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Tag: noel’s travels

A Taste of a Legend. Kobe Beef in Kobe, Japan.

A Taste of a Legend. Kobe Beef in Kobe, Japan.

Steaks are some of the rare foods you just can’t go wrong with. Just season with salt and pepper, grill over open flame, or fry with a little butter. It doesn’t take a five star chef to turn the simple choice cut meat into a gastronomic delight. It’s safe to say that all steaks are delicious, but not all are equal. Beef comes in many choices and most of them I’ve already been acquainted with. But there’s one beef that’s said to sit high up on the echelons of prime steaks that I’ve been wanting to try for so long: the Kobe beef. It’s a meat that’s so praiseworthy as it is controversial. It’s a legend that keeps being told by those who have tasted its glory.

Hearing so much rave about the legendary beef, it’s been on my bucket list for such a long time. It was only until last year during our trip to Japan that I was able to tick it off. Traveling across Japan’s Kansai area, I made a quick side trip to the home of Kobe beef: Kobe. There are plenty of restaurants in Kobe offering their famous delicacy so I searched online for some recommendations. Since it was only a quick side trip, I’ve narrowed my search down to the ones that topped reviews but close to the train stations.

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The searching led me to Ishida. It’s about a five minute walk from the Kobe-Sannomiya station. I was lucky to get accommodated as a walk-in customer as reviews warned that reservations are a must as they get really packed most of the time. So with mouth watering and stomach grumbling, I went in with high expectations.

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Steaks in Ishida are cooked right in front of you. As they present the meat, the beautiful marbling is clearly seen spread evenly across. Once the teppan grill is heated, the meat is then cooked over animal fat. The best doneness to steaks is always around rare to medium, so I had mine rare like I always prefer.

The steaks are cooked in batches and served in cutlets. This means that you get just enough at once, then wait to enjoy the next serving. This also means that you always get your steak fresh from the grill. Nothing gets cold in your plate. You can opt to eat the steak as is, or dip it in their sauce and sprinkle with a little salt. Whichever way you wanna enjoy your steak, you just can’t go wrong with either.

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Initially, I thought that the cutlets were a bit too small, but upon first bite, I discovered that it’s the perfect food to mouth ratio. Every bite lets the meat secrete its juicy goodness. That juice joyfully plays around your tastebuds as it fills up every corner of your mouth while you chew. The meat is so ridiculously tender, it makes chewing such a pleasure.

The flavor? It is simply out of this world! The tiny cutlets are succulent and densely filled with flavor. It’s like an entire slab of steak has been juiced down into every one of these little cutlets. It’s packed with all the beefy goodness we all know and love, but with a slight uniqueness that’s just hard to describe. It is just that good! In fact, it is phenomenal! I tried it with their sauce and a little salt, and the flavor oozed out even more. Adding seasoning actually draws out and highlights more of the natural flavor instead of masking it. The perfect combination. Finished with my first batch, I moved on to enjoy the next succeeding batches. The taste doesn’t seem to get mundane at all.

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I went inside Ishida with expectations set high, and came out having them exceeded. The legend about Kobe beef is true, and now I’m one of the few who get to tell about it. Having Kobe beef in Kobe was definitely the perfect Kobe experience.

Ishida serves complete course meals. Average price is around 2,500 JPY for lunch and 8,000 JPY for dinner. 

 

My Deer Nara. A Side Trip to Nara, Japan.

My Deer Nara. A Side Trip to Nara, Japan.

Nara is one of the prefectures in Japan’s Kansai area. We were able to make a quick side trip here during our Japan visit last August. Coming from touring Kyoto’s historical shrines & temples and Osaka’s cosmopolitan sites, we were in search for something else— something different that the Kansai area had to offer. This lead us to go to Nara to see the famous Nara Deer Park.

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The Nara Deer Park isn’t your typical park. What makes this different from any other parks are the deer that are native to the place.

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Allover the park are plenty of them— herds upon herds of adorable furry creatures. They roam freely around the park and are actually protected by law as national treasures.

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From the Nara train station, going to the park is just about a five minute bus ride. There are special roundtrip bus tickets for tourists visiting the park that can be purchased from the station.

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As the bus nears the park, you can already start spotting deer scattered in the streets. You’d be mystified at first, but after a while, they pretty much become a common sight.

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The deer are used to mingling with people and you can even touch them. It’s ok to pet the deer, but it’s best to not be over confident with them as there are some rare occasions when they try to nab from your stuff thinking it has food.

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Or if you’re eating, make sure to keep your food away from their reach as you would not want to tempt them. Check the warning signs posted allover.

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But generally, these guys are a really friendly bunch and so fun to be around.

Another attraction to see in the park is the Todai-ji Temple. There are other temples in Nara, but for just a quick side trip, we were only able to visit the Todai-ji.

