Monday, March 7, 2011

Arriving Osaka (and some other preflight concerns=)

Once you have completed the pre-flight preps, the next task is to head to NAIA Terminal III, the Manila hub of Cebu Pacific that will take you to Osaka.


I always find this dilemma. True, there is an overnight parking at NAIA T3 at only Php 50 per night BUT I am always unlucky as I always find the overnight parking of T3 full. Parking at the nearby Resorts World is NOT an option as this will set me back at Php 1000 per for 3 nights...that would amount to Php 3,000.

I noticed that indeed, there is a multi-level parking at NAIA T3 but for now, it is not yet operational and therefore, if one cannot park at NAIA T3, then the best and nearest option would be the overnight parking in front of the old Manila Domestic Terminal. Note though that you gotta cross the street via pedestrian overpass in order to get a cab that wil bring you to NAIA T3. Overnight parking there is also at Php 50...but the good thing is that it is safe there but a bit inconvenient if your flight leaves and arrives at NAIA T3.

Perhaps one alternative is that of the MRT. Just a note though that if you got big luggages, you might encounter the guards of MRT not allowing you to board the train but if you just got a backpack with you, then you can take the MRT to Taft Ave. From Taft Ave., look for the McDonalds beside Hotel Sogo and go to the bus station behind it (this is also the terminal for buses going to Cavite and Tagaytay) as there are coasters and shuttle vans that ferry passengers from MRT Taft Ave to Terminal III for only Php 20.


Cebu Pacific parks at the gates far from the immigration counter so expect to go upstairs, a long walk, then take their skytrain so that you will be conveyed to the immigration halls for screening.

This is how Osaka-Kansai International Airport:

As soon as you clear customs and immigration formalities, look for the Travel Desk. This is where you will buy your Surutto Kansai Pass or the JR Pass. Again, as mentioned earlier, the Surutto Kansai Pass is the better option than the JR.

This is how the Travel Desk looks like:

Here, you need to fill up the form for the pass. Just tell them the Surutto Kansai 3-day pass. They will ask for your passport. Then, you will be given the train ticket, much like our MRT Stored Value Ticket. This will serve as your pass for 3 days for all trains in the Kansai Region EXCEPT the JR lines.


I forgot to include in the previous section re: Forex. Before I left for Japan, I already bought enough JPY at Asian FX Money Changer at the 2nd level of Gateway Mall in Cubao for only Php 0.49 = JPY 1. Their contact number is 913-3319. You can call them up and ask if they have yen or any other currency that you want. There are not that many forex in Japan so to get this off your mind, then I recommend to buy yen before leaving Manila and keep your ATM account, preferably BPI, loaded so you can withdraw money from Japan should you need more.

- - -

Now that you have the money and the train tickets with you, the next hurdle is how to get to downtown Osaka or to your hotel or even going to Kyoto.


The good thing in Japan is that you can go anywhere by taking the rail. From the Travel Desk, go to the 2nd level. This is what you will see:

This is what you will see once you go to the 2nd level: the bridgeway that connects the Kansai Airport to the Kansai Train Terminal. This is what you will see:

This is the place where you will buy your single journey ticket to Namba/Osaka. See previous post on why you should NOT use your rail pass immediately when you arrive. But hey if you wanna use it and you dont mind wasting the day's worth of unlimited train ride for like three remaining hours of the day, then it is your call=)

Since I bought the Surutto Kansai Pass, I will make no more references to the JR train since I did not buy their pass=).

The Nankai Line operates and uses tickets just like our MRT. Just insert the ticket and pull it out as you pass through the turnstile. When you are inside the train station, make sure to check what platform you are supposed to be in to make sure that you are on the right train, in this case, you are looking for an Airport Express bound for Namba (the downtown Osaka). If you choose the Ltd Exp Rapit train, you gotta pay an extra surcharge of JPY 500 but if you take the Airport Express, no  surcharges are levied. Note that the platform number is the one beside the hour of departure. This is illustrated below. 

This is how the airport express train looks like:

This is how the Rapit Limited train looks like:

You need not worry if you are afraid that you might be taking the wrong train. The reason: there is a sign board at all entrances stating where the train is going and if it is a LOCAL train (stops at all train station), Semi Express (does not stop at some stations)  and limited express. Note that if you choose limited express, you will pay additional JPY 500 even if you are using the surutto kansai pass. Note that the Express/Semi trains are normally 15 minutes slower than that of the rapit trains so in essence, you are paying an additional JPY 500 for arriving 15 minutes earlier than the semi express trains=).

Tsk tsk too long already...more to come=)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Osaka, Japan - Pre-flight Preparations

There are many questions regarding Osaka, Japan and hence, here is a detailed trip report on how to enjoy Osaka, Japan without spending so much.


