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9 Things You Must Try in Japan

Maan Ting and her new husband Charles fly off to the land of the rising sun for a mini-honeymoon, getting the chance to immerse in rich culture and history, indulge in delicious dishes and experience some kawaii.

Just a week after our wedding, we didn’t have time to make a detailed itinerary, but our wedding high made us game for adventure. We took the wrong trains a couple of times and got lost a lot more times; but once we discovered Hyperdia.com and had loaded ICOCA cards, going around Osaka and Tokyo on our own was so much fun. For someone who is Type A and bordering OC, it takes trips like this to remind me that some of the most pleasant surprises come when holidays aren’t planned.


First up on our itinerary was the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal Studios in Osaka. My hubby and I are big fans of the series, so starting our honeymoon at the village of Hogsmeade with two mugs full of hot butterbeer was just magical.


Our other favorite in Kyoto, this Buddhist temple is simply breathtaking in the fall with beautiful shades of yellow, orange and red reflecting the sunlight. It’s the perfect backdrop to a romantic daytime stroll.

If you have more time, the lovely Japanese lady who owns the Ryokan we stayed at recommended the Kinkaku-ji, Riyoan-ji, Ninna-ji and Nijo Castle. Get the unlimited bus pass so you can visit them all.

Fushimi Inari-taisha

This was one of our two favorite temples in Kyoto. There are so many in the area, so if you’re only there for a couple of days (like us), make sure not to miss this Shinto shrine. The winding tunnel-like Torii path leading up to the mountain is just beautiful—and very Instagram-worthy! Going up and down the mountain was great exercise too.

Tokyo Disneyland

What better place is there to spend your birthday than at the happiest place on earth? Charles secretly bought me a birthday pass, and everywhere we went, people were greeting me a “happy birthday!”—including Snow White’s Prince Charming! We went on all the rides, even the kiddie ones. It was such a fun day with my very own Prince Charming. Hands down, it was my best birthday ever!

Tsukiji Fish Market

The second happiest place on earth! Sashimi that melts in your mouth, and salmon roe that pops deliciously with every bite. It was the most memorable meal of our entire trip—of our entire lives, even.

Maid Café

Probably the most interesting part of our trip! We ended up in a Maid Café in Akihibara since it was the nearest place that advertised free wi-fi. When we entered the store, we were not prepared for the kawaii of it all! Some things you have to do at least once—and only once!

Shibuya Crossing

Photo by Thousand Wonders

We got to say hello to Hachiko when we exited the train station, and got lost in translation and the shopping. Oh, the shopping! Start at Shibuya 109, and you’ll find clothes and shoes too pretty to be reasonably priced. It was my reward after spending the afternoon following my husband around the electronic city of Akihabara.

Coco Ichibanya

They’re everywhere, and thank goodness they are! Order the fried oyster curry and pick your level of spiciness—and the amount of rice. I love spicy food and have a high level of tolerance, but 6/10 is already piping hot for me.


Awesome yakitori, and drinks are at a really affordable price. Friends in Osaka brought us here, and then we met up with another set of friends who were living in Tokyo—they also brought us to a branch in Shinjuku!

Besides the sashimi at the Tsukiji Fish Market, the Matcha Ice Cream near the temples is definitely a must-try! There is no shortage of what-to-eat suggestions because everything is delicious, even the onigiri at 7-Eleven and vendo-meals at train stations are good.

Originally published in Zee Lifestyle, March 2015


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For Our Next Travel Destination, We Dream About Koh Samui in Thailand

Impressive views of the Gulf of Thailand welcome you at the Arrival Sala

Silent Sanctuaries

Mayenne Carmona discovers the Four Seasons Resort in Koh Samui is a quiet oasis to recharge and rejuvenate…

What does one expect from a Four Seasons Resort? Everything! Firstly, it will definitely be ranked no less than a five-star hotel or resort. Most importantly, it would not fall short of all your expectations: excellent cuisine, topnotch comfort at your fingertips in a well-appointed villa, courteous staff who offer impeccable service, and every other detail you could possibly need—down to the last cotton bud. After all, a Four Seasons Resort is always designed by a top-rated architectural team and interior designers.

The moment I stepped into the Four Seasons Resort at Koh Samui, I felt all my cares washed away by the soft waves of the bluest sea. The fresh air cleared my sinuses in no time, and the gentle breeze was a much needed caress to a tired mind and body. It was truly paradise regained for me and my friends. We were a motley group of career-oriented people who needed a much-awaited break from work, and this was the perfect choice for us.

Each Villa has a butler to cater to the guests’ every whim. The afternoon we arrived, we requested a sunset dinner by the beach, and much like a genie, our butler whipped up a romantically set candlelit dinner for six. A five-course delicious Thai dinner was prepared by their well-trained chef.

Our days were spent languishing by the beach, having daily massages, attending yoga classes, doing water sports and enjoying every bite of Thai cuisine. Golf carts transported us wherever we wanted to go within the resort. This vacation brought all my senses to another realm, and restored a weary soul to perfection. 

Four Seasons Koh Samui, I look forward to seeing you again!