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The Todai-ji Temple houses the great giant Buddha. We weren’t able to get inside the temple itself since we got there a bit just in time for closing, but we were able to enjoy the entrance and temple grounds.

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What’s amazing about this temple is that everything here is really huge. The pillars that make up the entrance gates are massive columns of logs.

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The entrance gates have two giant statues of Kongō Rikishi (Nio protectors of Japan according to ancient Buddhist beliefs). They’re also made of wood, painted for color.

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It’s really amazing looking up the scale of these two giant statues. What’s incredible is that the entire temple complex and everything in here have been constructed during Japan’s ancient times, thousands of years before machines have been employed in building construction.

Another thing to see around the temple is a boat by the lake.

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Not sure though if the boat is actually functional or just for display, but it does look majestic.

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And of course…

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More deer.

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The side trip to Nara was definitely a worthy quick-stop destination. The deer were a uniquely fun experience, and the Todai-ji Temple was something that had its own “massive” charm, different from any other temples we’ve seen in Japan so far.

A Night at Azumi Boutique Hotel.

A Night at Azumi Boutique Hotel.

It’s everyone’s favorite holiday season again, and this year, my wife and I decided that we will be spending our Christmas somewhere else aside from our house. We thought about going out of town but didn’t want the hassle of the long drive. What we wanted was a quick and convenient getaway, somewhere not too far, yet not too familiar. The solution was obviously a staycation.

Living on the North side of Metro Manila, going South was already conveniently foreign enough for a quick getaway. So I searched Good Ol’ Google for a place and stumbled upon Azumi Boutique Hotel. It’s small hotel in Alabang by the Filinvest district. The booking site offered a queen sized room for just about Php 3,+++ a night which included breakfast so we went ahead and booked a stay for Christmas eve.

THE LOBBY

Since it’s a boutique hotel, there’s no huge lobby with a grand staircase. The lobby is small, just enough for a reception desk and a lounge with a few couches. The lobby is design is modern.

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The black walls are adorned with mementos reflecting different places and landmarks from allover the world. The theme gives a more casual and cozy atmosphere rather than being stiff and intimidating.

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THE ROOMS

The room has a very pronounced rectangular dimension. From the door, looking straight is a complete full view of the edge to edge glass doors and windows to the balcony.

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I like how the wood motif makes the room so cozy and homely.

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The Queen room comes with a Queen sized bed and a mini bed that also doubles as a couch. TV and refrigerator are pretty standard, along with the sink and microwave.

The bathroom is just a little awkward though. It has a window by the shower area so you can clearly and openly see, (or watch) whoever is taking a shower, or even doing business. There’s a roll down blind which can cover the glass part of the wall, but it’s controlled from outside the bathroom.

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This is particularly awkward since privacy controls are usually inside the bathrooms instead of outside. Also, when closed, there’s a tiny gap between the blinds and the walls. This tiny open spot may not be too bothersome as one can only see through this if done intentionally. But still, no one likes a “peek-able” bathroom. These would not be an issue to couples, but for friends and colleagues staying, this might just be seriously awkward.

The prices of the minibar are fair. This is swell as typical hotels would usually jack up the prices, but Azumi kept their prices just about convenience store levels.

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This means guests can enjoy the minibar items and not have to walk outside just to avoid paying for an overpriced soda.

THE POOL AREA

The pool area is located by the roof deck. The pool is narrowly stretched, spanning end to end of the building’s edges.

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The greens are courtesy of the fake grass which is a good idea. Beside the pool are futon-like cushions good for lying around and sun bathing. Since the pool sits is by the edge, this gives a great infinity effect. There are no tall buildings close by so you could get a wide clear view of the Alabang cityscape.

THE BREAKFAST

The breakfast is nothing fantastic, but isn’t bad either.

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It’s a really just a simple no-frills buffet just right to get you going for the morning. Nothing to complain or rave about here. Besides, breakfast always tastes good.

OTHER MENTIONS

The Hallways & Elevators

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I like how there are parts of the hallways that are open. The hallways can be a little tight but the openings create a sense of space. Also, it’s always good to have natural light and ventilation. Just to note though, the elevators are really slow as there are only two elevators that service the entire hotel.

Pocket Gardens

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There are pockets gardens by the lower floors. These are open balconies with more of the fake grass. Just like in the pool, the grass may be fake, but it just works.

Parking Area

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I’d also like to make a special mention about their parking area. Unlike most hotels I’ve been to where their parking spaces are normally shoved deep down in the basement, Azumi allots for podium parking. I’ve always hated going down deep basements which are usually poorly lit, hot, claustrophobic, and under-ventilated. Azumi’s podium parking is just none of that.

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My wife and I really appreciated Azumi Boutique Hotel.  It’s reasonably priced, cozy, and convenient. Definitely enjoyed our Christmas here!

 

 

 

Hafa Adai! Welcome to Guam!

