Japan 2016: EkoNeko

I seemed to be naturally drawn to cat cafes when I am overseas. Perhaps it’s the attachment I have to my cat, being away from my cat makes me feel a little… empty and void of furry-loving.

While my travel mates went mildly hysterical at Pokemon Centre at Ikebukuro, I took a short train ride out to EkoNeko.

Alight at Ekoda and walk through this alley

You can read more about EkoNeko on Rocket News. The concept is quite simple: All of the cats are rescued and up for adoption. The cat cafe serves as a temporary foster home for potential adopters to spend time with the cats. However, you can’t just pick up a cat and head home, there is a stringent interview process to ensure your commitment and responsibility.

The entrance fee for an hour is 1100Y with proceeds going into the upkeep of these strays. The staff doesn’t speak much English but enough to understand your request.

The cat cafe is about an apartment size big with plenty of cat toys, climbing posts and cages all around. No nasty smells.

Bearing the social enterprise concept in mind, the cats at EkoNeko are run-of-the-mill but friendly and fun to be around!

Hi Kitler

I really liked what Ekoneko stands for and their concept of utilising the cat cafe as a pre-adoption centre. Please visit if you’re in the area!

Attraction EkoNeko
Address Japan, 〒176-0005 Tōkyō-to, Nerima-ku, Asahigaoka, 1 Chome−73, 旭丘1丁目73−1
Opening hours 1200 – 2200
How to get there Stop at Ekoda station
Google Map Ekoneko

 

Taipei: Ping Xi line timetable and map, sky lantern tips

Prior to my trip, I searched high and low on the net for a map and timetable of Ping Xi line and I could not find them anywhere.

To get to Ping Xi

Taipei Main Railway –> Rui Fang

From Taipei Railway Main Station, purchase a ticket to Rui Fang to switch trains.  While you can purchase tickets on the day of, the recommendation is to purchase a day ahead so as to get reserved seats. The train ride takes about 30 minutes or so and costs approximately SGD3-5 maybe?

At Rui Fang, you will switch to Ping Xi line.

Ping Xi Line Map

The tricky thing about Ping Xi line is that the trains run infrequently. There is only one train that comes every hour. If you miss that train, you’d be stuck at that station for another hour. Try to be there at least 5 – 10 mins early.

The entire Ping Xi line map:

The typical stops are:

  • Hou Tong (aka Cat Village)
  • Shi Fen – where shops are beside the train tracks and a popular spot for releasing sky lanterns. Also a transit to Jiu Fen (another tourist hot spot)
  • Jing Tong – an old mining village
  • Ping Xi – alternate spot for sky lanterns and also a transit for Jiu Fen

Ping Xi Line Timetable

No idea how to read the Chinese characters and want the Ping Xi line timetable?

The timetable is quite self-explanatory. Look at the timing at the station, that is what time the train will depart. The trains are punctual, you can start boarding usually 5-10 minutes prior.

P.S. Click the image to download.

Direction: From Rui Fang to Jing Tong

As of October 2016, subject to changes

Direction: From Jing Tong to Rui Fang

As of October 2016, subject to changes

Tips for travelling Ping Xi Line

  •  Start at the station nearest to Rui Fang and hop further inland so that when you travel back to Taipei you’re at the end of the last station for more chances of snagging a seat.
  • If your last station is Ping Xi, do a bounce back: Travel to Jing Tong so that you can get a seat all the way to Rui Fang. It takes approximately 30 minutes from Jing Tong to Rui Fang.
  • Do this day trip on a weekday instead because even the locals flock here on weekends. Higher chances of scoring better pictures with lesser crowds!

  • If you intend to squeeze in Jiu Fen, do the Ping Xi early in the morning as travelling time takes a while. Personally, we did Ping Xi line and Jiu Fen on two separate days.
  • Sky lanterns are more expensive at Ping Xi (by maybe SGD5-10 more) but Ping Xi is also way less crowded than Shi Fen. We released our sky lantern around sun set and scored beautiful pictures.

 

Midori Sushi: familiar contemporary sushi

As compared to Iwasa Sushi, Midori Sushi veers onto the more commercial side. In fact, Midori has been rated to be one of the better sushi chains with higher quality dishes that do not break the bank.

