Monday, August 17, 2015

Climbing Mt. Fuji

I wanted to start this series of blog posts about my trip to Japan with the highlight. The "climb"

It was on a trip last March with the kids that the idea of climbing Mt. fuji came to me. At this time, the path was still full of snow and as we were listening to the presentation, it was said that the mountain was open to climbing (safely) ONLY 2 months during summer of every year.

A light bulb hit me..... why don"t we try to climb it? (yeah... I thought it was easy)

I was planning on doing a training program before the climb.. but I got busy with work and everything else that I barely got any training in... (BIG MISTAKE)

I was even talking to a Japanese friend about climbing and he was concerned about me not training at all (which made me even more concerned for myself... but by then it was too late to do anything about it)

It was a few months back that by chance (serendipity.. I think) that while I was browsing through information on Mt. Fuji, an ad came on for guided tours by a local bus company WILLER. You can choose only a guided tour for 17,000 Yen (6,290 pesos/$135) or tour with rental gear 27,000 yen (10,000 pesos/$215). I chose the one with rental gear since I really didn't own any climbing gear.

I think it was when my husband said yes to accompanying me that this brilliant plan of mine really took shape. No guts, No glory!

The climbing gear included were: walking sticks, hiking boots, socks, windbreaker and pants, backpack, headlight, and ankle protection (for mud and dust).

The hike itself was a two day affair. The tour would cover first day dinner and 2nd day breakfast.

Here was our schedule:


The bus company would give clear instructions on how to get to the bus terminal  (call time 7:10am and 7:30 departure). The terminal is located in SHINJUKU area of Tokyo, but I would suggest you leave your hotel early (we left the bulk of our luggage at the hotel and brought only cellphone and money since we rented gear). The way to find the bus terminal is a good 15 min walk from the train station. The bus company gave clear instructions on how to walk through the train to get to the terminal via email but I forgot to look at it.

We did get to check in on time though and got our gear. We checked the sizes for the shoes and pants and they are happy to replace them if they don't fit (I took a medium set... but the pants were a it tight so I had them replaced with large..... what can I say??? I have a booty!!!)

10:30am- we arrive at FUJI SUBARU 5TH STATION- we quickly go up to the 3rd floor to change into our climbing gear (add some under shirts, wear the hiking boots). We even had to figure out how to put money in one of the rental lockers so we could leave our other clothes and shoes. (we did not want extra weight going up)-- tip: you have to open the locker before you put in the coins (cost: 300yen)
subaru 5th station. everyone is getting ready

We quickly ate lunch (that station had our worse lunch experience in japan) so we can catch the meet up with our guide at 11:15. the guide already gave safety reminders on the bus as we were traveling from Tokyo to the 5th station regarding altitude sickness (what to do, how to avoid it), how NOT to rush climbing since it is after all 3776m climb

The walk from the 5th satin to the Mt. Fuji safety station was pleasant enough, some inclines, some rocks. I was feeling... YEAH, this is fun! picture here, picture there and even a video!
smiling.. still

by the end.of the trip. i was looking for this horse!!!

The video was taken at the 6th station.. where the Safety guidance center is and where most people start the REAL climb. (2,390M)

This is when I realized.... HOLY CRAP.

it says... 3.6km till summit

... look at those rocks!!!!! that is what you call.... MOUNTAIN CLIMBING

fortunately, it wasn't all like this, there were also steep gravel paths (I swear there were no plain paths. it all incline until you reach the rest huts that are in between the stations.) the walking sticks were a great help in hoisting ourselves up.