Hafa Adai! Welcome to Guam!

Hafa Adai! (pronounced as “half a day”) Or “hello” in native Chamorro language, is the official welcoming greeting when visiting Guam.

Coined with “Where America’s Day Begins”, Guam is a small island in the pacific that is part of the United States’ unincorporated territories.It’s got every bit of that tropical island vibe, mixed with American goodness. It’s a very small island, about 3/4 the size of Singapore, and you can drive around the island’s perimeter in about six to eight hours. Visitors in Guam go mainly for 2 reasons: beach, and shopping.

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Last June, we got to visit this beautiful island— thanks to awesome airline deals matched with credit card perks. We stayed in Guam for seven days. We allotted our first four days for city activities which include tours and shopping, and the last 3 days for the beach.

TAMUNING

Days Inn Tamuning ($ 65++/night)

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We stayed in Days Inn Tamuning. It’s a good place if you’re on a budget. It’s far away from the the main attractions, but they do have a complimentary shuttle service shuttle that takes you to the different points of interests. The shuttle follows a tight schedule for pickups and drop offs so visitors using the shuttle should plan their daily itineraries well as not to miss the rides.

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Guam Premier Outlets

A good walking distance from the inn, and also one of the direct stops of the shuttle is the GPO or Guam Premier Outlets. This is where big name clothing brands give crazy discounts. They offer discounts in almost all ways imaginable. If you missed on a discount, just wait awhile and another discount will soon pop up.

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The GPO has a good selection of food stalls at the food court. We would frequent this place as it can be quite expensive to have to eat in restaurants all the time. The food court is where you can save cash on necessity meals.

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There’s a also a movie theatre at the GPO and movie ticket prices depend on the time of day.

TUMON

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From Days Inn, we would take the shuttle headed to Guam’s most touristy area, which is Tumon Bay. This is where the high end hotels, fine restaurants, and luxury shopping malls are situated.

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The Shuttle drop off is by the DFS Galleria which is conveniently located at the the heart of Tumon. Almost every building in Tumon is either a shopping complex or a hotel. You don’t have to be a shopper to enjoy the place. Just strolling and exploring is as much fun as it is already. You’ll also never run out of good places to eat whether you’re looking for a quick tasty bite or some fancy dinner.

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Take note though that public transportation in Guam caters more for tourists so bus itineraries are mostly for the touristy hot spots. So if your hotel is located somewhere obscure, it would be difficult to get around without a courtesy shuttle service or a car rental.

GUIDED TOUR: RIDE THE DUCKS ($ 35)

I booked two guided tours that would take us to the highlights of the city: Ride the Ducks, and Turtle Tours.

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Ride the ducks is a city tour wherein you hop on this amphibious shuttle called the “duck” as it goes around the city. There’s a voice recording that explains the surroundings as the duck moves around the city. The tour is mostly a city sightseeing drive by so you don’t get to leave the duck until it’s over.

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What makes this a unique experience is that at the last part of the tour, the duck would get off land and head to the sea, hence making use it’s amphibious feature. The driver then lets each passenger drive the duck around the water before the returning home.

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Another thing to add to the unique experience is that passengers are given duck call whistles and are encouraged to blow them along with the onboard “duck” themed music.

Ride the Ducks is a simple tour with a fun and unique gimmick and we did enjoy the experience.

GUIDED TOUR: TURTLE TOURS ($ 28)

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Turtle Tours offers many kinds of tours. We chose their city sight seeing tour which is a typical guided tour where you hop on a bus and a tour guide explains the points of interests around you. Except for a very few places, this tour differs in itinerary from the Ride the Ducks so booking both would not be redundant. It also stops at certain highlights where tourists can get off, take pictures, and have a more immediate appreciation and experience of certain places.

The tour took us to Historical landmarks. Guam’s history has three highlights: the ancient period, the Spanish occupation, and the World War.

Fort Santa Agueda

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One of the places that we got off was Fort Santa Agueda, a Spanish period site.

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Despite being called “Fort”, don’t expect huge fortified structures. What’s to see here are some very few monuments, historical plaques, and some canons.

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It’s the canons that would be the visual highlight of the place since they are situated at top of a cliff where you can have a beautiful overlooking view of the island.

Pacific War Museum

The World War site we visited was the Pacific War Museum.

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The museum has a collection of World War artifacts like defunct weapons, vehicles, equipment parts, uniforms, and all other things gathered from the Pacific War.

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They said the vehicles here still run, in fact, they are even paraded to the public on certain occasions.

Latte Stone Park

The Latte Stone Park is an ancient history site.

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It showcases late stones which were used as foundations for early buildings and structures during ancient Guam.

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These things vary in size, but for the most part they’re about a little taller than the average person.

Two Lovers Point

The Two Lovers Point is like a blend of pop-culture mixed with a bit of “history-ish” legend.

