Subic 2017 || My best friend’s birthday!

I was supposed to post this once I was done with 15 Days of Writing True, but I unexpectedly hit a road block from writing every day. It usually takes me more than one sitting to work on something I’d be proud of because my process is usually – write while I’m emotional/whenever the ideas are there and just hack out all the content I can squeeze out of me (the best example of what I can come up with whenever I use my emotions as a writing guide). Then I take a couple of days to reread and polish whatever it is I made because I tend to forget whatever I’ve written down while I’m in the zone. Two weeks of churning out material daily have gotten me so frustrated and I made the decision to overcome the last five writing assignments on my own timing. Unfortunately, I cannot always be emotional. It’s a double-edged sword as I am never lukewarm when I emotions come into play. I am either detached or I dive into head first. It’s also how I curate my relationship to everything – I try to only surround myself with people I can look up to and people whose feelings are mutual with mine. You can only imagine what it means when I call someone my best friend. My non-athletic self will literally try outdoor activities for them. Which is exactly what I did when Gin wanted to celebrate her birthday by heading to Inflatable Island.

Since my work week ends on a Friday morning, I just needed to finish up before we made the long drive to Subic. The roads were surprisingly not clogged, and we arrived in Mansion Garden Hotel in Subic Bay Freeport Zone two hours early. The hotel’s location was central and it was easy to walk everywhere (if you’re a big fan of the sun, that is). I’ve never spent time in Subic before, and would usually end up on less crowded parts of Zambales, so this was a new experience for me. Our first order of business was to eat brunch in the hotel’s quaint cafe, Garden Cafe.

We didn’t have high expectations for our meal. It was affordable (we spent less than Php 300 each) and the pictures on the menu weren’t appetizing. However, the serving was huge. It doesn’t look like it but we really took a while to finish everything and we’re fast eaters. There wasn’t a need for a dip for my pork chop, and chicken boy sang praised for the gravy that came with his chicken. We were so excited for the hotel’s free breakfast, thinking the cafe would be the one catering it (they were not) and was disappointed when we had lackluster food the next day.

The hotel interior adhered to its’ garden theme and incorporated as much wood and plants into their decor. I personally like this color palette as it is very calming. I’m a fan of unconventional lighting and want their ceiling lights for my own home.

I believe that Subic has a building regulation where structures can only have a specific number of stories which is why the hotel has expanded by adding another building connected by a bridge. Nonetheless, the nature theme carried over to the newer building.

We had the Standard Deluxe Room which was the smallest room available. It wasn’t too cramped, but the bed was not for made for tall people. At all. I’m of average height and if I wiggle a little, my feet will enter that damned territory of ‘within-reach-when-a-monster-under-the-bed-decides-to-say-hello’.

When I stay in hotels, I rarely bring my own soap and shampoo and work on the assumption that the hotel will already have it. They did have a few available but we had to ask housekeeping for more shampoo because of ~*my hair*~.

All their rooms had a veranda and ours faced another hotel annex in the making. Even with the ongoing construction, it was surprisingly quiet inside our room until you open the veranda door. It was not bad at all.

Once the birthday girl arrived, we headed to Inflatable Island for some body pain. Going in to write about this, I imagined myself writing about how unprepared I was for this activity in a sarcastic manner, only to sit here and just write it as it is. I am so not fit.

We only bought two-hour passes for 4-6 in the afternoon which was not enough to go through all the obstacles, but enough for me to go home bruised and scratched up. We deposited our things in paid lockers which were brilliant for whoever owned this because everyone is bound to place their things in lockers. 😛

I think aside from the obstacles, the hardest part is actually going back on the inflatables via the styrofoam board. People tend to sit on it and it takes time for everyone to get up.

Once we were done, we relaxed on one of the beach bags while sipping fruit shakes. The downside is that the food stalls close early at almost the same time the inflatable island stops operation (6 PM). Therefore, if you end up hanging out here too late and have the need to ingest something, you need to bring your own.

