A Travellerspoint blog

Banaue and Batad

Northern Luzon

sunny 25 °C

527A158DD9ACEEBBF26EE63CE19C38F8.jpg

After a pretty sloathful period of beaches and diving, I was keen to get back into some real backpacking. We headed north of Manila on an overnight bus. Not a sleeper, but pretty comfortable nonetheless, we arrived at the same time as the bus that left an hour later than us - no wonder our journey was a lot more sedate than theirs...

DSC_0430_1.jpg

Our guesthouse collected us from the bus - Randy was an absolute star! He has his operation, which he runs pretty much single handedly, running with super efficiency. The place was simple, but spotless and with a shared hot shower. We got talking to 2 other couples and Randy thought we'd get into less trouble if we stuck together... He was also very insistent in giving us instructions piece by piece- "for now you take a walk here, I'll tell you about tomorrow when you get back"... Not sure he trusted us!

51857741E6B6860665FD72E15E4A6539.jpg
Mai and James were a nice couple from England (well Mai is Chinese-cambodian, lived in Vietnam and now Oxford) and Joel and Amy; a couple of New Yorkers, who would be fixtures for the next few days. Despite being relatively fresh from the bus journey, we'd still only managed a few hours sleep (Soph always says she doesn't sleep, but she drools with her eyes shut for significant periods of time...). We decided on an easy day. Randy made us a breakfast and we sat around for a bit before going for a short walk to view the terraces. Short but steep and hot in the sun! We got back into town by mid-afternoon and contemplated a light lunch so that we'd be able to eat again later. in the end we realised that we wouldn't last much longer before needing sleep, so we had our fill and retired by 5:30 for a mamouth sleep.

65401495F9DEB3677B919D06E3B2A923.jpg655BA274C177B37D1804619520FA8A9B.jpg657479419A4D2D53C4066CA669AD98D2.jpg6684620992279C5B8CD4E5D00F3A5080.jpg

The next day was 7am breakfast before jumping into a tricycle (a dodgy sidecar on the side of a motorbike). It's good for waking you up! By 8:30 we had arrived at the Saddle; the point at the top of a mountain ridge where the road became impassable. The road was under construction from the saddle down to the village of Batad and so the first half of the walk was along semi laid road, dodging diggers and drainage ditches. At the point where the road gave way to a narrow trail, we encountered a pile of dynamite! Dogs running around and walkers literally stepping over a pile in the road while the worker packed it into the mountainside to make way for the road... This was a slight worry, particularly wondering whether we'd get back once they'd detonated!

71CD4ADACCEC87B09678BA4BA29BB7DE.jpg71D1E19ED156222BA6DC52C77CFBDED8.jpg7277012CA002F4E8ED463765CD37FE82.jpg72721BAAEC746DB8AE1C3F0ABBAE0F10.jpg

The village of Batad consisted of a few guesthouses and cafes. Most of the locals lived in small hamlets dotted amongst the rice terraces. Randy told us to have second breakfast at a little cafe overlooking the amphitheatre of rice terraces. It was pretty pleasant and despite planning to eat a couple of slices of my breakfast pizza and save the rest, I'd demolished it before realising. As we sat there, we heard explosions from where we'd come from. We couldn't go back now!

7288E3AE0C898970491222277DAD10A1.jpg728EE76F95342D3996D3E3A572EAFE82.jpgDSC_0477_1.jpgDSC_0478_1.jpg73260494B38F9E7DAB9930F8C36E9879.jpg

From Batad there is a waterfall that requires a walk across the terraces and down into a valley. The views back towards the village and down through the valley are stunning!

732AE209C8A397E939BE0DB9CA563CD4.jpg7339A8E3EB1DB2ACAE7269A5D2ABF90F.jpg733FBA94014EF3AFF7AADE25260C89A8.jpg

The walk from the saddle down to the waterfall could probably be done in 2hrs but it is a long way downhill and not so easy on the thighs! It doesn't help knowing you have it all to do on the way back up.

742C0BFEE0B80997CEDFEBAC20C11393.jpg74359C0D927FC061D2871117D194039B.jpg

The waterfall is impressive, the water icy cold and the rocks to be negotiated on the way into the water make a dignified entrance impossible: incredibly slippy. I attempted to swim to the falls but couldn't get within 5m - I even persuaded Soph to come in...

65AF55CEB964F69E45257481D86A8751.jpg65B3BBF2A634F9BE2059944653F890FC.jpgGOPR0646_1.jpg

By the time i got out of the water, I was shivering cold, which lasted about 5mins into the climb back before I was sweating again. Back in the village, we stopped at the school to get laughed at by the kids. The tough kid of the group had climbed on top of the basketball net and then plonked himself down next to Soph. She tried to make him smile, even gave him some biscuits, but he stared us out.

DSC_0504_1.jpg7492786EDF2D41DD34906F16C1C2FC2C.jpg7495F4DAE2E00C37C479D854490C0EDC.jpg

We finished our walk back to our waiting tricycle feeling satisfied, but pretty tired from the day's exertions. The journey back was pretty hairy, with long waits on the edge of a precipice while construction trucks passed by. We all went out for a meal, but a couple of beers and some food and we were done. Another early night...

747247E4AC92ECEC69FE65848865B0CE.jpg740C601000674A80B490306206F4F711.jpg7400B47C055772F80BC1F0DD96F3B28F.jpg73949BF4EAF5EFCE6BE431E0379FB482.jpg737CC6BBD5AB3563689045A76C79D188.jpgDSC_0486_1.jpg

Posted by bloorsontour 18:08 Archived in Philippines Tagged rice terraces northern luzon Comments (1)

Puerto Galera, Philippines

It's Christmas!!!

0E7B1E69C252C2401B24E63A5702F1D3.jpg

When we were in Japan I had a bit of a panic about booking somewhere in advance over the Christmas and New Year period in the Philippines; I'd researched that it is massively celebrated because they are mostly Christian and that places can get extremely busy. Without really knowing too much about the areas of the Philippines I booked us into Blue Ribbon Dive Resort in Puerto Galera for 10 days; firstly because it is relatively close to Manila and secondly we knew we wanted to treat ourselves to some diving over Christmas and had heard it offered some great spots.

0E73B3F1F20E3D8E937CF64A233CB7C9.jpg0E696C1E0D852BB414E12C862464F073.jpg0E4A333CDA0BF5B3E1D9A5A47AB7F91F.jpg

We flew from Cebu City back to Manila and picked up some of our luggage from a hostel we'd left it at previously. It's then a short bus journey to Batangas (we used Swagman bus/ferry company for ease) and then an hour ferry to Puerto Galera itself. The journey on the wooden, rickety and crowded ferry was interesting; an old Australian man exclaiming to people around him that he'd been sunk twice on this style of boat over the years, but not to fear because he had his own knife with him this time to slash through the material roof if necessary...just what I wanted to hear mid-way through the rough crossing!

GOPR0264_1.jpg0DF2EE8EF977C6C35F0256BBB779BFC2.jpg

Sabang Beach, Puerto Galera, looked quite pretty from the boat...green and mountainous with brightly coloured guesthouses dotted along the bay (don't let this scene fool you). It became quite clear that it is primarily a resort for white, western, middle aged men (generally speaking) to go and be entertained by pretty Filipino girls in GoGo bars. I felt really disappointed at first because we'd just left the idyllic Malapascua where we would have been more than happy spending Christmas on. Luckily we'd picked a really nice resort to stay at and immediately felt at home.

0DF89F3CCCBDA891E06EAA85F119F00D.jpg0DDCFB80B09DB5AEF653BA0A4D3B688B.jpg

Blue Ribbon Dive Resort is on Laguna Beach (next door to sleazy Sabang Beach) and has some of the friendliest staff working for them. Fernando was the restaurant/bar host and always made sure my cocktail glass was topped up. Melody was the really smiley waitress, who second guessed my regular order of beans on toast and gin juice. Shirley ran the reception and knew everything we needed to know. Herbert and Jeff were our Filipino dive matters that lead us on some amazing dives. The place had a really nice set up; beach front, nice bungalows, weekend bbqs and live band, cocktail hour and relaxed atmosphere.

