Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Europe: Applying for a Schengen visa in the Philippines

Visiting Europe is a dream for many. Thanks to the Schengen Agreement, you can visit most of Europe with a single visa called the Schengen visa.

There are twenty-six countries in the Schengen Area namely Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. Although not part of the Schengen Area, you can also visit four microstates namely Andorra, Monaco, San Marino and the Vatican City that maintain open or semi-open borders with Schengen countries.

Update (02/12/2012): A Schengen visa will allow you to transit Romania within a period of five (5) days. From January 31, 2012, Bulgaria now allows visa-free entry to holders of Schengen visas with stays of up to three (3) months. Croatia temporarily allows holders of two or multiple entry Schengen visas to enter from January 1 to December 31, 2012.

Applying for a Schengen visa can be difficult at times for Philippine passport holders for reasons quite known to us. Note that there are rules on which embassy you should apply with for your visa. I've been to Europe on three separate occasions and had to apply with the Spanish, Portuguese and French Embassies respectively. Note also that the minimum processing period for a short stay visa is ten (10) working days and can take longer depending on the circumstances. So it's best to apply at least one month before your intended date of departure. Visa processing fees are also non-refundable so make sure you prepare the necessary documents to avoid visa refusal.

Where to Apply
If you are going to visit only one Schengen state, the visa application must be made at the embassy or consulate of that particular member state. If your trip will include more than one country, the visa application must be made at the embassy or consulate of the member state whose territory constitutes the main destination of the trip in terms of purpose or the length of stay.

One example, I had to attend an ICOMOS meeting in Portugal in 2010. Unfortunately, we no longer have a Portuguese Embassy in the Philippines. So I tried applying at the Dutch Embassy since Amsterdam was going to be my port of entry. Unfortunately, I was told that because my main purpose to visit Europe was a meeting in Portugal, I had to apply with the Portuguese Embassy which is in Jakarta, Indonesia. I tried calling the embassy there but the phone was on answering machine. The e-mail address in the website was bouncing.

After all those wasted long-distance calls, and because I had just a little over two weeks left before the meeting, I had no choice but to fly to Jakarta to personally apply for a visa at the Portuguese Embassy there. When the Schengen country you will visit does not have an embassy or consulate that issues visas in the Philippines, you will have to allot at least four weeks since your passport may have to be mailed to an embassy abroad.

The following are the Schengen states with embassies and consulates in the Philippines that issue Schengen visas. Some embassies represent other Schengen countries in the Philippines with regard to visa issuance. You can click on the links to read visa application procedures specific to the embassy:

Austria (plus Lithuania)
4/F Prince Building, 117 Rada Street
Legaspi Village, Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 8179191/8174992; Fax. No. (02) 8134238

Belgium (plus Hungary, Luxembourg and Slovenia)
6/F Don Jacinto Building, De la Rosa cor. Salcedo Streets
Legaspi Village, Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 8451869/72; Fax No. (02) 8452076

Czech Republic
Rufino Pacific Tower
6784 Ayala Avenue, Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 8111155; Fax No. (02) 8111020

Finland (plus Estonia)
21/F Far East Bank Center
Sen. Gil J. Puyat Avenue, Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 8915011/15; Fax No. (02) 8914107

16/F Pacific Star Building
Makati Ave. cor. Sen Gil Puyat Ave. Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 8576900; Fax No. (02) 8576951

25/F Tower 2, RCBC Plaza,
6819 Ayala Avenue, Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 7023000 / Fax No. (02) 7023015

12/F Sage House, 110 Rufino Street
Legaspi Village, Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 8174444/8173417; Fax No. (02) 8120202

6/F Zeta Building, 191 Salcedo Street
Legaspi Village Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 8924531/34; Fax No. (02) 8171436

The Netherlands (plus Poland)
26/F Equitable Bank Tower
8751 Paseo de Roxas, Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 7866655; Fax No. (02) 7866644

Norway (plus Denmark and Iceland)
21/F Petron Mega Plaza Building
358 Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue, Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 8863245/49; Fax No. (02) 8863244

