Thursday, November 17, 2016

Japan adventure from Osaka to Kyoto! Ohayo!

There is a temple for everyone in Kyoto, Japan. There is a golden pavilion, and a silver one too. Many temples have beautiful Zen gardens. There are picturesque mountain temples, that become even more stunning with the colors of fall. And there is an iconic temple with thousands of vermillion gates. In fact, there are more than 1600 temples in Kyoto.

A visit to Osaka will not be complete if you don't venture to Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, and a World Heritage Site. My Japan adventure continued as I hopped from Karaksa Hotel Osaka to Karaksa Hotel Kyoto. It was a good thing they had train directions handy, which I was easily able to follow to get to Kyoto.

As soon as I arrived in Kyoto, I went straight for the food. What I like about both hotels is that they have customized food maps that help you explore the different restaurants around the neighborhood.

Mychoice for dinner was okonomiyaki, a savoury pancake made with a flour-based batter, grated nagaimo (yam), dashi (soup stock), eggs and shredded cabbage as base ingredients. Various versions would have green onion, meat (thin pork belly), octopus, squid, shrimp, and vegetables, among other ingredients. The Kansai area is known for okonomiyaki.

Eight years ago, I got to experience the rich heritage of Kyoto, amidst a stunning backdrop of fall foliage. But I missed Fushimi Inari-taisha, which according to TripAdvisor, is Japan's top attraction. So I went straight to Fushimi Inari Shrine in the morning.

A Shinto priest walks behind the go-honden or main shrine of Fushimi Inari-taisha
The best way to get around Kyoto is by bus, especially with the ¥‎500 day passes which you can purchase from newsstands or the bus driver. There are buses that will take you to every attraction, including Fushimi Inari Shrine.

The iconic vermillion and black senbon torii (thousands of torii) of Fushimi Inari-taisha
Fushimi Inari-taisha is a Shinto shrine that serves as the head shrine for Inari Ōkami, the kami or spirit of rice. But Inari was also seen as the patron of business. And thus veneration was popular among merchants and manufacturers, who donated most of the vermillion and black gates or torii, that have been the iconic draw for visitors. Try to come as early as possible because the place can get really crowded.

Kabayaki unagi or grilled freshwater eel
Like in many major temples, hawkers line the street going to Fushimi Inari Shrine.

Nikumaki onigiri of meat-wrapped rice balls
Takoyaki or octopus balls
Kushiyaki or grilled meat
Inari sushi or deep-fried tofu pockets filled with sushi rice
With so many hawker choices, roads leading to major temples are actually great places to sample Japanese street food.

For dinner, I realized there was an interesting restaurant right beside Karaksa which served sushi, sashimi, and tempura, among other popular Japanese dishes.

Sunset at Kiyomizu-dera, a 1238-year-old temple and World Heritage Site
Aside from Fushimi Inari Temple, another interesting temple is the Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple built halfway up Mt. Otowa, one of the peaks in Kyoto’s Higashiyama mountain range. The temple is dedicated to Senju Kannon (Guanyin), the Goddess of Mercy.

Sunset is a fantastic time to view the temple. But I heard the temple lit up in the evening is also a sight to behold.

Kinkaku-ji or Temple of the Golden Pavilion
Then there's Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of the Golden Pavillion. The shariden at Rokuon-ji (the temple's official name) is the iconic Golden Pavilion.

Karaksa Hotel Kyoto, where I stayed, is walking distance from the Shijo-Omiya Station. The new interiors are clean and modern, and exude the value for money Japanese business hotel that it is. 

While many hotels of their class in Japan have really small rooms, Karaksa offers decent space at an affordable price. There is high-speed WiFi all over the hotel, including the rooms. Plus I liked it that they had power and USB outlets all over the room, including both sides of the bed. 

The toilet is compact but comfortable. And don’t you just enjoy those Japanese toilet seats?! They also have pajamas and sterilized slippers for room use. 

If you want to book your stay at Karaksa Hotel, visit Karaksa Hotels is a partnership of Xymax Corporation and Robinsons Land Corporation.

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Here’s why your next trip to Japan should be to Osaka

Osaka has become a popular destination for Filipinos, especially for second time visitors to Japan who have already been to Tokyo. Universal Studios is a major draw, especially for families. Plus the city is also the gateway to the historic capitals of Kyoto and Nara.

For my recent trip, I was hosted by Karaksa Hotels, a new hotel chain, and a partner of, where you can book accommodation for Osaka and Kyoto. The hotel’s sister company, Karaksa Tours, arranges tours for the Southeast Asian market. In fact, it was the Karaksa Tours van that picked me up from the Kansai International Airport (Cebu Pacific flies direct from Manila to Osaka). It was very comfortable and equipped with WiFi, so you could update everyone that you’ve just arrived.

