A Travellerspoint blog

Hiroshima Back To Tokyo

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From Kyoto we headed southwest on the Shinkansen to Hiroshima. We explored the Peace Park in the afternoon, which is a lovely, tranquil spot in the middle of the city. Prior to 08:15 on the 6th of August 1945, it was a bustling, built-up area. After the atomic bomb detonated, almost everything in the immediate vicinity was destroyed. It is hard to picture the scenes of utter devastation today, as Hiroshima seems just like any other Japanese city. There is one building, standing at the edge of the park, which has been left in ruins. It is now known as the “A-bomb dome,” and provides a striking reminder of the destruction unleashed on that fateful day. There are lots of other memorials in the park, including a Peace Bell, a Peace Flame (which will not be extinguished until all nuclear weapons have been destroyed – which may not be for some time if North Korea have their say on the matter!), a Memorial Hall, a cenotaph and the phoenix tree (a tree which somehow survived despite being very close to the blast radius). We ate a bento box pack lunch beside the Children’s Memorial, where some of the many visiting schoolchildren were holding a memorial service.

Next we visited the excellent museum, which gave an unbiased account of the events in the lead up to and aftermath of the bombing. Hiroshima was chosen as a target for a number of reasons. It was large and densely populated, it was important to the Japanese military, it was flat (with few hills meaning the blast was not contained) and there were very few POWs stationed there. For some time, the USA had avoided conventional bombing raids against Hiroshima and other potential nuclear bomb targets to ensure they could best assess the effects of the bomb, which had been noted by the city’s residents. Against the will of the scientists who had built the bomb, no advance warning was given. There are all sorts of reasons as to why the bomb was dropped, and I feel that it may have been justified, but I feel that a warning should at least have been given. It is very different seeing recorded images and photographs of the mushroom cloud from a distance, compared to the appalling devastation suffered by the people on the ground. By the end of 1945, it is estimated that 140,000 people had died because of the bomb. For years afterwards, people who had survived the initial blast had increased rates of a variety of cancers. There are still thousands of survivors of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, who receive regular health screening provided by the government. The videos of first-hand accounts from survivors are excellent. Amazingly, on display in the museum were propaganda flyers distributed in the days after the bombing, ordering the people of Hiroshima to continue the war effort. Even after the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan didn’t surrender until another atomic bomb had been dropped on Nagasaki. One of the most striking exhibits is a watch worn by someone who was killed by the blast, which stopped working and will forever be frozen at 08:15.

The next morning we got the train and ferry to Miyajima, an island not far from Hiroshima which is famous for a big torii gate a short distance out to sea. We stopped briefly to take a few snaps but soon we were on our way on the path up to Mount Misen, which normally has great views over the inland sea back to mainland Honshu. Unfortunately we were disappointed to find the visibility wasn’t great, but we enjoyed the exercise nonetheless.

Our next stop was Himeji, which is famous for having the best castle in Japan. We didn’t arrive till late afternoon, so we reasoned that it was too late in the day to go and see the castle. Instead we enjoyed another popular Japanese cultural activity – karaoke! We hired our own room for an hour of hilarity, blasting out classic song after classic song at the top of our voices. For dinner we ate in a cool little ramen restaurant called Koba And More. There were just six seats, so we were lucky the restaurant wasn’t too busy, as the noodles were excellent and we got to chat with Koba, the owner, while he prepared the food in front of us. The next morning we did go and see the castle, which is a beautiful building in a prominent position overlooking the city.

Continuing our journey back to Tokyo, we spent the next night in Nagoya, the 4th largest city in Japan. Despite its size, it turned out there wasn’t a whole lot to do there. We stayed in a place called the Hamilton Hotel Black, which amazingly offered free drinks to guests between 6-8pm. Living up to our national stereotype, we made full use of the offer. We even sampled some sake, the Japanese rice wine which we really did not enjoy!

From Nagoya we went to Odawara, our base for a daytrip to the Hakone region the following day. We were pleased to see clear views of Mount Fuji on the train on the way to Odawara, which still had a fair covering of snow near the summit. Thankfully we got to see more good views of Mount Fuji from Hakone-Machi the next day, before the cloud came across and obscured the famous peak around mid-morning. We were very lucky to be able to see Mount Fuji two days in a row, as it is covered in cloud for around two thirds of the year, and normally all summer. This pretty much summed up our good fortune with the weather in Japan, which is normally quite cloudy and wet in the summer. Apart from two days of rain back in Nagano we had clear skies and sunshine every other day! From Hakone-Machi we followed the shore of Lake Ashi to Moto-Hakone, from where we walked 11km along the famous Old Tokaido Road to Yumoto-Hakone. The Tokaido Road was used by noblemen to travel to and from the city of Edo (now Tokyo) in centuries past, and most of it is on a surface of cobblestones, separate from the modern tarmac road which is more suitable for cars!

