given the language barrier, I recommend that you print out a list of basic phrases in Mandarin and English as a guide to help you speak with the locals.

Alishan trail

4. Have enough travel funds.

You’ll never know when you’ll need extra money. And in a city like Taipei, that could mean all the time. It’s not as expensive as most modern cities, but there are just too many shops selling delicious food and trendy dresses at bargain prices that you’ll wish you’d brought more cash. More importantly, if you plan to visit during the typhoon season, there’s always a possibility that flights will be cancelled due to bad weather, so it’s best to be ready with extra cash.

5. Do your research.

I can’t stress this enough. How else will you know where to get the best peanut ice cream or taro balls in Taipei? If I had done my research, I’m sure I would have saved a lot of time and effort. I didn’t even know where to get pasalubong.

Taroko Pebble Beach

6. Prepare to fall in love with the beauty of Taiwan.

I’ve always wanted to visit Taiwan. I don’t speak Mandarin, never cared enough about Chinese history (except in high school), but I’ve read enough articles and academic publications from students and professionals from my previous editing job. These studies aroused my curiosity in Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong and Mainland China. (Weird, I know.) Nevertheless, it was only when I got to travel to the country that I was finally convinced of the beauty of this nation.

Next week, I’ll post more about my experience in the different Taiwanese cities that I’ve visited. Stay tuned!

Hinatuan Enchanted River

Surigao del Sur – Hinatuan’s Enchanted River

What’s so enchanting about the river in Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur? In 2014, my friends and I went to the sleepy town of Talisay to see the famous Enchanted River and find out for ourselves.

Earlier in the day, we rented a van in Agusan del Norte for our tour around the province of Surigao del Sur. We went to the Enchanted River after visiting Tinuy-an Falls and the International Doll House in Bislig. Thereafter, we set off on a one-hour ride to Hinatuan, where the Enchanted River can be found.



Since we arrived in the afternoon, there were already many tourists in the area. For a P30 entrance fee per person, we were allowed access to the stream. Right behind the wooden view deck was a series of stone steps which lead to the left bank of the river. The water beckons, clear and glistening with hundreds of fishes zipping back and forth just beneath the surface.

Enchanted River

Where Fairies Play

With its ethereal charm, the Enchanted River has inspired many local legends. Stories about fairies and spirits frolicking in the waters abound among locals, and many believe that the fish swimming lazily in the river cannot be caught. Some say that the river got its deep sapphire color from the spirits who serve as its guardians.

According to the locals, no one knows how deep the river goes. In the past, divers have been able to reach about 80 ft., and what lies beyond that depth remains a mystery. In 2010, professional divers have discovered an underwater cave hidden from sight 30 ft. below the surface. Unfortunately, in another expedition in 2014, one of the divers died of cardiac arrest while inside the narrow tunnel connecting the mouth of the cave to an inner chamber, which they had been exploring.

If you want to have an idea what it looks like to swim in this river, here’s a short video shot and edited by my friend Lovely. (This film also includes the other places we’ve visited in Mindanao.)

Mindanao 2014 from Lovely Carranza on Vimeo.

Who knows what these brackish waters hide in its depths? Can the fish in the river really avoid capture? We can only guess.

Taipei skyline

How to Apply for a Taiwan Visa with a Philippine Passport

UPDATE: In April 2017, Taiwan relaxed its visa policies for Brunei, Thai, and Filipino citizens. Please visit the TECO website for the latest news.

Getting a Taiwan visa can be daunting if you don’t know where to start. If you’re planning to fly to Taipei anytime soon, you need to secure either a visa or a travel authorization certificate. Fortunately, the application process for getting these documents is simple enough.

Continue reading “How to Apply for a Taiwan Visa with a Philippine Passport”

Tinuy-an Falls

Surigao del Sur – Bislig City

When my friends said that we were going to Bislig in Surigao del Sur two years ago, I honestly thought we were going surfing (which I absolutely hate). I didn’t know that there was more to this province than its breathtaking beaches. I only learned about the fascinating culture of the local communities then.

Here are two of some of the tourist attractions in Surigao del Sur that I highly recommend. (Note that my friends and I visited these places in 2014, so the rates may have changed.)

Tinuy-an Falls marker
Tinuy-an Park Entrance. Photo by Lovely

Tinuy-an Falls

The most beautiful waterfalls in the country, Tinuy-an Falls is flanked by lush thickets and tall, century-old trees, making it a perfect site for birdwatching. Its cool, shallow pools are ideal for swimming and bathing. This majestic natural formation can be found in Burboanan, Bislig City.

Tinuy-an Falls

Dubbed by many websites and magazine articles as the Niagara Falls of the Philippines, Tinuy-an Falls is composed of several tiers of cascading waterfalls that are awesome to behold. We explored these falls with the help of our guide.

