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Erlittop Garden, Sibaltan, El Nido
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Our next stop on the island of Palawan called for us to head north to the town of El Nido. We booked a small B&B nestled on the northeastern coast of the island called Erlittop Garden. The most recommended way to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa was a van transfer (pretty harmless, right?). A 15 passegner van picked us up mid day in Puerto Princesa - we were the first ones to be picked up for the journey. The van didn’t take long to suddenly feel cramped and claustrophobic. We went from stop to stop and slowly the 15 passenger van began to fill up with other tourists, locals, and what looked like deliveries that needed to head north as well. With the van now full, we were ready for our six hour trek up north. Those next six hours were probably the most frightening six hours I’ve ever experienced. We were on a single lane highway with no speed limits and a driver who drove like he was in a Nascar race, except this race included dodging stray dogs, weaving around jeepneys, motorbikes, and at times gaping holes in the middle of the road. With each turn and each hill we went over, my grip on the handle and seat tightened more and more. It also didn’t help that the proximity of the road to the mountainside cliffs that led into the ocean was practically nonexistent. To make matters even more nerve racking, we drove through a tropical rainstorm as the entire island was feeling effects of Typhoon Basyang that was currently over the southeastern part of the Philippines at the time. It was absolutely terrifying but at the same time exhilarating. I don’t know how the driver could see in the downpour but he was just trekking along. I just had to close my eyes and pray. We had a few stops on the way to break up the anxiety of the trip, but by that time the ride was just more fun to see if we were actually going to make it to El Nido. Thankfully we did.

We dropped off passengers in the main tourist area of El Nido, which was on the western coast. We, on the other hand, had another hour east to travel to our accommodations at Erlittop Garden. It was a long treacherous trip but we finally arrived. It was pitch black dark when we arrived, and we had no idea where we were but we were just glad to be alive and out of that van. We followed a dimly lit, steep stair path that led us to their welcome/dining area, and we were quickly greeted with warm hospitality from all of the staff. They arranged welcome drinks and a delicious dinner as we waited for our room to be prepared. A calamansi shake and a Red Horse paired well with a fresh vegetable salad and a pork sisig. After dinner and some general information, they led us to our room down a path of perfectly arranged stepping stones. We gazed at the tall trees that lined the path, while walking by various tents and open air huts. We could barely see with the sparse lighting and our phone flashlights. We got to our room and it hit us - we were on the side of a mountain, in the middle of the jungle, sleeping in a mosquito net, next to a gigantic lizard who so thoughtfully greeted us. It all started to sink in as we stood in our room, enjoying the last bit of light as the electricity allotment for the B&B was coming to an end for the day. We were definitely out of our comfort zone.

Welp, as you probably could have guessed, no, that was not the best night of sleep I have ever gotten. We were hot. We were sweaty. There was zero breeze. And of course, there was our large reptile friend watching over us all night. It was definitely one of the longer nights I’ve experienced. We did finally catch a break in the wee hours of the morning when the storm from earlier came back around. The winds and rain picked up, giving us a bit of relief from the heat. All different types of sounds were coming through the bamboo windows and the mosquito net was the only thing keeping us safe. What. A. Night. What a day!

Morning came. We survived. Everything was calm and everything was beautiful. Suddenly everything was at peace. Erlittop was our beautiful home for the next two days. The grounds were gorgeous. The different huts were spread across the mountainside and surrounded by abundant greenery. There were hammocks and gazebos placed throughout. Stray dogs and chickens roamed around the property while travelers from all over the world did the same. The staff was welcoming and friendly as our favorites, Albert and Kasey, always made sure we were taken care of throughout our stay. The food was great and we were extremely thankful for the strong Wifi at the welcome center, as we planned our next activities for the coming days. The views were simply amazing overlooking the Sibaltan Bay. We were in a different world. I will have to admit, we were quite a bit unprepared for this rustic experience and yet, it was everything we were hoping it would be. Some of our best stories came from our time at Erlittop, and at the end of the day, we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Puerto Princesa, Palawan
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After a couple days spent in BGC catching up with family and getting over our jet lag, we were off to start our journey to the island province of Palawan. When we flew into Manila earlier in the week, it was in the middle of the night and there was nothing but darkness out of our windows. For this trip we had an early morning flight and our eyes were glued to the window the entire time. The endless blue seas highlighted the thousands of islands that make up the archipelago of the Philippines - it was simply a sight to see. The short one hour flight was certainly not enough time for us to take in the beauty that 30,000 feet above the ground could provide.

