Cappadocia Hot Air Balloon Flight

We just got back from our trip to Turkey and I am excited to tell you all about it. It was our first time in the country (not counting the 2-hour transit time in Istanbul last year), and we are still in awe of this beautiful part of the world, the kind people, and this positive experience as a whole.

I’m really a morning person and I prefer sunrise over sunset. Well, at least I thought I liked the sunrise, but this trip had set the bar so high – no sunrise will ever compare to what we have seen here.

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The town of Göreme gives its visitors this one of a kind experience where every morning at sunrise, the sky is painted with a playful display of colorful balloons, floating over the lunar-like landscape – a true gift of nature.

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At first, I did not think it necessary to join the hot air balloon tour myself because I thought just watching it every morning was enough. Once we got there, though, I understood why it’s important: It’s just give-and-take. On one morning you’re on the hot air balloon, and on the other mornings, you’re watching other tourists on their balloons from a hill. Your taking part in the flight is necessary for others to see this display and vice-versa. As a bonus, you will have the most spectacular view of the whole region from above.

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Many hotels in Göreme offer cave rooms to complete the Cappadocia experience. Our hotel of choice was Chelebi Cave House because I wanted to opt for something sincere and authentic. It’s run by a family native to this town and they serve an exquisite breakfast every morning on their terrace. They arranged the hot air balloon tour for us, which we chose to do on our first morning, and it all went smoothly. Our tour operator of choice was Turkiye Balloons.

We were picked up at 04:55 AM from the hotel and we were taken to the headquarters of the balloon tour operators for a small buffet breakfast. This is also the time they collect payments from those who hadn’t paid for it in advance and they divide people into groups for their respective balloons. The balloons are scattered all over town so they have to make sure everyone gets into the right van because each one drives directly to the take-off site.

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What I liked most about our tour operator was that they were about the last ones to take off. When we got to the site, it was still a little dark but about 60% of the balloons have already taken off. We weren’t up and floating until the sun was really about to come out and by that time only a handful were still on the ground. Also, the whole flight lasted more than just the one hour that was promised on their website.

The first thing I noticed once we were hundreds of meters up in the sky was how awfully quiet it was up there. Nothing but the sound of  20 speechless tourists’ oohs and aahs and the occasional blow of fire. I don’t know about people with a fear of heights but I felt incredibly safe inside the basket. It goes up to my chest so falling is not an issue and the flight was just really smooth and slowly and you barely notice any pull of gravity. At some point, our pilot told us we were 900 meters above ground and the view was just surreal. From time to time we would come really close to the rocks and chimneys and our pilot likes to show off his skills by maneuvering our balloon with perfect timing so we don’t hit them.

Pretty soon we were close to other balloons and hills from which other tourists watch us and we are just part of their backdrop for their Instagram posts.

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Sadly, our flight had to end at some point but we were all rewarded at the end with champagne, sweets, and a certificate for our participation. They also printed out the photos they took at the beginning of the flight as a remembrance, which they sold for 3,-€, and they drove us back to our hotel just in time for our second breakfast. 🙂

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I had been asked many times since we got back if the flight was worth it and I always tell them it’s something they really need to experience for themselves. I really can’t recommend this place enough. The number of hot air balloons simultaneously flying over the region every morning has risen in the last couple of years. Nowadays, there are about 3,500 tourists up on those balloons a day, that makes up about 150 balloons all at once. It’s good for the local community since each balloon requires a certified pilot and staff that helps in preparing it for flight. Not to mention, it’s quite a unique experience for everybody.

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For the rest of our stay, we found ourselves waking up early to watch the balloons from our hotel’s terrace or from some viewpoints in the valleys. We were in luck because not only did we have perfect weather conditions on the day of our flight, but we were also able to watch the balloons every day because the weather remained stable. I must say, though, that on the day of our flight the sky was really clear unlike on the other days where it was quite cloudy after it had rained all night.

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Tips for your hot air balloon flight:

  • Have your hotel arrange the booking. I believe they have better deals. I checked the price on the website of the tour operator itself and the hotel gave a better price (as in 20,-€ better for each) but you may want to check again yourself.
  • Book in advance. The hotel gave me a few choices for a tour operator and the first two I asked for were already fully booked when I made the request a month prior to the flight. Luckily, there are many tour operators to choose from but if you have a specific preference then you might want to ask even earlier — especially if you’re in a group because you don’t want to be placed in separate balloon companies.
  • Book your flight for the first day of your stay in Cappadocia. This is important! Flights can get canceled due to unideal weather conditions. Your safety is important and that’s why on some days, it’s just not possible to push through with it and often you won’t find out your flight is canceled until the time it was supposed to start. In other words, waking up early for nothing. Your tour operator will try to get you on a tour the next day and that’s why it’s important you make time for a few trials and errors.
  • Wear warm and comfortable clothing. Getting into the basket required only some basic climbing skills but you might want to be dressed properly for this. Also, don’t underestimate the temperatures in the morning – it will be cold and it doesn’t help that you are suspended in the air 900 meters above the ground. Closed shoes, warm socks, pants, jacket, scarf, maybe even a hat. We were there mid-October and the temperature rose during the day so a t-shirt was fine most of the time but the mornings are just really chilly.