There are many reasons to visit Osaka. Here are my choices:

The Konpon Daito (Great Pagoda) of the Danjo Garan Complex in Mount Kōya

Gateway to several World Heritage properties
Osaka is the gateway to five World Heritage properties, all within two hours from the city. There are the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, one hundred ninety-eight buildings and twelve gardens that make up the seventeen component parts of the property in the cities of Kyoto, Uji and Otsu. Kyoto is an hour by train from Osaka. And I’ll talk about it in another post since Karaksa Hotel also has a branch in Kyoto.

Kiyomizu-dera in Kyoto
Another ancient capital forms the Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, with eight component parts composed of seventy-eight different buildings. Nara is thirty minutes by train from Kyoto. Also nearby are the Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area, forty-eight Buddhist monuments in the Horyu-ji area.

Buddhist monks chant sutras every afternoon in front of the different temples at the Danjo Garan Complex in Kōya-san
The Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range includes three sacred sites – Yoshino and Omine, Kumano Sanzan, Koyasan – linked by pilgrimage routes to the ancient capital cities of Nara and Kyoto. During this trip, I visited Koyasan, which is just one hour and thirty minutes by train from Osaka.

Finally, there is Himeji-jo (Himeji Castle), which is also one hour and thirty minutes by train from Osaka.

Osaka Castle
One of Japan's most famous landmarks, Osaka Castle is a popular attraction especially during the cherry blossom (hanami) season.

The colorful LED billboards along the Dōtonburi Canal

Dōtonbori and shopping at Shinsaibashi
Illuminated signboards at Ebisu Bridge on the Dōtonbori Canal are an important landmark in Osaka, in particular, the Glico runner crossing a finishing line has been seen as an icon of Osaka. Dōtonbori is a popular nightlife and entertainment area.

Shinsaibashi Suji is a popular shopping arcade in Osaka
Osaka also has two large shopping districts: Umeda and Namba. In between them is the covered shopping arcade Shinsaibashi Suji.

Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake with a variety of ingredients, is a popular dish in the Kansai Region
Food! Food! Food!
Osaka is one of Japan’s favorite food destinations. There are many dishes you have to try including the popular sushi and sashimi. But the local delights include okonomiyaki, which is very popular in the Kansai Region, especially Osaka.

Takoyaki, flour-based balls with octopus, is a popular street snack in Osaka
Another popular street snack that screams Osaka is takoyaki. You’ll find it sold almost everywhere.

There’s yakiniku (grilled beef). If you’re ready to splurge, there’s Kobe wagyu beef and Matsuzaka beef. Yakitori is grilled meat on skewers, popular in Osaka’s pubs.

Ramen is quite popular in the Philippines. But there’s nothing like having the real deal in Japan. Another popular noodle is udon. Then there’s Japanese curry, katsu, tempura, and donburi to round up dishes you have to try while in Osaka.

Universal Studios Japan
Universal Studios Japan is located in Osaka, which is perfect for families with kids. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of the very popular attractions. Plus there’s Snoopy Studios, Hello Kitty's Fashion Avenue, and Sesame Street Fun Zone.

Karaksa Hotel Shinsabashi I, where I stayed, is walking distance from the Nagahoribashi subway station. The new interiors are clean and modern, and exude the value for money Japanese business hotel that it is.

The staff is warm and welcoming, including Grace from the Philippines who definitely eased the language barrier.

While many hotels of their class in Japan have really small rooms, Karaksa offers decent space at an affordable price (triple room in the photo). There is high-speed WiFi all over the hotel, including the rooms. Plus I liked it that they had power and USB outlets all over the room, including both sides of the bed.

The toilet is compact but comfortable, with separate doors for the water closet, shower, and sink. And don’t you just enjoy those Japanese toilet seats?! They also have pajamas and sterilized slippers for room use.

On the second floor is a guest lounge where you can work or relax, complete with a water and tea dispenser, and vendo machines. Breakfast is also served in the dining hall located also on the second floor.

If you want to book your stay at Karaksa Hotel, visit Karaksa Hotels is a partnership of Xymax Corporation and Robinsons Land Corporation.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Experience Boracay with Tides Hotel

Tides Hotel is one of the best located hotels in Boracay, if you want to be close to all the action. In my previous trips, I always notice the entrance to Tides in D'Mall. There's no need to take public transport to get to Boracay's commercial center. As soon as you exit the hotel, you're there. So when I got invited by Tides Hotel to stay with them, I didn't think twice.

My Tides experience was perfect timing! The sun was out, after several days of rain, and Boracay's white sand was pretty. This is less than five minutes from the hotel.