IMG_20141226_185719_1.jpgGOPR0369_1.jpg

On Christmas Eve we were asking Shirley about what they were offering for guests on Christmas Day...they were being very cagey about it and weren't really answering our questions about Christmas food. In the end they said that we had to be in the restaurant at 8.30pm for a surprise...what could this be? We sat down to a 4 course meal (soup, mango & prawn salad, full turkey dinner and Christmas pudding with brandy cream), beautiful bouquet of flowers, bottle of wine and Christmas card... an amazing surprise from my brother, Tom, and his girlfriend, Nicola. Thanks guys, we had a lovely evening! X

0DD2428BB29F78689F8D1EA2D13B74AC.jpg0DD3F043038E4585DCAB30332F991C53.jpg0DD56226F8CD076C5B215DF60BF71DF8.jpg0DD75AF7B7CDD3D9DD686605BC69E82E.jpg0DDAB1550B8810C40861B10F2AE0EC1E.jpg

Christmas Day was definitely strange without family and friends around us. We woke up early and went for an early morning dive and had a late breakfast; I had beans on toast and jason had a Thai curry...not what we would normally have been doing at home. Unfortunately the weather was awful, warm but extremely rainy, so the plan of topping up our tans was on hold. You can see the photo of me on Christmas day pointing to the only glimmer of blue sky. So instead we lounged around on our balcony hammock, drank cocktails and had pizza for our tea. The main thing I was looking forward to was waiting for our family to wake up in the UK so I could Skype them. We managed to speak to parents, siblings and grandparents, which made me get that Christmassy feeling back.

IMG_20141225_124742_2.jpgIMG_20141225_124753_1.jpgGOPR0283_1.jpg

We were so unlucky with the weather, it seemed like we'd had days of torrential rain. We had planned to go exploring inland, hire a motorbike, kayak to our own secluded bay...but unfortunately the rain put a stop to all of this. This just meant that we stayed wet and continued to do more diving instead. You don't have to go very far to see some beautiful coral reefs when you dive here (much prettier than Malapascua) and we added some additional special sights to our diving log books too...we saw a turtle, white eyed moray eels and a pygmy seahorse (extremely rare).

IMG_20141224_113458_1.jpgGOPR0576_1.jpg0E4D5509DC07149B85191554E56C9CA1.jpg0E4BDCBBE49E4966ECFF3EF858A33F57.jpg0E74EC1BAC54070FD41BA79864A69D79.jpg

Can you spot the pygmy seahorse on this photo? I promise its there

0E650789DDC83D0C858F3792E612BD2D.jpg

Nudibranches

0E677C79EB68A70815F650729193A273.jpg0E62BB419D6531B4A798A9C9A1A926AD.jpg0E61263CD3549E8DBEDD44DB73A026C9.jpg0E5EEE93DD96990CA2D2CA8185AF1A64.jpg0E5CAFB0EA4F3736368AB942ED7ADEA7.jpg0E5159E3B55CDC860C8DA41BF4421089.jpg

Lionfifish

0E4FB19FFFF547CED24845D32F7F815A.jpg0E4EBC54F53C94CADB3BD1B6783FF8A2.jpg

Pufferfish

0E79A004C8C5BEBFD552BF69D0468A11.jpg

Juvenile sweetlip

0E77EBC0C4482DB93AC986655257B295.jpg0E7698A8C18AEADE8BDF4C113B3BB01D.jpg

White eyed moray eel

0E5DDC870574C45772AF48FD1448813D.jpg

We went out on a whole day dive trip to the Verde Island, including three dives and BBQ lunch. We only managed two dives as our first dive of the day was a fail. We were diving in an area with strong currents and were in a group of 5, including our dive master. I just couldn't descend...the current was dragging me upwards and sidewards rather than down, I was kicking and still couldn't submerge myself, Jason even tried pulling me down but I continued to stay on the surface. I was so frustrated with myself. That was until all of our group met on the surface and even the experienced divers in our group couldn't get down either. Phew...I thought it was just me that was struggling. The next dive made up for us missing the first one, it was a huge wall of beautiful coral and underwater creatures. Overall we had a really good day.

GOPR0523_1.jpg

I have to include a paragraph about BBQ pork ribs. OMG!!! The pork ribs on the BBQ evening at our resort are one of the tastiest pieces of meat I've ever had. There was so much meat on them... we were big fans! They went perfectly alongside my gin juice (gin, slushed ice and lime juice).

IMG_20141226_185132_1.jpg

Unfortunately our New Years Eve celebrations were cut short. I could tell Jason had been struggling with the days dives, feeling tired and achey, and he just got worse as the evening went on. You know when Jason's ill if he can't manage an ice cold beer in the sun. He stayed out for as long as he could manage, watched a bit of a live band at our hotel, and then went to bed at 10.30...the fireworks sounded like they would have been spectacular anyway. Still feeling bad the next day we got a doctor to see him (just in case it was dengue fever or something) and the blood tests said he was fighting an infection. It took him a good few days to get over it and we had to book an extra night at Blue Ribbon too. Despite the doctors cost, I still think it's better to be safe than sorry.

IMG_20150102_152500_1.jpg

On our last day Jason was feeling a bit better, not up for diving, but instead fancied seeing what Puerto Galera town itself had to offer. It's a short jeepney ride and turned out to be a very disappointing visit. There really isn't much there; a row of shops, dirty beach and polluted roads.

0DF500C593246BA9F38774AFB84C85F9.jpg0DF6F172CDFEB0B04CA8795ADB0272A7.jpg

In summary...we really liked Blue Ribbon Dive Resort, disliked Sabang Beach and Puerto Galera, really enjoyed the diving, but probably would have chosen to spend Christmas in a more picturesque island area of the Philippines.

_10.jpg0E4703CDB5AD0EA344524871331655C9.jpgGOPR0265_1.jpg

Posted by bloorsontour 01:29 Archived in Philippines Comments (5)

Malapascua, Philippines

A whole new world to explore

In the last post, Sophie said we were short on time so needed to move on... In truth, we were really looking forward to learning to dive and had also heard the beaches of Malapascua were nicer than anything on Bohol. We fancied a couple of beach days!

DSC_0380_1.jpg

From Cebu we took a public bus for about 6hrs to Maya. It was fairly pleasant and the sun wasn't shining so the lack of air con was no problem. Maya was a simple little place. The bus dropped us at the pier, the end of the line, and we then had to wait for a critical mass to allow a boat to leave. We were encouraged to pay for a crossing with the two of us and a few locals who'd been on the mainland buying Xmas gifts. It was only about £30 for the hour long crossing. Still, there were worse places to sit and wait and we expected that people would show up shortly. Twenty minutes later, we were on our way for a total cost of about £2.50 (80pesos each).

D685B4D5F08CC10EFDCCF61E2208A365.jpgD69115CDE9CF5372458D071E85D38105.jpgD684B464D58D5BAEA647EA0712537A37.jpg
GOPR0075_1.jpg

Arriving in Malapascua was a bit of an anticlimax...the beach where you transfer from the bangka to a flat bottom boat was fairly shabby and the island was quite flat (no palm clad mountains or dramatic karst cliffs here). Just around the south corner brings you onto Bounty Beach. Google images shows this as just about the most perfect beach you could imagine. In reality, the water is lined with boats and the palm fringe has given way to a more concrete backdrop. It's nice, but far from a postcard beach and arriving in the rain didn't help our disappointment. Next up was a search for accommodation... for £20 there are some nice bungalows and for more money, there are some pretty decent options. In our budget range we found 1...a small bungalow set back from the beach for 500pesos (£8). Blue Water Dive Resort would have been perfect, but wasn't quite...a young Spanish couple were doing their best to spruce the place up after typhoon Hainan damaged much of the island in 2013. The westerner owned restorts all seemed back on their feet, but the locally owned places were still struggling. Our room was big and had a hot shower, but came with a ring of dirt around the edge and a smell of urine that almost hurt the eyes. We hoped it would air out and that we wouldn't notice after a while.

The next day, the weather was still poor and we were not in a room that we wanted to spend anymore time in than necessary. I found a nice resort and set about bargaining for something a bit more affordable. We decided that spending a lot more might make our experience of the island a little rosier and also decided to do our PADI open water course while the dodgy weather lingered.

Arriving at Thresher Cove, we instantly felt happy! The place is stunning.

D6839ACFB4E9BCA1E5050C4B0669477D.jpgGOPR0143_1.jpgGOPR0142_1.jpg

It soon became clear that we were at a backpacker friendly resort with almost 5star service. We had our own dive gear (all as good as brand new), our own instructor and the best boats on the island. The room arrangements were a little complicated as we stayed in a deluxe room for 4nights a VILLA for another and then 3nights in a sea front cabana. The place also has a dorm, but we gave that a miss. We paid about £12 a night for the two of us which was amazing! Having posh accommodation along with dorms gave the place a nice feel and we met some good people, as well as feeling pretty relaxed!

