5 TIPS in Getting a Tourist Visa for South Korea

kor

Annyeonghaseyo!

Yup! I was bitten by the KDrama bug and the obvious offshoot … a nagging feeling to go to South Korea.  I did go last February!

Here are 5 useful tips when getting a tourist visa for South Korea.

TIP 1:   YOUR NEW BESTIE:  THE TRAVEL AGENCY

The visa application is free if you go directly to the Korean Embassy. You just need to submit the requirements to their office in McKinley, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City and pick up your passport (hopefully with visa) on the date they say so.

But, if you are an employee like me, you might want to consider getting the assistance of a travel agency.  Just submit the documents to them and they’ll do the legwork for you. At a PhP1,000 per head, my husband and I realized the big savings in tapping a travel agency than taking a leave of absence from work for 2 days (1 day to submit, 1 day to pick up).

Check this link for the various types of visas available for South Korea and the corresponding requirements.

If you’ll have a travel agency assisting you, get the list of requirements from them.

  • Check the reasonableness of your travel agency’s requirements.  The initial agency I contacted required a birth certificate, which the Korean Embassy does not require for the kind of visa I was applying for. In the age of identity theft, be careful about giving out personal data or documents.  So I contacted another agency, which thankfully have consistent requirements with the embassy.

TIP 2:  THE APPLICATION FORM THAT YOU NEED TO FILL OUT NEEDS TO BE PRINTED ON A4 PAPER SIZE (210mm x 297mm)  and NO ERASURES PLEASE.  I repeat, A4 paper size and no erasures. I repeat, A4  paper size and no erasures.

TIP 3:  YOU NEED BANK CERTIFICATES AND BANK STATEMENTS FOR 3 MONTHS.  No surprise there. However, a good rule of thumb, is to have P10,000 for each day that you will be in South Korea — in your bank account. Of course, the more the better.

  • Call your bank and ask what you need to get the certificates and statements, the charges for them and the turnaround time.

TIP 4:  VISAS ARE EFFECTIVE FOR 3 MONTHS, USUALLY.  So make sure you don’t get overexcited and apply so early that your visa expires before your planned travel dates — Visa processing turnaround time is about 7 working days, 5 working days in some cases where you have valid visas and arrival stamps to OECD countries for the past 5 years.

  • The 34 OECD member countries are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

TIP 5:  DO NOT BOOK A FLIGHT BEFORE YOU GET A SURE VISA. Well, actually, this depends on your risk appetite. I am a risk taker so I booked a flight before I even got into preparing my visa requirements. Cebu Pacific had a promo that saved me PhP8,000 in fare.  But I prayed hard to get a visa and it paid off.

Anyway, this is just the 1st part of a series about South Korea.  I’ll post tips or insights in the next ones.  🙂

 

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Tip on Getting More From Your Starbucks Card

I got into collecting Starbucks mugs when the global coffee giant started operating in Manila way back in the 1990s. This interest soon fizzled out because, let’s face it, Starbucks mugs aren’t that cheap; not to mention that I stayed away from coffee because of my gastro issues.

Lately, however, I have rediscovered my taste for coffee, particularly the Starbucks’ fraps. A fascination with its Cards — with all the interesting designs and “limited edition” marketing kinda fueled my Saturday-after-school-let-me-have-my-venti-frap habit.

So I have been collecting the Cards and to preserve their “collectible” conditions, I transfer the loads to just one card, which gets swiped, scratched and, generally, battered.  However, doing so, have made me lose out on having the complimentary grande drink which comes with every Starbucks Card purchase. After doing this for some time, I realized it isn’t that smart. Consumer-wise, of course.

So what I do is buy a new card and register it to https://starbuckscard.ph/sbcard/index.php?/start/register using my legit email addresses as well as those of my husband’s. I wonder what I’ll do when I run out of email addresses. Suggestions?