It wasn’t far from Odawara to Shinagawa, in south Tokyo, where we spent our last night in Japan. We weren’t flying out of Haneda Airport until the middle of the night, so we walked across the Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Bay and spent our last day in Japan in the Odaiba area, which is a manmade island where many of the events of the Olympics will take place in 2020. We enjoyed visiting the Panasonic Centre, where we got to try out some of the latest technology. We also visited a Toyota display centre, where we saw some of the new developments in the world of cars, as well as trying out some car racing simulation games. It was a great way to spend our last couple of days in Japan, with the contrast of the history, peace and tranquillity around Hakone to the innovation and modern technology on display in Tokyo.

Although Japan has a very well educated, forward-thinking society, it was interesting to see how few people speak much English. Despite this, we enjoyed our interactions with the remarkably polite Japanese people, who are much friendlier than we had expected. The efficiency of the public transport is an example of how travel should be. Every train departed on time for the duration of our trip. Since everything is so well organised it makes travel fairly straightforward even with the language barrier. It was amazing to consider that on at least one occasion we travelled the length of Ireland in just a couple of hours on the Shinkansen train!

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The A-bomb dome

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Ringing the peace bell

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The Phoenix tree

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Miyajima

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Karaoke time!

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Himeji Castle

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Koko-en Garden, Himeji

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The view was worth the climb!

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Mount Fuji - cloud on the way

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Now you see it, now you don't

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They love driving cube-shaped cars in Japan!

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Tokyo Bay

Posted by Honeymayning 10:55 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Nagano, Kanazawa and Kyoto

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On arrival in Nagano we checked in to our accommodation ‘Hotel Unicorn’. Our hosts were the loveliest little Japanese couple and we were ecstatic when we went from the fairly simple corridor into a really fancy Japanese style room! Given the language barrier we remain unsure if we were upgraded, or if all the rooms are just that lovely, but either way it made for a great base for our Nagano adventures, as we stayed there for three nights.

The following day we set out to board a bus to the Snow Monkey Park, where thankfully we were not greeted with snow (although there was a bit of an unfamiliar substance called rain, which we haven’t seen in some time) but did see a huge crowd of macaque monkeys! It’s an amazing spot where the wild monkeys come to enjoy the natural hot spring baths, known as onsen. We spent the morning watching them getting up to mischief, and I particularly enjoyed seeing all the new little baby macaques as it’s baby season! The monkeys seem unperturbed by us humans, pretty well ignoring us and going about their day so you can get up close without them batting an eyelid.

From there we walked down into Shibu Onsen, a nearby town with 9 different onsen baths which are for human, as opposed to monkey, use. Locals have a key to all 9 so they can come and go as they please, but the only way for tourists to visit is to either stay at a local hotel, or to visit one specific bath, ‘Ooyu’. If you succeed in the quest of firstly finding it, and then communicating with a man (who appeared to be aged around 105 and a relative of Yoda) who speaks zero English that you wish to use the onsen, it’s as simple as buying a 500yen ticket!
The onsen was an amazing experience, it’s an indoor bath using constant flowing hot water from the natural springs, so the water is always fresh. Thankfully they also provide a cold tap to cool it down as we were keen to avoid third degree burns during our visit! Men and women use separate baths, which I for one fully support given that it’s no swimming suits allowed! Luckily for us we were the only people in Ooyu bath throughout our visit so it was lovely to relax on our own. I would have otherwise been concerned I was not adhering to the rules, of which there were many, including not being allowed in if you have any tattoos! After we drifted away from the onsen feeling suitably relaxed, Richard bought a boiled egg to snack on which was cooked in the spring water, which will give you an idea just how hot the water is! On our way back to Nagano we stopped off in Obuse which is famed as ‘one of Japans nicest small towns’. It may have something to do with the fact I was a little hangry by this point, but I’d prefer a Cotswold town, or even one of our own Northern Irish spots any day of the week!

The next day we took another day trip from Nagano, this time to Matsumoto to visit the castle. It’s a beautiful, 6 floor castle (one of the floors is a ‘hidden’ floor which can’t be seen from outside) and is the oldest still standing in Japan. Given that it’s made almost entirely from wood, the Japanese attribute this good fortune to a shrine in the roof which is believed to keep the castle safe from fire. We were joined by a retired Japanese lady who volunteers as a guide for English speakers. This was particularly helpful as all the signs were in Japanese, and it was nice to stroll around with a local who is obviously very proud of the castle.