We arrived to the City of Puerto Princesa or “The City of the Living God”. This was our first experience without the guidance of my parents, and without the comfort of the city life we got accustomed to in BGC. We touched down and immediately noticed the removal of the high rises, the bustling businesses and most importantly, the excruciating traffic of Manila. Just like that, everything was different - it felt like we were across the world in a completely new land. It was slow, the air was fresh and it felt like we traveled back in time. There were roads that weren’t paved, undeveloped areas, old buildings and lush greenery. We grabbed the first tricycle we saw (which is the best mode of transportation, by the way, and so much fun) and we took a short ride to our hotel, the Blue Lagoon, which was located right on the main street of Rizal Avenue. We settled in and immediately got right to exploring the city.

Rizal Avenue runs right through the city, it was about a 3 mile stretch from end to end. The day was absolutely beautiful and the sun was beating down. We walked the streets, observing all of the different businesses, local restaurants and people. We came across a few blocks of different markets and vendors. You could buy a fake Supreme shirt, freshly caught fish and freshly baked pandesal all at the same time. There was anything you could possibly need (and want!). We wandered over to the west end and found the City Baywalk Park. It was a beautiful landmark that housed a sense of eeriness. We couldn’t quite tell if the park was abandoned or just not open yet. Nonetheless, we had the entire park to ourselves to take in the views that overlooked the mouth of the Sulu Sea. There was nothing but silence, a light breeze and stunning views. What a blessing it was to be there, we were able to sit in peace and take in everything.

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We walked back down Rizal Avenue and visited the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, where to our surprise there was a mass being conducted. We visited Plaza Cuartel, which was a Japanese controlled military fort during WWII. In 1944, American POW’s were tortured and eventually killed by their capturers, later becoming known as the Palawan Massacre. The Plaza looked like an ordinary park, but with its dark and devastating history, it was hard not to feel the overwhelming somberness.

We finally arrived back to our hotel for a quick nap and a refresh.

We only had one night to enjoy Puerto Princesa, for we had an early morning trek to El Nido the next morning. After doing some TripAdvisor research, we found our must go to’s for the evening. Our first stop was for coffee at Eightynine Cafe. What an awesome find. I think we missed it the first time we walked by. It was a small, modern cafe that could’ve been found in any big city, but instead was nestled in the small town of Puerto Princesa. I had to get the instagram worthy Rain Cloud Coffee. They bundled a cotton candy “cloud” above a hot cup of coffee where the steam from the coffee made it “rain” into the mug. It was awesome! We ventured a couple streets down to Haim Chicken for dinner. This was a large outdoor restaurant full of local art, with smoke from the kitchen grills flooding the air. We ordered Fresh Lumpia and the best Lumpia Veggie Shanghai I’ve ever had. We followed that up with the famous Haim Spicy Chicken Leg and Pancit Bihon. Absolutely delicious. It was the perfect way to end our short time spent in such a great little city. Day one down of our island hopping adventure, and we couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us ahead.

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BGC, Manila, Philippines
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We touched down around midnight Philippines time, a whole 12 hours ahead of the East coast, my body clock was just all confused as we literally time traveled into the future, lol. I was pretty delirious from the long plane ride and the whole day spent in Taipei. I was completely exhausted but at the same time so excited and anxious as I didn’t quite know what to expect. We arrived to the Manila Ninoy Aquino Airport and it was instant madness. It felt like every plane arrived at the same time and every single person had to go through customs and there just weren’t enough customs agents filing the crowds through. It was a lot of people and not enough space/help/organization.

We finally got through customs, got our bags and made it outside. We did it! After a short wait, my parents were there to pick us up. The look on their faces of pride and joy and pure happiness of me actually being in the Philippines is something I will always cherish. Being in my parents’ homeland was something I had only dreamed of and could only imagine; but there I was, finally in their home land and what I had only heard of for 34 years was now a reality.

We got into a chauffeured van and began our trek to Bonifacio Global City, or BGC for short, where my parents live. It was a short 20 minute ride. Our first encounter of Manila was through tinted windows at 1am. Everything was dimly lit except for the Resort World casino which was right next to the airport, and a spectacle in itself. Immediately following were slums, shanties and people just everywhere on the streets and sidewalks. Famous Filipino Jeepneys filled the streets, alongside tricycles and different street vendors. Every now and then a Jollibee was sprinkled right in between the streets. All these sights were brand new (except for the Jollibee’s - I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some chicken). Then everything changed. The slums disappeared and high rise after high rise appeared. The dim streets turned into a lit city skyline. We were in a foreign land completely across the world, yet it felt like we were right back in America. Suddenly there were Starbucks and Coffee Beans and McDonald’s. There were billboards and lights everywhere, restaurants and bars. The contrast of the landscape was just so drastic and mind blowing. We finally arrived to our high rise. Security led us to the lobby and the door lady greeted us with a warm welcome in the middle of the night and finally we made it to my parents skyrise condo overlooking Manila, just incredible.