Tinuy-an Falls
Tinuy-an’s third tier

Every year, tribal folks perform a ritual called Diwatahan to honor the unseen spirits of the thick forests surrounding the waterfalls. In this ritual, the spiritual leader of the Manobo tribe living in the jungles offer the blood of a live chicken and a pig to please the kind spirits. This ceremony is usually held on the same day when Bislig City celebrates its (Christian) feast day.

Tinuy-an Falls
My friends, horsing around

How Tinuy-an Got Its Name

The word tinuy-an was derived from “tinuyo-an,” which is a Visayan word that translates to “an intentional act or performance to attain an objective or goal.” According to legend, two enslaved Manobos plotted to kill their cruel masters by driving them off the waterfalls, which is a 50-meter drop. They intentionally rowed their masters’ raft towards the edge of the falls, thus the name.

Tinuy-an Falls
Tinuy-an’s fourth tier

Tinuy-an Falls

Things to Remember

  • The entrance fee for adult visitors is P50. Children below 7 years get in for free.
  • You can rent a raft for 30 minutes for only P150. If you don’t feel confident about your swimming skill, you can rent a life jacket for an hour for P30.
  • Cottages and tables are available for those who want to have a picnic there.
Ocean View, Bislig
View from the, hehe, Ocean View Park Restaurant

(We didn’t have lunch in Burboanan because we wanted to try the restaurant in our next destination. Try it when you visit Bislig; I liked their schnitzel and their curry pasta.)

International Doll House

After having lunch at Ocean View Park Restaurant, we headed to the International Doll House, which was right next door. For a small fee (P20), we were able to view hundreds of vintage toy cars,  and porcelain cups and saucers on display.

International Doll House, Bislig
Photo by Lovely

Of course, there were dolls from every corner of the world — from limited edition Barbies to Javanese shadow puppets. Needless to say, I loved everything about this museum!

International Doll House in Bislig

International Doll House in Bislig

International Doll House in Bislig

International Doll House

The International Doll House is open from Tuesday to Sunday, from 10 AM to 7 PM. For inquiries, contact Werner, Ruelaine, or Geraldine at (+63) 86-853-4061 or (+63) 910-321-2568.

Next week, I’ll write about the last leg of our adventure in Surigao del Sur. Yehey!

Naked Island

Surigao del Sur – Britania Islands

Two years ago, one of my friends told me that the best beaches in the Philippines could be found in the islets of Britania, which was in the municipality of San Agustin, Surigao del Sur. At that time, my friends and I had been exploring the province; it was the last stretch of our backpacking trip across Mindanao. At first, I thought he was probably just bragging about his hometown (he lived in northern Mindanao). He couldn’t have been more right.

Britania Islands

We went to San Agustin in our rented van after visiting Bislig and Hinatuan. My friends booked a room at Mac Arthur’s Place, a resort facing Lianga Bay. During our stay, there was no power and the showers were hardly working, but we didn’t mind — we kind of expected that. Rotating power outages were common in Mindanao in 2014.

San Agustin, Surigao

Where the Best Unspoiled Beaches Are

We started our day early so that we could visit the first island on our list before the tide rises. For P1300, we were able to rent a boat to take us on a tour of the islets. For more than half a day, we explored several of the larger islets in the area.

San Agustin, Surigao

We asked the folks at the resort to prepare our lunch, which we brought with us on the boat.

San Agustin, Surigao

Our first stop was the Naked Island, which was a ~300-meter bare strip of sand. (I still remember how the waves crashed on either side of the tiny islet. Breathtaking.)

Naked Island, Surigao del Sur

Best Island-Hopping Experience, Bar None

It’s no exaggeration: the most beautiful, pristine beaches in our country can be found in Britania Islands. And there are no loud, littering crowds who will spoil the view for you. Many of the tourists that we encountered were locals, and they are very friendly, unlike in other beaches I’ve been to.

I loved every minute I spent there. I’ve never seen such crystal clear waters and powdery white sand before. If you’re not convinced yet, I’ll just let my pictures do the talking. 

Britania Islands

Britania Islands

Britania Islands, Surigao

Britania Islands

Britania Islands, Surigao

If I had all the time in the world, I’ll hop on a plane to Butuan and ride a habal-habal to San Agustin. I’d stay in Britania for a week and forget about all the drama in Manila. Indeed, one day was not enough for me to soak in the beauty of the place.

Photos by Grace Octavo and Lovely Carranza

Escolta, Manila

Why Philippines

I think we can all agree that 2016 is the worst year of the decade yet. In the Philippines, we just had ten stressful months where friendships and loyalties were tested. 

Conversations on social media felt a lot like a GE class where you had to listen to petty arguments by your know-it-all classmate, and watch your more intelligent peers fail to get through to him. (It still feels that way.)

I’ve read many posts by members of the intellectual elite, saying how they’ve given up on the Philippines after all the drama and the embarrassing display of stupidity. They’re very persuasive. But I refuse to give up on my fellow Filipinos. I still want to believe that we still have in us what Bonifacio saw when he chose Maypagasa as his nom de guerre. Besides, our solidarity with other human beings should not depend on where our national borders rest.

