Recently, we had like 6 days of continuous public holidays from April 27th to May 6th (aka Golden Week), and including the weekends, we had 10 days off work and school. A few people complained about the holidays being too long, and I actually understood their point of view. When you work part-time (パート) or per-hour jobs (アルバイト), you don’t any paid holidays. So that’s about week’s income gone. Anyway, I had just started my new job at Hitachi RnD (with paid holidays 💃 💃 ), and this felt like a chance to get out of Japan for a week or so.
I decided to go to Cebu, Philippines for various reasons. First, it is near enough to Japan and I have been wanting to explore Asia while in Japan (even though the flight prices were through the roof during the golden week). Second, the warm tropical weather after a long winter in Japan was appealing. Third, Philippines is famed for its wonderful beaches; fourth, the people are said to be friendly; fifth, Kenyans don’t need visitor visas; sixth, local prices were said to be cheap, etc. I don’t really need to justify my reasons to you guys, but I’m doing it because I’m a nice person 🙂
So after I sold the best car I ever had (goodbye Bella 2.0!), I immediately booked the best (read cheapest) tickets I could find. I also booked 4 nights in a nice apartment, booked an island hopping trip that kids could also join, and made all the preparations necessary for a nice enjoyable trip. Check out the thread below for the highlights:
However, the journey wasn’t as smooth as I thought for several reasons. Here are five lessons learned from that trip:
- Plan and book everything in advance
And then double-check everything.
I booked my flights in late March because I didn’t have funds in hand early enough, which was barely a month to the travel date. It was late considering the golden week is a high season for traveling in Japan. So I knew I was spending 4 days in Cebu. Leave Japan on Monday and leave Cebu on Friday.
I couldn’t get any direct flights (only business class tickets were left) so I got flights transiting through Seoul. It was only after booking flights that I realized that the layover in Seoul was going to be all night! I decided to go ahead anyway and book a hotel at the airport to spend the night. The hotel at the airport was full, according to booking.com, but I finally found a vacancy in a hotel 3 minutes away from the airport.
You know what that meant? We would be leaving the precious “international zone” at the airport to enter S.Korea, and would need transit visas. I figured it was just a quick drop at the embassy and dropped off my application with the RUDEST people I have ever seen in an embassy. And yes, even worse than the US ones lol. Although Jeremy and I have been to South Korea before, we only encountered polite and professional officials at the South Korean embassy in Niigata. Anyway, maybe it’s a Tokyo thing.
It turns out I was wrong and several missed calls from a private number later, (a series of coincidences meant I missed the calls from the embassy request additional documents but the private number meant I had no idea who was calling so couldn’t return calls), I turned up the embassy to collect the visas only to be told to show them a certificate of bank balance – that you can only get from the bank during working hours, a letter of employment – that might take two weeks to get the right stamps and signatures, and airplane tickets. Like I have a professional working visa in Japan, why would I want to go hustling in the streets of Seoul? If I want to go work or live in Seoul, I will just do it legally. Anyway, I had forgotten my own advice on the visa application processes and had grown complacent.
There is no dignity in the visa application process. It is discriminatory, invasive in every manner (financially, medically etc), and assumes we are all dying to go live in the backstreets of their countries, even if we sometimes are.
It was too late to get those documents so dejected, I emailed the transit hotel inside the terminal airport to see if they could put me on a wait list or something and luckily they had a vacancy. Crisis averted, phew.
See, if I had planned early, I might have had time to even get x-rays to show them I am a healthy African and thus can step into their precious country.
2. Cheap is Sometimes More Expensive, Direct Flights Are Best
I probably spent more on applying for transit visas, and airport hotels, and time wasted, than if I had purchased the direct flights. More on this later
3. Cebu Island’s Beaches and Sea are beautiful, but inland, not so much.
Maybe it is an age thing, maybe it is being a parent. But I feel like the days of hostels are past me. If I want to travel, I want to at least enjoy my stay. In Malaysia about 2 years ago, we got an airbnb with an infinity pool at the roof and another huge pool on the 5th floor. This time, I was also able to get a deal at some nice apartments (17th floor room) in Mactan near the airport in Cebu. Be sure to check airbnb for deals and if you travel in a group, you can share the costs and you will be surprised at how affordable such accommodation becomes.
We took a boat and went snorkeling on day 2 and it was the highlight of trip. Away from the dusty, crowded streets crawling with traffic, the sea was quiet, serene, and beautiful. There are many trips you can book online and I used Island Trek Tours. They are not exactly cheap, but they provide pick up and drop off, snorkeling equipment, freshly barbecued lunch and soda (but no water). So be sure to carry water with you when you go.
We spent another day in Cebu City checking out the historical Basilica Minore del Santo Niño de Cebu, established in the 1500s which is adjacent to Magellan’s Cross. According to wiki, Ferdinand Magellan was a Portuguese explorer who organised the Spanish expedition to the East Indies and was one of the founders of the Spanish settlement in Cebu.
We also made a brief stop at the tranquil San Pedro Fort and the gardens nearby.
Thereafter, we did some shopping at some mall, can’t remember the name, but there are several shopping options if that is what you are into. Later in the evening we visited the 10,000 Roses Cafe, which looks better in pictures than in real life.
When at the roses cafe, be sure to eat at at the nearby native restaurant. It’s called Lantaw Floating Restaurant and their pork stew in groundnut sauce, oysters, fried veges, grilled tuna were just too good.
However, getting a taxi out of there is was a nightmare so might be worth asking the to-taxi to wait for you. If it’s daytime you can take a motorbike taxi or a 3 wheeled bicycle to the Jeepney (public transport) station. To get around Cebu, we used Grab a lot. Uber isn’t so much in use in Cebu.
4. Filipinos are possibly the friendliest people ever (how about Canadians though?)
Filipinos are warm and friendly. I loved the country and would go back, but would prefer to go to quieter, more remote island next time. While they are friendly, the economy is not so you might get ripped off because you’re a tourist. Get a local to guide you or research on prices (especially taxis) before you arrive and try to negotiate the prie beforehand.
We were so glad our Filipino friend Maricris, who used to work in Japan, was there to meet us. We hadn’t known in advance that she would be free but it all worked out in the end. She guided us around the city, negotiated the taxi prices, showed us the spots in Cebu City. Thank you so much ❤ Maricris, if you read this.
5. Plan for emergencies and avoid the high seasons if you can!
The fifth lesson from this trip was planning for emergencies. When you budget for a trip, be sure to budget like 50-100% more money just in case.
So on Friday morning, we went to the beach, then hand lunch and showered and packed, then headed to the airport at 11pm in the evening for our 2am flight. Except our flight had already left at 2am that Friday! We were a day late to the party. Be careful for flights departing after midnight. After that, it was a scramble to get flights, but there were no direct flights back to Japan until after the golden week was over. There was no way I was going to be late back to work after just a month! Eventually, got a flight for one and a half days later but it was landing in Osaka. We had to go back and find a hostel to spend the night and eventually we flew back to Osaka via Seoul again, and then took the shinkansen to Tokyo on Monday, a week after we left. Just back in time to get back to work on Tuesday the 6th of May.
What an adventure! It left me so broke, but so full of memories. I met so many other amazing travelers, memorably from Japan ❤️, South Korea❤️, Germany ❤️❤️, Australia ❤️ and Poland ❤️, and reconnected with my friend Maricris.