travel tips

Collection of My Best Travel Tips as Pinoy Solo Backpacker as a Fun-Hiker with Philippine Passport only (based in the Middle East as an Overseas Filipino Worker). To all those who visited this awesome places already, let's assist our Kabayans fulfill their wishlist / check their bucket list.

Collection of My Best Travel Tips as Solo Backpacker with Philippine Passport only

01. ANTARCTICA (9 days Expedition Tour / my 1st cruise travel and my 7th continent)
02. LEBANON (3 days DIY Solo Trip / my 13th UN country)
03. EGYPT (5 days Eid Season DIY Solo Trip / visited during Islam holidays and my 14th UN country)
04. MT. KINABALU (4,092masl) (2 days Timpohon Trail / my 4th UN country and 1st major hike abroad)
05. ISRAEL (7 days DIY Solo Trip / my 27th UN country)
06. MT. KILIMANJARO (5,895masl) (6 Days Machame Trail / my 36th UN country and 2nd major hike abroad)
07. MT. FUJI (3,776masl) (2 days DIY Solo Yoshida trail / my 17th UN country and 3rd major hike abroad)
08. TRANS-MONGOLIA TRAIN RIDE not so (28.5 hours) (10 days DIY Solo Trip / my 39th UN country)
09. IRAN (7 days DIY Solo Trip via Persian Gulf / 53rd UN country)
10. EVEREST BASE CAMP (5,364masl) (18 days DIY Solo from Jiri / 4th major hike abroad)
11. ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT (5,416masl) (16 days DIY Solo / my 54th UN country and 5th major hike abroad)
12. JEBEL SHAMS, OMAN (2,997masl) (2 days DIY Solo / my 56th UN country and 7th major hike abroad)
13. UGANDA - RWANDA (3,711masl) (my 57th/58th UN country and 8th major hike abroad)
14. TRANS-SIBERIA TRAIN RIDE (6 days and 7 hours) (12 days DIY Solo / my 59th UN country)
15. MT. RAMELAU, TIMOR LESTE (2,963masl) (4 days DIY Solo /my 60th UN country / 9th major hike abroad)
16. CAPE TOWN TRILOGY DAY HIKE (5 days DIY Solo / my 61st UN country, and 10th major hike abroad)
17. NORTH KOREA (DPRK) (5 days Group Tour / my 65th UN country)
18. CENTRAL ASIA VISAS (my 62nd, 63rd, 91st, 97th and 98th UN country)
19. PATAGONIA ARGENTINA (11 days DIY Solo / my 105th UN country and 11th major hike abroad)
20. AFGHANISTAN (Weekend DIY Solo / my 107th UN country)
21. EASTER ISLAND (RAPA NUI), CHILE (my 110th UN country)

7 Days SoloBackpacking in Summer Uruguay - Chile (Easter Island / Rapa Nui)

My Easter Island Travel Tips (Philippine passport holder and my 110th UN country)
Date Visited: Jan. 24 to 30, 2020          Budget: $1,302

01. Best to visit during summer (Nov. to Mar.) 
02. In Santiago airport, there is special Immigration Police booth in the domestic terminal exclusively for Easter Island flights only. Please ensure to comply requirements below as they will check / confiscate some stubs issued in exchange along the way.
02.a Entry form - should be filled-up completely and printed. There is a free printer in Santiago Airport (SCL) located in the Information Booth in front of LATAM airline check-in counters.
02.b Confirm arrival and departure flights
02.c Confirm accommodation
02.d Chile tourist visa only (maximum of stay is 30 days)
03. For entering two of the most interesting sites (Rano Raraku and Orongo), visitors must show a national park ticket, costs 60 USD, lasts for 5 days and is sold at the CONAF office at Mataveri (Hanga Roa). 
04. Based on my experience, 2 days minimum is enough to enjoy the island and best to stroll via mountain biking. Bike rental costs rental 12,000 CLP for 24 hours with 6,000 CLP deposit.
05. It is best to hike the Rano Kau Volcano viewpoint (630masl) via Orongo Trail / 3.7km (250m)
06. Your itinerary and flight schedule in/out of Easter Island should be flexible as there will be high probability that the flights are delayed. On my case, both my in/out flights were delayed. 

Budget Solo Week-end Trip in Winter Afghanistan

AFGHANISTAN... Share your Tips and Stories
My Afghanistan Weekend Travel Tips (Philippine passport holder and my 107th UN country)
Trip Description: Budget Solo Week-end Trip in Winter Afghanistan
Date Visited: Dec. 20 to 21, 2019          Budget: $615
Visa: Philippine passport holders need to apply first before travel
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2020/01/budget-solo-week-end-trip-in-winter_6.html

01. Best to visit during winter (Nov. to Mar.) 
02. Immediately on airport exit, there are money exchangers with staff who speaks English. I grab this opportunity to ask for any local car with driver for day tour hire. I negotiated for 4,600 ($60), they initially asked for $100.
03. I asked the money changer staff to tell the driver to bring me to the best tourist landmarks in Kabul including the Paghman Garden and Lake Qargha. 
04. On my domestic flight going to Herat, there was a sudden earthquake when I was at the bording gate.
05. I stroll Herat on self-guided walk only. Lots of military and its very safe.

