A tiny island in my province that has so much to offer. If you want a quick escape from the concrete jungle that the City of Golden Friendship has been turning into, the Island of Fire should be in your list!
It’s a few hours away from my city and can be reached via a boat ride from the port of Balingoan (which is a 2 to 3-hour drive from Cagayan de Oro City). My family and I visit the place at least once a year. It gets crowded during summer vacation in the Philippines which is scheduled at the end of March till first week of June, but summer doesn’t really leave the country so you won’t really miss anything if you visit the island during non-peak months.
The most recent visit was due to my dad’s profession (had to attend a court hearing) but since my mom and my sister wanted to tag along, we decided to stay for a quick 2-night stay. We booked an entire home via AirBnB called “Ila Vicente” located in Catarman, Camiguin. It’s a bit far from the usual touristy Mambajao but it was well worth it. In all honesty, we spent more time at Ila Vicente than going out to explore the island (partly because, like I’ve mentioned, we annually visit the place haha). I mean, who wouldn’t? Just look at this place!
You can ask their in-house staff and the owners, Willy and Vicente, to whip up your meals for 175php/head. It’s way economical and less stressful than having to go out to find a good restaurant to satiate your hunger. And believe me, the food Tita Willy and her staff made was one of the reasons we stayed put at Ila Vicente than go out hahaha! She makes sure all the main ingredients used are fresh and up to her visitors’ tastes. This is what I love about the island life! Here are a few photos of what they served us:
If you want some fresh air, you can laze around their spacious payag or ask the staff to call in a local masseuse. You can also request that you take your meals at the payag, too!
Aside from just hanging around Ila Vicente, we did manage to visit the Beehive Camiguin and Driftwood Cafe which is also located right in Catarman (woohoo!). The cafe is right beside the sea, is vegetarian-friendly, and also sells a wide array of local products from fresh fruits to coffee. The decoration and design of the cafe make me feel like a hippie mermaid that decided to have a bit of out-of-the-water food for a change. I definitely recommend trying this place out and gaze out into the sunset while you much on healthy goodness!
We also went to check out Tuasan Falls and the Old Church Ruins out of my mother’s insistence that our short island stay wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t visit at least one body of fresh water and a known tourist destination.
After roaming around under the heat of the sun though, I needed something cold for recovery. I needed ice cream! A quick google search made me find an article talking about the ice cream at The Northern Lights being one of the best in the island so we set out to look for it. It’s a bar and restaurant that’s more known for its pizza but also makes home-made ice cream. It’s in Agoho, Mambajao so we had to go around the island to get there before heading back to Ila Vicente to call it a day. I ordered 3 flavors to-go, Mango, Avocado, and Chocolate. That blogger wasn’t kidding when it said the ice cream was good, creamy and not too sweet, and at 15php per scoop, who am I to complain? To my Zero-Waste Warriors, please forgive the use of plastic; I didn’t want more processed sugar and unnecessary carbs from having to eat the wafer cone (plus they didn’t have anything else to put the ice cream inside for take away).
Aaaaand that’s pretty much all about our short trip to Camiguin!
If you’re interested in booking Ila Vicente for your stay, you can book via AirBnB by clicking HERE.
For more photos of the food we ordered at Beehive Camiguin & Driftwood Cafe, click HERE.
When someone talks about Japan, one would automatically think about shrines, kimonos, sakura, and sushi! And, when someone asks which part of Japan I love the most, I would always choose the old capital, Kyoto.
The Western Capital
Kyoto, which means “capital city,” used to be the capital of Japan before it was moved to Edo, later known as Tokyo, in 1868 during the Imperial Restoration.
It is interesting to note that during World War II, the United States of America originally planned to bomb Kyoto but dropped the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki instead because they considered Kyoto too beautiful to be destroyed.
Dress Till You Drop
During our recent stay in the land of the rising sun, we took a day trip to Kyoto to mainly visit Fushimi Inari Taisha. While we were there, I thought we might as well walk around in kimono during the trip. Kimono literally means “a thing to wear” but now refers to what we regularly see as Japanese traditional clothing.
We rented our kimono from Yumeyakata, a kimono rental store with probably the cheapest rate (3,500 yen per person or 6,500 per couple) in Kyoto and is located in Hosai Building around Gojo-dori.