Solo Trip to Hong Kong

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I have shared in a previous post a sneak peek of my experience from my trip to Hong Kong last May and how it went terribly wrong. But on this post I wanted to focus on the trip as whole, and that’s including the good stuff.

Let me start with why I chose Hong Kong – of all the fine places in Asia that are easily reachable from the Philippines nowadays. I just thought, since I am going alone and with the limited time that I had, it’s just the perfect destination. Added to that, I bet it’s just the one place that my wife would not miss out on too much. We usually do these things together but as I have mentioned, she wasn’t able to join.

I got there in the afternoon after a 2h flight from Manila. First thing I did was get an Octopus Card. For 150 HKD, you get a card with a 100 HKD balance and 50 HKD refundable value – unless of course you’d want to keep the card as a souvenir.

 

And it’s really the easiest way to get around the city. You may reload it at MTR stations or various convenience stores and you may use it to pay at some selected establishments, and even at vending machines. I just found the deduction of fares after every ride a bit unpredictable, or maybe it’s just something I haven’t been able to figure out in my short stay. Let me just say I had spent about 250 HKD of fare money in  three days and that’s including the ride up The Peak Tower with the Peak Tram plus entrance fee to Sky Terrace all worth 140 HKD.

I took the A21 bus that goes straight to Mong Kok and stops at Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. It’s the station closest to my hostel, in one of those touristy neighbourhoods in the city. In fact, most of my options were in this very area. I think it’s a good place to stay at because of its proximity Victoria Harbour, and everything you’d want to see is easily reachable.

After I got checked in to my hostel, I went out to get familiarised to my neighbourhood. Most importantly, I looked for places where I can grab some bites. I found street food right around the corner, a few restaurants, and a 7Eleven. This is where I realised that food in Hong Kong is rather pricey.

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I mean, it was really good but this octopus skewer cost me 11 HKD, about 1,20 €


Kowloon Park

The next morning, I decided to just grab a snack from 7Eleven (I’m a sucker for store-bought snack cakes and everywhere I go, I try to get each country’s own version of it) for breakfast and I proceeded with my day’s agenda – just walking around the city. I read somewhere that 60% of Hong Kong is actually green – which is hard to believe at first because when you think of Hong Kong, the first thing that comes to mind is the army of skyscrapers. I decided to see the parks first, starting with Kowloon Park, which is close to my hostel.

And from there I just followed the road that lead to the water.

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Nathan Road

I wasn’t sure where to go next so I just walked down Nathan Road. The heat of this city was just something I couldn’t get accustomed to. Humidity was just so much higher there than in the Philippines and I couldn’t help but take a few breaks inside the shopping centres along the way just to cool down. But I did find some interesting bookstores and gift shops inside.

I had lunch at a local diner – fried chicken in lemon sauce and a pot of tea. I was alone so the staff sat me at a round table with another lone guest sitting. I can’t point out enough the cost of food – I paid around 30 € for that order!

After I filled my backpack with gifts that I bought to take home to the wife, I walked back to my hostel and took another shower. It felt necessary if I wanted to walk around some more.


Markets

My next stops were the street markets. The first one I went to, and also the only one I actually wanted to see, was the Ladies’ Market. I didn’t take photos, neither did I even take out my phone let alone my camera, because everyone started to get extra aware of their belongings when they entered. I thought I’d do the same because I really hate losing things, more importantly I have this deep fear of having my things stolen from me. I literally have nightmares of this event every so often, all in different versions. I wanted to come here to buy accessories for my phone and to check out what else the place has to offer. I had fun haggling with the vendors. They lower the price down every five seconds, or give you deals for lower value. It’s ridiculous how they start you off with prices going through the roof and then giving you a final price of 20% of the original price. I know it’s just strategy and it seems to be working out just fine for them.

I then walked down the road towards the Flower Market, through Goldfish Market and took the MTR back to my hostel.

 

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I especially love the tea set. The vendor sold it to me for about 12 €. I honestly would have paid more.


Victoria Peak and Central District

Quick summary from my previous post:

After I dropped my street market haul off at the hostel, I was bound for Victoria Peak. But when I took the hostel building’s elevator going down, it got stuck and I had to wait for almost an hour for the rescue team, alone. So when I got out, I guess I was over-motivated to reach the peak which then turned out was a bad idea, because it was so foggy up there that it was impossible to see anything looking down. But at least it made for interesting photos looking up from Central District.

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Nan Lian Garden

It was my last day in Hong Kong and I ended it with a relaxing day in the park. This charming garden is located in the myriad of high-rise buildings of Diamond Hill. It gives out a contrast of the tranquility of a Tang Dynasty-styled park and the hustle and bustle of the city.

