Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Turning 24 in a Chocolate Room

I interrupt the start of the Okinawa posts to do a belated recap of my birthday. This year, I stayed at the Chocolate Room in Hotel Amsterdam and I just have to share the pictures with you! This is a room that I've wanted to stay in the moment I saw it, and I decided that my birthday was as good a time as any. My cousin decided to come join me so I had a really fun time.

By the way, if you're visiting Huis ten Bosch in the three days before, on, or the three days after your birthday, you can get a birthday sticker which gives you a few perks at certain shops.


Hotel Amsterdam is located in the paid area of Huis ten Bosch, so make sure that you buy tickets for every day that you'll be inside! I.e. if you're staying a night, you need two days worth of tickets.

But there's no need to worry that you'll be spending a ton on tickets - the tickets for the day you check out is one of the privileges of staying the hotel (as long as you buy either an entrance ticket or 1 Day pass and are a paying guest - children sleeping for free (not paying for a bed) don't get this).

↑ Would anyone like to guess how many times I've said this for it to be the first thing I say about the hotel?


The lobby area! I really like that it feels very airy!


And our room! I was so excited just to see the door!


And the room!


The view from the other side.


All the cushions are little chocolates. There are regular pillows too, so these are more for decoration than actual use.



I also thought it was really cute that the chocolate bars on the walls referenced the hotel.


Everything in the room is chocolate-themed, so the furniture is either chocolate brown or a rich complementary red. The room is supposed to resemble the Count Chocolate's Mansion, which is one of the attractions in the park.


Even the switches look like chocolate!


They have chocolate shampoo and conditioner too, which smelled pretty good.


The vanity area.

Other side:

They had chocolate-shaped bath bombs and hand soaps as well. Plus the usual hotel soaps and toiletries.

Our stay came with two bars of chocolate as well, one for each person!


And because I stayed on my birthday, I got a birthday cake, plus early-check in and late check out.


The cake was good too!


Other foods we ate
We pretty much did non-stop eating for the entire day. We started with a sushi buffet at Kissuitei:


Apart from sushi, there are also other dishes like chawamushi, tempura, soups, desserts, etc. The tempura is prepared when you order so it's really fresh.


And everything was so good! Kissuitei is pretty expensive so this was a nice way to try their dishes without completely emptying my wallet. By the way, the meal starts with a plate of sushi that they bring to you so make sure you have a lot of room in your stomach.


We also had these really awesome potatoes with truffle sauce at the wine festival:


These were so good that we had them three times in two days! I also got a free slice of cheesecake here because it was my birthday.

And for supper, we had a drink. I chose the hot chocolate because it came with a marshmallow cat!


It came with free chocolate because it was my birthday.


And if you noticed the differently coloured glasses in the previous pictures, those are all the same drink! My cousin had this lighted up cocktail which looked incredibly pretty.


My birthday this year literally turned out to be very sweet and I'm so happy that I got to stay in the chocolate room before going back to Singapore. If you're looking for a unique place to stay and you love chocolate, I think you'll love this(:

(By the way I read over the post and it sounds SO promotional so I should just clarify that I paid full price for this, out of my own pocket. The only free things I received were the birthday perks that every birthday person receives.)

Monday, 16 October 2017

Getting Around in Okinawa

Before going to Okinawa, I did a little research and I found that basically everyone recommends that you use the monorail within Naha and if you're leaving Naha, to rent a car. This turned out to be true. While my sister and I didn't try the public bus, we did end up using three forms of transport:

Yuirail (Monorail)
If you're only traveling within Naha, the Yuirail (monorail) is the way to go. It goes through Naha city and fairs range from 150 yen to 330 yen for adults. There are also 1 Day Passes (800 yen) and 2 Day passes (1400 yen). The great things about the 1 Day and 2 Day tickets are that they last 24 or 48 hours from the time of purchase. For example, I bought a 1 Day ticket at 1pm when I landed and it lasted until 1pm the next day, something I found to be very useful.

1 Day Pass + Free Rurubu Magazine - The magazine is also worth picking up if you read Japanese
Of course, traveling around Naha is pretty inconvenient with your luggage, but there are lockers at the monorail stations. There are lockers in every station, but the size of the lockers and the number of lockers vary according to station. For more information, here's a PDF that has the number of each type of locker for every station (PDF is in Japanese).

Lockers at Kenchomae station
You can also get discounts if you show the 1 Day or 2 Day ticket at various attractions. I managed to get discounts to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and I saw a sign for discounts at Shuri castle. There seems to be more and if you read Japanese, I think this PDF would be quite useful.

