Thursday, March 12, 2015

Traveling To Japan With A Baby: The Required Documents

I can't believe it's been two years since I last wrote on this blog! But I've not exactly been slacking off.  Two of the most monumental life events have just happened to me --  I got married in March 2014. And then found out I was pregnant shortly after our honeymoon. 

Between coping with the pregnancy, running the household, and trying to be a good wife, this blog has taken a backseat in my life. Add to that the demands of bringing up a thriving baby boy (breastfeeding, diaper changing, bathing, rocking him to sleep, etc etc), there are days that I forget to even brush my hair, haha!

But now that the baby (darling Joshua) is three months old, and he has formed a semblance of a daily routine, this gives me a couple of hours to attend to the other areas of my life (i.e. personal hygiene, exercise, this blog -- hehe).

Anyway, I'm blogging again to start documenting the exciting travel plans we have that will commence in a few days' time: we're going to Japan! And yes, we are bringing three-month old Joshua along for this new adventure. 

As many moms (and dads) know, there are a million and one things to prepare when traveling with an infant. This post will focus first on the documents needed to bring bebe out of the country to a foreign land.

First of all, of course the little one needs a passport.

Here in the Philippines, to obtain the passport of a baby less than one year old, you need

1) NSO birth certificate

Our baby was born in December 2014. We tried to get a hold of his birth certificate in February, only to be told by the National Statistics Office (NSO) that  it was undergoing Manual Verification. 

This meant that the document was not in the NSO's system yet, and had to be checked manually. We waited one week, and then we were informed that the birth certificate was still with the local civil registry. 

They said it takes them six long months to get it to NSO. 

So if you need to travel with a baby, remember to request for this document way ahead so that you can, specifically request for the process to be expedited. 

2) Marriage license 

For out of town weddings (like ours), the wait is six months long. If you get married in the city, you can get your marriage license in as short as three months. 

3) Baby's appearance at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA)

According to the DFA website, you also need an affidavit stating that you will be travelling with the infant. We prepped for this too, paid the attorney's fee and all, but they didn't ask for it.

The great thing about getting a baby's passport is that you don't need to set an appointment at all. You just show up like we did at the DFA main headquarters. You breeze through to Gate 4, and then fill out the application form available at the "concierge" on the second floor.

But there's a catch. The courtesy area of the DFA -- where babies, senior citizens, and others whose status qualifies them for this privilege is about as un-baby friendly as it could get.

 First, it was hot. The aircon was on but it was not enough.

Second,  there was no diaper changing area in the bathroom. I know this firsthand because I had to change Joshua's diaper while sitting on a Monobloc chair in the banyo. It was the worst, because Joshua took the opportunity to pee at me once his nappies came off!

So there I was, struggling with a wriggling, crying baby, while also dealing with a big bulky diaper bag. There was no one else in the washroom except for a young lady, who `ignored us for the most part. Finally turned to me and said, "Miss?"

"Yes?" I said, eagerly, hoping she would offer a hand. 

"Wala bang signal dito?" she asked, referring to her cellphone's apparent weak network signal :/

Third -- no breastfeeding room! Wait as I announce this on the Breastfeeding Pinays forum I am a part of on Facebook. And see if I don't get all the self-righteous indignation that I need justify my own displeasure.

And fourth, there's still a bit of a wait because there's only one person processing the passports of all the infants and toddlers.

Josh fell asleep already because of the long lines. 

The passport release was another issue. Express processing usually took seven days. Unfortunately, the DFA was having some sort of trouble with their passport papers. They said it would take ten days for the release. Ayayayyy. We had to apply for a Japanese visa pa.

So we had to rely on someone my husband's father knew inside DFA to help us facilitate a speedier release. In any case -- it was a race to the finish line as we obtained Joshua's passport, because we still had to apply for a Japanese visa. 

The All Important Japanese Visa

To do this, you must have it processed through one of the travel agencies accredited by the Japanese embassy. The complete list is here

One of my friends recommended UHI -- Universal Holidays . They can have your visas processed in as short as three days. This is where my parents-in-law coursed their visa application. And true enough, their visas arrived in three days. 

But because Reli Tours had a branch in SM Mall of Asia, which is near the DFA, this is where we submitted our requirements.  This branch is not the most organized of branches. They are also not the friendliest. They don't have the exact change when you pay with large bills. The waiting area is cramped. And they make you wait for more two hours, and then tell you that your application did not make the cut-off, and therefore will be processed after two days. 