We have really enjoyed sampling all the different Japanese foods, but one of our favourites are bento boxes, which are really just a beautifully displayed (as almost everything in Japan is) boxes of assortments, always some rice accompanied with sushi, tempura chicken, battered pork, tofu or a little of all of the above! There are nearly always some mystery items that you’re not quite sure what you’re eating, but it’s all part of the fun! However, our last dinner in Nagano has been our favourite so far. We went to a traditional style Japanese restaurant to sample soba noodles, a local delicacy made from buckwheat. The surroundings were beautiful as was the food, which we had with tempura chicken and came with soup, and vegetables cooked with fish, along with wasabi. Dining out in Japan is an experience not to be missed. Before leaving Nagano we also visited Zenko-ji Temple, which is said to be home to the first Buddha image brought to Japan. It is a beautiful temple and gardens to rival any of the others we’ve seen in Japan, but seems altogether less touristy.

From Nagano we took a Shinkensen “bullet” train (the trains here make UK travel seem hugely inefficient!) to Kanazawa. We stayed in a beautiful, historic area called Higashi Chaya district in our first proper Japanese style guesthouse, called ryokan. Our room had tatami mats covering the floors, a small table with floor cushions to sit, and futon mattresses that you whip out whenever you want to sleep! It’s a very space efficient concept in a place where space is always at a premium, and was a fun novelty for us.

We spent some time exploring the historical streets of Higashi Chaya, where it was great to see so many Japanese people out enjoying themselves on a Saturday afternoon, including lots of people wearing traditional kimonos which are beautiful! Kanazawa is famed for its beautiful gardens, of which we visited two. The first was Gyuokusen Inmaru Gardens, and the second was the most popular Kenrokuen Garden. We really enjoyed wandering through both, in particular Kenrokuen where there were many beautiful flowers, plants, trees and ponds to see. They also have Japans oldest fountain which shoots 3.5m in the air, and is powered by natural water pressure due to ponds at two different levels!

We were happy to discover that the Gyuokusen Inmaru Garden was also having an evening light show (think relaxed mood lighting to music as opposed to strobe lights and smoke) while we were there so it was a nice surprise to get to enjoy the gardens in both the day and night!
From Kanazawa we got the Thunderbird Express train (superb name) to Kyoto. Kyoto was the capital until 1869, and still has a buzzing vibe to rival Tokyo. The train station is an experience in itself with droves of people rushing in every direction. It is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year which is crazy as it still feels very futuristic. We visited a temple, Nishi-Hongan-Ji that afternoon, which was interesting to see as they were in the middle of a very large service.

The next day we had a full day in Kyoto and decided to explore by bike! First stop was to visit Nijo-jo Palace, which was beautiful to explore both inside, and in its impressive gardens. I particularly enjoyed seeing the beautiful screen paintings on the walls throughout (see photo mischievously taken despite no photos signs). The paintings were apparently intended to intimidate guests, which seems a little inhospitable to me!
Next we visited the ‘Silver Pavillion’ which was beautiful, although in my opinion oddly named as it is not, nor has it apparently ever been silver! The gardens there are unique as they feature a large sand cone (don’t ask us why).

Our final stop for the afternoon was one of our favourites in Japan so far, Fushimi Inari. It is an amazing shrine featuring 10,000 red gates leading up to the mountain top over about 4km. It was very busy at the bottom, but apparently people are lazy lumps as by the time we reached the top we were almost totally alone! On both evenings in Kyoto we enjoyed delicious picnic dinners on the rooftop garden of the train station, with wonderful views across the city. We are always very glad to see green areas for Japanese people (and tourists!) to enjoy in their big cities, as for us, the stark absence of nature is something we would definitely not enjoy if living in a Japanese city!

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Sheltering from the rain!

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Ooyu bath

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Freshly boiled egg - afternoon snack

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Matsumoto Castle

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Soba noodles

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Our ryokan in Kanazawa

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Kanazawa

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Kenrokuen Garden

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Some greenery on the roof of Kyoto train station (the 11th floor garden)

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Kyoto station

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Kyoto tower

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Nijo-jo

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Covert photography of the gilded screens

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The silver pavilion

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Fushimi Inari

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The view over Kyoto

Posted by Honeymayning 03:58 Archived in Japan Comments (1)