11 Days Solo Backpacking in Summer Argentina (Patagonia Hiking)

ARGENTINA PATAGONIA... Share your Tips and Stories
My Argentina Patagonia Day Hike Tips (my 105th UN country, Fun-Hiker and my 11th major hike abroad)
Trip Description: 11 Days Solo Backpacking in Summer Argentina
Date Visited: Nov. 15 to 22 and Nov. 30 to Dec. 02, 2019          Budget: $1,400
Visa: If holder of valid US / Schengen visa, Philippine passport holders are eligible to apply for E-Visa
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2019/12/argentina-patagonia-self-guided-day.html

01. Best to visit during summer (Oct. to Mar.) 
02. No registration fees and guide not required (trail is well recognizable). Hydration and sun protection is a must.
03. Among the established Argentina Patagonia trails, the famous are Laguna Torre and Laguna delos Tres. 
04. Laguna Torre was my 1st day-hike; moderate, against the continuous rain, 19km return trail for 7 hours under 3'C
05. Laguna delos Tres was my last day-hike; hard due to 1,100m elevation gain on the last phase, 22km return trail for 9 hours.
06. I confirm Patagonia trail views are better than in Himalayas (I spent longer in Himalayas trails).
07. I failed to hike the Chilean Patagonia last Jan. 2020 due to underestimated and limited bus schedules. Even so, it's very expensive also compared to Argentina Patagonia.

Five Countries of Central Asia (Stan)

CENTRAL ASIA (STANS) VISAS... Share your Tips and Stories
My Central Asia Solo Travel Tips (Philippine passport holder and my 62nd, 63rd, 91st, 97th and 98th UN country)
Date Visited: 2018 to 2019
Visa: Philippine passport holders are eligible for on arrival / E-visa
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2019/08/how-to-apply-for-central-asia-tourist.html

01. Best to visit (Mar. to Sep)
02. For Kyrgyzstan, Filipinos are visa upon arrival, 30/90 days single entry for $50/$100 (Requirements: Return Ticket only)
03. For Tajikistan, Filipinos are eligible to apply for E-Visa (45 days single entry for $50) (Requirements: Return Ticket, Hotel booking)
04. For Uzbekistan, Filipinos are eligible to apply for E-Visa (45 days single entry for $50) (Requirements: Return Ticket, Hotel booking)
05. For Kazakhstan as of Sep. 2019, Filipinos are now eligible on visa upon arrival (Requirements: Return Ticket, Hotel booking)
06. For Turkmenistan, visa need to apply before travel and requires Letter of Invitation (LOI). To avoid LOI which is very hard to find and expensive online, what I did was I applied for Transit Visa via Embassy visit (5 days single entry for $35). Requirements are Employment Certificate, passport size photo, residence visa copy. 
07. Turkmenistan Transit visa is allowed only if your intended flight is accepted by the embassy staff. On my case I chose Turkmenistan - Kazakhstan (but was subject for interrogation before the staff accepted). Ensure to study the flight route as the staff is well-informed of the flight availability.
08. Once your flight route is accepted together with the verification of the other required documents, the Embassy Staff will create the Letter of Invitation (LOI) for you. Please note that I visited the embassy for four times due to laziness of the staff. (lots of excuses, I'm the only non-Turkmen that time, patience is really a virtue! But I appreciate he apologized after the 4th visit)
09. This LOI together with your documents will then be submitted to the Consul for approval. Wait for minimum of 10 days then call the Embassy first. Approval fee costs $10.
10. Once your visa application is approved, you will then pay $25 for the visa sticker.Transit visa is allowed only for a maximum of 7 days single entry.
11. Because of this Turkmenistan Transit Visa, I roam Ashgabat freely in my own (self-guided). 
12. Turkmenistan is one of the least-visited countries in the world due to a complicated visa regimen. 

5 Days Group Tour in Summer North Korea (DPRK)

NORTH KOREA (DPRK)... Share your Tips and Stories
My North Korea Solo Travel Tips (Philippine passport holder and my 65th UN country)
Trip Description: 5 Days Group Tour in Summer North Korea (DPRK)
Date Visited: June 12 to 16, 2018          Budget: $1,952
Visa: Philippine passport holders need to apply before travel
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2018/06/5-days-group-tour-in-summer-north-korea.html

01. Best to visit (Mar. to Jul.) 
02. Tourist travel to North Korea is only possible as part of a guided tour (through a travel tour agency). Independent travel is not permitted. 
03. I availed the service of KTG / KITC travels. All my queries and concern are discussed in email conversation. Planning should be at least more than a month before the intended visit in North Korea due to reservation issues and visa processing.
04. The tour almost covered everything. I only brought around 120 Euro as my pocket money for expenses for extra refreshments, souvenirs and guide tips. It is recommended to bring cash in both EUR and CNY bills.
05. Same on my Transmongolia trip, I did again the 24-hour Transit Without Visa (TWOV) of China Beijing Airport. There was no difference on the process, even though I arrived early morning in Beijing last time. On lane of 24-hr transit in Beijing airport, I just showed to Immigration Officer my outbound ticket (both going to Pyongyang and going to Abu Dhabi).
06. DMZ (Panmunjom) is considered as one of the highlights of DPRK trip. Escorted by a DPRK soldier who will show us the blue negotiation rooms run across the line itself; half of each room being located in South Korea the other half on North Korean soil. Photography and Video taking is allowed inside the area. I confirm DMZ experience in DPRK is much better than that in SK (visited both). 
07. Aside from DMZ, the other highlights of the DPRK trip are Mansudae Grand Monuments (two giant bronze statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il), Arch of Triumph (larger than in Paris), Juche Tower (170 metres high monument), Pyongyang Metro (one of the deepest metro in the world with beauty of its mosaics and gigantic chandeliers) and Reunification Monument.
08. Bringing DPRK currency outside of the country is not allowed (I still brought some as my personal souvenir, can't help it).

