After leaving Japan behind, our next destination was Taiwan, where we would be spending a total of six nights. As one of the less travelled countries on our itinerary, we were unsure what to expect, and excited to see what we would discover.
It was a long journey to Taiwan, including a delayed flight, and it was late afternoon by the time we arrived at our hotel in the capital Taipei. We were staying in the lively Ximending neighbourhood, which seemed much like a smaller version of Tokyo’s Shibuya district. The busy streets were lined with high end shopping malls, restaurants and bars.
In need of some dinner, we wandered to nearby Huaxi Night Market. Night markets are extremely popular in Taiwan, opening late into the night and offering the opportunity to eat, stop and socialise all in one place.
Although the main covered section of the market is small, it spills out onto the surrounding streets, with a huge variety of food and other goods on offer. We sampled a number of delicious items, although with very few English menus it was quite a challenge to figure out exactly what we were eating.
After taking the Shinkansen bullet train from Kyoto, we arrived into the grand Tokyo Station. It was a smooth journey, and although the cost was high, it was incredibly impressive especially when you are used to London Midland trains.
We had a relatively relaxing first evening in the city, enjoying yet more great ramen from a small, hidden away shop in the Ginza district, before having an early night.
The following morning we were out early in the hope of catching a Sumo wrestling practice session. There are only six Grand Sumo tournaments held each year, however fighters have to practice the complex art almost daily. We visited the Arashio-Beya stable, and joined a small crowd watching through the large window as the fighters completed their practice routines.
We followed this with a visit to Tsukiji market where we grabbed a quick breakfast, before taking the bus to Odaiba, the waterfront district to the city’s east. Here we visited teamLab Borderless, which is recognised as the world’s first digital art museum.
The attraction has built up a large following on social media, and despite arriving just before the 10am opening time, there was already a large queue forming. Thankfully we had preordered our tickets, which did shorten the waiting time. As we reached the front, we were given a brief introduction to the museum. The instillations are designed to form one borderless world (hence the name), and there is no guide or map. Visitors are invited to explore the huge site in whatever order they choose.
We began our journey through the incredibly colourful instillations, which was quite unlike anything we had ever experienced before. This included a maze of colourful lightbulb shaped balloons, that we had to navigate through.
The next stop on our brief journey through Japan was in the city of Kyoto. The city is of great cultural and historic importance, having been the capital of Japan for over a thousand years until the title was moved to Tokyo in 1868.
Unfortunately the weather was rather mixed for our two nights in Kyoto, however we still endeavoured to see as much of the city as possible. We arrived after a very short train journey from Osaka, and after checking into our hotel immediately set about exploring.
Our first stop was at Maruyama Park, which is well known as one of the best places in the city for cherry blossom viewing. We wandered around the large park, entering through the impressive Yasaka Shrine. As with Osaka the sakura trees were in full bloom, and there were crowds of tourists admiring the beautiful pink and white blossom.
After being reunited at Manila airport, we had a long day of travelling before arriving into Osaka, where we would be spending the first two nights of our trip to Japan.
Even on the very efficient Japanese public transport it still took us around an hour to reach our hotel, and it was late by the time we had checked in. We were very hungry by this point, and were fortunate enough to find a late night ramen shop just around the corner, which gave us a delicious first taste of Japanese food.
We only had one full day in Osaka, and therefore had lots to see and do. This was made considerably easier by the 1 day Osaka Amazing passes that we purchased the following morning. The passes cost ¥2,700 (£19) each, and gave us unlimited rides on the Osaka metro system as well as free entrance to over 40 tourist attractions.
We decided to start the day by exploring the area around Osaka Castle, which was reached with just a short metro journey from our hotel. Our visit to Japan was timed perfectly with the famous Cherry Blossom season, the blooming of Sakura trees which usually lasts no more than a week in a single location. We took a closer look with a visit Kema Sakuranomiya Park.
After another short flight, I arrived into Caticlan Airport which is on the northern tip of Panay Island. From here it was a short tricycle ride to the ferry terminal, where I boarded an ancient looking Bangka for the journey across to Boracay.
The famous holiday island has been the Philippines most popular tourist destination for many years, however it was closed by the Government in April 2018 to counter the damaging effects of overtourism on the environment.
After significant improvements were observed, the island reopened in October with new regulations limiting the number of hotels and tourists that can visit the islands, while many beachside bars and restaurants have been permanently closed.
Once I had checked into my hotel, I made my way to the famous White Beach, which is the reason the island originally became so popular. The beautiful beach stretches around 4km along the western side of the small island, which covers an area of just 10km2.
After a short flight from El Nido, I arrived into the busy city of Cebu, which is the second largest in the Phillipines after the capital Manila.
The city seemed to be one endless traffic jam and it took over an hour for my taxi to travel the short distance from the airport to the bus station. This was followed by a three hour bus journey south, and it was late by the time I reached my final destination, the small coastal town of Moalboal.
For the next two nights I had arranged to stay in a Nipa hut, a type of traditional Filipino stilt house. It was a great experience, although I was thankful to have plenty of insect repellent with me and I was less keen on the lack of air conditioning!
I woke early the following morning to the sound of some extremely loud roosters, which seemed to be a daily occurrence in the Philippines. Continue reading
With Rachael leaving me to explore the Philippines alone (long story), I began my weeklong visit with two days exploring El Nido.
El Nido is located at the northern tip of the island of Palawan, making it the perfect location to explore the 45 islands of the Bacuit archipelago.
I spent my first afternoon in the small town relaxing on the beach, which was surprisingly empty. However, this soon changed as it reached 4pm and the day’s island hopping tours began to return to land. Before long I was surrounded by the traditional Philippine Bangka boats and their disembarking passengers.
I spent the evening in the busy Happiness Beach Bar, enjoying some excellent middle-eastern food and very cheap San Miguel beers. Despite it seeming like the party was only just getting started, I returned to my hostel relatively early in preparation for my own island hopping tour the following day. Continue reading