East of Kyoto: Shrines, Temples and Garden

Lunch was very satisfying…  and the rain abated after all.  So walk some more we did.


Chion-in Temple was not easy to find.  The map was confusing.  We walked back and forth several times between the Yasaka Shrine and the Maruyama Park.  It was tiring, walking back and forth looking for the right turn, but the scenery was a sight to behold so I didn’t mind so much.


Once you find the temple, it isn’t difficult at all, we realized.   We just had to trust our instincts more.

Yasaka-jinja Shrine is a colorful downtown shrine that stands at the end of a main street, Shijodori St.  Long connected with the Kyoto Geisha community centered in the nearby Gion District, the shrine dates back to the 9th century, when it aimed to stop the run of epidemic and other disasters that were afflicting the Kyoto residence at that time.


Many visit the shrine today to pray for good fortune.  The shrine was quiet on our visit with only a few visitors praying.  Come early July, the shrine will be full of visitors as it plays host to the Gion Matsui Festival, a festival to drive away evil spirit.


Right behind Yasaka Shrine is Maruyama Koen Park.  Best known for its many weeping cherry blossom tree or shidarezakura.


It may attract thousands of people for the hanami or the cherry blossom viewing parties in spring, but in autumn, the warm hues of fall can be quite enchanting.

Now this was where we didn’t make the turn.  We should have turned left at the corner where the “tallest” shidarezakura stands, instead we went straight and found ourselves on a road leading to a trail up a hill.


Close to the northeast corner of Maruyama is Chion-in Temple, which now serves as the headquarters of the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism.


A huge and very popular temple, its colossal front gate is the largest of its kind in Japan, delivering a vision of grandeur.


Unfortunately, the main temple is under major maintenance and will not be ready for viewing till 2019.   Yeah…  all the effort for this 🙂


Useful Info:

Yasaka-jinja Shrine
625 Kitagawa,
Gion-machi, Higashiyama-ku
*8 minutes walk from Gion-Shijo on Keihan line
Maruyama Koen Park
473 Maruyama-cho, Higashiyama-ku
*5 minutes walk from Gion-Shijo on Keihan line
Chion-in Temple
400 Rinko0cho, Higashiyama-ku
*Take bus 206 and get off at the Chion-in Mae stop.  20 minutes walk to temple

Basco Jaunts: Vayang Rolling Hills

Credits: Red overlay by Kari Holts or iKari Design.

It is perhaps the most visited in Basco.  This place somewhat epitomizes Batanes in the minds of many… endless rolling hills, blue skies and magnificent views of the sea, the South China Sea.

The first time I made it here, I was mesmerized by the unfathomable vastness, how small one can feel within its green expanse.  In 1998, one has to walk up hills upon hills, no vans, no tricycles, and no paved roads.  You get there by walking on unpaved trail.

A trip to Batanes then needs at least 5 days for a complete walk through of Batan and Sabtang.  Those were the days – though I still get goosebumps, I think I like it better then. I can’t deny though that the comforts of today made it a pleasant revisit, especially on a hot summer’s day in May.

The scenery of Vayang is so immense no photo can capture exactly the true essence of the place.  Having said that, here’s an attempt on capturing even just a bit of its flavor and spirit.

Basco Jaunts: Valugan Bay

Credits:  Quickpage by Antonia Krajicek using the “4Ever” kit, a collaborative kit created by Jessica Sprague.com; Suede Alpha by Miss Behaving 2011.

From where we got off, I could hear the splash of the waves; the boulders hardly visible.

The sea is calmer in May.

The rambling of the rocks that hits the ocean floor becomes clearer when you are closer.

With picture-perfect spots scattered all over the islands, Batanes is easy to love.  To pinpoint one specific spot that I love the most is a tall order and perhaps impossible.

Valugan Bay though is so different from any beach I’ve seen, it has left indelible memories and has landed on my top 10 lists of favorites.

I’ve never come across any beach as dramatic as Valugan Bay.

Spewed out by Mt. Iraya and polished through time by powerful waves of the Pacific Ocean, large multi colored rocks covers a kilometer stretch of beach

Taken February 2006 when the waves were larger.

and made more mystical by the ocean mist when waves are strong.

The rambling of the rocks soothes my senses every time I’m here.

The troubles of my world easily fades into a renewed spirit as God whispers through those ramblings that everything will be as polished as those beautiful rocks.   I could sit here forever.

Basco Jaunts: Radar Tukon and its Surroundings

Basco, despite being the smallest province of the Philippines, offers some of the best scenic and cultural landscapes in the country.