5 Days Solo Trip in Summer Cape Town, South Africa (Table Mountain Peaks)

CAPE TOWN TRILOGY DAY HIKE... Share your Tips and Stories
My Mt. Cape Town Trilogy Day Hike Tips (my 61st UN country, Fun-Hiker and my 10th major hike abroad)
Trip Description: 5 Days Solo Trip in Summer Cape Town, South Africa
Date Visited: Feb. 06 to 10, 2018          Budget: $823
Visa: Philippine passport holders need to apply before travel
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2018/02/4-days-solo-trip-in-summer-south-africa.html

01. Best to visit during winter (Sep. to Nov.) 
02. I have my personal challenge Triple Day Self-guided Solo Day Hike in CAPE TOWN's TABLE MOUNTAIN THREE PEAKS (Devil's Peak, Table Mountain and Lion's Head). I did this to maximize my time on this area, save UBER ride fees and to challenge my signs of aging.
03. No registration fees and guide not required (trail is well recognizable). Hydration and sun protection is a must. I have only less than a liter drinking water on the entire hike wearing only a shirt and casual shorts. Challenge successful. 
04. Devil's Peak is the first part, 2nd difficult trail and 2nd highest among the three peaks. I finished the return trail hike around 3.5 hours with more than 600m altitude gain. The trail is not that steep, rocky, sandy and very exposed to radiation. 
05. Table Mountain has the most difficult trail and the highest among the three peaks. I finished the hike from ascent on around 3 hours with more than 600m altitude gain. The trail is very steep, rocky, and very exposed to radiation.
06. Lion's Head has the easiest trail and the lowest among the three peaks. I finished the hike from ascent on less than 2 hours with more than 200m altitude gain. The trail is smooth, requires some ladder, chain, stapel, and exposed to radiation. 
07. I contracted one of my UBER rider for a road trip journey to Cape of Good Hope from Cape Town City Center for a day from 0800H to 1700H passing by the picturesque landscape / coastal side of Cape Peninsula. I negotiated the whole day private road trip for 1,000 ZAR ($83.7) excluding our entrance fees to tourist spots (if required).
08. Attended Ultra Cape Town Music Festival that features famous DJs like Afrojack, Armin Van Buuren and Hardwell.
09. On my last day before airport departure, I visited the District Six Museum where it portrays the history of Apartheid and its effects on ordinary people through an intimate look at their personal stories.

4 Days Solo Trip in Rainy Season Timor Leste (Mt. Ramelau 2,963masl) 

My Mt. Ramelau Hike Tips (my 60th UN country, Fun-Hiker and my 9th major hike abroad)
Date Visited: Dec. 03 to 07, 2017          Budget: $545

01. Best to visit during winter (Jun. to Sep.) 
02. I hitch-hike again going to the mountain's jump-off (same with how I arrived also on Oman's highest mountain)
03. As there was not much information regarding this mountain doing on self-guided itinerary, I did on the spot research for my accommodation and trail signs. 
04. From Taybesi terninal, go for transport truck fare of $3 for 4-hour journey to Maubisse. Then transport truck again to Ainaro for $1 fare drop-off to Hatobulico jump-off road. Motorbike hitch while walking inside. I asked the driver for cheapest accommodation and he brought me to Pousada Guesthouse (dinner included). 
05. I started to hike at 0245H early morning while there was a continuous drizzle. At around 0400H, I passed through 2 trails with both dead ends (fogs were getting thicker, clouds getting dark). At 0500H I decided to back-out at 2,250masl. Arrived back in guesthouse at 0630H.
06. For side trip, visit the Timor Leste's signature landmark, Cristo Rei (Christ the Redeemer). Ride a microlet #12 coming from Dili City Center, $0.25 for one way, around 20 minutes travel time. Free admission, there is around 20 minutes to walk from the base to the statue.

12 Days Solo Backpacking in Summer Russia (Trans-Siberia Train Ride)

My Trans-Siberia Ride Tips (based in Middle East and my 59th UN country)
Date Visited: Aug. 25 to Sep. 01, 2017 (train sked)          Budget: $1,600 for the whole trip
Train Ride Time: 6 days and 7 hours (Moscow time) 

01. Best to experience in summer between May to Sep. 
02.  If you make the Trans-Siberian route by train and sleep on it, the train ticket would be equivalent to the visa registration (always keep a print-out ticket in hand).
03. Evening upon confirmation of my Russia tourist visa, I booked my one-way non-stop ride ticket 3rd class seat (platzkart) 16,636 Rub ($287) from Moscow to Vladivostok (6 straight days) which was around 2 weeks before my Moscow arrival. The available open slot in 3rd class  was only 11 (1 on lower which I availed), 5 open slot in 2nd class while 2 in 1st class (summer season is peak season).
04. Train departs ON-TIME
05. Train departs in respect to Moscow time (UTC +0300H) regardless of local time and will pass through 7 time zones in 6 days. The journey is a body clock challenge.
06. I bought my food (noodles, fruit, drinks) during the train station stops. Prices are reasonable, sometimes even cheaper. Be very cautious on the train stop duration, the longest is 30mins and very seldom. Again, train departs on-time.
07. Payment in platzkart includes 2 sets of bedsheets and pillowcase, 1 blanket, 1 face towel, 1 glass and unlimited hot water.
08. No english-speaking Russians during my journey (even the Provodnitsa); tourists I've met can't communicate that well also.
09. Best views can be seen after Lake Baikal (Day4 to Day6)
10. Bring powerbank with high storage. Electrical outlets are only available in toilet area.
11. Local sim card is a must if you want to keep updated online (bought mine in airport - MTC sim prepaid package 10GB 350sms 350calls for 700 Rub / $13). 4G signal is only available in train station stops. Almost no signal during the cruise.
12. No shower available in the train.
13. Boredom attacks all the time. Bring books or anything to read.  
14. Trans-Siberia train journey is very, very safe (I'm a Solo Backpacker).