5/F ACT Tower
135 Sen Gil Puyat Ave. Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 8183561/8183581/8185526; Fax No. (02) 8102885

Switzerland (plus Sweden)
24/F Equitable Bank Tower
8751 Paseo de Roxas, Makati City
Tel. No. (02) 7579001; Fax No. (02) 7573717

Scheduling a Visa Appointment
The appointment procedures vary per embassy. Again, you can click on the links which I've conveniently placed above to read visa application appointment and application procedures specific to each embassy. The links are self-explanatory. But if you have any questions, it's best to call the embassy for appointment procedures.

For the French Embassy, appointments may be set either (1) by phone at 8576924 between 2 to 4 p.m., Mon-Thur; or (2) via e-mail at I did mine via e-mail since the lines were quite busy during appointment hours. When e-mailing the embassy, provide the name of the applicant, e-mail address and/or contact number as well as the purpose of the trip. Remember that appointments made through e-mail must be confirmed either by an e-mail reply or by a phone call from the visa section. You will have to wait for this confirmation before you can proceed to the embassy.

Other embassies will require you to call service numbers with charges per minute or per call. You can find these charges in the embassy website. And make sure to have everything ready when you make the call so that you don't waste any time.

General Requirements
Check with the embassy you will be applying with for their specific requirements. But to give you an idea, when I applied with the French Embassy late last year, the following documents were required:

(1) Signed application form for Schengen visa with photo (35mm x 45mm, white background) plus 1 extra photo
(2) Valid passport (3 months validity from the end of approved duration stay) and photocopy of valid and former visas
(3) Cover letter explaining the purpose of your trip as well as dates and places to be visited
(4) Details about the trip:
(i) proof of accommodations (either hotel vouchers or if staying with a French resident: Attestation d’accueil plus copy of your host’s national identity card if EU citizen or residence permit if citizen of a country other than the EU);
(ii) Round trip flight ticket booking (please do not purchase your ticket unless your visa is granted)
(iii) Complete itinerary with departure and return dates
(iv) For family visit, proof of relationship (birth certificate, marriage certificate)
(5) Proof of employment (if any):
(i) Certificate of employment with monthly salary and leave of absence approved by employer
(ii) If self-employed, official business registration for current and previous year
(iii) For priests, nuns and missionaries, certificate from the Apostolic Nunciature and guarantee letter from French and Filipino congregation.
(6) Proof of income
(i) Income tax return from previous year, where applicable
(ii) Recent bank certification
(iii) Photocopy of the last three months statement of account of the same bank account
(7) Identity and marital status
(i) Photocopy of the first page of your valid passport and all relevant obtained visas
(ii) If married, photocopy of your mariage contract and birth certificate anthenticated by the NSO
(iii) If single, photocopy of your birth certificate authenticated by the NSO
(iv) For minors, notarized affidavit from one or both parents if they don’t travel with the child
(8) An international insurance (medical expenses and repatriation) covering the entire period of the person’s intended stay and valid for all Schengen states. Minimum coverage should be EUR30,000

Again, note that incomplete files may result to the refusal of the application. It's also best to prepare additional documents, particularly for proof of income, which may be requested for specific cases.

At the Embassy
On the day of your interview, make sure to be at the embassy at least thirty minutes before your scheduled appointment. You may not be allowed inside if you are late for your appointment. Also bring the exact amount for the visa fee. At the French Embassy, they require the exact amount in Philippine pesos and do not give change.

When I arrived at the French Embassy, I gave my name and appointment time to the guard who then checked it on their list. I was given a number and sat down in the waiting area for my number to be called. When your number is called, you proceed to the window for checking of documents and payment. You will then be asked to be seated again and wait for your name to be called.

When your name is called, you proceed to the designated window for your interview and submission of other documents. You will be asked about your trip, your purpose for going, your work and other pertinent questions which will help the consul decide whether you are qualified for a visa. First time travelers will have a difficult time since this raises alarm bells of the consul interviewing you. So you might want to get some passport stamps before applying for a Schengen visa. The rationale behind the questioning is for you to prove to the consul that you will return to the Philippines as stated in your submitted travel plans.