You won't feel you're in D'Mall once you enter the hotel. It's an oasis of peace and quiet amidst the hustle and bustle of Boracay's endless fun. The hotel has its own spa, fitness center, and a roof deck restaurant, bar, and pool.

The rooms are so spacious. I had these two beds all to myself!

But everything is walking distance in White Beach. We walked all the way to Station 1 for some afternoon chow.

And Epic Boracay is just a few meters away! Epic food and epic nightlife! These ribs were really good! Epic Baby Back Ribs at Epic Beach Cuisine by #ChefCarloMiguel!

And we had paella for dinner at Epic too! Epic Paella (chorizo, bacon, chicken, mussels, prawns, & squid).

The paraws lined up right before sunset is a pretty scene!

Our group also ate some healthy food courtesy of Mandala Spa. Lunch at Mandala Spa, Boracay: Asian Tuna Tartare, Smoked Fish Quesadillas with Guacamole Salad, Gado Gado, and Pulpo Salad with Baby Arugula. The drink was really good too: Calamansi Mint Slush!

“Never waste any amount of time doing anything important when there is a sunset outside that you should be sitting under!” – C. JoyBell C.

Thank you to Tides Boracay, Epic Beach Cuisine, and Mandala Spa!

The Tides Hotel Boracay
Manila Office: Unit 204-B Wilson Street, Addition Hills, San Juan City
(+632) 7229200 / (+632) 7253411 Telefax Number: (+632) 7266165

Thank you also to SkyJet for flying me to paradise! They fly to Caticlan (Boracay) and Basco, Batanes daily.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Philippine holidays and long-weekend schedule for 2017 (Proclamation No. 50, s. 2016)

Hunyo 12 by Claude Tayag (1989 Fiestas Serigraph Series)

Malacanang issued Proclamation No. 50, s. 2016 declaring the regular holidays, special non-working days, and a special school holiday for 2017. Instead of just giving you the same list of holidays of the Republic of the Philippines for 2017, this list will help you plan your trips with confirmed and expected long-weekends. And there are eleven potential long weekends in 2017!

  • January 1 (Sun) - New Year's Day (three-day long weekend from December 30 to January 1)
  • January 28 (Sat) - Chinese New Year
  • February 25 (Sat) - EDSA Revolution Anniversary
  • April 9 (Sun) - Araw ng Kagitingan
  • April 13 (Thu) - Holy Thursday
  • April 14 (Fri) - Good Friday 
  • April 15 (Sat) - Black Saturday (four-day long weekend from April 13 to 16)
  • May 1 (Mon) - Labor Day (three-day long weekend from April 29 to May 1)
  • June 12 (Mon) - Independence Day (three-day long weekend from June 10 to 12)
  • June 25 (Sun) - Eid'l Fitr (pending proclamation when date is confirmed, possible three-day long weekend if holiday is on Monday)
  • August 21 (Mon) - Ninoy Aquino Day (three-day long weekend from August 19 to 21)
  • August 28 (Mon) - National Heroes Day (three-day long weekend from August 26 to 28)
  • September 1 (Fri) - Eid'l Adha (pending proclamation when date is confirmed, possible three-day long weekend)
  • October 31 (Tue) - Special Non-Working Day
  • November 1 (Wed) - All Saints Day (two-day break from October 31 to November 1, five-day break from October 28 to November 1 if you take a leave on October 30)
  • November 30 (Thu) - Bonifacio Day
  • December 25 (Mon) - Christmas Day (three-day long weekend from December 23 to 25)
  • December 30 (Sat) - Rizal Day
  • December 31 (Sun) - Last Day of the Year (three-day long weekend from December 30 to January 1, 2018)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Chef Claude Tayag wins People's Choice Award at Embassy Chef Challenge 2016

The 8th Annual Embassy Chef Challenge was held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC on May 25, 2016. This is the first time that the Philippine Embassy participated in the Embassy Chef Challenge in Washington, DC. Representing us was Chef Claude Tayag who created his own version of bringhe using Philippine products that are exported to the United States.

Instead of the usual malagkit (glutinous rice), he used purple malagkit (heirloom mountain rice) from the Cordilleras. He replaced the chicken with bangus (milk fish) marinated inasal-style (with kalamansi, vinegar, garlic, lemon grass and achuete). He also replaced the raisins with dried mangoes. The secret ingredient was taba ng talangka (crablet fat). To add crunch, he used glazed pili nuts. He won the People's Choice Award which is comprised of 50 percent online, and 50 percent onsite votes. Congratulations Chef Claude!

Guests nibbled their way through an abundant array of foods and drinks prepared by seventeen global culinary representatives from South America, Asia, Africa, Europe, plus a solid showing from the Caribbean nations.

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