A Slice Of Napa Valley in La Union

When you picture La Union you’ve got visions of blue – the sea, the sky, and the brown-shaded sand. But do you know that La Union has it’s own vineyard?

The story of how LU’s first vineyard came to be goes back in 1972 in a small barangay called Urayong in Bauang, La Union. It was here that Avelino Lomboy of Lomboy farms planted 20 grape cuttings as a hobby and hoped his effort would come to fruition. After several years, his farm grew to 500-hectares and supplied 90% of the country’s grapes. He was then hailed as the  “Philippine Grape King” and has developed several fruits particularly the “guapple”.

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I’ve surfed in Baler, Siargao, Bali, and had fantasized for years about riding the San Juan rhythms so we decided to have a quick trip last January. I’ve never seen a vineyard before so we included a visit to an LU vineyard in our itinerary. We went to Grapuz Grapes Farm, also located in Bauang. It was a jeep, a mini-bus, and a tricycle ride from San Juan. Grapuz Grape farm is also one of the growers of grapes in LU established in the 70s and owned by the Grapuz. It was a slice of Napa Valley in a tropical country. Here are some of the photos we took during our visit.

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No, this is not in Napa Valley, CA. This is in Bauang, La Union. 🍷🍇

A post shared by Carlo Teope (@lakbaygram_) on

As you can see some of the grapes are still green. The farmers said that the harvest season is summer, some time around May.

The Farm fee/Photo fee is 20Php and the grapes are sold for 250php/kilo.

You can also buy wines in Grapuz. They have red wines with 5% alcohol content and guapple wine at 9% alcohol content. I thought their wines were sweeter than the normal wine more of like a juice to me probably because of high residual sugar. They also sell growing sprouts and pure honey.

How to get to Grapuz Grape farm from San Juan:

1. Take a Jeepney from San Juan to San Fernando town proper. (Minimum fare)

2. From San Fernando we took a mini-bus bound for Bauang. I suggest you advise the driver to drop you off at Bauang market. The fare is 11php and trip will take about less than 30 min.

3. From Bauang Market take a tricycle to Grapuz grape farm. We hired a tricycle for 150php per way good for 4 pax. Ask the driver to wait for you as it’s hard to get a transportation back to Bauang town proper.

Grapuz Grapes Farm

Location: Brgy. Urayong, MacArthur Highway, Bauang, La Union
Operating Hours: 7am – 6pm
Phone Number: (072) 705 2013
FB page: http://facebook.com/gapuzgrapesfarm

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Things To Do in Siem Reap

In early August I flew direct from Manila to Siem Reap in a 90-dollar roundtrip fare which I got from an airline fare sale. Being my second time there I wanted to expand my culture intake and still see the basics with a friend who had never been.
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Home of the renowned Angkor Temple complex Siem Reap lies in the northwestern part of Cambodia and is a favorite stopover in Southeast Asia for backpackers traveling by bus from Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, and Phnom Penh.   With so many unique things to experience in Siem Reap it can be overwhelming trying to decide what to do.  Below are 7 awesome bucket list items you should include on your itinerary.
Here’s our 7  Things to do in Siem Reap, Cambodia
1. Indiana Jones-ing at the Temples
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No visit to Siem Reap can be complete without a visit to the temple complex.  You can get a 3-day pass to the Temples for 40USD and a day pass for 20USD. If you will get a day pass, I suggest you plan ahead on what temples to visit. Touring the temples can be exhausting so don’t forget to wear comfortable (but respectful) clothes and a bottle of water.
The Angkor temples are real testaments to tenacity. That feeling you get when you are among the walls of these 9th and 13th century old architectures as they unveil history is lasting.  The rise and fall of empires, the intricacy of the Khmer art, and the harmonious adaptation of the ruins to nature as it stand the test of time, these sums up my temple hopping experience.
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2. Bargain Shopping