I couldn’t really take photos while we were inside because it’s not allowed and it was too hectic in there. To check out more details on how to rent a kimono from Yumeyakata, please click HERE. It’s best you book online because a lot of people use the services they offer and get a slot on the day you’re planning on going because they will refuse walk-in customers if there are too many clients during that time.
After about an hour inside (yes, it takes that long to get you dressed in a kimono), we had our lunch at Yayoiken which is near Hosai Building and right after, headed off to Yasaka Shrine. One would never understand why some would call the kimono an impractical kind of clothing when it’s such a beautiful and elegant thing to wear… until you actually wear one while walking a wore one while in a busy city like Kyoto. Trust me, it is a little bit difficult to walk around wearing Zori (traditional sandals but not the Geta kind) and wrapped up in so much clothing. Indeed, it is what you would call a ‘fashion over comfort’ moment.
Let Your Prayers Be Heard
On our way to the kimono rental shop, we stopped by Higashi Honganji Temple. It is a 750 year old buddhist temple and is one of the world’s largest wooden structures. Sadly, when we went there, part of it was under construction and only a little of the whole area was open to the public. However, the prayer hall was open during that time and we could see the monks doing their daily prayers. Visitors could also join if they wanted to. Others who would rather watch from the outside could check out everyone praying through peepholes on the doors (kind of sounds like a naughty thing to do. Oops! hahaha).
Higashi Honganji has a brother next door, Nishi Honganji. We wanted to go there but due to time constraints, we opted not to and just save it as another side trip for the next time we come back.
Yasaka Shrine is in the Gion district and is practically a few meters away from the bus stop. Just take the 100 or 206 bus and alightat the Gion bus stop OR take the train and alight at Gion Shijo station. It is a pretty famous shrine and is quite convenient to go to so there’s always a swarm of tourists there. The queue at the Honden (spirit hall) was so long, we figured we could just ask another God in another temple to hear our prayers. We went to around Murayama Park which is right beside the shrine grounds and bought icecream at a small shop run by an elderly Japanese couple.
We walked around Gion after our break at Murayama. I was a little disappointed to see majority of the areas being modernized and you couldn’t really catch a glimpse of a REAL geisha or maiko around the area (or you can’t tell because some kimono rental shops offer ‘geisha or maiko’ packages. So watch out because you might be taking a photo of another tourist instead of a bona fide geisha/maiko!).
We made a short visit to Kenin-ji Temple, considered to be one of the most important Zen temples in Kyoto, but quickly left to catch a train going to Fushimi Inary Taisha.
Side note: We didn’t really plan on going to Kenin-ji Temple; we got lost and found ourselves there. Hahahaha!
Anyway, to get to Fushimi Inari Taisha from Kenin-ji Temple, you just have to backtrack to Gion Shijo Station and ride the Keihan Line to Fushimi Inari Station. The walk from the station to the shrine would only take you about 5 minutes (or 10 minutes if you’re wearing a kimono like me).
Fushimi Inari Taisha is a Shinto shrine dedicated to the spirit of Inari, the protector of grains or harvest. A lot of businesses pay homage to Inari as it’s also attributed as a protector of wealth and prosperity. The shrine grounds is huge and the red torii look amazing in person! The main reason I wanted to go here was because it was used during the filming of Memoirs of a Geisha and where little Chiyo was running around.
While the Go-Honden was at the base of the hill, you can go up to the top to see the main shrine. At Fushimi Inari Taisha, you’ll notice a lot of foxes instead of shishi (lion-dog) guarding the shrine; they’re considered the gods of the harvest. If you walk around, you can find a lot of food stalls that stell various traditional food such as the famous kitsune noodles, yakitori, and of course, takoyaki!
I bought an omamori (protective/good luck charm) for studying at Fushimi Inari Taisha because you’re never desperate enough when you’re in law school hahaha!
I would recommend that you go to Fushimi Inari Taisha during the early morning because by the afternoon it is full of people, locals and tourists alike.
Cats sleeping near the altars, cats playing around in the shrine grounds, cats eating near the stone steps, cats meowing on top of shilled roofs; cats everywhere! It’s amazing to see how these stray cats are so used to people visiting the shrines they spend their lazy days away hahaha!
Are You Gonna Stay the Night?
Truth be told, I felt bad for not booking a night at Kyoto beforehand. There was so much to see but you couldn’t really see all of what the place had to offer in just a day.