4 Days Solo Trip in Uganda - Rwanda (Mt. Bisuke 3,711masl)

My Uganda - Rwanda Tips (my 57th / 58th UN country and my 8th major hike abroad)
Date Visited: Jun. 23 to 27, 2017          Budget: $2,270

01. Best to visit during dry season (Jun. to Oct.)
02. Usual and easy immigration procedures in Uganda and Rwanda border (Cyanika)
03. I availed the service of Gecko Safaris and quoted the cheapest and compressed itinerary I customized. Planned and Actual Itinerary was exactly as I requested for $1,700 (one person). Package includes my Gorilla Tracking Permit, Mt. Bisoke Hike Permit, accommodation, all Meals as in and exclusive 4x4 drive transportation.
04. Uganda's one of the signature tourist atttaction is Bwindi Impenetrable Park, deep in the jungle trekking for Silverback Gorilla tracking, their "Planet of the Apes" version. Trek duration was around 6 - 7 hours (depends on the gorilla movement).
05. Rwanda's Mt. Bisuke is one of their volcano with largest crater lake, almost 6 hours hike with 1,000m altitude gain on a mostly steep trail. The view of the Mt. Bisoke Crater Lake (3,711masl) was worth the struggle.

Weekend Self-Guided Solo Hike in Jebel Shams, Oman (2,997 masl)
My Jebel Shams Hike Tips (my 56th UN country, Fun-Hiker and my 7th major hike abroad)
Date Visited: Mar. 17 to 18, 2017          Budget: $170

01. Best to visit during winter (Nov. to Mar.) 
02. Usual border procedures in UAE (Hatta) - OMAN (Al Wajajah) immigration checkpoint. In Al Wajajah going in, alight bus first with all your belongings for bag inspection. Then, proceed to Immigration building for entry visa, availed visa-on-arrival (working as a Mohandes). Visa fee costs 5 OMR / 50 AED. In Hatta going in, proceed directly to Immigration building for entry visa, just bring passport. Then, Immigration Officer inspection on-board.
03. Upon arrival in Bahla roundabout, took taxi to Al Hajir then hitch-hiked. I saw 4x4 ride to jump-off, all fares are negotiated to 10 OMR.
04. On start of the trail, gradual ascent on a rocky terrain and magnificent view of the Middle East's Grand Canyon
05. On my way to summit, it was very cold with strong wind chill, not much view due to fog and almost dark surrounding.  Started decent and very exhausted, lost couple of times but still managed to stay on the painted trail.
06. Back to jump-off point at 0100H. I cleaned myself then took a nap beside the wall of the resort. Hitch-hiked again back to main road. 
07. Bring our beloved Philippine flag for excellent photo-ops (raise our flag). 

16 Days Winter Self-Guided Solo Hike in Annapurna Circuit (5,416masl) and Base Camp

ANNAPURNA CIRCUIT & BASE CAMP... Share your Tips and Stories
My Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp (EBC) Tips (my 54th UN country, Fun-Hiker and 5th major hike abroad)
Trip Description: 16 Days Winter Self-Guided Solo Hike in Annapurna Circuit (5,416masl) and Base Camp
Date Visited: Jan. 06 to Jan. 21, 2016     Budget: $320.2 (include permits, transpo, lodges, meals)
Visa: on arrival for Philippine passport holders
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2015/11/16-days-winter-solo-hike-in-annapurna.html

01. Best to visit during winter (Oct. to Feb.) 
02. I hiked the route counter clockwise (Besisahar to Manang to Thorong La to Poon Hill to ABC to Pokhara).
03. I am a below average hiker because I'm always the last one who arrives in every designated village, I have breathing problems even by just taking a 10km fun-run and I saw most of the trekkers can shorten the 16-days I did.
04. The trek rises to an altitude of 5,416masl on the Thorong La Pass, the difficult part of the trail. 
05. Bring our beloved Philippine flag for excellent photo-ops (raise our flag). 
06. 2 sets of permits are required and can be applied easily in Kathmandu.
07. I'm just a fun-hiker, I have no training before the hike.
08. Consider also hiking the Lantang Valley (my 6th major hike abroad), this is the 3rd famous trekking route that doesn't require a Guide.

