Sunday, January 8, 2012

Japan, Philippines, and Taiwan in 17 Days

Warning: Long and image heavy post ahead.

I experienced some of the most fun and worst times during my trip abroad. We were constantly on the move, not spending more than 3 nights at one location. I've come to appreciate the meaning of "living out of your suitcase." Kudos to those of you who travel often for work; I know I would be in one foul mood all the time. For this trip, I was lucky to travel with my cousin(s), who not only put up with my slacker ways (last minute planning among my many offenses), but also had to constantly wait for me while I took pictures*. Thank you S and T!

First stop: Japan. This was easily my favorite of the whole trip. I had an idea of what to expect thanks to helpful suggestions by SS and katattack2000 prior to landing, but the culture, the people, and the food all blew me away. If asked to describe the Japanese in 3 words, I would say: efficient, clean, and welcoming. Those are some serious praise in my world :)

Cousin S and I landed in Osaka around dinnertime. We were sleepy, famished, and cold, so our first order of business was to eat some hot ramen. While walking to our hotel, we happened to pass by one with a short line and decided to give it a try. Of all places, this shop turned out to be Ippudo! We quickly devoured our $10 bowls of ramen, which were as good (if not better) than NYC's. I didn't see pork buns on the menu, but we did see many locals eating what looked to be a fried rice dish.

Another place worth mentioning is Yamamoto Menzo, an udon noodle shop. Like Ippudo, we came across it by accident. While walking around Kyoto, we saw long lines for two shops and randomly picked one to stand in (the other turned out to be for soba). Luck and patience paid off because their udon and broth were absolutely delicious. I've never been a fan of udon before (prefer thin noodles), but now I'm a convert.

Over the course of two days, we sampled plenty of other food from green tea items (mochi balls, cream puffs, cookies, drinks, etc) to street vendor dishes to local specialities (takoyaki, okonomiyaki). One thing I did regret was not having enough time to try out more ramen shops.

Enough about food, onto the sights! We toured a few temples/castle, strolled along Philosopher's Path (we apparently missed the beautiful foliage by a few weeks; cherry blossoms in the springtime is said to be a sight to see), got lost inside train stations and their underground malls (massive and clean with beautiful architecture), were impressed with how polite and friendly everyone was to foreigners (had no problem getting around solely knowing English), couldn't figure out how street numbering worked (one of the reasons we ended up eating at random places), and loved all the cute signs everywhere.

Lastly, the fashion. We stood out like the tourists we were among crowds of fashionable locals. Everyone was so put-together, both in personal grooming and style. I saw many guys in v-neck sweaters over a tie and dress shirt (even on weekends), while I saw most girls wearing skirts and boots (pants and ballet flats were quite rare). Trench coats (I lost count after awhile) were also quite popular with both genders.

My time in Japan was much too short-lived (it's already back on my list of places to visit again). It's definitely a place worth visiting sometime in your lifetime.

After a quick stop in Taiwan to meet up with my cousin T and her friend, we were off to our second destination, the Philippines. This was the one leg of the trip that I knew nothing about until we were boarding. We traveled with a tour group to Boracay, an island in the central part of the Philippines. If I was underdressed for Japan in only my sweatshirt and a thin jacket, I was severely overdressed for the Philippines because I left my swimsuit at home. D'oh! Never take planning or packing tips from me, that's for sure.

Our journey from Taipei to our Boracay hotel was quite a trek. Each mode of transportation became physically smaller and smaller with each leg of the trip. A 3 hour plane ride from Taipei to Kalibo airport -> an 1.5 hour tour bus ride through the countryside -> a short sail on a banana boat across islands -> a small van taking us to one end of the Boracay beach -> a "tricycle" (a scooter with an attached addon that seats 4-6) that took us to the other end of the beach.

Boracay is set up like the quintessential tourist getaway, with a stretch of sandy beach where the water is oh-so-blue on one side and hotels and stores on the other (palm trees were aplenty to provide shade). We ended up in two different hotels during our stay and lucked out with our own balcony overlooking the beach with one of them. You bet I spent a lot of time outside lounging and soaking up the sights and sounds.

The worst happened halfway into our trip when a few people from the tour group (including myself) got sick. We think it's probably the bacteria in the water/some sort of food poisoning. Oh my gosh, never have I felt so awful. The running joke was that people who didn't drink that night got sick and the ones who drank felt fine. Alcohol kills all! I joke because this didn't turn out to be the case later on. The tour guide and even my Filipino coworkers from home warned us to only drink bottled water. We did stick to that, but we also didn't pass up trying mango smoothies, other mixed drinks, and ice cream with shaved ice. Whatever the bug was, I'm certainly more wary now.

