Showing posts with label Familiarization Tour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Familiarization Tour. Show all posts

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.

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.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

India: Picturesque views in Gulmarg, Kashmir

Apahrwat Peak in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
The heartland of winter sports in India, the hill station town of Gulmarg in Kashmir is a popular tourist destination among locals who want to escape the heat down south. In fact, it is said to host some of the longest and highest ski slopes as well as the highest gondola in Asia up the Afarwat Hills of the Pir Panjal Range of the Himalayas. I realized when I looked at a map, that it was just within miles of the border between India and Pakistan.

Downtown Gulmarg in Kashmir, India
We had arrived in Gulmarg after a scenic two-hour ride from Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. We checked-in at the recently-opened Khyber Himalayan Resort before proceeding to Strawberry Valley to enjoy picturesque views of Gulmarg.

Sunset in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
Sunset in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
The sunset was spectacular and we were quite thankful the sun appeared despite having most of the day cloudy and at times drizzling. The charm of Gulmarg's quaint architecture with the Himalayas as a backdrop and the sun setting behind them was enough to elicit oohs and aahs.

Public transportation in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
Kashmiri food in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
The Kashmiri dinner that followed our sunset experience was memorable as well. We had Mughlai Chicken (chicken cooked in a thick and rich gravy made from ground almonds with cinnamon, cardamon, coriander, cumin, chili and garam masala), a Central Asian dish that was introduced to India during the time of the Mughals; and Vegetable Navratan Curry (Navratan means nine gems) which gets its name from the nine vegetables, fruit and nuts used to make the dish: cashew nuts, potatoes, beans, carrots, peas, bell pepper, cauliflower and pineapple (although it has garlic, onions and tomatoes as well).

Khyber Himalayan Resort in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
Gulmarg Gondola in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
The next day, the sun was out again. After breakfast amid views of evergreens (I could imagine this would look even prettier during winter), we proceeded to the Gulmarg Gondola, Asia's highest, and rode from Gulmarg (2,700m) up to Apharwat (3,980m).

Gulmarg Gondola in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
Gulmarg Gondola in Gulmarg, Kashmir, India
There's actually a small military outpost on top. The military and police are actually everywhere in Kashmir. And seeing them is definitely part of the visitor experience. On top were different kinds of wild flowers. It's a reminder that Gulmarg literally means Meadow of Flowers.

After arriving back in Gulmarg, we drove down to Srinagar to continue our brief journey around Kashmir. You could actually go horseback riding around Gulmarg. But we saved that activity for Sonamarg where views are even more picturesque!

Jet Airways flies daily to Srinagar!
Jet Airways has twice daily flights from Delhi (DEL) to Srinagar (SXR). Jet Airways also connects to Delhi from Manila via Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong at least twice daily!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Kashmir: From Srinagar to Gulmarg

Kashmir is often called Heaven on Earth. Indeed, the four days we spent in Kashmir was Heaven owing to its pleasant weather, spectacular scenery and colorful heritage and culture.

Jet Airways Delhi Srinagar flight
Jet Airways Delhi Srinagar flight
Day 1 in Kashmir, India: Just as soon as we arrived in Dehli, we were again at the Indira Gandhi International Airport to catch our Jet Airways flight to Srinagar in Kashmir. It was a short local flight but we were still served savory sandwiches (vegetarian or spicy chicken) on board. As soon as we arrived in Srinagar Airport, we drove to Gulmarg, a hill station and resort town two hours from Srinagar.

Tangmarg Kashmir India
A mosque in Tangmarg
Gulmarg, which literally means Meadow of Flowers, is a popular skiing destination during winter. On the way, we saw one charming mountain village after another. Our late lunch stop (by now we were really hungry since the Philippines is ahead by 2 hours and 30 minutes) was at Tangmarg, one hour in between Srinagar and Gulmarg.

Tangmarg Kashmir India
While waiting for our meal to be served, I walked around town and saw a quaint mosque (mosque architecture is very different in Kashmir) and a village down the valley.

Seekh Kebab Kashmir India
Seekh Kebab
Gushtaba Kashmir India
Our lunch was a bevy of Kashmiri dishes which included Seekh Kebab (minced meat grilled on skewers in a tandoor) and Gushtaba (minced mutton balls in tangy yogurt gravy). It took us another hour to reach Gulmarg. But not before enjoying the picturesque views along the way!

Gulmarg Kashmir India Strawberry Valley
At Strawberry Valley, locals play a game of cricket, a popular sport in India
Gulmarg Kashmir India Strawberry Valley
As soon as we arrived in Gulmarg, we checked-in at the luxurious Khyber Himalayan Spa and Resort which is not even a year old! Too bad we only stayed there for a night. After dropping our stuff, we explored Gulmarg, particularly a place called Strawberry Valley, which is quite popular with hikers.

