Taiwan: Yehliu Geopark, Shifen Old Street, Jiufen Village

On our second day in Taiwan, we explored 3 popular spots in the north: Yehliu Geopark, Shifen Old Street, and Jiufen Village. We also visited the Taipei 101 back in the city.

For our daytime itinerary, I booked a bus tour through KKDay as I was worried about getting lost and not having enough time to explore each stop. I also wanted to save Mama from long walks in between transits. It was a good call; the bus tour was very comfortable and convenient. In between each destination, our tour guide shared some interesting trivia about each place we visted. Rather than a guided walk, we were given a time window to explore each stop independently. We also received complimentary water and some merch. Highly recommended!

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Yehliu Geopark is a seaside attraction of limestone formations that come in all shapes in sizes. Using your imagination you can see here a Queen’s Head, a slipper, mushrooms, and so on. We visited on a Sunday so the crowd was pretty thick (see my fail dreamy photo with fellow tourists behind me). If you’re going here in the morning, be sure to bring a hat (umbrellas won’t work because of the seaside wind) and wear loads of sunblock. Entrance fee: NTD80

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Then we headed to Shifen Old Street to light and release a giant wish lantern! Shifen is famous for its row of shops that line the still-working rail. During the annual lantern festival in the Pingxi area, thousands troop up here to write their wishes on lanterns and release them into the night sky. I was ambivalent about this as I read somewhere that these paper lanterns contribute to pollution / end up as mountainside waste when they disintegrate back into the ground, but to be frank, there was something magical about performing this age-old ritual… even if we were doing it in daytime. Every lantern has a color that corresponds to a specific wish category: wealth, health, love, success, and so on. A single-colored lantern costs NTD 150, a multi-colored one costs NTD 200 (but we only paid NTD 190 because the KKDay tour included a discount!). I must also add that take-home snacks and items are very affordable here, about NTD 100 cheaper than in Taipei.

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Our final stop was in Jiufen Village, an old mining town where old and new mix. Its most famous area is made up of tight, snaking alleyways that contain various restaurants and store where Jiufen’s original mining families spent their wages; in the present, it is a heady, densely constructed shopping mecca (from here I walked away with a couple of scarves and pretty tea cups). But the standout attractions are still the oldest ones: Amei Teahouse, which supposedly inspired the bathhouse in Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away; and the Jiufen Teahouse where you could actually learn to make tea.

From Jiufen we arrived back in Taipei at around 5:30. We decided to rest and just enjoy Ximending’s street food and shops again that evening. If there’s one thing I regret not doing in Taiwan it was exploring more night markets and eating more street food. All the more reason to come back!

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Taiwan: Visiting Zhinan Temple and Riding the Maokong Gondola

Last week, I spent four days in Taiwan with my mom. I’d say it’s one of my most favorite destinations to date (not that I haven’t traveled a lot), because we were able to see, taste, and experience so much on a fairly affordable budget!

Our first stop after a couple of hours’ rest at our hotel was the Maokong Gondola and Zhinan Temple. It is a Taoist temple found on the slopes of Houshan (Monkey Mountain) and is very near the Taipei Zoo. It is said that Lü Dongbin, the temple’s main deity, has the power to break couples up, so that lovers must never visit the temple together. Fortunately that wasn’t a concern for me and my mom :p

It is free to enter the Temple complex and you can spend up to an hour there, walking through the temples and gardens and breathing in the fresh, almost holy air. It was early afternoon when we went and there were hardly any visitors, which added to the surreal and mystical feel of the place! I also heard that the sunset view there was majestic.

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To get to Zhinan temple we rode the Maokong Gondola, which is an itinerary item in itself. For about 20 minutes you get uninhibited views of the mountain side and the city. The Taipei 101 in particular was very easy to spot from the distance.

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To make the experience more interesting you can opt to line up for the Crystal / Eye of Maokong Gondolas, which have fiber glass floors!

How to get to Maokong Gondola / Zhinan Temple:

  • From any MRT station, ride to Taipei Zoo Station (Brown Line). You might have to switch platforms, but Taiwan’s MRT system is pretty easy to memorize and navigate.
  • Get off the station and walk towards the Maokong Gondola station. You’ll spot it right away.
  • You can use your EasyCard (for trains and buses) to pay for your Gondola ride. The ride to Zhinan is 70 NTD and 100 NTD going back to Taipei Zoo station

Tips:

  • On the way up, you can opt to stop at the last station (Maokong) and dine at the teahouses there. There are also bus tours there that can take you to some spots but they weren’t available when we went. At Zhinan temple station there is a cafe as well.
  • The lines for the crystal gondola can get long, so you can opt to ride a regular one going up, and the crystal one going down. 🙂
  • When wind conditions are very strong, gondola operations are stopped. Voice advisories on trains headed for Taipei Zoo will inform people if this is the case, so pay attention!

Taiwan, July 2018

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This trip was supposed to be our official Honeymoon, but Ranie recently got a new job and very quickly had to fly out to Serbia for two months. So I ended up doing a “Mamamoon” w/ my newly retired Momma!

We had a blast enjoying a mix of old and new culture experiences + really yummy street food. 🍢🍡🍤 It was so easy to get around thanks to hyperconnected, on time train systems. We met so many kind people as well, especially in Taichung, where people went out of their way to be helpful even if we couldn’t speak their language nor can they speak ours or English!

We spent four days enjoying Taiwan’s local culture and very delicious food. I’ll be posting more about our stops soon! In the meantime, you can check out the visual diary I created on Facebook! Check it out below.

Our itinerary:

DAY 1

  • Maokong Gondola
  • Zhinan Temple
  • Ximending Part I

DAY 2

  • Yehliu Geopark
  • Shifen Rail
  • Jiufen Old Street

DAY 3

  • Chungse Flower Farm
  • Rainbow Village
  • Taipei 101 Observatory

DAY 4

  • Chiang Kai Shek
  • Yongkang Street
  • Ximending Part II

Park Day, and turning 30

I turned 30 this month. I’ve worried about being 30 since I hit my mid-20s, and that worry over 30 as a deadline has catapulted me into lots of decisions that led to where I am today. I celebrated with very little fanfare. I spent the days surrounding it with lots of reflection and gratitude. I know now that it’s just a number. But I also do feel a lot of things changing. My body, giving me different signals, gaining new permanent marks and lines, surprising me often, and it’s not always bad. My thoughts, spending more and more time into the compartmentalized futures and possibilities that now define my presents. I catch myself saying the very things I said I’d never say when I hit this age. I catch myself wondering if I’m acting my age or not. And I catch myself worrying too much over these things, when I shouldn’t be.

Things are shifting again… after half a year (!) of semi-reclusion and lots of rest, and focusing on my mind and my body, I’m starting to pick up some new projects again. Excited to see where this would take me… last night in between meetings, it hit me how much I wanted this, how much this is looking to be exactly as I pictured it. Just last month, I started feeling like things seemed to be going slow, and I was halfway wondering happened to my gung-ho-ness, what happened to all the things I was intending to do. But I also felt that things will happen anyway as they ought. In their own time and season. I’m less religious now, but that is still my life verse. I write everything down. I write everything down and commit them to my heart and mind, and send them out as a semi-prayer for the universe. I write things down and I let them happen, one by one.

Life is not perfect… we have a LOT of debt and obligations. I should’ve spent those six months, 90% house-bound, working out or learning to cook. We worry about our parents and their health. I get extremely moody and anxious about the pettiest things, prone to crying and being frustrated in public parks or our bedroom for the most random of reasons.

But we get by. We are in movement, we are flowing, we are letting the winds and waves take us where we need to go and we are OK with all of it.

Photos taken at Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife, Quezon City

 

Beauty talk: 2 brands I like right now

11 years ago, I started a style blog (and you’ll still find all my posts here). I wanted to document my life and #OOTDs in college. I’ve “quit” this format since 2013, but once in a while I do miss being unapologetically indulgent and vain. In the grand scheme of things this isn’t important for me anymore, but it’s also a pretty good indicator of where I am and my state; i.e. a) I have some disposable income to spend on makeup and skincare. b) I need to look polished regularly (though not so much lately, since I’m working from home most days now). c) I see my eyebags and dry skin and think of a world’s worth of problems and need a little self care once in a while (tried writing about this before, here). Also, I miss just typing whatever comes to my head. I have all these article / thought piece ideas in bullets in my Notion space but I need a little more time and inspiration to turn them into something more concrete and long-form. I’m in transition now, with a slightly more manageable schedule and that means I can write. If only I will write.

But you don’t need to know all of that. This is a throwback-type post and I just feel like sharing and telling you what’s working for me right now, and hopefully if you’re searching for insight about these stuff online, you’ll find my thoughts helpful.

The Ordinary
Back in January, my wedding makeup artist recommended that I start a semi-serious skincare routine to prep my face for the big day. I’ve never had serious skin problems like acne or oiliness, but lately I’ve noticed that my skin is on the dry side. I’ve also gained a little discoloration and some burst capillaries from sun exposure and age. She recommended The Ordinary. There were so many products, and after a bit of reading I zoomed in on two vials: Hyaluronic Acid, for moisturization; and Niacinamide, for brightening and blemish control. It’s already June and I’m just barely halfway through my tiny bottles. I alternate a few drops of the two, 1-2 times a day. While my skin didn’t magically become dewy and plump on its own, I did notice that it was brighter and more “quiet.” I also got less to no breakouts during my periods. The price point (less than PHP500 for a bottle that lasts months) is also hard to argue against. But to be honest the effect feels so subtle; I apply the recommended 3-4 drops and it gets absorbed by my skin so fast; there are no immediate results. I’m kinda suspicious that my skin got to its current state simply because I’ve been leaving it alone save for these mild products. As soon as I use these up, I’ll probably be on the lookout for something more hydrating and anti-aging.