The catch, however, is that I have to use the Card when I redeem my complimentary drink. It breaks my heart when the cashier swipes it instead of taps it. But then again, a small scratch versus a complimentary drink. Hhhmmm. As a consumer, that’s hardly a toss up. If someone knows that collectible cards are raking in so much, please let me know so it would be easier to forego the drink.

Note:  Starbucks markets the Card with a COMPLIMENTARY DRINK. What is my beef with this? I’ve grown knowing that FREE is a great word. But NO, Starbucks opts to use COMPLIMENTARY when saying FREE would essentially mean the same — read: yeah,  no cash out. People love the word FREE as much as they love the word SALE. But, Starbucks appeal to lifestyle and to the “soshal”/ “konyo” mentality in people that saying something is for FREE would make us look “trying hard” and not just quite “in”. To most consumers, using COMPLIMENTARY is appealing not just on the financial level (Yay, it is free. No cash out.) but also on the self-esteem level (Hey look, I am carrying a Starbucks drink. I can effin afford.)  In general, COMPLIMENTARY has a nicer and more sophisticated ring to it.

Just my opinion. 🙂

Sisa’s Secret

Another reliable restaurant. It is a sister resto of the famous Crisostomo that is located in Nuvali, Sta. Rosa. The food is Filipino without the fancy names like Ensaladang Erehe. It is just ensaladang mangga.

Do not expect a Crisostomo atmosphere. This is more canteen-like. About 10 tables that would accommodate about 4 person each. The rates are a tad lower than Crisostomo but none the lesser in terms of flavor if the tokwa’t baboy that I ordered is any indication. Yummy!

There is a Florabel corner in the resto which sells light eats…like cakes, salad, home made ice cream etc. There are also bottled food like crab paste and tuyo fillets. There are also frozen foods like lasagna. 🙂

Now, this one I don’t understand…there are a hodgepodge of imported snacks being sold like Jacobs saltines, ritz bits, oreos etc. like a sari sari store in Another corner. I don’t have a pic of it though.

Also, it is just weird to see canteen food containers. It is kinda tacky.

Sisa’s is located at the Caltex Station in Mamplasan along SLEX southbound. 🙂 Enjoy the pics.

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Japanese People

So I arrived in Japan last Tuesday morning. That would make today my 6th day in Japan.

I have a lot to post about this visit and I intend to do it in chunks so as not to overwhelm readers.

This first blog is about Japanese people.

I am a Filipina. If you know world history, you’ll know that Filipinos suffered in the hands of the Japanese during world war 2. There was hunger, abuse, maltreatment and deaths. Some older Filipinos have these dark days imprinted on their memories. Some of those who fought during the war or lived through the war have horrible memories that live in their subconscious and surface out through nightmares once in a while. Some of them must have ingrained dislike of the Japanese and, yes, they have the right to. I totally respect that.

I was born 30 years after the war, more or less. All I know of Japan is Voltes V — of course, that is aside from the war topics in history class.

With all due respect to the men and women who were traumatized by the Japanese in the 40s, let me say that, based on my visit, Japanese people are very nice. In the past few days, I have sought assistance from them and they really tried their best to help me. But, the language gets in the way. Most of them speak very little English. Sometimes I think they get equally frustrated as I am when they can’t articulate what they want to say. Seriously, I felt their sincerity. But, no worries, I survived through drawing or pointing like show and tell sessions.

Goldilocks: Cake by the Slice

I can’t buy the whole cake because no one in the house is into sweets but me. How many times have I thrown half-consumed cakes or ice creams? Too many to count. That said, I appreciate Goldilocks’ cake by the slice or in singles, whatever!

Black Forest
Black Forest

At P85 per slice/serving (that’s roughly, US$2), it is reasonable and effective enough to quell my cravings. Contis, another source of cake by the slice, has cakes priced at this level and higher.

Fork for perspective.  Expiry date on the side.
Fork for perspective. Expiry date on the side.