The bustling Old and New markets are heaven for shopaholics. You can find almost everything here. From stunning artworks to bags and everything in between. I’d say Cambodians are hardcore sellers and a pro-level haggling and bargaining skills could save you serious money. Be wise in giving your preferred offer but don’t forget to be reasonable too even if the conversion is in your favor.
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Remember to look around before buying – many of the stalls offer the same or similar items.  Buying from the first stall you come upon is a good way to overpay.
3. Phare, The Cambodian Circus
After visiting the temples soaking in the energy from the circus is a great way to end the day.  A circus for a cause founded in 1994 to support its performers who came from poverty stricken backgrounds. The festive mood reminds me of my childhood memories in a “Perya”, a filipino style carnival. The hotel where I checked-in sold the circus ticket for 18USD. You can buy tickets at the circus venue too for the same price. The show starts at 8:00pm and it’s free seating so make sure to be there a bit earlier to secure better seats. Preferred seating is also available for 35USD (Adult).
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They have a few different shows however the screenplay I saw was about discrimination with a little bit of humor lighten a very sensitive social issue. The group performs in a very solid stance and you could see that they love what they’re doing.  The group is world renowned and has traveled across end the world visiting the U.S., Europe and elsewhere.4. Afternoon Drinks on a Roof Deck

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What could be a better day ender than lazing at a roof deck on a large bean bag while watching the sun as it sets over the downtown river? You can find cheap rooftop bars close to the old market area. I went to a place called “Temples Bar” somewhere in the heart of Pub street. Having a glass of cocktail and snacks with Cambodian acoustic songs in the background while catching the afternoon rays on a roof deck is a travel experience I will always remember.
5. Bicycle Touring
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What’s the best way to explore the Siem Reap? Well, rent a bike for a dollar and get lost in it.  I didn’t mind battling for space on the road against tuk-tuks, motors, and pedestrians and all I remembered from that journey was I was biking around Siem Reap that morning. I passed by the majestic  Ankor Wat and in that fleeting moment time stood still.
You can rent a bike for 1USD. Bike rentals are everywhere so you don’t have to worry. If you’re lucky you can borrow one from your hotel for free. Just ask the hotel staff politely.6. Spend some quite time in a do-good coffee shop

While your hotel check out is scheduled at around noon, flights back to MNL are scheduled at night and if you wish to stay in your hotel until evening you have to pay for a hotel day’s rate.
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Spending some quite time in a do-good coffee shop is a nice thing to do while waiting for a red eye flight. My friends and I spent our last few hours in Cambodia last year in a coffee shop called New Leaf Book Cafe. If you identify yourself as a book lover then this place is your paradise. It’s a quiet place in the heart of bustling Siem Reap. Enjoy a glass of iced Cambodian coffee while reading books donated to the coffee shop. And their profit goes to community projects in the province. They serve light meals and the service is excellent. They also have wifi and power outlets where you can charge your smartphones and power banks while waiting for your flight.
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Group 10, Phum Mondul 1, Svay Dungkum, 306 Street 9, Krong Siem Reap, Cambodia7. Marvel at the Ankor Wat Sunrise

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It was 5:15am and Mr. Chour, our tuk-tuk driver, was waiting patiently at the hotel entrance. We would be heading to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise. At first I thought it’s impossible to capture a good picture of Angkor Wat during sunrise because the light was not sufficient to showcase the beauty of the temple and its entirety and it was hazy. The sky started to display its amazing spectrum as it unveils the outline of the temple from across the moat. The photographers started the capture every single moment of it.  It was breathtaking. I know waking up early is a pain but at that moment all I ever thought was, I just had one of the greatest adventures of my life.
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(Disclaimer: This article originally appeared on another blog prior to the creation of this website)
For more Travel Tips visit http://www.travelgap.io and get the coolest travel tips straight from the experts.

 

The Beautiful Churches of Batanes

We only had a chance to tour Batanes for about 48-hours. It was a compressed tour and though it was a visual feast of greenery and hills, we couldn’t help but notice the number of religious sites in the itinerary that was arranged by our hotel. You don’t even have to be at all religious to recognize the church or chapel in every village. These buildings provide a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of Christianity in the Ivatan soil and how faith withstood storms in a province that is frequently in connection with typhoons.

Despite having a number of churches to visit, there are few that are stand out in terms of history and structure. These are the must-visit religious sights in Batanes.

1.     San Lorenzo Ruiz Chapel

DCIM101GOPROGOPR1347.It’s a part of the South Batan tour located in one of the smallest barangays in all of Batanes called Brgy. Imnajbu, Uyugan. The facade is made up of wall rock and has a beautiful santan flower garden path. It has arched casement windows which are ideal for the Batanes climate. This is where the evangelization of Batanes started – the birth place of Christianity. This is where the first baptism was celebrated as well as the first mass in the province which was led by Fr. Mateo Gonzales who landed in Imnajbu in 1682 A.D.