There was a queue for the shower so we utilized the outdoor shower, and laid out a waterproof mat on the car so we can just bathe in our own hotel rooms. Although instead of showering, we went and had drinks while taking a dip in the pool. Once we all felt hungry, we walked to 1925 Gastropub. As usual, we had low expectations for the food but EVERYTHING WE ORDERED TASTED GREAT. I cannot remember what we ordered but we were super happy with everything. Both our boyfriends had beers while Gin and I had an entire bottle of champagne to ourselves. We did some math and came to the conclusion that if we drink at least three glasses each, it would cost about the same if we get the bottle. We’re far from being alcoholics, but we have an affinity for the bubbly. That we did not finish and had to take back to the hotel. 🙂

Overall, bruises aside, it was such a fun getaway. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have been part of Gin’s life for the past decade. We’ve gone through so much from being a couple of naive teenagers from the province. We’ve weathered fights, bad haircuts, a long distance friendship, really weird fashion choices, family problems, weight gain and weight loss (and we’re currently in weight gain again), messy breakups, health scares, spilling alcohol on bedsheets, and, times when our kilays were so not on fleek. She’s not just my best friend because she’s family. For her birthday, and the remaining 364 days of the year, all I wish for her is a life filled with so much love and happiness. ❤

Mansion Garden HotelDewey Avenue corner Bonifacio Street, Subic Bay Freeport Zone, Zambales, Philippines

Seoul 2016 || Insadong & Our Last Day in Seoul

Getting around to writing this post has filled me with mixed feelings. I’m relieved that I finally am writing the last one for this travel series, but disappointed that I only had a short amount of time to spend in South Korea. It has been quite a ride reliving the days I spent with friends in a foreign country. I am yet to have plans to do it again, but now that I know how much fun it could be, I can’t wait to have another go at a ‘friends trip’ again!

Since it was our last day, our first agenda was to get to Lotte Mart, buy all the Korean snacks, and head back to the apartment to pack and check out. Afterward, we were supposed to head to Gyeongbokgung Palace and wear hanboks while taking more awesome photos. It was supposed to be a chill day, where we don’t stress ourselves with our itinerary and schedule. We headed to Lotte Mart and stopped by a deli where we had our breakfast.

I’m unsure who among us kept attracting Murphy’s Law because when we got to Lotte Mart, it was still closed. We got confused because we timed our arrival with their opening time but we were an hour early. We were torn whether we should waste our time and wait for it to open or head somewhere else.

We decided to go to Insadong to burn some time until we had to go back to Lotte Mart. We’ve never been to Insadong but quickly found out that it was such a nice place to go shopping in. The streets are lined with quirky boutiques and interesting clothing stores.

I ended up buying a circle scarf in three colors. Ha! I actually saw one for sale at Everland for 21000 won, and bought almost a replica of it (same color) for 7000 won. Such a steal if you ask me! We passed by a boutique selling vintage-ish quality bags, and the three of them ended up buying the same bag each. I did not buy one because my attention was solely on a brown leather backpack that I just knew C would like. With not enough cash in hand, I tried using my BPI card on the atm and was unable to use it. Jill was able to use hers, and I wrongly assumed I could use mine. BPI’s international toll-free number for South Korea was not working and I spent a good 30 minutes on the phone (my phone bill the next month almost made me cry), without having even talked to any customer service representatives. I swear BPI has the worst customer service I have ever encountered. Thank goodness I have another card from BDO which I have never used internationally before, and it ended up being the one that worked!

The narrow alleyways you can enter in Insadong are lined with traditional looking houses turned into commercial establishments. Most of them are restaurants, and as we were starving at this point, we simply picked one out randomly and ended up in a bibimbap place.

I always order bibimbap in Korean restaurants back home, and usually, do not like it. Now that I’ve tried out authentic Korean bibimbap I realize that maybe bibimbaps are just not for me. Everyone enjoyed it, but my answer remains the same, “I just don’t like it”.

Upon checking the time, we realized that we are not doing ourselves a favor by being chill. We rushed back to Lotte Mart and literally spent a really short time grabbing everything in sight. It was like we were grocery shopping during the holidays, or if you’re Pinoy like me, grocery shopping the day after a big storm rolled in. To strangers, we may have even seemed to be panic buying. In a sense, we were, because the password to our door will reset in less than two hours. In order for someone to make it to our check out time, Sean volunteered to go ahead and secure our things while we were still dazed from the crazy shopping spree that happened. Alas, Sean took the wrong train and we even got to the apartment before she did. Packing our stuff was quite a feat, given that we. bought. too. much. Too much.

We were flying late in the evening, but the airport was more than an hour away. We didn’t get to grab any bite to eat before boarding the airport-bound shuttle bus and utilized the cafes at the airport instead. Of course, I had more Korean food! When in Korea, do as the Koreans do. 😉

As usual, flying via Cebu Pacific got unpredictable. You never really know if you’re going to fly out according to schedule or not, and in this case, our flight was again delayed. This is the reason why I avoid this specific budget airline like a plague (I’ve flown with Jetstar a couple of times, and it was always on time). Ugh.