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What it is basically, is a cliff overlooking the ocean with lock hearts all over the fences, with an interesting legend behind it.

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The legend goes that during the Spanish times, there was a girl who fell in love with boy but they cannot marry each other since the girl was from a Spanish Family and the boy was a Chamorro warrior. The girl was arranged by her family to marry a Spanish captain, but instead, ran off with the Chamorro warrior. They were then chased to this cliff, and instead of being captured, they chose to jump and died together.

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By the entrance are tablets that illustrate the legend.

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There’s also a huge monument representing the legendary couple. No one knows for sure if this story is true or if the couple really existed, but nonetheless it makes the place a very interesting visit.

THE ROAD TRIP

We wanted to do more exploring of the island so we decided to take a car rental. That way, we can visit the places where no public transportation goes to.

War in the Pacific

Scattered along Guam’s coastal roads are War in the Pacific sites.

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These are World War II sites located along the shores.

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They are usually small military outposts and gun stations used by the US during the the war.

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There are actual defunct canons and artillery in these sites, as well as some historical descriptions of the place.

Fish Eye Marine Park ($ 24)

Along the coastal road is the Fish Eye Marine Park. This isn’t hard to miss as the entrance is just right by the side of the road. You get a discount on the entrance fee if you have a car rental.

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It’s a small underwater observatory where you can see marine life from underwater without getting wet. The walk to the observatory itself is unshaded and can be really hot on a sunny day. It’s best to wear sun protection like caps, or better yet, make use of the umbrellas by the entrance that could be borrowed for free.

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The place itself is pretty small though. Once you get down the stairs, that’s pretty much it.

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It’s just a circular room surrounded by windows so you can see the marine life outside.

Viewing Points

Continuing to drive along, the road lead us to the more rural parts of the island. The scenery turns from beachside to countryside. It’s an uphill-downhill drive across valleys, and what’s to watch out for are the viewing points.

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Viewing points are certain spots in the mountainous areas of Guam where you can have a great view from an elevated perspective.

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These are usually marked with a sign, a brief description, and some structures.

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They are scattered allover and are good spots for some quick photo ops.

Talofofo Falls ($ 12)

Our next destination was the Talofofo Falls.

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The falls is inside the Talofofo Falls Park which you must enter before you reach the falls. The falls itself just small, but there are other attractions inside the park to make the visit worthwhile.

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There’s a small museum at the park which showcases Guam’s history from the ancient times to the present days.

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Also are some rides and a horror show which we didn’t bother getting into.

But the other main attraction here is the Yokoi cave.

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The Yokoi cave is a small dug out hole used by a former Japanese soldier during WWII where he hid for years, not knowing that we war is over.

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What’s amazing here is seeing how small the cave is and how such a man could survive years and years living in such cramped spot.

We were able to circle Guam’s perimeter in about 6 hours.

TUMON BAY

Of course, none of the Guam trip would be complete without hitting the beach! Islands in the Pacific will always boast pristine, powdery, white sand beaches that meets turquoise waters. Guam is no exception. There are many beaches in Guam, as it is surrounded by them, but one we opted to go for and stay in was the famous Tumon beach. Since Tumon is the touristy part of Guam, Tumon beach is the prime beach destination.

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Guam Reef & Olive Spa ($ 200++/night)

We stayed at the Guam Reef and Olive Spa Hotel. It’s one of the premier hotels by the beach front.

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There are plenty of great beach front hotels in Tumon Bay, but what made me choose Guam Reef is its pool area.

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The pool area is situated on a ledge, giving you a great elevated view of the beach.

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The poolside bar is also pretty chill and serves free food at certain times of the day.

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It’s the perfect spot to hangout at take a sip of your favorite cocktail.

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It’s also a great place to catch the sunset while wading on the water.

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The room is very spacious and the balcony offers fantastic ocean views. No better place for the morning coffee.

Tumon Beach

Since it’s a touristy beach, there are plenty of tourists around the area. But the numbers are still good though. Plenty enough just to keep a lively vibe and few enough to not make it look too crowded.

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The beach has a long stretch of sand. Walking bare feet is a must as to feel the powdery goodness caress your toes.

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The water is very clear and has a turquoise hue. The sand stretches from the shore very gradually so you still get shallow depths of swimming pool calm water even when you’re already very far from the shore. Take note though that this beach is a little reefy in some areas, so it’s best to be careful when walking in the water as you’re likely to step on some coral pieces. Also, since it’s reefy, make sure to get some snorkeling gear as there are good coral formations and some fish schools that can be seen spread across in pockets.

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There are still plenty of things to see and do in this island paradise, and clearly seven days are not enough to be able to check all of them out. But the seven days we’ve spent in Guam make for a truly unforgettable experience. We’ll definitely come back!

For a video montage of our Guam trip highlights, check out this link —>