Derek Freal

Derek Freal

" ǝʌıʇɔǝdsɹǝd ɹǝɥʇouɐ ɯoɹɟ sƃuıɥʇ ǝǝs oʇ ǝʌol ı "
Derek is a perpetual wanderer, cultural enthusiast, and lifelong traveler. He loves going places where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, as well as places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo (supposedly its healthier and more efficient). Say Hello On Twitter!

My first year of trips back and forth to the Phils to be with my [then] girlfriend I always stayed at Mango's Resort in Subic Bay. I did this for two reasons: 1) my friend Tom is the owner and I always get a discount on my room; and 2) my ex is the boss of the morn/early afternoon shift.

For you however, I would recommend (depending on the length of your stay) either a hostel or a furnished apartment. A hostel will run you less than $10/night but an apartment will only set you back $200-$250 a month, tops. But because of what I mentioned before, I am afraid I am not able to give my usual nice listing with pics/reviews. Except for Mango's, of course.

Mango's Resort at Subic Bay, Olongapo, Philippines

Mango's Resort at Subic Bay, Olongapo, Philippines

Mango's Resort at Subic Bay

Mango's is a small establishment with only three guest rooms which are located directly over the restaurant/bar portion of the resort. The lower floor is popular with the locals (both native and ex-military) and they hold pool tournaments twice a week. But the best part is the food is fantastic and the drinks are cheap!

There is also an attached disco at the front of the resort, Rock Lobster. At eleven/midnight when the kitchen and bar closes, you are forced to get your drinks from the disco if you want to keep the night going. It's not a bad little disco, but it is small. There are several better ones within just a couple blocks.

Mango's Resort at Subic Bay, Olongapo, Philippines

Mango's Resort at Subic Bay, Olongapo, Philippines

The rooms themselves are very well done. They come with a kitchen area including mini fridge (which does come stocked with beer, soda, and water), closet, safe, and as you can see from the picture, a small living room with coffee table, extra chairs, a desk, and a large television.

View from Mango's Resort at Subic Bay, Olongapo, Philippines

View from Mango's Resort at Subic Bay, Olongapo, Philippines

View from Mango's Resort at Subic Bay, Olongapo, Philippines

Out back is a balcony that runs the whole width of the building and can be accessed via sliding doors in each guest room. There are tables and chairs there too, which make it a great li'l place to look out onto the bay or smoke a couple bowls and relax.

Jared's Thoughts On Mango's: "If you're looking for a quaint bar and hotel this is the place for you- limited rooms so book early. Since there are not scores of guests the wonderful staff spends all its time making sure you have a great stay."

Mango's Resort @ Subic Bay Official Web Site

[ UPDATE ]   As of my last trip back in 2014, my old friend Tom has partially retired and sold several of his properties, including Mango's. While the name remains the same, the attached Rock Lobster disco has been turned into a more adult-themed "Bunny Ranch" and several new suites have been built. There is also a new beachside bar.

It's More Fun In The Philippines

Let's get the basics out of the way first, for those of you new to the region (for the rest of you, just skip down two paragraphs). The Philippines is the world's 12th most populous nation, with a population of over 90 million as of 2008. An estimated figure of half of the population resides on the island of Luzon. Manila, the capital city, is the eleventh most populous metropolitan area in the world. Life expectancy is 71.23 years, with 73.6 years for females, and 69.8 years for males. Population growth rate between 1995 to 2000 was 3.21% but has decreased to an estimated 1.95% for the 2005 to 2010 period.

All together a combined 7,107 islands make up the Philippines. The country is divided into three island groups: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. These are divided into 17 regions, 80 provinces, 120 cities, 1,511 municipalities, and 42,008 barangays. A barangay is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines and is the native Filipino term for a village.

Relaxing... Filipino Style...

Angeles City

My final destination in the Philippines is always Subic and the neighboring Olongapo City. I used to fly in through the capital, Manila, which is not the most convenient thing as it then requires renting an "aircon van" for the four-hour drive to Subic Bay. Not only that, but Ninoy Aquino International Airport is old and lacking in all the modern conveniences you would find at other airports worldwide. However, there is also a new and still expanding airport in Angeles City, Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, which I use now.

DMIA was formerly known as Clark International Airport, having been expanded from the original Clark Air Base, which was closed and relinquished by the US Air Force in 1991. Not only is DMIA closer to Subic, but it is also located in Angeles City, the place to go to have fun. While in Subic women will flock to you 10-deep, but in AC the ladies will surround you 100-deep easy.

Angeles City

Yep, Angeles City -- the City of Friendship -- is truly a paradise for anyone with a love of fine Asian women. Trying to enjoy the night out and the local ladies while in Manila can sometimes get you into trouble with the law, but in AC you have nothing to worry about. Its slogan is "the city of friendship" and is the hub of the Southeast Asia sex trade, where prostitution is not just a lucrative business but a dominate industry.

The infamous nightlife scene in Angeles originally sprung up to service nearby Clark Air Force Base. The US military left in 1991 after nearby Mt. Pinatubo erupted, but a crackdown on prostitution in Manila promptly restored the industry's fortunes, and today Angeles has the biggest nightlife scene in the Philippines.

Angeles City

Balibago district is home to many bars and karaoke joints. It has of a number of clubs which fit any budget and personality. There are traditional clubs with DJ's and the live band clubs. For endless evening of dancing and pulsating music, head for the bright lights of Balibago. Fields Avenue and McArthur Highway are the places to head for go-go bars, comedy bar shows, sing-along or karaoke bars, nightclubs and drinking beer - it is a non-stop pleasure seven days a week, every week of the year!

But don't get me wrong, despite the pictures, it is not all about women in Angeles City (just mostly). Besides having a booming nightlife, the city is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination, particularly for visitors from South Korea. Its center, Balibago, is especially known for its fine restaurants, hotels and shopping malls. Within Balibago is neon-lit Fields Avenue, known for its bars, nightclubs and what may be one of the world's largest concentration of go-go bars. Adjoining Clark Freeport Zone is the site of world-class resorts, casinos, duty-free shops and beautifully landscaped golf courses. The city, and the rest of the Pampanga region, is known both as the "Entertainment Capital of Central Luzon" as well as the "Culinary Center of the Philippines."