GOPR0137_1.jpgD6827271D1F813CB1AA06EDCAC5ED866.jpgDSC_0383_1.jpg

Our one diving experience had already given us the bug. It seemed pretty easy, but we were just put in the water and led around by an instructor holding us by the tank. It quickly became clear that doing it properly was a lot more involved. Our instructor, Julia, worked us pretty hard and had us swatting up in the evenings. We signed up for a dive package that included a deep dive with thresher sharks. Sophie found the thought a little overwhelming, particularly after our first session in the pool and realising how much we had to learn!

GOPR0133_1.jpgGOPR0166_1.jpg

In the end we signed up to do the advanced open water course too as it made financial sense with us wanting to dive the 100m long Dona Marilyn ferry wreck and night dive to see the Mandarin fish. We were assured that we had chosen to learn to dive in a pretty special place. The dive resort staff were amazing and you didn't have to lift a finger - they do everything. There's even a warm drink and dry towel waiting for you when back on the boat. Under the water we had seen things that people travel from all over the world to see. For us, seeing some coral and a few fish was often enough to have us smiling. This proved to be a problem for Soph as her mask filled up every time she smiled...

GOPR0132_1.jpgGOPR0124_1.jpgGOPR0076_1.jpg

The awesome dive with the elusive thresher sharks was a highlight

GOPR0118_1.jpgGOPR0109_2.jpgGOPR0100_1.jpgGOPR0091_1.jpg

Strong currents at the wreck dive, a test for us both.

GOPR0146_1.jpgGOPR0158_1.jpg

Diving at the beautiful Gato Island (wish we'd got more underwater photos of the incredible wildlife, but were too busy doing underwater compass work).

GOPR0163_1.jpgGOPR0190_2.jpgGOPR0122_1.jpg

Having spent most of our time on Malapascua with our heads under water or stuck in a book, we needed to celebrate our new qualifications. The resort manager and our instructor joined us, an Ozzy couple and a slightly nuts Norwegian guy for a night on the town. We played killer pool in a bar filled with the local dive bums. I won the first and Soph the second - the Bloor's were undefeated and one local was not happy! After this it was off to "Disco". Apparently "Disco" had not been held for 4 weeks, so it was going to be good...it was interesting. Basically a school disco in a basketball court. Everyone buys a bottle of brandy and stands around looking at girls while a DJ plays chart music. We left around 2am when it was still in full swing. Being drunk on the back of a motorbike as we were carried between palm trees with a starry sky above felt pretty surreal.

GOPR0084_1.jpg

One other thing of note was the Thresher Cove Christmas party! Filipinos love karaoke and party games. For most of the evening there was hysterical laughing coming from somewhere. One game involved throwing an egg from partner to partner, getting ever further away until there was one egg left - the winner. Another was a game of musical chairs with a twist. Instead of a chair, there was a chair, with a man, with an aubergine pinched between his thighs. The woman not holding an aubergene when the music stopped was out. On top of this entertainment, there was a roasted pig, blue marlin, a slow cooked beef stew and plenty to wash it down and we were invited to it all.

Sophie here...Jason has already said that we were incredibly lucky to see some of the things were saw in Malapascua on our first 9 dIves. Here's a list of some of the special and rare underwater creatures we saw: thresher sharks, frog fish, mating mandarin fish, marble rays, white tip sharks, amazing nudibranches, juvenile sweetlips, box fish, clown fish, bat fish, mantis shrimps, banded sea snakes, puffer fish, cuttlefish, damsel fish, file fish, lion fish...to name just a few. It's been an incredible experience learning how to dive and feel it's opened up a whole new world for us.

GOPR0094_1.jpgD680334B07C553A8C13B7EC20E766363.jpg

Posted by bloorsontour 23:42 Archived in Philippines Comments (2)

Bohol, Philippines

Chocolate hills?! Now that's my kind of hill

Typhoon Ruby meant that we had to cut short our time on Palawan and so got the first available flight to Cebu island. Cebu is a relatively large central island and many people use it as a base to ferry to the other islands of the Philippines.

Cebu City is busy, polluted and noisy and I was a bit wingey (OK, I moaned a lot) about being out in the hot, humid and dusty streets trying to fill our day before taking a ferry the next morning to Bohol Island. Jason agreed to let us spend the afternoon in the huge airconed shopping mall, complete with restaurants, cinema and bowling alley. In fact, it turned out to be a bit of an afternoon treat...

First we went shopping. Thank you to our family for the Christmas money you sent us... we spent it on a GoPro (underwater camera) and hope to make use of it when we do our PADI openwater scuba course next week. Then we had a delicious greasy fast food burger at Jollibees. Jollibees are everywhere in the Philippines, more popular than McDonalds and have a cute bumblebee icon...and so much more tasty than any other fast food burger I've had (although I did go for the deluxe Hawaiian burger). Yummy! The next afternoon treat was a trip to the cinema to see Hunger Games, Mocking Jay, complete with a huge tub of popcorn. I didn't realise how much I've missed doing these normal activities we'd do at home; shopping, fast food and the cinema was an amazing treat to us while we're backpacking.

photo_2.jpgG0010066_1.jpg

We left Cebu City early the next day and got a ferry to Bohol; it was one of the first ferries running to the island since the typhoon and we'd heard many other travellers had been stranded for a few days. This turned out to be a brilliant few days exploring on a motorbike.

As soon as we got off the ferry we hired a motorbike and headed to our accommodation. A lot of backpackers stay in the beach area called Alona Beach, fortunately we opted to stay in the middle of the island at a cute eco-complex called Nuts Huts. It was an interesting ride getting there, with backpacks on too, down a long and bumpy path (you couldn't call it a road) and then a very steep descend down loads of steps to Nuts Huts reception.

A98210059797BBB65232EA1310CB5450.jpgA992578DDF31B994D2F63E621BB448F4.jpgA957936ECB6A742E7D602F91DAC7A137.jpg

It was so worth the effort; beautiful, peaceful, perched right on the edge of the river. Jason was happy and made the hammock his home for the afternoon. Our hut was basic, but clean, complete with mosquito net and resident ghecko (that insisted on making a lot of noise at nighttime).

A99009CBE1FBCD4677EC9912C5685F8B.jpgA99468AAB7429F5B5945C07F4EC4CD26.jpgA98E3572E37F0F0228BE7BE0711D0E22.jpg

We based ourselves at Nuts Huts for three nights and used our motorbike to explore the area. I didn't dare to drive the bike on the bumpy roads but jason did a good job, only toppling once from a stationery position (both fine, with only a mild burn from the exhaust on my ankle). The scenery is stunning, the villages really pretty and local people were extremely friendly as we drove past them (usually wishing us 'Merry Christmas' with a high five from the kids).

DSC_0361_1.jpgA96408D293309EBB56DA9B9C58F5F990.jpgDSC_0363_1.jpg

We passed away hours getting lost on the village roads, exploring, until we reached our first destination...the Tarsier Sanctuary. You have to be careful which place you visit the tarsiers at because some are kept in cages. Nuts Huts recommended visiting the sanctuary where they are basically wild, but at nighttime are encouraged to go into an enclosed woodland away from predators to feed on bugs under uv-lights. In the morning somebody goes and finds where the primates are resting after their nighttime feasting so that tourists can come and get a glimpse of these rare animals. They're really cute...as big as my fist, huge eyes and sit curled in a ball on low branches. I've included a photograph below with facts about them.

A95A589BAF072B9D6E22904D52D6943D.jpgA958D1F79C6278A354995BB74E3416A4.jpgDSC_0330_1.jpg

The Chocolate Hills on Bohol are on every tourist information leaflet about the Philippines. People generally told us they'd been underwhelmed when they'd visited them...us, on the otherhand, really enjoyed our trip out to them and the views were a new landscape view for us. Our motorbike ride out to them took us through the man made forest and rice paddy fields of the island, then as you get nearer to the Chocolate Hills odd lumps of grass start to appear in the landscape. You have to pay a small fee to go up to a viewing area for the hills and it can get a little busy with tourists, but overall we liked sitting at the top and looking out over these mounds of grass formed from old coral formations (it reminded me of something you'd see on a Super Mario game).

DSC_0337_1.jpgA960DBDBE1C2F590158047E819F3A622.jpgDSC_0349_1.jpgGOPR0024_1.jpg

Our evenings were quiet and relaxing at Nuts Huts, with only a few other guests to talk to and our evening meal on the terrace there wasn't a lot else to do. The food was quite good (luckily so as its your only food option while you're staying there); we sampled Filipino ginger soup, various curries and even spicy homemade burger. All enjoyed under the night sky with a beer and a fire fly show above...what more could you want?!

