BATANES: The Winds Up North – Part 2 [Solo Travel]

Following my north Batan tour from my recent blog post, the next day I decided to go to Sabtang island. I availed my solo Sabtang tour from Ysabelle Homestay for only Php1,300. It was quite reasonable because Kuya Mik, my tour guide, brought along his motorcycle with him up to Sabtang Island but we’ll get to that later. The morning was frighteningly dark. From sunshine and clear skies the day I arrived, I finally saw the real Batanes weather. I thought that my Sabtang tour was going to get canceled because the sky looked like it was almost the end of the world. Ate Elma told me that it may still push through depending on the harshness of the waves we will be sailing through. Going to Sabtang, you need to start early in the morning because the boat going to the island leaves at around 7am everyday. After freshening up and eating the breakfast prepared by Ate Elma, me and Kuya Mik went on to our journey to the port.

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The motorbike ride to the port was one of the best things I have experienced. The cold breeze and the dark clouds made it such a surreal experience. The huge cliffs and the mountains we passed by were so scenic that I felt so small and insignificant against mother nature.

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It was still quite dark and rainy when we arrived at the port, but when they started giving out the life jackets, that’s when we knew the journey would push through. The boat ride to and from Sabtang island will cost about Php 200. Kuya Mik’s motorbike was then tied safely on the front part of the boat together with the other motorcycles. He told me not to sit on the front part if I didn’t want to get wet from the splashing waves.

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I can now say that I have experienced the real Batanes weather. It was so exciting for the waves were big and the skies were gloomy. The boat was kind of small and may tip over. It was awesome!

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We arrived the Port of Sabtang, a line of tricycles and vans were waiting there for their guests. We only had a few hours to tour Sabtang Island but before that, we needed to go to their municipal hall and pay their municipal fee of Php 200. Kuya Mik started our tour at Chavayan Village, it was on the farthest part of the island. He said it’s better to start there because the flock of tourists would most likely go there last.

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The ride to Chavayan village was indeed majestic. Cliffs and rough roads before you get to the village. On our way there, we spotted a very rare bird called the Black-faced Spoonbill. Kuya Mik quickly stopped the motorbike as he saw the bird in its peaceful endeavor. I couldn’t get a clearer picture though, but we were really lucky. I think we were the only ones who saw the bird that time.

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Chavayan consisted of cute little stone houses which endure the wrath of typhoons in Batanes. I also got to try on a “Vakul”, a head protection made by the Ivatan people to protect them from the rain and the heat of the sun. I was also shown how they clean the dry leaves used for the Vakul.

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King Kong vibes in here. Reminds me of Skull Island.

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Here in Batanes, the coconut crab is very common. I got to see one from a little shop that sells souvenirs. The coconut crabs are now actually endangered in Batanes as to why it’s not allowed to bring them home back to Manila. I didn’t try to eat one tho, for I didn’t want to contribute to the decline of the species.

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Next up, we headed to Chamantad-Tinyan viewpoint. I was out of words when I saw all the glory that is this place. It was so beautiful, it was a great place to have an existential crisis. One thing I was scared about though was the very very strong wind. It was literally blowing me away. Be careful when walking near cliffs while the winds are strong. Kuya Mik couldn’t take a proper photo of me because of the strong winds.

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We then went to Savidug Village. It was said that Yeng Constantino’s music video for “Ikaw” was also shot here.

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The very last stop of our Sabtang island tour was in Morong beach where we were scheduled to have lunch. In Morong beach, you will also find the Makabuang Arc.

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Since I was traveling alone, I was reserved a solo seat when we had our lunch in Sabtang. When touring Sabtang, you will most likely be with other tourists or groups that are on tour that day. Also, there is only one place where guests have lunch and that is the one in Morong beach. I was pretty hungry as I was waiting alone for my food. Kuya Mik and the other tour guides ate at another area. I was not informed that it was going to be a set meal. When the ‘Ate’ came in with my food, I asked “Ate, sa akin ba to lahat?” (Is this all mine?) and she said yes, laughing at my reaction. Maybe she was also surprised that I was alone traveling. For all Sabtang tours, you only have a choice of a set meal which costs Php 300.

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See the yellow rice right there? That’s Turmeric rice and it is my favorite. The Ivatan people love to put turmeric on their dishes and I have no problem with that.