Angeles City, Philippines

Subic Bay, which collectively refers to Subic, Barrio Barretto, and Olongapo City, is much more tame than Angeles City, although the underlying sex trade is still obvious. At any resort you stay at, come sunrise you will always see a couple girls come down from the rooms upstairs and quietly make their way out. Hell, that is how I got busted -- my ex-girlfriend works at the resort I stay at, Mango's. That's why I fly in AC first now, ha ha ha.

Subic has plenty of touristy things to do during the day, such as parasail, trek the jungle, visit Ocean Adventures, fly over the volcano, or even just shop the markets in Olongapo. But once the sun sets, the discos, the go-gos, and the bars all come alive. There are plenty of good places, such as Down Under, The Hot Zone, Harley's, Doc's, Baby One Bar, Broadway, etc -- the list goes on and on.

All the resorts in Subic border the water, either beside Mango's on National Hwy or just past it, on Baloy Beach Rd. All of the nightclubs are scattered just blocks away, along the opposite of National Hwy or scattered down the side streets. Everything is within walking distance, but there are always jeepneys and trikes available for transportation as well, just as in any other city in the Philippines.

Filipino Jeepney
The iconic Filipino jeepney -- no two are painted the same

The jeepneys (essentially small buses) were originally made from discarded American military jeeps after World War II, although newer ones have been manufactured since which still resemble the original jeepneys. They are color-coded depending on the route they follow and are most certainly the most affordable way to get around downtown. They run available 24 hours a day and it is the most famous mode of transportation throughout the country. Since jeepneys tend to be overcrowded with passengers, tourists carrying bulky luggage should consider traveling by taxi (as the joke goes, "How many people can you fit on a jeepney?" Answer: "One more!").

Trikes (often spelled 'tryks' by the locals) are nothing more than a basic four-speed motorcycle with a one-wheeled cart attached to the side to carry passengers, much like European sidecars. The trikes are slightly more expensive, but provide you with a more peaceful ride instead of being packed in 20-deep on a small jeepney. Like the jeepneys, there are also trike drivers operating 24 hrs a day. In addition, the trikes will take you anywhere, door-to-door, unlike the jeepneys, which must stick to a straight route, just like a bus. In those terms, consider a trike a taxi. Although they do have "aircon" taxis and vans in the bigger cities, they are expensive and charge by the kilometer.

A Filipino Trike
Always a quick but very bumpy ride

All in all, while there is plenty of ways to kill time and enjoy yourself in both Subic and Angeles, but it is undoubtedly the nightlife that takes the gold, always. Part of the problem lies with the fact that the only foreigners that live in the Philippines are almost exclusively ex-military, primarily American but also many Australians. Each and every one of them owns their own bar or disco, always stocked with some go-go girls. The women over there are used to having these countless older men around, and it is fairly common for a 60-yr-old American to marry a 25-yr-old Filipina. As the navy base at Subic is no longer active, they do not see the younger men like they used to. That was another reason why my repeated trips while only in my early 20s have caught the attention of all the girls there.

Take for example Hope In Heaven, a recently released documentary about a girl named Mila who "dances" at the Heaven Bar in Angeles City. Despite hating what she does, she is a working girl who dreams of an American guy one day finding her and rescuing her from her terrible life. That summarizes the dream of essentially every girl in the Philippines, and while not every girl will decide to follow Mila's path and whore themselves out as a working girl, quite a few do.

My Filipina Ex

My ex-girlfriend is a born-and-raised Filipina and she had some of the same dreams. Although she was one of the good girls, one of the "cherry girls" as they call them over there, and worked legitimately at a resort in addition to going to college. That used to put a lot of pressure on me, because in her eyes I was "her prince," a role I don't think I ever really lived up to. But in the end, it was not meant to be and we have since gone separate ways. Not a day goes by that I don't think about her though. She is the one that got away, the only girl I have ever truly loved. Anyway...

In closing, because a few of my friends question how I can put up with all these older men taking advantage of these girls, let me first say I never expected to. The very first time Jared and I went to the Philippines, we did not like it. It was poor, dirty, and in coming from Tokyo, we just did not feel like there was that much to do. As a matter-of-fact, when departing from Manila the first time, we both swore we would never return to the Philippines. How wrong we were.

My Filipina Ex

It was definitely because of my talking with Claire that I have been returning to the Philippines -- we had traded email addresses the last day of my original trip there. However, upon returning to the Phils I came to accept and even appreciate their way of life. That and I have become friends with many of the ex-military guys there, which I am sure subtly influenced my thinking. As they put it, these working girls are almost always sending money back to their home province, to help out their families, so you are really just helping the poor (call it donating to charity if you want) by spending the night with one of these ladies. Besides, the girls don't seem like whores, although to quite a few of you I am sure that will make absolutely no sense. It has to do with the Filipino culture, and the way a Filipina woman puts the happiness of her man in front of everything else, even herself. So when you do take one of these girls home, you feel more like you just met some girl downtown and are taking her home, not like you are paying for a hooker.

Be that as it may, I am not a cheater and was not about to cheat on the love of my life, even after learning that all the working girls are tested regularly and will get a pass signifying their clean health that allows them to work that night. So, your chances of taking an extra souvenir home to the missus are somewhat diminished. Additionally, if you are at one of the go-go bars and see one of the usual girls standing off to the side, not working that night...well you know her test came up positive and she is sitting her time out, taking her meds.

But despite all of this, make no mistakes: prostitution is illegal in the Philippines.