Often touted as the Ireland of Asia, this so-called last frontier is blessed with endless rolling hills, rugged terrain and spectacular views of both the China Sea and the Pacific Ocean.  Perhaps due to its isolation, tradition and culture remain pretty much intact.

Our hired tricycle meandered through the streets of Basco, taking us to some uphill climb through scenic pastureland, the sea and many hills.

We arrived at Radar Tukon where even the locals still love to hang.

What used to be a weather station in the American era houses Basco’s radar station today.

Up in a hill, the 360° view is awesome, perhaps one of the best in the island.

Not only is it a lovely sight and contributes much to the beauty and uniqueness of Batanes,

these hedgerows are there with a few more purposes.

They are there as a windbreaker, for land delineation, it prevents soil erosion, and sometimes serves as nesting ground for migratory birds.

The Tukon Church can be seen from the Radar Station.  Although we didn’t get to see it up close, much less enter it, I believe that the interior is as lovely as the exterior.

Inspired by the Ivatan stone house, this church was a recent project of the Abads, not only to give the communities nearby a church where they won’t have to walk far, but a wedding gift as well to his daughter who got married there recently.  The church, I read, have beautiful stained-glass windows, a ceiling of angels painted by the students of the late Pacita Abad and the best thing about this church is the spectacular view of both the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean wherever one is seated.

Not far from Tukon church is a house sitting on top of a hill, overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

It was once the home-studio of the late Pacita Abad, an internationally acclaimed artist and sister to current Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, now turned nature lodge.  Refurbished by Butch in her memory, the lodge is not only a pretty sight from afar.

It was in 2006 that I was there, it was still the art and culture center of the Jorge, Aurora and Pacita Abad Foundation.

Her works hanged on the walls and the design of the house, I suspect, characterizes that of the owner.  Today, I read that works of famous Filipino artists and emerging young Ivatan artists grace the walls of the rooms.

The view from the balcony in 2006.

Nature lodge aside, Fundacion Pacita is also the headquarters of the Pacita Abad Center for Arts.  The proceeds earned from the operations supports various projects, one of them is the restoration of Ivantan houses.

More of Basco in upcoming posts.  Stay tuned.

El Nido: Island Hop Day

“The best island destination of Southeast Asia” was how National Geographic Traveler Magazine sized up El Nido in its November-December 2007 issue.  And has since been dubbing it as one of the best travel destinations.  Alex Garland’s “The Beach was inspired by El Nido, many say.  The Amazing Race, Bourne Legacy… it’s becoming a Hollywood favorite as well and for good reason.

Majestic karst limestone formation, enchanting lagoons, marble cliffs, lush forest, white sandy beaches, clear blue waters, wonderful marine life… all these epitomizes the Philippines’ so called “Last Frontier”.

Shops along the main streets of the town center offer the same A to D island-hopping tours.  To be in El Nido and not do these tours is like going to an ice cream parlor and not have ice cream.

It is after all the gateway to Bacuit bay—

an exquisite nature gem scattered with limestone islands with stretches of white sand beaches and hidden coves.

Mang Rudy promised a good lunch in his tour and so, together with the French friends we met coming to El Nido, we booked a tour with him.

Tour C— because it was my favorite tour the last time and because the our French friends wanted to see “Secret Beach”.

First on the agenda was Hidden Beach on Matinloc Island and the farthest from town.

Beautiful beach with lush vegetation hidden behind towering limestone cliffs hence the name.

We did some snorkeling but didn’t step foot on the beach.

Matinloc Shrine, our next stop, is on one side of the island.

The shrine is a two-storey building towering in one corner and a concrete gazebo at the center of the site.  Abandoned, the shrine is not in good condition but remains part of the tour— most likely because of its remarkable scenery.

In front of the building stands a limestone cliff with a stunning view of the nearby Tapiutan Island and other beaches of the island.

One has to climb the cliff to see the view while relatively easy; the sharp limestone edges can easily cut.  So be careful.

A beautiful tiny cove, Shumizu Island, which we had all to ourselves, was where we stopped for lunch.

While the food was on the grill, we enjoyed the sun, sea and sand.

Lunch was a wonderful feast of grilled chicken and squid alongside a refreshing cucumber and tomato salad.

Thank you Mang Rudy, we were not disappointed.

Matinloc Island has a Secret Beach.

Inside the steep rock wall is an enchanting beach inaccessible by boat.

The only way to enter this secret beach is through a small crevice, which during high tide is submerged earning its name.  When submerged, one has to swim through the crevice underwater making the reveal more dramatic, truth to tell.

This particular beach is said to have been the inspiration to Alex Garland’s “The Beach”.  It is easy to understand why.