The majority of the time with the tour group was spent partaking in water activities, ie: fishing (I might've been the only one who didn't catch a fish, hahaha), snorkeling (quite fun once I stopped panicking and learned how to moderate my breathing), and banana/sail boat rides at sunset (what a view!)

What they say about island time is true. Everything felt slower; I felt more relaxed. Aside from being sick, I'm glad I had a chance to unwind and refuel because there was more traveling ahead. Next and final stop: Taiwan.

Upon arriving back in Taipei, we immediately turned around and took a high-speed train to Kaohsiung, a city in the southern tip of Taiwan. We stayed in the city and also ventured out into the countryside, both to visit various relatives. When we arrived back in Taipei, we did find time to visit an historical section of the city. That was about the extent of experiencing new things, so I really didn't take many pictures while in Taiwan.

Taiwan food is good, cheaper, and plentiful -- a foreigner's dream. I ate my share of noodles, ranging from beef noodle stew to cellophane (sadly, no ramen). I think there was one day where we ate noodles for all our meals, lol. I also couldn't get enough of my love of bubble tea and had a drink every day. Yes, I'm obsessed. $1-$1.50 gets you about 20 oz. What a deal. Din Tai Fung (thanks for the rec, SPG!) is famous and for good reason (lines didn't bother us, we went two days in a row). The soup dumplings were great, but my overall favorite item from this trip was their dessert taro buns. So, so good. Please, please, please open up a location on the East Coast so I don't have to shell out a plane ticket to eat there again!

There's quite a bit of Japanese influence in Taiwan. To me, the people are nowhere near as fashionable, but the food is quite good. For one meal, we ate tonkatsu (Japanese pork cutlets and oysters) and even made our own sauce by grinding sesame (I'm not sure if that's the norm). It was neat. For another meal, we sat at the bar and watched the chef prepare all sorts of dishes (mainly sashimi) until we're full. This was my first sushi bar experience, so watching him cut the fish, using the torch, etc. was fascinating. My favorite from the meal was a fatty part of a bigger fish because the meat literally melted in my mouth. I've never tasted anything like it. Ok, I sound like a complete uncultured newbie in this paragraph, so correct me if I misused any terms :)

This trip was full of wonderful new experiences, amazing food, and I'm sad that it's now over. It's funny because I didn't feel all that excited before the trip. Oh how fickle am I. If you made it through this post, I hope you enjoyed it and thank you for letting me share!

*A few of the Philippines pictures thanks to my cousin T!

34 comments:

  1. Great post! I've always wanted to know more about these places....this makes me want to go to Taiwan - especially for the bubble tea :P Fab post, thanks for sharing <3

    Tasia

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  2. Cee, I loved this post! I read every word and couldn't wait to scroll down to the next photo. I'm so sorry to hear you got a stomach bug or food poisoning during your trip. It happened to me too the last time I visited Asia, and it's truly draining. The food you had in Japan and Taiwan sound SO good. I've only been to DTF on the west coast, so I can only imagine how tasty the Taiwan location's food is. Thank you for sharing your travel diary with us.

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  3. Amazing pictures! Looks like you had a great time on your trip (excluding the sick part).

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  4. This post makes me want to go toJapan!
    Thanks for sharing your travels!

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  5. I would love to go to Japan, always wanted to go and your pics just prove how beautiful it is!!

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  6. I love your photos and made me miss Japan so much! I hoped you like Osaka food! Man I was drooling through all the photos and I gotta say I miss Ramen and that Okonomiyaki! I went to Taiwan last year and the street food is awesome! I think I'm having PHD! (Post holiday depression!)

    katattack2000.wordpress.com

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  7. I love this recap of your trip! You totally sold me on going to Japan when you said that the Japanese are efficient, clean, and welcoming. lol

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing, Cee. I enjoyed this post so much. Food and travel pictures always interest me. I want to visit Japan and Taiwan one day - but I hate plane rides. I'm not good at travels either. "Living out of your suitcase" will absolutely make me cranky. lol.
    Welcome back, and happy New Year!

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  9. Traveling abroad can be difficult, but looks like a fun time overall. And how yummy are the food?

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  10. Great you had fun on your vacation (especially in Japan!) and thank you for mentioning my blog. I really enjoyed your post. Sorry that you got sick though. I miss green tea sundaes so much now!