 

Statistics

  (2008 numbers, no 2009 yet) Philippines United States
Area > Land 298,170 sq km [69th of 238] 9,161,923 sq km [3rd of 238]
Population Total 96,061,680 residents [13th of 242] 303,824,640 residents [3rd of 242]
Population Density 266.11 ppl per sqkm [42nd of 256] 29.77 ppl per sqkm [168th of 256]
Largest City Population Manila - 9,286,000 [12th of 174] New York City - 16,332,000 [4th of 174]
Population Below Poverty Line 30% [27th of 46] 12% [40th of 46]
Gross National Income $80,844,900,000.00 [36th of 172] $9,780,000,000,000.00 [1st of 172]
Exports $49,320,000,000.00 [49th of 189] $1,148,000,000,000.00 [4th of 189]
Economic Importance 0.1 [ UNLISTED ] 197.9 [1st of 25]
Comparative Price Levels 14 [ UNLISTED ] 109 [7th of 30]
Technological Achievement 0.3 [41st of 68] 0.73 [2nd of 68]
Cannabis Use 1.94% [104th of 126] 12.3% [3rd of 126]
  » New Zealand comes in 1st with 22.23% and Australia 2nd with 17.93%
Oil > Consumption 340,100 bbl/day [19th of 212] 20,680,000 bbl/day [1st of 212]
McDonald's Restaurants 235 locations [13th of 39] 12,804 locations [1st of 39]
Tsunami > Foreign Tourists Missing 1 [37th of 37] 456 [6th of 37]
Prisoners > Per Capita 94 per 100,000 ppl [96th of 164] 715 per 100,000 ppl [1st of 164]
Suicide Rates 26.7 per 100,000 ppl [7th of 17] 13.3 per 100,000 ppl [13th of 17]

Numbers pulled from NationMaster

Places To Visit In The Philippines

I may have limited my excursions to the Philippines to the main island, but there are many other beautiful places to go visit all throughout the country, some more touristy than others. If you want to get a taste of the real Philippines, check out Olongapo, a great little town with an active nightlife and occasional shows or festivals at Pier One or the Freeport Zone. If you are looking for working girls, go to Angeles City. But, whatever you do, spend as little time as possible in Manila. Trust me on this one.


View Luzon, The Philippines in a larger map

Tokyo Clubs Far Surpass All Forms Of American Nightlife

Wow. That's all I can say. You cannot even begin to imagine what the clubs are like in Tokyo. They are absolutely incredible, like nothing we have over here in the west! It figures that as much as the residents of Tokyo love to drink, they should have some damn cool places to do it.

Clubbing in Tokyo, Japan

For starters, the biggest difference is the sheer size of the clubs there. Every single one is designed to span several floors, usually with different themes and different styles of music for each. Rather than have one DJ per floor there were usually multiple, sometimes as many as six or seven DJs will constantly rotate out while all sorts of lasers flare and animation is projected onto the walls, plenty of fog machines working at full blast, countless girls dancing up on various stages...but that really does not even begin to describe the scene or do it the least bit of justice.

Let's do this instead: Picture the best rave you have ever been to here in the States or even in Europe, you know back years ago when they were GOOD. Next take everything from it, the lights, sound, fog, lasers, music, the essence, every single last thing except for the plethora of designer drugs. Now drop that mass of madness into the middle of a skyscraper in the heart of Shibuya, let's say spanning across the third thru sixth floors, and well then my friend you have yourself a bonafide Tokyo club.

Most of these clubs are located either a couple floors below-ground or a couple floors above-ground, occupying a few of the lower-level floors of a commercial high-rise. All the floors will be linked by a bank of elevators but also a set or two of stairs. There is just so much going on and because often each floor is distinctly different in both decoration and music, the best way to experience it all is to keep moving around and mingle your way through one floor before heading on to the next. And repeat.

Clubbing in Tokyo, Japan

These amazing clubs do come with a price, however. The minimum cover charge you'll ever see is ¥2000 (roughly $25 USD; i.e. crappy show) and although most are between ¥3000-4000 ($35-48 USD), I did occasionally see some shows advertised with covers of ¥4500-5000 ($55-60 USD). Its not all bad though. Most of these clubs hand you a token after paying your cover, which you can then redeem at the bar for one free drink. That way you won't feel so bad about just spending $90 to get you and your girlfriend in LOL. ;)

The tokens themselves are fairly simple, usually nothing more than pieces of plastic or coins with the club name or logo on it. I brought back several of these with me actually...now if I could figure out what I did with them...

  One important tip though, at least for all you alcoholics: Through "painstaking" personal research I found out that if you display your free drink token up front, often the bartender will pour you a weaker drink, whereas not revealing it until your drink is fully mixed ensures a perfect pour. You're welcome!

Here is a handy feature and something which I am shocked is not more common elsewhere around the world, especially in regions with temperatures that vary significantly throughout the year. Every decent club in Tokyo that I explored is equipped with an enormous bank of small rental lockers immediately past the security checkpoint. Simple and traditional gym lockers, they are only big enough for a purse, a jacket or two, and maybe a set of shoes -- perfect for when the missus wants to wait till the last minute to slap on her heels or ditch them before the long drunken walk home. The cost is only ¥100 but offers a full refund if you make it back out in less than three hours. (Plus since you left early and didn't close down the club that night, you've saved even more LOL)

Not only does that make things more convenient in the winter by not having crowds in think bulky jackets trying to squeeze into an elevator pass through a thick crowd on the dance floor, but it also will help prevent anything from being stolen, misplaced, or even drunkenly left behind -- something that we have all been guilty of at one point or another. The solution is cheap, effective, helpful in multiple ways, and given how easy it is to install and implement, I am surprised that more places do not have a similar system in place.

The Sheer Level Of Service Provided At Some Of These Clubs Was Impressive!

Clubbing in Tokyo, Japan

They actually have numerous staff members who walk around occasionally looking for those super drunk girls, who are passing out while leaning against the walls or trying to lay down on the floor. The employees proceed to take them all out to the front entrance, where the entry staff is located. Out there is one guy whose sole duty is to take care of and watch out for the ladies that have had too much to drink and are completely FUBAR. He is proudly armed with roll of small black plastic bags, package of paper towels, even rubber bands to tie their hair up for them if they should happen to start heaving.

