Thursday, August 9, 2018

A Newbie's (Mini) Guide to Osaka


I can't believe summer is almost over and the kids are going back to school next week!  (I don't know who is more excited, me or them? Since both of them are now going to the same school, things will be easier for this Mama and this means a little bit more "me" time as well . . . yessss! Haha)

I am all charged up because we just came home from Philippines for a month long vacation.  We always try to visit a new place or country with my Mom and my sister whenever we are back home.  This year, our travel plans included Osaka, Japan.  They have actually visited this beautiful city last year and they loved it so much that they don't mind going back!  (And after visiting Osaka, I can't blame them!)

I know that Japan is becoming a popular tourist destination right now so I thought of sharing with you some of our experience/tips which I hope you will find useful one day when you plan to visit this country too.

1. TICKETS - We weren't really planning on going to Osaka but when there is an opportunity that  arises (like a seat sale!), you might as well grab it! LOL . . . We booked our tickets through Jetstar Asia which flies from Clark International Airport to Osaka (Kansai Airport).  This worked really well for us because the Clark is just around 30 kms away from where we live!

2. ACCOMMODATIONS - Hotel or Airbnb? That is the question. . . .

My sister and my Mom stayed at the Namba Oriental Hotel (which is in a really good location!) in their last trip to Osaka.  But since our group of 6 needs 2 rooms for 5 nights in a hotel, Airbnb is the best way to go, haha.  It is definitely cheaper and more than anything, I love that we get to be in one house together!  Plus we can do laundry for free! LOL

If you are not sure where to stay, for first time visitors (like us), I highly recommend that you stay in the Namba/Shinsaibashi area.  This area has so much to offer in terms of shopping and dining!  Seriously, I want to go back to Osaka, just to EAT! Haha . . .

For more details about Osaka and its other districts, please click on this link.

3. ITINERARY - When we were planning for our itinerary, we just made sure we included something for the kids (5 and 7 yr old) and a day trip to Kyoto (Kyoto is a MUST!  It is another beautiful city that one day is not enough).  To give you an idea, for the kids, we went to Kaiyukan Aquarium and Kids Plaza.  I will blog more about what we did in a separate post.

4. TOUR GUIDE/GROUP TOUR - When my Mom and my sister went to Osaka for the first time, they booked a private tour guide through Triple Lights.   In our trip, we thought we will do a DIY tour of Kyoto and regard it as an adventure!  But after being in Osaka for a few days and with ALL the walking we did (did I say we have 2 kids and my Mom with us?), we thought it was best to sign up for a group tour, haha!  After seeing all the places we went to, I sure am glad we did!

We went to the Tourist Information Center in Namba and got a flyer of a travel agency.  By the way, the Tourist Center DOES NOT book any tours for visitors.  They can answer questions regarding sightseeing or anything that can be of help to tourists.  You can also get city maps from here.  For more details about the Tourist Information Center, please click on this link.

We booked online a one day bus tour (which includes 4 must visit tourist places) to Kyoto with Hankyu Travel.   For our tour, we went to a meeting point where the bus will pick up the group.

Please click here to go to Hankyu Travel's website for more details and for the other tour packages that they offer. 

At the end of the day . . . 😄

5. TRAIN TICKETS - Okay, the train system in Osaka can be overwhelming for first time visitors!  It is a bit tricky because there are different railway companies operating in different lines.  There are a variety of deals/rail passes you can avail of.  Each of these come with certain conditions.    For example, Kansai Thru Pass is a rail pass that you can use in trains, private railways and even buses.  However, you cannot use it in train lines operated by Japan Railways (JR).  See what I mean?  Haha

And that is why I let Hubby and my sister handle all train-related matters! heehee  

Don't worry, there is a button for English users 😊

We did not avail of any rail pass because when we reviewed our planned itinerary, we don't have a great need to use the train. 

If you have any questions regarding the use of train and how to get around, the staff at the Tourist Information Center are helpful and would be able to assist you on this matter.

I found something which I hope I can help you understand more about the train system in Osaka.  Please click here.

6. Pocket Wifi - SUPER important!  I suggest you rent a pocket wifi with unlimited data plan during your stay in Japan.  You can order one online and have it delivered to where you are staying (for a delivery fee).  My sister swears by Pupuru.  Returning it is easy as there are mail boxes inside the airport where you can just drop it.

For more details about Pupuru and their products and services, please click here.

During our trip, we decided to get another one (our Airbnb host actually provided pocket wifi but with limited usage per day) upon our arrival at the airport from Softbank, another reliable provider.  Please click here to know more about them. 

We suggest that you arrange for your pocket wifi in advance as there is a chance that the providers at the airport run out of rental units. 

7. USEFUL PHRASES - Most of the  Japanese population may be able to communicate English in a limited manner so having a list of useful phrases such as the list below is going to be helpful as you go around.