A lot has been said already about successfully securing the japan visa but the best, in terms of price and proximity (at least to me), is Reli Travels at SM Megamall for they only charge Php 1200 for visa application. Normally, they would recommend to apply as a tourist without anyone inviting you to come over to Japan. The reason is that there will be lots of documentary requirements should one opt to be invited as you and your sponsor will both have to prove financial capability to finance your stay. This also costs more as one gotta pay Php 2000 if one has a sponsor and hence, they recommend to simply go there as a tourist without anyone inviting you to stay.


This is not a requirement for visa application but the best deal in town and the cheapest comes from Cebu Pacific with their direct daily flights to Osaka-Kansai International Airport from Manila. Good thing is that Cebu Pacific flight to Osaka, Japan, arrives relatively early (at 8 PM Japan time) so you have enough time to catch your train to the city. Note that taking a cab, unless you are filthy (and I mean really damn filthy) rich, then cabs are the way to go in Osaka. Osaka-Kansai International Airport is located about 50 kms away from downtown Osaka and should not be confused with Osaka-Itami Airport which handles domestic flights from Narita-Tokyo International International and Haneda International Airport.


I have stayed at Hotel Shin-Imamiya. This is located just 5 steps away from the Nankai Shin Imamiya Station. In the internet, they noted that this area is touted as the "homeless" district of Japan but hey, for JPY 6000 for 3 nights, I am not complaining since the hotels in Japan are dead expensive. The good thing about Hotel Shin Imamiya is that they are just right outside the Nankai Station so you really wont see any homeless japanese wandering around since I presume they are loitering in the inner streets of the area. So an important tip: Always make sure that if you will opt to stay at Shin-imamiya district, check if your hotel is very near the JR or Nankai train station to avoid hassles.

The Hotel Shin-imamiya, where I stayed for three days, was very clean. Here are some pics:

My room
It also has an ensuite toilet and bath. Here is the pic:

The hallway going to my room:

The waiting area where there is free internet:

I will definitely recommend Hotel Shin Imamiya since they got very good prices. The downside of this hotel is that the hotel has NO signboard. The only reason I find it damn easy to locate is that they are just five steps away from the Nankai Exit and right beside the prominently marked Hotel Sun Plaza.

I recommend this hotel because in their waiting area, there is microwave oven that you can use and hot thermos so you can always eat your cup noodles or heat your food that you bought from Family Mart, which is like 20 steps away from the hotel.

Here is a google earth image of the hotel:


Do NOT underestimate the weather in Japan. When I was there, I thought I can bear the cold but boy I was so wrong hahaha. The temp there says 2C but it felt like -5C with me coming home with windburns due to the extreme cold. I always find myself cursing at the bitter coldness and always rushing to the nearest Family Mart to escape the cold weather. Bring bubble jackets and other thermal clothes if you are travelling during winter season. Note that in Kansai, Osaka has the highest temp, with the mercury hitting lower in the other prefectures like Kyoto, Nara, Kobe or Himeji.

THE RAIL PASS: JR West Rail Pass vs. Nankai's Surutto Kansai Pass

This is a very important decision point that you have to make. If you have no plans to go to Tokyo or your itinerary mainly involves Kansai Region (Nara, Kobe, Kyoto, Himeji, etc), then I strongly recommend the Surutto Kansai Three-Day Pass.  Note that both the three-day passes of Nankai and JR cost JPY 5000.

The reason is simple: with this Nankai's Three-day pass, you get to use, unlimited, not only any line EXCEPT JR in Kansai, but it also includes the use of subways in Kyoto, Kobe, and Osaka. If you buy the JR pass, it does NOT cover the subway lines of these three cities so it is way better and you save more if you use the Surutto-Kansai Three Day Pass.

Important tip: if you arrive via Cebu Pacific, just buy a separate ticket for you to get to downtown Osaka from Osaka Kansai INternational Airport. The reason: masasayang lang ang 1 day sa three-day pass if you use it at about 9 PM of Day 1 just to get to your hotel. Just buy a single journey ticket for JPY 880 for a limited express and reserve your pass for three full days since it will be counted as day 1 if you use it on your date of arrival=).

Note also that if you use Nankai 3-day pass, do not look for Osaka Station because Nankai uses NAMBA Station as its main Osaka Hub. From the airport, take the Airport Express Namba so that it will not stop at all stations (the trip from Osaka Airport to Shin Imamiya station is roughly 45 minutes). Avoid LOCAL trains as these trains stop at every station and thus making your trip longer. If you have the money to spend, you can take the Airport Express Rapit. This is super fast train but more expensive. You are better of at the Airport Express train.

My recommendation, therefore, is to buy the Surutto Kansai Three-Day Pass. Note that you can only get one pass: either JR Pass or Surutto Kansai Pass. For the Surutto Kansai Pass, you can buy these at the Travel Desk right outside the arrival area of the airport.

I guess this ends the pre-flight preparations for the Osaka trip=)

More to come=) 

Vietnam 101

Here is a detailed trip report for our vietnam trip.