Summary
Pros:
- Cheap
- Comes with discounts to various attractions (for the 1 day or 2 day passes)
Cons:
- It can be troublesome to bring your luggage around
- Be prepared to walk quite a bit as not all the attractions are next to the stations (for example, it's about 20 minutes to Shuri castle from either of the two closest stations)

Rental Car
My sister and I used this method the most and we found it indispensable when traveling around Northern Okinawa.

Turns out that the only photo I have of the car is the one where ice-cream is the main feature
Rental cars were also surprisingly inexpensive. We paid 23,031 yen for a 4 day rental from Budget Rent a Car and 7,992 yen for a 12 hour rental from Nippon Rental Car. These prices included car insurance. Considering that the bus tours we found cost about 5000 yen per person, renting a car ended up costing around the same but gave us a lot more flexibility.

Parking also turned out to be a non-issue. The only fees we paid while traveling out of Naha were the toll fees, and pretty much every place I went had free parking. Within Naha, however, we ended up paying for parking at Shuri castle. I would say that if you're planning to stay in Naha and your hotel doesn't come with parking, you might want to just rent a car for 12 hours instead of several days.

Summary:
Pros:
- Most convenient way to get around
- Not as expensive as one might expect
Cons:
- One person can't drink. It isn't really a problem for us since I'm not a drinker, but if you're traveling with a group of friends and all of you like a beer with lunch/dinner, then this might be a problem.

Tour Bus
I already wrote a mini-review of this in the master post, so I won't talk too much about this. A tour bus is a good idea if you don't like driving but want to travel to long places. If you're traveling alone, it also tends to be cheaper than renting a car (although once you have two or more people, then I think it's either the same or slightly cheaper).


If the tour bus has many pick-up stops, you should also be prepared for an extremely long ride (especially if you're one of the first few!). But if you pick the right tour, you might find this to be a good way to travel to around Okinawa.

Summary
Pros:
- You pretty much don't need to worry about driving or catching a bus/monorail
- Cheaper than a car if you travel alone
Cons:
- You'll be on a schedule
- There might be a longer travel time than with a car if there are many pick-up stops.

Conclusion
If you're fine with walking, I would recommend the Yuirail within Naha and the rental car when you're out of the city. But, if you're with someone who can't walk very far or if you plan to do a lot of shopping, I would advise you to get a car even if you're traveling within Naha.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Okinawa Trip Master Post

Hey everyone, I just came back from Okinawa and it was great! I spent about a week there with my sister and I have so much to share (and I just realised I haven't even blogged about my birthday, yikes!). While I'm going through the photos, I thought I'd write down the itinerary and a quick summary of the places we stayed in.

I will probably be recapping each place by place (probably one or two places per post) but if you're interested in reading a day by day recap, my Dayre has that. This is the link to the first day and you can just keep clicking from there.

For now, this is our itinerary. My sister and I don't like to rush, so we didn't go to that many places each day. Also, my sister had two days of diving so I did my own thing then. I think that it's totally possible to do everything we did even if you don't have as much time. Also, we didn't have the budget to go to one of the other islands, so this is just for the main island.

Itinerary
Day 1: Naha (touchdown 1pm)
- Tida Beach Parlour
- Bukubuku Tea
- 首里金城町石畳道 (Shuri kinjyo stone road)
Accommodation: AirBnB
Transport: Monorail

Day 2: Naha + Onna
- Makishi Market (and surrounding area)
- Okinawa Prefectural Museum
- Sis arrives and we go to Onna
Accommodation: Pension Weekend
Transport: Monorail + Rental Car

Day 3: Onna
- Sis dives (Day 1)
- Zakimi Castle Ruins
- Manzamo Cape
- Ryukyu Village
- Blue Diamond Cafe
- Kyoda Rest Area
Accommodation: Pension Weekend
Transport: Rental Car

Day 4: Onna
- Sister dives (Day 2)
- Busena Marine Park
- Afternoon Tea @ The Ritz Carlton
Accommodation: Pension Weekend
Transport: Rental Car

Day 5: Northern Okinawa
- Orion Happy Park
- Kouri Island Beach
- Yuiyui Kunigami Rest Area
Accommodation: Asahi Guest House
Transport: Rental Car

Day 6: Bus Tour
- Nago Pineapple Park
- Ryugujyo Butterfly Garden
- Churaumi Aquarium
- Okashigoten Nago shop
Accommodation: Asahi Guest House
Transport: Tour Bus