Are they comparable? In my opinion, Goldilocks is more commercial than Contis. I can’t say which one is more delicious, technically. Or my palette is just not too discerning of flavors. But my own perception is that Goldilocks is regular while that of Contis is premium. In those terms alone, my brain would suggest Contis tastes better. But as I’ve said, they are just both cakes to me.

half done. look at the icing.
half done. look at the icing.

What they have in common, though, is the very thick icings on their cakes. To my estimate, the proportion of icing to the cake is somewhat 3:1. Is it more expensive to make the chiffon or the icing?

Aside from Black Forest, I think Goldilocks also have a Peach Mango Mousse variant — and it looks promising, yay! The packaging is impeccable, if you ask me. Maybe they should throw in a small fork for ease of consumption. 🙂

Overall, my singles experience was delightful.

Terrazas de Punta Fuego and Canyon Cove

Drove to Nasugbu. Daytrip at Punta Fuego and overnight at Canon Cove.

Terrazas de Punta Fuego

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Terrazas de Punta Fuego has been hyped largely because of the name and affiliation to CLUB PUNTA FUEGO. Once you enter the property, you see rolling landscapes and dream houses overlooking the deep blue sea.

Pluses

1. Nice cabanas made of concrete and hardwood and furnished with very decent wooden/rattan furniture, plush cushions and throw pillows.

2. Great infinity pool with depth of about 4.5 ft and adjacent to 2 smaller pools for kids. Big and sturdy trees provide shade for swimmers. The tile color provides a picture perfect water.

3. It has a beach just in case the pool gets too crowded.

4. Resto and a juice bar. You have to take the stairs to get to the resto … about 25 to 30 steps. The cabanas, being on just one side of the resto means that the farther you are from the resto the longer you have to walk to get a drink. The Juice Bar displays are all drinks with alcohol.

5. Changing rooms come in ordinary and airconditioned types. The airconditioned changing room, Mexican-styled I think with the nice Malaga tiles — has a lounge area and lockers that one can rent for about P50/day. I didn’t use the ordinary changing rooms because, frankly, I didn’t think they were clean.

6. Shower areas are all over the place.

7. There are lifeguards by the pool.

Minuses

1. I had the impression that the ordinary changing rooms weren’t clean.

2. It shares the beach with 2 other resorts — left and right.

3. Beach water was dirty and some who dared swim swore the water made them itchy.

4. The proximity to the other resort — there was just a make-shift fence that divided Terrazas with the adjacent resorts. People from the other resorts can crossover to Terrazas. And there I was thinking it was all so private.

5. Its share of the beach is too short.

Canyon Cove

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1. Really big pool divided into 2. One with depth of 4.75 ft and shallower one for the kids.

2. Clean beach — shore and water.

3. Longer shoreline.

4. Very private as there are no adjacent resorts. Thank God!

5. Grill Resto right by the pool and beach where you can order anything grilled and where sodas and water are for sale. Very short walk from all cabanas.

6. Cabanas have water proof furnishings — metal and plastic.

7. One changing room near the swimming area — can’t say much cause i didn’t go there.

8. Has a hotel where you can stay overnight.

9. Restaurant operated by Max.

10. Shower areas everywhere.

11. Lots of lifeguards by the pool — who also police those people who are not wearing proper swimming attire.

12. Rooms have an extra bed where 2 kids less than age 10 would probably fit. The bathroom is large and done in marble. There are toiletries — never mind the brand. Great shower pressure too.

13. Beach/pool towels are available for borrowing.

14. Lots of lounge chairs by the pool area! 🙂

Minuses

1. Pool has next-to-nothing shade. There were 2 islands with a very tall palm tree each. You have to position yourself “strategically” to get some of that shade.

2. The breakfast buffet, priced at P350/pax, leaves a lot to be desired. There were fried rice, plain rice, tuna flakes, longganisa, pork adobo, scrambled egg. There was a cereal corner — 2 kinds of cereals. There wa a beverage corner — coffee and tea — NO JUICE. There was a fruit corner — sliced watermelon. That’s it. But I guess, you don’t need to have heavy breakfast before swimming. I dunno.