Inside those walls is another world, a secret paradise, if I may call it that.  It is a sight to behold and this, dear friends, is why Tour C became a favorite.

Fronting the Matinloc Shrine is Star Beach.  I particularly love the rock formation in front.

The reef nearby is a great snorkeling spot owing to good coral beds and the abundance of marine life.

Capping this tour is a stop at Dimalicad Island, better known as Helicopter Island because of the shape it resembles from afar.

The long stretch of sparkling white sand beach makes it ideal for lounging around with a good book or sunbathing perhaps.

Although the water beckons for a swim, the waves can be strong for some.

They couldn’t have chosen a more perfect cap for the day.

Soaring High in Vang Vieng

With most of Vang Vieng still asleep, we sauntered down before the break of dawn to the hotel lobby half asleep ourselves.  The ride came at 6 in the morning as promised and drove us to an empty lot where another vehicle with the basket and balloon arrived almost the same time.

They flipped the basket sideways, inflated the balloon with a giant fan and simultaneously flames it to give out that required hot air.

“You’re taking the VIP ride”, said a Chinese man in a coat to us.  Essentially, he meant that the basket can fit 4 but with no one else booked, the basket was ours for the next 40 minutes.  With their GPS and radios checked, we were asked to climb in.

By now Vang Vieng was waking up.

The balloon slowly lifted us up allowing us a bird’s eye view of this picturesque town.

With the air still misty, the mountain peaks looked mystical, like a painting almost.

The rice fields stretches out of the town and into the foothills.

The Namsong River beautifully snakes through Vang Vieng, manifesting its charm even more.

From the top, we see that the empty lot is actually the old airstrip and close to it is the road leading to Luang Prabang.

The beauty of Vang Vieng so captivated me; I forget that I was afraid of heights.  Tranquility fused with a rush of adrenalin was an experience unlike any I’ve had.

Hot Air Ballooning over Vang Vieng seemed to have blown away the cloud looming the town lately.

On the bus to Luang Prabang later that morning, I take one last look and say adieu to a town I have, in less than a day, become enchanted with.

Useful Info:

The Ballooning Company
Ban Vang Vieng, Laos PDR
email: info@laoballooning.com
website: http://www.laoballooning.com

Fun and Frolic at the River Namsong

Credits:  Papers by Jessica Sprague (Bright Stripes paper), Carina Gardner (Coqu flirt 16), ITM Tricolor (Red tiny dot), QQ Knotty Girl papers; Elements by Carina Gardner (daisy paper bits)

Once a peaceful and quiet town, Vang Vieng used to appeal only to adventure travelers wanting to rock climb, explore caves or to simply enjoy its tranquil surroundings, its people and culture.

Surrounded with striking karst rock formation, the Namsong runs through it contributing to its serene setting.

Since the launch of inner tubing in the mid-2000, the quiet town of Vang Vieng has never been quite the same.

The Namsong now appeal to “partying” backpackers.

The town today is most know for “tubing” down the Namsong and with it came

many bars along the riverbanks catering to those floating downstream either in rubber tubes or on a kayak.

The townsfolk once farmers are now owners of bars and guesthouses – predominantly made up of chill-out bars and dance shacks all offering cheap booze,

some offering more thrills in the form of swings and ziplines.

Along with the bars, lodgings of various types line both sides of the riverbanks.

A short afternoon cruise up and down the river on a motorized boat reveal all these.  It is the easiest way to watch the goings on around the river.

Foreigners partying or simply floating down the river dominate local scenes along the river.

The “party” scene may have appealed to me years ago but today, I prefer the relaxed atmosphere of the down river part of the Namsong.

Watching the sunset over cocktails after a long day is my idea of a good time.

This looks like fun… so we booked a sunrise ride over Vang Vieng on a Hot Air Balloon… on my next post.

The Kawasan High

Credits:  Papers by Queen of Quirks, Elements by Scrap Matters’ Life Simple Surprises Kit

Remarkable diving defines Moalboal and many combine it with a side trip to Kawasan Falls in nearby Badian town.

Just an hour away from Cebu’s diving destination, Badian is known for its 3-tiered waterfalls called Kawasan Falls.

A short trek will take you to the first falls where one can enjoy it with nary a need to swim if that is the preference (bamboo rafts are available to take people to the falls).

The beauty of the waterfalls cascading into turquoise pools and the lush tropical vegetation surrounding it already provides a natural high.

What more if, for 4 hours, you get to swim, trek, and jump into several of the turquoise pools along the way to Kawasan Falls?

We entered the falls from upstream, near the border of Badian, at the Matutinao Valley geared with a pair of booties, a life jacket and an adventurous spirit.  Canyoning at the Kawasan is not your ordinary Kawasan Falls excursion.