Day 7: Naha and surrounding area
- Shuri Castle
- Haebaru Aeon
- Okinawa World
- Ashibinaa Outlet Mall
Accommodation: Asahi Guest House
Transport: Rental Car

Day 8: Last Day
- Makishi Public Market
- Marvel: Age of Heroes Exhibition

Links
Getting around Okinawa
Our accommodations

A note about diving
I didn't go diving, but my sister did and she highly recommends Piranha Divers Okinawa, which is the dive shop that she used. She did the Advanced Open Water Diver Course with them and she had a great time (and managed to get some amazing photos and videos). I'm still trying to persuade her to let me share the photos, but if you're looking for a diving course conducted in English, you should definitely consider them.

Quick Bus Tour Review
While my sister and I originally planned to go on two bus tours, we ended up going on only one (due to my inability to differentiate between the months). While I can't compare companies, here's a quick review of the tour we did go to.

We booked this tour through Veltra because:
1. There was supposed to be an English audio guide
2. The tour allocated 3 hours for Churaumi Aquarium
3. Lunch was included.

Our impressions of the tour were:
1. The English audio guide was severely lacking. There was an English introduction to Churaumi aquarium and the surrounding area, but nothing for the other stops (possibly because there was some trouble with the equipment at the start). Although the tour guide was very kind, she could only speak Japanese, so if you weren't traveling with a Japanese speaker, you're pretty much out of luck.
2. There was indeed 3 hours at Churaumi Aquarium and it was great! That said, I felt like there wasn't enough time allocated to the other attractions. I suppose it's a consequence of having many pick-up stops, but apart from Churaumi, the tour felt very rushed.
3. Lunch turned out to be Okinawa soul food aka Okinawa soba at the Ryugujyo butterfly garden. I thought it was enough but my sister thought that the soba didn't come with enough ingredients (it basically had one piece of pork and one fishcake).

Overall verdict:
If we were staying in Onna or somewhere that wasn't Naha and had a car, it would have been better to just skip the tour and drive to the various places ourselves. But since we were staying in Naha at that time and didn't rent a car, this was the most convenient way to go to those places. Still, I'd only recommend this if you know Japanese, plan to travel with someone who knows Japanese, or if you're comfortable not knowing what the guide is saying (they do have the time the bus departs written down, so if you google the places beforehand it's possible to just use this as a method of transport).

This is going to end up being a very link-heavy post, so here's a photo of a beach to break the monotony:


Right now, I plan to recap the places we went to + food we ate + one post on accommodation + one post on transport, so if there's anything else you'd like me to cover, let me know and I'll either add it to this post or make a new post for it!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Last Day of Work

Quick note about comments: After receiving an email last year, I've been rethinking Google+ comments and I've decided to go back to blogger comments for now. It means that I've lost about three to four years of comments, but I've stopped getting notifications for Google+ and I can't reply to quite a few anyway so back to basics we go (I'd rather everyone be able to comment too). I'm still deciding if I want to use a third party system so please let me know if you have an opinion one way or the other. 

I am now officially funemployed.

(While I wish I could take credit for the term, it's something that my sister created)

It has been a strange experience so far. I am still on a 'work schedule' with regards to my sleep patterns, and I've been dreaming about work for the past two days. And while I've known that my last day was coming for close to two months now (I had to give a lot of notice), it seems to have crept up on me. One day, I was thinking "oh, I still have plenty of time" and then next, "wait, isn't my last day next week? I HAVE TO GET THE PRESENTS READY."


There is a distinct possibility that I went overboard with the presents. I prepared slightly more than 40 packets for my department and about 15 packets for people outside my department and I still had a bag of sweets for "emergencies". Each packet was basically a collection of Singaporean snacks (+ a keychain for people in my department.)

By the way, I have no idea if this is de rigueur in Japanese companies. All I know is that I wanted to give my coworkers something because they've been incredibly patient and helpful. For what it's worth, I know of two other people within my company who also gave out snacks/presents when they quit. But that is a really small sample size so take it as you will.

Anyway, I thought that I'd be completely cool and normal on my last day but it turns out that I am a big baby. I was so close to tears just giving out the farewell presents. I feel really lucky to have been assigned to the department I was in and the thought of never being able to work with everyone again made me want to cry.

But I powered through and just when I thought I was going to be okay, this happened:


I was surprised by a few of my batchmates and some of my colleagues.

I am really blessed to have been able to work with such caring people. It was really hard to say the words 'thank you' because I could feel the tears coming again.