18 Days Winter Self-Guided Solo Hike from Jiri to Mt. Everest Base Camp (5,364masl)

MT. EVEREST BASE CAMP... Share your Tips and Stories
My Everest Base Camp (EBC) Tips (my 54th UN country, Fun-Hiker and 4th major hike abroad) 
Trip Description: 18 Days Winter Self-Guided Solo Hike from Jiri to Mt. Everest Base Camp (5,364masl)
Date Visited: Nov. 27 to Dec. 15, 2015     Budget: $570 (include permits, bus/plane ticket, lodges, all meals)
Visa: on arrival for Philippine passport holders
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2015/10/18-days-winter-solo-hike-from-jiri-to.html

01. Best to visit during winter (Oct. to Feb.) 
02. There are two jump-off points; (1) Short Route - fly from Kathmandu to Lukla, then start trekking from Lukla. Usually on 12-14 days depending on trekking pace and acclimatization requirements. and (2) Long Route - bus from Kathmandu to Jiri, then start trekking from Jiri
03. I am a below average hiker because I'm always the last one who arrives in every designated village, I have breathing problems and calves get cramps even by just taking a 10km fun-run and I saw most of the trekkers can shortened the 18-days I did.
04. Huge advantages of hiking during winter is no crowd, trail is widely open for both trekkers, locals and animals.
05. Big disadvantage is temperature can reach down to -10'C plus windchill especially on the summit, and at night.
06. 3 sets of permits are required and can be applied easily in Kathmandu.
07. I'm just a fun-hiker, I have no training before the hike.
08. Consider also hiking the Annapurna Circuit and Base Camp, this is the 2nd famous trekking route. 
09. Bring our beloved Philippine flag for excellent photo-ops (raise our flag).

7 Days Solo Backpacking Winter Iran via Persian Gulf

IRAN... Share your Tips and Stories
My Iran Tips (my 53rd UN country) 
Trip Description: 7 Days Solo Backpacking Winter Iran via Persian Gulf
Date Visited: Nov. 08 to 14, 2015         Budget: $420 (ferry charges included) 
Visa: Philippine passport holders need to apply before travel
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2015/10/7-days-solo-backpacking-winter-iran-via.html

01. Best to visit during winter (Oct. to Feb.) 
02. My Iran port of entry / exit was through Kuwait (Shuwaikh) - Iran (Khorramshahr) Persian Gulf Ferry Cruise. Persian Gulf Port Immigration is much stricter rather than I thought. Maybe because of zero-tolerance of Kuwait against Iraq refugees or just because the Paris terrorism attack on the 13th-Nov. Based on my observation, I think Persian Gulf Ports are intended for cargo shipment and local passengers. What do I expect, during the departure/arrival I'm the only non-local passenger on-board.
03. Iran and Iranian people are tourist friendly. Even though it's hard to find English-speaking Iranians especially in public places, they are willing to help, language barrier is not much of a problem.
04. Among the 53 countries I visited since 2010, I think Iran is one of the countries with the cheapest cost of tourist living, comparable to Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos.
05. Iran is a conservative Islamic country. Proper attire in public places must be observed at all times such as mandatory veil for ladies and not wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts.
06. Iranians tell the amount by less zero in last digit. Example, if the price posted is 1500, it means 15,000 Rial.
07. Facebook is blocked inside Iran but instagram, twitter and google maps are accessible.

10 Days DIY Solo Trip in Winter Mongolia - China (TRANS-MONGOLIA TRAIN RIDE not so)

TRANS-MONGOLIA (not so)... Share your Tips and Stories
My Trans-Mongolia (not so) Tips (my 39th UN country)
Trip Description: 10 Days DIY Solo Trip in Winter Mongolia - China
Date Visited: Feb. 19-20, 2015 (train sked)     Budget: 500 CNY / $71 for 2nd class (train ticket only)
Visa: Philippine passport holders on arrival in Ulaanbaatar, need to apply before travel in China border
Train Ride Time: 28.5 hours (17.5 hrs in Mongolia)
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2015/01/crossborder-train-ride-from-ulaanbaatar.html

01. Best to visit between Nov. to Mar. (off peak)
02. Trans-Mongolia train ride (Trans-Siberia offshoot) is from Moscow to Ulaanbaatar to Beijing at around 6 days ride. I did only Ulaanbaatar to Beijing.
03. There is no direct flight from MNL to ULN. What I did was a connecting flight from PEK. Since this was just a transit, Philippine passport holders can avail the 24 hour TWOV in Beijing Airport (I had Chinese visa single entry only though I applied for double)
04. I arrived 0030H in PEK via 5J flight, transit desk was closed at this time. I went straight to immigration lane. I handed-over my passport and asked usual questions like "Where is your ticket outbound? and "What destination?". After around less than 5 minutes, I was in full smile going outside and looking for free shuttle bus (24hr-operation) going to Terminal 3 transfer for all Air China flights, my flight outbound was 1100H of the same day. Beijing Airport IO stamped TWOV on my passport with validity date up to next day, no particular time limit indicated. This means IOs are not that strict in implementing 24-hour TWOV as the validity was more than 24-hours. Maximizing the difference between two days, I can even visit Beijing for a day if I want.
05. At the Ulaanbaatar Airport, Mongolian IO asked where is my ticket outbound. I told her I will buy my ticket in Ulaanbataar train station. She then told me to asked her Superior Officer, I went to her Officer and informed about my outbound ticket. the Superior Officer asked me how long will I stay, I told him only 4 days. They are all kind enough to let me go and stamped the entry visa.
06. From Ulaanbaatar Airport, the only way to go to Ulaanbaatar central is through taxi, standard fare per Airport information advisory is 30,000MNT ($15). But what I did was I gambled to ride on a colorum car to save which was only 20,000MNT ($10), service was exactly the same. I asked to drop-off to Ulaanbaatar train ticketing office which is infront of the Ulaanbaatar train station. Ticket office operates from 0900H-1700H.
07. I did not booked in advance because I doubt the online booking process plus the fact that winter season is off-peak, seat/sleeper slot is not a problem. Even though I know this will be one of the requirements in Ulaanbaatar Airport immigration, I will just tell them that I will be buying my ticket immediately.
08. Transmongolia train is probably the best way to experience something of the communist time, even if it has evolved a bit since then. They usually leave on time, and arrive on time or less than 20 min late. Mongolian trains are cheap, even in comparison with Russian and Chinese trains. You pay an extra fee if you book in advance, no extra charge if bought in train ticket office. Passport is required to buy a ticket.
09. I availed the 2nd class sleeper type, 4 pax per cabin, room temp around 28'C. With outlet rounded plug, television, reading light, blanket, pillow, bedsheets, coffee and tea. No food selling, pack snacks is a must.
10. At Mongolia border, we arrived at 1850H per schedule. Roaming Immigration Officer requested to hand-over passport, I just stayed inside the train cabin. Around 2030H, we left the Mongolia border.
11. At China border, they asked us to stay only in cabin. Roaming Chinese IO took our passports, and waited for around an hour, NO QUESTIONS ASKED.
12. We did not leave the train on both border inspections. I'm just inside the cabin wearing sando, shorts and sandal while the IOs are roaming.

