South Korea, the Land of Morning Calm – Exploring Seoul & Jeju Island

Happy 2018, everyone! ūüéÜūüéČ

I know it’s a little late, but how did you spend your Christmas and New Year’s? In view of our financial constraints brought about by our upcoming wedding in November,¬†fianc√© and I settled on a staycation in lieu of a getaway last year-end holiday. In a way, I was relieved to have escaped the harsh cold weather in the destinations we had shortlisted before aborting the plan. Being someone with exceptionally low tolerance for cold, holidaying in temperate places during winter is seldom fun for me. But unless I’m travelling alone, I usually don’t have a choice. Tropical Asians generally prefer to go somewhere cooler (it’s like air-conditioned air everywhere, they say), don’t they?

I wanderlust pretty often. But much as I enjoy jetting off to foreign lands from time to time, I’m not going to lie – I tend to drag my heels over writing travelogues mainly because of the amount of time needed to invest in editing the colossal torrent of pictures taken and recalling the experience (which is often impeded by my bad memory) when it could be better spent on doing beauty reviews. But knowing these experiences will be mostly forgotten in a few years, electronically journaling them is an absolute necessity. Thus this is why, after procrastinating for more than a year, my Seoul travelogue is finally happening ūü§£

Changi Airport was decked out in Pokémon deco for Christmas in 2016! Their best theme yet :B

Changi Airport was decked out in Pokémon deco for Christmas in 2016! Their best theme yet :B

The gigantic Pikachu that has been making its rounds in Singapore - its last appearance was at Hillion Mall in December!

The gigantic Pikachu that has been making its rounds in Singapore – its last appearance was at Hillion Mall in December!

Having immersed ourselves in quite a number of Korean dramas and Running Man that year (largely kick-started by Descendants of the Sun¬†in 2016¬†ūü§£), Seoul came naturally as our top destination pick. That said, it was my second trip to Seoul with the first being solo (fully subsidised by BLS Korea – thank you for having me!)¬†during summer in July in the same year for a conference as a beauty blogger. I had a blast so I didn’t mind going there again to stock up on my Korean beauty supplies. My fianc√© and I normally travel free and easy on our own but this time we were joined by his parents who prefer going on organised tours. For that, they engaged the services of Super Travels¬†who provided us a Chinese-speaking tour guide¬†(a Taiwanese living in South Korea)¬†for our 8D6N trip.

The trip started on an awry note as my winter kicks gave way in the midst of my Grab ride to the airport unbeknownst to me. It was only after alighting from the car that I realised one side of my shoes was missing its thick sole. The infrequent usage must have dried out the glue and caused the sole to detach in the car ūüėę I immediately changed out into my spare espadrilles meant for indoor use and discarded the unusable pair while praying that I wouldn’t need to hike across rough terrain.

For easy navigation, click on the hyperlinks in the daily itinerary to jump to their respective write-up, or choose one of the days below:

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3 | DAY 4 | DAY 5 | DAY 6 | DAY 7

* * DAY 1 * *

(Pocket WiFi Rental → Korean Healthfood Restaurant →
ELAND Cruise → GLAD Hotel)

We boarded our SQ flight at 7.05 am at Terminal 3 and arrived at Incheon International Airport about seven hours later. If I remember correctly, we had to take a shuttle bus after disembarking from the plane to get to the immigration hall. The queue to clear customs was relatively short (like my previous time) so it didn’t take long before we could collect our luggage at the carousel. Our tour guide and a few other Singapore tourists (who took the same flight as us) had already gathered at the waiting area when we emerged through the arrival gate.

Anticipating that we wouldn’t have time to look for and pick up a pocket WiFi at Incheon Airport (there are plenty to choose from and the booth I got my WiFi Egg from on my first visit was super efficient), we had actually¬†rented one from WifiBaby¬†in Singapore for S$44 for 8 days ($5.50/day per unit). It ran on 4G with a daily fair usage of 500MB (after which the network speed would slow down) and could be shared among five devices. Technically, pocket WiFi isn’t entirely necessary if you’re on a free and easy trip because there is practically WiFi at most touristy areas. But I hate the thought of having to hunt for hotspots to post a photo on Instagram because I heavily rely on GPS to identify my location then and there. Besides, if you’re travelling in tour groups which often set off on long and dreary journeys, a pocket WiFi is a definite must.

Changi Recommends was our initial choice (for convenience sake) but all units were – as usual – already booked for that period when we tried to make a request online four days before. I figured that unless you plan your holiday way ahead of time (especially during peak seasons), it is almost impossible to successfully place a reservation for the pocket WiFi with Changi Recommends so the next best alternative would be WifiBaby for their comparable rates. The downside, however, is that you’d have to put down a deposit (though I don’t remember having to do so for my order) and collect and return the device to their office at Raffles Place during business hours.

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Chilly winds engulfed me the moment I stepped out of the airport to get to the bus, followed by speckles of drizzle on my cardigan. Looking up at the gloomy sky, the rain didn’t seem like it was letting up anytime soon and that was when I knew my feet were going to be trapped in moist, smelly shoes for the next seven days. Therefore, my dedicated hashtag for this vacation was along the lines of #coldrea which was an understatement in itself. Perhaps #soakcoldrea would have been more apt ūüôĄ..

Like Japan, South Korea is one hour ahead of Singapore which, by the way, requires some getting used to for sleepyheads like myself (as this means having to wake up an hour earlier every time ūüėī). After what felt like an hour’s drive, the bus dropped us off at¬†Korean Healthfood Restaurant¬†for dinner at about 6pm KST.

Korean Healthfood Restaurant

Korean Healthfood Restaurant

The overall facade of the restaurant somehow reminded me of that of a factory store. The name of the restaurant wholly in Chinese characters, coupled with the absence of local diners inside, gave me the impression that it was very tourist-oriented. For a split second, I thought we were going to be pressured to buy something at our first destination! Thankfully, this suspicion proved to be unfounded when pots and pots of piping hot samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup) were served to our table.

Kimchi (salted and fermented vegetables), a common side dish in Korean cuisine

Kimchi (salted and fermented vegetables), a common side dish in Korean cuisine

Pickled radish, another common side dish

Pickled radish, another common side dish

Samgyetang

Samgyetang

Glutinous rice inside the chicken

Glutinous rice inside the chicken

As if there wasn't enough carb in this dish, I went ahead to add some noodles..

As if there wasn’t enough carb in this dish, I went ahead to add some noodles..

For the record, I am not very well-versed in Korean cuisine (outside of kimchi and barbecue) so despite samgyetang being a relatively popular Korean dish, I had never tasted it prior to this trip. What better way to try a Korean delicacy for the first time than to have it in its place of origin? ūüėč

This bubbling pot of samgyetang sent warmth to my chilled soul (and belly) right from the very first mouthful. The ginseng taste in the broth is pretty mild on my Chinese taste buds but may be a little overpowering for those who’ve not had it before. And then came the surprise when I pried the chicken open with the spoon: there’s even glutinous rice with red dates and chestnuts (and a whole lot of other herbs) tucked in there to complete the hearty meal! Apparently, each ingredient of the samgyetang also packs tons of¬†health benefits¬†including¬†boosting energy and the immune system.

The chicken meat was soft and tender but the many fragments of bones made it rather bothersome to savour fully. Still, the samgyetang was a great introductory dish to Korean cuisine, especially during the cold weather months. I was craving for samgyetang so much within a week from returning home that I started hunting it down at Korean restaurants and stocking up on the instant version!

Korean Healthfood Restaurant · 93 Yeonnam-ro, Yeonnam-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul  03975, South Korea
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Post dinner, we hopped onto the bus and headed to the next destination. The vehicle halted at a bus bay and we walked some distance to an area lit with colourful neon lights. Behind these Christmas decorations was Eland Cruise, purportedly the filming location of the ship scene in My Love from the Star.

Hello day 1!

Hello day 1!

The entrance to Eland Cruise ferry dock

The entrance to Eland Cruise ferry dock

Pok√©mon milk cartons in the Eland Cruise convenience store! (Pok√©monGO wasn't launched in Korea yet at that point in time ūüėę)

Pok√©mon milk cartons in the Eland Cruise convenience store! (Pok√©monGO wasn’t launched in Korea yet at that point in time ūüėę)

Winnie and Pikachu on the packaging? TAKE OUR MONEY!

Winnie and Pikachu on the packaging? TAKE OUR MONEY!

We were ushered to a kitchen (or bakery) on the second floor of the dock where we would try our hands at making danpatbbang (sweet red bean bread) alongside a live demonstration by a troupe of good-looking Korean performers who also attempted to inject some entertainment into what they were doing. To get us into character, we were also given a disposable toque blanche to wear.

Ingredients all set up on the table!

Ingredients all set up on the table!

Performers teaching the tourists how to make bread!

Performers teaching the tourists how to make bread!

At the dock waiting to board the cruise ship

At the dock waiting to board the cruise ship

Everything on this display looked fine until I saw the English translation of the text.. Why..

Everything on this display looked fine until I saw the English translation of the text.. Why..

Following the bread-making session which lasted around 30 minutes, we proceeded to board the cruise ship to watch the Pang Show put up by the same group of performers earlier while all of our danpatbbang was being baked. The show, inspired by TV series King of Baking, Kim Tak-goo, went on for another 30 minutes, bringing laughter to the audience with their silly antics despite the language barrier.

During the performance, the boat would have already sailed to the middle of Han River so once the show ended, we spent the next few minutes at the deck viewing the rainbow fountain (the world’s longest bridge fountain) along Banpo Bridge. I don’t remember paying attention to the attraction because I was literally shivering and couldn’t wait to return to the bus¬†to take refuge from the biting cold!

The ticket to the Pang Show!

The ticket to the Pang Show!

Pang Show

Pang Show

The "pastry chefs" showing us what they can do with pots and pans

The “pastry chefs” showing us what they can do with pots and pans

Halfway through the show, the actors froze for a few seconds for the audience to snap some pictures LOL

Halfway through the show, the actors froze for a few seconds for the audience to snap some pictures ūüėā

On the deck

On the deck

My ready-to-eat danpatbbang!

My ready-to-eat danpatbbang!

By the time we landed at the dock, our freshly baked¬†danpatbbang was ready for collection! Excitedly, I sunk my teeth into one of those I made, foolishly expecting it to¬†have a similar taste to the red bean buns we have in Singapore. Needless to say, I didn’t really enjoy it as I found it a little too bland for my liking ūüė£¬†But on the overall, it was a great and educational experience your kids wouldn’t want to miss.

ELAND Cruise (Pang Pang Cruise) · 290 Yeouidong-ro, Yeoeuido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul, South Korea · Book through Klook or KKday
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As the night wore on, an increasing number of yawns filled the bus as it crawled down the slippery road towards our hotel for the night. Located in the financial center of Seoul, GLAD Hotel Yeouido is built opposite the South Korean capitol building and in front of National Assembly subway station (like, literally a minute’s walk away, visible from the lobby) which makes commuting around Seoul extremely easy. If only the hotel I lodged in on my first visit (Belle-Essence Seoul Hotel, 15-minutes’ walk away from Yeoksam station, permanently closed now) was that convenient – I would have been more inclined to tote back a bigger shopping haul ūü§©

There were a few convenience stores and pubs (chimaek, anyone?) in the vicinity of GLAD Hotel. Oh, KBS Broadcasting Station is nearby too if you want to catch a glimpse of Korean celebrities (though we didn’t see any during our stay ūüėÜ)!

GLAD Hotel Yeouido at night

GLAD Hotel Yeouido at night

GLAD Hotel Yeouido in the day

GLAD Hotel Yeouido in the day

GLAD Hotel Yeouido lobby (taken on our last day when we checked out) - the ambience gave me a very warm-and-fuzzy feel and I really liked that huge Christmas wreath they hung on the wall

GLAD Hotel Yeouido lobby (taken on our last day when we checked out) – the ambience gave me a very warm-and-fuzzy feel and I really liked that huge Christmas wreath they hung on the wall

Our room

Our room

Quotes about life!

Quotes about life!

LOVE the design of the sink! The knobs next to the tap are for adjusting the water temperature and pressure

LOVE the design of the sink! The knobs next to the tap are for adjusting the water temperature and pressure

As always, fiancé's eyes lit up upon the sight of a rain shower head.. I'm more of a handheld shower head kinda person so I was GLAD the bathroom was equipped with the best of both worlds lol

As always, fianc√©’s eyes lit up upon the sight of a rain shower head.. I’m more of a handheld shower head kinda person so I was GLAD the bathroom was equipped with the best of both worlds lol

The toilet bowl is strangely separated from the bathroom perhaps due to space constraints. But that didn't bother me much. Furthermore, it's a smart toilet, baybeh!

The toilet bowl is strangely separated from the bathroom perhaps due to space constraints. But that didn’t bother me much. Furthermore, it’s a smart toilet, baybeh!

Much to our delight, we accommodated at this hotel twice during the trip (once more before we departed) and both times were equally wonderful. It is one of the better five-star hotels in Seoul that are not too exorbitantly priced for their rooms (according Agoda) and the best one we stayed in Korea. Certainly a hotel worth considering for our future Seoul visits!

GLAD Hotel · 17-5, Yeouido-dong, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul 150-874, South Korea
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* * DAY 2 * *

(K Turtle → Namsan Seoul Tower →
Korea Bibimbap Experience Center →
Gimpo International Airport [Seoul to Jeju Island with T-Way] → Mysterious Road → Arboretum Theme Park →
Da Hae Jeong → Yongduam Rock → Best Western Hotel)

One reason for my preference for independent travel is the freedom to sleep in which is never possible in group tours. Our daily morning call was around 7am KST (8am latest) because it was a primarily weekday trip and the tour guide wanted to avoid the rush hour jam. It was so tough leaving the warm bed for the chilly morning air. With our bulky luggage in tow (since we were scheduled to leave for Jeju Island later that day), we joined the other early risers in the bus.

For breakfast before setting out for Namsan Seoul Tower, we were taken to a buffet restaurant called “K Turtle” in an unknown building (another reason for my dislike towards group tours is not knowing where I am most of the time, especially when it comes to meal times). The food spread (Chinese-Korean) there was boring at best.

K Turtle entrance

K Turtle entrance

Dining area

Dining area

Dreadful food..

Dreadful food..

I wasn't kidding when I said there were more veggies than meat at the buffet

I wasn’t kidding when I said there were more veggies than meat at the buffet

One of the more decent food at the buffet..

One of the more decent food at the buffet..

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The first tower-type tourist attraction in Korea, Namsan Seoul Tower is one of the tallest towers in the Orient with its highest point at almost 480m above sea level. An iconic symbol of Seoul today, it was first established as a broadcast tower to send out TV and radio signals in 1969. Although I am not very familiar with the landscapes in Korea, I had certainly seen and heard about N Seoul Tower in the earlier episodes of Running Man so I was pretty psyched to be there.

Vehicles were not allowed at certain point so we had to get to the tower by foot

Vehicles were not allowed at certain point so we had to get to the tower by foot

N Seoul Tower

N Seoul Tower

We took a lift up to the observatory level

We took a lift up to the observatory level

Mandatory shot as a Singaporean!

Mandatory shot as a Singaporean!

They've got quite a number of observatory binoculars like this on the level!

They’ve got quite a number of observatory binoculars like this on the level!

"I'm on a diet," says no one ever on a holiday. Churros and Ice Cream to compensate for the horrible breakfast!