After a good sleep, with only the odd interruption from Mr Ghecko, we thought we'd chill out on Alona Beach. It was about a 45 minute motorbike ride away, again very scenic and part of our days entertainment anyway. Alona Beach was pleasant, white sand and turquoise water with the odd bangka (wooden boat) taking tourists on boat trips. There's a busier side to the beach with lots of restaurants (where we enjoyed breakfast on the beach front) and then a nice quiet area at the far end of the beach where we spent a couple of hours topping up our tans and snorkeling (an excuse to try out the GoPro as there were no fish).

GOPR0026_1.jpgGOPR0028_1.jpgGOPR0038_1.jpgGOPR0048_1.jpg

As a refreshing afternoon break on the beach we thought we'd give the Filipino delicacy 'halo halo' a try (sorry the picture doesn't do it the colours justice as it was taken from our phone). It's a drink/desert consisting of sugared fruits, sweetened milk, ube (purple vegetable) ice-cream and cream...very sickly... Filipinos love them.

IMG_20141211_140705_1.jpg

On our final morning at Nuts Huts Jason had time for a quick swim in the river (I chickened out of it because I couldn't see far enough in the water to see if there were crocodiles (although apparently there has never been a croc siting before...but still, just in case, I gave it a miss). We could have stayed a good few days longer on Bohol, filling our days with treks, caving and kayaking, but unfortunately we were short on time and had to move on. We made the long and bumpy motorbike ride back to the harbour in one piece and boarded a ferry back to Cebu City.

GOPR0054_1.jpg

Posted by bloorsontour 02:51 Archived in Philippines Comments (2)

Palawan, Philippines

Puerto Princesa and El Nido

IMG_20141204_151521_1.jpg

Keen to get out of Manila and without a plan as to where, Palawan sounded a good bet. We booked flights for under £50 for the 2 of us, left a load of stuff in Manila and headed off.

At the airport we watched a Brit in his early 20s, absolutely steaming, bounce from group to group exclaiming that the Philippines was the best place ever. We overheard that he'd been here for 2days and only in Manila. We managed to avoid him, though it turned out he was on our plane.

We got to JLC hostel fairly late and were up for a film and an early night. It turned out that Sophie had booked it on Agoda for the following month...after a little confusion, they had a slightly pricier ac room (700pesos, £10) available, so all was good. The place was simple, friendly and clean, with the erratic cockerels being the only downside (this would prove to be the case throughout the Philippines - they don't wait for dawn!)

Puerto Princesa is the main "city" on Palawan. It's dubbed an eco-city, which is true compared to Manila, but the roads are crammed with smoking contraptions. There was a little to do in PP, but none of it was a particular highlight...

We hired the first tricycle we came across outside our guest house, who was a boy; shy and seemingly had never done a tour of the local sights for tourists before...he told us to pay "as you wish, Sir". The going rate seemed to be p500 so we gave him that, a list of where we wanted to visit and set off for Baker's Hill for breakfast...

7C90494094D5BD37F710768065AA6C09.jpg
7C5351C8D992A95F5E018B56E5421018.jpg

We got a bit out of our "guide", Jerry (suspiciously the same name as our driver that took us from the airport the night before) on the journey. He seemed nice so we bought him a little treat from the bakery shop. He seemed surprised, then happy.

7C5854D0B8675DE364356F13A04B0ACC.jpg

We ate our purchases (very cheap, but not up to Japan's bakery standards) before exploring the slightly schizophrenic garden...

7C54E9349FD97A0AEB88670196C95398.jpg

A bit further up the road was "the ranch", which had decent views, a zip line (not so soon after breakfast) and some horses that we assumed you could ride. It seemed a little underwhelming and when asked to pay to see the view from a verandah, which we had essentially seen from the road, we passed and headed to our next stop...

7C5697C0F38CBBCA0BC151FA5E48931C.jpg

The Butterfly House and Tribal Village was probably the day's highlight. The butterflies were impressive enough and you were free to wander through the small garden with them flying all around. This was slightly marred by the captive crocodiles in tiny tanks. There were also scorpions, with a sign saying "Dangerous: don't touch". Naturally the Filipina guide picked them up and started handing them around...

7C5A02ACDD23E5C62D148625E6E081C7.jpg7C7DDEC109642515F04A7613492A3887.jpgDSC_0229_1.jpg7C8000F094635A12B3C9EFB6CDD93F3A.jpg7C80FF8CABAC720B1AB813A6E20E59F7.jpg
7C86A74CC7601E5D4F732165EB444348.jpg7C8F1DDDFD6F998D9EC69579426BF3A2.jpg

The tribal village was through a door at the back of the garden. The explanation was that the inhabitants visit for a few weeks from their remote rural homes to demonstrate their tribes skills in return for donations, which they then take back with them, encouraging them to keep traditions alive...we weren't quite sure, but their skills were pretty impressive with a blow pipe! They hit the middle of a 10cm diameter target from 10m and we were assured could do it from much further. We weren't going to argue, and their snake, called Ginger, was pretty cool too.

7C831573A0D7CCC7D063C43DE4F189ED.jpg7C846202ADF2649838C35BB93802E689.jpg

The "Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Centre" was next. We arrived to find it closed for lunch. The onsite restaurant could have been an option to pass the time, but we decided against it and read in the shade for a while. Crocodile sisig as the first thing on the menu should have given us a hint that there wasn't so much conservation going on... The crocodile part was described as a farm to be fair, along with housing some crocodiles that had "interfered with people" and would have been killed... A few of them were HUGE at nearly 20ft and would make me think twice before swimming in any of Palawan's rivers! The rest of the place was full of dingy cages and sorry looking animals - we didn't stick around.

7C91953AB73035617827035FD2924E73.jpg7C93413202CB07FB82150F528C6D8721.jpg

The bear cat is a pretty cool looking animal...

7C948039EF33E43E17690099B4D76FCB.jpg

Last up was the Cathedral, where we would say bye to Jerry. We had a potter around, checked out the boardwalk and giant Xmas tree and grabbed some very average food.

DSC_0276_1.jpg7C9EE1E2A69F095264BBBE82A9A3F232.jpg7C9FFB05ABDABF8C98FB4F727201D8B1.jpg

Determined to end the day with some better food, we ordered a seafood chowder from a nice outdoor restaurant with a huge outdoor screen showing basket ball. The sites of PP were definitely miss able, but we'd had a good day.

El nido

7CC3DDD2036621AECDC749194480EE5C.jpg

People go to Palawan for El Nido and we were pretty excited to see what it was all about. The bus was arranged by our guesthouse and cost less than a tenner for the 6hr journey north. There is little chance of falling asleep, with the last few hours being along unsurfaced roads. Not what I expected. We arrived to find a pretty rustic, charming town. The place is alive with locals and backpackers. No big resorts, just laid back wooden guesthouses, bars and restaurants. We began our usual door-to-door check of establishments: "how much for your cheapest room?"... It seemed a little pricy with most places quoting over £20. After a little persistence, a little lane led us to Mountainside Inn, which was clean, friendly and p500, £7, a night with our own bathroom. We were home.

We spent the afternoon at Corong Corong Beach which was white, lined with palm trees and fairly empty. We were happy. The one cafe on the beach served decent food and was decent value. While we were there a fellow traveller came in with jellyfish stingers wrapped all around her. She was incredibly calm as her friends scraped and cut them away. She had pretty big burns all over her and only wanted a beer to take her mind off it. It put us off doing much swimming, but it seemed she had been very unlucky. We were assured that there should not be jelly fish at this time of year and that it must have been a fluke occurrence...

IMG_20141204_151159_1.jpgIMG_20141204_151206_1.jpgIMG_20141204_151218_1.jpg

The islands off El Nido are stunning and house a number of high end resorts. Though plush, they looked a little boring, so I think staying on the mainland and visiting by day is the best and most budget friendly option! There are usually 4 tour options, but as there was a typhoon warning, boats were staying close to mainland... Tour A it was. There were a fair few people in the small lagoon, which hindered the aesthetical appreciation a little. After this, our boat seemed to avoid the crowds a bit and we had some good snorkelling, a great lunch and plenty of beach relaxation. I'd prefer to have gone out on our own with a fisherman or private boat, but this was a good, cheap and easy option.

7CA2B48D0CEFC0EF37680AB58D2C9A24.jpg7CA47937EE101566FDA4E478910E1789.jpgDSC_0289_1.jpg7CAF83CD0186B7D8EEBA1733EC0B81E2.jpg7CB0A017F6630E97F7423728F135B66B.jpg7CB27D0BF915AE0E7D0F201BA29697E3.jpg7CB3F2E8E71D585B2E9810962AE1DDC6.jpg7CB5F1C8F1AF9271A8BD456790486140.jpg7CC24C25B33B5EF97058977EDA2E00E0.jpg

Food wasn't particularly enticing in El Nido but the Italian proved a good option with one of the best pizzas of our trip and was surprisingly stylish once you ascended the stairs.