Let me put this up front, I am no connoisseur in food. In my world, I rank it by:

  • Good: I would eat this 1-2x a week
  • Meh: I would eat this 1-2x a month
  • Bad: I would eat this 1-2x a year

Midori falls in the good category of course.  The sushi is familiar to me, I have seen most of them before and most importantly: The chef asked me if I wanted wasabi!

There are multiple Midori outlets throughout Tokyo. Venture into the more popular outlets and you’re probably going to wait 45 minutes or more. We were at the Kichijoji outlet at 7pm or so and waited about 20 minutes.

There was a more expensive option at 2,800Y but we were so full and satisfied with the 2,000Y option.

Each 2,000Y set comes with a crab paste salad, chawanmushi and soup. The crab paste salad did not look appetising but tasted amazing.

Between the more traditional sushi I had at Iwasa and Midori, I had a more enjoyable meal at Midori. Perhaps, I had grown up with more commercial sushi and Midori was more familiar and easier on the taste buds for me.

Attraction Sushi Midori
Address 1-1-24, Kichijojiminamicho, Musashino-shi, Tokyo Attrait Kichijoji B1 (Within Atre mall)
Opening hours 1100 – 2300
How to get there Stop at Kichijoji station
Google Map Sushi Midori

 

Traditional Sushi: Iwasa at Tsukiji Market

We were all geared up ready to get up at the crack of dawn to queue for Sushi Daiwa (the shop operated by legendary Sushi Dai’s son) but alas, holiday sleep got better of us.

We reached Tsukiji Market at 10am or so on a Saturday.. and we didn’t even qualify to queue which was snaking a few bends complete with a burly chef at the end of the line to stop potential tourists.

Oh well, we trooped off to Iwasa for our Omakase experience.

We went with the Omakase set although, on hindsight, I might have enjoyed the dons more.

I think we were there about 10+ am on a Saturday and the queue was manageable, about 30-45 mins before we got a seat. Most people seemed to eat very quickly and leave.

There wasn’t much of small talk, the chefs mentioned that we’d be very full from the meal.

I didn’t really recognise what I was eating except the usual suspects: eel, sea urchin, tuna and salmon roe and maki rolls.

Can I put my hand on my heart and say that I enjoyed this?

Not really, while I appreciate the traditional settings of the shop and the methods of preparation, these shops typically include wasabi in their sushi to keep the most authentic flavours.

And me? I don’t do wasabi at all. Initially, I tried the sushi with wasabi but found it very pungent and overpowering for my senses to truly enjoy my sushi (which I paid quite a sum for please) that I did probably one of the most unspeakable things – I dug out the wasabi. 😦

If you’re here and you don’t take wasabi, gather up the courage to tell the chefs! The sushi here is fresh and impeccable. My spirits rose as I had a better sushi degustation at a more commercial shop.

Attraction Iwasa Sushi
Address 6 Chome-27-3 Tsukiji, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0045, Japan
Opening hours 6am – 2.30pm (or 3pm on Sat)
How to get there Stop at Tsukiji MRT station
Google Map Iwasa Sushi

 

Taipei: Starbucks 101

Here’s a cheap way to hack Taipei 101: Instead of going up to the observatory on the 89th floor, book yourself a slot at Starbucks on the 35th floor.

There is a minimum spending of 200NTD per person (approx 1 drink + 1 snack) at Starbucks but that is still cheaper than the 600NTD observatory fee. You still get a pretty kickass view and best of all, you enjoy your favourite Starbucks drink! Each appointment is 1.5 hours long.

How to book

  1. Call Starbucks at +886 2 8101 0701 at least 24 hours before your preferred appointment. The staff speaks mostly Mandarin only
  2. Turn up at least 10 minutes before your appointment timing.

Do: Call from a Taiwan number. I tried using Skype to call but could not connect.

Where to wait

Enter via Xin Yi Road, Section.5, Door 7 for the lobby.

This is the lobby you’re looking for.