Tokyo and Nikko

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After our final flight with Cebu Pacific we arrived at Tokyo Narita Airport, from where we got the bus into the huge, densely populated city. We stayed in a hotel in the Kuramae district, which turned out to be an excellent location. The first evening we walked over to the neighbouring Akihabara district, which is a buzzing, vibrant place home to lots of electronic stores and entertainment venues. We sampled our first ramen noodles of the trip, which were served in a bowl of soup. Although quite different to food at home they were quite tasty. Apparently (apart from wasabi), the Japanese generally don’t like their food to be too spicy. Despite waking at 02:30 in the morning in Cebu (nearly 20 hours before) we felt energised by all the activity in Akihabara, so after dinner we couldn’t help but wander around in amazement at the sights and sounds of the area, which felt exactly like the Tokyo we had imagined. A lot of the office workers didn’t seem to be leaving work until 7 or 8pm. It was a depressing sight to see so many of them heading from work to the gaming rooms full of slot machines and deafening music. Japan is renowned for having a very high suicide rate, and this hard-working lifestyle must surely be a contributing factor.

The next day we had a comparative lie-in, waking up at 05:30 (compared to 03:30 and 02:30 the previous two mornings), in order to join the orderly queue outside Ryogoku Kokugikan at 06:00. The reason for this was to purchase general admission tickets to the sumo tournament being held in Tokyo while we were visiting. All the presale tickets had already been sold out weeks in advance, so our only hope was to pick up the general admission tickets which go on sale at 08:00 each morning. There are only six sumo tournaments held in Japan throughout the year, each lasting a fortnight, so we were very lucky to be in the right place at the right time! We passed the time chatting to a Kiwi woman who was also on holiday in Japan, before getting ticket numbers 147 and 148 out of 400 available on the day. Turns out we could have slept in till a bit later! It is a very hierarchical sport, with the action beginning among the lower ranked rikishi at 08:20, while the big guns in the higher divisions don’t compete until late afternoon. As they don’t check tickets early in the morning, we decided to spectate some of the earlier bouts from the very expensive, uncomfortable seats close to the ring (cushions on the floor), before leaving to do other things with the morning. Charlotte went back to the hotel for a nap, while I went next door to the Edo-Tokyo Museum to learn about the history of the city. Prior to becoming the capital in the 1800s, Tokyo was known as Edo, and the museum traced the history of the city from the Edo period to the current day. We rendezvoused back at the sumo stadium to spectate on the rest of the bouts during the afternoon, from our proper seats at the very back of the upper floor. Although it was an interesting experience, there was far too much strutting around and posturing by the wrestlers, and not enough action. Each bout only lasted a matter of seconds, although the build-up can take up to four minutes. Apparently psyching out your opponent is a huge part of the contest. Just when you expected the bout to begin, one of the wrestlers would stand up and go for a short dander around the ring, and all the enthusiasts (generally retired locals) loved it! We enjoyed experiencing the excitement among the Japanese crowd, so it was still worth the early start!

The next morning we visited Tsukiji Wholesale Fish Market, the largest fish market in the world. Three early starts in a row was enough for us, so we didn’t worry about trying to queue to see the tuna auction which starts at 4am. Instead we entered at the more civilised hour of 10am, when the merchants were packing and sorting all of their early-morning purchases. Although it is still very much a working wholesale market, it has now reluctantly become a major tourist attraction, despite not being geared up for such an influx of tourists. Apparently there can be a bit of animosity from the merchants towards tourists, which is understandable given they are wanting to go about their daily business without constantly being gawked at. For this reason, as well as for safety given the number of motorised trolleys zooming about, they are now quite strict on when tourists are allowed to enter the wholesale area, after 10am. By going in at this point we were still able to see a fair bit of interesting stuff, with all sorts of seafood being packaged up before being taken away. According to our guidebook, although Japan only accounts for 2 percent of the world’s population, the Japanese eat nearly one third of the word’s seafood. We even spotted some fresh looking bluefin tuna from Ireland! We tried some sashimi afterwards, before heading on to explore more of the city. Next up we visited Hema-rikyu Gardens, where the peace and tranquillity made it feel a million miles away from the fish market, which was only a short walk away. There was an interesting contrast between the small trees of the garden and the huge skyscrapers right beside. From here we wandered through the Ginza district, the main shopping area full of towering buildings and fancy shops, towards the Imperial Palace. We relaxed for a while in the surrounding park, before getting the Metro train north to Ueno Park. Here, there were plenty of locals out enjoying the Saturday afternoon sunshine, paddling about on the little lake on the pedalo swans (just like Pickie-pool in Bangor). We walked south from Ueno, through the busy markets area to Akihabara, stopping for dinner along the way.

