About Not So Accidental Tourist

I am a lawyer based in Pasig City, Philippines. I was inspired to make this blog after my trip to Cambodia. I endeavor to make an online travel diary to record the sights, sounds and tastes of everything I experience henceforth.

Ten Tips for the Taipei Tourist

It’s been far too long since I last wrote on this blog. I am pleasantly surprised it is still available. Since then, I’ve already been to many other places, watched many other movies, which were very blog worthy but I never had the time (nor patience) to write about.

I recently realized that I must start being a media active contributor rather than being the usual voracious media consumer, as most millennials are wont to do. So, after my recent trip to Taipei, I got the brilliant idea of re-starting this blog again. Yay.

Why Taipei? First, when I was looking for a flight under the 75% off promotion of a local airline, I immediately crossed out other destinations, mainly because I have been to these other places (local and within the region) and anything else out of the continent was out of the question (even with a 75% off promo, it would still be way too expensive) so Taipei were one of the places which fit the bill. Second, I was travelling with cousins, M and C (C ended up not joining us due to work commitments – damn responsibilities always get in the way of fun!), and I wanted to go somewhere none of us had experience with. Lastly, I was so enamored with stories about how good food-tripping was in Taipei, and what better reason was there than great food. Taiwan ended up more than what we expected.

We only stayed for 3 days, 4 nights because we arrived at midnight of Saturday and left Monday evening. But those 3 days, wow, were they full. If we had more energy, we would have stuffed a lot of other activities in there, but we chose not to overextend ourselves.

My first impression: it’s a good hybrid of Japanese and Chinese. The Japanese had control of Taiwan for 60 years, but one can tell that Chinese influence is paramount (the language and script kind of gives it away). My friend’s description is spot on: Taipei is a version of Tokyo.

Without further ado, here are some tips for those thinking of going to Taipei.

  1. Get to know the subway system.

This is true for all cities with efficient train systems. Taipei is one of those. The Taipei Metro (MRT) has 5 lines, and the whole island is easy to navigate using their nationwide rail. Make sure where you’re staying is near a subway station. We stayed at Check Inn Songjiang, a mere 30s away from Xiantian Temple station.

One ride costs anywhere from 20-40 NT$, but weekly passes are available which might be useful if you feel like just staying within city limits.

While we’re at it, props to Check Inn. It may be a bit too hipster for an older person (definitely not my choice if I were traveling with the parentals) but it was warm and cozy, accessible, and cheap. Breakfast was BIG. Breakfast of Champions! Not too shabby indeed.

  1. Bring an umbrella. And sunscreen.

Again, another “the usual.” We visited mid-October, and while monsoon season was over, a week prior to our trip, heavy rains poured in Taiwan. We made sure to bring umbrellas. We did not expect that the weather would be so unpredictable! While just waiting for the bus in Bitou, we experienced: heavy rain, drizzle, intense sunshine, and clouds. All this in a span of 20 minutes. It was all crazy weather the whole we were there (which we partly blame for not having visited all the night markets. HA!) In some subway stations, free umbrellas are available (just get one and return in the next station, if you’re so inclined) but I never saw an umbrella there, so better bring your own.

  1. Send yourself a postcard.

I love getting snail mail, and I think sent postcards are an underrated souvenir. It helps if the place where you’re travelling, like Taiwan, mail service is great. Postage is cheap and post offices are very accessible. A post office was about a 2 min. walk from Check Inn, so that was great. Nevertheless, since the hotel had its own mailbox, I just stuck my postcard in there and the hotel handled the rest. Mail arrived a mere 3 days from mailing, and because I distrust our very own post office, I give a lot of credit to Taiwanese post. Cute postcards are available everywhere, but I especially love those in Jiufen and Pingxi.

Almost all Taiwanese stops also has stamps (think rubber stamp and stamp pad) so your postcards are a nice way of having all these stamps, and a real postage stamp to boot.

  1. Take advantage of the city-wide, even island-wide, free WiFi for tourists.

Yes, they have FREE WiFi! All you have to do is register at any of the Visitor Centers. Online registration is likewise available. I did the online thing before flying in, but you still had to go to a Visitor Center anyway to verify, so better do it all in one go. More information can be found here: Taipei Free WiFi and Taiwan Free WiFI

Please take note that it only works for public buildings, and not outdoors. Still, most if not all train stations have it, and it’s always handy whenever you feel like you need some guidance from the internet.