Can you ever imagine that back in the States?!? You would never see anything close to it! No one, regardless of their salary, would want to be the "throw-up guy" stuck taking care of the sick chicks all night, every night. It would just never happen. I believe that most Americans are too grossed out to help a stranger throw up in a small black plastic bag, let alone tie a knot in it for them and then toss it into the nearby throw-up can. Yes, that's right, there is a trash can for throw-up only.

But those guys at the clubs in Tokyo are all over it and I'll be damned if they don't always do it with a smile! Even if the boyfriend showed up to check on his lady, like I did one night when I noticed Mayu had been gone for too long, that proud little throw-up man would not let me help, insisting he had everything under control and to 'go back to the dance floor until I was ready to claim Mayu and leave.' It was fantastic! I pondered it for all of about half a second before saying thanks and making my way back past the lockers and towards the elevators. After all, might as well let Mayu rest and get through the worst of it downstairs while I reclaimed the buzz that I'd lost a few minutes before while hunting for her.

Now is that amazing or what? Have you ever seen or heard of service like that before? Where I come from, and everywhere I have been, its just unheard of to be that nice to strangers. But that is just one of the hundred reasons that Japan is my favorite country!

  Would you accept a job as the throw-up man? Share your thoughts below!

As I mentioned before the clubs don't open until 11pm or midnight so most do not start to get fully packed until 2am or 3am. But that last start frequently keeps the clubs open until 6 or 7am. As long as it is profitable, they won't close until the party is over. You can literally dance, drink, and party until the sun comes up. How fantastic! I would advise everyone who enjoys an active nightlife to check out the party scene in Tokyo for a week or a weekend -- but do it while still young so that you can actually hang!

Places To Visit In And Around Shibuya

The Clubs In Tokyo Will Make Your Jaw Drop

While exploring Shibuya I managed to find dozens of phenomenal clubs, cool little bars, amazing restaurants, and excellent places to shop. By day I got in my shopping and saw the cultural sights, but come nightfall I entered drinking mode. Every night I would hunt for a new club or bar to test it. I was not always successful, sometimes I would be lured in by previous haunts, but either way I got a lot of drinking done! A multitude of those venues are on the map below, for anyone who might be visiting Ebisu/Shibuya in the future.

While experiencing the nightlife of Tokyo be sure to also visit some of the big clubs in Shibuya, which are utterly amazing and very much worth investigating, despite their high cost. Club Atom is one of the clubs that I definitely recommend. We went there almost every weekend while Jared was in town visiting. It is located six stories up in this skyscraper, covers three independently-themed floors each with multiple bars, and is always packed full of cute local women! Club Harlem right next door is nice as well, but harder to get into on the weekends. The list goes on and on...

Nonbei Yokocho (Alley of the Drunkards)

And of course you cannot forget my favorite area Nonbei Yokocho, which translates as "Drunkard's Alley" or "Alley Of The Drunkards." I stumbled upon this place online and had to check it out for myself. Turns out that Nonbeiyokocho is just a few feet north of Shibuya Station. It is comprised of two parallel alleys that are home to around 50 miniature bars, usually only about 8 or 10 feet square with nothing more than four or five bar stools and a single bartender inside. Check out my photos from Non to get a better idea of just how small these bars really are.

There are a couple that are unfriendly to gaijin (durogatory term for a foreigner), but you will know those instantly as they will either not even serve you or hand you one beer but say that is all because "they are closing" or some similar excuse. If that should happen to you, no worries, just walk down to the next one and try again.

Nonbei Yokocho became like a second home to me while I was there. If I ever had a night where I was not sure what to do, I would start it at Non and before you know it the night would manifest itself. All of the best friends I made and best times I had originated from Nonbei Yokocho.

  For even more clubs check out the map below. Also marked cpl good restaurants and a universal ATM.


View Useful Places Around Shibuya in a larger map

Yep, the clubs over there are something else. Check out my article on the different locations around Tokyo for a better idea of just how much Tokyo varies from district to district. Below is a snippet from my old drunken ramblings on the original Shibuya Daze blog, provided for your amusement or, more likely, complete lack thereof:

...for any of y'all that have ever been to a rave, that is probably the closest thing I can compare it to -- but even that does not do justice to these kick-ass clubs. Let's try something: Imagine a rave, complete with a DJ, light-show, and fog machine, but now up the number of DJs to half-dozen and through in more lights and more fog machines. Take away all the people doing drugs and replace it with people getting drunk; Not too drunk though, most people here know when to stop. Now, still imagining, forget all the drama and arguments / fights that come up at raves and replace those with people all smiling, laughing, and telling stories. Now, still imagining, throw in a few huge bars offering great drinks at great prices, staffed with cute Asian ladies that refuse to take tips, and don't forget to add a couple more cute Asian women dancing up on the bar or stage. Then take this image that you have in your head, and put it on steroids, to really knock it up another few notches. That, my friends, is what all the clubs over here are like. It is unbelievable to say the least.

And, you know, while I was writing that I realized something else: in all the bars and clubs that Mayu and I have been to, we have not seen so much as one dispute or argument between people, not the slightest thing, whether it be between couples or just friends. Does not happen here. There is no drama whatsoever. Its the exact opposite of clubs back home, where there is always some drama or a fight about to break out, usually due to some drunken idiot. I am still amazed that with a city this size, and with that many people partying, that nothing happens. At least on the surface.

  Have you partied in Japan? Still thinking about a job as the throw-up guy? Apply below!

At first glance the sheer magnitude of Tokyo's sprawling railway and subway system can be a little intimidating — and by a little I mean a lot. However, have no fear, it is a lot easier than you would initially expect, even if you do not speak a word of Japanese. Huge maps and signs adorn the walls over the machines where you purchase your tickets, one bank of machines is in Japanese and another in English. By knowing where you want to go and finding it on the map, it is easy to see which color line(s) to take and then from there have an idea how much change to put into the machine.