My husband complained, and said we had been there way ahead of the 6pm cut-off time. This way, Reli (quite reluctantly) agreed to process our requirements for the following day. In any case, we made sure our requirements were complete. They are the following:

1. Philippine Passport 

 Broken lamination of the photo part is not accepted. Must be valid 6 months prior 

2. Visa Application Form -- available online here, or at the travel agency counter. Remember: don't leave any blank spaces, instead, write N/A

3. Photo

 Specs: 4.5cm x 4.5cm with white background

 Photo must be pasted in the application form

We took Joshua's Japanese visa application form photo using a smart phone and white pillow as a background

4. Birth Certificate of applicant (NSO birth certificate with ONE YEAR VALIDITY). 

5. Marriage Certificate (if the applicant is married)

 (4 and 5 must be from NSO main Office/Serbilis Outlet Center (Nationwide) 

issued within one (1) year). In case of non-record, you must submit a certificate of 

non-record together with the one from the Local Civil Registrar.

to travel date. Must have signature and have at least two (2) blank pages.

6. Bank Certificate (Original)

7. Income Tax Return (Form 2316/ 1700/ 1701/ 1702) original and photocopy. 

We applied for the Japanese visa on a Tuesday. Reli Tours asked us to check with them on Monday. On Monday, they said, call again the next day. The next day, I called them up in the morning of Tuesday. They said, call again at 6pm. When I called at 6pm, they said the passports where there already. 

But we had specifically requested that the passports be couriered to our house. 

When I informed them of this, I was made to wait several minutes. I was then asked which names were included in this request. So I told them. There were several more minutes of waiting. Finally they asked if I had paid the courier fee already (we did). Only then did they confirm that they will be sending the passports out by that evening. Kagulo. What would have happened if we didn't check to confirm whether our passports were on their way?

In any case, our passports arrived late afternoon the following day (Wednesday). 

Aaaaand, after all the hassle Reli Tours put us through, we found out the good news -- we were granted a Multiple Entry visa! Yeyyy!!! JAPAN HERE WE COME!

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Best Islands in Caramoan

1. Matukad

The name Matukad in the local dialect means to climb. And this is precisely what visitors to the island must do, if they want to catch a glimpse of the enchanted bangus (milk fish) that resides in a lagoon at the back.

 Legend has it that there used to be a pair if bangus that called the lagoon home. But one day, a fisherman caught one of them and brought it back to his house The poor guy and his family all died when they ate that bangus, and no one has dared disturb the remaining one.

This pretty, pretty island with fine white sand and looming limestone cliffs. The popular reality show, Survivor has shot several of its episodes here. 

2. Lahus

This wide strip of white sand is hugged on both sides by the ocean, creating two shorelines. Lahus Island also has two towering rock formations that flank both ends of its sandy strip. And when the waters surrounding the island become too strong,  the waves from either side meet in the middle for a momentary kiss. 

3. Pitogo

Pitogo is a strange island, mostly because it is entirely made up of rocks -- rocks that are  supposedly "alive," and keep multiplying year by year. Kuya Naro says that this is where the famous Battle of Caramoan took place, between the Bikolanos and the Moros led by Prince Nunye.  

4. Guinahoan

Windswept cliffs and rolling green hills -- when you walk around Guinahoan Island, it feels as if you've been transported to Batanes or even Ireland. Facing the Pacific Ocean, Guinahoan is so wonderfully isolated and incredibly surreal. 

5. Manlawi Sandbar

Manlawi is one of the best sandbars in the world. This circular sandbar, which appears during low-tide is made of fine white sand. Its diameter is as wide as ten football fields, and stepping on its gorgeous expanse prompts a bout of running crazily around, and proclamations of never wanting to leave. 

How to get to Caramoan via bus:
1. Board a bus bound for Naga city at the Cubao bus terminal. The trip takes 8 hours, so it's best to take an evening ride so that you can sleep throughout the trip.
2.  Alight at the Naga's Central Bus Terminal, and head towards the East Bound terminal, which is sandwiched in between SM City Naga, and Naga City Central Bus Terminal
3. Take an aircon van at the East Bound terminal that will bring you to Sabang port. This van ride takes an hour and a half.
4. Board a boat that will ferry you to Caramoan Guijalo port. The boat ride takes an hour and 45 minutes.
If you're taking a plane from Manila, just head towards the East Bound terminal after you arrive at the airport. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Umbrellas All Over The World!