We survived going around just by using one word. . ."DOKO" which means "where?" I swear, just knowing this word have helped us a lot of times during our trip! Haha  

One thing that I love about the Japanese is they are sooooo helpful.  They may not be comfortable speaking in English but they will still try their best to help you. 


I hope this post helps you in some way.  As I've said this is a Newbie's guide and is based on our experience. 

Please feel free to share any tips or useful information you might have about travelling to Japan.  I am sure I will put them in good use. . . when we go back!  (Huney, I know you're reading my blog so I know you got the message, haha) 😊

Arigatou gozaimasu!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

My New Favorite Vegetable Recipe - Broccoli Patties!

Hello everyone!!!!

It has been a long time (like loooonnnngg!) since I posted something on the blog.  How long?  Well, let's put it this way, I haven't even finished writing a post from last year's annual family vacation and we will be taking another one in a couple of months! LOL

Since my last post, what has been going on in our casa?  Well, our Princess is now a 1st Grader and our little (not so little now) boy entered a Pre-school program.  I am still doing some part time work which I absolutely love.  So these. . .  plus everything else that needs to be done for the house and for the family pretty sums up what I've been busy with all these time.  

I haven't even done much baking (something which I love doing) and haven't tried any new recipes as well.  But today is a good day to blog because I am sooo excited to share with you a new recipe which I tried (and loved!) just this afternoon!

Broccoli is my favorite vegetable.  I love roasting them with olive oil, garlic and salt.  But I got lazy the other day so I just blanched them and ate them with my favorite salad dressing.  Then I got bored eating them like that so I had to look for another recipe to make my meals more interesting, haha.  I am lucky to have found this recipe from Just A Pinch !  (Please click on it to get the recipe).


How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways:

1. These patties are superb because they have broccoli (a superfood!) in it.

2. There is cheeeese in it!  Not one. . .but 3 (Parmesan, Cheddar and Mozza)!
*The only thing I added which was not in the original recipe was some Mozzarella cheese because. . . wait, do we need any reason to use more cheese?  Haha

3. The best thing about these patties are. . . . they are BAKED, not fried.  I repeat, NOT FRIED!!!

I would like to believe that it is still "healthy" even when there are 3 kinds of cheese in it, haha.  

Well, I think the fact that they are not deep fried is good enough reason to say this dish is healthy-ish? *silly grin here*

If cheese is made of milk and milk is good for the body, I therefore conclude that. . . cheese is good for our body!  LOL

As much as I like it, my picky eaters stayed away from it!  Aaarrggh.  I was hoping I can trick them into eating veggies by showing them the crusty, melted cheese on the patties!  Yummm!  These kids of mine don't know what they are missing!    

If your kids are not picky as mine, this dish is a good way for them to eat their veggies too.

This recipe is definitely a winner in my book because it is easy, tasty and healthy! =)

Hope you will like it as much as I do.  😁

By the way, try these patties with your favorite creamy salad dressing like Ranch.

Hope you are all having a great weekend!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

On finding a good Ilocos Empanada

I don't know how many times I've been to Ilocos since Hubby and I got together but I can count how many times I've eaten an Ilocos empanada!  ZERO!!! Haha . . .We haven't eaten one in the many times we've been there!  I guess because we know that we always go there anyway plus I am not really a fan of this empanada because I didn't like it the first time I tried it . . .in Manila!  I know, I know, I should know better.  Of course I have to try it in its birth place!  

As they say, everybody deserves a second chance . . . including this empanada!  Haha!

After we checked in at Hotel Luna, we had some time to spare before attending the 7PM Sunday mass in St. Paul Cathedral in the Plaza.  We thought this is a good time to get some.

My sister told me that the two famous empanadas in Vigan are Irene's and CJ's.  Our Aunt though recommended Insiang's which she has personally tried and liked.  Now, if a local tells you that it is good, you have trust them because they know what they are talking about!

We walked along the streets of Vigan and we couldn't find it (because we got the wrong directions, haha).  We asked several locals but somehow they couldn't give us an answer (a bad sign? haha). We were even second guessing ourselves if we have the right name!  

But we (our tummies) didn't give up!

But thanks to Manong Kutsero, we found Insiang's!  

Yes, it exists! Haha

Literally, a roadside eatery.

There is a funny story about the picture below.  The table wasn't there when we got there.  They literally pulled out the table from somewhere (ala bunny out of the hat trick, haha) and just set it up for us when we told them we are going to "dine-in". 
Food adventure ba kamo?  haha

Since we were on a rush (because we are still going to attend Mass), we just ordered Empanada. They actually have different choices for Empanada (e.g. Special, Double, etc.) and they also have Okoy.