On our final morning in Tokyo we walked around the Asakusa district, where the Sanja-Mitsari festival was in full swing. This is an annual event where the local wards carry around their shrine on a tour of the district, while bouncing it up and down on their shoulders to bring good luck. It was a truly bizarre, chaotic occasion which was very interesting to watch. There was a great atmosphere, which was to be expected with the considerable volumes of beer and sake being consumed at 9am! It was a fun way to finish our time in Tokyo before catching the train north to Nikko.

Nikko is a quiet little town in the mountains to the northwest of Tokyo. It is much more spacious than the crowded capital, surrounded by forested hills with snow-capped mountain peaks in the distance. From Nikko we went hiking for two consecutive days around Lake Chuzenji, higher up in the mountains. We were blessed with clear blue skies, continuing the good spring weather we had experienced in Tokyo. On the first day, we walked from Chuzenji-Onsen, along the northern shore of Lake Chuzenji. Then we visited Ryuzu Falls, before passing through the scenic Senjogahara marshland to Yudaki Falls, which make an impressive white wall of foam, where we stopped for lunch. By early afternoon we made it to Yumoto-Onsen, where we circled the smaller Lake Yunoko, before heading back to Chuzenji-Onsen.

The next day we walked from Chuzenji-Onsen along the southern shore of the lake, passing the former summer villas of the Italian and British Embassies. We climbed up from the lake to Mount Hangetsu, where we enjoyed the impressive views from the viewing platform at 1752m. We were able to see the entire lake, across to the top of the larger Mount Nantai on the other side. We then continued up and down, along the ridgeline to Akechidaira, a viewpoint across to the famous Kegon Falls. We got lunch here, seemingly the only people to arrive on foot, everyone else seemed to take the lazier option of the cable car! On our final morning in Nikko we explored the majestic temple area, admiring the interesting buildings and artwork before catching the train to Nagano.

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The smaller guy won!

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Tuna anyone?

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Hema-rikyu Gardens

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Ginza

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Tokyo Imperial Palace

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Sanja Mitsari Festival

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Charlotte with her new friends. Spot the odd one out!

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Interesting way of wearing kimonos at Sanja Mitsari! Maybe he went to the wrong parade!

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Shinkyo bridge Nikko

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Lake Chuzenji

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Yunaki Falls

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Lake Yunaki

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More hiking around Lake Chuzenji

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Kegon Falls

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Nikko temples

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Hello Kitty!

Posted by Honeymayning 07:05 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

Siquijor, Bohol and Camiguin

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Waving Dumaguete goodbye we boarded a ferry to take us across to Siquijor island. The ferry ride was actually part of the fun as it was a beautiful journey crossing from Negros. We had our first experience of jeepney (a DIY extended open sided van) travel, mixing in (as much as we ever could in The Philippines!) with the locals to get to our accommodation.

Siquijor’s main road runs around the coastline, and at 72km in length it’s not too big an island! This made it a perfect opportunity for us to rent a moped and do some exploring. Our two main stops for the day were Cambugahay Falls and Salagdoong Beach. Cambugahay Falls is a beautiful waterfall ending in a crystal clear blue pool which is popular with tourists and locals alike. The locals have built a pretty complex rope swing system but Richard decided to do it the simpler way and jump in from the top of the falls! Salagdoong Beach is a white sand beach in a gorgeous setting in the sea-beaten rocks. It’s a popular spot for cliff diving but unfortunately we timed it wrong for high tide. Although we saw a few Filipino children diving at low tide, being quite a bit taller (and heavier!) than your average Filipino we decided to give it a miss!

From Siquilor we boarded another ferry, this time headed for Bohol. One thing we can’t get used to here is random charges such as ‘terminal fees’ which appear to just be a way of creating an extra job (and an extra queue!) and is a charge just to sit in the terminal for the boat or airplane! In Bohol we shared a car with a group of 4 Polish people for our journey to Alona Beach. It was good fun swapping stories with them. We particularly enjoyed hearing about when they missed the ferry to Siquijor so had to hitch a ride on a local fishing boat. By the time they arrived in Siquijor it was dark and they had to wade shoulder deep through the sea to get to the island, with their cases aloft overhead. It made me particularly glad of Richard’s impressive organisation keeping us safe and dry so far!

Alona Beach is a popular spot with tourists, who seem to be predominantly from Korea, but there were also plenty of Europeans too. Our Alona Beach hotel came inclusive of a motorbike for the duration of our stay so we were able to scoot about quite independently, enjoying our Filipino meals (rice rice rice) on the beach, as well as a cocktail or two. Our primary aim for our stay in Alona Beach was to continue our flourishing diving career in an area called Balicasag. Thankfully I’m feeling much better so was able to dive too (it’s dangerous to dive if you have any ear or sinus problems due to pressure). We did two dives, the first at ‘Black Forest’ and the second at ‘Sanctuary’ and both were brilliant. Black Forest gave us our best experience of swimming with turtles so far as we spotted several, as well as a huge school of jack fish. Sanctuary offered an amazing coral wall with a big variety of fish, and at times we were actually swimming under coral ledges which was surreal.