  1. Go to the Visitor Centers.

Main subway stations have Visitor Centers, where you can register for WiFi (see above) and ask for almost anything touristy. I recommend the Visitor Center in the World Trade Center/Taipei 101 Station, as they were so friendly and helpful, and spoke very good English. M and I went there to ask questions about where to go on our 2nd and 3rd days, and we got well thought out itineraries from the wonderful Piouyuiop (not her real name). They also give out maps, give ideas as to what to eat and where to get them, fastest routes and times of buses and trains, and all sorts of information a tourist might need to navigate Taipei and beyond. Very useful indeed, especially if you have no idea what you’re doing.

  1. Be carefree and ride a bike.

Taipei has a bike sharing program called YouBike and for just NT$5 you can get one of the orange bikes lined along the streets and ride for 30 minutes, then return the bike on any YouBike rack. You can explore lesser known neighborhoods and get in some exercise while on vacation. Just make sure you ride safely (I didn’t see bikers wear helmets and knee pads, but sure, you can do that for safety) and on the right side of the road. From what I saw, Taiwanese drivers are fairly disciplined but since there are many bikers and motorcycle riders, one just has to be extra careful. Also, make sure you pre-planned your route, especially if you can’t speak and read Mandarin.

  1. Skip the mandatory “city tour.”

Because we booked our accommodations through a travel agent, we were subjected to a mandatory city tour, which went to the Presidential Palace (just the front), Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, Martyr’s Gate, a “local temple”, “handicraft store,” and the National Museum. From these, only the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, Martyr’s Gate, and National Museum are worth a visit. There are so many other things in the city that merits a go other than the “local temple” and store. I regret not visiting the Longshan Temple and Ximending, the oldest temple and the premiere shopping district. I kept putting it off, thinking that because of its popularity, it will surely be part of the tour. Apparently not, as it was in a totally different side of the city. Still, I feel like they are worth the visit.

Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, Taiwan’s version of the Lincoln Memorial, opens at 9am. If you get there in time, you’ll see the changing of the guard ceremony. Same goes for Martyr’s Gate. The changing of the guard ceremony in the Martyr’s Gate is much more spectacular, though, as the soldiers walk the full length of the temple to the gate to do the change. It’s longer, yes, but deserves the wait. The National Museum is also worth the visit as it houses nearly 700,000 pieces of ancient artifacts. Entrance to the Museum is at NT$250.

  1. Taipei 101. But be prepared.

Taipei 101 is the ultimate icon of the city, overshadowing every other landmark, and for good reason. It towers over the city in such a magnificent scale, it’s very easy to see why that’s all some people know about Taipei. Going there is easy enough, thanks to the subway, but a gameplan is a must to fully make use of your time in that district. Note that the building also has a 5-floor mall (with a nice view of the top) attached to it, and an office tower, so there’s really much to see and do in the building. Not to mention the numerous other malls around the area.

You can go to the observatory, of course, but you can also explore the restaurants (and Starbucks) on the 86th floor. For that though, reservations are a must.The building also has a nice food court, stores to buy the famous pineapple cake and other local delicacies to bring home, and a grocery, for more mundane stuff. Plan wisely, so you can still have time to line up along with everyone else at the building’s Din Tai Fung (located near the subway exit).

  1. Go outside the city.

While there are so many things to do and places to see in Taipei, exploring beyond the confines of the city would do you well, too. Beitou is technically still within the city but it is in the outskirts, and is a good place to go to relax and experience the Taiwanese hot springs. Yangmingshan National Park is also worth a visit for all nature types out there, as is the Taipei Zoo and Maokong (tea farms). M and I chose to go to Jiufen and Pingxi (jump off point is Ruifang), about two hours travel time from Taipei. Jiufen is an old community by the mountainside in the east part of the island, which is the jump off point to get to the Golden Waterfall, etc. Jiufen Old Street is chockfull of street food and souvenir stores as well. Pingxi, on the other hand, is along the old coal mine rail, as is Dahua, famous for its cat cafes and other cat-related novelties, and Shufen, just two stops away from Pingxi. In Pingxi and Shufen, the most famous activity is releasing lit lanterns to the sky, where you can write and draw all your heart’s desires. We went there just when all the shops are about to close (not a bad idea as you can see the lighted lantern go up, and it was a full moon, so it looked extra special) but you wouldn’t be able to see and do anything else. Going in the afternoon might be better so you can still explore and go to the Shufen waterfalls. Another day trip to consider is the Taroko Gorge, a bit farther south from Pingxi.