So here it is. . . Insiang's Empanada!  (aka the first Ilocos Empanada which I loved, haha)

Best when eaten hot and with Sukang Iloko!  I love how the crust is thin and crispy and not doughy.

I also like how the egg yolk came out runny.  I am not sure if this was meant to be runny or if it was just probably fried quickly than the rest but at any rate, this worked well for me!

I love that Insiang uses Papaya instead of Cabbage for Empanada.  They said there are times that they use Cabbage if there is no Papaya on hand.  

Side story: My sister got the chance to eat Empanada in Paoay (a place North of Ilocos) and she told me that they (at least the one that she tried) have an orange-colored crust which is thicker versus the empanada which we had in Vigan (down South) which we had.  One difference too is that the empanada from the North uses cabbage and togue as filling.

If there is one thing that Insiang's can improve on, we wish there was more meat (they use Vigan Longganisa) in it.  The longganisa they use is actually good.  We liked the Empanada so much that we ordered 50 pcs of Empanada to bring back home (to share with family and friends), haha! We also ordered longganisa from them.  We appreciate that they delivered everything to our hotel too.  

I have yet to try the other empanadas in Vigan but for now, I am happy to say that I enjoy eating the Ilocos Empanada now, thanks to Insiang's! (Agyamanak Manang Insiang!)

In case you are wondering about the Empanadas we brought back home, I have to say that they are really best when eaten hot and freshly cooked.  We re-heated them in a toaster and let them cool for a bit (so they will get crispy) and still enjoyed eating them the day after.

Do you have a favorite Ilocos Empanada?  Care to share?  😁

Calle Salcedo and V. De Los Reyes St.
near Gordion Hotel
Vigan City

Saturday, July 29, 2017

One Night in Vigan - Revisiting Hotel Luna

Every time we go home to Philippines, we make sure we visit Hubby's Grandma (she is 93  years old) and Aunt in Ilocos Sur.  Due to time constraints, we were able to stay only for a night but we are glad to be able to have spent some time with his side of the family.  

We stayed at our favorite hotel in Vigan, Hotel Luna (which I blogged about here).   I am so happy to see that nothing has changed in their impeccable service.  Everyone. . . like EVERYONE (I swear) was so courteous and helpful.  

Business must have been good since the last time we came because the hotel has built an Annex which has 17 rooms.  I am just not sure if the main hotel takes care of reservations for both hotel or each property handles its own reservations.  If you do an online booking with third party vendors (e.g., Agoda, Expedia), the Annex is listed as Hotel Luna Annex.  By the way, they apply the Senior Citizen Discount only when the booking is made directly with the hotel.   

For Dinner, Hubby and I were able to go on a "date" because the kids (and my Aunt) had dinner at the room.  (Thanks to McDonald's! Haha)

If I wasn't too tired from the 6 hr trip (I drove!  Yep, moi!), a walk around the Plaza or in Calle Crisologo would have been nice but dinner in an air-conditioned place where you just have to take an elevator sounded more appealing to me that time, haha!  And I heard from my sister that the dinner buffet in Comedor (the hotel's restaurant) is good.  Unfortunately, there wasn't a buffet that night (I think buffet nights are only on weekends).

At any rate, we were happy with what we ordered.  By the way, the restaurant's ala carte menu has a wide array of choices.

We ordered Pinakbet Paella which was good.  It has Vigan longganisa, bagnet, salted eggs and veggies as toppings.  It was a meal in itself!  The only thing I was missing is the soccarat (sosyal name for "tutong", haha). 

And we also tried their Dinakdakan (an Ilocano dish which is similar to sisig).   I don't eat Dinakdakan because it usually has pig's brain mixed into it to make it creamy.   I enjoyed this version because it is like the standard sisig.

The hotel also has a good breakfast buffet, something I look forward to whenever we stay in this hotel, haha.

If you need a place to stay in Vigan, I highly recommend Hotel Luna for a comfortable stay, yummy food and excellent service from the staff! 

Hotel Luna
General Luna St., 
Vigan City, Ilocos Sur
Tel. No. +63 (77) 632 2222

For more details about Hotel Luna, please click here to go to their website.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Bangkok Adventure: Shopping and Pasalubong Mini-Guide

SHOPPING!!!!  It is probably a woman's favorite therapy (retail that is!) and cardio exercise, haha!

Bangkok is a good destination for shopping (and eating, such a perfect combination!).  It has a plethora of shopping places that won't break your budget, from malls to different kinds of markets. 

Here are some shopping places in Bangkok which we went to:

1) Siam Paragon Mall - If you plan to do some luxurious shopping (along the lines of Balenciaga and Chanel), this place is for you (not for us, haha!).  There are also popular clothing brands found in this mall like GAP, Zara and H & M.

We went to this mall was because we took the kids to Kidzania (where they had a LOT of fun!  If you have young kids who don't care about food and shopping, this is a good place for them to bring to).  I wasn't able to take lots of photos but here are some of those I took.