The consul may reject applicants as a result of the interview. If the consul is satisfied or will consider your application, they will collect your documents (except the passport) and proceed to record biometric data, particularly your fingerprints and a photograph that will appear on your visa (if granted). They will then issue you a slip which states the date and time that you will return. Remember that the French Embassy will not collect your passport. You will bring your passport with you on the scheduled date. Note also that this is not an assurance that your visa is granted.

When you return to the French Embassy on the scheduled date for claiming your visa, you will submit your slips and wait for your name to be called. Those called first are applicants whose visas have been refused. If it is refused, you will be asked to receive a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs stating why your visa was refused. Those whose visas are approved will have to wait a little longer as the staff affix the visa sticker to your passport. Again, this is the procedure of the French Embassy. Each embassy or consulate has different application procedures.

Honorary Consulates and Embassies Abroad
Unfortunately, honorary consulates are not authorized to issue Schengen visas. But they can point you towards the right direction. Here are the contact details of honorary consulates or Schengen states with embassies outside the Philippines:

2253 Aurora Boulevard (Tramo), Pasay City
Tel. No. (02) 8332551/52-55; Fax No. (02) 8332358

Room 1242, Megaplaza Building,
ADB Avenue cor. Garnet Road
Ortigas Center, Pasig City
Tel. No. (02) 6877245/8937042; Fax No. (02) 6877245

Jl. Indramayu nÂș 2A.
Jakarta Pusat 10310, Indonesia
Tel. No. (0062 21) 31908030, Consular (0062 21) 3156 728; Fax No. (0062 21) 3190 8031

2nd Floor GCH Building
Tres Borces Street Mabolo
Cebu City 6000 Philippines
Tel. No. (032) 2329445

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

South Korea: Applying for a Korean visa in the Philippines

Visa application procedures have been a common query friends and readers ask me. Just yesterday, I was discussing with a friend who found it such a hassle to apply for several visas for just one trip. I realized I had applied for several visas last year alone. So I'm sharing my tourist visa application experiences beginning with South Korea since I'm currently here.

Here is a tip, when applying for a visa, make sure to photocopy or request for duplicate copies of all the documents you will submit. This will come in very handy and will make life easier for you when you apply for a visa for another country.

Aside from short-term tourist visas being free of charge to Philippine passport holders for stays of 59 days or less, the good news is that the Ministry of Justice of South Korea had simplified Korean tourist visa requirements last year to attract more tourists from South East Asian countries, including the Philippines. Aside from the single entry visas, they now issue double entry and extended multiple entry visas with validity from one to three years. In fact, I was given an extended multiple entry visa valid for three years when I applied for this trip.

The basic requirements are: (1) application form, (2) one passport-sized photo and (3) your original passport with at least six months validity and a photocopy of the first page.

Note that the Korean Embassy is very strict about complete requirements. So make sure you have everything that is needed. In many cases, people are sent away since requirements were incomplete.

Single Entry Visas
For single entry short-term visas (C-3) for tourists, you also have to submit: (1) employment certificate or business registration issued by SEC or DTI, (2) personal bank certificate, and (3) individual ITR or a copy of Form 2316 from the previous year. If you lack these documents, the Korean Embassy allows alternative documents for proof of income such as land titles, vehicle registration, country club or golf membership and pension certificates.

For an applicant who has traveled or has a valid visa to any one of the OECD member countries within the last five years, you are only required to submit requirement (1) and photocopies of OECD countries visa and arrival stamps. Here is a list of OECD countries.

If applicants are students, they are required to submit their school certificate, birth certificate and requirements (1), (2) and (3) of their parents.

Double Entry Visas
This visa is for visitors who plan to visit South Korea twice within six months. The visa requirements are the same as the single entry visa. A double entry C-3 visa is issued with a validity of six months.