You may ask why is eating a set meal the only option? Why can’t I eat at other eateries? What if I don’t have a tour guide? You will most definitely have a tour guide. Unfortunately, doing a DIY solo trip and visiting sites in Batanes on your own is quite impossible now. They require visitors to have a tour guide. Yes, it’s REQUIRED. If you’re on a tour, everyone goes on the same exact tour and everyone eats at the same place. I’ll get more to that later.

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Thus concludes the end of our Sabtang tour. The boat ride back to Batan was quite bouncy. Much harsher than the ride to Sabtang. The waves were pretty high but the sun was already smiling at us.

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When we arrived back to Batan, I still had hours to spare. I decided to go back to Fundacion Pacita and just spend the afternoon there. Cafe du Tukon is a little quaint cafe and restaurant with gorgeous views. Food prices are quite expensive because you are kind of paying for the view. I had pasta and an iced tea for a total of Php558.

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On my last day in Batanes, I went on the South Batan tour. This time I wanted to get a feel of those little hut tricycles so I availed of a tricycle tour to avoid the heat of the sun. Again, I arranged my tour with Ysabelle Homestay. Kuya Tino was once again my tour guide for the day.

We started the South Batan tour at Chawa view deck. It was a view spot facing the ocean but the highlight of this place is the staircase down. Strong waves were crashing against huge rocks. I suddenly wanted to sing “The Winner Takes It All” just like Meryl Streep from Mamma Mia haha.

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Kuya Tino mentioned that there were locals who already died here. They went down that rock platform unsupervised, not knowing that the strong waves could take them away. Please be do careful, those waves aren’t weak.

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Next, we went to Mahatao Boat Shelter Port. This is where fishermen boats are parked, as well as the coastal guard. I also got a chance to buy Taho from a very nice kuya.

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We then went to Tayid Lighthouse. It was so beautiful that I wanted to spend like a few more hours there just sitting down and pondering about life.

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Look at those cows there just chilling and living the life.

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After the lighthouse, my most favorite part of the tour was Racuh a Payaman or the Marlboro Country. Vast rolling hills make me a happy child. The views are amazing as always! It was hard to take proper photos though because of the harsh wind. You can definitely sing “The Sound of Music” here.

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After a very long tricycle ride down the hills, we arrived at the famous Alapad rock formation. It was saddening that I saw trash just right by the sea. Please keep your trash with you as you tour around.

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You can see the famous “BLOW UR HORN” sign everywhere in Batanes where there’s a sharp blind turn.

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Next up, the famous Honesty Coffee shop. Now there was a word going on around that Honesty Coffee shop required an entrance fee before you can go in, but when I went there, no entrance fee was paid for I can assure that. I bought a few snacks to bring home such as the Bukayo.

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From food to clothes and other souvenirs you can find them here in Honesty Coffee shop. You just need to write down the stuff you bought on the little notebook they have inside. This is for their inventory purposes. You pay by inserting your money on one of the boxes there. They do not have change so you really need to pay the exact amount.

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We then on traveled to the House of Dakay. It is the oldest house in Batanes. You can see from the structure that it is the traditional Ivatan house that needed to endure the harsh weather.

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Before we go to our last stop and end the day with lunch, we passed by the Spanish Bridge. It was built during the Spanish era and is still being used today by the Ivatan people.

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Our last stop for the South Batan tour is the Homoron White Beach. It was a quiet beach with shallow waters perfect for swimming! We didn’t get to go to the Spanish Lagoon because construction was ongoing.

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Alas, we ended the day with lunch at Paulvanas. I ate with Kuya Tino because I couldn’t possibly finish everything on the set meal. Everything was delicious or maybe I really was just hungry from all the touring.

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I also loved the Nilagang Baka with seaweed. I’m not quite sure what kind of seaweed it was but it tasted really good and resembled a Miso soup.

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Thus that ends my South Batan tour. I spent the rest of my night packing and chatting with Ate Elma back at the homestay. Getting back to requiring a tour guide in Batanes. Yes, unfortunately, it was recently approved by their municipality to require all visitors with tour guides. So to those wanting to go to Batanes and doing a DIY trip, you can’t go alone for you need have a tour guide with you. There are several tour agencies around Batan which can help you with touring around. Though if you are a solo traveler like me, I highly recommend doing an “angkas” tour (motorbike tour) because it is cheaper and you can talk to your kuya tour guide on which places you want to go to first.