To be honest, (and I'm sure it's very obvious) I'm not sure how one is supposed to blog about their last day of work. I was mainly saddened by the thought that I won't get to work with my colleagues and overwhelmed by the fact that they managed to prepare this surprise (especially since I tried to keep the fact I was quitting quiet). So this is my more-rambly-than-usual blogpost about my last day of work.

Now to pull myself together and start preparing to go back to Singapore.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Picking Grapes and Pears in Imari

I decided to bring my mom and bro fruit picking while they were here because this is something that you can't do in Singapore (mushroom picking, maybe? I'm not sure if the mushroom farm allows that). We decided to go to 樋口果樹園 (higuchi kajyuuen) because my coworker recommended it and because the grapes she shared with me were really, really good.

Unfortunately, the place wasn't on Google maps and I couldn't find a website for them, though I did find a phone number. So here is the route we took:

Head towards the ふるさと村 駅の道 (furusatomura eki no michi), which is a rest stop. Side note: you could spend some time there too. I hopped off the car to ask for directions and there was a market and performances going on and it does look like a pretty interesting place.

Anyway, there's a traffic light just in front of where you turn into the carpark for ふるさと村 駅の道 . Go past the traffic light and look for a narrow road leading to a red bridge before the next set of traffic lights. Turn into that road and cross the bridge. Follow the path up the mountain and you will see the farm on the left side of the road.


These are the prices. It's 500 yen for 1kg of pears and between 2000 and 3000 per kg of grape (depending on the variety of grape that you choose).


There was actually no more parking space but the staff here were extremely family and managed to conjure up a spot for us! The rest area + cashiers are at the pear areas!


The first thing the staff did was to give us a plate of pears. This was before we paid so my mom and I were a bit surprised. The pears were incredibly sweet and juicy and so good! I also saw people getting seconds but one plate was enough for us (please don't go and just eat all the pears and leave without paying anything).


It was really lovely to eat under the pear trees! By the way, you can't pick the pears in this area - there are specific areas where you can pick the fruits, so be sure to ask someone before you start.


We decided to get both pears and grapes!


my mom having fun. 
 The grapes are located on the other side of the road.


If you decide to get both grapes and pears, you will need two baskets. So do let the staff know if you intend to get both types of fruit.


Like with the pears, only certain areas of the grapes were available for us to pick.


We got the もこもこキング (moko moko king) variety of grapes! They're seedless but sweet and huge. We also got to try the grapes before we picked them. The guy there (I think he was the owner? Or at least he acted like the owner) was very friendly and insisted that we try at least two grapes of each variety, because if you're trying a new variety after having eaten one, the taste of the previous grape will still be on your tongue and so you need at least two to properly taste the grape.

I like grapes so I happily had a few.


You basically have to get a bunch at one go. The bigger ones are about 1kg each, but ours were quite small and two bunches only added up to 1kg.


You will need a car to get to this farm but it is definitely worth a visit during the grape + pear season! My mom actually brought some of the grapes and the pears back and my grandfather loved them so much he videoed called me to ask me to get more if possible (I think I'll be leaving after the season, though, so I'll have to find something else :p).

If this place is a bit too hard for you to find, there are actually a lot of orchards in the area. We drove past a least three places where you could pick grapes/buy freshly picked grapes, so there are a lot of choices. I can't really say what other places are good, but you could always go to the tourist information center at the ふるさと村 駅の道  and get a list of places and information about the area. Imari is also famous for its pottery and Okawachiyama (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) is actually a part of Imari, so you can definitely go to both places in one day!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Time for Me to Go Home

Hey everyone,

I've got a fairly big announcement but I think everyone that read the title already knows what it is.

After five and a half years in Japan, it's finally time for me to go home. It's not because of Japanese society or my job or anything — I've got some family stuff going on (plus homesickness) that made me decide that it's time to go back.

I feel like posts like these are supposed to be long heartfelt announcements, but this is all I've got to say for now. I will be focusing on finishing my job well and preparing to move back to Singapore (and travel a little, in the meantime) and of course, I'll be sharing as much as I can in case it's helpful to anyone. Beyond that, I haven't really thought about it, though I suppose there's no need for this blog to exist once I'm back in Singapore (it's on blogger so I won't take it down, but I probably won't update it much/anymore).

And with that done, let's go back to regular programming - next post is a long-delayed one on fruit picking! (Or am I the only one interested in things like that :p)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Nagasaki Bio Park

Every week when I make my way to Church, I pass by a display about the Nagasaki Bio Park. There are lots of nice photos of animals and more importantly, capybara plush toys which made me want to visit. And with my mom and brother in Japan, I finally had an excuse to go.