Multiple Entry Visas
There are several criteria to qualify you for a multiple entry visa. These include the following (plus requirements):
(1) Applicants who have obtained permanent residency in any OECD member country (except South Korea) or people who visited OECD member countries more than two times within the last four years, or people who visited Korea more than four times within the last two years (original and photocopy of visiting records in the applicant's passport - visa and arrival stamps)
(2) Group tour guides who have traveled to South Korea more than once in the last two years
(3) Philippine government officials (employment certificate)
(4) High-rank officials and employees of international airline companies to South Korea (employment certificate)
(5) Applicants who earn more than $10,000 annually or have a platinum international credit card (official documents proving the financial status of the applicant or original and photocopy of platinum card)
(6) Applicants who are invited for contract and consultation by Korean public agencies in connection to resources and energy development (employment certificate and related contracts or guarantee letter from host)
(7) Applicants who are invited by the Korean Government to attend international forums, international conferences and international conventions (employment certificate and invitation letter)
(8) Executive or high ranking staff of a company that is listed in the Philippine Stock Exchange (business permit or employment certificate, individual ITR)
(9) Reporters, PD, journalists, news editors, etc. including people who work in a major media company for more than one year (identification card and employment certificate with the period of employment indicated, ITR)
(10) Professionals such as lawyers, doctors, accountants, professors, PRC or IBP card holders (employment certificate, PRC ID copy or IBP copy)
(11) Popular celebrities, artists, athletes, writers who can be searched or viewed in Philippine major media websites (a membership card or an ID, media records or records of concerned activity)
(12) Retired workers aged 55 years and above who are receiving pensions of more than Php20,000 monthly (any supporting document which proves he/she is a pensioner)
(13) People who have obtained a two year college degree or bachelor’s degree, master’s or doctorate degree from universities in Korea (diploma)
(14) Spouse, minor-aged children or parents-in-law of a Korean national (Korean couple's marriage contract and Korean marriage history)
(15) Dependent (spouse, children, etc.) of multiple visa holders (photocopy of multiple visa and proof of relationship documents - birth certificate, marriage certificate)

Application Procedure
There is no need for an appointment. After completing the required documents, applicants may file their applications at the Consular Office of the Korean Embassy from 9 to 11 a.m. only, Monday to Friday. This is on a first come, first served basis. Note that gates open at 8 a.m.

The Korean Embassy is located at the corner of Upper McKinley Road and C5 in Taguig City. When you arrive at the gate, you will need to get a gate pass and sign on the log sheet. There is a separate log for first time travelers and frequent travelers. So make sure you sign the right one.

The gate pass is not yet your number. After entering, you will have to get your number from the reception table. Again, the numbers for first time and frequent travelers are different. So make sure you get the right one.

When your number is called, you proceed to the window with your documents for checking. If they are complete and the consul does not have any questions, they will receive your documents. That is not an assurance that your visa is granted. They will then give you a claim slip indicating the date when you can return to the embassy to pick up your passport (and visa if approved). Don't lose it since you will need it to claim your passport. For first time travelers, processing takes five working days. While for frequent travelers, processing is three working days. It can take longer depending on the decision of the consul.

Releasing time is only from 2 to 4 p.m. The same entry procedures apply, get a gate pass and sign on the log sheet, then get a number once inside. Make sure you bring your claim slip with you because you will need this to enter and get a number. If you are unable to claim your visa on the scheduled date, you may pick it up on another date. But make sure to mention it to the consul. You may also have someone claim your passport for you with the necessary authorization letters. Also make sure to mention this to the consul.

Visa Fees
Visas are free (gratis) for stays of 59 days or less. If you plan to stay longer that 59 days, the visa fees are as follows: single entry Php1500; double entry Php3000; and multiple entry Php4000.

Visa-free entry to Jeju Island
Philippine passport holders can visit Jeju Island visa-free for up to 30 days. Note that you will have to fly direct to Jeju Island without passing through any Korean airport. Unfortunately, there are no direct flights to Jeju from the Philippines. To remedy this, you will have to pass through a third country in transit, such as Japan or Hong Kong, and take a flight to Jeju from there.