How to get that window seat

Each batch will head up in two separate lifts. The trick is to ensure that you are the last few to enter in the first batch of lift so that you are first to exit the elevator to grab the window counter seats.

  1. Arrive early enough so that you can count off the persons queueing. Time yourself such that you’re about the 16-18 person to be safe so that you’re at the last of the first batch.
  2. It is best to go in pairs – one person to grab the seat, the second person to queue up for drinks and snacks.

There is no way of avoiding the minimum charge. In the queue, a Starbucks staff will verify your appointment and hand you a Post-It note which will indicate the pax in your party. Hand this Post-It to the cashier when you purchase your food and drinks.

Pro Tip: Most drinks cost about 120NTD so the 80NTD snacks tend to go first. If you like a particular snack, try asking the staff if they have any left.

Attraction Starbucks Taipei 101
Address 10, Taiwan, Taipei City, Xinyi District, Section 5, Xinyi Rd, 7號
Opening hours 0730 – 2000 (Call +886 2 8101 8126 for an appointment)
How to get there Stop at Taipei 101 / World Trade Center metro station
Google Map Starbucks Taipei 101

 

Taiwan: Star Hostel (Taipei Main Station)

My friends and I joke that instead of going for a holiday, we went for a staycation at Star Hostel (Taipei) because we were too comfy to leave the hostel!

Probably of the higher price point than its competitors, and rightfully so, Star Hostel is one of the more beautiful and comfortable hostels I’ve stayed in despite some minor inconveniences.

The hostel is in the heart of Taipei, being one street away from Taipei Railway, Metro and Bus Station. Nestled within a residential area, it means you’re never short of eating options and convenience stores.

Check in and reception

You’re greeted by this mini tree house when you first step out of the lift.

The check in process is simple enough, pass them your itinerary and passport and you’re on your way.

Red flag no. 1: While Star Hostel states that it is serviced by an elevator, there is still one flight of stairs within the hostel that you may need to climb.

It seems quite common for Taiwanese hostels to require indoor slippers within the facilities. Beep your hostel card at the security door to enter.

Shoe lockers: switch your outdoor shoes for indoor slippers

The 8-bed mixed dorm

We are used to communal living, hence, staying in hostels are the norm for us.

There were a couple of ground rules: No eating and hanging of clothes in the dorm which meant that the room smelled clean at all times.

The bunk was also comfortable, I fell asleep very quickly for most of the times. Each bunk has a locker secured by RFID card. If you have a small-mid sized luggage, it would probably fit into the locker.

Red flag no.2: Although something which I did not get was the design of the shelf which meant that you’d have to think of creative ways to prop your adapters because of the lack of allowance for top cables.

Shower facilities

Red flag no. 3: There are only two female and three mixed gender showers within the hostel to be shared between 5 dorms (approx 36 pax). However, I never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a shower.

Mixed gender showers

I like that there is a wet and dry area within the shower cubicle so that you can dress with ease.

Vanity area in ladies showers

The lounge

Probably our favourite spot in the hostel, we spent most of our nights in the lounge area doing our individual work.

Kitchen, cafe and breakfasts

This is where breakfasts is served in the morning.

Thursday

Friday

Friday

Sunday

Sunday

At night, this turns into a bar

At night, the serving area turns into a bar

Verdict

The Good

  1. The superb location near all modes of transport makes travel really accessible and simple. Moreover, at Taipei Main Railway, you can hop on an express bus to Taoyuan Airport.
  2. The facilities are comfortable and clean, it almost feels like a staycation to us
  3. The ground rules set the hostel up for a great stay. Our roomies were considerate and non-existent for most parts. If you’re looking for a quiet and comfortable stay, this is for you.
  4. A convenience store settles your midnight craves and there are multiple eateries within a few steps. Try the crispy milk donut across the road!

Pro Tip: If you’re having a late night flight, you can leave your luggage at the hostel while you have a wander in the day. When you pick up your stuff, you can also request for a shower and hang out in the lounge. before you leave.

The Not So Goods

  1. Initially, I was worried having to wait for a shower. However, during my 5-night stay, I didn’t have to wait more than 5-10 minutes for a shower.
  2. The design of the power point and shelve in bed really don’t make functional sense to me.
  3. I was a little miffed at their marketing copy which stated that the hostel was serviced by a lift – which is true technically but the hostel failed to share that there were still internal stairs.