And I guess that’s it for last year’s Korea trip! I am actually aiming to go back to Korea maybe sometime in 2018, or even this year if budget permits, but let’s see! This was also the first trip wherein I actually made a conscious effort to vlog while talking to the camera. It really took a lot of [thick] skin to get it done, and I must admit that vlogging is no joke. Let me know what you think about it, and if it should be something I stick to doing during trips! 🙂

NOTE: I had fallen asleep while writing this post down and there were parts I typed in while half awake (honestly, it would be mostly sleeping). Please do leave a comment below if you find any grammar/typo errors. Thanks, everyone! 🙂

Seoul 2016 || Everland & Myeongdong

Another day, another blog post! This may seem off topic (hello, I know you’re here to read about our Everland experience) but I honestly have difficulty sharing links leading to my blog to people I actually know in real life. How weird, right? I was never confident with my ability to pen down words and string them together into something cohesive. And whenever I read it back, it always feels like I barely translated my thoughts into writing. Lately, though I’ve been trying to get out of my comfort zone [of writing for myself and having strangers/internet friends read them] and sharing posts over at Facebook (inconsistently, if I may add). It was a pleasant surprise to actually see my blog stats picking up and that there are people I know reading all the word vomit. Quite pleasant indeed. 🙂

I have always been a huge fan of amusement parks, and finding out that there were two major parks at Seoul made me giddy! While making a choice between Lotte World and Everland, we asked around among friends who have been there for a visit. As it turns out, Everland has the more exciting rides and so off we go to Everland. Unfortunately, it’s a bit farther from the city and it was more convenient to take the shuttle bus that leaves Myeongdong at 9:30 AM. It heads back to the city at 6:30 PM. You can also take the train but we heard that you still have to take the bus from the train station and that it’s mostly packed. The downside of taking the shuttle bus though is that you don’t have any freedom over your schedule. There were a number of rides that we couldn’t line up for because queues literally take hours.

We arrived at the park at almost 11 AM. I’m usually in amusement parks at opening (I just love them so much), and the bright side to this is that there was a shorter queue to the entrance. If I ever head back to South Korea and visit Everland, I would either take the public transportation and go on an off-peak day/weekday, or splurge and pay for a private car/taxi rental. I never did find out if they sold VIP/Fast Pass tickets, but if they did, I would totally buy those too.

My first agenda was to check out the clothing stores for shoes because my feet was literally bleeding. I put on band aids to the biggest blisters, wore heat tech tights, then socks to try and minimize the pain. But guess what, when we got to Everland, my foot has bled enough to soak through my socks. It was that bad. Female shoes in most Asian countries run small sizes and I resorted to buying men’s white sneakers. I bought it one size larger and it was heaven. It was a good thing too because getting around Everland consisted of walking in slopes.

It was October when we went, and the decor was all for Halloween. Admittedly, it wasn’t as spooky as I’d like and I’ve seen the Halloween decor executed better somewhere else. They did have horror houses set up, as well as makeup booths where you can get fake blood on your face – even professional prosthetics if you pay more.

The queue for the wooden rollercoaster with the crazy 183 ft. drop had 210 waiting time when we got there, more for the people who lined up after us. We ended up going out the line to buy snacks from the stall, and guess who bought ice cream while in less than 10-degree weather? Of course, I had to.

T Express is the highest wooden roller coaster in the world, with a 77-degree vertical drop. No wonder the line was insane. They had monitors all over, with footage of people screaming their lungs out playing, and there was where we found out that Tin don’t do rides. We are truly sorry Tin – for making you learn how to ride a bike and making you ride a rollercoaster. Upon checking the picture of us on the ride, we couldn’t stop laughing at how the three of us looked like we were having the time of our lives while Tin had the expression that she wanted to be anywhere else but there. Haha!

Everland is truly for all ages. There were animals all over the park, and not just rides. Kids could even go on donkey rides if they wanted to! (Donkey rides not pictured)

Like every vast amusement park (Ocean Park had cable cars and train, Disneyland has trains, etc), Everland had a ski lift to bring visitors up the mountain and to a different part of the park. We’ve used up a lot of energy exercising our vocal chords out aboard the T Express and unanimously decided to queue for the ski lift. It was fortunate that we did because the staff also closed the way up for a parade of.. I don’t really know. Are bears the characters of Everland?