Download Korean Visa Application Form (print on A4 paper)

Embassy of the Republic of Korea
122 Upper McKinley Road, McKinley Town Center
Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City 1634 Philippines
Tel. No. (02) 8569210, Fax No. (02) 8569024 (Consular Section)
E-mail: or (Consular Section)

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Thailand: Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi, Chiang Mai's Colonial Suite Room & Dheva Spa

Chiang Mai, Thailand (November 24, 2010) Many of my friends were asking me to post photos of my Colonial Suite Room at the Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi is no. 18 on Conde Nast Traveler’s list of Top 100 in the world.

The gargantuan resort was built in what used to be a rice field. But it feels like you are entering an ancient Thai city with temples, palaces and stately colonial buildings. Surprisingly, everything was built from scratch. But the attention to detail, authenticity of architectural design and the scale of the buildings are impeccable.

To preserve the character of the place, they kept patches of rice field within the resort where guests can even plant rice.

Anyway, here are photos of my room. Here is what you see when you enter the room. There’s a small room complete with guest toilet.

This is the living room which has a work desk and TV.

The main bedroom is very stately. And the bed was so comfortable, I slept soundly last night.

But the bathroom is definitely something. I think it’s as big as the bedroom itself complete with a walk-in closet and bathtub jacuzzi which I’m about to use in a while.

Both the bedroom and living room have exits to a porch where you could relax outdoors. It offers a view of the other grand buildings that comprise the Colonial Suite wing. And mind you, the resort also has close to a hundred villas of various sizes, mansions even.

Anyway, I’m off to the hotel spa now.

Acupuncture treatment at Dheva Spa and Welness Center
We all go to spas to get relaxing massage treatments and find relief to our stress and body pains. But more than the usual massage, spas today understand that clients want results. And at Mandarin’s Dheva Spa and Wellness Center, the treatments go beyond the usual massage.

The spa complex itself is an intricately carved Lanna-style structure and quite interesting to explore. Before getting any treatment, the spa consultants meet with you to find out what treatments can best address your concerns. I got a personal consultation with the resort’s own traditional Chinese medicine trainer and specialist Ken Rosen, who hold’s a Master’s Degree in the Science of Traditional Oriental Medicine (MSTOM).

After filling up the forms and answering Ken’s questions, he said the I needed an acupuncture treatment. Part of the diagnosis requires a tongue check-up, taking your pulse before reaching a diagnosis. So we proceeded to the acupuncture room for my session with needles.

The needles are usually kept on you between 20 to 30 minutes. Rosen explains that the needles reboot the nervous system. The nervous energy tries to push the needles out until equilibrium is reached. He explains that acupuncture needles are solid and are not designed to cut through flesh unlike the usual injection needles. They push tissue aside, let the nervous system grab it, reject it, accept it and thus reboot the system.

It was a bit uncomfortable at first. But after a few minutes of deep breathing, it felt much better. And I could sense that it did work. And I felt very relieved during and after the treatment.

Acupuncture is just one of the many traditional and conventional treatments available at the Dheva Spa. Before getting our treatments, we had a small tour of the spas facilities which included even traditional baths among others. A herbal garden behind the spa was the source of herbs and spices for many of the spa’s treatments.

Mandarin Oriental Dhara Dhevi
51/4 Chiang Mai – Sankampaeng Road
Moo 1, T. Tasala, A. Muang
Chiang Mai 50000
+66 (53) 888 888

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Looking back at 2011

After completing my goal of setting foot on all eighty provinces of the Philippines last year, I decided to start visiting more countries and territories around the world. This year, I saw twenty five countries and territories, plus three more in transit.

The year began with a trip to Taipei, Taiwan hosted by China Airlines in March. This was followed by a trip to Hong Kong sponsored by Hong Kong Disneyland. To cap the month of March was the Pinoy Mountaineer Mount Kinabalu Expedition in Malaysia. I finally made it up Low's Peak at 4,095 MASL.