3. There were 2 companies having their summer outing in the place. By near noon, the pool were swarmed by loud people — some of them wanting to swim in basketball shorts and T-shirts. WTF!

4. The ceiling of our bathroom has molds creeping all over it. Ew.

5. Very unromantic cabanas. Unromantic but practical. 🙂

BOTTOMLINE

If I were to go to Nasugbu right now, I’d go to CANYON COVE. Sure it doesn’t have the Fuego name. But, one must not confuse Terrazas de Punta Fuego with Club Punta Fuego. Honestly, the Punta Fuego I had in mind was that of Club Punta Fuego. So my expectations were sky high. That said, Terrazas was a disappointment. I didn’t like the beach and the potential “crossover” from the adjacent resorts sort of freaked me out. Actually, if you were in Cabana 12 — the farthest cabana — you will be overlooking the huts of the adjacent resort — not to mention the people there. I don’t want to sound snooty but hey, you give it a Punta Fuego name … so my expectations about “privacy” and “exclusivity” were really sky high. If there was something nice about TPF, it has to be the pool. 🙂

I like Canyon Cove sans the throng of visitors. The affordability — overnight deals go for P2999 while daytrip fees (include welcome drinks, am/pm snacks and lunch) to Punta Fuego is at P1,500 — opens it to a lot of people. Large groups can potentially get rowdy and cheapen the place, somewhat. Other than that, I love the pool and I love the beach. Since my tummy is too picky …a reliable resto like Max’s surely is a big plus.

On the downside, making reservations to Canyon Cove could be hell. When I was doing reservations, their 10 contact numbers were always busy. Seriously. Almost missed the May 19 date if not for the help of Angela. The place is always booked!

IMO.

ps. Both places have great employees. Very pleasant and approachable. Typical Batanguenos! 🙂

Nail.a.holics

I went to the Nailaholics for a very much needed pedicure. My last visit was almost a month ago and with my wedding anniversary in 4 days .. I was in need of serious “kikay time”. 🙂

1. Buyers Beware. I dropped by Nailaholics in Nuvali and planned to have the Water Drift Foot Spa that is worth P420, according to their flyer. Although, the desk clerk told me they hiked the price to P520 when I was already seated — with legs up — in one of their couches. I just thought they should shred all the unupdate flyers which still lie on their counter.

Unupdated Flyer
Unupdated Flyer

2. Too Good To Be True. I was told I could opt for the promo package which consists of: Pedicure, Manicure, Foot Spa and 20 minutes of Foot Massage all for P850. This appealed to me because of the savings — only, now that I had time to sit down and calculate that I realized that the savings was just about P50, more or less. In my case, I didn’t think I saved anything at all because the massage wasn’t even 20 minutes.

left leg deadsea salt scrub
left leg deadsea salt scrub
right leg deadsea salt
right leg deadsea salt

3. Needs An Encore. The Water Drift Spa uses dead sea salt scrub for legs (knee down) – this takes about 10 mins max to scrub off. Head to head, I actually prefer CANS’s (California Nails Spa) Signature Foot Spa because they use a sloughing scrub thingy that takes about 20 mins or more to scrub off. My legs actually feel so squeaky clean and dead-skin free after. I didn’t have that feeling with Nailaholics, sorry.

4. Plus plus. An additional P40 is charged for polish for fingernails OR toenails, doubles to P80, of course, if you’ll have polish for both fingernails and toenails. I don’t know if I remember this right but CANS charges only P20. But, since I was already paying P850, P40 or P20 seemed a non-issue.

On the plus side, I love the following about Nailaholics:

1. Ambiance. Since I am a fan of the beach, I find the beach theme cute.

2. Comfort. The spacious and deep couches plus pillows are very comfy. Combined with the blues, greens and teals, one can can feel very relaxed. New walk-ins are given 2 pillows and once service is done the attendants clear off the pillows. ALTHOUGH, I don’t know how “fresh” these pillows are. I am not sure if the cases are changed after each customer. So, I am not really gung-ho about using the pillows.