We requested a motorbike to do some exploring around El Nido, but after waiting for nearly 2hrs for it to arrive, we aborted and jumped in a tricycle to Corong Corong beach again. It was very relaxing and the sun was shining. It was hard to believe that a massive typhoon was about to hit the Philippines, as the news was suggesting...we decided to be safe and head back to Puerto Princesa the next day. We would have loved to spend longer in El Nido, but didn't think being stranded there in bad weather would be much fun. The road was bad enough in dry conditions! We also decided to book a flight, expecting it to be cancelled, but hoping we'd be on one of the first flights out once the storm had passed...

We took the Cherry Bus back at 8am. It started with blaring house music, which was not what we needed in the morning having had a good few tanduay rums the night before. Eventually the music gave way to a terrible, but much quieter martial arts film so we could drift off a bit. Back in PP we stayed in a very cheap guesthouse near to the airport. Soph was not impressed, but it was clean and I was more than happy with it as somewhere to crash for the night.

Having spent the evening checking weather forecasts and flight departure information, we didnt know whether we'd be flying to Cebu or hunkering down to let a typhoon pass. We woke the next day to find the sun shining and our flight was good to go...

We grabbed some breakfast at a nice little cafe and it turned out to be an anniversary of the place opening. They had a theme song, strange people in costumes walking around and gave us a free umbrella... Having got to the most relaxed/lax airport we'd ever been to we found that umbrellas were not allowed in hand luggage and the weight of the umbrella pushed us over the weight limit. There was no luggage disappearing along conveyor belts having been checked in at PP airport. Bags are just put behind the desk where a number of dodgy people mill around. We gave the umbrella to a kind looking attendant and he said our bags would be looked after... it worked out well! The security check seemed pretty primitive, though they pulled me up for having some electrical tape in my hand luggage? The water and lighter were fine! Soph was allowed to walk back out of departures, ask our baggage guy for the checked in bag back to put the tape in and then walk straight back bypassing security...

7CA11B32FA306C6A778C431C903C0760.jpg

The flight left on time. The airlines tagline was something like "have a fun flight". To facilitate this, 3 passengers were requested to head to the front of the aircraft to sing Xmas carols into the PA system in exchange for a windup hand fan...it was truly bizarre!

7CC567FFCC6822924EE1A877871AEE1F.jpg7CB70CF2E42EE8CC16759487FB42F2A1.jpg

Posted by bloorsontour 05:44 Archived in Philippines Comments (5)

Manila, Philippines

Welcome back to SE Asia mayhem!

6ECCFD87024FBFB78D495DD738DC2071.jpg

Our first impressions of the Philippines weren't that great when we were greeted by a scam taxi company at the airport; charging us 1600pesos instead of 300pesos for a taxi to our hostel. I think we'd been in Japan for too long where everyone is honest and polite, we'd let our guards down...well this won't happen again!

We stayed at Hilik Boutique Hostel in Makati; it turned out to be really well located and had some friendly staff that helped us to organise future parts of our trip in the Philippines. Right opposite our hostel there was an outdoor food market with a live band and cheap beer. Jason seems to have got a taste for their extra strong beer, Red Horse, and took to sampling a lot of the food on offer; including pork sisig, prawn curries, stuffed BBQ squid and even homemade cupcakes. We were only paying a little over £1 for a meal.

A1795889A7F3FB134D8F22592D8C6CD2.jpgDSC_0202_1.jpg

It's difficult to know where to start your sightseeing in Manila, with a lot of the city poorly developed and not particularly tourist friendly. On the way in on the plane it appeared to be made up of a sprawling network of slums, but within this there's an area called Makati that is a modern business district and very affluent. We visited a brilliant museum called Ayala, which had a really good printworks exhibition on when we were there. There's also a visual walkway that takes you through the history of the Philippines, which I found particularly useful as I can never be bothered to read the history section of our Lonely Planet guidebooks. Other highlights of the museum include a gold exhibition and natural disasters' workshops, plus it was a nice air con break from the Manila humidity. Next door to the museum there's a series of posh shopping malls called Greenbelt 1-4; there's really expensive shops like Gucci, beautifully landscaped gardens with its very own church, loads of restaurants and a cinema. If only I wasnt backpacking I'd have spent hours browsing the shops. It really didn't feel like we were in the true Manila exploring this area...

6E88C7BDEDB783C1AD56D5C1DC1DF0EF.jpgDSC_0148_1.jpgDSC_0150_1.jpgDSC_0156_1.jpg6E916D91BD23F570C8FE22BA9E389600.jpg

The next day we got a taxi to a different area of the city called Intramuros. The taxi ride there was an eye-opener; lots of homeless people, bustling shop stalls, makeshift houses from wrought iron, tonnes of children sleeping on street corners and caged cockerels ready for the next cock fight...this felt like the real Manila. In Intramuros we walked around Fort Santiago and its walls that surround this old Spanish district; quite pleasant but unfortunately a lot of it is poorly preserved ruins due to the bombings of WW2. The streets around Fort Santiago are worth exploring though, with lots of Spanish colonial buildings, decent restaurants and the Manila Cathedral. From here we walked to Rizal Park, where we were reminded it was Christmas in the blazing sun of Manila with Christmas carols being blasted out of its speakers throughout the whole of the park. It all seemed very odd to us...sun and Christmas don't normally go together.

DSC_0162_1.jpg6E97D6E9EB01A648CA82EA2B38F7DECE.jpg6E9A4AA9B6CA37078476F3F7960C59C4.jpgDSC_0166_1.jpg6EAE1699E23B8FED2452F3FB9B5A8583.jpgDSC_0170_1.jpg6EC0D0AFD84C018982E821C00993C017.jpgDSC_0178_1.jpg6F050677D2A114ED8179C09C96072657.jpg6F197791CD5050F31B9B8B6594F3113C.jpgDSC_0189_1.jpg6F20A932C294418C9582D4E5C11E6ACE.jpg

Just round the corner from the park there's a golf club and Jason claimed he was getting golf withdrawal symptoms...so as he was suffering I suppose we had to pay it a visit. He only went on the driving range, and to be honest I'm not sure how much he liked it because he said he felt too uncomfortable that a young Filipino girl was at his feet the whole time making tees out of mud for him...we gave her a tip for her help and for risking her life (as Jason had a couple of near misses where the club nearly left the grasp of his hand).

6F483944016A3BD25BBFECEE3F3BD726.jpgDSC_0197_1.jpg

A lot of people we've met hated Manila...we don't feel like that at all. Ayala Museum, Greenbelt shopping malls, Intramuros and Rizal Park are all definitely worth a visit; plus the food stalls opposite our hostel have been fab for tasty cheap Filipino eats. However, I am looking forward to some fresh air on the Philippine island of Palawan.

DSC_0182_1.jpg

Posted by bloorsontour 00:18 Archived in Philippines Comments (3)

Osaka Universal Studios, Japan

Harry Potter converts

After a lot of chit chat I managed to persuade Jason to go to Universal Studios...yes!!! I was so excited!

image-1_1.jpg

I set my alarm extra early to make sure we got to the ticket booth first and ensured early entrance to the park. I thought I was eager...the Japanese were there even earlier and were frantically running around when the gates opened. I tried to get Jason to run but he was having none of it.

image_1.jpg

We'd got the speed tickets that meant that we skipped the queues for the major attractions and were given a time slot for the Harry Potter area. It didn't seem that busy for most of the rides but it probably made sense to get the speed tickets for Harry Potter and the big rollercoaster, American Dream, alone.

image-2_1.jpg

We tried to go on everything: Spiderman, Back to the Future, Shrek, Terminator, the Waterworld show, Space ride (which was my personal favourite), and loads more. Harry Potter really surprised us, neither of us are particular fans, but the whole area is amazing and there's so much attention to detail. We treated ourselves to butter beer, but couldn't persuade Jason to buy a wand or cape. We were amazed by the main Harry Potter ride; fantastic 4D effects, water and fire in front of your face, action packed. But I'm afraid the Flight of the Hippogriff was rubbish (that might be slightly unfair, I'm sure younger children loved it).

image-10_1.jpgimage-20_2.jpgimage-4_1.jpgimage-6_1.jpgimage-7_1.jpgimage-8_1.jpgimage-9_1.jpg

I loved the whole day, especially because of all the extra Christmas touches. There were Christmas parades, Christmas songs played throughout the theme park, huge Christmas tree and twinkly lights...it made me feel all Christmassy!

image-5_1.jpgimage-3_1.jpg

This is our last entry for Japan. We spent our last day finishing our Christmas shopping in Kyoto and making our way to a hotel near the airport. Looking forward to finding some warmer weather in the Philippines.