Koh Samui is the third largest island of Thailand in the scenic Gulf of Siam. It is a 45 minute flight from Bangkok. Sandy beaches, coral reefs, coconut trees and abundant tourist resources make it a popular holiday destination.

For more information on Four Seasons Resort, visit their website at https://www.fourseasons.com/kohsamui/

(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s March 2016 Travel Issue, “Silent Sanctuaries” written by our columnist Mayenne Carmona for La Vie En Rose on pages 32-33.)

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Get Lost in this Not-so-distant Island Safari Paradise


Tao Philippines Crusoe-style deserted island camp paradise is perfect for those who understand the luxury of simplicity and disconnection.

by Melo E. Esguerra photography by Scott Sporleder

Just when you think Palawan is fast becoming a second Boracay, where congestion of concrete buildings and human bodies have begun to define the island experience more than the pristine beaches of white powdery sand, the Lostboys of Tao Philippines came up with a new island project that guarantees an escape to paradise. They call the island Camp Ngey Ngey.

The Lostboys have taken over the abandoned resort of Manguengey in Busuanga, a remote island in Palawan. They have kept the ruins from the typhoon and built their signature bamboo Tuka huts around the main beach of the island, which serves as the camp area. Just a short walk away you’ll find jungle trails that lead to three other wild beaches, preserved reefs and windswept cliffs encompassed by crystal blue waters. And on certain days, when the winds are strong, one side of the island becomes a good site for surfing.


Eddie Brock, one of the founders of Tao Philippines, explains how this concept of an island safari came about. “When we took over Manguengey Resort, we were stuck with the idea of how to run it. We do not know how to cater to resort guests, the individual choices and needs, and menus,” he admits. “Tao’s expertise is to show travelers something new, something more raw and adventurous. We decided that we will not worry about things we don’t understand, and stick to what we do best. One of the best aspects of a Tao trip is creating an atmosphere of connecting with other travelers, disconnected from digital clot—without the worry of planning, wallets and keeping a status. Five days out in the remoteness with the islanders in control leads to a positive attitude: guards down, inhibition is off and open to meet new friends.”

The camp is accessible through the three day/two night boat safari from Coron, with beach and reef stops en route the camp and back. Guests will be joining other travelers, staying in individual Tuka huts dotted along the beach. There are lounges, a dining and kitchen area, and open hang-out places. Currently, the big mansion from the old resort is being restored into a villa that can accommodate a family or group of friends.

The island can be reserved for big events like weddings, parties and other meaningful gatherings.

In the island, there is no room service, no menus, no WiFi. You will arrive as strangers, you will eat together, swim together, laugh together, drink together, and get to know each other offline. Become part of the magic of Tao, and see what happens!

For more information on how the trip to Camp Ngey Ngey works, log on to www.taophilippines.com


(This article has already been published in Zee Lifestyle’s June 2017 Men’s Issue, “Lost in Paradise” on pages 110-113.)

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THROWBACK THURSDAY. Our Stylish Voyage on a Boat with Loida and Richard


With hosts Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau, we take entertaining to the high seas.

by Shari Quimbo photography Steffen Billhardt

The sky was decidedly gloomy on the Sunday afternoon Loida Montesclaros and Richard Forteau invited a small group of us for a sail, the clouds getting darker as I make my way to Porter’s Marina, where the Blue Planet was docked.

“Richard built the boat himself in Cebu,” Loida explains, going on to share that he was the former honorary French consul in Cebu. “It was built here, and I designed the interiors.”

All that work certainly paid off—Loida and Richard would often sail the boat out to different Philippine destinations such as El Nido, Siargao, Boracay and the Gigantes Islands in Iloilo. These could mean days-long journeys that sometimes meant dealing with some rough seas. Quick day trips, much like the one we were about to embark on, were also a regular past time.

Loida gives me a quick tour of the boat then shows off her tropical spread. With its bright blue and white floral seating, the cabin’s dining area is already a pretty festive site. “I wanted to keep it simple,” she tells me, arranging her fresh fruits around on the banana leaf-covered wooden slabs she was using as serving trays. “And I wanted it to look more local, more tropical. We are on the water, after all.”

The bamboo slats of the dining table were the perfect backdrop to Loida’s spread, which featured tropical fruits alongside an entire roll of lechon belly, fresh lumpia, empanada and steamed shrimp.

The highlight of the table, though, was the chicken liver pate, a dish that Richard makes himself. “Luckily, the French love to cook,” Loida jokes conspiratorially.

Finally, it was time to take the vessel out onto the high seas, and the group makes its way above deck to enjoy the view. The cool sea breeze was a bit stronger than usual, something that had to do with the dark rain clouds looming above us—something that would have deterred any other group, but not this adventurous bunch. Armed with a glass of champagne in one hand and a biscuit smeared with pate on the other, many stand against the railing, admiring the sight of the sky turning orange above the Mactan Channel.

And then it starts to pour. No matter, though—as the rain pounds against the deck, the party finds its way down below. A bottle of wine is opened, and then another, while a second pot of pate is transferred on a plate. Our captain waits until the waves calm before he brings us back ashore.

(This story has already been published in the printed edition of Zee Lifestyle Magazine’s November 2016 issue as one of the Entertaining Features on pages 82-85.)

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