3. Personnel. My attendant was so nice. She was so patient with my indecision about what color of nail polish to put on. Although, I honestly think she shortchanged me in the foot massage part. Just to be fair, I didn’t time the massage thing per se. But, I have a good sense of time to know that the massage lasted shorter than 20 minutes. The other customer who started earlier than me had not even finished the foot massage and I was there already in the next phase of the process. So, it’s either my attendant gave me a short massage or the other attendant gave the other customer a longer massage.

Bottomline, I got my nails cleaned and polished. Black for my fingernails and periwinkle-ish for my toenails. Not happy with the promo. I think the amount of the package would just equal the amount if I got the services separately. Clever promotional ploy, at best.

gotta love my kikay nails
gotta love my kikay nails

Would I go back? Only because there is no other choice in Nuvali but if I have the time, it will be CANS. Even the waxing area in CANS is better — spacious and well-lit.

There is only one aspect where Nailaholics is better than CANS, in my opinion. Nailaholics doesn’t have the overpowering smell of acrylic. Although, despite being bad for my health, I love the smell of acrylic — same as the intoxicating smell of rugby.

Nuvali: A Secret No More

I have been living in Sta. Rosa for more than 2 years now. Because I don’t want to pay the toll or spend for gas, I stay and shop within the Sta. Rosa area.

Before, Paseo de Sta. Rosa was the “in” place. It was the typical hang out place which offers the basics like National Bookstore, Starbucks, Yellow Cab, Jollibee, Kanin Club, Tips and Toes, Davids, Speedo outlet store, Mercury Drug, and right across the street, the relatively new South Supermarket plus a few other establishments like more restos and spas.

I used to come here often for lack of anywhere else to go until Nuvali opened. Back in late 2010, there were few establishments and there were few people hanging out. National Bookstore originally occupied the space we know now as Starbucks. But for some reason it relocated elsewhere. My hunch? Business wasn’t that good. But, if they stuck it out for a few more months, then they would have seen the improvement in people traffic.

Personally, I think that Nuvali is for the upper crust. For sure, one needs a fat wallet to dine at restos like Crisostomo, Brothers Burger, Contis and Italiannis. The omnipresent Jollibee and McDonald’s are nowhere to be seen. Across this “original” Nuvali (not sure if this is called Solenad I) is Solenad (is this Solenad II) which has also grown popular in such a short period of time. Payless, Stoked, Krispy Kreme, ALDO Liquidation store (50% to 70% off all the time), Toast Box, Serenitea, Breadtalk, Gerry’s Grill, Bo’s Coffee, Purple Oven, Frutti Froyo and Army Navy are but a few of the nice places one can visit. Oh, and Hotel Line from where I buy relatively cheap but nice kitchen and dining stuff is here too. There is a Robinson’s Supermarket and a True Value — of course, smaller than their Manila counterparts — but entertaining (hahaha) enough. Service stores are still few and include the Bench Fix Salon, the iSPA and Nailaholics. When I go there on weekends, there are usually stalls selling shawarma, hotdogs and pita sandwiches. There are pasalubong stuff (of course, Nuvali is in the province) and, would you believe, plants — pines, figs, poinsettias among others.

The popularity of Nuvali may not be totally hinged on the number of establishments since compared to Paseo de Sta. Roxas, it definitely has fewer. I must say it has gotta be the quality (or exclusivity) of establishments and the place itself.

For me, the charm of Nuvali rests on its concepts of space, minimalism and eco-friendliness. Who wouldn’t want to see greens (and more greens) plus a manmade lake which one can experience by boat — though for a fee. If you want to get some sun, try visiting Nuvali and you’ll have an unobstructed access to UV rays. Having said that, be sure to linger under the sunshine until 9am or 10am at the latest then hit Serenitea for refreshments.