2 Days Self-guided Solo Hike in Mt. Fuji (3,776masl) via Yoshida trail

MT. FUJI... Share your Tips and Stories
My Mt. Fuji Tips (2nd visit to Japan, Fun-Hiker and my 3rd major hike abroad)
Trip Description: 2 Days Self-guided Solo Hike in Mt. Fuji (3,776masl) via Yoshida trail
Date Visited: Aug. 09 to 10, 2014          Budget: $1,015
Visa: Philippine passport holders need to apply before travel
Total Trekking Distance: 13km
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2014/05/mt-fuji-yoshida-solo-trek-1st-part-from.html

01. Can visit between Jul. to Sep. only
02. No local guide required, no registration fee and no park admission fee to be paid.
03. Trail is very well sign-posted.
04. It is not recommended to hike alone due to temperature and weather condition is prone to drastic changes. I confirmed this when I was there as we experienced a very strong typhoon. So strong that the Japan government declared an emergency situation to all hikers.
05. I was at the 3,300masl level already (between 8th and 9th Station) when the typhoon came on unimaginable scale, Mt. Fuji is a stratovolcano stand-alone mountain. I was crawling and holding some strong rocks every now and then just to prevent me to be dragged by the wind gust and rain. I arrived safely at the base with very soaking wet clothes. Emergency bus arrived for us after 30mins of waiting.
06. My passport was inside my backpack all throughout the trekking. Good thing I put it inside a thick plastic bag and kept securely despite being soaking wet (whole attire and backpack)
07. I checked the weather forecast but I still gamble, this was my only opportunity. I did not avail any international travel insurance, I'm confident on Japan government's rescue operation in case haha!
08. In case the weather was good, bring-out our beloved Philippine flag for excellent photo-ops (raise our flag).

6 Days Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,895masl) Guided Hike via Machame Trail

MT. KILIMANJARO... Share your Tips and Stories
My Mt. Kilimanjaro Tips (my 36th UN country, Fun-Hiker and my 2nd major hike abroad) ​​
Trip Description: 6 Days Mt. Kilimanjaro (5,895masl) Guided Hike via Machame Trail
Date Visited: Jul. 14 to 21, 2014          Budget: $1,800
Visa: on arrival for Philippine passport holders
Total Trekking Distance: 62km (6 days)
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2014/05/6-days-mt-kilimanjaro-machame-route.html

01. Best to visit Between Jun. to Oct.
02. I made my booking together with 3-days Masai Mara Safari adventure in Kenya. Fortunately, the travel tour I asked is offering also Kilimanjaro Machame route for a cheaper price combined.
03. I paid the 30% of total fee down payment through PayPal.
04. Travel insurance is not a mandatory requirement but it is important for your own benefit. No inspection for this before the hike.
05. The best Kilimanjaro training is to simply walk for long hours.
06. The trek to Uhuru Peak is considered to be a relatively straightforward; however, ample time must still be provided for proper acclimatization to prevent altitude sickness.
07. I was at around 5,500masl when I felt really bad (vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea). It might be due to lack of sleep last night (and stupid intake of orange juice and Alaxan tablet) or maybe altitude sickness effect.
08. Bring our beloved Philippine flag for excellent photo-ops (raise our flag).

7 days DIY Solo Trip in Summer Israel

ISRAEL... Share your Tips and Stories
My Israel Tips (based in Middle East and my 27th UN country) 
Trip Description: 7-days DIY Solo Trip in Summer Israel
Date Visited: Nov. 02 to 10, 2013         Budget: $1,400
Visa: on arrival for Philippine passport holders
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2013/08/7-days-pinoy-solo-backpacking-in-winter.html

01. Best to visit during winter (Dec. to Feb.)
02. Boarding gate security for flight going to Israel is already tough. I found out that they are not that strict in Europe compared to other countries. I chose Rome flying on EasyJet as my port of entry.
03. Tel-Aviv Airport has the most strict immigration security in the world. As expected during my arrival, I've experienced 3 sets of Immigration Officer interrogation.
04. Israel no longer stamp passports at the Airport. Instead, they give you a slip the size of a credit card, which act as your Stay / Exit visa. 
05. Airport IOs are very strict if you came from Arab countries as Tourist rather than as worker. My work visa in KSA and Kuwait was ignored during interrogation. Instead, they scrutinized my Egypt, Lebanon and UAE tourist visa stamps.
06. Israel is easy to travel DIY, even going to Bethlehem, Palestine.
07. All travellers confirm that the hardest part is departing Ben Gurion Airport regardless of airline and outbound destination. I just know only the fact exiting Israel is more difficult than entering when I was already on my Day-2 inside.
08. I arrived almost 4 hours at the airport before my outbound flight but I reached the departure boarding gate only 5mins before gate closure (amazing race). 