Interesting note on the ski lift: see those bars attached at the back? Those were for strollers so parents do not have to carry them!

Similar to the previous day, we didn’t get to have an actual sit-down lunch because we were running short on time. We bought whatever snack seemed interesting from the food stalls we pass by.

These ghosts change colors!

Looking back through the pictures, I found it hilarious that I went and gave all this effort to curl my hair, only to have a couple of failed selfies.

We got on a total of three rides on Everland. I’m still disappointed about it, but time constraints have always been a bitch on anything. The bright side is it has given me another reason to come back!

Once again, we found our way back to Myeongdong, which is where the shuttle bus dropped us off. We had been on the heated bus for over an hour and getting off the bus was like jumping inside the freezer. To say it was cold was an understatement. My teeth were chattering and all I could feel was ice cold wind seeping through my layered clothes. It was such a relief to find our way to another dakgalbi place (can’t get enough of them) for dinner. I did notice though that dakgalbi places always seem to have the ‘get your own’ banchan system. Oh well, that means I could get all the kimchi and pickled cucumber I want then.

After dinner came another shopping spree (for Sean and Tin haha), while Jill and I ventured once more to the food stalls of Myeongdong.

A comical thing happened to one of my friends which I can’t disclose, but it resulted to all of us heading back to the apartment earlier than we had to. As for me, I took the opportunity to bundle myself with another layer of clothing before heading out again. When we got back to Myeongdong, we ended up buying *drumroll* more socks and more food. Meanwhile, we kept seeing all the cute stalls selling costumes for kids. They were so adorable that I even asked C then and there if we could go have a baby soon just so I have an excuse to buy them. I did not give in to the temptation to purchase just about everything, though, so no babies for me this 2017. 😛

Seoul 2016 || Nami Island & Myeongdong

An unfortunate note before I begin this post: I have had to rewrite this a couple of times since WordPress has been pretty wonky the last couple of days. It kept logging me out while I was writing this post!

I honestly have been meaning to write about my trip to Seoul, South Korea the moment I got back.. but procrastination happened and here we are! If you are subscribed to my Youtube channel, you’d know that I have even already started uploading my Singapore travel vlogs and my Korea vlogs were uploaded within consecutive days months ago. I wish I have the will to do the same with the rest of my travel posts. Let’s see. 🙂

We started our second day in Seoul by heading to Nami Island. It was such a feat to be waking up at 5 AM after the eventful night we had, and before we knew it, we were walking to the subway to take a couple of trains to Nami Island.

A lot of people say that the trains are difficult to navigate. But I believe that if you’ve tried the public transportation in a couple of other Asian countries (such as Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, etc), it would be easier to find your way. The stations also had their English names displayed which is useful.

I’m not entirely sure whether I have mentioned it in previous posts, but the difference between Seoul and the other subway systems I mentioned above, was the absence of escalators in most stations. I have found the secret to why most Koreans are skinny!!!

Wait, did I just say that the trains in Korea were easy to use? I would have to correct myself that it was mostly a breeze to use, but Murphy’s Law is always there to muck things up for you. As it turns out, there were a couple of trains headed for Gapyeong. Both Sean and Jill had already been to Seoul prior to our trip, and we were using parts of Sean’s old itinerary. She’s great at this – we literally had a shared sheet with detailed instructions in getting to places (photos of landmarks included) as well as costs. So when we boarded the train and it turned out to have reserved seating which we did not have tickets for, we were confused. Sean immediately exclaimed we were on the wrong train and in a moment of confusion (and panic), we scrambled to get off. An announcement that the train was departing was already blasting through the train speakers when I got off first, then Tin. The beeping had Sean jumping off the train door while it started to close. Jill brought up the rear of our group, and we were all yelling for her to get off quickly. The ahjummas inside the train were too. It was like one of those slow-motion scenes in movies where one of the characters almost gets halved by train doors in a freak accident. Haha!

We did manage to find the automated ticket booth for the train to Gapyeong (you can’t use your T-Money card) which was one floor down. At this point, my feet was already punishing me from being dumb enough to not break it in before the trip. Having to climb all those stairs felt like participating early for this year’s Penance parade. My blisters usually heal quickly and leave no marks, but it’s been three months since that trip and I have scars on my feet as souvenirs for this trip. There was no use running up and down the stairs too because by then we were too late to get tickets for reserved seats and paid 4000 won each to sit on the train floor of the next train.