Map of the Tokyo rail lines

First Time / Purchasing A Paper Ticket

  Near the entrance to every station will be banks of ticket machines, one set in Japanese and the other in English. Over each row of ticket machines is a gigantic map laid out in the matching language that will have all the color-coded routes on there as well as the names and locations of each stop along those lines.

My first time standing there I was no clue how the process worked but rather than stand around confused or asking for assistance, both of which would have made me look like a helpless gaijin, I just started pumping ¥100 coins into the machine there with a purpose, just bing-bing-bing, one after another. Looking back, I cannot tell you if it was a conscious or unconscious thought but I certainly approached that ticket machine like I was a man on a mission. Whether that was for my own personal mental comfort or to project the image that I knew what I was doing to the other machine users nearby.

Ticket machines inside Japan's subway system

Finally I paused to look at the machine and saw numbers increasing in value on the screen but no station names. Taking another glance at the map I realized you are supposed to follow your desired route to find the end fare and that is what I was supposed to put in. Another quick scan of the map revealed that I had accidentally inserted nearly ¥600 too much. The ticket that I needed was only ¥320 but I had deposited ¥900.

End result: the machine printed me a ticket good until the last stop of that line, far past the third or fourth stations that I need to get off at. No refunds were provided though, at least not from that machine. I'm sure customer service could have helped but ehhh, it all just sounded like too work of a bother for only a few dollars. Plus in my mind that was an acceptable sacrifice to learn the system and have a clear reminder of how the process works. After all I only spent ¥580 more than necessary, or about $7 USD. Of course Tokyo is so expensive that I was already spending on average $400-500 USD a day if I factored in the rent on my flat, which was roughly $160 a day. Plus when it is a $80-90 USD cover charge just to get Mayu and I into the club and $10 a drink after that, well you tell me now what exactly am I going to need that $7 for? I learned from the experience though. Three months later and that was still the only time I had purchased the wrong ticket. Fool me once hehehe but never twice.

  As I was saying, examine the map to determine your current location and then find where you would like to go, trace your stops and determine what the trip will cost. Once you know that feel free to begin pumping in the appropriate number of coins. The machine will spit out your ticket, just grab it and head for the platform.

  Upon arrival at your desired destination disembark and head for the subway gates with an attached paper ticket slot, which are usually located in the middle section of the reader bank (the outer devices are for Suica cards). If you failed to pay the full fare the machine sounds an alarm and the two swinging flaps close shut a la those classic saloon doors from the old American Western.

That would be a classic gaijin thing to do, so I would advise against it. I heard it happen to someone one day, the alarm at least, but I was in a hurry and had no urge to see how that process works. Having already learned my lesson once from that ticket machine a few weeks back, I came to understand the ways of the JR lines and knew that they would never get the best of me again. So why bother learning about something when I will never ever need that piece of information?

Japanese suica card

Suica Prepaid Rail Card

The vast majority of local residents and commuters have Suica cards that can be preloaded funds that allow them to bypass the ticket machines and head straight to the rail platform. After disembarking head towrds the walk-thru machines on the outer edges, as these are the ones on that have scanners for the Suica cards.

Mayu let me use her Suica card for my final month in town and sure enough it is nothing more than a debit card or toll tag. With each swipe of the card after disembarking your remaining balance is flashed on a small screen, making it a breeze to keep track of your funds. You can also check the balance at any time using the ticket machines. Once your funds have are close to depleted simply swing by the ticket machines near the entrances of every station. After inserting your rail card you can add as much or as little money to it as you would like.

Suica Outside Of Tokyo

The Suica card is a golden pass for everything around Tokyo but still serves a purpose in several other prominent Japanese cities and regions. It is accepted on all JR trains in Sendai, Niigata, Sapporo, Osaka, Okayama, Hiroshima, Nagoya and Shizuoka. However in Fukuoka the Suica card is accepted on trains, subways, and even a few selected buses.

Riding The Lines

On-board the railcars television monitors highlight the route as well as the upcoming station with visual maps in addition to speaking aloud, once in Japanese and the following time in English. Simple enough.

The JR Yamanote Line is the main one that goes in a circle around the heart of Tokyo, including many notable districts such as Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Roppongi, and numerous others. Over a dozen other lines are easily accessible via the Yamanote, making practically every destination around Tokyo quickly reachable.

  First time in Tokyo or on the Yamanote? I suggest riding the full JR Yamanote circle, which you can see in the center of the subway map. It only takes an hour, give or take two minutes, but covers 34.5km and passes through a grand total of 29 districts in 9 different wards. It is not the most exciting but will give you a great initial view of the city and help illustrate the varying aspects and distinctions between districts.
  For more info on the districts:   In Tokyo, The District Makes The Difference

Map of the Tokyo Yamanote line

Signifant Statistics

  Tokyo has had trains running through the city since the 1880s so the modern JR Yamanote line may not be quite as new as you think — it actually dates back to 1956. As a matter-of-fact only earlier this year did JR get approval to build its first new station in over 40 years! Although construction is not expected to commence until 2014, it has already been decided that the new addition will be placed in the middle of what is currently the longest unbroken stretch in the loop, the 2.2km 3-min span between Shinagawa and Tamachi stations. This will increase the total number of stations on the JR Yamanote line from 29 to 30.

  Currently an estimated 3.7 million passengers ride the single-lined JR Yamanote every day of the week, making it one of the busiest railways in the world. That is for one single line with a mere 29 stops, which means the Yamanote is also arguably the most transversed single line rail system in the world. By comparison, the infamous NYC subway carries 5.0 millon passengers a day but that is spread out over a whopping 26 lines and 468 stations. London Underground provides daily service for 2.7 million people on 12 lines and serves 275 stations.