They have a food court at the Ground Floor (my favorite among all the food courts we've been to) and nice restaurants on the 4th level (pictured below) of the mall.

*The floor levels in this mall can be tricky because Ground Floor is different from the Main Floor and 1st Floor.   

I would love to come back to this mall to check out their Gourmet Market and for some food tripping!

Besides Kidzania, this mall also houses the Sealife Ocean World located at the Basement of the mall. 

By the way, fyi, there is another mall which is called SIAM CENTER.  Just in case you want to go to either of them, just be clear if it is Siam PARAGON or Siam CENTER.

For more details about Siam Paragon (and the mall directory), please visit their website.

2) Krung Thong Plaza

To my fellow plus-size women, REJOICE!!! (Insert Handel's Hallelujah song here)

If you think Bangkok is just for slender women, HA!  Those days are overrrrr! Haha!

I think majority of the stalls here in this mall cater to plus-size women.  I like that there is a wide variety of  choices for dresses, tops, pants, shorts, casual and lounge wear, etc. that are fashionable, modern and stylish.

To get a wholesale price, I suggest you buy at least 2 items (I think this will not be a problem, haha).  I got some tops which average around US$7).  Just to give you a heads up, no fitting is allowed.  But you know what, some of the sellers have a good eye (and how I wish that they are friendlier, some are) because they know what size you are just by looking at you.

At the main entrance of the mall, you will see a stall which sells gold plated earrings (among many others) that are of good quality. 

Khun Pramote, the owner, super nice guy!

You can say that this is my favorite mall because looking clothes for my size is not a problem!  Haha!

Krung Thong Plaza
(across Platinum Mall)
813/8, Petchaburi Rd, Phaya Thai, Ratchathewi, Bangkok

3) Platinum Mall
Platinum Mall is one of the more popular shopping places in Bangkok.  By the way, there is a bridgeway connecting Krung Thong to Platinum Mall.  

We got some shawls from this very nice Thai lady who was one of the nicest people we have met in our trip.  She gave us a discount because she said we were her lucky customers.  She was happy because after we came, there were like 4 or 5 customers that came in after us, haha, such a sweet lady.

I found these accessories that have initials in them in one of the stalls.

We also got some Thai souvenirs in one of the shops.

4)MBK Center
MBK is another popular shopping mall in Bangkok.  Personally, I like this better than Platinum Mall. 
There is also another department (Tokyu) store attached to MBK Center.  

For Thai souvenirs and crafts, this is a good place to go to because they have more shops (all together in one floor) which sell different kinds of things compared to Platinum.

I got some throw pillow covers and tissue box covers from here.

MBK Center
Phayathai Rd, Pathum Wan, Khet Pathum Wan, 
Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10330, Thailand

5) Big C Supercenter
I know some people who don't like grocery shopping, but for me, I looovve it!  I can just go around and browse the aisles and check out stuff.  So whenever I travel and visit a place, I love going to the its supermarket because it is a good place  to buy local goods like food, snacks, etc.  And in Bangkok, Big C (one of the biggest supermarket chains in Bangkok) is the place to go to.

Eyes open wide . . .

Heart palpitates. . . 

My happy place! Haha!

So we brought home a luggage (or two?) full of goodies!

We also bought Thai flavored instant noodles (I know instant noodles are bad but we just have to try, haha) and different Thai dish mixes and sauces.

Beside Thai arts and crafts souvenirs, the supermarket is a good place to do some pasalubong shopping.

Oh by the way, you have to buy Nestea's Thai Milk Tea Powder because it is good!  I am not fond of Thai Milk tea in general but I like Nestea's because it has a milder herbal taste.  If you want to have a taste before buying it, there are some food courts that sell this as a drink.

You can also get a VAT refund in the supermarket but you need to bring your passport to do so.  

Big C Supercenter
(opposite Central World)
97/11 Rajdamri Rd. Lumpini, Pathumwan

6) Pantip Plaza 
This is known as Bangkok's IT Shopping mall.  I haven't been to this mall and I just got these pictures from hubby who checked out the place.

Pantip Plaza
604/3. Ratchathewi, Bangkok

6)Suvarnbhumi Internationl Airport 
For last minute shopping, you can find different things at the airport.  You will see shops like the one pictured below that sell Thai snacks and food.   We even bought Sticky Rice Mango to bring back home, haha!

More shopping choices . . . 

In this post's title, I wrote "Mini Guide" because this is not an extensive guide to the different shopping areas in the city.  These are just the places we have been to and believe me, we have only been to a few (and we didn't even get the chance to fully explore each place!).  

There are just so many things to do, so many shopping places to conquer! Haha!

There is definitely a lot more to cover. . . which we will. . . in the future!

My dear Bangkok, I will see you again! 

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