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  11. Cee, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the vacation and especially the emphasis on food! I had to laugh out loud when I heard you got sick in the Philippines. A similar thing happened to my sister when we visited relatives there. That's why whenever I travel now I stick to safe and boring food. But this reminds me how much I miss out on the cultural experience. Will have to change that next time!

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  12. Doh!! Just reread my comment and didn't mean I was laughing at you! My sister and I have running jokes about our countries food.

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  13. Wow! Sounds like a great trip! Also, Din Tai Fung is also in LA and Seattle, so you should definitely check it out the next time you are in those cities (the LA location is better, I think)

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  14. So, I have to know...did you ever buy a swim suit?! Lol! That is too funny that you did not bring a suit!

    Thank you for taking the time to share all this with us! The foods looks and sounds amazing!

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  15. Such gorgeous photos! I love trip reports and yours was amazing. Funny because I also had those exact taro buns twice while in HK - DTF is my favorite and I will also gladly wait in any line to get my fix :) I would love, love to go to the Philippines one day! You are so lucky!

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  16. Oh my, you should be a travel blogger! I love this post - informative (love the food parts) with beautiful photos. I'm bookmarking this page for future traveling purposes. I love that you describe Japan as "efficient, clean, and welcoming" - that makes me want to visit all the more. The green tea drinks photographed look SOOOO good! Not sure if you have a Mitsuwa near you but they have (or at least mine did) a little green tea drink stand in the food court serving green tea lattes, green teaccino, green tea ice cream drinks, etc (not the fancy stuff, but at least there's "stuff"). Sorry to hear about the food poisoning!

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    1. I bookmarked this page for good reason! Going to Taiwan and HK next year! :)

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  17. Yay! Have been waiting for this post--thank you for taking such beautiful pictures and taking the time to share your trip with us :) I love travel and don't get to do it nearly as often as I'd like, and Japan is near the top of my list!
    Travel food poisoning is awful-ugh :( I can commiserate: I ate/drank something in Brazil (same rules as Philippines, no tap water/foods with water) right before I got on the plane to come home--it was easily the most miserable plane ride I've ever had :p

    Alissa

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  18. Love the recap Cee! Those places you went to is definitely in my to go place in the "near" future. I want to do a tour around Asia one day..maybe when K is a bit older. I always get so jealous when ppl travel and get to eat such gooood yummy food! :D

    Glad to see your back!!!

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  19. Kudos to you girl for visiting three countries in a short amount of time. Lord,we often stay in one country each trip for almost two weeks and can't imagine juggling in more than that. Sorry to hear about the food poisoning part, my husband once got sick on the way back and it was a really miserable plane ride. Your post got me super excited about my future trip. Thanks for sharing Cee, it is a fun read.

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  20. Ahhh what a great trip! Minus the sickness of course, you guys are so adventurous. I would love to do something like this one day, I'm not sure I could be away from home travelling for that long though LOL! I was drooling at all the food posts!!!! Japan is one place I DEFINITELY want to check out. I'll be getting tips from you if I ever make it to Asia!

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  21. Cee your pictures are amazing! Thank you for taking the time to stop and take them...not to mention posting them! (thanks to your cousin's too for being so patient ;)

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  22. The pictures look amazing! I've never really cared much about Japanese culture, but you're now convincing me to travel to Japan! I'm just drooling over your food descriptions. I'll be reading this post twice or more, haha!

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  23. Thanks for sharing pics! I agree with your assessment of Japan - would love to return for a longer visit one day. I have heard about Boracay and the many many types of transportation to get there but once there…woah, beautiful. I was fortunate to avoid that poisoning from drinking water in Philippines (20 yrs ago tho) and I sure loved the shopping!

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  24. Glad to hear you had a fun trip abroad! I loved Japan when I went and ate SOOO much! Seeing your pics brings back memories and is making me hungry. haha

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  25. Sounds like such a fun trip! I love Japan (the food!! OMG!!) and I've never been to the Phillipines but it looks amazing (other than the getting-sick part). :)

    I lived in Taipei for two years when I was growing up, and we lived within walking distance to Din Tai Fung, and it was my grandma's favorite restaurant (back then it was only two stories and had like 10 tables) so we went there A LOT. I love the pork dumpling and taro dumplings so much, especially because they bring back childhood memories. They recently opened a Din Tai Fung in the mall closest to my house, so I can go have dumplings whenever I want! (if I'm patient enough to endure the wait) so if you're ever in Seattle, we can go together!!! :)

    All your food pictures are making me drool. I love Asian food way too much.