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A short funny story just when I was about to leave Batanes. The morning of my flight was rainy. I woke up to the sound of harsh winds outside the homestay. The powerlines were also out. The winds were very strong and I feared that my flight might get cancelled. I ate my last breakfast at Ate Elma’s with only a lamp infront of me. I started to get nervous that I might not be able to go back to Manila because I had work the next day. As always, the weather in Batanes is quite bipolar. I still went to the airport and the Skyjet people still pushed through with the flight, thank god!

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That concluded my stay in Batanes. It was indeed something new for me. Traveling alone in my own country and immersing myself with the locals. The Ivatan people are genuinely nice. I’ve never felt more welcomed. I have nothing but nice things to say about my stay with Ysabelle Homestay. Ate Elma’s family made me feel like I had a family in Batanes as well. Saying goodbye to this marvelous place is heartbreaking. If only I could stay a few more weeks or months just getting along with nature. I couldn’t go to Itbayat Island anymore due to limited time. They say people get stranded there for a few days if the weather becomes bad.

Me with the ever amazing and nice Ate Elma

If there was a place I’d like to live in here in my home country, it would be Batanes. Never mind the no internet part and the part where there are no commercialized areas. I would love to immerse myself in this kind of environment. I hope I could visit Batanes again soon. Hopefully to visit Itbayat this time. I still can’t believe I went here alone. Just a dream once, a dream that someday you would be coming with your loved ones. But when people you once cared about start to leave you, that’s when you’ll have the drive to go. I still have my dream, even if I was left with nothing. 🙂

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Until we meet again Batanes!

Total expenses:

  • Skyjet Roundtrip Flight- Php 12,260
  • Ysabelle Homestay 4 days and 3 nights with Breakfast- Php 1,350
  • Batanes Eco Tourism Fee- Php 350
  • Beehan Lunch Meal- Php 120
  • North Batan Tour- Php 1000
  • Beehan Dinner- Php 140
  • Sabtang Tour- Php 1,300
  • Boat ride to and from Sabtang-  Php 200
  • Sabtang Municipal Fee- Php 200
  • Set Meal Morong Beach, Sabtang- Php 300
  • Cafe Du Tukon Meal- Php 558
  • South Batan Tricycle Tour- Php 1500
  • Paulvana Set Meal- Php 300
  • Beehan Dinner- Php- 100

TOTAL: Php 19, 678

 

If you would like to stay with Ysabelle Homestay in Batanes, check out their facebook page below. You may also contact them using the number below.

Ysabelle Homestay
Santana St. Brgy. Kaychanarianan Basco, Batanes
https://www.facebook.com/YsabelleHomestayBasco/
(+63) 928 234 2542

 

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A first-timer’s guide: Japan

There’s always a first time to everything. I’ve noticed that my way of coping with heartbreak is to leave and just go somewhere. So this is my first time traveling on my own, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I’ve always wanted to go to Japan, mainly because of the food. It was a place where convenience is important and people value discipline. Life is quite easy in Japan. The food is good and the culture is present. I used to think I couldn’t possibly go there alone, but good thing something pushed me to finally do it. Not waiting for people, not waiting for other decisions to be made, I just did it.

Let me share with you how I winged it in Japan alone. First, there was the airfare. I use skyscanner.com when looking for cheap flights. Luckily, I found a round-trip flight with Jetstar for only Php 13,703 with added 10kg check-in baggage on my way home. I know there are other cheaper flights out there, especially when airlines have their promos. Just do take note that some of these airlines don’t land in Kansai Airport (Osaka’s Airport). You can find the airport train station just outside after you go through the travel booths. It’s located just across the bridge.

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Second, your Japan Visa. Now, this is the part where it gets kind of lengthy. I got my Japan Visa with the help of Reli Tours (Megamall Branch). I needed to get a tourist visa, which is also referred to as a 1-B Tourist Visa with No Guarantor because I was paying for the trip myself. If you’re planning to go to Japan ALONE, I suggest you start saving up money in your bank account first, because one of the requirements for getting a Japan visa is a bank certificate. You will need a reasonable amount in your account for your visa to be approved. Since I was alone, I tried saving up to 50k on my account just to be sure. One of the requirements for getting a visa is a birth certificate, which I requested from NSO (Php 315). Once you submit all the other requirements to your chosen agency, in my case Reli tours, you need to pay Php 950 for the handling fee. I will break down the full process of getting a Japan Visa with a Philippine Passport soon on another blog post.