A typhoon is once again upon my country, the Philippines. With the typhoon raging on outside, I thought I'd amuse myself by compiling an "Umbrellas of the world" collection. 

And the realization is this: umbrellas make for the most gorgeous props in travel photos. So, note to self, buy a colorful umbrella and take it with me on my next trip. 

 Kyoto, Japan 

Naples, Italy


Barcelona, Spain

Santorini, Greece

Brussels, Belgium


Chiang Mai, Thailand

Paris, France

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Nami Island, South Korea


Luang Prabang, Laos


Agra, India


London, England

Aman Pulo, Palawan, Philippines


Thursday, October 10, 2013

All Soul's Weekend in Boracay

The first and only time I was in Boracay, was way back in 2006. The magazine I was working for then, was setting up a shop at D'Mall. 

Aside from fixing the small shop that was meant to sell beauty products, our activities consisted of  swimming and sunbathing, visiting Puka Beach, enjoying a shake from Jonah's -- and sleeping promptly at 10 pm.

I haven't been back to Boracay since -- the see-and-be-seen vibe of the island has never appealed to me. I don't like the idea of being accosted by enterprising locals who would offer this or that boat ride, and the thought of walking around in a bikini in front of everyone and their brother mortifies me. 

More so now, when most of my (former) students have come of age, and are dominating Boracay's shores.

I guess I've always been more of the reclusive type -- always happier with my books, my family, or a few close friends. I like my beaches secluded, undeveloped, and hard to get to. I love Caramoan, and Bantayan, the secret beach in El Nido, and the uninhabited island in Pinagcastillohan. I like the emerald pools of Hong Island in Krabi, and I dream of the lovely low-key beaches of Mozambique and Anguilla.

Phra Nang or Princess Island, off the coast of Ao Nang in Krabi, Thailand 

But this October, I've booked a ticket to Boracay. This is because during the All Soul's long weekend, my boyfriend will be in Baguio for a retreat, and my entire family is going to Boracay.

So I was faced with two choices: join my family in Boracay or be left home alone. I also found out that my four-year old niece would be going. And you know what, nothing in the world will make me  miss the opportunity to see that pudgy little girl in a bikini.

Manlawi's secluded sandbar in Caramoan, Philippines 

So what does Boracay have for a family trip and a lola like me? I guess I'll find out. In meantime, I would appreciate suggestions. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Hotel Review: Seda Centrio

Seda is the Spanish word for silk, and it is the name of the Ayala chain of hotels that have opened in key cities in the Philippines. I'm going to write here about the one I stayed in for two nights in Cagayan de Oro.

Seda Centrio is a development by the Ayala Land Hotels and Resorts and the Floirendo's Anflo Group. This boutique hotel opened only last December 2012, and features a sleek, modern design -- with Paco Guerrero paintings adorning its walls, and a lobby designed by renowned architect Conrad Onglao. 

1. Location
It's right smack in the heart of the city, just 30 minutes away from the airport. It is right beside the upscale Centrio mall. Though it shares space with the mall, there's a private entrance that takes guests up to the 4th floor front desk.

Down the road from the hotel are several dining options, as well as nightlife spots.

2. Rooms
The 150 rooms here have California king-sized beds, in-room safes, Ipod docks and speakers, and very handy media panels with USB, HDMI, and audio visual connections which allows guests to view their files or listen to music via the 40-inch LED TV system.

photo courtesy of Seda Centrio 

There is a complimentary wifi, but it was rather slow. Faster wifi could be availed of for a fee.

I checked into a deluxe room on the 11th floor, which has a nice, big comfortable bed and a nice city view of Cagayan de Oro from the window.

The bathrooms have toiletries that are environmentally friendly -- these containers are fully biodegradable.

3. Executive Lounge
There's an Executive Club Lounge that's for exclusive access to those who check into the Club or Premiere Rooms. Their lounge offers all-day refreshments and cocktails, and splendid night-time views of the Maharlika highway.

4. Other amenities
Misto restaurant serves buffet breakfast from 6:30-9:00 am, and the spread is yummy but quite basic. There's an adults and children's pool, plus a gym.

photo courtesy of Seda Centrio

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