Today, I’m going to share photos I’ve collected over the past two years that remind me of why I’m proud to be a Filipino. 🙂

Coffee farmers
Coffee farmers from Atok, Benguet

For three generations, this family has been cultivating coffee beans. They still plant, grow, harvest, and roast the beans in the traditional way. (I still have some ground coffee beans I bought from this family. I keep it where I can see it every morning at home.)

Ifugao kids
Children from Banaue, Ifugao

These kids were waving at us before I took this photo. We were on top of a jeepney on our way to Batad, and they waved when they saw us. I thought Ifugao kids were friendly only to foreign tourists haha.

Atok, Benguet
Storytelling time with Igorot children

In 2014, I joined an outreach/immersion program in Benguet where we helped coffee farmers in harvesting beans. We also had a storytelling session for their kids in the afternoon. I know that at any time of the year, there are many ongoing efforts such as this, and it makes my heart swell.

Rosario, Zambales
Ducks in Rosario, Zambales

(No reason for this. I just like this photo because I took it during a time when I was overwhelmed with work. That trip convinced me that I don’t need to complicate my life. I can always pack up and leave the city behind. Life in the province is so much less stressful.)

T'boli children in Lake Sebu
T’boli children with my friends

We met these children when we visited Lake Sebu in South Cotabato. I’ve never met kids like them who are proud of their heritage and culture.

Masinloc, Zambales
Fisherfolk from Masinloc, Zambales

I took this photo last summer in Masinloc, Zambales. My mom and our family’s close friends were having dinner in a park while watching the sunset over the West Philippine Sea. It was an unforgettable moment for me.

How about you? Are you still proud to be Filipino?

Honesty Coffee Shop

5 Tips on How You Can Save on Your Next Trip to Batanes

A little more than two years ago, I visited Batanes for the first time. It was a life-changing experience, something that I often recall when I’m sad (or in unspeakable pain, as when I got my second tattoo on my chest). Needless to say, I loved everything about my trip to the islands of Batan and Sabtang.

Sabtang Island
Except for my awkward photos, obviously.

Batanes has always been a part of my bucket list. I know that many Filipinos want to visit Batanes, too, but they are intimidated by the steep price of the airfare and the tour packages. And that’s perfectly understandable — a trip to Basco can never be easy on the pocketbook. Nevertheless, with proper planning and preparation, we can actually experience the beauty of Batan and Sabtang on a shoestring budget. Here’s how:

PAL express
Photo by Grace Anne

1. Find a way to score cheap airline tickets.

Located at the northernmost tip of the country, Batanes is not as accessible as other provinces. For this reason, there are limited flights to Basco, and only two airlines (SkyJet and Philippine Airlines via PAL Express) fly there.

As of writing, a roundtrip ticket to Basco in November will cost you anywhere from P9,800 to P11,600. In one of the seat sales held by PAL in 2013, we were able to hook a roundtrip flight for P7,407. In some travel expos, you can get tickets for a lot less than that. You just have to be on the lookout for such promos.

2. Look for a homestay.

We stayed at Marfel’s Lodge (+63908-893-1475), which was a stone’s throw away from Basco airport. Not only was it cheaper to stay here, we were also able to feel very much at home in Ate Fe’s cozy rooms.

Marfel Lodge
Marfel Lodge

3. Prepare your own meals.

Another benefit of choosing a homestay over a hotel is that you could cook your own meals (for a small fee). In our case, though, I’m not sure if preparing our own meals has significantly helped us in stretching our limited budget. It was fun, though. 

4. Go DIY!

Rather than book a tour with a travel agency, why not go DIY? For a customized itinerary, you can get in touch with Kuya Lito (+63918-216-7440), our tricycle driver who toured us around the island.

We were lucky to have met him on our first day in Basco. If not for him, we may have never seen these hidden spots in Batan:

Diura's fountain of youth
Diura’s fountain of youth
View from the roadside
Mahatao Lighthouse
Mahatao lighthouse
Mahatao Library
Mahatao’s library of blank books

5. Skip the pasalubong.

This may be hard for a lot of us who are used to buying pasalubong for family and friends. We’re just programmed to do that. In any case, Batanes doesn’t have much to offer in terms of tokens and trinkets that one can keep as a souvenir anyway.

Ivatan onions
This is one of the island’s top products, which you can’t even bring with you in your plane ride home.

If you really want to take home a piece of Batanes for your friends, you may want to visit Yaru nu Artes, where contemporary Ivatan artworks are on display. Most, if not all, of the paintings there are for sale.

Yaru nu Artes Ivatan
At Yaru nu Artes Ivatan

Overall, I spent about P12,500, including airfare, food, and accommodation. I even bought a painting the size of a postcard.

Do you have other suggestions on how to save while in Batanes? Share your ideas with us in the comments section!

📷 by Anne Gonda