It requires swimming, river trekking, jumping off waterfalls and a bit of rappelling.  Canyoneering, as they call it, is a sport of exploring a canyon by engaging in rappelling, rafting and waterfall jumping.

The adrenalin started pumping at the Matutinao River, just a short distance from our jump-off.

We scrambled over rocks as we get use to the art of river trekking.

We sort of rappelled down a mountain slope to reach another canyon.

We swam when the water was deep.

We jumped from big boulders 4 times, sometimes over waterfalls, other times into a small basin with little room for error.

It was terrifying at times, but for the most part, it afforded us an ultimate high, non-stop adrenalin rush.  It was a high like no other.

The Aquaholic team made us feel safe all through out, guiding us through the magnificent sceneries of gorgeous blue lagoons and spectacular canyons and rock formation.

The remoteness and lack of habitation have left this valley a sanctuary.  In the course of our 4-hour escapade, we bumped into a few locals at the start and another canyoning group that explores the river the harder way from below, which they call river climbing.  Otherwise, we had the river and the beautiful riverscape all to ourselves to take pleasure in.

We reached the top of the 3rd cascade of Kawasan Falls at around 2pm.  Contrary to the tranquil environment we came from, we were greeted with loads of people enjoying their Sunday.

Caught off guard and surprised to see people out of nowhere walking down from atop the falls, they watched us with wonder as we walked pass them, exhausted but exhilarated.  Their facial expressions seemed to ask, “Where the heck did they come from?”

Going back to the van we walked this bamboo bridge which ironically was more frightening.

Why, one might wonder, do we take the grueling route when it only takes 15 minutes, 30 minutes tops to reach all 3 falls?

The answer to that would be because we love the challenge of an adventure.  Because we like doing things the unconventional way.  Because we are adrenaline junkies.  Because off-the-beaten paths are always more breathtaking…

Useful Info:

Philippine Aquaholic Diver’s Inc.
Club Serena Resort
Moalboal, Cebu City
Contact No: +63 (32) 516-1847; +63 (32) 474-0050; +63 (917) 717-3333
Email: dive@aquaholics.com.ph

Rest of Taroko

If rugged cliff, marble canyons, towering mountains, and cascading rivers are your thing, then the Taroko National Park will surely enchant.

Hungry for more after our morning’s meanderings, we decided to book a tour to cover more grounds.  A must if pressed for time, actually.  A taxi came for us after lunch, turns out that he is both taxi driver and English-speaking guide.  He said the need for an independent tour guide (and an English-speaking one to boot) has declined now that more Chinese tourists arrive by the busloads providing their own tour guides, hence the dual occupation.

One can spend the day exploring the breathtaking scenery on foot and not cover half the park, which by the way, is the 2nd largest national park in Taiwan. The gorge itself spans 19km long and is spectacular whichever angle you see it from.  With a car, we managed to cover a lot.  Besides, wandering on foot requires a bit of stamina, stamina that has substantially diminished after our morning walk.

Swallow Grotto

The trail we walked earlier apparently does not end at the highway, if we crossed it and walked north, we would have hit a tunnel that splits into two.  We earlier thought about walking along the highway but worried about getting hit by the buses or be charged with jay walking.

Anyhow, traffic and tourist buses are heavy near the tunnel.  The right side of the tunnel is off-limits to vehicles and one gets to explore the tunnel and its surrounding by foot.  Long-term erosion by the river resulted in holes and hollows on the cliffs.  Swifts and swallows took up residence here giving the place its name.

Gorgeous valleys and splendid views awaits as one walk further into the tunnel.  A part of the trail was closed due to falling rocks when we visited and so we turned back.  Normally, our guide said he’d wait at the end of the tunnel while his guests walk the entire stretch.

Cihmu Bridge

The scenery from the Swallow Grotto to our next destination is quite spectacular where the highway runs mostly through tunnels, narrow gorges and marble sceneries.

At the confluence of the laoxi and the liwu river stands Cihmu Bridge, an H-shape hanging bridge where marble stone lions stand on each side.  The rock beneath is of schist and white marble, resembling a frog with a crown (can you see it?   🙂 ).  The crown is actually a pavilion built on top of the frog-like rock.

Lushui Trail

Our driver/guide recommended that we walk this trail.  He dropped us off where the trail started and he’ll meet us at the end, he said.

The trail climbs gently uphill and crosses a short suspension bridge before making its way onto a spectacular cliff-side section.

It was a fairly easy and very scenic trail that is suitable for people of all ages.  The trail follows the road cutting through the mountain and passing through a short tunnel.