2.     Santo Domingo Cathedral

A church built in 17th century and was originally made up of cogon grass and wood. It was rebuilt in stone a couple of years later. In the middle of year 2000, Batanes was rocked by an intensity 4 earthquake which is the reason why the choir loft on the second level of the church is now non-existent. The Golden yellow aglow of the church gives its surrounding a sunset feel even during gloomy weather days. Church 7.jpg

3.     San Carlos Borromeo Church

FullSizeRender (1).jpgThis 17th century old church is located in the small town of Mahatao in Batanes. It is dedicated to St. Charles Borromeo who became an Archbishop of Milan back in the 15th century. The saint was a descendant of one of the wealthiest family in Lombardy. Like the Santo Domingo Chapel, it was originally made of light materials and was rebuilt into a stone church after a decade. The baroque-style church was declared a National Cultural Treasure by the National Museum of The Philippines in 2001.
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The church has its own library-like room with hundreds of books with empty pages. The books are numbered and you can write a dedication on some random pages if you wished to in exchange of donations.

4.     Mt. Carmel Chapel

Church 5.jpgAlso known as Tukon Chapel, was built in 2007 and publicly opened in 2008. It is located in Tukon. The stone wall facade of the church resembles a typical Ivatan house. The ceiling is decorated with western-inspired frescoes of saints and angels painted by artists of Fundacion Pacita.
The famous wedding church is known for its seascapes as it showcases a stunning view of the West Philippine Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
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5.     San Jose De Obrero Church

Church 3.jpgThe church is gloriously fenced with pine-like trees endemic in Batanes called Arius. These trees are being used as Christmas Trees during yuletide season. Ivatans also make wines out of its berries. San Jose de Obrero Church , also known as the Ivana Church, is facing the port of Ivana and is a stone-throw away from the Honesty Store.   It was established in the 17th century by the Dominicans.

6.     San Vicente Ferrer Church

Located in the southernmost municipality of Batanes Island – Sabtang. The church is also known as Sabtang Church. It was first built as a chapel in 17th century and was then rebuilt in 1844 under the supervision of Father Antonio Vicente. It has been declared as a national landmark in 2008.
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7.     Sta. Rosa de Lima Chapel

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A chapel found in the small village of Chavayan also in Sabtang, Sta. Rosa de Lima Chapel is the only cogon-thatched church in Batanes. These religious architectures up north were traditionally roofed with cogon grass before it embraced modernity.   Church 2.jpg

8.     St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel

Aquinas.jpgSitting right next to an abandoned old beaterio, a priest’s house, in the small village of Savidug. It  was named after Saint Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican friar who is considered as one of Catholic Church’s greatest theologians and philosophers.

Things To Do In Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan

 

I always love to entertain the idea that maybe once in past life I was Japanese, not because I’m obsessed with Anime or cosplay, but maybe because of my interest in the country. It has a natural sense of belongingness and it’s addicting. If I will be given a chance to live in a country outside the Philippines, without a doubt, I will choose Japan.

Japanese are always portrayed in war history as people with soul of honor, dignity, and discipline. Today, the country is known for its determination and active participation in ensuring peace not only in its neighboring Asian countries but also in the world.

The country is divided in 47 prefectures. One of which is Kanagawa, located in the southern Kanto region. It lies between Tokyo and Mt. Fuji in the geographical map. It was spring when I first visited the place. Wild flowers were in bloom, colorful coy fishes swam freely in the streams, and in the afternoon, the mist wrapped itself around the city in an inviting mood for a shot of sake and rich bowl of Ramen.

Here are the 7 things you should consider doing when visiting Kanagawa Prefecture.

1. Night strolling in Yokohama

Yokohama, the capital of Kanagawa, takes pride in being one of Japan’s tourist meccas. The pIMG_8248lace has a very distinctive harbor vibe and captivating bright lights at night. It has a 360 view of lighting up from historic western inspired architectures to the world’s biggest clock, The Cosmo Clock 21. Here are some of the places you should not miss seeing when doing a night stroll in Yokohama:

• The Cosmo Clock 21, a 369-feet tall Ferris wheel located in Minato Mirai 21. It was built in 1999. It has 60 cabins and each can hold up to 8 passengers in a 15-minute ride.

• The Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse – Back in 1920, the building was used for Custom Inspection for Yokohama shipping. This piece of history is situated right on the bay and is a famous spot for family and dating lovers.
FullSizeRender (2)• The Intercontinental Yokohama Grand, also located in Minato Mirai. The elegant architecture was built in 1991 and has a shape like that of Dubai’s Burj Al Arab.