“I’m on a diet,” says no one ever on a holiday. Churros and Ice Cream to compensate for the horrible breakfast!

Apart from the breathtaking view of Seoul from the observatory, many couples go to N Seoul Tower for the purpose of locking their “padlocks of love” on the railing along the ground terrace because, y’know, it’s a cheaper alternative to travelling all the way to Pont des Arts in Paris for the same thing ūüėõ¬†That aside, it’s also an unusual way to leave your footprints at this popular dating spot, so much as I am not the mushy sort, I could not let this opportunity pass!

The locks typically come in pairs (duh) with a black permanent marker and are sold as a set at souvenir shops there at a reasonable price (I think). However, there was little variety of designs to choose from and most had a smooth, rubbery texture which made the ink less resistant to fading (the writings on some of the existing locks had been completely wiped off). The design of the padlock is so generic that you won’t be able to spot yours easily among the sea of others so bring your own padlocks and markers if you’re planning to lock your love here! Ideally, if I were to do this again, I would be #extra and put a written note in a hollow padlock made of fluorescent or reflective material.

No prize for guessing who picked the colour.. I wrote the one on the right!

No prize for guessing who picked the colour.. I wrote the one on the right!

The railings were so overly saturated with padlocks that there wasn't any space left to hang ours and we had to resort to padlocking them to someone else's like a love triangle LOL. It won't be long before all these padlocks get removed because I doubt the railings will be able to withstand the weight of so much love ūüėõ

The railings were so overly saturated with padlocks that there wasn’t any space left to hang ours and we had to resort to padlocking them to someone else’s like a love triangle LOL. It won’t be long before all these padlocks get removed because I doubt the railings will be able to withstand the weight of so much love ūüėõ

SO. MANY. OF. THEM. (and this is just one tiny part of ONE railing) Of course, it doesn't have to be padlock. Some creative people actually hung handphone covers and pencil cases lol

SO. MANY. OF. THEM. (and this is just one tiny part of ONE railing) Of course, it doesn’t have to be padlock. Some creative people actually hung handphone covers and pencil cases lol

Basking in the sun while it lasted ūüėü

Basking in the sun while it lasted ūüėü

Fianc√© and I kept the keys as memento of the visit even though they were supposed to be discarded. But we are not the most organised people on the planet so the keys are as good as gone now¬†ūüėĚ

If you have a choice, swing by Namsan Seoul Tower at night because that’s when it comes to life with magnificent illumination (more bang for your buck ūüėĆ)!

Namsan Seoul Tower · 105 Namsangongwon-gil, Yongsan 2(i)ga-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea
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They say no trip to South Korea would have been complete without eating bibimbap, a healthy and fuss-free mixed rice dish traditionally using day-old rice and leftovers. Dubbed the Korean spin on nachos, the bibimbap is served with a medley of vegetables and meat arranged over a bed of rice, topped with fried egg and a dollop of hot chili paste and is so dearly loved by the Koreans that it is ranked second after kimchi (or among top 10 on other reports) as the most popular Korean food. At the Korean Traditional Bibimbap Experience Center (another place meant for tourists, I reckon), we got to observe how the bibimbap was made before relishing it for lunch.

Korean Traditional Bibimbap Experience Centre

Korean Traditional Bibimbap Experience Centre

This was served together with the banchan (side dishes) but none of us knew what it was.. Any ideas? I remember not liking the taste..

This was served together with the banchan (side dishes) but none of us knew what it was.. Any ideas? I remember not liking the taste..

Hunje ori (smoked duck) - the only dish on the table that called my name ūüėć

Hunje ori (smoked duck) – the only dish on the table that called my name ūüėć

A gigantic stone bowl of bibimbap (minus the sunny side up) to be shared among a table of 8-10

A gigantic stone bowl of bibimbap (minus the sunny side up) to be shared among a table of 8-10

How bibimbap is supposed to be eaten (kinda looks like fried rice now haha)

How bibimbap is supposed to be eaten (kinda looks like fried rice now haha)

Bibimbap in its unmixed state kinda reminds me of our traditional¬†Hakka¬†lei cha fan¬†(“thunder tea rice”) but with more ingredients (like meat – which is mostly absent in¬†lei cha fan), flavour and better visual appeal, and has to be stirred together like lo hei. It offers nutrients and a snappy crunch with every bite but as someone with a deep fondness for savoury and scrumptious food, the abundance of greens in this dish doesn’t quite make my taste buds throw a party for my mouth. Plus, taking into account that this place was specially created for tourists to participate in the Korean culture, it would be unfair to peg our expectations of a good bibimbap to that level (heck, there wasn’t even a fried egg on top ūüôĄ) as I’m sure there are better ones out there.

That said, the bibimbap would have been much more of a pleasure to chow down on during our final days of bulgogi and Korean BBQ indulgence in Korea!

Korea Traditional Bibimbap Experience Centre¬†(Gung-gol) ¬∑¬†Í≤ĹÍłįŽŹĄ Í≥†žĖĎžčú ŽćēžĖĎÍĶ¨ žö©ŽĎźŽ°ú 121 Ž≤ąÍłł 6 (žö©ŽĎźŽŹô) /¬†6 Yongdu-ro 121 beon-gil Deogyang-gu, Goyang-si Gyeonggi-do 10549, South Korea
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As food coma started to kick in, we made our way to Gimpo International Airport to catch our T’way flight to Jeju Island. T’way Air is a South Korean low-cost airline serving several destinations in Asia including China, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam that flies directly to Jeju International Airport. The interior design of Gimpo Airport is, of course, incomparable to the world-class beauty of Incheon with its slightly dated amenities (or lack thereof) in the transit area but service was generally pleasant and more acceptable than that of Jeju International Airport. The journey from Gimpo to Jeju took about an hour or thereabouts according to the timestamps of my photos.

T'way check-in counter at Gimpo International Airport

T’way check-in counter at Gimpo International Airport

Upon landing at Jeju International Airport, we proceeded to the baggage claim area where we waited half an hour or more for our luggage to show up on the turnstile. Probably because of the limited number of conveyor belts there, at least three carriers had to share one so there was a significant delay in processing ours which got us more anxious as time went by.

We exited the airport only to realise that it was pouring quite heavily. Dragging the wheels of our luggage, we braved through the strong winds¬†with our spare hands futilely shielding us from the haphazard downfalls of rain to get to our tour bus parked at an unsheltered area. At this juncture, my feet were already drenched to the skin, no thanks to my water-receptive shoes. Plagued by the discomfort of walking in squishy shoes and the risk of developing foot odour, I was in a desperate need to buy a new pair which wasn’t feasible given our tight itinerary ūüė•

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And off the bus went. Along the way to Arboretum Theme Park, we experienced the oddity of being moved against gravity on the¬†Mysterious Road (Dokkaebi Road). To illustrate that things roll upslope on this road’s inclination, the bus driver turned off the engine and true enough, the entire bus actually propelled slowly forward on its own! If not for the rain, we would have gotten off the bus to do more experiments on the road, such as pouring water or rolling a coin on it and observing where it trails to and taking pictures (hence, none taken) but obviously we figured it wasn’t worth catching a cold over. Although this baffling phenomenon has been explained by numerous theories (mostly centered around optical illusion), it was still a fascinating sight to behold!

The Mysterious Road is marked at the start and finish points in multiple languages and the sidewalk beyond the end of the inclination are dotted by souvenir shops and street food stalls. We stopped by one of the stalls to grab a quick bite before taking part in an impromptu session of archery at the shop next to it. I vaguely remember the tour guide leading us there so I’m pretty sure he got a cut from the earnings because the archery activity was so random and nobody wanted to participate in it initially (most of us were puzzled by the choice to go there in fact) until some subtle nudging ūüėŹ¬†Or maybe, that was his way to kill time before resuming our trip to¬†Arboretum Theme Park.

When hunger strikes... everything looks good

When hunger strikes… everything looks good

The best! I can't remember what it is.. perhaps crab stick in fish cake? But the chili sauce ruined it (I am not a fan of sauces lol)

The best! I can’t remember what it is.. perhaps crab stick in fish cake? But the chili sauce ruined it (I am not a fan of sauces lol)

Why must everything go with ketchup/chili sauce?!

Why must everything go with ketchup/chili sauce?!

Mysterious Road · 2894-63 1100 (Cheonbaek)-ro, Nohyeong-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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Dusk had already fallen when we arrived at Arboretum Theme Park (the façade of Sumokwon Theme Park looks strikingly similar on Google so it could also be known as another name) even though it was barely 6pm KST. The theme park comprises an indoor museum and a 5D theatre. The inside of the building looked far too institutional (literally, it resembled a school) for a place of interest but it was clean and easy to navigate our way around because as far as I know, there were only a few rooms on every floor.

Arboretum Theme Park at night

Arboretum Theme Park at night

The first room we were brought to was the 5D theatre (camera is prohibited) where we saw a 10-minute (or so) kids-friendly animation called “Poseidon”. Apart from the 3D effect and the occasional water spritzing and chair movements, it was nothing too spectacular and memorable partially because I didn’t like the plot. Maybe, just maybe, if I had stayed on for the next screening – an animated horror film (my favourite genre) – which was another 15 minutes later, I would have a different opinion. Alas, we left because fianc√© chickened out wanted to spend the limited free time given to us on exploring other parts of the theme park.

The ice museum is one of the permanent features of the theme park which showcases ice sculptures crafted by famous Japanese artists. It is kept at sub-zero temperature to preserve the ice and visitors are expected to bring their own winter outfits all year round. Unlike many ice museums of the like, visitors are allowed to touch the sculptures, so hug them or kiss them (that’s gross, though) – nobody’s gonna stop you!

Biiiiig snowman

Biiiiig snowman

Icy globe

Icy globe

My favourite part of the ice museum - the ice slide! Visitors get unlimited rides down the slide on an inflatable float. Cheap thrills ūüėÜ

My favourite part of the ice museum – the ice slide! Visitors get unlimited rides down the slide on an inflatable float. Cheap thrills ūüėÜ

Unable to bear with the cold any longer, we moved over to the 3D illusion art museum which is the theme park equivalent of Trick Eye Museum where 2D art installations are turned into three-dimensional through the use of optical illusions. This was a great opportunity for us to experience illusion art without additional charges since we hadn’t (still haven’t – too far and expensive!) visited the local Trick Eye Museum at Sentosa and I beat myself up for not doing so earlier because, omagawd, we had so much fun!

I don’t want to bore you with a bunch of pictures and make this post ridiculously longer than it already is, so here are some of my favourite shots:

Literal meaning of "holding (your) sh*t together" ūü§£

Literal meaning of “holding (your) sh*t together” ūü§£

Baywatch starring @griftz

Baywatch starring @griftz HAHAHA

@griftz, a wanted man? Nah, the text below him reads "First Korean Nobel Prize Winner in Literature" (Google-translated lah, don't whack me if I'm wrong!) If we had known what it meant then, he would be smiling instead ūüėÖ

@griftz, a wanted man? Nah, the text below him reads “First Korean Nobel Prize Winner in Literature” (Google-translated lah, don’t whack me if I’m wrong!) If we had known what it meant then, he would be smiling instead ūüėÖ

My (fail) attempt in becoming part of SNSD (no more soon, though)

My (fail) attempt in becoming part of SNSD (no more soon, though)

Due to time constraints, we were only able to see and take pictures with a handful of the many art installations at the museum which, in my opinion, was what made the admission ticket worthwhile. Of course, if you don’t have an abnormally low tolerance for cold like me, the ice museum would also make an enjoyable highlight of your time at Arboretum Theme Park!

Arboretum Theme Park · 69 Eunsu-gil, Yeon-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea
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After everyone gathered at the assembly point, we boarded the bus to our (late) dinner venue to fill our stomach with another round of authentic Korean fare. Da Hae Jeong (which also has an outlet in Busan) was vacant when we got there so we had the whole restaurant to ourselves!

Da Hae Jeong

Da Hae Jeong

Our dinner spread

Our dinner spread

Grilled fish

Grilled fish

Gyeran-jjim (steamed eggs)

Gyeran-jjim (steamed eggs)

Other banchan dishes. I can't remember what the middle one is... Maybe chicken?

Other banchan dishes. I can’t remember what the middle one is… Maybe chicken?

Many of the dishes were pretty much standard across all the meals we had but the star of the table that night was, no doubt, the gyeran-jjim, or steamed eggs. Fluffy and custardy in texture, the gyeran-jjim was served simmering-hot in an earthenware bowl and has a mildly sweet taste. This unassuming dish is often sprinkled with scallions but I loved it in its bare form, and so did the rest at the same table as evident by how quickly the bowl was emptied. The small portion was obviously not enough to satisfy our appetite so we ended up ordering another, paid for out of our own pocket.

Da Hae Jeong (Žč§Ūēīž†ē) ¬∑ 877-2 Yongdam 2(i)-dong, Cheju, Jeju-do, South Korea ¬∑ Phone: +82 64-745-1688
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Before calling it a night, the tour bus stopped somewhere near the northern coast for us to view the Yongduam Rock (or Dragon Head Rock) but we had to get off and walk a distance. Feeling exhausted and reluctant to venture out in the cold and drizzle (which gradually became heavier, phew!), fianc√© and I chose to stay in the bus while everyone else alighted. Missing out on the Yongduam Rock was no big deal to me because I was never intrigued by geological formations, regardless of how peculiar or stunning they may be. Furthermore, perhaps it¬†takes a certain kind of imagination to make out the dragon head among the pile of rocks but, I just cannot see it in any of the Yongduam Rock pictures I found on Google Images¬†ūü§Ē

Yongduam Rock (Dragon Head Rock žö©ŽĎźžēĒ) ¬∑ Yongduam-gil, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea ¬∑ Phone: +82 64-728-3601
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For the two nights in Jeju Island, we put up at Best Western Hotel (undeniably a name made up of highly searchable keywords ūüėÜ) where we would max out our daily sugar intake at the Starbucks outlet next to the lobby with a cuppa hot chocolate or Green Tea Frapp√©. Just a few steps away was a 24-hour convenience store that would become our spot for midnight munchies, and facing the hotel was a stretch of malls that we didn’t have the opportunity to explore owing to the unfavourable weather and the fact that we were always returning from our tour past standard operating hours.

Best Western Jeju Hotel (taken on the day we checked out)

Best Western Jeju Hotel (taken on the day we checked out)

Our spacious room - just for the two of us!

Our spacious room – just for the two of us!

The pantry area, separated from the beds with a little partition

The pantry area, separated from the beds with a little partition

The toilet. No rain shower head, though

The toilet. No rain shower head, though

Like many other large lodging establishments, Best Western uses electronic keycards for room access, and unless you want to leave the hotel several tens of dollars poorer, do not lose your keycard if you plan to stay with them. Do not attempt to keep it as a memento. Don’t even think about it.

We thought we had misplaced one of our keycards¬†and was told to pay upon check-out a replacement fee of ‚ā©40,000 (S$50) – or thereabouts (but it was an amount astronomical enough to drop my jaw) – which was ridiculous considering that it was just a generic card and the hotel could easily deactivate it. What’s a cheap keycard to a hotel, much less an international one? By and large, the stay was pleasant (I mean, the location is great and the room had almost everything we needed) but this incident sure left a bad taste in our mouths.