--- we were carrying 2 liters of water each in our backpacks since there is no water in the mountain. You can buy water - which gets more expensive as you climb up. (normal 160 yen  in the mountain: 300 yen... 500yen)
--- you need to cover ALL surfaces with sunblock. Our ears got sunburned (the nape of the neck and the base on the neck too)
--- sunglasses and hats are a must!! the weather during summer even at 2500m is still warm and when you give effort, you really sweat. I was dripping loads by the time I got to the 7th station. (more on that later)

It was a few zigzags up before you reach the first hut - and by the time I reach the 7th station, I was already feeling dizzy. (effects of altitude sickness). I felt like I was going to throw up (which I did after the 7th station). I wasn't taking any more pictures (my feet were like lead)I was doing the deep breathing exercises as suggested  by our guide. I could see clouds on the side of the path which made me even dizzier. (it was like vertigo)... all I could think about was one step in front of the other and I'll be able to reach the hut....

couldn't look up. too dizzy

clouds.. clouds...

my husband calls it.. the "grandma walk"

too dizzy. had to lean on the sign. goo thing there was my husband to take pictures

There are : 2 huts before the 7th station (one member of our group , a thai, gave up upon reaching the 7th station) 4 huts before the 8th station, and 3 huts before the tomoe-kan hut (where we will overnight). It was a struggle to say the least. AGONY is a good word. I reached the hut at about 6:30 in the evening. I tell you. it took a lot out of me.

I was an EXPERIENCE. I was talking to myself the whole time... saying... it will all be ok.. you can make it. only a few more feet... (then realizing I still had 2 more huts to pass to reach the final hut)... WAAAA....
I was trying to motivate myself saying.. it's like giving birth... the pain will go away anyyyyy moment now....

My heart was  thumping so hard every few steps that I had to stop and take  breather. It was like sprinting (if you ever tried it) and then your heart is thumping near your throat.

this is path we took. the solid yellow is the ascent. the dashed yellow is the descent
7pm- I had no appetite (I guess I was too tired and of course had altitude sickness). Took a picture though.

Sleeping arrangements were like in a ryokan. where you sleep on mats. But the space is like very very small. (sardine-like)... My husband had a hard time sleeping with two big american women beside him.. LOL.

Went to sleep with serious doubts if I would attempt the summit at 1:40am.

Day 2:

With much convincing from fellow climbers, I put on my headlamp and walked towards the trail. The Tomoe kan was abuzz with activity and even at an early hour, I could see the sea of people heading for the summit (a trail of headlamps)-- no picture here.. still woozy

I really tried to make it to the top... but by a certain level, I was feeling nauseous again. The guide decided it was in my best interest to go back down to the rest hut. But then, it was too dark to see the descending path clearly. ( the ascending trail is different from the descending trail ) I trudged on and managed to reach the plateau before the summit. (some people were saying that I could have hiked more and reached the summit... but I TELL YOU, at that point, I was physically done and as per my husband, the last leg was especially hard and was almost a vertical rock climb to the summit.

I told my husband... "leave me here.. I can manage.." . I knew HE could make the summit (he was a marathoner after all). It was like a scene in the movie. I could tell he was torn. hahaha

He finally went on leaving me there.... (at some point, I was scared I may not be able to find the descending route from where I was sitting.) Luckly, I figured it out. ( a little bit of thoughts that I might get lost in the mountain and never be found flashed through my head)

The temperature was freezing at the top. The wind was blowing too and I was shivering while waiting for the sunrise. I couldn't wait for it to get light enough so I could go back down.
sunrise was at 4:45am. Trekked back to then hut a few minutes after and got a few minutes of rest.

victory picture!!!

last picture before we trek down

I still had no appetite for breakfast (cold salty salmon and rice) and started to trek back down. the trek back down was on purely gravel and ash. It was slippery and hard on the knees. It was about 3 hours to reach the 5th station. My ankles were hurting by the time I reached the 6th station and I still had to trek about 2km to reach the bus. (where are the horses?)

What really amazed me were the senior citizen and japanese children doing the climb! Really something.

I was glad I got to do it... would I do it again? (NOPE). I underestimated the height of the mountain (3776m) and did not train enough for it. (I could have used more lung power)

The guides were pretty great. They were there all the way guiding us. although I hated it when they kept saying.. keep moving when all I wanted to do was stop and rest! I just felt really OLD and WORN!!!