• The Nippon Marru, also located in Minato Mirai. It’s a ship docked in front of the Sakuragicho Station. It’s a training ship that eventually became a museum in 1984.

• The Yokohama Marine Tower, located near the Motomachi-Chukagai Station. This observatory hall was built in 1961 and is also known as the tallest lighthouse in Japan and 3rd in the world next to The Jeddah Light in Jeddah and The Perry Memorial in Ohio.

The Nippon Maru2. Food Trip in Yokohama’s China town

There’s a saying “Chinatown here, there, and everywhere”. And yes, Yokohama has its own. Just a couple of minutes away from the Yokohama landmark tower is East Asia’s biggest Chinatown, let alone Japan, the Yokohama Chinatown.

Snapseed (8)The place offers a variety of Chinese cuisine from Beijing to Sichuan. It has four different gates which represent each direction the black gate (North) for posterity, the red gate (South) for happiness, the blue gate (East) for prosperity, and the white gate (West) for peace.Snapseed (7)

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3. Enjoy a cup of tea in the Bamboo world of Hokokuji

If you’re looking for a more relaxing break from the bustling city vibe take a 15-minute bus ride to the Hokokuji Bamboo forest and enjoy a cup of green tea while listening to the hymn created by the bamboo groove. The place has a distinct calmness and solemnity.

Snapseed (2)Snapseed (5)The admission fee is 200 yen and 500 yen with matcha and sweets. You can get there from the JR Kamakura station to Jomyoji bus stop. The place is a 3-5 minute walk from the bus stop.

4. Do not miss the Hakone loop.

Hakone is a mountainous town in southwestern part of Kanagawa. This place is a mecca for onsen lovers (“Onsen” is the Japanese term for hot springs) and it has a perfect view of the highest mountain peak in Japan, the Mt. Fuji.

Hakone Day Tour is an itinerary you should never forget when visiting Japan. It’s one of the best tours I’ve had while traveling the world.

This easy tour pass which will take you to a loop consist of a bus, a cable car, a ropeway, a boat, and a train ride all in one pass. It can be bought at train stations for 5,000 yen (2-day pass) and 5,500 yen (3-day pass). I bought my pass in Odawara Station.Valley Of Hell

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5. Marvel at the panoramic view from The Hakone Ropeway

The Hakone Ropeway has four stations and it will take about less than 10 minutes to transfer from one station to another. Each cable platform has a capacity of 18 pax with an interval of about a minute.Misty Mountain

I went there in spring and it was hazy so I wasn’t lucky enough to see Mt. Fuji from the ropeway which is only visible during clear days. What I remember from the tour though was when the mist wrapped the mountains with a blanket-like fog as if it was a Mother sharing her last precious moments of the day with her kids before bedtime. It was nostalgic.

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6. Feasting on black eggs of Owakudani

Yes, Japan has black eggs and legend has it that the local delicacy will add another 7 years to your life. It’s an ordinary chicken egg boiled in the hot sulfur springs of “Jigokudani” also known as “The Valley of Hell”. The egg’s shell will turn black as they cook it in geothermal springs with high sulfur content.Black eggs 2

Five eggs will cost you 500 yen. That’s not bad for seven more years in your life span. LOL

7. Walk the old streets wearing Kimono

Go back in time and walk through the beautiful landscapes of Japan wearing a Kimono. It is a traditional Japanese garment which came from the words “ki” (wear) and “mono” thing or simply a “thing to wear”.IMG_6853

IMG_6818Kimono rentals are available in Japan. The hotel where I stayed at in Hakone had me choose my preferred Kimono style upon entering the lobby. It was a complete Kimono set with Geta, a Japanese footwear, and it was comfy.FullSizeRender (1)

Things To Do In Seoul, South Korea

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I was denied when I first applied for a Korean visa in 2014. Actually it was my first and only denied visa so I was kind of skeptical when I applied for a Korean visa this year. Luckily, the visa gods were on my favor so I finally had a chance to say ‘’I.SEOUL.U” to Seoul. It’s a tagline which suggests that the city can be friendly like a soul mate.
Seoul is the heart and the largest metro in South Korea. The country became famous because of its influence in fashion particularly their standout street style, the infamous kimchi, addictive Korean Rom-coms, and of course their Kpop sensations. The city is also a home to some of the best tourist attractions in the world and with so much to see you can be overwhelmed by its beauty. Here are some of the best things to do to satisfy your Seoul-searching experience.