On our journey from Alona Beach to Loboc we joined a bus tour to visit a whole range of different sites. A few were a little odd (including a monument without a plaque which left us fairly perplexed) but others were fantastic, particularly the tarsier sanctuary and the Chocolate Hills. Tarsiers are tiny little mammals with legs and a tail twice the length of their body and huge bug eyes. They are nocturnal but we were still lucky enough to see two staring back at us with those big googly eyes!

Our group hired quadbikes to tour around the Chocolate Hills which was great fun (giving Richard his much-needed daily adrenaline kick) even if I did manage to drive mine into a ditch trying to keep up with my kamikaze husband! It was great to meet the other people in our group, including a Welsh couple called Dan and Jess who are travelling for 15 months, making our trip seem like a short break! We spent one night in Loboc staying in a cool riverside hotel complete with hammocks and a rope swing. Our evening’s entertainment was joining the locals in the town hall to watch the high school basketball match. Despite being somewhat lacking in height Filipinos are very passionate about their basketball!

The next day we took another jeepney ride, then boarded a bus to take us on to our next destination, Jagna. We didn’t see any other tourists while in Jagna so it’s definitely the least touristy place we’ve been in the Philippines. That’s reflected in the prices as everything was the true Filipino price, but also in the entertainment the locals got from us, we posed for a photo or two during our stay!

From Jagna it was time to board another ferry for our crossing to Camiguin Island. We spent three nights staying in ‘Camiguin Souldivers’ for our last dives in the Philippines. Our diving of choice was at the much smaller neighbouring Mantigue Island. We have been incredibly lucky with all our diving in the Philippines as we have never been more than 2 to 1 with our dive master so we’ve certainly been getting the 5* treatment! Our divemaster for Mantigue Island was a Camiguin-born Filipino called Romeo, who was a very chilled out guy, brilliant at spotting the underwater sights. We saw scorpion fish, lion fish, sweetlips, a school of angel fish and pencil fish to name a few, plus a HUGE turtle which was amazing!
We’ve really liked Camiguin Island as it’s a very relaxed place (not that many places in the Philippines are particularly stressful!) with some interesting spots above sea level too. It has 7 volcanoes on the little island, 2 of which are still active! We visited the Phivolcs Volcano Observatory where volcanic activity on the island is monitored, and I’m happy to report there were no scares during our stay! We also climbed ‘Old Volcano’ which erupted in 1871 washing a graveyard out to sea which is now marked by a large white cross. The underwater graveyard is now a popular dive site but one that we decided to give a miss. Next we visited Katibawasan Falls, a 70m waterfall which was a beautiful place to relax and watch the Filipinos having plenty of craic as per usual!

On our last day in the Philippines we took an early morning flight from Camiguin to Cebu and spent the day relaxing and getting organised for the next stage of the adventure in Japan!

We’ve made sure to sample plenty of Filipino food during our stay, some of our favourites being halo-halo special (a crushed ice, condensed milk, jelly, fruit and ice-cream concoction which was made for any sweet-tooth), ube cake, ice-cream, bread, or just about anything ube (ube is a purple vegetable but the Filipinos use it with a heap of sugar to make sweet treats), banana cue (banana coated in sugar syrup and fried – healthy!) pancit canton (pork noodles with vegetables), kare-kare (pork with satay sauce), sisig (pork mince with an egg on top) and beef tapa (marinated, dried and fried beef). We’ve even embraced the Filipino silog breakfasts (meat, egg and rice)! Another Filipino favourite (which I must admit I’m not so keen on but Richard enjoyed) is Lechon, which is simply a very fatty pig on a spit! But for us the food which most embodies the Philippines is the barbecue! You are never far from a barbecue here and the smell of barbequed food is something that will forever remind us of our time here. We would highly recommend trying all these foods for anyone visiting the Philippines.

Another thing to mention is the security situation. Filipinos are among the warmest, friendliest, funniest and happiest people on earth. Their laughter and banter is very infectious and we generally felt very safe at all times of day and night. Unfortunately, despite the wonderful people we met, there are also some troublemakers. Rodrigo Duterte, the president, seems like a bit of a nutter. He is like Donald Trump on steroids, proudly making claims about shooting people and throwing enemies out of his helicopter! He has launched a war against drugs, although apparently drugs are only a minor problem in The Philippines. As a result of his tough stance, thousands of people have been killed by vigilante hit squads. A cynical view would be that the war on drugs serves as a distraction from the bigger issues affecting the country, namely poverty and corruption.