---I wore a uniglo heatech under shirt and it kept me warm until tomoe kan (it was fleece coat level)
--- if you don't want to bring extra jackets, you can rent one at the tomoe kan (jackets, gloves and warmer pants) I think it was 500 yen per pc.
--- oxygen can be bought in cans at the huts
--- you can mail postcards at the top with a special postmark from Mt. Fuji. (you can actually mail them at the summit where there is a postbox.. but I didn't get to that part). I had the people at the tomoe kan mail it for me
-- sunblock, sunblock, sunblock
-- drink water
-- there are waling sticks for sale and each hut can stamp on your stick (300yen/ stamp)so by the end of your trip, your stick would be full of stamps. But I didn't want the extra baggage and then if I got all the stamps, it would have been about 4000 yen total. (eek)
--- summer is the best time to go (late june - early sept). You bring back down all the plastic bottles and trash you accumulate.
--- there are toilets in the rest huts. but they require 200 yen tip. No toothbrush facilities (you either use your drinking water or none). --- there is no water in the mountain.
--- bring lots of spare change (100 yen coins or 1000 bill)... for the toilets, for the storage lockers, drinks,

If you plan to do this... hope the tips help... and for the love of GOD.. go train!!!!

here is video of a you tuber who climbed click here

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Family time in Coron, Palawan

I have been wanting to go to Coron  for the longest time. So on a whim, I booked the whole family for a 4 day trip.

We stayed at  Coron Westown resort. I booked through agoda because of the extra 10% off I can get off the credit card promo (better check your credit card if they have similar promos)

We booked a family room (it is like a suite... it has 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. - 1 king size bed and 2 queen.) the rooms were clean and nice and worked well with my family (I had 4 kids, 1 yaya and me and my husband) all for about 7,000+ pesos ($155/night). They have smaller rooms that run about 3,800 ($85/night). They are the biggest hotel in town with 3 swimming pools, a playground and spa. You could probably get a cheaper room in town (a bedspacer kind of room with no air-conditioning for maybe 500 pesos but I would rather have aircon anytime!)... The breakfasts were ok. I highly recommend the waffles. (yum)

You can prebook a airport pickup 150 pesos/ way (we booked two way so it's 300 pesos). The airport is a bit far from town... maybe 45 minutes drive.

We took the air philippines flight from manila _ note that this is a propeller type plane. (in case you are queasy about small aircraft)

There are a lot of options depending on how many people are in your group and what activities you would like to do. For us, since we were 7, we booked our own boat for the island hopping adventure.

You can join a group tour when  you arrive (there are tour desks when you go out of the airport)

One of the groups is Coron Galeri. I was looking at their tours and I think they are quite affordable - they include lunch and snorkeling equipment.

To breakdown the tour... they have a 650/ pax one where you visit nearer sites (like siete pecados, kayangan lake etc) see their website (this includes all the applicable entrance fees to some islands)- more on that later

For us however, we opted to hire our own boat and shop for our own food in the market (across where you ride the boats). Our reason for this is that we would like to be able to control our time and where we would like to go. We also brought our own snorkel equipment.

For the nearer island hopping. We paid 2,500 for the whole boat and bought some pork liempo, fish, rice and fruits for our lunch. The boatmen were the ones who would cook all the food for us.

Day 1 (note. we also brought our own kiddie life vest for my 2 year old)

We first went to siete pecados  ( seven sins) a protected marine park where you can snorkel and see all the beautiful sea life and coral formations (fee $100 pesos-- yes.. there are fees!) --- careful only that you don't get too near as it is prohibited to step on the corals.

2nd stop was  kayangan lake ( the cleanest lake in the Philippines). warning though. before you can get to the lake. you have an uphill climb (about 200 meters) on a rough man made path (not cemented... only carved). Once you reach the top, you can get a picture taken with the view of the bay (the famous view). then you have another trek down to the other side of the lake.

We went during off peak (even then there was a line trekking up). I had with us our 2 year old and you can guess how we climbed up that hill. (huffing and puffing).

on the other side you can see a very clear lake (fee 100 pesos) - it is made up of brackish water (salt and fresh mixed together). there are wooden walkways you can traverse and from there go snorkeling in the lake.
cleanest lake in the philippines

By the end of the snorkeling time.. it was already lunchtime and we had to go back to the boat. the boatmen had already cooked our lunch (grilled liempo, fish, rice, squid) in the boat. We went to an island where they had nipa huts for us and the kiddies had a nice time eating and then playing in the sand.
kitchen on board

After a fullfilling lunch.. we went to the twin lagoon. I found it a very hard swim (you have to swim from the boat to the side of the mountain to go up to reach the other side. (the path is narrow). On low tide, you can swim under a hole.