  1. Fear not the street food.

Finally, the main reason why we went there: FOOD TRIP! While of course xiao long bao is a must try in Taiwan, as is their milk tea and shaved ice desserts, street food is the way to go. And the best way to experience these gastronomical delights is to explore the night markets, which abound. Try Rahou, the oldest, and they have pork buns, seafood, beef soup, braised pork rice, name it. Other street night markets to try are the Shilin Night Market (get off at Jiantan station, not Shilin station), and those markets near Longshan Temple. Those who are picky about food and fussy about presentation need not try. This is one big culinary adventure.

Xiao long bao recommendations include Hangzhou and Jin Din Rou. Not to mention, the very famous Din Tai Fung. I got the recommendations when I asked the people manning the Visitor Center: If you were to eat XLB right now, where would you go? I’m sure their answers would go beyond DTF every time.

Taipei street food scene is very interesting, and language is definitely a barrier. Just point and it should be fine. Just be ready to be surprised!

All in all, Taipei, and Taiwan in general, really surprised us! We did not realize the great number of things we can do and taste there. It would’ve been better if we planned more and used our time more efficiently, but still we got to do a lot of new things. It was a great trip, to say the least.

Here’s our itinerary:

DAY ONE

8am: Breakfast

930am:  Ride subway to Beitou – transfer to Xinbeitou

1030: Beitou hotsprings,

1pm: Lunch at Mankewu Ramen, ride subway from Xinbeitou to World Trade Center/Taipei 101

2pm: Taipei 101

630pm: Rahou Night Market

DAY TWO

7am: Breakfast

830am: subway to Taipei Main Station, train to Ruifang

11am: Ruifang going to Jiufen

4pm: Jiufen to Ruifang, catch train to Pingxi

7pm: Pingxi to Ruifang

835pm: Ruifang to Taipei Main Station

DAY THREE

7am: Breakfast

8am: City tour (Presidential Palace, Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, a local temple, handicraft store, Martyr’s Gate, National Museum)

1230: Lunch at Golden China buffet (there’s a back story here)

2pm: Taipei 101 (again)

330pm: Din Tai Fung, Taipei 101

5pm: To airport!

Overall expenses: less than PhP 27,000.00 (US$550), including airfare to and from Manila, food, and souvenirs.

My June-July Movie Report

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote about what I have been watching, and it’s high time I do that again! It’s just weird that I am writing in the middle of the month, but I have to do it lest I forget again. Picking up from where I left off, here are my movies 139 onwards:

139. The Impossible

140. Moneyball

141. Jack the Giant Slayer

142. Beautiful Creatures

143. Die Hard

144. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie

145. The Apartment

146. Man of Steel

147. Jaws

148. The Goonies

149. Zack & Miri Make a Porno

150. Chocolat

151. Before Sunrise

152. Before Sunset

153. 21 Jump Street

154. Kung-fu Hustle

155. Wanderlust

156. Clerks

157. Trainspotting

158. Wild Child

159. Vicky Cristina Barcelona

160. The Campaign

161. Groundhog Day

162. Chinatown

163. In the Heat of the Night

164. The Dictator

165. Dodgeball

166. In the Loop

167. Admission

168. Role Models

169. Monsters University

170. Despicable Me 2

171. Monte Carlo

172. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past

173. Before Midnight

174. Le Prenom

175. Olympus Has Fallen

176. Employee of the Month

177. When in Rome

If you can see a pattern, you must be crazy. There is no pattern. I just watch what I feel like, and it’s messy. But it’s fun!

6 Ways Successful People Stretch Their Comfort Zones

Business & Money


This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources, and insights to entrepreneurs and business ownersThe article below was originally published at Inc.com.

Everyone has a so-called “comfort zone.” You know what I’m talking about: that mental space you live in where there are boundaries and you feel a sense of emotional security with your work and your decision making.

What distinguishes successful people from everyone else is what they do with their comfort zone. There are those who are perfectly happy staying warm and cozy in this safe box they’ve built; and then are those who constantly push and test the limits.

You already know which person goes on to be a successful entrepreneur.

(MORE: 3 Signs You’re Meant to Be a Leader)

Now I’m not suggesting that the comfort zone is a bad thing. It’s there for a reason: to…

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Eurotrip Step 1: VISA

So this is what’s keeping me busy these past few months. We’re planning a Eurotour!