Gulmarg Kashmir India Strawberry Valley
Locals picnic by the roadside in Gulmarg
Gulmarg is a favorite family getaway for locals in India. So you'd often see groups picnicking by the roadside or enjoying the children's park by the lake. Pony rides are also popular in Gulmarg. But we decided to do the activity in Sonamarg where the views are even more spectacular. Before sunset, we dropped by the downtown area. More on Gulmarg in my next post. Photos on my India trip here.

Jet Airways flies daily to Srinagar!
Jet Airways has twice daily flights from Delhi (DEL) to Srinagar (SXR). Jet Airways also connects to Delhi from Manila via Bangkok, Singapore or Hong Kong at least twice daily!

Monday, September 02, 2013

India: Taj Mahal & Agra's Red Fort

Taj Mahal Agra India
Despite having barely recovered from a trip to Nepal, I found myself at the airport two days later leaving for another adventure. Jet Airways and Go India Journeys had invited me to fly to India to visit some of the country's most iconic attractions. We flew to Hong Kong where we took the Jet Airways flight to New Delhi. It was nearly midnight when our group arrived at the Hilton New Delhi Janakpuri, our home for the next two nights.

We didn't have much sleep since we had to leave for Agra first thing in the morning. But spirits were high since we were visiting the famed Taj Mahal. Agra was a four and a half hour drive on the new highway from Delhi (which includes having to navigate through Delhi's slow traffic to get to it). The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. He is also buried there.

So much has been said about the Taj Mahal, So I'll start with some things to remember before visiting the mausoleum:
(1) It's best to visit on a weekday since locals crowd the Taj Mahal during weekends. Note also that it is closed on Fridays. Also try to come during opening time for smaller crowds.
(2) There are many items which are prohibited inside the Taj Mahal. It's best to leave your bags in the hotel or the bus, rather than have to leave them in the locker area. Best if you bring only your mobile phone, camera or video camera, wallet and maybe an umbrella.
(3) Your Rp.750 ticket comes with a bottle of water and shoe covers. Make sure you take good care of your shoe covers since you will need these as you walk on the platform around the Taj Mahal. If you lose the shoe covers, you will have to leave your shoes in designated shoe racks and walk barefoot. Also, there's no guarantee you'll see your shoes again when you come back for them.
(4) Taking pictures is not allowed inside the mausoleum itself.
(5) While there's no dress code for the Taj Mahal, remember that it is a mausoleum and a place of worship. So dress appropriately.

Taj Mahal Agra India
The Taj Mahal was an interpretation of paradise as described in the Holy Koran. The water channels represented the four rivers of paradise. After the completion of the building, Shah Jahan entitled himself as Rizwan, the door keeper of paradise. In the main mausoleum, semi-precious stones such as malachite, coral, lapis lazuli, turquoise, mother of pearl, jade, jasper, yellow marble and black onyx were inlaid into the white marble from Makrana, Rajastan (360km from Agra) to produce the Taj Mahal's intricate designs. Bas relief depictions of flowers and vines as well as jaali (latticework) were carved out of the marble.

Taj Mahal Agra India
Taj Mahal Mosque
Taj Mahal Mosque is located on the left side of the Taj Majal when facing the building. Another similar building which served as a guest house was constructed on the right side for a symmetrical view, an element of Persian-style architecture.

Red Fort Agra India
The Amar Singh Gate of the Red Fort in Agra
After a late lunch at the Radisson Blu Hotel Agra (their Indian buffet was superb), we proceeded to the Agra Fort or Red Fort, where the palaces of the Mughal emperors are located. Both Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Agra Fort is a complex of Mughal fortifications, palaces and gardens, another must visit when in Agra.

Red Fort Agra India
A group of women sit down and rest at the Khas Mahal, a white marble palace inside Agra Fort
Red Fort Agra India
Musamman Burj at Agra Fort with the Yamuna River & Taj Mahal behind it
Red Fort Agra India
Intricate designs made of semiprecious stones inlaid in white marble decorate the Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal
We explored the complex for a little over an hour before motoring back to New Delhi. It's best to stay overnight in Agra to maximize your visit to both sites.

Jet Airways flies daily to New Delhi
Jet Airways flies daily from Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore direct to New Delhi. Passengers from Manila can take connecting or codeshare flights to these cities. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Iloilo: QR codes for Iloilo heritage sites

Last week, I flew to Iloilo to see how technology is now helping tourists learn more about Iloilo heritage sites with the use of a smart phone. Smart sponsored the installation of QR codes in heritage sites around Iloilo City and in other towns of the province of Iloilo as well.

