German Christmas Market at Umeda Sky Building, Osaka

That night was especially cold in Osaka. It was my first Christmas Eve away from home; I had always celebrated the occasion with family. That night, however, there won’t be any noche buena or wine or reunions for me.

I picked up my luggage at the hotel and made my way to Umeda Sky Building where I would catch the overnight Willer bus to Tokyo. Yes, I would be welcoming Christmas on the road. Merry Christmas to me indeed.

I enjoy planning trips, but I refuse to be overly meticulous about it. What greeted me at the Umeda Sky Building is one of the reasons why. I didn’t know that it hosts one of the city’s biggest winter events — the German Christmas Market. I was so pleasantly surprised that I felt my insides turn liquid. In my stomach were not butterflies but fairies, determined to shoo away the holiday blues that had overtaken me. For a split second, I believed in magic and all the crazy, juvenile delusions that the season brings.

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Halong Bay, Vietnam: Overnight Junk Cruise

“We’re on the wrong boat,” he shouted in utter exuberance as he turned his gaze back to the nearby junk. The other boat was having a party, complete with loud electronic dance music that reverberated onto the walls of ours. Kid — his name was Kid — posed as though he was ready to jump into the water and swim to the “party boat”, as what he called it. The only thing that stopped him was the humongous jellyfish that Matt caught earlier that night. “There might be plenty of them where it came from,” Matt warned.

“I’m right where I want to be,” I said joshingly as I climbed the stairs in search of a little quiet. This was exactly how I imagined my day would end — lying comfortably on the top deck of the boat, with a drink in one hand and a Neil Gaiman book in the other under the velvet skies. Starless — stars have become as elusive as peace of mind these days — but the emptiness was oddly therapeutic.

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Win a New Pair of Skechers GoWalk2!

Because ’tis the season to be generous, The Poor Traveler has partnered with Skechers Philippines so we could give away a pair from their very comfortable GoWalk2 line!

We’re confident that you’ll love these walking shoes as we have tried them ourselves and used them in our travels and even just everyday strolls. Lightweight, they are made of a four-way stretchable material and features a uniquely angled outsole that matches the natural walking gait to make every step comfortable and every walk enjoyable.

Joining is easy! Just do any of the following:

  • Like Skechers Philippines on Facebook,
  • Follow @skechersph on Twitter,
  • Follow @skechersph on Instagram, or
  • Answer this question: To what dream destination will you be wearing your Skechers GoWalk2?
    Use the hashtag #SkechersGoWalk and tag @thepoortraveler.

Each tweet is equal to one entry. You can tweet as many entries as you want for more chances of winning.

Skechers Go Walk Philippines

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7 Most Fun and Free Things to Do in Sydney, Australia

The city of Sydney in Australia is the capital of New South Wales and surrounds one of the world’s largest natural harbors. It was one of the first places that the British settled when, in they founded a penal colony there. Today it has a population of just fewer than 5 million, of which approximately one third were born in a country other than Australia, and is always listed among the top cities in the world for tourism.

In 2013, the city received almost half of all the foreign tourists to Australia, which played a major role in helping the city make its $337.45 billion for the year, a figure that is more than some countries make, including Hong Kong, Singapore and Denmark. Although the city makes so much money from tourism, there are still a lot of free, fun things visitors can enjoy whilst they are there. Here is a list of 7 of perhaps the most popular free and fun things to do when visiting the city.

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6 Tips to Enjoy a Leisurely Walk in Manila

Walking is that one thing I have never given up. Whenever I travel, I always make it a point to take the long, scenic route on foot, especially that walking is the only form of exercise I get these days. Even when I’m not traveling, walking has been my therapy. Manila may not be the most walkable city on the planet, but there are a lot of things to see, find, and discover.

If you’re Manila-bound, here are tips for an enjoyable bounce around the city!

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Bangkok, Thailand: The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

We almost skipped it, and it would’ve been a mistake.

Stupid as it sounds, what to wear is one thing that I usually do not pay attention to when planning for a trip. I would check the weather, directions, admission fees, but not the dress code. So basic but often gets overlooked by me. This flaw became obvious when I visited the Grand Palace.