My high school friends N, MM, M, C and I are going to Europe this August! It’s C’s wedding, you see, and she’s getting married in Mettray, France. So the three of us based in Asia, N, MM and I, decided to go on a Eurotour after the wedding. Too bad S can’t join us. M, on the other hand, will be coming from San Francisco.

We hatched this plan in January, and made plans since. MM and I went to the Manila Travel Expo last February and managed to buy roundtrip tickets to Paris from Manila for USD828.10 with Malaysia Airlines! At that time, the exchange rate (USD-PHP) was just in the 41-42 level, so it was just about PHP33k (however, with credit card charges, I think I paid PHP34k. Here’s a tip, local bank issued credit cards have a lower charge for USD purchases). We’re planning the whole trip ourselves, so we used Booking.com for our hotel bookings. I have to note that our flight booking can be cancelled (for a fee), which was great because at that point we didn’t know whether we will be granted visas.

As Filipinos, we know that probably the hardest part in planning a trip to Europe (apart from saving enough money, of course) is getting a visa. So this post details what MM and I did to get our visas.

In the travel expo, we went to the RAJAH TRAVEL booth and inquired. I also called up other travel agencies but we decided to go with Rajah.

The Schengen visa allows you to enter the 27 countries of the European Union with only one visa. You have to get the visa at the country where you will be staying longest, in our case, France. 

I managed to talk to Regina of Rajah, and she gave me all the requirements for the French visa, which are the following: passport, filled out application form, 2 passport sized pictures with white background, letter of intent, certificate of employment stating the position, tenure, gross annual income and approved leave, bank certification, credit card statement, income tax return, travel insurance, hotel certificates, and flight itinerary. I asked Regina if she could schedule me for an interview, and she asked for a scanned copy of my passport and application form. With these two documents, I was scheduled for an interview in 3 weeks, or on 20 May 2013.

A week before my interview, I was asked by Regina to submit all the other documents. The lacking documents, I just scanned them and emailed them later. The reason for this is that they will arrange the documents and check if there was anything lacking. 

On the day of the interview, I was requested to meet the Rajah representative Carlo 30 minutes before my appointment at Starbucks in Pacific Star. He was busy! Apparently, he was assisting 9 other interviewees that same morning. Anyway, what he did was give us the visa fee (which was prepaid to Rajah when I submitted my documents), and the documents which were already neatly arranged in an envelope. He explained that there will be 2 submissions of documents and the papers were already segregated.

So we (I was scheduled with two other Rajah clients, cousins B and B) were escorted to the French Embassy. We entered and were given a number for the payment. The waiting room was packed, but there were seats for almost everyone. There were 5 windows, with window 4 acting as the “cashier” window, and the others were “interview” windows. You can actually hear some of the conversations between embassy official and applicant, which is good, in a way, because you can prepare. The number was called, and we paid and gave the first set of documents (which included the application form, travel itinerary and hotel vouchers). We sat down again and waited for our names to be called.

When my name was called, I gave the second set of documents (financial and work-related), and my fingerprints and picture were taken. The embassy officer (I think she’s Filipina) asked only the following questions: (1) So you work at the —-? (2) And you work there as —? (3) Who are you travelling with? (4) Why were you not interviewed together? <to which I answered “She had difficulty arranging her interview” – which was true! MM was scheduled for interview the following week>. I thought I did well, I mean it wasn’t really a tough interview. I authorised Rajah to get my passport and visa for me, which I got the following week , 29 May. I was granted a 2 month visa. 

My total cost (visa fee, service fee, and travel insurance) is PHP9,377.08.

RAJAH TRAVEL is located at Gercon Plaza, Makati Ave., Makati City. You can contact Regina at +6328940886, or email them at documentationmkt@rajahtravel.com.

Movie catch-up time!

Wow. It has been a while! I really cannot explain what happened, it’s just time went by so fast, that I was not able to update (even my travels). Also, I have not been good at the watching movies bit.

From March to present, I was unable to keep up with my schedule. We had relatives from US stay over, and we also had to take them around, so March and April was crazy-busy. May, I did not really have an excuse, I just got lazy I guess. Anyway, here is my list. I think I would not be able to meet my quota by year-end. I don’t know, let’s see.