The views of the Liwu River and the gorge are impressive.

A kilometer of rough downhill road signals almost the end of the trail bringing us back to the main road along the rim, our taxi in sight.


Tienfieng Pagoda

Like Buluowan, Tianxiang is an old Atayal aboriginal village sitting near the confluence of the Daxi Jili and Dasha rivers that eventually becomes the Liwu River.  Its name commemorates Wen Tianxiang, the last prime minister of the Song Dynasty.

This charming town has a large parking space for tourists, a recreational plaza garden and the only 5-star hotel in Taroko – Silks Place.

Eternal Spring Shrine

From the road, driving to our next destination, we stopped only to take photos (as many have done) of the Eternal Spring Shrine, a landmark and a memorial shrine complex paying tribute to the 212 veterans who passed away during the construction of the Central Cross-Island Highway.  The shrine surrounded by lush greenery and the long steep gorge beneath was built above the Chang Chun falls offering picturesque view of the mountain and the waterfalls.  The Chang Chun falls runs year-round.

Shakadang Trail

Bridge near the Shakadang Trail entrance.  Each lion has a different face.

5pm, hot and hungry and we still had one more to go.  We were thinking to perhaps skip it but our guide insisted that we walk even just a portion of the trail.  Glad we did.

It was an easy hike, which started just below the bridge, along the Shakadang creek valley, a tributary of the Liwi River.

The trail is a flat 4.4km following the crystal clear blue water of the Shakadang River which winds through dramatic marble canyons surrounded by lush green vegetation.

The mineral deposits in the rocks produces such beautiful turquoise water and is a major part of the charm.

And with that, we were driven back to our hotel just in time for my aboriginal dinner.

The Sincheng Station

We headed back the next day to Taipei the same way we arrived, impressed with what Taiwan had to offer, realizing that we perhaps scratched only a small surface of this beautiful island once aptly called Formosa.  Another visit is definitely likely to happen in the (near or far) future.

Buluowan, the Lower Terrace

Taroko Gorge.  Travel buddy Art, a globe wanderer for more than 3 decades, largely influenced our trip to the national park.  He’s gone to so many places, he inspire me to never stop travelling.  Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Iran, Bhutan, Antarctica – name it he’s been there.  And to give a thumbs-up on Taroko Gorge?  I knew we chose a winner and wasted no time booking our flights.  With tips from Art, we planned the trip as efficiently as we could.

We had to make good use of our limited time hence the 2 nights stay at the Leader Village Hotel.  Perfectly located within the park with its headquarters just a short walk down.

From the lobby, following the wooden walkway that borders the road leading to the park’s headquarters, I was rewarded with a bird’s eye view of the lower terrace.

Lush green trees surrounds the lower terrace

A beautiful sight that had me thanking Art for his recommendation.

The Traveler’s Center from E-das Hall

What used to be the home of the Taroko tribes more than 3,000 years ago is now the Park’s headquarter, which includes a recreational area (also called the Traveler’s Center)

featuring aboriginal cultures, a multimedia presentation at the E-das Hall, and a souvenir shop.  Also found here are the Swallow Grotto trail and the Meander Core Trail.

While aimlessly walking around, a guy called out prodding us to enter the E-das Hall as “the show’s about to start”, he said.  Happy to be away from the heat even for just a while, we comfortably seated ourselves and watched the entire show… in Chinese with no sub-titles to boot.  Who cares when we can cool ourselves on a hot summer’s day?  The show briefs about the different attractions to be seen and experienced at the park and the visual presentation had us eager to explore the park.  So right after the show, we went on our first trail.

Swallow Grotto Trail

Behind E-das Hall is the Swallow Grotto Trail.

Looks promising, don’t you think?

On the map though, it ends on the highway and A was hesitant to walk this trail because we might end up backtracking.  I insisted and of course he was right.

The steep steps down seemed never ending, and when we reached the end of the road, we were rewarded with this.

An obstructed view of the Liwu River.  

I cringed because I insisted and was wrong, and we had to go back up those steep steps.

Next time I will listen.

Meander Core Trail

Now this trail is a breeze with beautiful scenery and lush flora along the way.

It’s a shorter trail that starts near the traveler’s center.

The pretty wooden walkway leads all the way to a viewing deck at the end. There, we were rewarded with these views.

The Taroko Gorge (left) and the Sipan Dam (right)

After these two trails, a hearty lunch was the only way to go.

We walked back to the hotel through a more scenic and shorter route,

A rooftop picnic area at the Traveler’s Center

which passes the back of the Traveler’s center.

All these stunning scenery left us awed by the beauty of Taroko and we have not technically left our hotel grounds yet.