During our stay, Star Hostel was at full capacity for most of the time. If you’re looking to stay here, book early!

Hotel Star Hostel
Address 4F, No 50 Huayin St., Datong Dist., Taipei, Taiwan
Opening hours Check in: 1500, Check out: 1100
How to get there Walk from Taipei Main Railway, Metro or Bus Station. From Taoyuan, take KuoKuang Bus 1819 to the last stop.
Google Map Star Hostel

 

Japan Wireless #3

This is my third time using Japan Wireless and I can’t emphasise how much more convenience and accessibility it has brought to my travels in Japan.

On my first two trips to Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, I had used Japan Wireless too.

In Tokyo, I experienced the same superb connection, no breaks nor glitches and great customer service. This trip, I used the Premium 4G wireless egg instead of the Business Wifi I had used on my previous Japan trip in 2015

All about the Premium Wifi

Some comparisons I noticed between the Premium and Business Wifi:

  • Way faster connection at 187Mbps
  • Ability to stream YouTube videos and download necessary apps for navigation
  • Loads apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Pokemon Go instantly
  • Longer battery life of about 10 hours connecting to 3 mobile devices
  • No difference in connections between Tokyo city and suburbs

Collection of Wifi rental

I picked up my Wifi router rental at Narita Airport’s Post Office with no issues. Prior to my arrival, Japan Wireless provided me with a tracking number. I was assured that the Wifi router had reached Narita before I even touched down.

This is what the package contained:

  1. Mobile Wifi
  2. Power bank
  3. Cable
  4. Labelled envelope for easy return
  5. A pouch to hold everything

Travelling with the Wifi

The mobile Wifi is also small and easy to bring around in an outside pocket of your backpack, just chuck the extra power bank in your bag. The mobile Wifi is smaller than an iPhone 6.

The Wifi password is pasted on the mobile Wifi itself and is super easy to set up. Just search for the network and key in the password and you’re gold.

Working perfectly in Yokohama

My friend brought it out for Pokemon hunting at Ueno Park and reaped Dratini returns.

And Ueno

At Ueno Park: A Dratini spawning spot


And.. guess what we managed to catch?

My take on Japan Wireless

There are various packages available at Japan Wireless.

  • Business Wifi: If you’re using the wifi just to stay connected, go for the Business Wifi.
  • Premium Wifi: If you’re Pokemon hunting, Snapchatter, YouTube junkie and hooked on Instagram Stories, Premium Wifi is the way to go.

As with most rentals, the price is cheaper with additional days. Japan Wireless is also perfect if you’re travelling to multiple countries, hence, services like Changi Recommends do not make sense.

Amongst the other rental options, Japan Wireless provides one of the best options in terms of value, ease of picking up/returns and customer service.

As much as Japan is a technology driven country, you’ll be surprised at the lack of wireless options. My friend, who speaks Japanese, did not have data the last time she travelled to Tokyo shared that having data on the go really makes commuting a breeze. You can look up the correct train on the complicated transport system or find the correct exit in a huge station like Shinjuku, Shimbashi or Shibuya.

Returning process

Returning the Pocket Wifi was easy too, just slot everything into the pouch, seal the envelope and drop it into a mailbox or post office.

Rental details

Rent here: http://japan-wireless.com/
Product details: http://japan-wireless.com/products.html

P.S. This post is done in collaboration with Japan Wireless.

Sydney Fish Market

Is Sydney Fish Market worth the hype?

If you have been to the famed Tokyo’s Tsukiji’s market, you’ll probably find Sydney’s a little too tame. The western fish market is a great starting entry fish market for the unknown: it is not as noisy, crowded and a whole lot cleaner.

You’ll find rows and rows of lobsters. Supposedly, this is the renowned item of the market.

Perhaps, if you order an entire lobster, have it cooked with noodles like what most of the Asians there were having, you’d get the bang out of your buck.

We were on our mission to feast across Sydney with precious tummy space, so we were for bites across our favourite seafood.