For the summer months of April and May, I was in North America with my niece to visit my sister. I got to visit Washington, DC; Baltimore, Maryland; Charlottesville and Mount Vernon, Virginia; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Miami, Key Biscayne and Orlando, Florida.

I made my first trip to Latin America together with my tokayo Ivan Man Dy of Old Manila Walks. We visited Mexico City, Teotihuacan, Taxco, Puebla, Xochimilco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Queretaro, Morelia, Oaxaca (and Monte Alban), Palenque, San Cristobal de las Casas, Campeche, Merida, Uxmal, Chichen Itza, Cuernavaca, Xochicalco and Tepoztlan in Mexico; Flores, Tikal, Antigua and Guatemala City in Guatemala; and Copan, Honduras.

A few days after I got back, I flew to Guam for a trip hosted by the Guam Visitors Bureau.

For June, I visited Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, Hoi An, Hue and My Son in Vietnam. Check out this post on Things to do in Ho Chi Minh City. I celebrated my birthday in Japan in July where I attended a UNITAR workshop on preparing nominations for UNESCO World Heritage Sites. I visited Hiroshima, Miyajima, Himeji, Nikko, Takayama, Shirakawa-go and Osaka.

In September, I was back in Thailand with my family. We visited Bangkok and Ayutthaya. I then flew to Phuket and took a bus to Sukhothai from Bangkok. In October, I led a trip of UP AIT students to Hong Kong and Macau.

I spent four weeks in Europe in November and early December. It was my first time to drive in Europe since I rented a car together with a fraternity brod. We visited Zurich, Sargans and Bern, Switzerland; Vaduz, Liechtenstein; Florence, Pisa, Rome, Venice and Trieste, Italy; Vatican City; San Marino; Ljubljana, Slovenia; Graz and Vienna, Austria; Budapest, Hungary; Bratislava, Slovakia and Prague, Czech Republic driving close to 6,000 kilometers.

I then visited Lourdes and Nice, France; Andorra la Vella, Andorra and Monte Carlo, Monaco by train. My last week was spent in Paris, France to attend the 17th ICOMOS General Assembly at UNESCO Headquarters. I got to visit Versailles and Chantilly while I was there.

Local trips were memorable as well. I made two trips to Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon this year. I hope that CDO will be able to recover soon. Too sad that they had to temporarily halt the whitewater rafting tours which was a significant source of tourism income for the city. I also visited Bohol, Zamboanga del Norte, and did a food trip in Pampanga with UP AIT students. We partied in Binondo on Chinese New Year, saw the Philippine International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta and Giant Lantern Festival, and attended the Independence Day Celeberations in Cavite and Rizal Sesquicentennial Ceremonies in Laguna.

I got invited by Rare to attend the launch of their Rare Pride Marine Conservation Campaign in Inabanga, Bohol. And just this week, I went food tripping in Silay, Negros Occidental. Definitely not a bad year don't you think?

Welcome 2012 and Happy New Year to all! Here is my Travel Year 2011 album.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Thailand: Night Market in Chiang Mai

Looking for a place to shop in Chiang Mai? Then a visit to the Chiang Mai Night Market of the Kad Luang (Royal Market) is a must! It’s right in the center of the city, near the banks of the Ping River.

The prices of merchandise and local handicrafts are quite good in the night market since it’s located quite close to the companies which manufacture them. It’s actually a large maze of stalls that can be found in various buildings, open spaces and sidewalks along Chang Klan Road between Tha Pae and Si Donchai Roads.

You can literally find everything you need there from native handicrafts, dried fruits and other local Thai snacks, clothing and accessories, Thai silk, jewelry and watches, and other trinkets and souvenir items.

One can also find the artisans themselves like soap carvers and umbrella painters.

And like all markets, there’s a lot of food. And it’s the best place to try out local street food. So when in Chiang Mai, don’t miss the Chiang Mai Night Bazaar!
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