  Shinjuku Station is the most popular stop on the JR Yamanote line, as well as the single busiest rail station in the world as certified by Guinness World Records. As the main rail traffic hub between central Tokyo and the western suburbs the station offers nearly three dozen connections and sees nearly four million people pass through it on a daily basis — but even those stats are five years old. Shinjuku district itself is a commerical powerhouse and home of the Tokyo government, making this area one of the busiest and most important districts in all of Tokyo.

  How were your experiences aboard the Japanese rails? Share your comments below!

After experiencing fresh, truly authentic Japanese food, you will never be able go back to eating the bastardized version of it at most restaurants outside of Japan.

I am really going to miss the food here more than anything. It does not even compare to the sushi back home, way different and so much better. The majority of the sushi you find in America is presented in customized into a variety of different sushi rolls, which of course are further garnished with Americanized additions like guacamole and cream cheese. In all actuality I was very surprised to not seen a single long sushi roll here like you would find at any sushi restaurant back stateside. 90% of sushi here in Tokyo is just a two-inch section of rich with a huge piece of raw fish on top, nothing else, that's it. You flip it upside down so that the rice is on top of the fish, dip the fish in soy sauce, and then enjoy.

  Proper soy sauce etiquette is key. Only a tiny bit is needed to enhance sushi. Excessive use, for example soaking, is very disrespectful to the chef as it implies that the original flavors were no good and had to be overpowered.

There are a couple individual rolls that I have found here, but they are always made one at a time and wrapped in seaweed. Inside you will find a little bit of rice and some raw fish — that's it, no other garnishment of any type. Very, very, very different from American sushi, which has all that mayonnaise and avocado and all sorts of other over-the-top additions and are rolled up into 10- and 12-slice rolls. But wow it is so much better! And better for you too.

Eating sushi in Tokyo

And then there are things you will never find in the States, like a giant bowl of squid soup. It is brought out and everyone at the table eats from it. Its just straight sliced squid and squid rings in a simmering brown sauce. But this sauce they boil it in is somehow even better than the squid itself! Mmmmm so amazing, I love it all! Well, except the octopus. The tentacles are no problem, we ate a bunch of squid with plenty of tentacles, but the suckers on the octopus are what get you. Just the texture of them... Wow I get chills just thinking about it. Once was enough. Never again.

  WASABI 101   Real wasabi only grows along stream beds in the mountain river valleys of Japan, no where else on Earth, is very difficult to cultivate and therefore also very expensive, up to $100/lb. As a result it can be an arduous task to locate real wasabi outside of Japan. In America your only hope would be to try the high-end specialty grocers. However, just because the package says it is real wasabi that does not mean a thing, so be smart!. Import companies as well as restaurants in the United States use a combination of horseradish, mustard, starch and green food coloring to create the "wanna-sabi" which you thought you had been eating all of these years. Although there is a slight taste similarity between the real and fake, it is remarkably easy to tell the difference. If you ever had real wasabi, you could spot the fake stuff immediately.

Delicious ramen noodles in Tokyo

Equally tantalizing was the ramen here; it is in a whole different league than what normal Americans would consider "ramen." That shit they call ramen in the grocery stores back home would not be fit for someone's dog here in Japan. Even the gas station ramen is light-years ahead Maruchan Ramen. Plus then they have all sorts of ramen houses, some where you can actually see the noodles being made and others where you pay a vending machine and have your bowl slide out a window. Mmmm fantastic, every single one of them! And as we found, going out for ramen is a common 4am after-club pastime.

Moving on, there is also something called yakisoba that I had never heard of before. Turns out it was originally a Chinese recipe but has since become highly integrated into Japanese culture. Yakisoba is kind of like ramen, a bowl of wheat-based noodles combined with li'l chunks of pork, carrots, cabbage, onions, salt, pepper, and — of course — yakisoba sauce. These Yakisoba shops are located all over.

Oh and don't even get me started on the miso soup, something seemingly that simple is on a-whole-nother level here in Japan than as that in America — it's superb! I am bringing back make-at-home ramen kits from this local grocery store that Mayu took me too. We got all sorts of stuff there, authentic sauces and spices, stuff I've never even seen or heard of coming here. Mmmmm...

  Bad News America: The Japanese Have Made A Better Cheeseburger Than Us

Freshness Burger
Hands-down the most amazing cheeseburger I have ever tasted! Seriously, better than any Stateside burger I've found, even $15 Kobe burgers and other expensive exotics.

I know this will sound bad but folks do you realize that one Japanese restaurant — chain restaurant, at that — has even managed to make a better burger than us? I was shocked myself, as were my tastebuds. I mean the burger is an American claim-to-fame, along with ribs and BBQ. I know, I know, what I am saying may be a little hard to swallow for some of you, but just ask Jared and he will back me up, he experienced it too.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I love food. While I've worked up to a more refined pallet now, I have definitely eaten plenty of shit in the past (I won't even try and sugarcoat it). Along the way I have tried burgers from nearly every state in the US, whether fast food chain (gag), little mom-and-pop-type shops like Burger Tex or Dan's, full-fledged restaurants like Red Robin or Mighty Fine or Carls Jr, and even chef-acclaimed five-star restaurants such as Perry's Steakhouse. Yet regretfully none of them can hold a candle to Freshness Burger, which is actually not one local restaurant but a fairly popular chain here in Japan. Last count puts it at 189 locations in this country and 20 in South Korea. However I highly suspect that the business was started by an American, partially due to the décor and music but also because deep down inside part of me still believes that whoever created this magical burger absolutely has to be American. Regardless, this restaurant chains appears to be doing well and their burgers seem equally loved among the local Japanese people as well!