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After a short night’s rest we got to exploring BGC. What used to be an old Philippine Army camp was now transformed into a bustling rich district in Metro Manila. We explored High Street which was full of every business and restaurant you could imagine. We walked block after block until reaching Market! Market! which was a sight in itself. Market! Market! consists of an outdoor market with fresh produce and street vendors and street food. The outdoor market sat opposite of the mega mall where 100’s of people were shopping and hanging out.

We walked over to SM Aura which is a Super Mall that has premium and upscale brands. I don’t know why they need a Super Mall right next to a Mega Mall but we went anyway, it was literally a four minute walk. We explored all the different shops for a bit. I got to visit with the homies from Commonwealth at the first Manila location, it was awesome. SM Aura wasn’t as crowded as Market! Market! and was a little more enjoyable to walk around. We went all the way to the roof of the mall and visited the San Pedro Calungsod Chapel. The Chapel was amazing and the view of both BGC and the rest of Manila was breathtaking. From that vantage point you could look west and see all of BGC, with high rises and development. You then look east past the interstate and all you could see is poverty and miles and miles of slums. The difference was night and day and quite shocking to see.

For the next four days BGC was our home. We met with new family, ate a ton of amazing food, relaxed and enjoyed the lavishness of BGC. We got familiar with our surroundings and adjusted to the time difference, all while preparing for the next part of our trip to the island of Palawan.

Previous: Taipei, Taiwan

Taipei, Taiwan

When planning our flight to the Philippines, we were seeing that there were a couple different ways to get there. Flying out of Norfolk was super expensive so we took a China Town bus to New York City and flew out of JFK to cut our flight expenses in half (also, any reason to visit NYC is always a plus). There aren't any direct flights all the way to the Philippines so we had to choose where we wanted to stop and have a layover. We ended up selecting a flight that had a 15 hour layover in Taiwan. We figured that would give us a chance to explore a new city during the layover instead of spending time sitting in the airport waiting for our connecting flight. After an extremely long 15 hour flight on EVA Airlines from JFK (the longest flight I've ever experienced) we landed at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport at five in the morning. A short metro ride west got us to the country's capital of Taipei and we had about half a day to spend in the city.

We arrived to an overcast and chilly day in February. It was so early that the city was oddly quiet and empty. We walked around as everything started to wake up and businesses began opening one by one. We stopped by the first coffee shop we saw to get some caffeine because our internal clocks were all jacked up. We walked through 2/28 Peace Park then continued through a bunch of streets and alleyways and just took in the sights. We let the fact that we just flew across the world sink in.

The first major landmark we stopped at was the Lungshan Temple of Manka. This temple dated back all the way to the 1700s; the fact that this site was constructed 300 years ago is an incredible concept to comprehend. It was peaceful yet busy with hundreds of people praying or meditating or whatever they were doing, they were all at this temple with spiritual thoughts and intentions. I was able to take it in, stop and pray with the other hundreds of people and it felt amazing. Large cauldrons were placed along the grounds with burning incense placed by all those who entered. The sight and smell of incense filled the air. The detailed architecture of all the buildings were a sight to see. This was such a great experience. 

We jumped on the Metro that was conveniently located across from the temple. The metro was surprisingly easy to figure out and navigate. By this time the city was alive and more of what I imagined it being with tons of people in view. We took the blue line to Taipei City Hall. Taipei 101, the 10th largest building in the entire world, loomed over us while we took in more of the city. We then made our way to Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. The grounds were filled with tourists and several dance crews practicing in the wide open spaces of Zhongshan Park. Once inside the Hall we were able to see the changing of the guards which was an awesome formal ceremony to witness.

Next stop: food. We stumbled upon the Rilakkuma Cafe by accident. No Trip Advisor or Pinterest research, we were just walking along the street and spotted the cute bear mascot named Rilakkuma, we had to stop in. This restaurant was so freaking cute as it was San-X themed with all the food based off of/formed to look like the characters. We started with a Raspberry and Lychee Soda and a Peach and Rose Soda with bear shaped ice. We weren't too hungry since we'd been snacking all day so we shared the Fried Cheesy Pork Chop with Black Curry Sauce. It was hard to eat since it was so cute, but we did and it was fantastic. Definitely an awesome find. 

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Taipei is a city I would definitely love to visit again. The short amount of time we spent here had us wanting more as there's just so much to explore. All the people were welcoming and friendly. There weren't too many people that spoke English but everybody was helpful and understanding of the language barrier. All in all, I would highly recommend giving this city a closer look when planning a trip to Asia. I know I'm already counting down the days until I can come back and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer.