12 hours in Cebu City

I arrived on the ferry from Bohol into Cebu City at the passenger ferry terminal in San Roque. I had really limited time here, it was already midday and I was leaving Cebu island first thing in the morning.

Luckily for me, the ferry terminal is near some of the more interesting sites of Cebu City. as soon as you walk out of the terminal you’re right by Fort San Pedro, Built in 1565 by Legazpi and replaced by the stone fort we see today in 1738 to repel Muslim raiders it’s the oldest triangular bastion fort in the country. The fort was also the center of the first Spanish settlement in the Philippines.

The surrounding park area was nice with some statues of famous Spaniards, and the forst itself is definitely worth a walk around, you can even get up onto the old walls and get some magnificent views of the City. From here I walked along to Magellan’s cross.

Magellan landed on Cebu Island after navigating from Spain past the Southern tip of South America and across the Pacific Ocean. The cross in the little chapel is said to be built around the original cross. It was cute and housed in a nice little square.

Just along from here are two beautiful Basilica, one built in the 1500s! Everyone was lighting candles and it was a nice atmosphere.

It was about a 30 minute walk to my hotel from here, so my plan was to check in and then head out for a nice dinner. I was staying at the same hotel I stayed in when I first arrived in Cebu. It was so nice the first time, but a week later I was so disappointed I had to leave. The room was dirty, had so many mosquitos in it and then I noticed about 5 cockroaches on the wall.

Then a huge spider crawled out from behind a picture frame and I was done. Luckily they gave me a refund instantly, and I booked a really nice hotel up near the airport.

For reasons unknown to even me, I decided to walk the almost 9kms to the new hotel. It was certainly an eye opener as I passed slums and shanty towns, bright newly built malls and some interesting street art along Soriano Ave in the North reclamation area.

I stopped at SM City mall and ate all you can eat Korean food. Bought a load of drinks and snacks including my favourite Calamansi soft drink. So tasty and fresh. Then carried on to my hotel.

The Maayo was beautiful, service was brilliant, bed was comfy and they had an amazing rooftop area and pool. I had one of the best night’s sleep here, and the buffet breakfast was insane. I think it cost around £50 for the night, expensive for Asia but a bargain for what I got.

I took the bus to the airport and I was soon on my way back to Manila. Ready to fly to Indonesia and see what adventure awaited me there!

48 Hours in Manila

So, before I left on my journey around SE Asia, all the info I found on Manila was basically telling me not to go. The capital of the Philippines does not have a good reputation, a lot of it is centred around the awful traffic, while other bits I read just said it was too vast, too run down to bother with. In my opinion, you’re missing out by not exploring this wonderful capital.

My plan was to spend just a couple of nights there, spend one day exploring and take a flight over to Palawan the next day. After checking hotels I decided to book one well in advance for my first night and stay somewhere really nice, at least that way I could enjoy the hotel even if I didn’t enjoy Manila that much. The thing that hit me immediately about Manila was that I had suddenly arrived in a place in Asia, that uses pesos as currency, has San Miguel adverts everywhere and my taxi driver was called Pedro. I was in love.

I arrived from Taiwan early and the first thing I did was get a sim card, I think it cost about £10 for 5GB of data, and I soon had the Grab app up and running, this time I booked a pool journey over to Makati as it was so cheap. It took about 45 minutes, and traffic was pretty congested as we got further into the City but I think being prepared for the worst helped me. The City Garden hotel was incredible when I arrived, great service, big comfy room and an amazing rooftop pool.

I decided to freshen up and head straight out, and Grab was a godsend during my stay in Manila getting me about everywhere for cheap cheap prices, I booked one to take me up to the old Intramuros area again this took around 40 minutes or so but cost about £4. The driver dropped me off at Rizal park and I had a great little wander around there, the Philippines has such an incredible history of Spanish colonialism followed by American influence and the destruction that WW2 wrought, and this park had tributes to some of the leaders of an independance movement.

Rizal was a key member of the Filipino independence movement who was executed by the colonial Spanish government after the Philippine revolution, which was partly inspired by his writings.

Realising I hadn’t eaten anything since morning, I noticed a fast food joint across the road from the park called Jollibee. I would later find out that this is a Filipino institution and is found pretty much everywhere across the country. I walked in and soon realised that there wasn’t much for a vegetarian so ordered a milkshake and large fries and tucked in. Refreshed and rejuvenated with the echoes of Jollibee songs stuck in my head, I walked up to the gates of Intramuros and Fort Santiago.

Fort Santiago is a citadel that was built around 1590 and is one of the only remaining historical sites in Manila. Built and occupied by the Spanish, it has also experienced British, American and Japanese rule. Intramuros is the surrounding area contained within the old walls, and I started my exploration of the area.

I realised I could walk along the old walls and immediately bounded up the steps, here I found beautiful views of the City and surrounding area. The old moat area has been turned into verdent golf course, lush with grass and plants and a sharp contrast to the ram shackle city towers.

I wandered along the walls, marvelling that this was free and apart from a few kids shielding themselves from the sweltering sunshine it was just me. After some time I decided to head back down into Intramuros, grabbed a beautiful pineapple shake for about 50p and found some very cool old colonial buildings and churchs as I wound my way towards the Fort.

I soon found the Fort and entered for around 75 pesos. There’s not a great deal to it, but it’s very beautiful, a long wide avenue takes you down to the main gate and walls, whuch you cross a small moat to enter. Then you find yourself in a big green courtyard with some amazing old walls, a few buildings open to explore and some more great views over the river and City. It’s also got a great museum centred around Rizal and his life and death, as he was jailed here in 1896 and executed.

As with most executions of political revolutionaries this only caused more strong will in the Filipino people for independence. The thing I appreciated the most about Rizal’s story, was his insistance that education and national identity were the main things in achieving freedom.

After around and hour and a half I had explored every inch of the Fort I decided it was time to head back towards the hotel but taking the long way around as an adventure. Little did I know just how long it would be. As I walked towards the exit to Intramuros I found some amazing street art which I had to get pictures of, and found some old artillery which was pretty cool.

Once out of Intramuros I took another grab to the seafront which I thought would make a lovely walk, how wrong I was, looking out across the bay it seemed the waves were made of garbage, and the small shacks dotted along the promenade were people’s houses. It was the first and last time in the Philippines that I felt unsafe and upset about the amount of rubbish.

With this in mind it seemed like a good idea to head into the City and the general direction of the hotel, hopefully via a huge mural on the side of a building. I stopped at a 7/11 for snacks and pocari sweat to re-hydrate and carried on my walk. It took me through some very interesting areas to say the least before I finally found it, but I never felt unsafe. By now it was getting late and I realised I was walking along a triple carriageway on what barely counted as a curb.

So it was back to grab and what was a 30 minute walk on google maps turned into an hour and 15 minute journey by car, in all fairness it was rush hour, and I had a great chat to my taxi driver Carlos. Now extremely sweaty, covered in a fine layer of dust a shower seemed appropriate before heading up to enjoy the sunset and city lights of Manila from the rooftop.

An ice cold beer and a cooling dip in the pool was just what I needed, and I got chatting to two Canadian girls who had missed their flight to Palawan that day and had to book a last minute hotel. They seemed to be taking advantage of it as they ordered some more shots for us all. As we hung over the rooftop edge enjoying the heights and the sunset, we agreed to get ready before meeting up later for some drinks.

Now anyone who knows me, knows I take around 15-20 minutes to get ready, including a shower. This left me ready with time to spare before we met, so I went off in search of food, as my stomach suddenly reminded me I had barely eaten all day. The hotel is located near some really cool bars on and around Don Pedro street and I was excited to try them out.

I found a cute little kebab place that did falafel and rice, it was cheap, huge and delicious, in fact it was so big I probably didn’t need the fries I got, but they seemed to disappear quite quickly too. Fuelled up I walked back along the street to a great looking bar with a little terrace I had noticed earlier.

I found a little spot overlooking the street and ordered and amazing take on the old fashioned, the girls messaged me to let me know they were on their way, so I leaned back and relaxed. Once they arrived we ordered some of the bars locally brewed beers and swapped travelling tales. Beofre we knew it the bar called for last orders, so we discussed further drinking plans with a final beer.

The girls had noticed another street nearby full of bars, so off we trotted in search of more drinks. P. Burgos street was a complete contrast to where we had been, big bold brash and full of expats, I think the best way to explain it is by the first thing I was offered by a young man on the street….viagra. Not letting it deter us we stopped at one of the many bars along here sat down, ordered some beers and people watched.

Before long the night was up, so we walked back along to the hotel, making those sort of drunk plans to meet up further along the line that we all knew would never happen. Back in my big comfy hotel room I soon slipped off to a peaceful sleep.

The next day I moved hotels to a cheaper hostel called The Fort Budget hotel, I was in a sharing room which was fine for the price and they had an amazing rooftop area that you could enjoy. So I dropped my stuff off here and took a short walk to the Bonifacio area. It used to be part of the Philippine army camp, but after a lot of redevelopment it’s now one of the most financially successful areas of Manila, and a complete change of scenery to the metropolitan area I had walked around yesterday.

It’s all big shiny skyscrapers, wide avenues and lots of greenery. I actually thought it was a beautiful City inside a City but it’s crazy that all this wealth is in Manila but you still have slums everywhere too.

My main reason to explore this area was to check out some of the street art on offer here, I had found a really great map to follow which showed some of the more prominent works. I stopped for a quick pancake session at an IHOP, somewhere I loved back in the states, it also showed the relationship between the Philippines and the United States, a lot of American culture has been adopted by the Filipinos.

So filled with red velvet pancakes I was ready to go! I checked the map and decided to visit the American-Manila WW2 cemetary. It’s a beautiful and peaceful memorial to the lives lost in WW2 in the Pacific battles against Japan and subsequent liberation of the Philippines by the United States.

The grounds with white crosses spreading out in every direction was very sombre and impactful, while the main memorial in the centre was exremely informative about the battles that had happened. It’s something I didn’t have much knowledge of previously so it was good to learn a little more about the history of the Philippines during the war. It’s also free to enter and a great oasis from the metallic City surrounding it.

I walked from here to the art centre, with a few really cool murals hidden around it such as a giant astronaut and a cool bookcase showcasing aspects of culture from around SE Asia.

A lot of the next bits of art work were located in and around Bonificao high street, ranging from small pieces hidden down side streets to huge murals! I was really loving it and the high street was actually really impressive too. If you enjoy shopping it’d be a great place to visit, I had a great time visiting a huge book store, some interesting clothing stores and there was so much choice for food!

Back to the street art, I found an amazing Stranger Things mural and a really cool Filipino farmer mural. This self -guided tour had taken up most of the day, but even as I walked back to my hostel I found some more really cool pieces.

I got back to the hotel via a 7/11 with evening snacks and drinks, and I sat watching this vast City go by from the rooftop. I really enjoyed Manila, but it was time to head out for a bit of beach life and adventure.

Heading to Taipei, Capital of Taiwan.

Today I was off to my next Taiwan destination, the capital Taipei! It’s an easy journey from Taichung. I took the regular train which took around 2 and a half hours, but you can also take a bus or the high speed rail which only takes around 40 minutes!

I opted for the regular train from Taichung main station to save some cash but also to enjoy the Taiwanese countryside. If you want to take the high speed just hop over to Xinwuri and the high speed rail station.

The train journey was very comfortable and I arrived in Taipei around midday. The York hotel was just a short walk south of Taipei station on Nanyang St. It was also a bit of a shock! I’d only briefly glanced at the photos when I booked my room, so when I arrived I was given a key and room number and told to go down to the basement.

When I got there it was completely decked out like a nuclear bunker! It was actually pretty cool and fun after the initial shock and for less than £20 a night to have my own room in the centre was pretty good!

I dumped my stuff and checked my lovely planet guide and found an architecture walk I could take, so thinking I’d give it a try I headed out to explore Taipei.

The start of the walk was a little further from the hotel, so I incorporated the Huashan 1914 creative park into my little tour. It’s an art and film hub located in and around an old sake factory. It was pretty interesting to wander around with some cool exhibits.

So far I was impressed with Taipei, it was super quirky and futuristic but with a lot of traditional buildings around too. I started this self guided walking tour, and soon found myself extremely bored and regretting it. I’m not sure if it was my architectural ignorance or if it was just not very interesting.

The mayor’s residence art salon was ok, but probably the highlight. Luckily the tour didn’t take too long and it ended right by a much more interesting spot. First up was the East gate, a reconstruction of the old Japanese gate that once stood there.

Not far from here is Liberty Square. The central point of Taipei, not only is the Liberty Arch here but also the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall. Chiang is a controversial figure, a Chinese general who fought the Japanese in WWII but also ruled as a dictator. However he is seen as a hero on Taiwan for repelling the Communist advance from Mao.

It’s a beautifully created square, vast and open and I really enjoyed learning some history of Taiwan. It’s an interesting place as they take so much influence from both Japan and China. As you can see below the memorial building is amazing too.

From here I checked out the President’s office building and took a detour through the peace park nearby. Getting a little taste of tranquility in the big City.

My next destination was the north gate, and from here I wandered through a pretty interesting part of Taipei, with some great old buildings and a bit of street art to Ximen district and the Red house.

Built as a market in 1908 it’s now used as a theatre and for shopping, but it’s a pretty interesting building. Plus behind it is the main gay area in Taipei. Ximen as a district was also really cool, filled with little food stalls, futuristic shops and arcades and an awesome street art section.

It really reminded me of Japan, and the street art was out of this world, I probably spent an hour wandering the back streets finding more art stuff to look at, and I easily could have spent longer.

Once I’d had my fill of the graffiti, I needed my food fix. So I checked the maps and noticed a night market about 30 minutes all north. So off I went! On the way I discovered a cute little park that was a reservoir in WWII used to put out fires from air raids. A market was built on top of this and then demolished after years of decline.

Finally I made it to the market and was overloaded to the max with sights, smells and tastes. I had tasty vegetable gyoza, some more eggy pancakes, and ice cream to finish! It was late now, so I took the underground back to my hotel. After a little planning I was soon fast asleep.

Hong Kong and Victoria Peak.

After leaving Hanoi it was a short flight to Hong Kong, it’s so easy to get into the centre using the airport Xpress. I wasn’t feeling too great but I had booked a night at the Metropark at causeway bay earlier in the year so I was excited to have some more luxury.

I checked in and immediately took in the stunning views over Hong Kong Island at Victoria bay. I loved it and the rooftop pool was incredible! I decided I would go up Victoria peak for the sunset and off I went, stuffed full of anti-flu meds, I took the Subway.

It’s so easy to take the underground, you can get a 24hr pass or pay stop to stop. I went to central and then started the ascent to the tram that would hopefully take me up to the peak. Unfortunately I got a bit lost, my map apps wouldn’t work in between the big buildings, I felt like crap and it was so humid I couldn’t stop sweating.

So by the time I eventually found the tram, and realising I had walked halfway up the peak before walking back down, the queue was huge and I knew I wouldn’t make it for sunset. I was annoyed because it was a clear day and I had read they can be few and far between in Hong Kong.

I decided to make the most of it so walked along the harbour side and watched the old junks with their red sails ferry around the water. I got some Durian ice cream, I thought I would try it and it was not a good idea, definitely an acquired taste!

Night started to fall and I took the Ferris wheel near the ferry port to get an amazing view of the City. It was so cheap too, the HSBC building was the best but all the lights were insane!

I walked back along the harbour watching the lights on the mainland. I took the Subway back to causeway bay and found a dumpling shop, got a load of veggie dumplings, a few soft drinks, then found moon cake at another store.

I took it all back to my hotel, and devoured it while looking out over the City. I wasn’t sure what to think of Hong Kong after my first day, but I was looking forward to exploring more over the next few days.

I woke up the next day feeling worse than ever, with a definite case of tonsillitis. So I went to the shop and got salt, proceeded to drink gallons of water and did a load of salt rinses. I tried to enjoy the pool again but it wasn’t the same, I also had to check out of the hotel and into a tiny cheap one in the centre of causeway bay.

It was the smallest hotel room I’ve ever stayed in, but it was only £20 and the location was amazing. I stopped and had lunch nearby waiting for check in time, I was frustrated because I had lost almost a full day, but I forced myself out, and managed to get to the Victoria peak tram in time for sunset.

It’s a fun journey, very touristy but the views you get at the top are spectacular. I took a couple of the City by day, then enjoyed a gorgeous sunset over the mountains and sea before the main event. Hong Kong lights up at night in an incredible way, and Victoria peak is one of the best places to enjoy it.

Once I had taken it all in, I headed back down on the tram and wandered towards the central-mid-level escalators, the longest ones in the world! It spans 800 metres and it’s a great way to see the City without having to do the leg work, and I found a random art installation at the top of the escalators.

I found some cool street art around this area too, which I definitely want expecting. I finished the night with a beer and some more veggie dumplings. Tomorrow I was up early to head over to the big Buddha and explore mainland HK.

36 hours in Berlin.

So an impromptu visit to Berlin was on the cards, I’ve visited before and loved it as a City. This time we were going over for a concert and a quick sightseeing adventure.

Arriving late we headed straight for our Air BnB before hitting a couple of pubs, wandered across check point charlie and grabbed some beers from one of the ‘spatis’, the famous late night shops you can buy booze and snacks from.

The next day we were up pretty early and headed in the direction of the closest piece of the Berlin wall, one of the most famous monuments in history. Walking along the wall gave a real perspective of this barrier separating a nation. We stopped for a quick breakfast where I had a matcha latte to die for.

Continuing our walk we found another piece of wall before wandering through Berlin, checking out some souvenirs and then sombrely navigating our way through the Holocaust memorial site.

The maze like structure takes up a good amount of space and it’s an interesting and haunting place as you walk between the various shapes blocks.

From here we found ourselves at the Brandenburg Gate, the famous Berlin landmark built over 200 years ago.

Moving on we spotted the memorial to Gypsies murdered in the Holocaust, a peaceful circular pool almost hidden away in the city park. It was a short walk from here to the Reichstag building, it was mostly burnt down in 1933 under suspicious circumstances which the Nazis used to their advantage against the communists.

We hung out here for a bit before checking the map and heading over to the Soviet war memorial in Tiergarten. It’s a pretty impressive monument and one of 3 you can find in Berlin. We stopped for lunch and had some yummy Asian food to fill us up, then wandered back through the City towards a bunker museum about Hitler and WWII.

This was actually super interesting, detailing Hitler’s life and how he changed into this maniacal dictator, and how the country and the political climate allowed him to gain such a control over Germany. We spent so long here we had to rush to get ready and go out to see The National.

The rest of the night was spent chaotically trying to find karaoke and then a bar to drink in! It was fun to spend a little break in Berlin and catch up on some sights.

Yangon and the Giant Pagoda

So I woke up late today after bumping into a fellow backpacker that I had met in Inle lake, who was staying at my hostel. I decided to go out and look around China town after breakfast.

The streets around my area were all numbered so I started at 30th Street and just meandered up and down each street towards number 1. The food stalls were really cool and I visited the Chinese temple on 18th Street.

On my way back I walked through a huge market along the side of the river and sat eating some random fruit watching these colourful boats transport people from one side to the other. I walked back to the hotel and chilled out on the rooftop reading my book for a couple of hours and eating some random veggie food I had gathered earlier.

I was basically killing time before I walked up to Yangon’s number one sight, the Shwedagon Pagoda. This golden temple is 326 feet tall and surrounded by more pagodas and statues to make a whole complex of temples.

There are varying reports of when the Pagoda was built, but the earliest date is the 6th century!

It’s certainly a spectacular sight and it was definitely great going late afternoon, the sun going down cast an amazing light over the big golden temple, and the locals arrived lighting candles and incense which added to the atmosphere.

I was wandered around for a couple of hours before walking back down into the City, I stopped off at a cute little bar called O’thentic brasserie for a drink, and then had a couple of ice cold black tiger and vegetable tempura at a sports bar. I headed back to the hotel and packed up ready to sleep before heading off to Vietnam via Bangkok the next day.

I had a great lie in before getting some more pancakes for breakfast with some fruit from the nearby market stalls. I checked out from my hotel and walked up to the train station. I had Google mapped and decided that it would be fun to take the local train to the closest station to the airport possible.

I’m so glad I did it, we slowly chugged along through the City and surrounding suburbs. I enjoyed chatting to the locals and watching the buying and selling going on, it was almost like a real market!

We arrived at my stop and I jumped off, backpack on and started to walk. It was a little longer than I thought but you could get a taxi, I just felt like I was committed to walking at that point.

After about a 40 minute walk I got to the airport, grabbed a cold drink and waited for my flight. I got some nice vegetable pad thai while I was waiting and I next thing I was flying towards Bangkok.

I arrived late into Thailand, around 8pm and my flight was at 8am, to save money I had decided I would sleep in the airport. So I settled down in a comfy-ish spot of 3 chairs together and managed a few hours sleep. I was so excited to be heading to one of my favourite Cities from my last trip to Vietnam, Hanoi!

The old Capital of Myanmar, Yangon.

I arrived on the night bus into Yangon early in the morning, and like most buses in Asia it dropped me off on the outskirts of the City. You can then either take a taxi or get on one of the local buses for free, I was in no rush so chose the latter, this meant I could get a better feel for the City.

Yangon, or Rangoon, was the capital of Myanmar for a long time until the military moved the capital North to Naypyidaw. It’s still the central hub of the country however, and it’s a huge City located like many, on the banks of a river.

I arrived in central Yangon and found my little hostel with no problems. Unfortunately they didn’t have a room for me yet as it was still early. So I dropped my stuff, had a quick freshen up and went out to explore.

Myanmar was under British rule in the 1900s and I found a tour of some old colonial buildings that survived WW2. So I wandered around chatting to some locals and enjoying the sights and sounds of a big City again. Most of the colonial buildings are found around the downtown area. I think doing a tour would be great as you get to see inside some of these amazing old buildings.

Feeling hungry, I found a place selling these super tasty pancakes covered in sugar l, and continued my walk, not really knowing where I was headed. I passed the train station which I was going to get to later, then realised I was near a big park and lake called Bogyoke. As it was recommended in my lonely planet guide I thought I’d have a wander around it.

Unfortunately it wasn’t the nicest park, the lake was bright green from algae and there was a cool looking restaurant, but other than that there wasn’t much going on. I walked pretty much the whole way around the park before taking a taxi down to a little market area also called Bogyoke. This was your run of the mill market area, good if you want some souvenirs etc

I stopped off and had a pineapple shake, when the heavens opened up and it began to pour down. I finished my drink and took shelter at a nearby mall for a bit. It was the most modern place I had seen so far in Myanmar, but the rain wasn’t stopping so I jumped from shelter to shelter back towards my hostel, it was mid afternoon at this point and I was feeling pretty tired.

So I arrived back and had a little nap, went up to the rooftop to watch the sunset before heading back out for dinner. I’d read about a place called 999 Shan noodle and it was so worth it. Super cheap, super tasty, I couldn’t believe how good it was. After that I wandered around trying to find somewhere to watch the football, eventually finding a proper expat bar.

After a few beers and chatting to some fellow Arsenal fans I wandered back through the deserted streets of Yangon to my hotel. There wasn’t a great deal of sightseeing stuff that I could find to do but tomorrow I was going to hit up one of the largest Buddhist temples in the world!