58. A Few Good Men

59. Chungking Express

60. The Searchers

61. High Noon

62. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

63. Unforgiven

64. Rise of the Guardians

65. Smashed

66. What to Expect When You’re Expecting

67. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

68. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

69. Month Python: Life of Brian

70. Anna Karenina (2012)

71. Playing for Keeps

72. Gone Baby Gone

73. Star Wars: A New Hope

74. Run Fatboy Run

75. American Beauty

76. Taxi Driver

77. Vertigo

78. RED

79. Silence of the Lambs

80. No Country for Old Men

81. Shutter

82. Dazed and Confused

83. Gangs of New York

84. This is 40

85. Brother Sun, Sister Moon

86. Hot Tub Time Machine

87. The Girl Next Door

88. West Side Story

89. Being John Malkovich

90. Cirque du Soleil: Worlds Away

91. Grease

92. Dark Shadows

93. It Takes a Man and a Woman

94: Stranger than Fiction

95. The Back-Up Plan

96. The Master

97. Requiem for a Dream

98. Inglourious Basterds

99. Memento

100. It’s a Wonderful Life

101. Prometheus

102. The Guilt Trip

103. Ironman 3

104. Happythankyoumoreplease

105. Up in the Air

106. Burn After Reading

107. Shame

108. Movie 43 (super thrashy comedy. It’s SOOO BAD, I say this should be BANNED)

109. To Kill a Mockingbird (watched the same day as Movie 43, to compensate for my dead brain cells)

110. The Grapes of Wrath (still compensating)

111. Leap Year

112. Sullivan’s Travels

113. Psycho

114. Back to the Future 1

115. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

116. Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

117. Lawrence of Arabia

118. The Paperboy

119. Hable con Ellan

120. Seven Samurai

121. I Give it a Year

122. Pineapple Express

123. Tootsie

124. Thank You for Smoking

125. Warm Bodies

126. The Best Years of Our Lives

127. The Rise of the Planet of the Apes

128. Crash

129. Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

130. Oz: The Great and the Powerful

131. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

132. The Treasure of Sierra Madre

133. Moonrise Kingdom

134. Leon: The Professional

135. Road to Perdition

136. Skyfall (unexpected Sam Mendes day – with Road to Perdition)

137. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (something all lawmakers should watch)

138. Wings of Desire

Whew! So there goes my mid-year update haha. Next entry, I’ll talk about what kept me busy these past few weeks, my Eurotrip!

February 2013

It was such a weird month for me, I went to several wakes and there wasn’t much to celebrate this February. Also, I failed to reach my quota of 28 films for the month, due to my crazy busy schedule. Nevertheless, I still managed to watch an impressive amount for the month. Oh, and I signed up with GetGlue, so I can track down the movies and shows I watch.

Anyway, here are the movies I watched last month. As always, it was a mix of the old and the new, as well as a hodge-podge of genres. I’m thinking of making a proper list so the genres are mixed well, but I’ve got no time to do that now. There was a point where I managed to watch a whole slew of sci-fi films, that was crazy, but I enjoyed it a lot. I can now confidently play Game of Nerds (SciFi movies category) haha!

– Toy Story I
– The Big Lebowski
– The Giant Mechanical Man
– His Girl Friday
– Date Night
– Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
– Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
– The Princess Bride
– An Affair to Remember
– The Philadelphia Story
– Shakespeare in Love
– Driving Miss Daisy
– The Graduate
– Meet the Robinsons
– 2001: A Space Odyssey
– All the President’s Men
– Blade Runner
– A Clockwork Orange
– Cloud Atlas
– Wreck-It Ralph
– Metropolis
– Hot Fuzz
– Frankenweenie
– The Hangover II

Oscar Movie-time!

The latter half of January was just as productive for me, movie-watching wise! Again, it was a weird mix, I actually watched what suited my mood at the time I was watching. The last few days of January, however, were dedicated to watching the nine movies nominated for Best Picture in this year’s Oscar awards. Anyway, here’s a list of what I watched this second half of January:

– On the Waterfront
– A Streetcar named Desire
– Waiting for Superman
– The Wizard of Oz
– The Five-Year Engagement
– Sunset Blvd.
– Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark
– Hotel Transylvania
– Les Miserables
– Life of Pi
– A Dangerous Method
– Little Manhattan
– Lincoln
– Argo
– Star Trek (2009)
– Django Unchained
– Beasts of the Southern Wild
– Zero Dark Thirty
– Amour