Well, it turned out the card was actually in the pocket of one of fianc√©’s soiled jeans all the while ūüėϬ†and it was only discovered when he unpacked his luggage in Singapore. Now that we’ve found the precious keycard, can we get a refund?!

Best Western Hotel · 27 Doryeong-ro, Cheju, Jeju-do 690-762, South Korea
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* * DAY 3 * *

(Olleh Gaseo Jeonbok Meogja → Teseum →
Seongeup Folk Village ‚Üí Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak ‚Üí
Mandarin Orange Farm)

Since breakfast wasn’t included for most of our hotel stays in Korea, we were often driven out to designated eateries to have our first meal of the day. This arrangement enabled us to break away from the repetitive menus of hotel breakfast buffets and be fully immersed in the flavours and aromas of the Korean cuisine from the get-go each day ūüė謆So on the third day, we started our morning with a bowl of¬†juk¬†(Korean porridge) and ended the night with the most palatable jogaetang (clam stew) and my virgin¬†sannakji (moving octopus sashimi) experience – all from the same seafood restaurant called Olleh Gaseo Jeonbok Meogja which translates loosely to “let’s go and eat abalone”.

Restaurant front - all the fresh seafood ūüėč

Restaurant front – all the fresh seafood ūüėč

Dining area

Dining area

Very grateful for my clear skin throughout my stay in Korea because I usually break out whenever I travel. All credits goes to Dr Ram of The Wellness Clinic for keeping my pimples at bay

Very grateful for my clear skin throughout my stay in Korea because I usually break out whenever I travel. All credits goes to Dr Ram of The Wellness Clinic for keeping my pimples at bay

The usual banchan, again

The usual banchan, again

Korean porridge (juk) topped tiny seaweed shreds

Korean porridge (juk) topped with seaweed shreds

Jam sandwich for those who were still feeling hungry!

Jam sandwich for those who were still feeling hungry!

Filling merely half the bowl, the juk was plain without any superfluous ingredients apart from the mounds of seaweed shreds on top of it (no abalone too, in case you’re wondering). The grains looked like they were submerged in water and not smoothly blended together and we didn’t like the slightly gritty texture and taste (or lack thereof). Perhaps it is the Korean tradition to keep breakfast light, but a bowl of porridge definitely didn’t satiate our hunger so we reached for the jam and bread thereafter.

Fortunately, dinner was worlds apart from the bland and mediocre food we had in the day. Admittedly, we felt a pang of a disappointment when the bus pulled over in front of the same restaurant as that seemed to spell yet another round of unsatisfactory meal. But as soon as we dug in, we were all blown away!

Three-quarter of the dinner spread. It does not look that fantastic, I know

Three-quarter of the dinner spread. It does not look that fantastic, I know

Spicy rice cakes (tteokbokki)

Spicy rice cakes (tteokbokki)

Seafood/clams stew (jogaetang) - hands down the best dish of the whole Korea trip!

Seafood/clams stew (jogaetang) – hands down the best dish of the whole Korea trip!

In no time, our table was populated with dishes but ultimately, it was the jogaetang that stole the scene. Loaded with at least four different kinds of seafood fresh (largely short-neck clams) from the tank and then boiled in light, clear broth which thickened with flavour over time, this piping hot stew provided a much-needed respite from the cold. The natural sweetness of the prawns balanced out the briny tang of the abalone (which was still moving in its shell when the stew was served) and clams to give a refreshing taste, making it worthy of whatever calories it contained. Fianc√© asked if we could go for a second serving but for some reason, I refused?! ūüė≠

Even till today, I am still kicking myself for not ordering another bowl of jogaetang and this is probably one regret I’m going to have to live with for the rest of my life..

Moving octopus tentacles (sannakji)

Moving octopus tentacles (sannakji)

This has got to be one of the must-try dishes in Korea!

This has got to be one of the must-try dishes in Korea!

The restaurant was also where I didn’t expect to strike an item off my bucket list – trying the sannakji! The sannakji is inarguably the most controversial South Korean delicacy as it involves slaughtering the baby octopus alive (which I didn’t know prior to this experience) and serving its still-writhing tentacles to diners. It¬†was never supposed to be served to the guests in this restaurant until someone in our tour group spotted it appearing from its hideout in one of the tanks, thereby leading it to its unfortunate fate. The¬†sannakji was a treat from our tour guide and although I enjoyed the chewy and slimy texture, I wished it was, at the very least, given a quick and minimally painful death before it was severed for the dinner plate.

Olleh Gaseo Jeonbok Meogja (žė¨Ž†ąÍįÄžĄúž†ĄŽ≥ĶŽ®Ļžěź)¬†¬∑¬†2614-3, Doduil-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju, South Korea¬†¬∑ Operating Hours: 07:00 – 21:00 ¬∑ Phone: +82 64-713-2277
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South Korea is home to at least five teddy bear museums in the world, of which two – including the first in the country which was established in 2001 – are in Jeju Island. However, the concept of teddy bear museums didn’t quite gain traction among international visitors until it was popularised by the 2006 hit Korean TV series Goong. As part of our itinerary, we were able to¬†embrace our inner child at Teseum Jeju (Teddy Bear Safari), a spin-off from the original that prides itself as the world‚Äôs first exhibition theme park with various real life-sized wildlife and marine stuffed animals and teddy bears. Apart from those, there are also teddy bears dressed in¬†traditional clothes of countries around the world (though the depiction can get a little stereotypical, so view with an open mind) and as gods from Greek mythology. On top of that, you can even come face-to-face with celebearties ūüėÜ

Teseum / Teddybear Safari (Jeju)

Teseum / Teddybear Safari (Jeju)

The museum is made up of two interconnected 2-storey buildings (A and B), each dedicating to a certain theme. Stuffed animals (not teddy bears, mind you) are displayed in a safari context on the first level while marine animals, subjects of prominent artworks and notable film characters take the form of teddy bears on the second. The place seemed moderately small and well-structured so two hours is all you need to see everything. I vaguely remember that there was a café somewhere in the building too but I could be wrong. Fiancé and I then concluded the tour with a brief shopping stint at the gift shop which honestly had more interesting variety of teddy bears than the museum itself.

Finds at the safari

Finds at the safari

This is also part of the Safari Zone, I think..

This is also part of the Safari Zone, I think..

There were quite a number of teddy bears with this “eyes shut, mouth wide open” expression to the extent that it looked kinda lazy.. Makes me wonder if this was the operator’s way of saving cost on the eye balls..

Why go to the bird park when you can see stuffed flamingoes at Teseum? /s

Why go to the bird park when you can see stuffed flamingoes at Teseum? /s

Aye, aye, captain!

Aye, aye, captain!

Lifesize bear!

Lifesize bear!

More safari animals..

More safari animals..

The most docile-looking tiger

The most docile-looking tiger

Generic bears at the gift shop

Generic bears at the gift shop

Racks and racks of teddy bears for sale..

Racks and racks of teddy bears for sale..

For sale: Kate Middleton and Prince William teddy bears. But I don't know, the workmanship looks kinda sloppy

For sale: Kate Middleton and Prince William teddy bears. But I don’t know, the workmanship looks kinda sloppy

Teddy bears in hanbok (traditional Korean costume)

Teddy bears in hanbok (traditional Korean costume)

More choices at the Korean section. We got a pair from here! All of the displayed teddy bears are placed upright using a stand which you would have to buy separately

More choices at the Korean section. We got a pair from here! All of the displayed teddy bears are placed upright using a stand which you would have to buy separately

On the whole, I thought the museum was rather.. pointless? It might have lost its charm over the years but it certainly didn’t live up to whatever hype it had a decade ago. First of all, to call this a museum would be a misnomer because none of its exhibits bear any cultural or historical value. I would have probably closed my eyes to this if there was at least a vintage bear but no, you’re paying to see mass-produced ugly – well, some – teddy bears pretending to be of great worth (though the museum claims otherwise). Echoing what an online reviewer wrote, Teseum is “more like a showroom for a teddy bear manufacturer” and it certainly doesn’t take much time and effort, as compared to making wax figures, to create teddy bears with generic faces. Calling Teseum a teddy bear gallery or exhibition would have been more apt.

And is it me or is the term ‘museum’ very loosely used these days? It seems like anyone can put a few bunches of human hair together and call it a hair museum just so that it would justify the collection of admission fees.

Secondly, as a tourist attraction (assuming since there were hardly any locals when we were there), not having the descriptions of the exhibits in English is patently absurd which further validates my point about Teseum serving absolute no educational purpose at all. Teseum feeds mainly on the obsession of teddy bears so I wouldn’t recommend this place if you’re not a fan. In fact, if you’re interested in genuine vintage toys or plushies, our MINT Museum of Toys would be so much more worthy of your time and money! (#notsponsored)

Jeju Teseum (ž†úž£ľŪÖĆžßÄžõÄ)¬†¬∑ 2159, Pyeonghwa-ro, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea ¬∑ Operating Hours:¬†08:30-19:00 ¬∑ Phone: +82 64-799-4820
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The afternoon dawned and it was time to eat, again! By then, our immunity to the usual Korean fare had set in so we were exhilarated to learn that we were going to be grilling some meat for lunch that day. It’s a pity I had forgotten to note down the name and address of the restaurant because the seasoning for the meat was actually quite en pointe, so much so that there wasn’t any leftover at the end of the meal (or we could just be hungry). To aid in my digestion, I would wrap the meat in the lettuce provided before chomping down on it – just like the Koreans do!

The restaurant

The restaurant

Banchan

Banchan

I'm terrible at identifying the different kinds of meat.. This is either chicken or pork.. Most likely it's the latter..

I’m terrible at identifying the different kinds of meat.. This is either chicken or pork.. Most likely it’s the latter..

This could be beef.. Haha #ifail

This could be beef.. Haha #ifail

Rubbing our overindulged bellies in delight, we set out for Seongeup Village which was one of the filming sites for the most amazing miniseries of all time, Dae Jang Geum. Coincidentally, I had just rewatched the show with¬†fianc√© a few weeks prior to the trip because he, who had never watched a single episode¬†due to his NS commitments when it was first aired on TV, didn’t understand why I loved it so much. Hence, while the excitement of most fans had already waned off, we were both thrilled to bits to set foot on this culture-rich old-fashioned village (even though up till now we still can’t figure out the scene/episode(s) in which the filming was done there¬†ūüėź). Once we were at the entrance, we were handed over to a Chinese-speaking villager (more precisely, a Chinese who married into the village) for a guided tour around the village.

Seongeup Village boasts cultural properties that¬†have been handed down from generation to generation and it is unique in the sense that some of its thatched huts are still inhabited by people who sleep, work and go about their business there. Even so, there wasn’t much activity going on (apart from the sounds of TVs blaring from inhabited huts) and many huts we went into were either empty or used to store their pots whereas those that were inhabited had their doors shut for privacy reasons. It would be better if there were demonstrations on how the pots were utilised to make kimchi or the miraculous tea they were about to sell us, though.

Mandatory shot for DJG fans

Mandatory shot for DJG fans

The dol hareubang, a large rock statue said to offer both protection and fertility to the household, is a common sight in Jeju

The dol hareubang, a large rock statue said to offer both protection and fertility to the household, is a common sight in Jeju

The thatched huts - mostly vacant

The thatched huts – mostly vacant

The pots used to store kimchi or brew tea, I guess?

The pots used to store kimchi or brew tea, I guess?

Inside one of the vacant thatched huts.. now just a storage space

Inside one of the vacant thatched huts.. now just a storage space

At the end of the tour, we were brought to a well-furnished hut where another villager would deliver her sales pitch about horse bones and their five-taste tea (omija) which was touted to possess all five basic tastes – sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness and spiciness. But she also mentioned that, depending on the individual’s physical conditions, the taste of the tea may vary on every taste bud (something along the lines of people with illnesses would only be able to taste bitterness or spiciness).

I’m sorry to be rude but, this smells like bull to me.

Sample cups filled with the tea were distributed to the group and frankly, it tasted like plum juice to me and people I asked (including a diabetic lady) – sweet with a hint of sourness. Well, I guess you must be on your deathbed to taste the other end of the spectrum, then. Each jar of omija cost about S$50, I think, as I remember it being quite expensive. However, because I accidentally articulated my liking for the taste (I mean, I’ve always liked eating sweet plums),¬†fianc√© purchased one jar on a whim despite my best efforts to stop him ūüėí¬†And as usual, it’s still sitting in the refrigerator, barely touched.

Seongeup Folk Village¬†(žĄĪžĚćŽĮľžÜćŽßąžĚĄ) ¬∑¬†104, Seongeupjeonguihyeon-ro, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea¬†¬∑ Phone:¬†+82-64-740-6000~1, +82-64-742-8866, +82 64-758-7181
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The weather grew progressively gloomier and more blustery as the bus got closer to our next outdoor destination Рthe Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak or also known as Sunrise Peak Рand eventually poured. Hard. What luck! Foreseeing that it would rain, our tour guide had thoughtfully prepared disposable ponchos for each and everyone of us so that we could comfortably scale the tuff cone. But the rain was just too heavy and my shoes were already wet beyond redemption (which makes them prone to slipping), so fiancé and I decided, once again, to stay put on ground level while the rest soldiered on and continued their expedition to the peak.

After the rain cleared

After the rain cleared

Seongsan Ilchulbong. I really wanted to go to the peak.. Damn the bad weather!

Seongsan Ilchulbong. I really wanted to go to the peak.. Damn the bad weather!

In the meantime, we brought business to the gift shops with our purchase of a few boxes of the Jeju cactus crunch choco (an airy snack covered with little rice puffs) for our family and friends back home. Available in a handful of flavours, the Jeju specialty is usually packed – individually – in boxes of roughly 12 pieces and is cheaper when bought in larger quantities, which makes it an ideal souvenir.

From there, we went to an Innisfree shop located further down the sloped base amidst the now-subsided rain to do my first round of cosmetics shopping. But just as we were about to leave, the rain returned with a vengeance, trapping us in the shop for a good 20 minutes ūüėĎ

Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak [UNESCO World Heritage] · 284-12, Ilchul-ro, Seongsan-eup, Seogwipo-si, Jeju-do, South Korea · Phone: +82 64-710-7923
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Our final stop before dinner at¬†Olleh Gaseo Jeonbok Meogja was a Mandarin orange/tangerine farm where we were supposed to pick our own oranges. But the torrential downpour had sort of dampened everyone’s mood and caused much of the farm to be mucky and marshy. With no desire to dirty our footwear, we were there for merely 20 minutes, tops – most of which spent on entertaining the affectionate dog guarding the farm. Others took the opportunity to visit the loo and buy boxes of the Jeju snack we got at Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak earlier (but pricier) as well as other miscellaneous stuff made from tangerines from the shop next to the farm.

Wet, wet, wet

Wet, wet, wet

Jeju Orange Farm

Jeju Orange Farm

Smelly boi ūüėĚ

Smelly boi ūüėĚ

Unfortunately, I do not know the name and address of this farm but if you are interested, here is a list of all the tangerine farms in Jeju Island compiled by Jeju Weekly.

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* * DAY 4 * *

(Jeju International Airport [Jeju to Seoul with T-Way] ‚Üí
Nami Island → Geummun Dak-galbi →
Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia Pyeongchang)

After two fruitful and much warmer days in Jeju Island, it was time to leave. In lieu of not partaking in the hotel breakfast (as we couldn’t wake up in time for it¬†ūüėÜ),¬†fianc√© and I had a quick meal at Lotteria, a popular Korean fast food joint in the bustling departure hall at Jeju International Airport. In front of it (and a few more shops) conveniently lay a row of departure gates which were visible from where we were eating. Subsequently, we joined our tour group on the floor (chairs were scarce so people were literally seated everywhere) while waiting for the cue to board our flight which had already been delayed once.