The sign by the entrance was clear as day. No shorts. And that’s exactly what we were wearing that afternoon. A guy by the gate was renting out pants, but my thinning wallet was adamant in saying no. I proposed to my friends that we skip it and continue the temple-hopping another day, when we are better dressed; they agreed in a heartbeat. As we walked away to the pier, I felt my feet get heavier in every step. A nagging thought screamed that there might not be a next time. I halted, asked my friends to head back with me, and checked if there was a workaround somewhere. The pants vendor by the gate was forceful in stopping me from entering — “Shorts not allowed. You have to buy!” — but I waltzed into the site anyway. Good call. Visitors can actually borrow pants! A 200-baht deposit is required, but it is refundable. In no time, we were lining up for a wardrobe change.

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8 Tourist Attractions from Champs-Élysées to The Louvre: A Paris Walking Tour

With a paper plate of chocolate-banana chocolat banane waffle in one hand, I surveyed the park for a vacant seat and found one punctuating a grove of manicured trees. Sweet, I whispered as I pulled a chair and settled. The scene was just as cliché as I imagined, but, heck, I was loving it. I was enjoying waffles in one corner of the Tuileries Garden and listening to Lana del Rey while keeping my eyes on that pointy metal structure that poked the Parisian sky — the Eiffel Tower.

View of the Eiffel Tower from one edge of the Tuileries Garden
View of the Eiffel Tower from one edge of the Tuileries Garden

But the world-famous landmark would have to wait at that point. It was my first day in Paris, and the tower was not yet part of the plan. That afternoon was reserved for Champs-Élysées, ending here at the Tuileries Garden. Just in front of me was Place de la Concorde, Paris’s largest public square. The place is peaceful now. Over 200 years ago, however, it was the site of one of the most important events in French history. This was where King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette was executed by guillotine. Today, the only commotion that occurs here is that of tourists finding a good spot for a quick rest after hours of sightseeing.

My walk began at the other end of Champs-Élysées, a 1.9-km long boulevard that connects Place de la Concorde and Place Charles de Gaulle. A stroll along the famed avenue introduces many of the city’s most popular tourist spots. Here are some of them.

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7 Unusual Attractions in Paris

Paris is renowned as the City of Love. If you have been there before, you’re certainly familiar with its magnetic appeal. This is why you’ll find yourself traveling there time and again. Next time, however, do not take the same path when touring the city as part of your all inclusive holidays. Take a different path instead and uncover some of the best kept secrets in the City of Light.

These are some alternative spots to visit:

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Wat Pho: The Temple of the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok, Thailand

I was given a small sack to put my shoes in as I was approaching the door. Despite the big crowd outside, I was delightfully surprised to see the hall almost empty. Too bad it lasted for only a minute as others flooded in immediately.

Wat Pho is famed for the enormous reclining Buddha that it shelters. The 15m high and 43m long image rests inside a well-decorated hall. While I was expecting the image to be big, I was shocked to stand before a massive, massive figure. Its highly ornate feet alone are 3m tall and 4.5 m long. (Can you picture that?) The statue itself is covered and surrounded with Buddhist and Thai symbols.

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Wat Arun: The Temple of Dawn in Bangkok, Thailand

Two years ago, I was already halfway when I decided against climbing all the way to the top. The gloomy skies were starting to spit showers, and I was terrified that the floor would turn slippery any moment. The stairs of Wat Arun were rather narrow. I was as clingy to the hand railings as I was to my ex. But that’s for another story.

When I returned to Bangkok this year, I paid this temple another visit, only so I could finally reach the top level of the site’s main spire.

Located on the west bank of Chao Phraya, Wat Arun Ratcha Wararam Ratchaworamahawihan is dedicated to the second reign of the Chakkri Dynasty. Known to locals as Wat Chaeng or Temple of Dawn, it is believed that King Taksin, after escaping Ayutthaya which was attacked by the Burmese, reached the place just before sunrise. He then made the place the chief temple. It once housed the precious Emerald Buddha and the Phra Bang (another important image) which were moved from the Lao city of Vientiane.

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