My custom double-patty double-cheese Freshness Burger
My custom double-patty double-cheese Freshness Burger...mmmmm

Let me tell you, they make a mean cheeseburger. For two or three hours after your meal the taste continues to linger ever so tantalizingly in your mouth and if you are lucky and manage to burp — hehehe — well it is absolutely fantastic, like eating a second burger without the calories! Jared and I accidentally stumbled upon a Freshness Burger one day in Shibuya and from then it was on. Although I mostly ate nothing but local Japanese cuisine, once every few weeks I would eat anything not fish and not Japanese. Most of the time it was Freshness Burger. Even when it was all said and done, on my very last afternoon in Tokyo with Mayu, she and I stopped by a Freshness Burger on the way to the express train to the airport.

Freshness Burger is so far the ONLY fast food establishments that I have ever had the pleasure of eating at where the food comes to you looking exactly as it does in the picture. Yes, amazing isn't it? It is almost too good to be true, both look-wise and taste-wise, and OH how it just melts in the mouth. Apparently from what I have found the hamburger patties at all the Freshness Burgers are made from Kobe beef. McDonald's, on the other hand, uses pork exported from the US* Thanks to all our hormones and genetic engineering, the rest of the world does not want our meat. Only US restaurant chains located on foreign soil import our meat.

USA Meat Exportation Statistics

* If you know anything about USA exports and/or USA meat, you should know that American meat is unpopular around the world, even straight-out renounced in Europe. Yes, the exact same "food" many Americans eat daily. Mexico imports more than anywhere else, and when combined with Canada, the number two importer, their combined total accounts for roughly 2/3rd's of all US meat exports worldwide. Hell, in Jan 2009 the US exported worldwide only $180,000 worth of meat. By comparison, that's the amount your local grocery store goes through in less than a month! All US meat imported to Japan is solely for use by McDonald's corp and other American chains. I suspect as much is true in most of these other countries on the list — except for Mexico and Canada obviously. It's due to our hormone-overloaded genetically modified food system currently in place that the rest of the world prefers meat from elsewhere...as do I.

Anyway, I am getting distracted. The point is this: anyone who knows me will tell you that I do not eat seafood, I can't even stand the smell of simple things like shrimp. But for some reason, Japanese seafood is different. I love it all! Even stuff you would never in a million years see me eat, like squid soup and several other things that I would actually prefer not to know what they were, well I did it all while in Japan. Any and all Japanese seafood in America has been Americanized, no matter how authentic they try to portray it, trust me. But regardless of what you like, you can find something appealing here in Japan.

  Have you experienced true Japanese cuisine? What about it surprised or impressed you the most? How did it differ from Japanese food back home? Share your thoughts below!

If you should find yourself near Arenal Volcano, be sure that you visit Venado Cave, which is located about a 45-min van-ride south of La Fortuna. Officially known in the cave registry under its original local Indian name, Caverna Gabinarraca (well, what has been explored so far) consists of over 2,700 meters and is believed to have been formed about 20 million years ago.

Although these caves were not discovered until 1945 it was almost 30 years later before any extensive exploration was done. Even to this day there are still unexplored portions, as you can see from the map below.

Map of Venado Cave in Costa Rica

Any of the local La Fortna hostels / hotels / resorts / excursion companies can arrange it for you once you are in town. Hell, they will all be fighting for your business, so don’t waste time and money and extra fees pre-booking ANY excursions online. We booked through our hostel Arenal Backpackers Resort and paid $50/person despite hearing online that others were being charged as much as $70 each. Another blogger managed to arrange transportation both ways via pirate taxi, acquire supplies and pay their tour guide all for a grand total of $30 for his entire group. However that enterprising young chap was unable to fully enjoy his part in the expedition, as he was forced to translate for the rest of his group.

Bats in the Venado Caves
Bats, lots and lots of bats. Click to enlarge.

The drive up there is only 15 miles or so but will probably take around 45 minutes or so given the road quality towards the end. The final segment is slow going but then the home stretch is a glorified dirt rut and thus super-slow going. It is a pleasent Alajuela drive though, up through farm country and then past a couple small villages, and provides you with an opportunity to see a variety small houses and farms.

After arrival — well, technically upon signing of the waiver — you are provided with rubber boots and a hardhat with attached light. Just a forewarning: those who have a shoe size above 12 (US mens) may have some difficulty here. I am a size 13/14 depending upon the brand and only with water to help lubricate and the assistance of an employee were we finally able to force my boots on one at a time. They were painfully uncomfortable the entire expedition too, but I survived. Once everyone was suited up it was a brief hike past a field of cows and down the trail on into the valley below, where the first cave entrance lies in wait. All the while we struggled to listen as our guide described the history of the cave system. I was the first person behind our guide and as such was the only one able to catch more than the occasional word, so for this expedition try to get the guide with the loud booming voice if possible!

Speaking with our tour guide before entering the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Upon reaching the entrance we paused to listen to the stereotypical introduction and warning spiel from our guide, as well as information on what type of creatures we could expect to see once inside. Basically this cave includes the usual spiders, bats, and bugs, but thanks to the water there is also an assortment of fish, crabs, frogs, and other small forms of aquatic life.

Walking through the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

From the first few seconds in all the way until the end, this cave was basically non-stop amazement. I've explored a couple cave systems before but this one by far was the best! First off, they failed to mention just how much water you really see. From the start you are standing in 6-12 inches and the water level only goes up from there. Several times you are fully submerged and swimming to the next cavern. It was exciting and a lot of fun, to say the least. Definitely beat out traditional dry spelunking.

Stuck in the Venado Caves!
My buddy Jared got stuck, I laughed.

Guess who got stuck thirty seconds later?   Yup, me.

The whole thing took about an hour-and-a-half and included lots of waterfalls, stalactites, bats, and other interesting shit. Our guide showed us some interesting rocks that appear solid but are actually luminescent when hit with a flashlight, as well as others that sounded like metal when tapped (if only I could remember what they were called).

But there are also several crawl spaces that you need to make it through, so I will warn you with this: if you are taller than my 6'2" and/or weigh more than 250lbs, you probably should avoid this excursion. Even if you could make it through all the spaces, trust me, it will not be an enjoyable squeeze. I'm tall and relatively thin yet there was this one part in particular which I barely made it through.