Goodbye Jeju!

Goodbye Jeju!

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Our touchdown in Seoul was followed by lunch at a restaurant in Banghwa-dong (exact location unknown) where we had spicy hot pot to help us adjust to the sudden dip in temperature. Adding flavour to the broth were mainly vegetables (too much of them, actually) and beef shavings which,¬†I vaguely recall, weren’t enough to go around.

Spicy hotpot for lunch

Spicy hot pot for lunch

After having our fill of lunch, we piled onto our bus and headed to Namiseom Ferry Dock where we would take a 10-minute ferry ride into Nami Island. As Nami Island is not accessible via road, visitor can only reach the place by sea from its designated dock at ‚ā©10,000 per entry (for foreigners).

Once a desolate piece of land with only few scattered chestnut trees, poplar trees, and mulberry trees on the fringes of a modest peanut farm, Nami Island is presently known for its picturesque setting and tree-lined pavements that provide the perfect backdrop for (wedding) photography. With its popularity heightened by the 2002 Korean TV series Winter Sonata, the self-governed nation continues to draw flocks of nature-loving visitors annually, thereby making it one of the most visited weekend getaways in Korea. Getting into Nami Island would require one’s passport.

Ferry to Nami Island

Ferry to Nami Island

Nami Island entrance (the queue is for the return trip to the dock)

Nami Island entrance (the queue is for the return trip to the dock)

Wet everywhere ūüėĎ It made me feel like staying in the bus..

Wet everywhere ūüėĎ It made me feel like staying in the bus..

Clearly a tourist destination as evident from the different country flags placed along the stretch of pavement near the entrance

Clearly a tourist destination as evident from the different country flags placed along the stretch of pavement near the entrance

Some of the shops at Nami Island

Some of the shops at Nami Island

Fireplaces like this can be found in various parts of Nami Island. While others used them to warm their hands, I tried to dry my shoes above them (which obviously didn't work lol)

Fireplaces like this can be found in various parts of Nami Island. While others used them to warm their hands, I tried to dry my shoes above them (which obviously didn’t work lol)

Peacocks can be found near food establishments

Peacocks can be found near food establishments

Let your nose take you to where these red bean pancakes are sold..

Let your nose take you to where these red bean pancakes are sold..

Plain buns, I guess? This stall was unattended when I took this picture

Plain buns, I guess? This stall was unattended when I took this picture

My guilty pleasure.. A must-have in the cold

My guilty pleasure.. A must-have in the cold

Generic sausages but still, worth every penny!

Generic sausages but still, worth every penny!

Tree-lined pavement with lamps in the shape of balloons illuminating from above the moment dusk set in. Our tour guide actually took a picture of fianc√© and me against these trees but it turned out awful.. I looked so fat in my pink Taobao winter coat ūüė≠

Tree-lined pavement with lamps in the shape of balloons illuminating from above the moment dusk set in. Our tour guide actually took a picture of fianc√© and me against these trees but it turned out awful.. I looked so fat in my pink Taobao winter coat ūüė≠

More dreamy lights

More dreamy lights

Fianc√© and I were walking around Nami Island aimlessly (and buying food as we saw them) because there wasn’t any activity planned out for us. Tired of repeatedly stepping into the puddles of water left by the rain, we decided to head back to the meeting point before the rest.¬†Don’t get me wrong – Nami Island is, indeed, a lovely place worth visiting, especially during the autumn season when foliage turns fiery shades of scarlet (just Google the pictures – breathtaking, I tell you). But as always, the persistent rain (and the extreme cold for me) ruined the experience and made me really reluctant to fully take in the beauty of the place.

Maybe next time!

Namiseom Island¬†(Žā®žĚīžĄ¨ žĘÖŪē©ŪúīžĖĎžßÄ)¬†¬∑ 1, Namisum-gil, Namsan-myeon, Chuncheon-si, Gangwon-do (accessible only by ferry)¬†¬∑ Namiseom Ferry Dock: 1024, Bukhangangbyeon-ro, Gapyeong-eup, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do ¬∑ Phone:¬†+82-31-580-8114
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A short distance away from the ferry dock was Geummun Dak-Galbi where we had spicy stir-fried chicken (dak galbi) for dinner. The restaurant was housed on the ground floor of a three-storey building which, on the surface, would have resembled a haunted school if not for the illuminating presence of the LED signboard against its dark fa√ßade. Although I’m not sure if the restaurant actually owned the entire building, the only activity seemed to be coming from them.

For some reasons, taking this picture made me feel eerily uncomfortable, like, I half-expected "someone" to be standing near one of the windows on the second floor (yeah, probably too much horror flicks haha)

For some reasons, taking this picture made me feel eerily uncomfortable, like, I half-expected “someone” to be standing near one of the windows on the second floor (yeah, probably too much horror flicks haha)

Inside the restaurant

Inside the restaurant

Before mixing in the condiments

Before mixing in the condiments

Where's the chicken?

Where’s the chicken?

Possibly the laziest and most underwhelming meal we had during the trip, the dak galbi felt like a poor attempt at passing off as a meat dish with only a few chunks of chicken among a mass of cabbage strips despite the fact that it was meant for four grown adults. The pathetic portion is a far cry from the way it looks on Google pictures taken by walk-in diners so either our agency had opted for the cheapest meal package or the restaurant had run out of chickens by 6.30pm KST. And to top it off, it tasted nothing short of ordinary so it failed to leave a lasting impression on us. In fact, none of us remembered we had dak galbi until we went through all the photographs again.

Geummun Dak-galbi ÍłąŽ¨ł Žč≠ÍįąŽĻĄ ¬∑ 323 Daljeon-ri, Gapyeong-eup, Gapyeong-gun, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea ¬∑ Phone: +82¬†31-581-9282
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Shortly thereafter, we embarked on a five-hour drive to Pyeongchang¬†(hats off to the driver, and tour guide for keeping him in conversation to help him stay awake behind the wheel – tough job!). The bus stopped by a deserted convenience store en route for us to buy some nibbles as well as to use the toilet before completing the rest of the journey. As we were nearing our destination, we dropped by a ski rental shop to choose and collect our ski suits that would be used on the next day. The designs of their female ski jackets were generally very obiang-looking¬†(kinda like those of¬†Lularoe leggings ūü§£) but I realised the patterns tended to be less ostentatious and tacky with smaller sizes. Still, they were goddamn hideous. I very much preferred the men’s which were predominantly in simple colours of red, blue, and so on. Blah.. gender stereotyping at its finest ūüėĎ

For my future reference, I wore M for the ski jacket and L for pants.

It was already past midnight (KST) when we checked into our room at¬†Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia Pyeongchang but having spent the whole evening sleeping in the bus, we wanted to stay up for a little while to watch TV after taking a shower. The in-room TV came with an extensive selection of premium TV channels – including a few catered to the kink-inclined ūüėČ

Our room (for 4 actually!) at Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia Pyeongchang

Our room (for 4 actually!) at Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia Pyeongchang

Spacious pee-pee area equipped with basic amenities

Spacious pee-pee area equipped with basic amenities

Fiancé's favourite rain shower head!

Fianc√©’s favourite rain shower head!

But our bodies couldn’t resist the softness of the bed and warmth of the duvet so very soon, we found ourselves drifting into our slumber with the TV still turned on in the background (our usual practice when staying at hotels to cancel out any unwanted sounds in the middle of the night, if you get what I mean ūüėź).

By the way, the hotel (as with most hotels in Pyeongchang) charges for WiFi access at ‚ā©14,300 (S$18)¬†per day, so good thing we had rented a pocket WiFi for our trip!

Holiday Inn Resort Alpensia Pyeongchang · 325 Solbong-ro, Daegwalnyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do, South Korea · Phone: +82 33-339-0000
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* * DAY 5 * *

(Alpensia Ski Resort → Hotel Inter-Burgo Wonju)

Looking through our room windows, we saw the rays of the winter sun cast upon the accumulation of snow around the hotel compound, unveiling what was in the pitch darkness the night before. Are we in Winter Wonderland now?

Since we wouldn’t be checking out until late morning, we had the luxury of sleeping in but nevertheless managed to wake up just in time before the hotel breakfast buffet ended. Given that time was tight, we would have passed on it if not for the fact that breakfast and lunch on Day 5 were excluded from our tour package. At the restaurant with only 5 minutes remaining until the chafers were taken away, we scrambled to scoop whatever was left¬† – basically croissant, smoked salmon, sausages and chicken wings – onto our plates. Although the dishes had already cooled down to room temperature, they were still fairly tasty!

My all-time favourite buffet food XD

My all-time favourite buffet food XD

The casino is no longer in operation

The casino is no longer in operation

The sole purpose of coming to Pyeongchang was to ski at the¬†Alpensia Ski Resort¬†behind our hotel. We kept our personal belongings in a rented locker and obtained a complete set of ski gear over a counter (rental fees already included in the cost of our tour package). But because we didn’t know how to ski (and couldn’t be bothered to hire a private instructor), we took them off after a couple of minutes of reckless “skiing” as the weight of the boots was hindering our movement. We were freezing too so it didn’t take long for us to retreat indoors. Oh my.. when did we become so boring? šłćŤģ§ŤÄĀťÉĹšłćŤ°ĆšļÜ„Äā

Awful ski jacket -_- We had snow on our hair!

Awful ski jacket -_- We had snow on our hair!

Ticket to Alpensia Ski Resort! (Tested an Innisfree nail polish in Jeju.. obviously I can't do nail polishes for nuts)

Ticket to Alpensia Ski Resort! (Tested an Innisfree nail polish in Jeju.. obviously I can’t do nail polishes for nuts)

Entrance to the ski area

Entrance to the ski area

Time to ski!

Time to ski!

This place is huge!

This place is huge!

Successfully "skied" without falling down WOOO maybe I'm born for this!

Successfully “skied” without falling down WOOO maybe I’m born for this!

Never too old for a snowball fight!

Never too old for a snowball fight!

This was where my then-boyfriend proposed! (The guy behind him looked like he was proposing to someone else as well lol)

This was where my then-boyfriend proposed! (The guy behind him looked like he was proposing to someone else as well lol)

Food options are limited at the Alpensia Ski Resort so unless you don’t mind going on a 3-hour bus ride to Seoul to tame your hunger, you are pretty much stuck with the usual hotel restaurant fare, fast food restaurants (Domino’s Pizza, Baskin Robbins, etc.) and the cafeteria within the resort that served mediocre international food. For convenience sake, our lunch venue was settled on the cafeteria which would become packed with famished skiers as the afternoon set in.¬†Stalls were run on a self-service basis, where diners would receive a queue number to collect their orders.

The Japanese food stall I bought my lunch from

The Japanese food stall I bought my lunch from

Free flow of unappetising sides.. (those aren't onion rings, in case you're wondering. And no, I still don't know what those were haha)

Free flow of unappetising sides.. (those aren’t onion rings, in case you’re wondering. And no, I still don’t know what those were haha)

Cheese Pork Cutlet (13,000‚ā©). only ordered this because of the cheesy factor. The breaded pork was lightly filled with cheese and served with a fist-sized lump of rice and salad. The portion size was just right for me but the meat itself was dry.

Cheese Pork Cutlet (‚ā©13,000). only ordered this because of the cheesy factor. The breaded pork was lightly filled with cheese and served with a fist-sized lump of rice and salad. The portion size was just right for me but the meat itself was dry.

As we had some time to spare before setting off again for another region of South Korea, we looked around in the retail shops and (finally) bought a pair of winter boots for myself to wear in place of my damp and musky espadrilles (that’s like 4 days later but¬†better late than never). The new dry boots added what felt like a spring to my step and for once in this trip, I just wanted to keep walking ūüėĄ

Alpensia Ski Resort¬†(žēĆŪéúžčúžēĄŽ¶¨ž°įŪäł žä§Ūā§žě•) ¬∑ 325, Solbong-ro, Daegwallyeong-myeon, Pyeongchang-gun, Gangwon-do, South Korea¬†¬∑ Phone: +82-33-339-0000~9
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Moving farther out of Pyeongchang, we had another round of Korean hot pot at an unidentified restaurant – which most locals probably don’t even know exists – for dinner. This time around, there were more ingredients (that appealed to my taste buds) with a free-flow of meat but the bland broth did little to enhance their tastes and vice versa. Granted, the meal was healthy but everyone got bored of them very quickly.

Red meat and lotsa mandu

Red meat and lotsa mandu

Our bus resumed its route and at last ground to a halt at the top of a slope where Hotel Inter-Burgo Wonju was located. Once we had collected our access cards, we took the lift up to our respective rooms. Upon entering ours, we were greeted with a slight musky odour and warm air as if the air-conditioner hadn’t been turned on for a while. But that’s not all, for there were more to be undesired when the power came on.

The lights were dim but non-adjustable and were unevenly distributed across the room. Thus there were a lot of dark corners which I had absolutely no hankering to inspect (God knows what was inhabiting there). The wallpaper, furniture – especially the armchair by the stained coffee table – and carpet looked dated while duvets were of an odd, mold-like green with a texture that resembled crepe paper – crumply and thin. The pillows were as flat as pancakes and dust was amassed on the bedside wall lights which were not working. Television reception in the room was terrible as there was not one channel¬†that had optimum signal quality. What’s more, the only English channels were BBC and CNN ūüôĄ Thanks Hotel Inter-Burgo, just what I needed to catch up on current affairs and be bombarded with Trump news.

Can you feel the eeriness in this room just by looking at this picture?

Can you feel the eeriness in this room just by looking at this picture?

A dark corner next to the bed. Yikes!

A dark corner next to the bed. Yikes!

The filthiness of the room made me extremely wary of what might be lurking on that bedspread so I would scrutinise its every detail. While doing so, I would occasionally spot little critters crawling on the bed frame. As a former victim of bed bug infestation, I was tremendously fearful of repeating history. Hence I laid a bathroom towel on the duvet before sleeping on it to avoid direct contact with the bed.

I could go on about the condition of the room, but you get the gist. To be fair, the room in the day looked less shabby and had a beautiful view of the surrounding snow-covered landscape but I was essentially so paranoid and crept out throughout my stay that I couldn’t wait to leave this hotel. Thank goodness it was just for a night.

The toilet, on the other hand, was better lit than the bedroom and equipped with possibly the most state-of-the-art technology in this ageing hotel – a washlet. The grouted gaps between the tiles contributed to the clean look of the toilet. Still, I wouldn’t want to sit in the bathtub. Basic toiletries were also provided although it was rather miserly of the hotel to combine hair and body wash in a single diminutive bottle. The shower door hinge was faulty too as it kept swinging open and couldn’t stay shut when I was bathing.

Bathtub and an additional shower head

Bathtub and an additional shower head

Another shower head, but with rain shower effect

Another shower head, but with rain shower effect

Washlet

Washlet

Not wanting to be cooped up in this hellhole all night, fianc√© and I decided to explore the hotel grounds and perhaps, look for something in the vicinity to fill the void from our unfinished dinner earlier. When we got to the spacious but empty lobby, we realised that all the restaurants in the hotel were closed although it was barely 8pm KST. There were also no malls or dining options nearby and according to the tour guide, the city centre was a 30-minute drive away ūüėĎ There was, however, a 7-Eleven store near the drop-off point from where we eventually bought cup noodles and some Korean beverages.