Ever Bilena
Since my last serious makeup-themed post I’ve actually been able to invest in pricier / branded makeup like MAC, Smashbox etc but the products that consistently give me joy are really just the most affordable items from good old Watsons or SM Beauty. For example, I’ve been using Features and Shades’ (formerly Fanny Serrano) two-way cake for six years now! One evening I watched one too many Youtube videos and got sucked into a black hole of make up reviews. EB’s Advance Glow Out Highlighter was in every other video, with a whole bunch of local vloggers basically going through the identical motions of swatching this shimmery foil powder on their forearms w/ matching gasps. So I got curious. But what made the purchase decision seem much more enticing Rihanna’s entertaining-as-hell GRWM video for Vogue. There was something so gratifying about how happy she was while putting on her own makeup — especially her highlighter — that I somehow got convinced that I should do the same to look and feel the same. So I went and did. I actually bought the golden Candlelight shade first and was pretty happy with it until I realized it was the Strobe shade that everyone was raving about. It was sold out everywhere but I lucked out in Watson’s Ali Mall (yes! Tip Alert!). And TBH even if I hardly go out, I open the white and and pan put on some of this highlighter pretty much everyday. Because it is truly magic. It truly makes you smile when one swipe makes your nonexistent cheekbones pop. And it’s only PHP199 so there’s nothing guilt inducing about it. And my selfies look bomb.

Actually I’m impressed by this brand’s ongoing renaissance – they have such a lot of good products lately. I also have their matte liquid lipstick – a gift from a friend – and eyeliner from sister brand Careline (both pictured above). Both are also super high quality while being dirt cheap. The matte lipstick actually settles into a sticky finish, but it looks matte and is pretty much budge-proof. It also doesn’t dry my lips out like Colourpop or even matte bullet lipsticks. The Careline eyeliner goes on like a marker, actually looks like a marker on my lid and stays put for hours (even the packaging is all but telling you that it is simply a fine-point marker LOL).

I hardly consider myself a “beauty girl” and my eyebrow game is a work in progress but due to necessity I’ve already settled on a multi-product routine to look decent for events or going out. Sadly my skin isn’t as poreless as it was in high school, I have uneven skin from too much sun, and my jawline and cheekbones need a lot of attention so that I do not look ten pounds heavier in photos. Now I can’t imagine leaving the house without at least swiping on a lip color or putting on concealer. On one hand I feel almost sad that it has come to this, a point of no return. On the other hand, every afternoon when I’m working from home, I find myself putting my pencil down, stepping away from the laptop, and spending a few minutes practicing my blush or contour technique. It’s almost as if I’m playing. Putting on my “face” is now one of the few acts that I get to do for myself exclusively, and in spite of my self I enjoy it.

Pamulaklakin Forest Trail, Subic

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We’ve been married for two weeks now, and caught up in a whirlwind of work and family events. We hadn’t really planned on having a honeymoon — it was out of our budget, and we had several trips booked for Q3 anyway — but middle of last week we just agreed that we both needed to get away, just a bit, from all the craziness. So we did some last-minute hunting and decided to take a bus to Subic, Zambales, to pause, breathe, and kick off being husband and wife properly.

Our plan was just to rest and sleep a lot, but somehow on Sunday morning we found ourselves taking a mini-tour within the Pamulaklakin Forest Trail, an ancestral domain managed by an Aeta community. There are half-day and hour-long tours; I highly recommend the latter as a side trip if you’re in town for a convention or a family outing. Our guide gave us a crash course on how they utilized the trees and plants for various household purposes, and even did a demo of how a single bamboo can be used to cook and serve a meal for two. After the quick hike we spent some time relaxing in the cool stream.

And so it begins… 

My Wedding Look

R x K-144Got married to the love of my life last week! After 10 years of being together, it was long overdue (hehe) but the timing also makes sense… we’re at that point in our lives when we are thinking of making big leaps and sealing our union on paper seemed like a good move. Now comes the hard (and fun) part — actually starting out as a family unit!

Now I want to talk about my look 🙂

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My bridal shoes were from Hue Manila. I actually got them just days before our wedding! Haha. I didn’t think of shoes until the lastest minute, and already had another pair sorted out, but when I saw this one, I knew it was the one and ordered it right away. Fortunately it arrived just in time!