During our time in The Philippines there were also some scares related to terrorism. In the southwest of the country there is a Muslim terrorist group named Abu Sayyaf, who have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. They have been trying to raise money by kidnapping foreigners for ransom. If the ransom is not paid then the captives are beheaded. When we booked our trip to The Philippines we were aware of this, however at that time the threat from Abu Sayyaf was mainly limited to the Sulu archipelago, far from where we were planning to visit. The Muslim region is one of the poorest parts of the country and they are a very small minority with over 95% of the population being Christian. It was bad timing, therefore, when a group of Abu Sayyaf terrorists travelled to Bohol Island just a few weeks before we were due to visit. We decided to change our plans slightly, as we had been due to stay in a small resort on Pangangan Island, a little island linked to Bohol by a bridge, not far from where the terrorists had based themselves. We had originally planned to go to Pangangan Island as it was meant to be less busy than the main tourist area of Panglao Island, further to the south. The reports in the media were a bit sketchy, but it was known that although some terrorists were killed in the initial raid by the army, some more had managed to escape. We therefore monitored the local news to try to stay up to date with developments. We changed plans and decided to stay in the more touristy area of Panglao Island instead, thinking that the army and police would be keen to protect the areas with the most tourists. This turned out to be a very good decision, as we found out that the last two surviving armed terrorists (out of an initial group of eleven) had gone into hiding on Pangangan Island during the time we had originally planned to stay there. President Duterte had advised locals in Bohol to shoot the terrorists on sight, saying that with an expanding population of over 100 million Filipinos they would be replaced very quickly! After a major search operation, both terrorists were killed by the army after taking a local family hostage. It is a shame that such a small number of people (they estimate Abu Sayyaf has only around 300 fighters) can cause such worry and terror to so many people. It is likely that the tourist industry in The Philippines will take a hit, which is a big shame as so many people depend on tourism for their livelihood. Although we had a wonderful time in The Philippines, if we were planning the trip now, as oppose to last year, we would probably not be going due to the risk of terrorism. Then again, there are risks with everything and we are very happy we were able to experience this amazing country.

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Enjoying some halo-halo

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Leaving Dumaguete

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Post-dive at Balicasag Island

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School of jackfish

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Lionfish

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Spot the tarsier!

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Travelling by jeepney

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Leaving Jagna

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Angelfish

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Post-dive at Mantigue Island

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Looking across to Camiguin from Mantigue

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Unfortunately Charlotte didn't meet all the criteria to work for the bakery

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View from the Old Volcano

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Katibawasan Falls

Posted by Honeymayning 00:22 Archived in Philippines Comments (0)

Cebu and Negros Islands

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We flew from Puerto Princesa in Palawan to Cebu city (the 3rd largest city in the country) on Cebu Island. From there we got the bus down to Moalboal on the west coast. Initially we were a little bit worried about the bus not having air conditioning, but with all the windows open a cooling breeze passed through the bus while we were moving. Our reason to come to Panagsama Beach in Moalboal was to learn to dive, but it is a nice little place in its own right. There is a nice mixture of tourists (almost all European) and enterprising local residents, almost all of whom seem to make a living off the tourist trade. We were staying at The Blue Abyss Resort and Dive Shop, which is owned by a German guy. It has a very European feel, with the other customers from Germany, Switzerland, Belgium and France. It was a very tidy and well organised place, while also maintaining a relaxed atmosphere.

We started the Open Water Dive Course on our first full day in Moalboal. We weren’t expecting to get wet so quickly, mistakenly thinking we would be doing some theory first. Instead, within 30 minutes we were getting our diving gear on and wading out into the sea at the house reef! Our instructor was a friendly local from Moalboal named Garry, who was great fun and a very experienced diver. The house reef starts just metres from the dive shop. We did four dives there, spotting clownfish, green turtles, a sea snake, a disco clam, pencil fish, lion fish, puffer fish, squid, a school of mackerel, as well as plenty of starfish and coral of all shapes, sizes and colours. It is amazing how much diversity of life is packed into just a small area of ocean. We got into a nice little routine where we did a dive in the morning, got pancakes for lunch and then did another dive in the afternoon, as well as fitting in a bit of time to read some diving theory. We enjoyed ending each day watching the sunset over the island of Negros which lies to the west. Each dive was slightly deeper and lasted slightly longer, getting up to a maximum depth of 21m. It is actually a very lazy sport, as the aim is to use as little air as possible, meaning you should exert yourself as little as possible! Our second day of dive school was Charlotte’s birthday. Coincidentally it was also the birthday celebration of One Eyed Jack’s Pub, near where we were staying. They had a live band playing and provided a buffet of free food, including lechon. Lechon is a pig on a spit, and Filipinos are very fond of the crispy skin and fat, which was all snapped up very quickly! Despite already having eaten dinner we couldn’t resist trying some ourselves. I enjoyed it more than Charlotte, who was too worried about the nutritional value!

On our last day of dive school we went out on the boat, where we got to enter the water like they do in the movies – by rolling in backwards! On the first boat dive, at White Beach, we saw a sea cucumber and a flathead fish, but the highlight was the afternoon dive when we saw a frogfish, angler fish and the famous Moalboal sardine run. This was just a short distance from the dive shop and the number of sardines would take your breath away – except you have to keep breathing from your gas tank underwater or your lungs might explode! The huge school of sardines lives permanently just off Moalboal and is like an underwater cloud which shimmers, twists and turns in a mesmerising manner.

After completing our theory test on the last day, we are now fully certified open water divers. It was great timing as it coincided with the weekly Blue Abyss barbecue on Thursdays. They are big fans of barbecue in The Philippines, cooking all types of meat and fish over charcoal, which gives a delicious flavour. We enjoyed chatting with Klemens the owner, Garry our instructor, and Andrea and Jan, two diving enthusiasts from Germany. Andrea and Jan have dived all over the world for many years. They are both approaching retirement age and Jan has done over 900 dives in his lifetime; Charlotte and I are convinced he is aiming for 1000 dives before he stops! Jan had brought along some German drinks, a spirit of 58% proof which was best consumed after being set alight, and another drink quite like Jagermeister. It was fun trying the German drinks and comparing our different diving and life experiences.

On our final full day in Moalboal we hired a scooter for 300 pesos (about 5 pounds) for the day, in order to explore some more of Cebu Island. Unfortunately, our intended destination of Kawasan Falls was closed due to heavy rain a couple of nights before. Instead a local guy suggested we try Mainit Hot Springs, further to the south. Unfortunately, once again, these were also closed (this time for building renovations), which meant we were at a loss of what to do. At least we had enjoyed the independence of seeing the island on the scooter. Undeterred by our lack of success, we decided to explore inland on our way back to Moalboal. We turned off the main coastal road and headed up to the hills which run down the middle of the island. Eventually we saw a sign for Cangkalanog Falls, where we parked up our scooter and set off to explore. We ended up walking down a steep slope along a little path, past some very basic houses where pigs and cows were tied up, and hens roamed free with their chicks. Just when we were about to give up, we finally spotted the falls, which cascaded into a small pool and canyon. It wasn’t too busy, and we enjoyed going for a dip in the river to cool off.

After five nights, we finally moved on from Moalboal, getting the bus south to Bato. From there we got a ferry across to Negros Island, where we stayed in Dumaguete for two nights. It is a pleasant coastal city and home to the Silliman University, which is apparently well regarded despite the name! Dumaguete is the nearest city to Apo Island, one of the world’s top scuba diving locations. Unluckily, Charlotte had a sore ear and felt a bit under the weather, so she wasn’t able to dive at Apo Island. We both went out to the small, rocky island on a day trip, organised through Harold’s Diving Centre. Also on the boat was a large group of Chinese tourists and a few Filipinos, who brought along plenty of snacks in true Filipino fashion! Once we arrived at the island I found out that I was the only person who would be diving, as the rest would be snorkelling instead. It meant I was one on one with the dive master, a serious-looking middle aged Filipino called Zalia. Over the course of the two dives I spotted six hawksbill turtles, two sea snakes, two frog fish, a school of yellow snapper and plenty of clownfish, among other things! At one of the sites I could see the disconcerting sight of bubbles coming up through the coral due to geothermal activity. We are aware that we are spending a lot of time along the “Pacific Ring of Fire” on this trip, so hopefully we’ll avoid any seismic or volcanic activity during the rest of our time in The Philippines and Japan, having already managed to avoid any issues in New Zealand. Fingers crossed our good luck so far will last!

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Outside Blue Abyss Dive Shop, Moalboal

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With our diving buddy/instructor Margarito (Garry) Avenito

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A colourful nudibranch (underwater worm)

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A clownfish

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Some striped mackerel hoping for sardines for lunch!

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No it's not a selfie, it's a frogfish!

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The Moalboal sardine run

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Sunset from the dive shop in Moalboal

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One of many turtles hanging about off Apo Island

Posted by Honeymayning 15:55 Archived in Philippines Comments (1)

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