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Hong Kong Park

This was the very last place I went to before I headed to the airport. But this park was busier than I thought! I was here at around noon on a Friday, enjoying a rice snack from 7Eleven but it took a while before I found an empty bench. I didn’t stay long to make space for the busy corporate animals from Central District to enjoy their lunch break. Ah, but what I wouldn’t give to have such a venue for my own lunch breaks from work!

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This rice snack with tuna and mayonnaise filling is enough to get me through the day

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Going back to the airport, I took the A21 bus again. I thought it was really the more convenient option to and from Mong Kok but somehow it wasn’t among Google’s suggestions.

Philippines: Just Being Home

I don’t know where to begin. Spending almost two weeks in the Philippines has been more productive than eventful. I wouldn’t even consider this a travel post because it’s not. Most of my activities consisted of catching up with friends and family – nevertheless a holiday well spent.

It started off with the trip to Taal Volcano Crater. This also probably rounds up the whole touristic experience.

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Family

After a day of getting acclimatised to the time zone and catching up with friends, my cousin got married and the whole family was there to celebrate.

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And after the wedding, we celebrated our dear grandma’s 80th birthday in the afternoon. She has seven children and each of her children’s family was assigned to a colour of the rainbow, making a truly colourful party.

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This is me with all of my female cousins and our dearest Inay. I haven’t been able to score a photo of the boys yet, so this has to do for now.

The next day, while the rest of the family continued celebrating by all going out together for a swim at a private pool, I decided to pass and stay in my city and enjoy the best view:

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And, really, it was exactly what I needed after a whole day of family affairs and smiling at your own flesh and blood who just have no limits whatsoever. You know, after not seeing each other for 3-6 years, none of them ever minded to ask how you’re doing. Instead, all they greet you with is a comment on your physique, and asking about when I am finally getting married. It’s not like it’s a secret that I already am but my wife wasn’t with me so that’s barely proof.

Time with Friends

I found it quite hard to meet up with my favourite friends because they usually aren’t available all at the same time, so I actually had to spend days just catching up with each of them.

At the beginning of my second week, I went on my solo trip to Hong Kong, which had been an adventure in its own right. When I got back, I only had a few days left of my vacation. Those were spent with more catching up, and with a supposed trip to the beach that had gone terribly wrong. In other words, it never happened and we all went to a swimming pool instead where I ended up getting sick and not able to swim. Need I say more?

Nothing against my dearest friends or the relaxed nature of Filipinos in general that often clashes with the punctuality and sometimes even, uptightness, of the Germans, it just takes some getting used to. They even were apologetic and suggested that next time we should go on a big trip further away that requires some heavy planning and booking in advance because, then, everyone who agreed to come will have arranged their leave days already. Not to mention, none of us would want to let our hard-earned money go to waste by cancelling on a trip on short notice. Sounds like a bullet-proof plan to me!

The Folk Healer

Back to my getting sick on our swimming day, at that point it was noticeable that a few other members of our family have been getting sick (although all differently) all at around the same time. Just a week before, my nephew who is a toddler just happened to have gotten chicken pox the second time around (I know, in really rare cases it is possible). Everyone got suspicious after that visit to the doctor so they decided to consult a magtatawas, a kind of folk healer. By just simply writing down the patient’s name and birthday on a piece of paper and handing our errand girl a small amount for the doctor and her own bus money, we got our answers in a few hours’ time. The magtatawas will do his reading off candle wax dripped in a bowl of water. She came back with the results and some incense and instructions on what to do. Apparently, the child must have stepped on some corners in their garden where spirits of elders live and it somehow offended them. As a result, he was punished with the itchy spots all over his body. Poor kid, I know.

This has gone on with other members of our family. My uncle had a fever for a few days and the explanation was that he had been accompanied by the spirit of a girl in his lodge when he went on a trip to Palawan a week prior (and this has been said by two different magtatawas).

My experience was this: on our swimming day, I had a tummy ache in the morning, like a really bad case of gas and it was, as you can imagine, uncomfortable to say the least. It lasted for the most part of the day but, when we got to the resort at around 4 PM, the pain was gone and instead I felt really tired so I slept for a few hours and woke up feeling like I can’t hold my head up. That, too, lasted for the rest of the day and I lost my appetite and could barely eat. My friends drove me home at night time and I told mum what happened. First thing in the morning, and because I just didn’t want to miss out on all the fun, she sent our girl to the magtatawas to find out what happened to me.

 

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I’m not really a believer of these practises but it was fun to have experienced it.

And to finally end this post, here are some random images of the simple pleasures of being home.

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Ube flavoured dirty ice cream in a bun sold by a street vendor who passed by our borough
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Twin Latundan bananas brought over by my cousin who picked them personally from his farm
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Me picking mangoes off our own tree with an improvised sigpaw (landing-net used for fishing or, in this case, picking fruit)
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Kesong Puti (white cheese made with carabao milkand pan de sal for breakfast
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Taho (tofu pudding with tapioca pearls and brown sugar syrup)

 

Pitahaya cacti that will soon bear fruit also known as dragonfruit

I had fun with everyone nonetheless and I am surely going back in a few years even when it means having to go through it all over again.