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My make up was by Kist Ong-Tantuan. I’ve known her since college/theater days, and she’s pretty in demand in our Elbi circle for special events ❤ We had a trial way back in January and she gave me invaluable tips (which I dutifully followed) so that my skin would look as best as it could on the big day. I didn’t even have a brief — and I loved the light look she did, which highlighted my eyes and gave definition / angles to my face.

True story: I completely overlooked accessories! I just wore my mom’s pearl earrings and my engagement ring. Our hair stylist Mhaki Maginang saved the day with the brilliant idea of putting fresh flowers in my hair, with assistance from my sister and bridesmaid Ahlee.

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My gown was off the rack from Jorella’s Fashion Gallery. After only a couple of fittings from several boutiques, I found this dress back in October, and after sleeping on it for a week, I took it home with me (that’s the thing with RTW, you can’t think about it too long or else someone else might get it). My Pinterest board was full of very simple, wide skirt styles so I never thought I’d choose a mermaid dress, but when I tried it on (and, lbh, when I saw the price tag for less than P8k — seriously!!!), I decided it was the one! I felt beautiful in it, and many guests couldn’t believe it was RTW. It was very me after all, to “find” the perfect dress at the perfect, believe-it-or-not price.

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Honestly, we did not do a lot “planning” for the wedding save for sticking to our budget (more like blowing it), focusing on our looks and who to invite. We entrusted the day to a lot of good friends and loved ones who blew us away with the skill and generosity. I will share more about this in my next post, if only to honor them and extend the happy post-celebration feels a little bit more. 🙂

Subic Beach, Sorsogon

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If only it didn’t entail a long drive across Bicol, I figure Sorsogon’s Subic Beach would be more popular among tourists — its white sands and turqouise waters rival that of Caramoan, Boracay et al. We were fortunate to enjoy its cool, quiet beauty on a Good Friday, with great friends. At sunset its pale sand takes on a pinkish hue, thanks to a few red coral particles.

The beach has a local thriving tourist industry made up of store and hut owners, even masseuses and craftspeople. but I should mention that it’s is in danger of being spoiled as its seems ill-equipped to handle large drove of tourists just yet. Sewage and garbage management issues aren’t seen in mine (and other visitors’) photos, but they are there, especially on peak seasons like Lent. Nevertheless, it’s definitely worth the trip.

Tagiti Falls, Consosep

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There’s more to Bicol than mountains and the great Mayon. In Camarines Sur, Tagiti Falls is a must-visit destination for its proximity to other attractions such as Deer Farm and Hibiscus Garden. From the main hi way there are signs (or friendly locals) who will point you towards the start of the pretty trail. Be prepared to pay around P15-20 / head for local fees. The water was icy-cool even in the midst of Lent season’s scorching summer heat. It’s not plagued by long tourist groups so we spent a good half hour just sitting on the rocks, taking in all the nature and enjoying the almost-holy quiet.

All photos taken with a Huawei P10 and post processed using the VSCO App

Bicol Photo Diary: Panoramic views and the Deer Farm in Ocampo

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My visits to Bicol have always been very chill and relaxed, but last week we had quite a packed itinerary, thanks to fortuitous circumstances and some spur-of-the-moment planning! We went to several towns and this is the first of a series of posts about my longest (and most event-filled) visit to Ranie’s hometown — so far 🙂

I still spent Monday and Tuesday primarily at work, hogging a couple of couches in some neigborhood coffee shops. But on Wednesday afternoon, we piled into a couple of cars and drove through Ocampo’s scenic highways to visit the Deer Farm — who knew?! After rows and rows of rice paddies and small houses, there the deer were — serenely napping in groups unless they were feeling hungry for sweet potatoes. Entrance to this sanctuary is free, and it’s a great stopover especially if you’re with children.

It was the first of several newfound discoveries about Bicol on this trip. The weather was cool and the rolling hills were begging for selfies and then some. Ranie’s friend, Francia, happens to be a wedding photographer / videographer and she wasted no time in setting us up in various layouts for a very late prenup / very early honeymoon shoot — we were more than willing to pose anyway.

Before heading to our next destination (to be revealed in the next post), we drove through a highway that thoroughly resembles Tagaytay, except that there is nothing on each side of the road except tall grass and overlooking views of more rice paddies and coconut farms. We stopped at the side of the road to have lunch, and I was surprised with how cool the weather was, high up on those hills!

I must admit that though I’ve always known Bicol to be a beautiful, wide region, I’ve never truly understood or appreciated its vastness until last week. I got to experience both everyday life and “adventure life” and felt so good throughout that the idea of staying here for longer periods didn’t seem too intimidating or impossible. Now if only 4G were more available everywhere…