Additionally, Paseo de Sta. Rosa looked somewhat cramped while that of Nuvali looked so spacious and airy. On the many occasions that I was there, I saw families having picnics, children playing frisbee or tag and a lot of couples taking leisurely stroll and still a lot of wired teenagers taking photos at every interesting corner in Nuvali — yes for Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare etc. purposes.

Despite the sudden deluge of visitors — yes, I had seen Nuvali like a ghost town — I hope Nuvali maintains its easy and laidback charm.

One thing worth saying is that Nuvali’s popularity has messed up traffic in the vicinity somewhat and parking has become a prep for the amazing race. It’s kinda sad that Nuvali is going mainstream. It scares me to think that it would become too trite. In which case, I have no choice but to go further south for quiet and refuge. That would take me to Tagaytay.

From Plastic to Brown Bags

I totally support this SAVE THE ENVIRONMENT philosophy.  

Everyone has been using plastic bags for the longest time…in groceries and in shopping, especially.  I think it is safe to say that establishments have had their share of transition pain with regard to the transfer to brown bags or whatever reusable bags.

Personally, I have had my own share of headaches with these brown bags.  Some tear easily, some have bottoms that were not sturdy enough to hold a sandwich, some have been too thin they dissolve with a drop of precipitation (and yes, your saliva probably).  In the end, consumers would ask for double packaging to ensure that what they bought would safely make it home.  Hell, i hate to pick up groceries in the middle of  the parking lot. 🙂  Maybe establishments thought that they can get away with settling for cheaper (hence substandard) bags.  But the double packaging probably cost them more.  These days, I see more and more brown bags made of thicker materials and sturdy bottoms (that is, the bottom flaps are glued together securely). 

Now, my major pet peeve about these brown bags are their lack of handles.  It wouldn’t work with most groceries but what about for other items? Consider this.  Yesterday, I went to Robinson’s Metro East.  I bought a new table cloth and some place mats.  These items were all packed in one brown bag and since the place mats are longer than the length of the brown bag, a 10th of the mats are showing  at the open end of the bag. I actually asked for a larger brown bag but the bagger told me that that size was the biggest (doesn’t look like it though).   It would have been okay because my purchase was relatively light BUT I had to pick up take-away food from a nearby resto which also uses brown bags without handles. 

So there I was scurrying to the car like a mouse because my arms and my hands felt like giving up any minute with the combined weight of my puchases. I can’t help but think it was much easier with the plastic bags when you can hold all your purchases together in one hand because they have handles and, boy, were they sturdy!

Just a thought, there are biodegradable plastic bags available.  In fact, I buy these types for lining my trash bins. Ocean Park stores has been using such bags when I went there way back in 2006. Maybe establishments in Manila could give it some thought. I mean, they should be consumer centric, right? 

It is incumbent upon the establishments to provide packaging for items bought from them.  Don’t tell me that I have to bring my own shopping bag. That would be my option.

Online Purchases

I wasnt a fan of buying online because of various scares such as phishing, hacking or info theft.  This all changed, however, when I bought a kindle e-reader which requires online purchases from Amazon. I recently bought an ipad and, yes, i have to buy in the iTunes store. Hence, more online purchases.

As a matter of security, I only use my corporate credit card (i.e. one that is issued by the company as part of my compensation).  The credit limit for this card is the lowest (i.e. P15,000 thereabouts) among my credit cards so if hell happens, such as unauthorized purchases from thieves, my exposure or liability would be manageable unlike using my personal credit card with a limit of P100,000, right?

Soon, i think buying online would be the norm.  Might as well be open about the idea.  But, remember security measures such as what kind of credit card you use.  Also,  be sure the site where you are buying from is trusted or using various security measures such as encryption and stuff. Think verizon and paypal.

If I can help it, I’d stay away from ebay. My friend has been vicitmized a lot of times. For instance, receiving substandard products (i.e. scratches and washed out color) for shoes that were so mighty photogenic. Worst experience,  when she downed P9,000 for an ipad which already has a confirmed shipping receipt..only to find out that the seller recalled the shipment the moment the money got credited into his/her account.

Be vigilant. 🙂