P.S. We didn't take our big camera so I'm afraid the pictures are only off our phone.

Posted by bloorsontour 23:18 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

Himeji and Kobe, Japan

Nothing much to report

Himeji

33554FF4BE112BDF35050AEDA73A06D2.jpg

Not much to report here. Himeji has Japan's best castle and Sophie has decided that I love castles (I do quite like them) so we thought we'd better take a quick look. The tower was closed so we just had a quick wander around, took a few photos...

DSC_0058_1.jpgDSC_0063_1.jpgDSC_0073_2.jpg

It was a little drizzly so we decided to spend tthe afternoon Xmas shopping. I even tried to win some presents at the arcade, but failed miserably (it was fixed!).

33573E41D2FA36B5766C8C252F6C0E14.jpg

Kobe

We used Kobe as a base for 4nights for visiting surrounding places (including Himeji). We had a cheapish hostel with our own bunk bed room. It was a little tight, especially as we had to hang washing up due to the rain outside...

DSC_0079_1.jpg

No pictures of Kobe really. We ate well and spent more time trawling the shops, but it was mainly just a comfortable base. We didn't even try Kobe beef, although, as most of it comes from Oz, we can always grab some there... We did on the other hand get into tempura; a cheap and tasty restaurant that we were addicted to.

Posted by bloorsontour 22:25 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Onomichi, Japan

A spot of cycling

DSC_0016_2.jpg

Most weekends are difficult finding accommodation, but this weekend proved even more tricky because it was a Japanese public holiday. When we were staying at Hanna Hostel in Hiroshima we met Sylvie and Willem (from Lille, France), they too were frantically searching for accommodation on the internet like us. At one point it just seemed impossible (unless you wanted to pay a small fortune). Lucky for us Willem found a guesthouse on an island called Setoda with a couple of spare tatami rooms free and invited us along for a couple of days cycling the islands south of Onomichi.

Sylvie and Willem organised everything for us...we turned up at Onomichi station in the morning and they had our bikes ready and waiting for us.

DB0257DBF8A0EE0F5CFAEDFE1BC75D00.jpg

It's very popular cycling the network of islands from Onomichi; great cycling paths, well sign posted, convenient bike hire & drop off points, beautiful scenery and jaw dropping bridges connecting all of the islands together. A lot of people make the trip from Onomichi to Imabari, but we took it easy (Day 1: Onomichi to Setoda, Day 2: Setoda to Omishima and back, Day 3: Setoda to Onomichi).

DB063FB995BA294F6C87DCEC11504B51.jpgDSC_1069_1.jpgDAF3AEADF3F9F0F5334E4A6BE3409350.jpgDAE367EC98355EA306D01C31193896D9.jpgDAE1B0F6D57C5C7447C1EF78F67B2407.jpg

Although I would say the overall scenery wasn't stunning, quite industrial in places, it was definitely picturesque. All of the islands are connected by bridges that you can cycle over; beautiful manmade arcs dot the horizon.

DSC_0051_1.jpgDSC_0048_1.jpgDAE5355F92B7EF0888C6B7EDC63E61FA.jpgDSC_0001_1.jpgDADF3DACFC936EBFBAC023EEA9237D7D.jpgDSC_0022_1.jpg

The islands are covered with orange trees, thousands of them and it was fruit picking season too. They had so many oranges that some Japanese women were giving them away to all the cyclists that went past. I'm sure we got extra orange treats because we were foreigners. Jason now wears his handmade orange badge on his bag everyday.

DAC212D3020A54D6A47F028275BE41C0.jpgDABFA90AC57D784B0E6CCC61395D9EBD.jpg

The weather was absolutely gorgeous for the whole three days of cycling. Bright blue skies meant lots of picnicking outside along the way, calling in at convenience stores and supermarkets to get fresh pastries, soups, tempura and sushi. Of course it also called for obligatory beers whilst watching the sunset right by our guesthouse on Sunset Beach too.

DABE01BFEA179BB5FBC3E0B2A0CBD365.jpgDABC4F25FFD7DBF5F16CD4BD7F1BB86C.jpgDSC_0018_1.jpgDSC_1060_1.jpg

Our accommodation, Setoda Guesthouse, was basic but nice and clean. Its appeal was beach front location and onsite onsen that looked out to the beach (its downside was the rather surly daughter that frowned at everything). We had our evening meals at the guesthouse as it was a rather sleepy location; grilled fish, pickles, rice, sushi and dumplings. The place was run like clockwork: at 6.30pm they'd be a knock on your door calling you to dinner, you were not to be a second late...the same happened for breakfast at 7.30am, which is why we chose not to have breakfast there on the second day, we needed as much sleep as we could get after cycling and a 9am checkout time.

Overall it had been a fab few days with great company. Thanks Sylvie and Willem for organising it all! Hope you continue to have fun on your next adventure, keep in touch x

DABA2F519A711E8B8B4FDF43B97AC874.jpgDSC_1075_1.jpg

Posted by bloorsontour 06:02 Archived in Japan Comments (2)

Miyajima, Japan

The 'not so' floating gate

Miyajima is a brief train and ferry ride from Hiroshima (all included in the Japan rail pass). It's another one of Japan's top landscape views and we made a quick morning stop there.

DSC_1042_1.jpg

To be honest, I think we miss timed our visit to Miyajima. The best time to go, from a photographic point of view, is at high tide when the Shinto Shrine Gate appears to be floating out at sea. Still a beautiful scene, we got there at low tide when tourists can walk up and touch the gate instead (so getting an obstructed camera shot).

D98E509101DAEA8AB45739A4EDB69561.jpgD9902801E0689B347FB78DB3D509D0F5.jpg

It's quite a pleasant town, although lots of tourists and cheap souvenir shops, and you can walk around it in an hour or two really. There are very sociable dear that wander around, even trying to get into the restaurants for a free feed and the local delicacy seems to be fish rolls. They taste similar to Thai fishcakes and you can have them in lots of different flavours; spring onion, bacon &asparagus, chilli. Jason liked them and tried quite a few.

D99E5ADF07DD3E4EED9C23239888A374.jpgDSC_1055_1.jpgD9927D73CA85D7EDD2AE2389090B0FE5.jpgD98C7C12061770FD4DDF972CAD7498E2.jpg

We then spent the afternoon trying to do our Christmas shopping and found a decent Indian restaurant for a curry and a beer. Lovely!

Posted by bloorsontour 05:16 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Fukuoka, Japan

Sumo time!

DSC_0991_1.jpg

We'd based ourselves in Hiroshima for a few days and having our rail passes meant that we could access quite a few areas from there. Luckily, it was the November Sumo Championship in Fukuoka and only a short ride from Hiroshima. We can't tell you anything else about Fukuoka and its tourist attractions, but we had a brilliant day watching the sumo.

DSC_1037_1.jpg

You can pre-book ringside tickets in advance or turn up on the morning, like we did, and pay considerably less money for a general admission ticket (which entitles you to back row seats and all day admission for a little over 2000yen).

I'm sure Jason's best bit of the day happened outside the arena... Sumos out and about. He couldn't believe the number of sumo wrestlers walking about in everyday life in their robes, wooden slippers and oiled hair. He particularly enjoyed secretly photographing them at the traffic lights, in the supermarket and general chit chatting with each other. They were absolutely massive, casting shadows over me and Jason.

CD895C21D06FE823E0F3E480514AAA8E.jpgCD8714E4E09E232A61961BA6B209A1ED.jpgCD858CDEB5B79A080412C57DB98DCAFA.jpg

The rules...as far as we can work out...

It all starts with a song from the umpire.

DSC_0970_1.jpg

Then there's repeated squatting and throws of chalk in the air.

large_CD907CA3F47EDF27F305582891B2FB8E.jpg

Next comes the hip swing and slapping of thighs.

DSC_0987_1.jpg

The charge.

DSC_0972_1.jpg

Shoving, eye gouge, slapping, tripping up, general wrestling about to try and get your opponent on the floor or out of the ring.

DSC_1021_1.jpg

Although there's fighting all day, the top leagues don't get going until the end of the day, with full procession and traditional performances.

DSC_1012_1.jpgCDA4C9A0B726624046D34AF46FFED795.jpgCDA124EE04EAFA8B57A8589DF4D3295D.jpg

The crowd got particularly excited about a fighter named Endo, cheering and shouting over and over. We had a group of school children sat in from of us and they were screaming and waving sticks in the site for Endo. Unfortunately he didn't win and Jason managed to snap the unfortunate end to his fight (bum in the air).

