The imposing Osaka Castle (Osakajo)

OSAKA CASTLE PARK, JAPAN: Toyotomi’s Dream

Daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi did not want a castle. No, he did not want just a castle. He wanted a castle modeled after his predecessor Oda Nobunaga’s headquarters but grander in every aspect. He wanted the grandest castle in Japan.

He knew what he wanted. And he had it done.

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The changing of the guards begins!

The Changing of the Guards at the MARTYRS’ SHRINE, Taipei, Taiwan

There was urgency in his voice as our tour guide pressed us to hustle into the shrine grounds. It was past 4pm and the site would close in an hour.  Like obedient kindergarten kids, we swooshed out of the bus and into the front gate.

The Main Sanctuary of the Shrine
The Main Sanctuary of the Shrine

The National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine (or simply Martyrs’ Shrine) lies on Chingshan Mountain along the Keelung River. Built in 1969 in the Zhongshan District of Taipei, this memorial houses “spirit tablets” of around 390,000 individuals who lost their lives during the many wars that Taiwan fought including the Sino-Japanese War and the Chinese Civil War.

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Irawan Beach, San Vicente

IRAWAN BEACH: The Soft Stunner of San Vicente, Palawan, Philippines

I watched my friend Brenna bury her soles in the supple ground as she waltzed her way to the end of the cove. She was not looking back, not even once. Her eyes were fixed to the glowing dunes that make up a mini-mountain range by the shore. Behind her, a trail of deep footprints. I shook my slippers off and followed her.

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The wave-patterned mosaic floor of Senado Square

Feast and Facades: A Walk from Senado Square to Ruins of St. Paul Cathedral, Macau

It was supposed to be a short walk. But it was impossible to not take the time.

My senses were overloaded upon crossing Avenida de Almeida Ribeiro. Distinct and impressive facades delighted my eyes. The clanking of the shoes on the mosaic ground was music to my ears. And the scent of pork chop buns that some tourists held while wandering around gave me more motivation to explore the area.

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Our ferry!

HOW TO GET TO LANGKAWI from Kuala Lumpur by Sleeper Train and Ferry – Malaysia

The overnight sleeper train to Langkawi from the capital is set to leave at 9:20 pm and arrive at Arau Station, the stop closest Langkawi, at 8:00am. I’m sure there are other ways to do this but this is how I did it so this is what I’m sharing. So here it is — a detailed guide on how to reach Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur airport by overnight sleeper train.

Our first glimpse of Langkawi!

First things first: It would be best to book in advance especially during peak season. If not, well, you can always take your chances at KL Sentral.

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Hong Kong Island's stellar skyline

HOW TO GET TO AVENUE OF STARS from Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Station on Foot – Hong Kong

A trip to Hong Kong is never complete without a stop at the Avenue of Stars. That’s why it is no wonder this spot is packed with tourists day and night. Lying along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade, it provides incredible views of the Hong Kong Island skyline and Victoria Harbor. More about the Avenue of Stars here.

The most impressive transportation system in Hong Kong is its expansive and interconnected MTR lines. Getting to any part of the city is much easier via the MTR. The same can be said about the Avenue of Stars, even though it still requires a little bit of a leisurely walk.

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The superstar is here: The Peak Tram

HOW TO GET TO VICTORIA PEAK from Tsim Sha Tsui by MTR – Hong Kong

The Victoria Peak is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Hong Kong. It allows breathtaking panoramic views of Victoria Harbor. More about Victoria Peak here.

The best way to get there? By the iconic and historic Peak Tram, of course. From the Lower Terminus located along Garden Road, getting to the Peak is easy. But getting to the terminal, that’s the confusing part.

Most budget hotels and guesthouses in Hong Kong are in Tsim Sha Tsui, an urban district in Kowloon. If your hotel is located here and you wish to get to the Victoria Peak, here’s a quick guide using the city’s expansive MTR system and the iconic Peak Tram.

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The Avenue of Stars facing Victoria Harbor

THE AVENUE OF STARS: In the Mood for Love in Hong Kong

Most of my time stargazing that night was spent looking down.

They say that the best place to watch Hong Kong’s Symphony of Lights is the Avenue of Stars, running along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade along Victoria Harbour. This synchronized exterior lights and laser display features 44 of the city’s imposing buildings in both the Kowloon and Hong Kong sides of the harbor. Accompanied by music, this spectacular multimedia show happens every night for 10 minutes starting at 8pm.

Hong Kong Island's stellar skyline
Hong Kong Island’s stellar skyline

Unfortunately, staying true to my name, I was a little too late. It was over by the time I got there. Poor me.

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Victoria Harbor from the Peak

VICTORIA PEAK: Surreal Perspectives from Hong Kong’s Highest

The ride in itself was quite an experience, but it wasn’t until I had a good look of Victoria Harbor that I knew I had done what I came to Hong Kong for.

My first trip to Hong Kong was almost perfect. I was able to cross out all the items on my must-visit list except one thing — Victoria Peak. So when an opportunity to return came knocking on my door, I knew exactly the first thing I would do.

The superstar is here: The Peak Tram
The superstar is here: The Peak Tram

At 552m, Victoria Peak (or Mount Austin) is the highest point in Hong Kong Island. (Tai Mo Shan, at 957m, is far taller and is the highest in the entire territory.) Rising on the western end of the island, it offers the best and the most breathtaking views of the iconic Victoria Harbor, one of the world’s finest and busiest. No other place that is easily accessible can be a better vantage point for witnessing the vibrance and the energy of this Asian metropolis, especially at night. Its actual summit is closed to the public but the surrounding residential area and parks are what the moniker “The Peak” refers to today.

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Paintings!

CHIANG MAI WEEKEND MARKETS, Thailand: Cravings and Creativity

If there were a contest among night markets in Asia and the main criteria were diversity and artfulness, Chiang Mai would have it in the bag. While Taipei’s Shilin boasts a smorgasbord of Taiwanese street food and Malacca’s Jonker Street teems with cute souvenir trinkets, Chiang Mai’s weekend markets have virtually everything. Everything!

Saturday Night Market
Saturday Night Market

Armed with very little expectations, I was shocked to discover that they had almost all the foodage and the goodies that I usually craved for. On one end was a sausage stall and on the other was a sushi kiosk. And in between were two wide-ranging lanes of delightful items — edible and otherwise — that made me let out an endless train of cheers! Oh hey, fresh fruit shakes! Vintage notebooks! Look, hand-painted shoes! Ooooh, barbeque! Wow, fried quail eggs? Oh the man is playing a tune with, wait, are those wine glasses?

See? Everything. But what really got me were two things: the tasty food and the equally tasteful art.

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