Osaka: Endo Sushi Kyobashi

This has got to be the highlight of my Osaka trip 2017. Endo Sushi is better known for its Osaka Central Fish Market outlet, tourists are known to throng the famed outlet even before the sun rises.

Instead, try Endo’s Kyobashi outlet which is right by Kyobashi subway.

It is exactly the same as its more famous counterpart, sans the queue and the early timing.

Each plate consist of five pieces of sushi:

  • You can switch 1 piece of sushi but the number must correspond.  For e.g. You can switch Third Plate’s Tamago with Fourth Plate’s Saka
  • For the unavailable sushi, the chef will replace the piece with something of similar value, omakase (the chef’s choice) style
  • Each plate will include Ootoro (the fattiest tuna).

Top: Fourth plate Bottom: First plate

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Penang Hostel: Container Hostel

I stayed a night in Penang as part of my overland journey to Bangkok. I was looking for a simple stay near the ferry as the night was meant to break up the monotony of the overland trip.

Container Hotel was more of a hostel than a hotel and it was situated right by the ferry. It’s a great no-frills stay if you’re not too picky.

Container Hotel group operates multiple hotels in Malaysia, including Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur. The concept is similar, a budget hotel option housed in containers. You can’t see it from the exterior but inside, the rooms are made in refurbished containers.

We stayed in the female private pod which was super affordable. Your privacy is accorded with the black out blinds.

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Overland journey to Bangkok: trains, bus and ferry

I have no idea what on earth possessed us to do the long route to Bangkok. In total, we spent about 11 hours + 20 hours = 32 hours (inclusive of transfers) taking a long road trip up to Bangkok.

Yes, I know there is a shorter route. Hey, where is your sense of adventure? We travelled in late Dec, spent New Year’s Eve in Bangkok and flew back to Singapore via Scoot.

One way road trip to Bangkok

No. Route Type Price Time  Link
1 Singapore to Butterworth Sleeper bus 45SGD 10hours Starmart Express via RedBus
2 Butterworth to Georgetown Ferry RM1.20 15 mins Penang Port
3 Georgetown to Butterworth Ferry 0 15 mins Penang Port
4 Butterworth to Padang Besar Train
#9500 /9208
RM29 2h 25 mins 12go.Asia
5 Padang Besar to Hua Lumphong Sleeper train #46 1225THB 17h 10mins 12go.Asia

Total costs in SGD: $103.69
Time spent (not including land transfers): Approx 32 hours

We booked all train rides and bus rides about 1 month ahead. There is no need to book ferry rides. The booking was really simple once you figured out how you are going to reach Bangkok.

Why did we do it?

My roomie and I always enjoyed road trips and we were inspired by this Tripzilla article that travelled to Bangkok by train entirely. Instead of doing the entire trip by train, I decided to break it up to include all forms of overland public transport – bus, ferry and train.

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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.

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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

Continue reading “Taipei: Ping Xi line timetable and map, sky lantern tips”

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.

Continue reading “Midori Sushi: familiar contemporary sushi”

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.

Continue reading “Traditional Sushi: Iwasa at Tsukiji Market”

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.