I think it was the brackish water but it was VERY hard to swim. (it was like swimming in jello). Here is what it looks like to climb.. (a bit scary since we had a 2 year old the and the rocks on the side were a bit sharp)...


Day one left us exhausted from all the swimming.... so Day 2, we booked an easy day with visting 2 island (about 45 mins boat) also, since it was further away, we paid for more for the boat 4500 for the whole day hire. If you are not coming as a group, I suggest you join one of the tours from Coron galeri. You can also opt to do a calauit day trip (we didn't do that since we were super tired already)

some photos from day 2:

The snorkeling was great.. we got to feed some fish and see a lot. (relaxing day)

all the islands have 100 peso fees (so much so that the boatmen call it the 100 islands! - LOL

--the marketplace (wet market) is not at all cheap.. meat and chicken are much more expensive than Manila.
-- maquinit hot springs is very near town.. you can drop by as per our tricycle driver's advise, better if it nearing sunset
-- tricyles are 30 pesos per person for ride into town from the hotel.
-- there are several chinese restaurants in town, I just forgot the names ---
-- avoid lobster king (too much hype.. lobster too expensive too!)
-- there is some hiking involved going up some of the lagoons and lakes (if you have elderly or people with limited mobility)

overall.. we had fun but it wasn't the WOW trip I expected. I think I enjoyed our trip to BOHOL more see here (its a 3 part blog post)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Angkor Wat - Undiscovered Treasure

Some people were skeptical when I told them that I was going to Cambodia. I think the news about the civil war 16 years back is still fresh from their minds.

2015 is my travel year and I was determined to check something off my list soon. The opportunity came when the government announced a 5 day holiday for the Pope Francis visit to the Philippines.

I quickly asked my husband to book us a flight and asked my friend if she would come along. The only direct flight we could find was a Cebu Pacific flight departing Jan 15 (the day the Pope arrived) 7:30pm .... (all air travel was cancelled from 2pm- 7pm).. dilemma....

Our flight was not cancelled but we were rescheduled for a 10:30 pm flight. We were so scared of the crowd and road closures that we were in Resorts World (the mall across the airport terminal) at 12nn!..

Personally, I hate flying budget airlines but we had no choice. Aside from which, the airfare costs $300+ (expensive for budget fare and no meals)

We arrived in Siem Rap at about 11:30pm. Siem Rap itself is similar to a provicial city in the Philippines (General Santos). I already prebooked my guide- Morin Ouch before we left the Philippines and I called him when I got to the hotel to arrange for our pick up schedule for the next day.

The guides and vans are not expensive at all. It costs : $30/day for the guide   $40/day for the van.. regardless of how many you are. So we spent $220 for the 3 days we spent and we were 6 people in the group. The van has cold towels and cold water for you when  you need it. (included with the price)

Angkor Wat archeological Park is about 500 square kilometers (huge) and consist of a lot of different temple complexes. Some of them are : Angkor Thom (hindu temple converted to buddhist), Angkor Wat was built around 1113 AD by the Cambodian King Jayavarman II and was dedicated to Hindu Gods like Vishnu and Shiva. Likewise, their language is also based on sanskrit. (Buddhism came later on..)
Entrance fee to the park is $40/person valid for 1 week and 3 entries to any of the temple complexes. Children 10 years below are free (you have to show a passport)

I am amazed how organized they are. The tickets issued even have a photo of you.

Angkor wat (highest temple).. on the bottom, there are girls in native costumes that will take a picture with you for $1.

Hindu carvings on the walls depicting various legends and tales

 Ta prom (lara croft temple)..