Additionally, the caves do close periodically due to high water levels, primarily after heavy rainfalls during the wet season.

  Below are a few photos from our expedition. Been spelunking before? What is your favorite cave system?

Derek got stuck in the Venado Caves in Costa Rica

Inside the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Inside the Venado Caves of La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Kim holding a large spider at the Venado Cave in Costa Rica

Large sections of the Venado Caves are submerged and require swimming through

  Have you been to the Venado Caves before? Know of any other hidden sights worth visiting that are nearby? Share your thoughts with us!

Are you a fan of haunted places? Do you have nerves of steel? Well then, this place may be just for you -- if you also do not mind facing legal action in a foreign country. That's right, like with other haunted places this one has no shortage of myths and ghost stories, but unlike other places this one is so haunted the government of India has made it illegal to enter the grounds. I'm dead-serious. Apparently anyone who has been out past sunrise in the ruined town of Bhangarh, also known as Bhangarh Fort, has never returned alive.

The haunted Bhangarh Fort in India is not far from Jaipur

The Bhangarh Fort Warning Sign

Now there is a sign posted warning people away under threat of legal action. However the sign is not posted in front of Bhangarh as you might suspect but rather posted a safe distance away -- on the sacred grounds of a nearby temple.

Translated, The Sign Reads:

The Government of India
The Archeological Survey of India, Bhangarh


Important warning:
1. Entering the borders of Bhangarh before sunrise and after sunset is strictly prohibited.
2. Shepherds and woodcutters who enter Bhangarh area will face legal action.
3. The Kewda or Pandanus trees found in Bhangarh area belong to the Archaeology Survey of India. Is it forbidden to subject this tree to any kind of harm.
Note: Anyone flouting of the rules mentioned above will face legal action.

By order
Supervisor, Archaelogical Survey Board

Bhangarh was established in 1573 (Vikram Samvat calendar year 1631) and at its peak had a population of just over 10,000 inhabitants. But starting with the death of the ruler in 1630 (VS 1688), population began to decline and things just continued downhill from there. The last known inhabitants left in 1783 (VS 1840) supposedly vacated overnight.

As far as what exactly makes Bhangarh Fort so haunted, there are two prevailing myths.

The first legend states that the town of Bhangarh was cursed by the Guru Balu Nath, who only sanctioned its establishment under one condition: "The moment the shadows of your palaces touch me, the city shall be no more!" Years down the line, when a descendant raised the palace to a height that cast a shadow on Balu Nath's forbidden retreat, he cursed the town as prophesied. As a matter-of-fact, Balu Nath is said to lie buried there to this day, ensuring that the curse is never lifted.

The second story involves a former princess of Bhangarh, Princess Ratnavati, who was said to be the shining jewel of all Rajasthan. At that time lived a magician well versed in the occult named Singhia, who was in love with the princess but knew that it could never be as she was above his class. Then one day when Singhia saw the princess in the market, he had an idea. Using his black magic skills, he cursed the oil that Princess Ratnavati was purchasing so that upon touching it to her skin she would surrender herself and run to him. The princess, however, seeing that Singhia was enchanting the oil, foiled his plan by pouring it on the ground. As the oil struck the ground it turned into a giant boulder which crushed Singhia. Dying, the magician cursed the palace with the death of all who dwelt in it.

  Which do you think it is? Share you comments below!

Bhangarh Fort in India, so haunted the government has made it illegal to visit after nightfall!

According to the curse, whichever you may believe, it was also said that if Bhangarh was ever rediscovered, the township itself would not be found, only the temples would show up. True to the story, only the temples of the lost town of Bhangarh dot the landscape and even far up on the mountains only shrines can be seen.

Many locals and visitors alike claim that they have witnessed paranormal activities there, including eery sounds of music and dancing as well weird colored spots in photographs of some of the chambers.

Now I've come across a lot of haunted places, but I have never before seen one that even the government is afraid of. How wild is that! It's that morbid sense of intrigue that earned this place a spot on the ultimate Travel Blogger's Bucket List (TBBL for short).

  India Unexplored: 24 Incredible Offbeat Destinations

What I Want To Know Is:

Why haven't any ghost-investigation shows worked out a deal with the government?

  Other Haunted Sights In India

The Ramoji Film City, in Hyderabad, was built on war grounds of the Nizam sultans. Witnesses report the movie lights suspended up high kept falling down. Light-men who sit with the lights on top have been pushed countless times and many have had grievous injuries. But it doesn't stop there. The food left in cast rooms also gets scattered around the room and strange marks are left on the mirror in an unknown script resembling Urdu, the language spoken by the sultans. Girls are the ghosts' favorite to haunt. They tear at their clothes, knock on the bathroom doors while the outside doors are locked, and in general create mass havoc. Many preventive measures have been taken to prevent hauntings, but none have been of any use.

Sanjay Van, near the Qutab Institutional Area of New Delhi, is a huge forest spread over around 10 kilometers. There is a cremation ground also there, and many people have reported having seen a lady dressed in a white saree appearing and disappearing suddenly.

Vrindavan Society at Thane. It is said a man once committed suicide in one of the Buildings of the Vrindavan Society -- Bldg. No.66 B to be specific. Ever since the security guard's patrolling the area around have come across weird happenings. Once a guard was slapped so hard that he got up from his chair and hit the other guard who was near by him, thinking he was the one who hit him.

Dow-Hill in Kurseong, West Bengal, where the forests are damp and dark, and have an uncanny feeling. People up here tend to be depressed and countless murders have taken place. On the stretch between Dow-Hill road and the Forest Office, woodcutters returning in the evenings have repeatedly sighted a young boy walking head-less for several yards and then walk away from the road into the woods. Other than this, footsteps are heard in the corridors of the Victoria Boys School when the school is closed for long holidays from December to March.

  Visited any of these haunted locations? Know of any others? Share your thoughts!

Page 13 of 13

Login to The HoliDaze to submit articles and comments or register your blog.