The saving grace of this hotel would be the free fast-speed WiFi connection which we tapped into to stream Running Man (I remember it was the BLACKPINK episode ūüėÜ) on our phone. It was truly a no-frills business hotel with the most basic amenities at a mid-range cost (if booked through the right medium) and¬†could be the best hotel you can find in Wonju based on online reviews. That said, Hotel Inter-Burgo still fell short of the expectations of a four-star hotel. In my opinion, it deserved three stars or less.

Hotel Inter-Burgo Wonju · 200 Dongbusunhwan-ro, Bangok-dong, Wonju, Gangwon-do, South Korea · Phone: +82 33-769-8114
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* * Day 6 * *

(Everland¬†‚Üí¬†Sky ŪēúžčĚ (Sky Hansik)¬†‚Üí Dalin Laver Museum¬†‚Üí
Doota Mall → Nolboo Restaurant → GLAD Hotel)

Once again, we overslept and missed the hotel breakfast (or maybe instinctively we just weren’t keen) so lugging our baggage, we jumped straight onto our bus for¬† Everland. The theme park was thronged with many other tour groups who, like us, were all heading to see the two newly-arrived Chinese giant pandas, Ai Bao and Le Bao, at Panda World first. But we ended up devoting more time at the gift shop because the pandas were resting (and also if we really wanted to see pandas, we can always visit Jia Jia and Kai Kai at River Safari).

Thereafter, we were given time to roam Everland on our own. Due to fianc√©’s acrophobia (*yawns*¬†ūüėŹ) and our reluctance to squander our (limited) time at theme park away on queuing, we didn’t take any of the rides and only went on a food hunt and gift shop-hop for the most part.

Tickets to Everland!

Tickets to Everland!

Feeling some Disneyland vibes at the entrance

Feeling some Disneyland vibes at the entrance

Home to Ai Bao and Le Bao

Home to Ai Bao and Le Bao

Also includes the mandatory red pandas to complete the panda family

Also includes the mandatory red pandas to complete the panda family

ZzzZz leave me alone

ZzzZz leave me alone

The panda from the opposite angle.. clearly just pretending to sleep. Lazy, lazy.

The panda from the opposite angle.. clearly just pretending to sleep. Lazy, lazy.

The centrepiece of Everland - an enchanting Christmas tree

The centrepiece of Everland – an enchanting Christmas tree

Closed ūüė†

Closed ūüė†

LINE FRIENDS official shop

LINE FRIENDS official shop

LINE FRIENDS merchandise

LINE FRIENDS merchandise

Argh Brown is so cute

Argh Brown is so cute

Brown snacks!

Brown snacks!

We had three servings of this matcha churros.. #sorrynotsorry #madforchurros

We had three servings of this matcha churros.. #sorrynotsorry #madforchurros

The same cafe also had a dine-in area but it wasn't easy getting an empty table. By sheer luck, we managed to find one ūüėĀ

The same cafe also had a dine-in area but it wasn’t easy getting an empty table. By sheer luck, we managed to find one ūüėĀ

Dine-in area

Dine-in area

Panda Mushroom Soup (4,300‚ā©) - The soup, although palatable, had a similar creamy consistency as that of canned ones - nothing to write home about. But how cute are those panda-shaped croutons?

Panda Mushroom Soup (‚ā©4,300) – The soup, although palatable, had a similar creamy consistency as that of canned ones – nothing to write home about. But how cute are those panda-shaped croutons?

Candy galore!

Candy galore!

Edible and stackable Lego blocks

Edible and stackable Lego blocks

Last gift shop stop - Monami

Last gift shop stop – Monami

Stationery paradise! It's always a joy for me to be surrounded by colourful pens ūüėć

Stationery paradise! It’s always a joy for me to be surrounded by colourful pens ūüėć

You can even build your own Monami pen! But I don't really like the quality of Monami pens so I didn't bother with this section.

You can even build your own Monami pen! But I don’t really like the quality of Monami pens so I didn’t bother with this section.

Queuing to get tea and some food for our starving stomachs

Queuing to get tea and some food for our starving stomachs

Cold weather + hot tea = pure bliss

Cold weather + hot tea = pure bliss

Bet this was a better breakfast option as compared to the breakfast buffet at Hotel Inter-Burgo.

Bet this was a better breakfast option as compared to the breakfast buffet at Hotel Inter-Burgo.

Generally, we are not fond of visiting theme parks while on a time-sensitive tour because it wouldn’t be possible to enjoy them to the fullest under a tight schedule and this was no exception. If given a chance to visit South Korea again (without being on a tour group – just no, thank you), I would certainly insist on going to Everland or Lotte World (against fianc√©’s will) and queue for the rides ūüėĀ

Everland · 199 Everland-ro, Pogog-eup, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea · Operating Hours: 10:00 Р19:00 (Mon to Thu, Sun) 10:00 Р20:00 (Fri & Sat)
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Under the recommendation of our tour guide (that’s what he claimed), we were taken to Sky Hansik (Sky ŪēúžčĚ) somewhere in Pil-dong (exact address unknown but it was quite near to Everland) to binge on Korean barbecue for lunch. The restaurant was bustling with a mix of locals and foreigners in another tour group when we were there and staff were scuffling around trying to clear used plates from tables. It operated on a self-service system so we were free to take as much food and drinks as we wanted. All in all, the meat quality and seasoning was average and the food selection was nothing spectacular. But I was glad to have had a satiating meal for the first time in a long while.

Sky Hansik

Sky Hansik

Meat section - that's literally all they have

Meat section – that’s literally all they have

Some banchan

Some banchan

Beverage dispenser

Beverage dispenser

Barbecue away!

Barbecue away!

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Our next stop was¬†Dalin Laver Museum and while there, we were taken on a guided tour around the gallery¬†to learn about the process of making laver (seaweed). The tour¬† concluded at their – what else – in-house laver specialty shop where the Chinese-speaking sales representatives demonstrated the various uses of the laver, such as cooking them in soup or stuffing them in rice balls, in an effort to entice customers. They then invited us to try the samples of all the flavours before beginning their sales pitch. Among the 8 (I think) flavours available, barbecue is my favourite because not only is it indeed infused with barbecue essence, it also has only right amount of saltiness ūüėܬ†Others that come close are sea salt and kimchi¬†and I prefer eating them as is to preserve the original flavour of their seasoning.

They call themselves a museum but there was hardly any English on their information panel ūüôĄ

They call themselves a museum but there was hardly any English on their information panel ūüôĄ

Laver sales pitch ūüėĄ

Laver sales pitch ūüėĄ

Laver rice balls!

Laver rice balls!

Samples ūüėč

Samples ūüėč

Dalin Laver packaging (click to enlarge)

Dalin Laver packaging (click to enlarge)

The laver is sold in bundles of 5 packets in the same flavour. Each packet contains 5 sheets of laver that are a little smaller than A4 and most amazingly, it only breaks along intentional creases; no scissors is necessary to cut them into bite-size pieces! Fianc√© noticed the grin of satisfaction when I bit into the samples and readily bought 10 different sets (I forgot the prices, but our order cost at least S$100) with the secondary intention to give some out as souvenirs. It was one of the rare on-tour purchases we did not regret making. Unfortunately, this brand of laver is not sold anywhere else, not even online¬†ūüėź So..¬†anyone booking a Seoul tour package soon and doesn’t mind letting me tompang my laver order? ūüėę

Strangely enough, the museum also enables visitors to partake in a hanbok fitting experience on the second floor ūü§®¬†It felt a little out of place but I suppose that helped save us a trip to Gyeongbokgung Palace. The entire level is dedicated to this short cultural experience so you can find different styles of hanbok in common sizes strewn all over the rack with plenty of photography props to aid you in perfecting your shots.

With my <em>jeonha</em> (king) (please pardon any costume inaccuracies - we just took whatever matched and fit us from the rack!)

With my jeonha, or king (please pardon any costume inaccuracies Рwe just took whatever matched and fit us from the rack!)

Food replicas - can see, cannot eat ūüėÜ The dishes that contributed to the jeonha's obesity. (But seriously though, that's A LOT of food. Did he share them with his subordinates?!)

Food replicas – can see, cannot eat ūüėÜ The dishes that contributed to the jeonha‘s obesity. (But seriously though, that’s A LOT of food. Did he share them with his subordinates?!)

LOL at the indecent exposure caused by the slit on the back of my chima (skirt)

LOL at the indecent exposure caused by the slit on the back of my chima (skirt)

One last shot before we took off the hanbok!

One last shot before we took off the hanbok!

We had fun playing dress-up but still, nothing beats wearing hanbok to the actual locations where history was made. Furthermore, as an added advantage of wearing hanbok at any of the palaces, admission is free. However, this is likely to be counterbalanced by the rental fees of the costumes if you don’t own one.

Dalin Laver Museum · 7 Hangang-daero 21-gil, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea · Phone: +82 2-793-7300
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As promised on our itinerary, we were allowed time to shop and have dinner in Dongdaemun district so our bus dropped us off in front of Doota Mall. We could have walked over to Dongdaemun Market but considering that none of us had been there before, we didn’t want to risk getting lost in the maze of stalls (which we honestly didn’t mind if we were in Seoul without a tour group) and hold up everyone else. Thus, we chose to remain in the mall for some serious shopping ūüėł

One of the levels in Doota Mall

One of the levels in Doota Mall

Cosmetics shops

Cosmetics shops

Doota Mall is composed of 8 floors, each catering to different demographics. While I went crazy in ARITAUM (for Laneige) and Tony Moly on 4F, fianc√© monitored my spending discreetly, occasionally dissuading me from purchasing more cosmetics. But when it was his turn to go gaga on B2, he had no qualms about forking over his money on several shoes ūüėŹ #doublestandard

Doota Mall ¬∑ 275 Jangchungdan-ro, Gwanghui-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea¬†¬∑ Nearest Subway Station: Dongdaemun (Line 1 or 4 ‚Äď Exit 8) Dongdaemun History & Culture Park (Line 2, 4 or 5 – exit 14)
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Once we had shopped till our hearts’ content (read: bank almost emptied), we reunited with¬†fianc√©’s parents at 1F for dinner nearby. As we were walking along a row of eateries at an alley, we caught sight of the signboard of Nolboo Restaurant and decided to¬†give it a try not knowing that it was actually part of an established chain (they even have an outlet in Singapore). We placed an order with the waiting staff for two hot pots with chicken-based broth (yeah, so much for variety ūüė∂) because we weren’t in the mood for spicy. Soon after, the ingredients – a mixture of fresh meat and vegetables – were served to our table and they were ready to be cooked!

Nolboo Restaurant front

Nolboo Restaurant front

Restaurant entrance

Restaurant entrance

What we ate

What we ate

But the moment we took our first bite of our meat, we regretted our decision because it lacked flavour. Should we have gone for budae jjigae (army stew) like everyone else in the restaurant, the food might have tasted a lot nicer so we’ve only got ourselves to blame. Nevertheless, the portion and quality of the ingredients were undoubtedly much better than those of what we had eaten during our tour.

Following our uneventful dinner, we recharged ourselves for our final day in South Korea at GLAD Hotel Yeouido which I have already covered on Day 1.

Nolboo Restaurant · 34, Eulji-ro 43-gil, Jung-gu, Seoul 04564, South Korea · Phone: +82 2-2264-1669
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* * DAY 7 * *

(LOTTE Department Store → Myeongdong Shopping Street →
Cheongha Korea Co. Ltd → Departure [Tax Refund])

So long, GLAD Hotel Yeouido! Much as we didn’t want to leave the hotel, we had to ūüė™ Once our tour guide had gone around to do a headcount on the bus, the driver stepped on the gas pedal and drove a short distance to a rather dilapidated-looking commercial building (exact location unknown; not worth knowing anyway) for our breakfast. Due to the size of our tour group, we had to take a cramped lift up in batches to the Chinese restaurant at the topmost floor. Before the waiting staff arrived at our tables with our breakfast, our tour guide assured us that it would be food that’d take us back home, so in our minds we were imagining kaya toast, fried you tiao, dim sum, Teochew porridge or whatnot.

But, lo and behold…

...the heck are these?

…the heck are these?

*deep breaths* For the last time, Singapore is not in China, and the food on the table is downright criminal, they belonged in the trash because I certainly had more delectable breakfast dishes when I was in Beijing and Chengdu. The appalled expression on everyone’s face said it all. I had lamented about breakfast on Day 2, but this took the cake. We dried beancurd, peanuts, baby bok choy and this white rolls thing to go with our plain porridge (not pictured).¬†Bruh,¬†where is the meat?! Did someone just assume we had turned vegan for the day? In the end, only the bok choy and peanuts were eaten up and the white rolls were practically untouched.

Checking off more compulsory shopping stops on the itinerary, we were subsequently brought to a ginseng gallery showroom where the spendthrift fianc√© bought a box of red ginseng extract. Then, we were driven to a cosmetics megastore that stocked up on seemingly pass√© products and unheard-of brands. As a way to curb impulse spending, I was constantly looking up products on Carousell to ascertain if I could get them at a bargain price (and you’d be surprised to see tons of them listed there in their unopened condition). That tactic worked wonders because, much to the surprise of¬†fianc√©, these tourist traps failed to make me any poorer ‚úĆ

We climbed back on the bus and thereafter alighted near Lotte Department Store in Myeongdong. Since breakfast was horrendously inadequate, we made it a priority to have lunch first at¬†Í≥†ÍĶ¨Ž†§ (Goguryeo) Corean Cuisine¬†on 13F of the mall to acquire some energy for the vigorous shopping later on.

I must say, these banchan looked much more appetising..

I must say, these banchan looked much more appetising..

I underestimated the portion of my samgyetang and added fried chicken (‚ā©18,000) to the order. The parts were huge and it felt like the entire chicken was there. But it was heavenly - crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and perfectly coated with salty deliciousness.

I underestimated the portion of my samgyetang and added fried chicken (‚ā©18,000) to the order. The parts were huge and it felt like the entire chicken was there. But it was heavenly – crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and perfectly coated with salty deliciousness.

My samgyetang (‚ā©15,000, cheaper than the fried chicken ūüėĮ) meant for two. The broth was thicker and more flavourful than the one we had on Day 1!

My samgyetang (‚ā©15,000, cheaper than the fried chicken ūüėĮ) meant for two. The broth was thicker and more flavourful than the one we had on Day 1!

After footing the bill, we and his parents went our separate ways because they wanted to wander the mall on their own. Before taking the underpass to the shopping street across the road, I went on a lipstick shopping frenzy at the HERA booth on B1 while fiancé splurged on a new cologne.

LOTTE Department Store (main) · 30, Eulji-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea · Nearest Subway Station: City Hall (Line 1)
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Having already familiarised myself with the layout of¬†Myeongdong¬†shopping street¬†on my first visit to Seoul merely a few months ago, getting to the intended shops and back was a breeze. I continued my shopping streak at one of the numerous Innisfree and Etude House outlets in Myeongdong near the underpass and amassed considerable amount of samples in the process. For the remaining few minutes of free and easy time, we scoured a small area for delicious street food but only managed to buy from three stalls. In response to not being able to try a wider range of the food, fianc√© groused about spending too much time at Lotte Department Store earlier¬†ūü§£ Well, would this constitute as a good excuse to return to Seoul? I don’t mind hitting the streets of Hongdae and Ewha (I was there on my solo trip) again ūüėÜ

Fiancé's favourite snack - mochi

Fianc√©’s favourite snack – mochi

The baked cheese had a firm texture which was hardly stretched when bitten. But it was not too bad!