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1. Stroll around the royal Gyeongbokgung Palace

This famous royal palace was built somewhere in the 13th century. Do not confuse yourself with Gyeongbok and Gyeongbokgung palace because it’s the same. They said that the palace was burnt down during the invasion of the Japanese in 15th century and the restoration started in 1989. The government allotted 40-years to rebuild the palace so that means the restoration plan for this majestic architecture is still on going. This reminds me of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat which restoration started in 1986 and still in progress. Temples like these are not easy to rebuild as it takes time to perfect every single detail of it in an aim to showcase their original beauty.FullSizeRender (5).jpg

hALL WAYYou can get to there by taking subway line 3 to Gyeongbukgung Station then exit from 5. The entrance is 3000 won for adults but I suggest your purchase a combination ticket for 10000 won. It consists of passes to 5 different palaces and it’s valid for three months. For more information visit their website.

2. Travel back in time in Bukchon Hanok Village

A well-preserved neighborhood which located a few walks away from Gyeongbokgung Palace. “Hanok” is a term they use to describe this piece of this Korean architecture. The details are similar to that of Japan’s intricate tiled roofs with broad eaves. You will often see their roofed wooden gates with signs asking tourists to be silent while appreciating the village preserved by Seoulites. It’s a residential area so while the tour is free, everybody should observe a silent trip and respect the villager’s privacy.

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3. Watch the sunset from The N Seoul Tower

We arrived in Seoul in the afternoon from a long train ride from Incheon. Our first stop was the N Seoul Tower. The tower has a stunning panoramic view of the cityscape so we thought why not spend a couple of hours and wait for the sunset. I’ve read a bit of a history about the Korean cold war so that moment really revealed how far Seoul had become after the division from the north, it was peaceful and a breath of a fresh air after an exhausting day.North Seoul.jpg

The place is open from 10am to 11pm from Sunday to Friday and operates until midnight during Saturdays. The best way to get there is through a cable car. It was summer when we went there and I bet the view from the cable car would be awesome during fall. Cable car tickets are being sold for 8500 won for a roundtrip ticket and 6000 one way.

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4. Seal your promise of love in the highest point of Seoul

They said that love locks symbolize undying affection and they have it in Seoul. You can find these colorful locks attached on the fence in the N Seoul Tower, the highest point in the city. If you will take a close look at the locks you will see dedications of love mostly written in Korean. The place is spacious, cool, and colorful trees sets the romantic atmosphere of the place especially when its spring and fall.

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5. A serenity walk by the Cheonggyecheon Canal

The 3.6 mile long stream corridor became a representation of Seoulites commitment to a better metro. The beautiful canal emerged from a polluted and covered water-way when it was restored in 2007. Some of the bridges are illuminated which creates beautiful ripples of twinkling reflections in the water making it a perfect place to stroll after a long stressful day. The canal is a popular urban respite for serenity-seekers and fitness enthusiast alike.

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6. Experience Seoul Eats

IMG_1360.JPGThey said that the best way to fully immerse yourself in a new culture is to experience the local food. And South Korea has a wonderful blend of traditional flavors from soups to side dishes to snacks and desserts. I went to a hole in the wall on our first day near the N Seoul tower and the food was amazing. I ordered this pork cutlet or “Donkkaseu” in Korean served with a rich sauce, kimchi and cabbage salad and paired it off with a local beer. It was a little bit sweet, hearty, and simply memorable. I also bought a rice cake from a street vendor. They call it “Songpyeon”, a Korean rice cake traditionally eating autumn.

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In this picture is a rice cake vendor. He smiled at me and said “Picture, Picture!”. It’s a photo that says a lot about taking pride in a humble job.

 

7. Visit the tiny half-moon Nami Island (Namisum) in ChincheonSnapseed.jpg

Do you still remember beautiful tree-lined roads on some of the scenes in the famous Korean TV series Winter Sonata? It was taken in Nami Island. The place is not far from Seoul so it’s a special retreat for families and tourist. It’s a lush tiny half-moon shaped park with picturesque landscapes and stunning colorful trees (during spring and autumn) surrounded by a river. The place also has a lot of restaurants and activities from biking to water sports.

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IMG_2548How to get to Nami Island? Go to the metro station of Gapyeong and take a bus to Gapyeong Naru. Then take a 30-minute ferry to Nami Island from there. The ferry is open from 7:30 am to 09:40pm with a 30-minute interval in between trips. The general admission rate is 10000 won.

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