We arrived Vietnam at past 12 midnight and we exchanged our money after retrieving our bags. we exchanged small amount since we were working on the assumption that the forex at airport was not the best deal but we were wrong. the rate for 1 PHP = 398 VND while at the Pham Ngu Lao, the forex was 1 PHP = 350 VND. The rate for 1 USD = 22000 VND while that of the hotel is only 1 USD = 21500 VND. Thus, it is recommended to exchange your money at the airport.

For transportation, always take Vinasun taxi or Mai Linh. They are the honest cabbies in Saigon so it is always worth taking their services than the others.

We checked in at Bich Duyen Hotel and checkin was a breeze. It was also very clean but the downside is that you gotta request for lower rooms since the stairs goin to your room can be steep.

The first mission, the following day, is to go to Dai Nam Park. We took Bus 616 across Ben Thanh Market. You wont miss this bus stop since there are many people waiting for their buses. The fare from Ben Thanh to Dai Nam is VND 20,000 and it is an aircon bus. Here is the picture of Bus 616:

This is what the bus looks like from afar:

You need not worry that you might miss your stop because Dai Nam Park is the last stop and it will take you almost 2 hours to get there. This is not because traffic is heavy BUT the reason is that the bus is a bit sluggish so you can take a nap on your way to Dai Nam Park.

There will be a lady conductor who will go around the bus to collect the fare and since they do not understand Dai Nam Park, it is best to show this picture to her:

Then hand over to her your fare and she will give your ticket in return. Also do not expect that she can communicate in English. Just show the picture above then give your fare. if you dont have exact fare, do not worry since they give change (just like our bus conductors here in Manila.

Here are some pics of Dai Nam Park:

This is the bus terminal of Dai Nam Park. This is also the place where you will get off Bus 616 and this is the same place where you will take the bus that goes back to Ben Thanh Market in Saigon:

Upon alighting, you will have to pay the entrance fee of VND 50,000 for adults and VND 25,000 for children.

Crossing the streets of Saigon, unlike what Mai Mislang tweeted when she was there, is not really that threatening, especially to us Pinoys. Unless you are so sheltered and you have never crossed the busy streets of Manila, then you are fine. Only note that most of them ignore the traffic lights so even if it;s a red light, they tend to also cross or do not be surprised that some motorbikes just popping out from the left or right or one-way streets. Ganun lang talaga sila BUT unlike pinoy drivers, they do NOT drive fast and true, these bikers will really make sure that they avoid pedestrian like a plague. sila na mismo ang iiwas sa inyo. When we were there, we were laughing at the caucasians who were terrified of crossing the busy streets but the way to go is to simply cross it and you will realize that they will simply avoid you=).

So much for the streets of Vietnam. The next mission is the mekong delta tour and the half day cu chi tunnel tour. we booked all our tours at Sinh Cafe (now Sinh Tourists) and paid like USD 8 for these two tours. The mekong delta one-day tour includes all meals, including vietnamese lunch so this is a steal. Just a disclaimer: you will be surprised at how the westerners are amazed with rice paddies that you will see along the way during the 2 hour bus ride from Saigon to ben tre province, where you will get to ride the boat. Translation: para ka lang traversing the NLEX route). The best part of the mekong tour is the boat ride itself especially along the inner canals. When we were there, I was thinking that it was JUST a boat ride but when we were actually traversing the canals, it has a weird but surreal feeling hehe.

Cu Chi tunnels can be boring but I guess it depends on you...if you can find something new in seemingly usual things, then that can make your trip something worth remembering.

The last day is spent on shopping. Go and buy northface and samsonite bags at Ben Thanh. Note that at Ben Thanh, it is divided into 2: the fixed price stalls (these are the ones near the entrances and the sellers there were ID and they placed tags all over their store that says FIXED PRICE SELLER, which means you cannot haggle here since the prices reflect the lower price. However, if you deeper inside ben thanh, you will see that those who are not fixed price tend to quote prices that are 200% higher than the prices in the fixed price. The idea here is you gotta haggle=). If you intend to buy in bulk, it would be best to buy them at the inner stalls where the price is not fixed so you can haggle. If just 3-5 pieces of souvenir items, then just go to the fixed price stalls to avoid being ripped off.

The last stop are the scenes in downtown saigon like the cathedral, ben thanh, reunification palace and war museum, which are all walking distance from Ben Thanh Market.

The fare from the airport to Pham Ngu Lao is about VND 120,000 if you take the metered Vinasun Taxi.

Overall, I enjoyed Vietnam far better than Bangkok (haha I know some people will react to this but hey, am not really a big fan of Bangkok) but Vietnam is MORE relaxing, laidback and waaaayyyy cheaper than Bangkok (haha oops...never really liked Bangkok). With Vietnam, I guess you either like it or you don't, especially if you are looking for glitzy skyscrapers and shopping malls left and right.
Here's a google earth image of the bus stop of 616 right across Ben Thanh Market:

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