The baked cheese had a firm texture which was hardly stretched when bitten. But it was not too bad!

The beef steak was what made me fall in love with the shopping street! Fiancé and I are both steak lovers so I knew I had to introduce this stall to him!

The beef steak was what made me fall in love with the shopping street! Fiancé and I are both steak lovers so I knew I had to introduce this stall to him!

Sizzle, sizzle! If I remember the cost correctly, each serving should be about S$5?

Sizzle, sizzle! If I remember the cost correctly, each serving should be about S$5?

Thick chunks perfectly seared with a drizzle of teriyaki sauce! Fiancé gave this his stamp of approval.

Thick chunks perfectly seared with a drizzle of teriyaki sauce! Fiancé gave this his stamp of approval.

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Our bus picked us up outside Young Lotte Plaza and proceeded to a random jewellery shop in hopes of exhausting the remaining Korean banknotes we had with us. The group obliged the tour guide by making a couple of rounds about the display cabinets but ultimately left empty-handed within minutes because clearly no one was interested in splashing out hundreds of dollars on some impractical piece of ornament. Taking the hint that we were eager and ready to leave, our (dismayed) tour guide told us to get on the bus for our last meal in Seoul at Cheongha Korea.

The building comprises a hypermarket on the first two floors and a restaurant on the third, and it accepts strictly (tourists-only) group reservations accompanied by a tour guide. Judging from its close proximity to Incheon International Airport, I reckon this place typically serves as the final stop for tourists to eat and stockpile on local specialities and souvenirs before catching their return flight home. Hence, perhaps to facilitate human traffic flow and speed up the payment process, any individual customers who attempt to shop or dine there would be turned away.

Restaurant at Cheongha Korea

Restaurant at Cheongha Korea

What we ate for dinner - beoseot jeongol

What we ate for dinner – beoseot jeongol

Our dinner was yet another simple and healthy one-pot meal, but this time it was¬†beoseot jeongol (mushroom casserole) which had broth quite similar to the taste of sukiyaki, topped with a touch of spiciness. Some felt it was a tad too salty but not so for me since my taste buds tend to gravitate towards briny and piquant flavours. However, as someone who isn’t really big on mushrooms and vegetables in general, the measly amount of meat in this dish didn’t do it for me.

Following an extensive shopping spree at the hypermarket where we snapped up packets boxes of¬†tteokbokki and churros crackers, and honey tong tong (‘coz honey butter chips are so overrated), our bus made its way to the airport.

Cheongha Korea Co. Ltd (for tourist groups only) · 211-2 Unnam-dong, 78 Jung-gu, Incheon City, South Korea · Phone: +82 32-751-0448
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Hauling our inflated luggage out of the vehicle to the SIA check-in counters, we were relieved to have met the baggage weight allowance despite buying so much. While waiting for the gates to open, we went to the refund counters at the departure hall with our passports and the applicable receipts to get our tax reimbursement. Technically, based on the information I read, we were supposed to do this before checking in our luggage but past experience told me it wasn’t necessary.

A useful rule of thumb is that any purchases made at large, touristy department stores and brick and mortar stores downtown amounting between¬†‚ā©30,000 and¬†‚ā©200,000 on a single receipt¬†(unless products are already tax-free) would be eligible for tax refund. That said, do check with the shop assistants first just to be sure. Some department stores are also equipped with tax refund kiosks and counters to process¬†your tax refund on the spot (yay to more shopping cash ūü§Ď) but it is only possible up to a certain limit. Plus, we usually leave our passports in the hotel safe because we can be quite careless at times ūüė•¬†We had the option of receiving the refund in USD or KRW but somehow fatigue from seven days of non-stop touring had kicked in… and I stupidly opted for KRW. When I finally realised the blunder I had committed, it was already too late because completed transactions are irrevocable ūüė≠

LEARN FROM MY MISTAKE AND DON’T BE LIKE ME OK.

At last, we boarded our SQ flight and was once again greeted with a sense of familiarity. As the plane gained speed and began to lift skyward, we bade farewell to South Korea. Admittedly, I didn’t have as much of a great time as I did on my solo trip because of various natural factors and oversights on my part – for a start, I hated the cold and was inadequately dressed and prepared for it. On top of that, it was constantly raining and that made commuting a hassle. Referring back to the original itinerary from the tour agency, I also noticed that we had skipped several stops such as the Garden of Morning Calm in Seoul as well as Seopjikoji in Jeju, which could likewise be attributed to the weather.

Therefore, if we ever plan to travel to South Korea again, I am going to make doubly sure it doesn’t happen during the winter season (spring or autumn would be ideal). And yes, it has got to be a free and easy one.

My Korea haul!

My Korea haul!

Thanks for reading!

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Tokyo, the Land of the Rising Sun (PART 2)

Konnichi-wa everyone!

Whoa, it¬†has been close to a year since my Japan trip! The persistent thought of my incomplete Tokyo travelogue has been lingering in my mind so here I am continuing where I left off in the first part. In this post, I will be documenting my¬†activities during my final days in sushi-land. Since this trip happened last December, I may inadvertently leave out some details but I will try my best to recall to the best of my ability ūüėÜ

* * Day 2 * *

(Tokyo Disneyland)

Taking cue from our trip to Hong Kong Disneyland the previous year,¬†we allotted one full day for the magical kingdom. The morning sun had already peeked its bright rays through our curtains¬†when we were woken up by our annoying alarm clock which we had previously set at 7.00 a.m. JST (1 hour ahead of SGT). The chilly and crisp winter air outside seeped into our tiny room (or so I felt), causing my reluctance to get out of my warm and cozy bed to snowball (no pun intended) exponentially. I admit that we kinda took our time because we had already purchased a two-day passport (eTicket, at ¬•12,400 each) to Tokyo Disney Resort (which includes DisneySea), so we needn’t have to spend time queuing up to enter.

It took us about an hour to reach Maihama station from our hotel (10 minutes away from Higashi-Shinjuku station) and we had to transfer trains twice ¬†– once at Shinjuku-Sanchome station and another at Tokyo station. We had the impression that eating or drinking was allowed onboard due to the huge cluster of vending machines on the train platforms so before we hopped on to any train, we made sure we had a bottle of drink and a small packet of tidbit to keep us awake throughout the journey.¬†Well, it turns out not to be the case… Oops. Eating¬†or drinking on trains, although not prohibited by law, is likewise frowned upon in Japan. But I guess¬†having a little¬†nibble won’t kill, yes?! After all, we had left our hotel without having our breakfast ūüė¶

One of the many vending machines we saw...

One of the many vending machines we saw…

Brazen display of tobacco along the train platform

Brazen display of tobacco along the train platform

Inside the Tokyo station-bound train

Inside the Tokyo station-bound train

Boarded the Maihama-bound train at Tokyo station

Boarded the Maihama-bound train at Tokyo station

The trains are equipped with seats covered in comfy velvet which implies high level of self-discipline among the Japanese. Should such sofa seats be used in place of the hard plastic ones in our trains, they will probably lose their lustre and softness in no time because of recalcitrant passengers who eat and drink on board :\

The¬†priority seats¬†in red are separated from the rest and put in a corner next to the empty compartment between carriages where you can make urgent calls (be sure to shut the doors, though!). Talking on mobile phones in the seated areas of the train is a strict no-no. The Japanese values their peace and privacy a lot, so it’s not unusual to be commuting in stark silence.

Look, a convenience shop along the platform!

Look, a convenience shop along the platform!

Maihama station

Maihama station

Mini Yakult

Mini Yakult

I was looking forward to visiting Tokyo Disneyland¬†because friends had been raving to me about how much more breathtaking and enchanting¬†it is from other Disneylands in the world. Upon further research, I discovered¬†that Tokyo Disneyland is wholly owned by a local leisure and tourism corporation¬†Oriental Land Company and not by Walt Disney Company, hence allowing for¬†more flexibility in the imagineering and construction of the theme park. The innovation of the Japanese is apparent in the rides¬†and even in the range of merchandise in the gift shops, so¬†don’t be surprised if you find yourself spending more than budgeted.

Once we exited Maihama train station, we followed the (not-very-visible, in my opinion) directions to Disneyland. For the uninitiated, the way to Disneyland is on the right whereas the train to the Disneyland Hotel and DisneySea is on the left. It took us between 10 and 15 minutes to walk to our destination in the sunny but chilly weather.

Red arc

Red arc

There is a Disney gift shop right before this huge red arc for those who wish to buy some Disney merchandise without having to pay the entrance fee to the theme park. If I remember correctly, there was no difference in pricing and almost everything was stocked up there. I felt this was a nice gesture on the part of Tokyo Disneyland because not everyone can afford the expensive admission tickets.

Welcome to Tokyo Disneyland!

Welcome to Tokyo Disneyland!

Opened in 1983, Tokyo Disneyland is the first Disney Park built outside the United States and remains one of the world’s top theme park destinations.¬†It spans over 114 acres¬†on a reclaimed land which is about a 90-minute journey from Tokyo. Unless you forgo all the rides and go around the theme park on an e-scooter, it is almost impossible to explore every attraction within a day (or even two). It is humongous.

We're in!

We’re in!

More whimsical sculptures..

More whimsical sculptures..

A huge Christmas tree to commemorate the season

A huge Christmas tree to commemorate the season

Sleeping Beauty's Castle!

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle!

 Birds (geese?) like this one are aplenty at the theme park!

Birds (geese?) like this one are aplenty at the theme park!

A must-visit place for the Pooh fanatic boyfriend..

A must-visit place for the Pooh fanatic boyfriend..

This quote by Eeyore is so aww-worthy!

This quote by Eeyore is so aww-worthy!

Boxes with a cushiony exterior shaped like Pooh's head!

Boxes with a cushiony exterior shaped like Pooh’s head!

It was impossible to miss those conspicuous yellow Pooh heads on the shelves¬†because they were sold¬†in¬†virtually every gift shop! It’s certainly a must-have for all Pooh collectors. Each box contained a few individually packed honey sponge cakes moulded in the shape of Pooh’s head which were too cute to be eaten. I failed to notice that they had relatively short shelf life (like most Japanese snacks) so I had kept mine past their expiry date¬†as I couldn’t bear to open the box. I took my first bite into the sponge cakes six months after their purported expiry date but voila!¬†They were still saccharine and fresh – probably not as fresh as when I first bought them but still pretty much edible and salable. What do you know, the Japanese are such an overly cautious bunch… ūüėõ

So don’t toss your expired (but still looking good) Japanese snacks away without first tasting them!

Disclaimer: The above is just an advice only ah.. please don’t blame me if you get diarrhoea after that ^^’ ¬†Thank you.

Winnie the Pooh refillable and reusable popcorn bucket!

Winnie the Pooh refillable and reusable popcorn bucket!

Popcorn pushcarts¬†like the one above can be found at every corner of Disneyland!¬†The design of the popcorn bucket (made with good quality and sturdy plastic) as well as the flavour of the popcorn vary, though. Boyfriend and I happened to find the one that sold Pooh¬†buckets and, of course,¬†honey-flavoured popcorn! ūüźĽ You can refill your bucket with¬†popcorn of different flavours at any pushcart for a lower price ūüôā

Joined the crowd to catch the parade!

Joined the crowd to catch the parade!

Managed to get the perfect shot of Mickey :)

Managed to get the perfect shot of Mickey ūüôā

Donald and Daisy!

Donald and Daisy!

Cowgirl Jessie from Toy Story!

Cowgirl Jessie from Toy Story!

Jolly Pooh and Tigger!

Jolly Pooh and Tigger!

Screen capture from my video.. because boyfriend insisted that I took videos instead of still photographs for his favourite Pooh segment -_-

Screen capture from my video.. because boyfriend insisted that I took videos instead of still photographs for his favourite Pooh segment -_-

Due to our ill-preparedness for this trip, we didn’t go¬†around to¬†collect all the FASTPASS tickets like what most travel bloggers had done before we embarked on our exploration of the theme park.¬†It was our biggest mistake because all the tickets ran out by the time we wanted to take the rides. We had to give the more popular rides a miss because the regular queues were insanely long and could take up to two hours. Not wanting to waste most of our day¬†lining up, we went to attractions¬†that could accommodate more visitors at once with shorter waiting time, like¬†Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

Mickey's PhilharMagic

Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Mickey’s PhilharMagic is¬†a 4-D film attraction featuring 3-D effects, scents and water, as well as a number of Disney characters in a 12-minute-long show. Initially, I had my qualms going there because I had the uninformed impression that it would be another 3-D show designed to please young children. But boy, was I so wrong.¬†I¬†was immersed throughout the screening!

You can't see the visuals clearly without those 3-D glasses, but this part was on The Little Mermaid

You can’t see the visuals clearly without those 3-D glasses, but this part was on The Little Mermaid

The theatre is equipped with¬†motion seats that will move in tandem¬†with the movie action but there are also stationary seats for those¬†do not want to watch the show with the vibration. During the show,¬†small amounts of water would be squirted from the seat in front (I think) of every person to simulate the effect of rain or water splashing. Then, there would also be wind¬†effect to mimic fog. I can’t recall what other 4-D effects there were but the whole experience was absolutely delightful. You won’t regret going there at all!

It was starting to get dark at 4 p.m...

It was starting to get dark at 4 p.m…

The Gadget's Go Coaster was one of the few rides we managed to take that day. No complaints - I LOVE roller coasters!

The Gadget’s Go Coaster was one of the few rides we managed to take that day. No complaints – I LOVE roller coasters!

We then caught the second daytime parade in the afternoon¬†at a confined space next to the parade gate where the performance¬†concluded. Although we arrived at the venue late, we were lucky enough to find a spot that was still fairly close to the performers, and so were able to snap some good shots! The characters that made an appearance during this parade were pretty much the same as those who did in the earlier one.. with the exception of Frozen’s Anna and Elsa.

Frozen's Elsa and Anna

Frozen’s Elsa and Anna

Our appetite became especially ravenous after walking around the entire day in the freezing temperature, so time to grab a bite!

Our appetite became especially ravenous after walking around the entire day in the freezing temperature, so time to grab a bite!

A cuppa hot tea to go with our pretzel!

A cuppa hot tea to go with our pretzel!

The long wait did not deter us from joining the queue for the Grand Circuit Gateway

The long wait did not deter us from joining the queue for the Grand Circuit Gateway

Like its Hong Kong counterpart (Autopia), the cars at the Grand Circuit Gateway operate along a guide rail and do not actually require any steering whenever they reach a turning point. The cars move when the gas pedal is being stepped on but will stall when another vehicle is detected in close proximity ahead of them to prevent collision.

Unfortunately, that would be our final time behind the wheels of the electric cars at Tokyo Disneyland because¬†the¬†Grand Circuit Gateway will¬†be closed permanently in January next year to make way for newer attractions ūüė¶

While waiting for the nighttime parade to begin, boyfriend went to buy dinner! Look at the Mickey-shaped egg yolk!

While waiting for the nighttime parade to begin, boyfriend went to buy dinner! Look at the Mickey-shaped egg yolk!