2 Days Mt. Kinabalu (4,092masl) Timpohon Trail

MT. KINABALU... Share your Tips and Stories
My Mt. Kinabalu Tips (2nd visit to Malaysia, Fun-Hiker and my 1st major hike abroad)
Trip Description: 2 Days Mt. Kinabalu (4,092masl) Timpohon Trail
Date Visited: May 25 to 26, 2014          Budget: $540
Visa: on arrival for Philippine passport holders
Total Trekking Distance: 17km
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2013/03/mt-kinabalu-solo-hike-2nd-part-trail-to.html

01. Best to visit between Feb. to May
02. Ensure a confirmed accommodation with Sutera Sanctuary Lodges for the first night of your climb. It is not allowed by the local authority to climb if you do not have a place to stay. Camping on the mountain is strictly forbidden.
03. Transportation from Kota Kinabalu airport to city terminal; Bus - around approximate an hour interval, no definite time of arrival/departure, cost only 2 MYR. Taxi - immediately available, with approx 10 mins arrival to city terminal, cost max 30 MYR (so if 4 pax, divided it by 4)
04. There is no preliminary briefing on what lies beneath the trail as your guide is not fluent to speak in english. The moment you arrived to Kinabalu park front desk, head on to registration and start to trek as early as possible.
05. Most of the climbers reached Laban Rata dorm camp site around 1400H-1500H (around 5-6 hours journey).
06. It is essential to sleep around 1900H-2000H before the summit journey.
07. Summit journey has around 2km stretched rope guide. Of course, rock rappelling is part of it.08. Bring our beloved Philippine flag for excellent photo-ops (raise our flag).

5-days Eid Season DIY Solo Trip in Summer Egypt

EGYPT... Share your Tips and Stories
My Egypt Tips (visited during Islam holidays and my 14th UN country) 
Trip Description: 5-days Eid Season DIY Solo Trip in Summer Egypt
Date Visited: Oct. 25 to 29, 2012          Budget: $974
Visa: Philippine passport holders need to apply before travel
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2012/09/fearless-45-days-diy-eid-season-solo.html

01. Best to visit during winter (Oct. to Mar.)
02. I almost considered this trip as cancelled due to my work as it is hard to file an exit permit as an expat government employee. This is the main reason why I did not somehow research for the missing links on my itinerary and just booked the plane tickets at most 3 weeks before the departure and walk-in buy the train seats.
03. The entire travel period (Oct. 25-29, 2012) is a holiday celebration for a Muslim country, thus, a very, very peak season. Plane ticket price is almost thrice the regular, a really expensive trip.
04. Egypt just recently experienced people revolution for ousting Mubarak and had the national election on this year. Thus, peace and order is somehow shaky.
05. I highly recommend getting a travel & tour service rather than do-it-yourself. This tip is between budget and safety, think carefully about what is your priority. On my case, as long as I believe I will always be fine and can surpassed all obstacles, there is nothing to worry about.
06. If still going on DIY budget trip, I strongly suggest to perform a detailed itinerary research. On my case, my itinerary is dependent to my open gamble departure date & time so everything is 100% to be changed upon my arrival.
07. No offense but among the touts (Filipino, Indian, Lebanese, Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese) I have encountered as of this travel dates, Egyptian touts are the most aggressive and annoying of them all. They have to scam and cheat to sell something. Based on my research, these are their practice already even before the revolution.

Egyptian tout: Hello sir, where you from?
Me: la shukran (no thanks) then continue walking
Egyptian tout: I will give you this as a souvenir of your kindness
Me: Wow, ok thanks... (moments later...)
Egyptian tout: Hey, give me money, you should pay for that (shouting)...
Me: What the .... (I gave him again the item then turn my back, grrr!)(this tactic was occurred to me in Giza and Luxor)
If this happens to you, the following are my suggestions depending how forceful the touts and vigilant you are...
* say "La Shukran" then continue walking and ignoring
* say "No Arabic, No English" then continue walking and ignoring
* say "Iba po ang wika ko" then continue ignoring due most of them are multi-lingual. On my case, this is the most effective one because they don't even think this language existed, they assume you are Chinese, hehehe !!
* just keep silent, don't look at them, continue walking