First thing we did when we landed was to get a warm bowl of La Paz Batchoy at the La Paz Market. While there are many choices, one has to walk inside the market to find Netong's Lapaz Batchoy, one of the more popular brands. In fact, our hotel (in front of La Paz Market) had complimentary coupons it gives out to guests. It's a deadly concoction indeed as we watched the cook dish in innards and scoop out bone marrow to make this tasty noodle dish.

Our first stop on the #QRIloilo tour was the Jaro Metropilitan Cathedral, seat of one of the oldest dioceses in the country. The QR code is located by the gate of the church. When you scan it, it gives more detailed information on the church, including an old photo. You can try scanning the code in the photo.

The QR codes are not only for built heritage, Smart installed some at delicacy stores like Deocampo Barquillos, our next stop. I finally got to see how barquillos is made thanks to a demo they prepared for us. And rolling it was not easy as each of us got to try. Scanning the QR code at Deocampo gives a detailed history of the bakery and the process of making barquillos.

We stopped by Molo before lunch. The Arenas-Lazaro Ancestral House was among the houses Jose Rizal visited in 1896 on his way back to Manila. The Molo Church is a very famous landmark. It is often called the feminist church because almost all of the images are dedicated to female saints.

After lunch at Breakthrough Restaurant, it was nap time in the van as we proceeded to Miag-ao Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Too bad we didn't have time to visit the San Joaquin Church, a National Cultural Treasure, and the very elegant San Joaquin Cemetery.

We motored back to Iloilo City, stopping at Villa de Arevalo District to have merienda at Camina Nga Balay na Bato (Lola Rufina Heritage Curio Shop) or the Avancena House. This house and shop has a QR code too. We had really good Pancit Molo! As locals say, the best Pancit Molo in Iloilo are the ones prepared by the old families.

When you visit Iloilo heritage sites, make sure to look out for these QR codes!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Canada: Niagara Falls & winery visits at Niagara-on-the-Lake

Niagara Falls, at the border of Ontario, Canada and New York, USA, is on the bucket list of many travelers. It's actually a popular day-trip from Toronto, Canada. In fact, we visited Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake, a town known for its wineries, during the Philippine Airlines (PAL) inaugural flight to Toronto.

The day actually started quite nice since the sun was out. We visited Jackson-Triggs and Inniskillin in the morning to try out their famed ice wine. So what is ice wine? It's a type of dessert wine, really sweet. What makes it sweet is the manner in which the grapes are harvested and processed.

The grapes are allowed to freeze and are usually harvested early in the morning, before the sun comes out, to maintain the cold temperature since the grapes start to thaw by sunrise. Because the grapes are frozen, the water in the grapes freezes, but the sugars do not. So when the grapes are pressed, it produces a smaller amount but more concentrated must (juice) which ferments into a much sweeter wine.

Lunch was at Inniskillin, where we were served salad, salmon and prairie rice, which is not actually rice, but an oat known as Cavena Nuda. It cooks and tastes like rice. But the flavor also reminds me of white corn. I regret not taking a few kilos of Cavena Nuda with me to the Philippines.

On the way to Inniskillin, We also made a brief stop in Fort George, the scene of several battles during the War of 1812, a war between the British and the Americans. Opposite the Niagara River is Fort Niagara in New York.

We also passed by the Living Water Wayside Chapel, the smallest chapel in the world as per the Guinness Book of World Records with only six seats. Yes, some people actually hold their intimate wedding ceremonies there.

We also drove through the town center of Niagara-on-the-Lake before proceeding to the falls. Too bad the afternoon weather didn't cooperate when we visited the Niagara Falls.

By the time we arrived, it had started to rain. So it covered the view of most of the falls. There are actually three falls, two on the American side and one on the Canadian side. They say the view is best in the Canadian side. Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side is the most powerful waterfall in North America. No doubt, because we definitely felt its thunder as we went behind and stayed very close to the falls.

The Journey Behind the Falls offers you an observation platform and tunnels near the bottom of Horseshoe Falls. This attraction is accessible via elevators from the street level entrance. Fees vary depending on the season. From April to December, it's $15.95 (13+ years) and $10.95 (6 to 12 years). It's cheaper from December to April at $11.25 and $6.95 respectively.

If you want an overhead  view of the falls, you can visit Skylon Tower or the Minolta Tower. During the summer months, you can try the Maid of the Mist, a popular boat tour of Niagara Falls.

After exploring the area, we motored back to Toronto.

How to get to Niagara Falls from Toronto
Toronto is about two hours away from Niagara Falls, approximately 133 kilometers. There are various ways to get there. But the most popular would be renting a car, taking the Niagara Airbus or Megabus, or joining a guided tour. The guided tours are convenient options since they usually include visits a winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Philippine Airlines (PAL) flies direct from Manila to Toronto. Thank you for inviting me to join the inaugural flight last November!
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