The curry don was disappointing. The curry sauce was decent and there were barely any meat in the dish. The dish above wasn't satisfying either. Since I wasn't the one who bought dinner, I'm not sure how much they cost. But knowing Disneyland, they definitely wouldn't be affordable. I expected better from Tokyo Disneyland

The curry don was disappointing. The curry sauce was decent and there were barely any meat in the dish. The dish above wasn’t satisfying either. Since I wasn’t the one who bought dinner, I’m not sure how much they cost. But knowing Disneyland, they definitely wouldn’t be affordable. I expected better from Tokyo Disneyland

Grateful to have hot tea to keep me warm *brrr*

Grateful to have hot tea to keep me warm *brrr*

The¬†nighttime parade was, nevertheless, stunning¬†with all the bright neon lights adorning¬†the shimmering floats but I personally feel that it was not in any way more magnificent than the one I witnessed in Hong Kong. In fact, I thought the nighttime parade at Hong Kong Disneyland was more memorable. Sounds absurd, I know. Either my expectations were pegged too high or the novelty of it had worn off from me. I just didn’t feel the magic as much as others had claimed to experience.

Or perhaps, the weather was just too cold for me to bear (because, well, my outfit wasn’t thick enough to keep a barrier between the cold and my frail body) that I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the trip. All I wanted to do was to head back to the hotel and tuck myself beneath the comforter ūüė•

To spare you the agony of loading more pictures on your phone (trust me, it’s more or less the same as those I took in Hong Kong), I’m excluding the photographs (or rather, videos) I took at the nighttime parade from this travelogue.

Following the parade was a short light show¬†and fireworks display at the Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. We weren’t lucky enough to get the front spot as the viewing area was immensely crowded. There was a 15 minute (or more) interval between both shows which was¬†strangely¬†not¬†mentioned on the park map, so we left after waiting meaninglessly for 10 minutes. We should have guessed when the crowd refused to budged. I spied the person¬†behind us literally exclaiming in delight and promptly moving forward the moment we vacated our spot ¬¨_¬¨¬†Not long after we got out of the crowd, the fireworks finale began ūüôĄ

Only at Tokyo Disneyland

Only at Tokyo Disneyland

Although bummed out that we missed the fireworks show, boyfriend was quick to realise that most of the rides would be less packed at that time. Hence, we took the golden opportunity to visit the nearest ride before we called it a day. True enough, the queue at Ride & Go Seek was relatively shorter.

The only picture I could take of this ride because photography is forbidden inside (I did take some shots secretly but they turned out blurry)

The only picture I could take of this ride because photography is forbidden inside (I did take some shots secretly but they turned out blurry)

Night view! Beautiful :) How I wish I could stay in one of those lighted houses permanently *lol*

Night view! Beautiful ūüôā How I wish I could stay in one of those lighted houses permanently *lol*

By the time we left Tokyo Disneyland, our belly had already digested the miserable dinner we had earlier on and we were deliberating if we should hunt for places to eat or have supper at Sushizanmai instead. In the end, we decided against both ideas as we didn’t want to dip further into our depleting funds and simply¬†shared a bowl of instant noodles we bought from the convenience store near our hotel.¬†The meal was complete with several kinds of warm soup we bought from vending machines along our journey to our hotel. ¬†#goodenough

A vending machine with touchscreen! It doesn't just dispense drinks but hot canned soups as well

A vending machine with touchscreen! It doesn’t just dispense drinks but hot canned soups as well

We went around different vending machines to collect all the available soup flavours. I love the clam soup! It didn't taste preserved at all!

We went around different vending machines to collect all the available soup flavours. I love the clam soup! It didn’t taste preserved at all!

* * Day 3 * *

(Tokyo DisneySea)

There seemed to be no amount of alarm clocks that could unearth either one of us from our cocoon of blankets. Having gone through the same routine in Hong Kong, we knew it would be near-impossible to wake us up with a single¬†annoying alarm tone, so we had set two the night before – one on my phone and the other on boyfriend’s. Still, the plan failed and it was not until noon that we finally crawled out of bed. The fatigue from the previous day’s event had certainly gotten the better of us. So much time had been wasted on grabbing¬†that few more winks of sleep that we probably wouldn’t even have time to explore half of DisneySea.

But¬†we couldn’t abort our plans because we had already paid for the tickets :/ So off we went with a mild feeling of dread¬†because our legs were¬†not ready for the long travel ahead of us to Maihama station. Mind you, it’s Japan we’re talking about.. which involves a lot of walking. Even transferring from one train line to another at a particular train station could take us up to 20 minutes of brisk¬†walking. I’m always up for long-distance walks. Just.. not that day ‚ą™_‚ą™

Upon arrival at Maihama station which, by then had been all too familiar, we headed directly to the light rail station and waited for the train bound for Tokyo DisneySea.

Zero sense of urgency: Late but we were still able to fork out a little time for photo-taking :P

Zero sense of urgency: Late but we were still able to fork out a little time for photo-taking ūüėõ

Train approaching!

Train approaching!

Comfy seats and Mickey-shaped windows

Comfy seats and Mickey-shaped windows

And we're here!

And we’re here!

This place has got that USS vibes..

This place has got that USS vibes..

Busy Mickey greeting his little fans at the entrance!

Busy Mickey greeting his little fans at the entrance!

..which reminds me, I didn’t get the chance to take any pictures with the mascots at Tokyo Disneyland (and DisneySea). How devastating ūüė¶

It was here we heard a performance of some sort going on and were trying to trace the source of the sounds...

It was here we heard a performance of some sort going on and were trying to trace the source of the sounds…

But first, a wefie! (And check out my Mickey headgear - yay!)

But first, a wefie! (And check out my Mickey headgear – yay!)

Oh, so this was where the sounds were coming from! Look, it's Goofy and his entourage!

Oh, so this was where the sounds were coming from! Look, it’s Goofy and his entourage!

We stationed ourselves behind the existing crowd but were subsequently ushered to a corner by the wardens to allow for a wider walking area ¬_¬

*squeals* HELLO CHIP AND DALE!

*squeals* HELLO CHIP AND DALE!

But the view from our new spot was so poor, we could only see the side profile of the performers. We gave up and proceeded to have our lunch at Cafe Portofino, just in front of the park. It is a counter service buffeteria that offers Italian food options set in a spacious and warmly-decorated hall that instantly places you in the renaissance era.

Outside Cafe Portofino

Outside Cafe Portofino

Not sure about you but I find the interior truly breathtaking!

Not sure about you but I find the interior truly breathtaking!

Something's cookin'..

Something’s cookin’..

Standing in line to get our food..

Standing in line to get our food..

We added a Paradiso set (a bowl of soup and one soft drink) to one of our main dishes (“Piatti”) for an additional ¬•570. The portion size was reasonable and was able to keep our hunger cues in check for quite a long time.

I can't remember what this was.. Maybe vegetable soup.

I can’t remember what this was.. Maybe vegetable soup.

Rotisserie Chicken (half portion), ¥1,420

Rotisserie Chicken (half portion), ¥1,420

The¬†half-sized Rotisserie Chicken was¬†roasted through but¬†still retained adequate moisture to keep the meat¬†succulent. The seasoning was fine but¬†nothing to write home about. I felt that the plating of this dish could be done better. Don’t you think it’s too.. bare? I’m not demanding expensive sides. Perhaps, y’know, some fries or mashed potatoes would be able to fill those empty spaces around the chicken.

Linguine Pomodoro with Italian Meatballs, ¥1,260

Linguine Pomodoro with Italian Meatballs, ¥1,260

This was boyfriend’s main course which he gobbled down in a heartbeat. The decently cooked pasta¬†was bathed in creamy marinara sauce and topped with limited number of meatballs. Boyfriend had no complaints about the taste but it was clearly too small a portion to satisfy his hunger.

It had started to drizzle when we exited the restaurant but it was light enough to continue exploring without any rain gear. Armed with a copy of the DisneySea map, we went from attraction to attraction only to find that many of them were either closed or had too long a queue. In addition, the next shows at theatres were hours away so we were left with no choice but to join whichever queue was available to us.

Mediterranean Harbour

Mediterranean Harbour

Venetian Gondolas

Venetian Gondolas

This place sells really appetising sandwiches!

This place sells really appetising sandwiches!

The crowd on a weekday

The crowd on a weekday

Feels like the streets of New York

Feels like the streets of New York

The Tower of Terror houses DisneySea's most exciting attraction - a thrilling, free fall-style ride. It looks scarier at night. As expected, the queue for this was LONG but even if it wasn't, boyfriend would still be too timid to take it. Hence, I was forced to give this a miss..

The Tower of Terror houses DisneySea’s most exciting attraction – a thrilling, free fall-style ride. It looks scarier at night. As expected, the queue for this was LONG but even if it wasn’t, boyfriend would still be too timid to take it. Hence, I was forced to give this a miss..

Restrooms adjacent to the Tower of Terror

Restrooms adjacent to the Tower of Terror

Just a few distance away lies Toy Story Mania! and a¬†snaking queue meandering around barricades positioned outside the entrance. There was¬†a signage indicating the estimated waiting time of two hours placed at the end of the queue.¬†Still, we went ahead and join the line knowing that the wait would be equally long at other attractions. Now let me stress how¬†important¬†portable WiFi routers and a reliable mobile charger are especially in times like this because time crawls¬†at a sloth’s pace without them :\

I don't know about you but entering the attraction through Woody's mouth seems a little horror-esque..

I don’t know about you but entering the attraction through Woody’s mouth seems a little horror-esque..

The tram led us to a 3-D shooting gallery where we toss eggs, pop balloons, throw rings and play other games

The tram led us to a 3-D shooting gallery where we toss eggs, pop balloons, throw rings and play other games

Our shooting device!

Our shooting device!

My score on the left and boyfriend's on the right. I lost. I'm just not good at games :<

My score on the left and boyfriend’s on the right. I lost. I’m just not good at games :<

More games at the Carnival Corral (within the Toy Story Mania!) which didn't have any queue..

More games at the Carnival Corral (within the Toy Story Mania!) which didn’t have any queue..

We couldn't help but feel hungry after spending most of the afternoon touring a large area of DisneySea and queuing hours for a ride that lasted less than 10 minutes.. So we treated ourselves to a good ol' hot dog bun! I liked how the condiments came packed in fold-and-squeeze wrappers so we didn't have to dirty our hands!

We couldn’t help but feel hungry after spending most of the afternoon touring a large area of DisneySea and queuing hours for a ride that lasted less than 10 minutes.. So we treated ourselves to a good ol’ hot dog bun! I liked how the condiments came packed in fold-and-squeeze wrappers so we didn’t have to dirty our hands!

Soon, it was time for the nighttime water show at the Mediterranean Harbour. In order to get a good view, we arrived at the venue about half an hour before but was surprised to find almost all spots taken up by then. Sadly, it wasn’t the best day to be outdoors as well because the rain had been in drizzles on and off throughout the day, wetting the ground. But the Japanese seemed to be well-prepared for that (or perhaps because cleanliness is imbibed in their culture) as we noticed literally everyone around us seated on mats.

The only weirdos seated on the ground without a mat

The only weirdos seated on the ground without a mat

The huge water screens transformed into a gigantic Christmas tree during the performance

The huge water screens transformed into a gigantic Christmas tree during the performance

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

The rain persisted throughout the show and finally transitioned into heavy downpour accompanied by thunder and lightning when it ended. Everyone instantly sought shelter in the Emporio store nearby. Not long after, an announcement came on that¬†the fireworks display would be¬†cancelled due to the bad weather ūüėź Ah, bummer…

We remained in Emporio until the rain lightened. Since there was still more than an hour to closing time (Tokyo Disneyland closes a lot later than Hong Kong’s), we went deeper into the theme park to find Mysterious Island and Mermaid Lagoon.¬†Perhaps due to the late hour (coupled with the wet weather), we did not have to queue for any of the attractions we set foot in.

Along the path leading to the Mysterious Island

Along the path leading to the Mysterious Island

The iconic Mount Prometheus in the background

The iconic Mount Prometheus in the background

One of the more conspicuous attractions at Mysterious Island - 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This is the main entrance to a downward spiral to the ride

One of the more conspicuous attractions at Mysterious Island – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. This is the main entrance to a downward spiral to the ride

As we walked down the slope, I spotted this weird-looking structure..

As we walked down the slope, I spotted this weird-looking structure..

Water filled the bottom of the attraction because we were about to take a "submarine ride"!

Water filled the bottom of the attraction because we were about to take a “submarine ride”!

Boyfriend insisted on wearing that Pooh tag around his neck... I guess it's true that Disneyland brings out the kid in all of us

Boyfriend insisted on wearing that Pooh tag around his neck… I guess it’s true that Disneyland brings out the kid in all of us

The attraction is based on a spin-off from a novel of the same name by Jules Verne and does not actually move underwater. Suspended from an overhead track (the yellow structure depicted above), the submarine is equipped with “double pane glass dome windows that contain¬†water and bubbles¬†to create the illusion of … diving deep into the ocean”. It’s a very simple dark ride where you have to occasionally flash the torch light to see things. I don’t remember having to complete any mission so it wasn’t as fun and interactive as I thought it would be.

Each side of the submarine, if my memory doesn’t fail me, can accommodate up to 6 people so boyfriend and I had to share a cabin with other visitors. Some may find the inside of the cabin sweltering with no air-conditioning but it felt like a warm haven, a quick refuge from the cold to me ūüėÜ I tried taking some shots in the cabin but the shutter speed of my camera was too slow¬†to capture the fast-moving objects.

With under an hour remaining before the shutters came down, we headed towards the wholly-sheltered Mermaid Lagoon to ride whatever was available. We were able to take most, if not all, of the rides because they were largely vacant. Lucky us!

Spotted King Triton on his sleigh drawn by.. dolphins?

Spotted King Triton on his sleigh drawn by.. dolphins?

The inside of a whale is a gift shop! Look how the ceiling is designed to resemble the roof of the mouth - so cool!

The inside of a whale is a gift shop! Look how the ceiling is designed to resemble the roof of the mouth – so cool!

Blowfish Balloon Race

Blowfish Balloon Race

It's some sort of a carousel, I guess.. The merry-go-round effect made me rather queasy after that lol

It’s some sort of a carousel, I guess.. The merry-go-round effect made me rather queasy after that lol

Mermaid Lagoon Theatre! We were just in time for the final show of the day

Mermaid Lagoon Theatre! We were just in time for the final show of the day

Inside the theatre before the live performance began.. It was a truly captivating one with lots of acrobatic elements. Photography is forbidden in the theatre

Inside the theatre before the live performance began.. It was a truly captivating one with lots of acrobatic elements. Photography is forbidden in the theatre

Jellyfish everywhere!

Jellyfish everywhere!

Took another ride - the Jumpin' Jellyfish! The rides in this area are mostly kids-friendly and family-oriented, lacking the thrill factor as you can tell

Took another ride – the Jumpin’ Jellyfish! The rides in this area are mostly kids-friendly and family-oriented, lacking the thrill factor as you can tell

Ariel's Playground

Ariel’s Playground

Can't remember where the stairs lead to..

Can’t remember where the stairs lead to..

Triton's Kingdom

Triton’s Kingdom

Thereafter, the closing announcement came on and throngs of visitors including boyfriend and me proceeded to take the light rail back to Maihama station. The platform was so crowded that we barely made it to the first train that arrived. Thankfully, the journey home was comfortably seamless and we managed to take the weight off our feet and catch forty winks! Looking back, we were really daring to have slept on a train in a foreign land..