The only temple with purely buddhist roots was the Bayon Temple (the ones with the heads of buddha on top)

Banteay Srie (the temple of women) is few kilometers outside the city. its a smaller temple but beautiful as well. (we did this temple on the second day of our trip)... there are fewer crwods in this temple compared the the big angkor Wat ones. In some areas, we feel as if we are the only people around and can take as many photographs as we want

One thing about having your own guide is that your time and itinerary is flexible. On the first day, we wanted to experience the elephant ride and see the sunset on top of the mountain. We did just that (elephant ride $20/person one way... you can opt to walk down)
Riding an elephant is one the firsts for me on this trip. (bucket list check!)

Here are some other activities we did that you might want to do:

1. Visit the war museum and firing range - we get a general idea on Cambodian history. The khmer rouge regime. Most of the old arms in the museum are Russian. It is surprising to know that Cambodia only became "free" in 1999 after Pol Pot died. You can even try to shoot a AK-47 ($90/round of ammo... 3 of us shared 1)

2. Do a helicopter ride. Well, this one was spur of the minute on our last day. Our flight was late in the evening (10:30pm) so we had enough time to do a lot of activities. We opted for the $90 for 8 mins. (other options are 150/15mins, $200/20mins, $300/30 mins and more). I got a bit dizzy even if it was only 8 mins. you get to see the whole angkor wat complex

3. Do a ATV sunset ride with Siem rap Quad bike adventure. It was very enjoyable and we drove around the farming villages around Siem Rap. The children all came out and greeted us and we even high 5-ed them.

4. Angkor Museum. It is located in the middle of the city. It is well thought out and the exhibits are at par with European ones. (its better than the Cairo one for sure!)

We also visited the Angkor Artisans shop. Where they show how artisan from Angkor make wood, stone and silver souvenirs. (the gift shop is over priced). We also did a cultural show with buffet (the food was not that great and we were nodding off at the show)... you can use your time to go shopping in PUB STREET of the OLD MARKET


---- Best weather is Dec- Feb (cool enough and not blazing hot) The temperature when we went was about 18-27C. They say the temperatures during summer (April- June) reaches 40C! July-Nov is monsoon so rainy all the time and muddy!!

--- bring CLOSED shoes and lots of socks. The roads are rural so they are dusty. If you wear slippers, by noon, you feet would be covered with dust. My white socks were brown when i got back from the tours at night.

--- bring extra clothes and shorts that reach your knees. Being Buddhist, some temples do not allow entry if you wear short shorts.

--- bring a selfie stick

--- bring a lot of $1 bills. Most Cambodians use US $ to buy and sell. Do not be afraid to bargain. I discovered later on that my $5 genie pants was being offered somewhere else at 2 for $5. some pricing examples: pajama style pants (2 for $5), postcards (regular sized ones: 10 for $1... buy from the kids outside the temple),

---our favorite local restaurant was RED HOUSE RESTAURANT which served good local food at local prices (not tourist prices) and featured cabanas with hammocks

--- get a massage.. its really cheap! $1/10 mins, $5 for 1 hour. We did another one which was $4/30 mins in an aircon room. The masseuse was good.

--- one more thing.... there is a NORTHFACE outlet in pub street. I got a winter goose down jacket for $100


Siem Rap is really safe compared to Phnom Penh which is the capital and more busy city. The vibe  is more of less provincial. Its is amazing how they have preserved the buildings (some even rebuilt using German technology) and how they have bounced back from war and built such a clean and orderly tourist industry. The guides have official badges and uniforms.

Better get a guide because some areas might rip you off if you go on your own. (like the floating market which we skipped)

Cambodians have learned to sell to all Asians and thus can speak Chinese/korean/ English. It was so funny to see these 4 year olds trying to sell me postcards speaking chinese.

I stayed at the ANGKOR RIVIERA HOTEL. It was a 10 min walk to the old market and pub street. It had wifi and included breakfast. Big nice and clean rooms. The pool was nice too. We really enjoyed our trip. Even my 10 year old daughter was thrilled at all the activities we did. I do hope more people get to go to Siem Rap.

My guide: Morin Ouch ( email him if you want to book a tour.


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