This was my favourite item: Aburi scallop topped with cheese on a bed of rice.

Our mini seafood lunch came up to AUD28 for two:

  • A set of 3 Aburi scallop topped with cheese + 1 juice (AUD12)
  • 2 large oysters (AUD7)
  • 100g of salmon sashimi (AUD6)
  • Grilled lobster tail (AUD12)

I missed out on toothfish sashimi which I really wanted but could not get a small portion. The grilled lobster tail was an absolute letdown – it was rubbery and tasteless.

My take: Visit if it is on your way for a fresh seafood lunch available in small portions at budget prices. We actually took an hour’s trek from The Rocks’ Foodie Market because the weather was nice and cooling.

Paid tours are available to view the fish auction in the mornings.

Attraction Sydney Fish Market
Address Bank St & Pyrmont Bridge Road, Sydney NSW 2009, Australia
Opening hours 7am – 4pm mostly
How to get there Wentworth Park Light Rail
Google Map Sydney Fish Market

Pictures by the talented Camistry Lab.

Johor Bahru 2016: Bello Hotel

After I had discovered the Transtar Cross Border service, I am a changed woman when it comes to Johor Bahru day trips.

Instead of squeezing all activities into a day and hiking in the hot heat, I’m all for staying over in JB and enjoying more meals across the causeway.

If you only need a clean and comfortable place to sleep that is a skip and a hop away from City Square, Bello Hotel is your man.

One of the new kids on the block, Bello Hotel only started operations in June 2015. There are only 50 rooms across six floors and yes, there is a lift.

We stayed in a twin room that was small and cosy. The room was quite far away from the lifts so we were spared from the noise.

For the price we paid, approx S$76 for a twin room, I think the hotel is value for money. You get a comfortable bed, air conditioning, rain shower and okay wifi. I’d definitely stay here again if I am staying over in JB.

The Good

  • Superb location: The hotel is just behind City Square, you can pop by for an afternoon nap if you are tired. After a night’s shopping, you are reassured that the hotel is nearby.
  • There is a 7/11 next to the hotel, night hawkers and a few coffee shops in front of the hotel.
  • The staff is warm and friendly, there is a leave luggage option if you want to do more shopping or cafe hopping the next day.

The Not So Good

  • The bed is not a standard hotel issue bed – it is on the softer side and you feel like you sink into clouds.
  • Jalan Meldrum is quite a busy area, plenty of people (esp middle-old aged men) gather in the coffee shops to watch soccer. Think of it as your Chinatown. I don’t feel that this is an issue but plenty of reviewers pointed this out.
  • We found a dead cockroach in our shower. No big deal for us, I just picked it up with a tissue paper and flushed it down.
Hotel Bello Hotel
Address 21 Jalan Meldrum, 80000 Johor Bahru, Malaysia
Opening hours Check in: 2pm, Check out: 12 noon
How to get there Walk from City Square
Google Map Bello Hotel

Australia 2015: Mr Crackles

One of my favourite eats in Sydney has got to be Mr Crackles. I was recommended this spot by my Bestie who did a secondment in Sydney just a couple of months before me.

It isn’t much of a diner or cafe, it’s more of a supper spot. There were a few bar seats but nothing fanciful.

The star here is the roasted pork belly roll (A$13.50). You get a strip of luscious roasted pork belly lain atop Vietnamese salad sandwiched in a crispy baguette.

Now, just talking about it makes me miss this.

I don’t eat much of roasted meat when I am in sunny Singapore but just writing about Mr Crackles makes me crave for roasted meat now.

For a greater indulgence, get a cup of Crackling, i.e., roasted pork skin (A$5) to go along.

Pictures by: Camistry Lab

Attraction Mr Crackles
Address 155 Oxford St.,
Darlinghurst, Sydney 2010 AUS
Opening hours Mon-Wed: 11:30am – 9:30pm, Thurs: 11:30am – 1:30am, Fri: 11:30am – 4:30am, Sat: 12pm – 4:30am, Sun: 12pm – 10:30pm
How to get there Nearest train station: Museum
Google Map Mr Crackles