About an hour later, we finally found our way to Gapyeong station. From there, tourists can opt to either take the bus or a taxi to the port. Since there were four of us, and the line for the bus was quite long, it was more convenient to take the cab since we had three other people to split the bill with.

Cab drivers only go up to a certain point, and they dropped us off a couple hundred meters away from the port itself. It was a Friday but it seemed to be peak season to go to Nami. The crowd was intense, and to be honest, overwhelming. There wasn’t even a proper queue once you’ve paid the 8000 won entrance fee (boat ride included). We simply went to where the bulk of the people seemed to be.

Arriving in Nami, we could already see some of the trees and I was a bit disappointed that the trees were mostly green. I have watched so many Korean dramas that took place in autumn and it was breathtaking.

I guess the management of Nami thought the same so they created this ‘falling leaves’ illusion. Haha!

I’ve had a couple of Korean friends tell me to visit South Korea during their autumn season as it is their peak season. It has given me the impression that the autumn foliage is why tourists all over flock to the country from mid-September to early November. Coming from a tropical country where we alternate between exhausting humid heat ranging from beach weather to this-heat-is-going-to-fucking-kill-me-someday, and rainy days where even a drizzle could cause 6-hour traffic jams (although that may not be the weather’s fault altogether), seasonal tourism is truly a foreign concept.

You could imagine how giddy we all became upon the sight of yellow and orange trees. We took tons of photos, thinking these were all the ‘autumn foliage’ we needed in our lives.

Once we were done taking as much photos as we could with those trees, we headed to where most of the restaurants were. It was noon and almost everywhere was packed with people having their lunch. We decided to just buy various skewered meat which tasted bland in comparison to the street food you will find outside Nami. Pro tip: maybe head to the restaurants for a proper meal, or go all out and pack your own lunch so you can have a picnic (like real Korean drama characters, ha!).

We rented bikes for two hours. The island is too big to explore by foot on limited time, and we were planning to take tons of photos. (Also, remember that Winter Sonata scene where they biked at Nami?!)

I rarely take great photos and the ones I took do not do it justice. I’m not a big fan of the outdoors, but this was one of the moments where I could not help but wish that my eyes could take photos. Everywhere I turned were sceneries that seemed to be straight out of a postcard!

Funny story time! Tin didn’t know how to ride a bike before the trip and when we booked our flights six months prior, we teasingly insisted that she learn how to. And by sheer will, she did so by practicing a few days before we took off. Haha! There was even a time where the three of us had so much fun biking (it was quite a bumpy trail), we sped up and totally lost her. Once we stopped and realized she wasn’t following behind us, we retraced our trail and was literally screaming her name the whole time. It was quite a scare at the time but we all laugh about it now. 😛

I never realized how much I would love to live in South Korea even just for a little bit, until I was looking at the photos from the trip. We didn’t even take a lot of photos! But 3-4 days barely scratched the surface.

Spent and ravenous (please remember the lunch box pro tip mentioned earlier), we headed to Myeongdong to look for the dakgalbi restaurant Sean kept raving about. At that point, I was ready to eat anything, even those live octopus they serve at pojangmachas.

We did not find the exact restaurant but we found a similar one that serves cheese dakgalbi. I swear it’s one of the best things I’ve ever put into my mouth. (Or I might be biased because of the hunger, but still, it was great!)

After the filling dinner, we strolled around Myeongdong. Sean and Tin was out to shop, while Jill and I, like the #TitasOfManila/#AhjummasOfSeoul that we are, ended up food stall hopping. This strawberry mochi came highly recommended (by everyone who has tried it) and the 2500 won price tag made it easy to try it. As it turns out, it’s mochi encasing a large strawberry and nutella. I’m not even ashamed to say I had more.

Let me tell you that I’ve been to a lot of shopping districts, but I have never entered as many makeup and skin care stores as I did that night in Myeongdong. It was crazy! Albeit buying a whole lot of skin care items (I was on the hunt for LABIOTTE where they sell wine makeup), the items I bought the most were socks! C is fond of printed socks, and I bought a whole lot of them that he hasn’t bought a pair since. And in our group of four, I had bought the least number of socks. It was at another sock store that we bumped into one of our colleagues, Raech, who was also vacationing with her husband and in-laws. Everybody loves Korea! *waves South Korean flag*

We were supposed to head back to our apartment by 9 PM.. But plans change, so together with Jill, we looked for a coffee shop where we could drink tea like the true titas that we are until our friends finish their shopping. Ha!