Next was a place to stay. Since I was on a budget, I opted for a traveler’s hostel. I chose ARK Hostel because it was very convenient to places I wanted to go to and it’s really adorable! I booked with them via booking.com and my four days three nights stay cost me only Php 4,505. That’s not so bad. I cannot recommend this hostel enough. I have everything I needed. The bathrooms were nice and clean. There’s a common area and a kitchen. There are lockers you can use and a computer too. Best part was I met new friends because of this hostel! 🙂

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I wanted a hassle-free way to go around, so I purchased the 3-day use of the Kansai Thru Pass via Klook for only Php 2,339 and it was a charm indeed. The Kansai Thru Pass can be used on trains and buses within the Kansai area. Do take note that this pass can’t be used on JR lines. It was very helpful that it can also be used from Kansai Airport to Namba Station using the Nankai Line.

Another thing I know I needed was internet connection. I knew I was going to get lost somehow and google maps would be my only hope. My friend recommended that I rent the Pupuru pocket WiFi. I rented 4-days use of Pupuru pocket WiFi, which cost me around Php 1,840. It was indeed helpful to have wifi wherever you go. You pick up the pocket wifi at the airport. On your last day of rental, you just drop it on one of the red mailboxes you can find around Japan. Return packet with address is already provided.

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Here’s the breakdown of the essentials:

  • Round Trip Flight via Jetstar from MNL to KIX – Php 13,703
  • Visa Handling Fee + Birth Certificate – Php 1,265
  • ARK Hostel Stay 4 Days and 3 Nights – Php 4,505
  • Kansai Thru Pass for 3 days via Klook – Php 2,339
  • Pupuru Pocket WiFi 4 Days – Php 1,840

Total of Php 23,652

Now all you need is an itinerary and your pocket money. I’m a person who doesn’t like planning so I kind of just went with the flow. There were places I had in mind that I wanted to visit, though my four days wasn’t enough for all of them. So here are the places I got to visit.

Osaka Castle
This wasn’t really part of my plan but it was nice that I got to go here too. I met a friend in my hostel and we went there together. You need to get ready for the long walk to reach the actual castle because it’s really in the middle part of the compound. It was quite far from the nearest train station. There are food stalls before you enter, and you can find the famous green tea ice cream in there. The area of Osaka Castle is very calm and serene. You can sit by the benches and enjoy the view from the outside, or you can opt to buy a ticket to enter the castle.

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Dotonbori
Now, this is my favorite part of all, lots and lots of food! You go to Dotonbori to eat and to shop. In my case, I was really just there to eat. From takoyaki to okonomiyaki, to ramen and gyoza. You need like a whole day to explore this place. Try as many as you can. The famous shopping place called Don Quijote can be found here. I bought so much stuff to bring home that I couldn’t fit all of them in my luggage anymore. The famous glico man can be found here.

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Fushimi Inari Shrine
Kyoto was one of my favorites. It was an area in Japan where I could feel that I was actually in “old japan”. Kimonos everywhere and shrines for prayers. It was really just so overwhelming to visit this place. I tried ringing the bells on the Inari shrine. I was hesitant at first because I really didn’t know how to do it and it might come off weird if I didn’t do it right. Still, I had nothing to lose. I was in another country alone and on my own. I watched the Japanese people as they do their prayers. I quickly learned that you have to throw in some coins, ring the bells, bow twice, make a wish, clap your hands twice, and bow for one last time. It was a great experience to try new things. Near the Inari shrine there’s a mini market with lots of food stalls. My always-hungry-self got giddy with excitement when I saw them.

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Universal Studios Japan
A ticket to USJ can be quite expensive. If you’re really not into all the fun rides and shows, then you can actually just skip USJ. For me, I was a huge Harry Potter fan and I wanted to see a life-sized Hogwarts. I don’t have it in my heart to skip USJ. Let me tell you how you can lower that whole-day ticket price. I just found out that you can actually purchase half-day tickets and that’s like a helpful price drop-down. From 7600 yen, the half-day tickets cost around 5800 yen. That’s going to be our little secret haha. With the half-day tickets, you can enter the park after 3pm. That’s still a lot of time! But please do go there on a weekday to avoid herds of people. In my case, I went on a Thursday, and the crowd wasn’t that bad at all. The queuing wasn’t that long and was actually reasonable for a theme park. Maybe we were just in luck because I’ve read about people queuing for long hours just to get on a ride. I guess Thursday afternoon is the best time. Can I also just say that I love the ladies restroom down in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. They actually have Moaning Myrtle crying in the restroom. Props to them!