08. Do not show something that you will look you have more money, this will get a huge attention especially to the shababs (young ones), I mean it. On my case, I always wear black hat everytime I travel. Guess what, in Cairo, it was grabbed twice (Tahrir Square & Giza metro station). Another experience was when I was in train and just sitting at the corner, someone suddenly asked me to give him money since I was keep ignoring him, I was the only foreign tourist on that area.
09. All major spots that seems to be picturesque have respective guarding locals which if you take a photo they will asked "money, money". Even in all toilet or just asking for some assistance.
10. Do not talk about POLITICS and RELIGION in public and to a person you just know especially locals unless you trust them. If they are still persistent to that topic, just be silent as a polite manner to ignore. If you want to have peace, walk like an Egyptian :)
11. Book train ticket in advance, a really important one for safety. Booking is open only at most 2 weeks before the travel date.
12. It is much cheaper, more exciting and more satisfying to do DIY in Cairo (Pyramids of Giza, Cairo tower, Egyptian museum) and Luxor (East and West Bank). On my case, the hostel I have stayed was offering some tours for Luxor and Aswan. Curious to know, I listened to him and asked in detailed manner without noticing that I'm interested. I just found out it was NOT worthy the price and time, I simply declined him eventhough my itinerary that time was still not clear.
13. Do not pay huge bill in buying souvenirs and transportation. They will pretend they don't have smaller bill and will try to buy you time to be annoyed. On my case, I provide huge bills only when I eat in fast food and train fares payment.
14. Bus and trains have ABSOLUTE ARABIC CHARACTERS (even the numbers), no translation in english. On my case, since I am not into memorizing arabics to numerics, I simply asked reliable locals who can help me without handling any cents to them.

3-days DIY Solo Trip in Summer Lebanon

LEBANON... Share your Tips and Stories
My Lebanon Tips (based in ​​Middle East and my 13th UN country)
Trip Description: 3-days DIY Solo Trip in Summer Lebanon
Date Visited: Jun. 15-17, 2012          Budget: $610
Visa: on arrival for GCC Professional Expats
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2012/04/3-days-solo-travel-in-lebanon.html

01. Best to visit during winter (Oct. to Mar.)
02. For cheap airport transfer, go straight to the 2nd floor of the airport and look for an ordinary van roaming around. Fare is only 1,000 LBP ($0.67) to downtown or central. If you want a taxi, negotiate only to a maximum fare of 30,000 LBP ($20). Most of this taxi drivers cannot speak or understand basic english so before the ride, ensure your driver knows exactly where you are going.
03. For roaming ordinary bus (1,500 LBP) or van (2,000 LBP), "Daora" is the place in Beirut if going upnorth (ie. Tripoli, Byblos, Jeita) and "Cola" for downsouth (ie. Saida, Tyre). Charles Helou bus terminal caters international destination like Damascus and aircon express non-stop bus going to northern part of Lebanon. Make sure you have smaller bills as the bus and van fares range only to a maximum of 3,500 LBP ($2.33).
04. There are colorum cars (cab-type public vehicle, very safe and legal) that provide nearby destination service for only 2,000 - 3,000 LBP per passenger (regardless if the car is full or not). Please take note that you must know what is your destination and negotiate the fare or else they will charge you almost the same as cab. Usually they increase fare on night trip or on areas not on usual way.
05. Visit the following Lebanon's pride, definitely worth the trip; Jeita Grotto (awesome stalagmites/stalactites), Baalbek Temple ruins (Roman architecture amazing stone structures) and the Beirut central district at night (European style concept).
06. What made me really interested about Lebanon was the Baalbek Temple's monolithic stones which were featured in Ancient Aliens TV program countless times. My first time to see a very huge Roman pillar (can hug by 4 person circumferential) erected on an unbelievable time and place.

9-days expedition tour in Antarctica Peninsula via Ushuaia, Argentina

ANTARCTICA... Share your Tips and Stories
My Antarctica Tips (my 1st cruise travel and my 7th continent)
Trip Description: 9-days expedition tour in Antarctica Peninsula via Ushuaia, Argentina
Date Visited: Nov. 22 to 30, 2019     Budget: $4,400 for 9-days trip only including all buffet meals
Visa Required: Antarctica (none), only on the Port of Entry (Argentina E-Visa for Philippine passport if you have US Visa). It depends on the territories to pass-by, confirm with Travel Agency.
Trip/Itinerary details: http://www.theviewingdeck.com/2019/12/9-days-ship-expedition-in-summer.html

01. Visit is allowed during summer season (Oct. to Mar.) and minimum duration is 9-days (from/to Ushuaia Port)
02. Research the scheduled dates offered. I chose Nov. because it's not peak yet. Peak season is Dec. to Mar.
03. As recommended by other Backpackers, the best way to save is the "last minute booking" walk-in in Ushuaia.
04. Walk-in booking is gamble, your budget and itinerary should be flexible. My plan B was to hike Mt. Aconcagua in Mendoza, Argentina (South America's highest peak and one of the 7 Summits)
05. Cash payment is advisable as you can negotiate for discount (my Pinoy bargaining skill worked).
06. Travel Insurance is required, I used only my work insurance.
07. My plan was to go to Ushuaia right away. But during my Buenos Aires nights, I found budget Antarctica travel tour sites online which I don't know why I didn't see during my pre-planning. This was my back-up plan.
08. Upon arrival in Ushuaia, I did not find any travel agency that fits my schedule and budget. So good thing I have item 7.
09. I don't have my own full battle gear for the Antarctic chill as I knew that Travel Agency can lend their gears FOR FREE (waterproof jacket, pants, gloves). I brought only warmers, fleece jacket and gloves, wool socks, bonnet and bubble jacket.
10. Bring our beloved Philippine flag for excellent photo-ops (raise our flag).
11. Lots of Pinoy Staff onboard, have a conversation / photo with them, they are proud of you as their guest.
12. For 9-days, Drake Passage trip took only more than a day. Prepare for your worst ocean motion sickness.
13. Polar plunge challenge and Quiz night before Antarctica departure. It was -1'C and my group won the 1st place with perfect score (my 1st time to join quiz night, beginner's luck).
14. Buy souvenirs onboard. Though expensive, you will never find these at the Port.

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much of thanks for visiting the viewing deck ^_^

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