You cannot comprehend its full beauty and how humbling Kyoto is if you don’t spend at least two or three days in the vicinity. If you’re visiting the Kansai area, please do take your time in Kyoto. It is an experience you will never regret and forget!
One really random night, after watching a bit of anime to soothe my weary soul from all the insults and quips I have been enduring from law school since the first day I enrolled, I dreamt about gallivanting around the Land of the Rising Sun; “soaring, tumbling, freewheeling!” (in the words of Jasmine from the Disney movie, “Aladdin”) with not a care in the world for codal provisions and jurisprudence. The next morning, I woke up in an apartment near Kami-Shinjo Station in Osaka. Like what the-? Did I just really transport myself to Osaka, Japan while I was asleep?! OH. MY. GOD.
Of course not.
It took months of planning and preparation because I need a visa to even step foot there now.
Moving on, I stayed there with my family for about four (4) days. Note, though, that since this was a family vacation without a tour package (meaning, I had a set of middle-aged parents who are not used to long walks anymore, three  siblings of different ages wanting to see totally different things, and I was the tour guide… who always got lost), we couldn’t really cover everything everyone on the internet has raved about as the “TOP THINGS TO DO AND MUST SEE” when you’re in Osaka. Besides, I like to take my time to take in my surroundings instead of rushing from one point to another because of a darn list of places to go to.
We arrived at Kansai International Airport, also known as KIX, at around lunch time. After grabbing a quick bite at McDonald’s (for some reason, I find it funny yet ironic that the first thing that welcomes me at KIX is a cheeseburger and fries) we went to buy our Surutto Kansai/Kansai Thru Passes at the Tourist Information Center (I’ll discuss more about this pass in another post) headed to Umeda Station where my friend, Chinumi, met us. After that, we headed to our apartment located near Kami-Shinjo Station (we rented an apartment using AirBnB). The Kami-Shinjo area is, honestly, a little far from the busy parts of Osaka; it’s 15 minutes to Umeda and 25-30 minutes to Minami-Namba via train. However, I can’t complain because three blocks away from our place is a grocery store and a takoyaki shop that sells one of the best I’ve tasted during our stay.
(PSEUDO) UNDER THE SEA~
The train ride to Umeda Station from KIX took about 2 hours via the Nankai Train so when we got to the apartment, it was already around 5:30pm or so. After we were settled at the apartment, we decided to head for Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. We took a taxi (which I will never recommend that anyone do because it is expensive af) because the aquarium’s schedule for last admissions was at 7:00pm and taking the train from our place to Kaiyukan would take more or less an hour. PS We paid 3,000+ yen for a ride from Awaji Station.
For more info, please check back for the link on my main post on Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan!
HOW ABOUT SOME WINDOW SHOPPING AND A DATE WITH GLICO MAN?
For the rest of our stay in Osaka, we went to check out other places like Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori. Shinsaibashi is a shopping district in Minami (Namba) and has a lot of establishments. It kind of reminds me of the anime, Tamako Market. Shinsaibashi-suji has a Disney outlet and I bought my Mickey Tsum Tsum pillow there! While a little ways away from Dotonbori, and getting lost in the process, we also had a little side trip to Daiso, that famous global 100-yen shop we all know and love.
Gotta catch ’em all including Totoro!
The next destination was, of course, a visit to Yodobashi Camera! One of the largest chain stores for electronics in Japan with one humongous building which sells electronics (every kind that you can imagine!) as well as novelty stuff. It would take one whole day to see everything Yodobashi has to offer (and I’m not even exaggerating)! After our trip to Yodobashi, we checked out the Pokemon Center in Daimaru and Kiddy Land in Hankyu Umeda. All three are in the same neighborhood and are a few minutes away from each other. At the basement of Hankyu is Donguri Kyowakoku which sells official Studio Ghibli merchandise in Osaka (please check back for a separate post on how to get to the Pokemon Center and Donguri Kyowakoku in Osaka).
On our last day in Osaka, we took the limousine bus from Umeda Station to Kansai International Airport Terminal 2 where we were boarding a domestic plane to Tokyo. It’s best that you go really early because the bus ride takes at least an hour and a half to Terminal 2 from the train station.
Stay tuned for more of our crazy Japan adventures!
Next posts include A Daytrip to Kyoto, Our Stay in Tokyo, and other various much needed information you need to know before you head for the Land of the Rising Sun.