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TRANSPORTATION

Don’t fret, because trains are Japan’s forte. From high-speed bullet trains to the numerous train lines making it easier for you to get from one place to another. Do not be intimidated by the train lines and ticket system. In fact, getting a ticket from the machine is quite easy, that you can ditch that JR pass. First, you should know which line to take to get to your destination. Stations in Japan can get quite big and you may get lost. Just follow the arrows to the line you need to get to or if you’re lost, ask questions and they would gladly help you. When you get to your line, you will notice ticket gates. There are always ticket machines beside them. The ticket machines have an English option so don’t worry. When purchasing a single journey ticket, you basically just select “Single Ticket”, put the amount of money in, then select the amount you’d like to buy (usually 180 yen for single journey). As far as I have understood, single journey tickets on main city lines are around 180 yen. JR lines are a different case though, they’re a bit more expensive because they travel long distances. Never lose your ticket while on the train journey because you will be using it to go out. I am in no way a local in Japan and I only got to understand the ticketing system quite a bit. There are tables you can check and maps that have the prices of your destinations. If your purchased ticket came short and you can’t get out of a station, there are always ticket adjustment machines available. This is my new friend Diane navigating through a ticket machine.

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I have also observed that Japanese people love to walk and they’re fast walkers. If you’re going somewhere pretty near, I suggest walking because that’s what everybody does. I noticed people overtaking me whenever I’m walking. I mean, I couldn’t possibly be that slow am I? Remember, Google Maps will be your best friend. Bicycles are also used aside from walking. Just do be careful with bikes because I almost got rammed over by a dozen bikers. When riding trains please give way to the people getting off the train, before you go inside. It’s simple etiquette but it makes everything easier. Taxis in Japan are also expensive. I chose to ride the train back to the airport even if it means I have to carry my luggage around, as long as it’s cheaper.

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FOOD

Food in Japan is the best thing ever. Who would have thought that I’d be loving 7-11 microwaveables. They’re that good. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in Japan, eat like the Japanese. Don’t settle for familiar, try new things! Try as many as you can! Being the cheap-ass that we were, whenever we’re hungry at night, we’ll grab a rice meal from 7-11 with a can of Asahi beer. That my friends is a good combo. Hungry for a small snack? Get an onigiri by a local convenience store. Don’t know exactly what to eat? Just go to Dotonbori and spend a day eating your heart out or devour everything they sell on that mini food market near Fushimi Inari. I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.

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PEOPLE

I have nothing more than good things to say about the Japanese people that I have encountered. They were all very nice. The day I came to Japan, I already got lost in Namba station. This nice man approached me asking if I was okay. I told him that I was looking for the Yotsubashi Line, and instead of just directing me where to go, he went all the way to actually walk with me to the gates of Yotsubashi line. Of course, at first I thought it was kind of sketchy, but wow he actually walked with me there. That was really nice of him. Same thing happened to my friend who was looking for Dotonbori, she got walked there by a nice stranger. They’re mostly nice people based on my experience. Just still be cautious ALWAYS though. Also, please understand that English is not their main language. If they are trying to help you, they’re actually taking their time to explain to you properly even if they speak a different language.

OTHER SIMPLE TIPS TO GET BY:

  • DO NOT walk while eating. You will get stares of disapproval.
  • DO NOT talk so loudly inside trains. You will get stares of disapproval.
  • DO NOT throw or leave your trash anywhere. You will definitely get stares of disapproval.
  • DO wait for your turn and stand on the right side to enter the train, after everyone has gotten off.
  • They are fast walkers. You might want to keep up with their pace when walking.
  • There aren’t many elevators in Osaka most especially in train stations. As much as possible bring a small luggage. You’ll be carrying them up the stairs.
  • Sometimes the distance of train stations and lines can be very far from each other.
  • You need to be ready to walk loooong distances. So wear comfy shoes.
  • Sometimes, eating at a restaurant can be an “eat-and-run” kind of thing. Don’t spend like two more hours just lounging around after eating.
  • It never hurts to use phrases such as “Sumimasen” (Excuse me) and “Arigato” (Thank you)
  • Do not be afraid to ask questions! They’re nice!
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New friends from the hostel. Shiori and Diane 🙂

I have to admit that my four days in Osaka were very short. I was even planning to go to Kobe but I couldn’t anymore. My first solo trip was a great experience. I met new people, done things I haven’t done before, and I just went for it! I had nothing to be afraid of. It was actually really fun. Glad that I started it off in Japan. Here’s to hoping I get to come back soon. Japan is now my favorite country by the way. I’ll rate everything 5-stars indeed! 🙂