Nagasaki Bio Park was about a 40 minute drive from my place and if you want my conclusions first: it's like a bigger, slightly more run down version of the Singapore Zoo. Obviously this is my favourite zoo that I've visisted in Japan because most of the animals were not in cages.


I also have over 40 photos that I want to share so YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

When we reached the zoo, we were immediately greeted by a lama


And a couple of beautiful parrots!


They totally made me really excited about all the animals!

The Nagasaki Bio Park also has this area called PAW (Pet Animal World) which is a petting zoo consisting of domestic pets. We decided to just visit the bio park area but you can get tickets for both areas too. You can find the ticket prices here (English link).


The first area is a "free area" but it's really where the gift shop, a few food stalls and I think a couple of birds are (although I didn't see any birds in the pond).


 Of course, there were cute capybara plush toys!


This is the proper entrance where they take the tickets from you.


I really liked this sign because it felt like the park was the animal's home and we were just visiting.


As soon as we were inside, we saw a swan swimming around a ledge where monkeys lived.


I don't know why but I thought of the Lion King when I saw this. Although it's missing the lion cub and I'm pretty sure Rafiki was a different species so I guess my brain just had The Lion King on its mind that day.



The first petting/feeding area we saw (and there were quiet a few of them) was for the Patagonian Cavy.


My brother looks calm here but these creatures were seriously aggressive!


I think they've learnt to associate humans with food so as soon as they see someone holding something in their hands (like my camera) they come bounding up.


It was pretty cool to be able to get so close to them!


Until they decided my camera was food and then I headed straight for the exit.


The next stop was the Flower Dome which instantly reminded me of Gardens by the Bay.


It is, however, a lot wilder than the Gardens by the Bay. There were tons of orchids and basically plants growing everywhere!


It was really beautiful!


We also saw a bat, which very pointedly had its back towards us. But when I was talking to my colleague, she mentioned that the bat waved to her and her family when they visited so I suppose this was an off day.


The next dome was the Amazon dome, which was a bit disappointing. I did like how the sun looked as it shone through the roof.

But it was generally rather run down. The glass was extremely cloudy and I couldn't see the animals clearly.


There was also (and here I am translating literally) a black fox squirrel but I couldn't really get a look at it, even though someone else was holding out the feed. But my colleague mentions that it generally responds to food, so I guess it was just full.


This ball of fur was the best shot of it I could get.


Next up (after we passed by a few other animals) was the flamingo lake! You could go in and get real close to the flamingos, but I did see a couple head towards the humans and I much prefer to appreciate animals from a distance. This is why my camera can zoom. (And why I will never be a nature photographer)



My mom "take a picture while it's flapping its wings! Quick!!!!"


By this time, my brother was getting a bit tired and so we decided to take a lunch break. I got the kakuni don which was really good! They also had homemade blueberry gelato (which we were sadly too full to eat) so I'd recommend checking the menu for seasonal items/stuff made from the plants grown in the biopark!


After lunch, we went fishing for crawfish! We had to give them back but it was a pretty interesting experience.


Turns out that my brother and I aren't very good at fishing. My mom, on the other hand, managed to catch a few.


Here's a random shot of the park.


We continued on the way and saw more monkeys


AND THE CAPYBARAS!! Doesn't this one look like a model?


The capybaras actually get their own onsen in the winter, so you might want to consider visiting around that time (then again, the park is mostly out in the open so you might be very cold if you're anything like me).


While the capybaras are also very friendly and mistook my camera for food, they were generally a lot more chill than the Patagonian Cavies.


And for my Malaysian friends - they have a Malaysian information hall! Apparently, Malaysia helped by providing a lot of animals. The posters are a few years old, though, so if you know any one in the tourism center you might want them to send updated stuff.


More feedings going on.


We also went into this monkey forest place and promptly left as soon as we got pictures because of all the poop warning signs.


I didn't really take photos of the rest of the animals but I did want to capture this. A few exhibits are separated by fairly long treks and I like that they put a series of quizzes to help break the monotony.


We ended the treat by having a drink. I had this matcha cola which looked really pretty but basically tasted like coca cola/pepsi. There wasn't really a matcha taste to me.


If you love animals, you'll probably enjoy the Nagasaki Bio Park. It's a good way to spend the day and I really did enjoy seeing the animals (somewhat) up close and personal.

Link to the English website: http://www.biopark.co.jp/en/