DSC_1020_1.jpg

Overall, not a sport I'll be trying myself but a very entertaining day!

Posted by bloorsontour 01:28 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Hiroshima, Japan

Exploring the Peace Garden with our Japanese tour guides

DSC_0941_1_1_.jpg

Before we even made it to our hotel from the train station we'd stopped for a cultural experience, sampling Hiroshima's delicacy of okonomiyaki. The train station had quite a few restaurants serving these delicious egg pancakes. I had a plain pork one and Jason had his with oysters. It's basically a filled pancake of beansprouts, bacon and your choice of filling with a fried egg topping and sweet sauce... I loved them.

DSC_0917_1.jpg

Our hostel, Hanna Hostel, was perfect; cosy living room, full kitchen, private bedroom, helpful staff and offered us a free guided tour of the peace park. A few of us took them up on their offer of a tour; it gave us a great chance to meet other travellers and we had the perfect guides too.

C67D9B00EA035B865405FA24F72BDB2D.jpg

Three Japanese women, in their 60s/70s, guided us around the park and explained everything there was to know about the area and its history. They said they were doing their tours for free because they wanted to practice their English and keep the memory of Hiroshima alive. They were so cute (unfortunately we forgot to take photographs of them); they came prepared with a folder of information, flicking through it at any opportunity, wanted to ask us questions about our lives (I.e. whether the UK buries or cremates their loved ones) and told us personal anecdotes about what they and their families had experienced. One memory that touched us was how our guides mother went to help at an aid centre after the bomb hit and described the devastation her mother had seen there, she also showed us old family photographs too. They pointed out the different surfaces on the granite remains, the areas not directly exposed were still smooth whereas the roughened areas had been affected by heat radiation. They also a explained about a building, once a bank and now a tourist office, which survived the blast. One man survived inside because he had gone into the cellar to collect some papers...when he returned to the bank floor he found that everyone else had died and that all the surrounding area was in flames. A truly horrific image. We learnt so much having a guided tour with them, we would have missed and not understood a lot about what the park and its surroundings had to offer.

C60C84AC9E01F02989AAEC9FEFF3E242.jpgDSC_0928_2.jpgDSC_0934_1.jpg

The ruins of the A-Bomb Dome

The government debated what to do with the ruins of this military hall that was destroyed by the atomic bomb and decided to leave it completely as it was in memory. It lines up in contrast to the arch cenotaph and Flame of Peace inside the memorial park. The flame is not an eternal one, but one that will be extinguished when there is no more nuclear weapons on earth...

DSC_0939.jpg

The cenotaph is enscribed with the names of all of the victims of the bomb, reaching now hundreds of thousands (I can't remember the exact figures). There is also a mound of grass that has remaining ashes of people that were burnt on the day of the bomb. The numbers were so high that they said that one spadeful of ash in the pile was one human life, there was no other way of determining bodies.

C74AA373DE3E3C2498F0F280F30B179D.jpg

There's a beautiful children's peace monument in the park.

DSC_0932_1.jpg

When we were there different schools were lining up to pay their respects, singing songs in front of the monument and handing over their handmade paper cranes. Sadako Sasaki was a little girl that got leukaemia from the atomic bomb. She made a thousand paper cranes to symbolise longevity, happiness and peace. Children from around the world send cranes to Hiroshima everyday in her memory.

After our tour we went into the Peace Memorial Museum. Again very interesting, graphic in parts and thought provoking. There were photographs from the day, of people being burnt, clothes in display cabinets with the persons' story attached. Afterwards we both signed their petitions to put an end to nuclear weapons.

We spent the afternoon wandering around Hiroshima, which is now a modern city, grabbed a noodle lunch and visited the newly built castle (of course, the original was destroyed by the atomic bomb). Neal, a fellow backpacker from Canada also joined us, and we're hoping to meet up with him again in the Philippines.

C755583B03EC6174B8717F462FF9D862.jpgC756C3C7C2529D09CC36C8C262AD9A84.jpgC75933C6A1F6E88ECB44424B9D1D3899.jpgC75AC7E4DEE73D55B939D8F36DBA5085.jpg

We had a lovely evening back at the hostel; enjoyed drinking whiskey with the other travellers from our tour group, grabbed an evening meal together and ended up planning a couple of days cycling together with Sylvie and Willem (more of them to come in future blogs).

Posted by bloorsontour 19:49 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Kyoto, Japan

Beautiful city, not-so-beautiful accommodation

DSC_0829_1.jpg

We arrived to find a huge modern train station, complete with 11 storey shopping centre and a huge Xmas tree.

708A03F49402A2F99469A579BECDE9E3.jpg708BD5C0E010A34B1A35CD7CD16A5FFD.jpgDSC_0786_2.jpgDSC_0787_2.jpgDSC_0789_2.jpg70922D4DBCC723C84A5A80010711DF9D.jpg

Upon leaving the train station, Kyoto is a bit of a disappointment. It is essentially a modern concrete city built around some of the most historic sights in Japan and all of the good stuff is initially hidden from view.

Finding somewhere to stay in Kyoto was a pain. Our landlady in Nikko did her best for us and spent an afternoon ringing around. In the end, she found a "simple place", near to the station and under £50 a night... We arrived to drop our bags off before heading out for a day of sightseeing. It smelt of dog and was a bit chaotic, but was in a decent location. More on this later...

We headed to the Higashiyama district and headed for its main attractions...

Kiyomizu-dera; a big wooden building on stilts, lots of people, stunning despite construction works and the number of tourists (Japanese tourists are generally calm, don't shout or elbow, so crowds are much more manageable)...

70A508570201DFC4AC0A15CF7033A392.jpgDSC_0807_1.jpg70950F65ADB201CBF5E6A05422020447.jpg7097B42393B9558ECF353B7CB6C02419.jpgDSC_0817_1.jpgDSC_0819_1.jpg70A91CB0FF3EFBF89C39AD5E931E5F4E.jpgDSC_0827_1.jpgDSC_0833_1.jpg70B964FDDC82331AD34C47C3539ED039.jpg

Gion - the old geisha district. We saw a quite a few, but suspect they were paying for the privilege rather than being paid, judging by the quality on show! This area is very touristy, but that's seems to have preserved buildings that have been torn down elsewhere in the city. In the backstreets, there are some pretty exclusive residencies, restaurants and Ryokan. We walked on to find somewhere a bit more in our price range for lunch.

DSC_0839_1.jpg70BC2940C3BB74A8826C89D718473278.jpg70BD9298AB4525A9582E19C825136E28.jpgDSC_0850_1.jpgDSC_0853_1.jpg

We were a little late for lunch and most places were closed. We followed our noses, though a curtain and into a great Ramen noodle shop. They mixed the broth with a spade in a couldren - it smelt and tasted amazing!

70CC7A2E0E00D3A295846C98B9DAB587.jpgDSC_0856_1.jpg70CEC46DF5EEF249838108DA5F740154.jpg

After a bit more walking around and an ice cream stop, it was time to head back to our guesthouse. The place was a maze, stuff everywhere, yapping dogs, a strong smell of garbage and one toilet for who knows how many guests (at least a dozen). As this was the most expensive place we had stayed, we weren't too pleased. We sat in our room, which smelled, bit looked clean enough and heard scurrying on the ceiling above... we were looking forward to 4 nights in one place, but we were in quick agreement that this would be for one night only! The internet was broken, so we couldn't even search for somewhere else! We spent the evening outside a tourist office with free WiFi, looking for somewhere new, followed by a whisky or two to drown our sorrows.

The next day we got out of the guesthouse early , hired some bikes and headed off on a loop of the north west area of Kyoto.

We toured a fair few temples...

DSC_0860_1.jpgDSC_0862_1.jpg70D3B7C802F67100873C32BEFA2C447F.jpg

Kinkaku-ji - the golden temple. It's one of Japan's top photographed images and is well worth seeing. This is also where Sophie's new nickname comes from... Ginger Carp.

70D52756918483817EFE6E53C7545D1A.jpg70D6D37599E355A73A207A9509E242F2.jpgDSC_0869_2.jpgDSC_0875_2.jpg

Riyoan-ji - the Zen garden (some rocks in gravel to have a really good think about).

70E42A0291062FD1F73DFD1530DA5742.jpgDSC_0884_1.jpgDSC_0887_1.jpg70EB4966C91DFB7F6383B3A8F328AE48.jpgDSC_0893_1.jpg

Ninna-ji. Nice and relaxing. Covered walkways connect loads of temple buildings around gardens with some weird flowers.