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  26. glad to see you're back cee! thank you so much for the details on your trip--i have to go back and re-read this when i go and visit those places! ;)

    sorry to hear about your getting sick--i know exactly how that feels esp. when you're traveling! :(

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  27. Thanks for taking us along w/you. Japan sounds awesome, in particular. I love all your pics.

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  28. I love vacation posts! I've never been to any of those places. I am just like you- cannot and do not like living out of a suitcase!

    Thanks for sharing Cee and glad your back :D

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  29. Glad y'all enjoyed this post and the pics :)

    @PetiteAsianGirl - Boo to stomach bug! Did you get sick while in China? My bf and his family were super paranoid about the tap water when they visited earlier this year, so when he came back he was bragging about how never got sick, lol.

    @Jarucha - Goooo! My pics didn't do Japan justice. Now I'm wishing I had taken more :)

    @katattack2000 - Lol @ PHD. You and me both! Sadly I didn't get to try out Taiwan's night market food this time around (I did the previous time I went back and loved it all).

    @Petite Therapy - Hahaha, those 3 words are wonderful for an OCD germaphobe like me ;)

    @Vicky - You know, I used to love flying, but now that I'm getting older, my tolerance for long flights have gone wayyy down. Definitely fly with an Asia airline if you can (usually better accomodations and food) than a domestic airline. I'm glad we were able to break up our flight into a few chunks to make it more bearable. Perhaps a trip for you and your husband overseas once the kids are grown?

    @Girlie Blogger - I'm still debating whether I miss the tastiness of the food or the cheaper prices more, lol. I give up, I'll take both :)

    @SS - Thank YOU for being so helpful! I think I tried enough green tea items to last me for the next few months ;) After that, I'll have to make another trip up to NYC to get my fix!

    @R.L. - Lol no worries! Getting sick wasn't funny at the time, but looking back it sure was an experience. I did get a couple "told ya so" from my coworkers *sheepish look*

    @lifeandfoodseattle - I've never been to LA and have only been to Seattle's airport. That's gotta change now I know there's DTF locations in both!!!

    @Michelle - Hahaha, yes I did buy a suit the first night we landed. Didn't want to scare the poor fishes away when snorkeling lol.

    @Katherine - I'm still drooling over how tasty the taro buns were. I remember seeing one on the dessert side and one on the main dishes side -- I'm so glad we went with the dessert one. My cousins were poking fun at me for wanting to go back to DTF when we had already gone the day before. Pshh, I'm a tourist and will only be able to eat it once every few years!

    @SewPetiteGal - Haha, I wish I traveled enough to be a travel blogger! A post once every few years will get boring fast ;) I believe the closest Mitsuwa near me is in NJ, which I've been to a couple times. Loveee all their green tea and ramen items.

    @Anonymous (Alissa) - I hate to hear that you were also sick in Brazil (I used to think that travel food sickness was a rare thing, but the more I talk to others, the more common it seems) :( Hopefully we've both (sort of) learned from our experience.

    @Nelah - I wish I could take the credit for planning, but that honor goes to my cousins ;) Looking forward to your future trip recaps!

    @Elaine A (TOBeautyReviews) - Haha, my cousin's definitely the adventurous one. Though I like to tease her that I've been to Canada while she's never been. Never! And this is a girl who's visited some obscure places.

    @Olyvia - I had the same mindset as you about Japan. Everything I knew about Japan I hear from the news or other people. But it's just not the same until you've stepped foot in their country. Pictures and words don't do it justice. Go go gooo to Japan!

    @Canadianpetite - Haha, I'm the worst shopper while traveling. I think partially b/c I'm a horrible negotiator (when it's allowed) so I just end up not buying much (or anything at all). But I do like to window shop!

    @kimmie - WALKING DISTANCE TO DIN TAI FUNG?! I'm so jealous of childhood you! It's a date if, scratch that, WHEN I ever make it out west!

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  30. I'm glad you had such an amazing trip, Cee!

    Unfortunately, your post left me wanting to eat a bowl of noodles on the beach, and I have access to neither right now, but whatever... :)

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  31. Hellooooooo from Japan:p
    Btw I am doing online shop selling cool Japanese cosmetics, so plz check it out if you are interested! ThanX!

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  32. WOW! I want to go! I always hear that people in Japan are super friendly.

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