70FDFD2AAC933CACB29988E7FB34C2E7.jpg70FF883FE8A03AF41F5153262A7DA693.jpg

Finally, we had time for a stroll along the bamboo path, before cycling for an hour back to the train station to catch the Shinkansen to Hiroshima. A fun, but pretty tiring day.

710101B5E1E7CB3802BE3FA341C0110E.jpg7102AD9EAEFACB76EB7790ABDFF0B3EF.jpg71047E81D711E4F67ABDC32D2C47CE9C.jpg

Posted by bloorsontour 05:02 Archived in Japan Comments (3)

Kanazawa, Japan

A busy afternoon

72D315E5DC2C4711F1CC67F625DF7C83.jpg72D81D73D4A098D448B28E1AB404786B.jpg72F18192E3929E4B75A8BD7F184FE148.jpg

We squeezed in a brief visit to Kanazawa. It was a short train ride from Takayama and we'd managed to find a cheap hotel for the evening, so that helped make our decision. The train got in at midday and so we quickly rushed around a couple of the main tourist sites in a busy afternoon.

The Kenroku-en Garden is the best I've been to, especially the time of year we went because of the autumn leaves and rope suspensions on the trees. The gardeners tie the branches of the trees with rope in the autumn to prevent damage to the branches during heavy snow fall and it creates beautiful landscape views. A japanese garden is supposed to have six attributes; seclusion, spaciousness, water, artificiality, antiquity and views - I think this one does pretty well - it really was stunning to walk around.

72D559E6050AF30CB95B651AAFF475B1.jpg72DB3288D20B03DF4A5E211950AEACC2.jpgDSC_0696_1.jpgDSC_0701_1.jpg72E618E6F17FB689906FBFB1FE9BE6E7.jpg72E729C1B00105197A35DAD0A3126A96.jpgDSC_0720_1.jpgDSC_0724_1.jpgDSC_0740_1.jpg72F6FA01090D1C07C81F816444F71D8F.jpgDSC_0748_1.jpg==Your heading here...==

We made a fleeting visit to the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. We didn't have time to visit any of the special exhibitions, but we did have a brief look around the building and outer galleries. The building itself is extremely modern, smooth glass walls and circular in shape (with no main entrance, so that you don't approach the works in any particular way, apparently) and there's a weird swimming pool that looks like there are people walking around in the water (but it's an optical illusion and actually the people are in a room underneath the water).

7300E762A99F9A01268C78E93A6B4E67.jpg72FDD499BA6900D9B6FBA169210C9441.jpg72FBE64DD0ED5AF7F32F268AC266E271.jpg72FF8B9A97299213ECE65F3F00A1F304.jpg

We then dashed over to Higashi Geisha District. Apart from Kyoto, it is one of the best preserved geisha areas in Japan. Untouched by WW2 and so showcases original streets with slatted wooden facades and lined with boutique shops and tea houses. There's a gold leaf company there and you can watch the process of gold leaf production (although we didn't have time). In their shop they sell gold leaf jewellery, gold facial products, bags embellished with gold leaf and much more...I could have spent a lot of pennies here. There's a whole building facade covered in good leaf too.

730E1480B76E4E618947F64FA8A491C2.jpg730FFFD1F6C65D571FB27E9CF2E4D5CF.jpg7312A59D9AB978D1073C638BEFCA3503.jpg

Although this was a very short visit I really enjoyed our afternoon here and wish we'd had a bit longer to explore.

Posted by bloorsontour 06:49 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Takayama, Japan

Our first ryoken and onsen

6A3DA007EC100488D9692188C242D24C.jpgDSC_0625_1.jpg

The train ride to Takayama was one of the best we've taken. Firstly, it was on the Shinkansen bullet train, secondly we ate amazing sushi and finally we had a picture perfect view of Mount Fuji. You usually have to be pretty lucky to catch a glimpse of the snow capped peak of Fuji, usually covered in cloud, but on this particular day it was in its full glory for a good proportion of our train ride along the south coast of Japan. It really is a beauty (and I caught a pretty good camera shot of it from our super fast train).

6A2F19D8DCAC87618BE5FAC064F6264F.jpg6A304601FAF8EAB76923715D8AF102F2.jpgDSC_0530_1.jpg

We were desperate to stay in a traditional ryoken; however a lot of them are luxury boutique style spa hotels and way out of our budget; Jason managed to find us a reasonably priced one in Takayama and we enjoyed our stay here a lot. Our room was a traditional tatami floor with futon beds, full yakata (dressing gown) wear for lounging in, endless supply of green tea in our room and couples onsen bath. I was so glad it was a couples onsen, a lot of them are single sex only and you have to shower and bath naked in front of strangers...not something I was looking forward to. Jason on the other hand was willing to embrace the full onsen experience. He really wanted to go in a natural hot spring onsen outside where you can bath next to wild monkeys, but unfortunately this place in Japan was too difficult to get to in our short space of time.

DSC_0535_2.jpg6A34288FDF321B1CA746211972CA9473.jpg

Takayama is a pretty town with traditional wooden buildings and narrow streets, a lot of them housing souvenir shops and sake brewerys. We spent a lot of our time browsing the shops for Christmas gifts and the odd sake tasting here and there. We decided we like the fruity sweet sake a lot more than the dry or hot ones, best to be served over ice.

6A35AC7CCE4AB02FD0AC07BA0AFCB351.jpgDSC_0614_1.jpg6F0356F9ECAF4D8AF6C4A2434CB4A499.jpgDSC_0609_1.jpg6A3EC654CD0F4A48D635B044435A4F3E.jpgDSC_0559_2.jpg

We visited the Festival Floats Exhibition and puppet museum (I promise this was better than it sounds). These huge floats make an appearance twice a year in Takayama festivals, they're ornately decorated in bright colours and gold leaf and are each housed in ready made storage containers dotted about the town. Some of them have amazing puppets attached to them. We had our own private puppet display and presentation in the museum; Jason loved it and was amazing by the engineering of it all. J went on stage and was given a cup of tea by a mechanical puppet and then another one drew us a signed Japanese print. There was also a model replication of the temples we'd visited in Nikko where you got to appreciate the vast craftsmanship of each temple in detail (especially as some of the originals were covered and under construction). Overall money well spent.

DSC_0568_1.jpg6A473698BA58EE2D86957764076E5D7B.jpg6A485B0D9FA18D9C672E6315AA6C5E61.jpgDSC_0581_2.jpgDSC_0583_2.jpgDSC_0593_1.jpg6A526CF5E30C004CB2D040E43DA2CA76.jpg6EFE1C38D1F7B094A0888FFD34751894.jpg6EFF8F44FE9EB1599500A32757503A1E.jpgDSC_0624_1.jpg

After a busy day we we headed back to our ryoken for a well deserved soak in the onsen.

The next morning we called at a little cafe for breakfast, the place was fine and the breakfasts OK...Jason had a traditional hida beef burger with apple sauce for his breakfast fill. The only reason its worth mentioning is because there was a lovely Japanese girl that wanted to practice her English. She asked if I knew anyone who liked Hello Kitty and of course said our niece Ruby did, so she drew her a little picture which I hope makes it to Ruby in time for Christmas.

We then visited the open air museum which housed some traditional Japanese buildings from the region. The museum covered quite a large area around a pond; there were old wooden homes, wooden carvings, original mills, traditional weaving & woodwork displays and games. The scenery was beautiful, yet again surrounded by orange and red leaves on a bright autumn day with views that looked out to the Japanese Alps.

6F086FD6A68B8FE7AFBBA300E5B640DF.jpgDSC_0632_1.jpgDSC_0647_1.jpgDSC_0638_1.jpgDSC_0652_1.jpgDSC_0658_1.jpgDSC_0663_1.jpgDSC_0671_1.jpg

For our last night in Takayama we had to move into a hostel as the ryoken was fully booked for the weekend, luckily it was a really nice one with our own private room. To save a few pennies we ate in and got ourselves a prepared nabe (hotpot) of fresh ingredients from the supermarket. Its such good value; pork, noodles, mushrooms, beansprouts, flavoured stock all for £1.50. All we had to do was boil them together in the hostel kitchen and tuck in...delicious!

On our final night it had been quite cold and as we were walking down to the train station you could see how Takayama was surrounded by snow capped mountains. It wasn't quite ski season when we were there, but it looks like they were starting to have their first snow. Maybe when we come back we can make the most of the snow...

6F22F268FCABD20F191AD1710B5CAC4F.jpgDSC_0672_1.jpg==Your heading here...==

Posted by bloorsontour 05:00 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

(Entries 46 - 60 of 118) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 6 7 8 »