* * Day 4 * *

(Tsukiji Fish Market, śĶ∑ťģģšłľ¬†Ś§ßśĪüśą∑ Kaisen-don¬†ŇĆedo Restaurant, Pok√©mon Center)

Sadly, our shallow pockets meant that we could only afford to tour a city with a high standard of living for a maximum of four full days. As this trip drew to a close, reality started to bite again. On the one hand¬†I dreaded getting back to the grind of my Final Year Project¬†but on the other hand I was psyched about the final full day because the highlights of the trip were left to this day. For the first time during the trip, I¬†was already up and about at 8.30 a.m. JST (that’s 7.30 a.m. SGT), all set for the first destination of the day – Tsukiji Fish Market!

But first, let me parade my haul from a vending machine along a train station platform ^_^

But first, let me parade my haul from a vending machine along a train station platform ^_^

Any travel guides would recommend viewing of the tuna auctions as it is a must-do in Tsukiji Fish Market. Auctions begin at 5.25 a.m. JST and only a maximum of 120 visitors are allowed to view¬†per day. We had initially planned to see the auctions but were not disciplined enough to wake up at an unearthly hour for it. Moreover, since public transport only starts at 5 a.m., we would need to hire a cab to¬†get there. Mind you, Tokyo holds¬†the title of having the most expensive cab fares in the world and we’re obviously too broke for that by the second last day of our vacation.¬†Our journey would probably rack up hundreds of dollars in cab fare because Tsukiji Fish Market is quite a distance from our hotel. We didn’t want to risk being denied entry into the market due to reaching capacity after having gone through so much trouble either!

Our train ride to to Tsukiji Shijo station lasted about an hour. We read from some travel blogs that the station is just directly below the market but somehow or other we got lost and had to walk a bit.

En route to Tsukiji Fish Market

En route to Tsukiji Fish Market

It was reported in that Tsukiji Fish Market would be relocated to a much bigger and newer site at Toyosu, Koto but the move has since been delayed over cost and health concerns.

In a high-tech country like Japan, deliveries from aisles to aisles in wet markets are done on motorised carts

In a high-tech country like Japan, deliveries from aisles to aisles in wet markets are done on motorised carts

Dried goods for sale

Dried goods for sale

A corridor of eateries!

A corridor of eateries!

The sashimi restaurants inside and outside Tsukiji Fish Market are undoubtedly your best bet when it comes to quality and fresh seafood since all the sashimi are delivered fresh from a stone’s throw away. Every alley is lined with such small and cramped restaurants which draw throngs of hungry people¬†from all over the world and the queues may even stretch for hours. Boyfriend and I were seriously spoilt for choice so we chose the one that had one of the longest queues (typical Singaporean behaviour) as well as enticing menu display. Orders are taken in advance so that¬†they can be served promptly the moment customers take their seats in the restaurant.

The lunchtime crowd!

The lunchtime crowd!

Sashimi restaurants had the longest queues..

Sashimi restaurants had the longest queues..

śĶ∑ťģģšłľ Ś§ßśĪüśą∑ Kaisen-don ŇĆedo Restaurant - our choice of restaurant

śĶ∑ťģģšłľ Ś§ßśĪüśą∑ Kaisen-don ŇĆedo Restaurant – our choice of restaurant

It was a challenge to move into the inner seats and we barely had space for our bulky backpacks

It was a challenge to move into the inner seats and we barely had space for our bulky backpacks

Once seated, we were served a bowl (?) of hot green tea, pickles and miso soup (not pictured)

Once seated, we were served a bowl (?) of hot green tea, pickles and miso soup (not pictured)

One of the many sashimi platters on the menu (¥2700)

One of the many sashimi platters on the menu (¥2700)

P don served with my favourite uni (sea urchin) (¥2400). Boyfriend and I ordered the same dish!

P don served with my favourite uni (sea urchin) (¥2400). Boyfriend and I ordered the same dish!

Never underestimate the tiny restaurants at Tsukiji Fish Market (or any eatery in Japan, as a matter of fact). They may seem small but their prices are comparable to that  of notable Japanese restaurants in Singapore. The total damage from our sashimi feast  (just those few dishes pictured above) reached close to a whopping S$100 which had well exceeded our budget for this meal. But it was money well-spent. The food was truly remarkable Рthose firm, thick slices of sashimi were laced with fatty marble and had a slight briny tang. And I had never felt so satisfied eating that huge slab of uni!

I can’t remember if the restaurant accepts credit cards so do bring enough cash along before heading to Tsukiji Fish Market for your breakfast or lunch.

śĶ∑ťģģšłľ Ś§ßśĪüśą∑ Kaisen-don ŇĆedo Restaurant
5-2-1 Tsukiji
8-Go, Chuo 104-0045, Tokyo Prefecture
Operating hours: 4.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.
Website: http://www.tsukiji-ooedo.com/

After our lunch, we tried to find our way back to the JR station and chanced upon shops like these along the way. You'd be surprised (or maybe not) to hear some of these salespeople conversing to tourists in Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese etc.) because many of them actually come from China!

After our lunch, we tried to find our way back to the JR station and chanced upon shops like these along the way. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) to hear some of these salespeople conversing to tourists in Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese etc.) because many of them actually come from China!

More dried snacks.. not very cheap, eh?

More dried snacks.. not very cheap, eh?

We finally saw fish for sale at the fame fish market :B

We finally saw fish for sale at the fame fish market :B

Some tamago-looking food... To this day, I still have no idea what this is X)

Some tamago-looking food… To this day, I still have no idea what this is X)

Finger foods like this were aplenty near Tsukiji Fish Market. I don't know what this whole street of makeshift street food stalls is called but it seems to be quite a touristy place. (note: after some Googling, I conclude that this could be Tsukiji Nippon Fish Port Market)

Finger foods like this were aplenty near Tsukiji Fish Market. I don’t know what this whole street of makeshift street food stalls is called but it seems to be quite a touristy place. (note: after some Googling, I conclude that this could be Tsukiji Nippon Fish Port Market)

Damn, these BBQ food looked really good! But I was urged by boyfriend to control my spending :'( Ok bye.. I will come back to you next time!

Damn, these BBQ food looked really good! But I was urged by boyfriend to control my spending ūüė• Ok bye.. I will come back to you next time!

With the help of our¬†life-saving Google Maps app, we managed to¬†locate the nearest JR station from where we were wandering along¬†and take the next train down to¬†Ikebukuro station! ūüėÄ *prances around*

Alright, I’m going to be honest here. The main crux of this trip wasn’t the amusement parks nor the shopping malls but¬†the Pok√©mon Center (although the abundance supply of fresh sashimi we could eat was also another major deciding factor for boyfriend). As a diehard¬†Pok√©mon fanatic since my childhood days (yes, for the uninformed, Pok√©mon has been around since the late 90’s and not only¬†recently with the launch of Pok√©monGO), it has been my absolute dream to visit the¬†specialist store because I’ve been wanting to start my own collection of (preferably official)¬†Pok√©mon¬†merchandise.

Knowing that I would wipe out the Yen we had and possibly max out my credit card there (which did happen eventually), boyfriend wittingly pushed¬†the Pok√©mon Centre back to the last¬†day on our impromptu itinerary so that we didn’t have to starve on our final days in Japan ūüėÜ

Display taken at Ikebukuro station which misled us into thinking that Sunshine City (where Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo store is) was just nearby. We didn't expect to a 25-minute walk to get there -_-

Display taken at Ikebukuro station which misled us into thinking that Sunshine City (where Pok√©mon Center Mega Tokyo store is) was just nearby. We didn’t expect to a 25-minute walk to get there -_-

A barricaded smoking corner! Can Singapore please adopt something similar so that all the second-hand smoke can be confined within the area?

A barricaded smoking corner! Can Singapore please adopt something similar so that all the second-hand smoke can be confined within the area?

We're here! All the lethargy from commuting and walking the entire day instantly dissipated when I saw the huge Pokémon sign greeting me!

We’re here! All the lethargy from commuting and walking the entire day instantly dissipated when I saw the huge Pok√©mon sign greeting me!

CHO KEWT!

CHO KEWT!

To prep our wallet for this day, we watched videos taken at the Pok√©mon Centre on YouTube to know what¬†items were¬†stocked up in that season. Using the videos as a guide, we came up with a shopping list but was dismayed to learn that what we¬†wanted were already sold out and replaced with some other designs ūüė• So, lesson learnt: don’t rely too much on YouTube videos for the latest products at the Pok√©mon Centre¬†because almost everything sold is seasonal. When we were there, we witnessed how crazily fast the stocks come and go. It’s not unusual to see¬†shelves once filled with stuff become empty and replenished again. The staff are that efficient!

I wanted to sweep everything off the shelves but my luggage only had this much space! :(

I wanted to sweep everything off the shelves but my luggage only had this much space! ūüė¶

Towels, shower caps, T-shirts and other wearables!

Towels, shower caps, T-shirts and other wearables!

Stationery. This drives me NUTS

Stationery. This drives me NUTS

Snacks that come in adorable packaging! Bought a few mainly because of the (metal) boxes..

Snacks that come in adorable packaging! Bought a few mainly because of the (metal) boxes..

Pikachu plushies and keychains

Pikachu plushies and keychains

Look at the topmost shelf! Almost empty!

Look at the topmost shelf! Almost empty!

Pokémon toy vending machine! Look what I got :D

Pok√©mon toy vending machine! Look what I got ūüėÄ

3DS casings and covers!

3DS casings and covers!

MORE snacks! Do take note of their short shelf life too!

MORE snacks! Do take note of their short shelf life too!

Our haul! We had more bags after this picture because we went back in to shop again... Total damage came up to about S$300 u__u Thank God it was already our final day in Japan LOL

Our haul! We had more bags after this picture because we went back in to shop again… Total damage came up to about S$300 u__u Thank God it was already our final day in Japan LOL

Unless you aren’t a Pok√©mon fan, you must be prepared to spend a least S$100 at the¬†Pok√©mon Centre (credit cards are accepted) because the product selection there is massive. We deliberately emptied our backpack prior to heading out of our hotel that morning because we knew we were going to buy a lot of things at the¬†Pok√©mon Centre. Still, we had to lug a few bags of our purchases back to our hotel because there wasn’t enough space in our backpack! ūüė≥

Pokémon Center Mega Tokyo
3-1-2 Higashiikebukuro
2F Sunshine City Special Shops Alba, Toshima 170-6002, Tokyo Prefecture
Operating hours: 10.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m.
Nearest JR station: Ikebukuro

On our way back to the JR station, we stopped by a huge arcade with many toy catcher machines. Boyfriend tried his luck at one and successfully got a mid-sized Gudetama after several tries lol

On our way back to the JR station, we stopped by a huge arcade with many toy catcher machines. Boyfriend tried his luck at one and successfully got a mid-sized Gudetama after several tries lol

This is the actual size! It's bigger than my head o_O

This is the actual size! It’s bigger than my head o_O

We spotted this and were enticed by the fragrance of the takoyaki~ We were cash strapped after all the shopping and had to trade money at a nearby money changer to buy dinner :/

We spotted this and were enticed by the fragrance of the takoyaki~ We were cash strapped after all the shopping and had to trade money at a nearby money changer to buy dinner :/

YUMZ. Actually, nothing quite different from the takoyaki we had at the ION Orchard (already closed, by the way) but the experience of having a Japanese snack in Japan felt more authentic...?

YUMZ. Actually, nothing quite different from the takoyaki we had at the ION Orchard (already closed, by the way) but the experience of having a Japanese snack in Japan felt more authentic…?

Trying to explore other parts of Tokyo with so many shopping bags in tow can be a real pain in the arse (besides, we were already penniless and the value in our PASMO card wouldn’t be able to take us anywhere farther..) so¬†we returned to our hotel to pack our baggage and have an early rest.

* * Day 5 * *

(Departure)

With a heavy heart, it was time to bid Tokyo goodbye. Our evening flight meant that we could sleep in and have plenty of time to do a final round of shopping at the airport (and not forgetting our final visit to Sushizanmai for lunch. God, we miss that place) after returning our Wi-Fi router. We used our two-way NEX ticket to bring us back to Narita Airport. It was a smooth ride and we slept throughout the journey.

I love Narita Airport and this is one reason why

I love Narita Airport and this is one reason why

Just when I thought I could leave Tokyo without having to dig deep into my pockets again on my final day, lo and behold, another Pokémon store in the airport! ARGHHHHH STOP TAKING MY MONEY!

Just when I thought I could leave Tokyo without having to dig deep into my pockets again on my final day, lo and behold, another Pokémon store in the airport! ARGHHHHH STOP TAKING MY MONEY!

Of course, what other attire can Pikachu be donning in the airport?!

Of course, what other attire can Pikachu be donning in the airport?!

If I ever strike it rich one day, I'm going to start collecting Pikachu plushies and have a room in my house just to display my collection!

If I ever strike it rich one day, I’m going to start collecting Pikachu plushies and have a room in my house just to display my collection!

Snacks and cup noodles... ~_~ I can't take this anymore..

Snacks and cup noodles… ~_~ I can’t take this anymore..

Found this (the authentic ones) at S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa outside the Pokémon Research Exhibition so it's not so exclusive to Japan. For people who can't afford it (or don't see the need to buy the authentic ones), you can find the replica at shops that rent out lockers to merchants to sell products

Found this (the authentic ones) at S.E.A. Aquarium, Sentosa outside the Pok√©mon Research Exhibition so it’s not so exclusive to Japan. For people who can’t afford it (or don’t see the need to buy the authentic ones), you can find the replica at shops that rent out lockers to merchants to sell products

DS cartridge holder and 3DS covers! Boyfriend bought the Pikachu cartridge holder on the bottom left

DS cartridge holder and 3DS covers! Boyfriend bought the Pikachu cartridge holder on the bottom left

I miraculously managed to refrain myself from spending a single cent at this¬†Pok√©mon store mainly because I didn’t have any to spare LOL. A life-sized Pikachu mascot would also make an appearance on certain days. Sadly, we missed it ūüė•

Pokémon Store Narita Airport
Narita International Airport
Narita, Chiba 282-0004. Terminal 2 Main Bldg. 4th Floor
Operating hours: 8.00 a.m. to 8.00 p.m.

We had always wanted to try McDonald's at every country we visit so we decided to have our early dinner here!

We had always wanted to try McDonald’s at every country we visit so we decided to have our early dinner here!

Menu looks very similar to what we have back at home..

Menu looks very similar to what we have back at home..

..except for the Ebi Filet-O burger which has been highly raved online! Gotta try it to believe how good it is!

..except for the Ebi Filet-O burger which has been highly raved online! Gotta try it to believe how good it is!

My final verdict: It's not too bad! The kitchen probably prepared it in a haste to serve the crowd so I didn't feel it was exceptionally better than the Ebi burger in Singapore

My final verdict: It’s not too bad! The kitchen probably prepared it in a haste to serve the crowd so I didn’t feel it was exceptionally better than the Ebi burger in Singapore

When at Narita Airport, one must never forgo the souvenirs and leave the shops empty-handed. As broke as we were, we could still squeeze out a few thousands of Yen on credit. I’m not kidding when I say that it was our poorest¬†time of our lives together..

Royce chocolates

Royce chocolates

A not-so-popular choice among the tourists (no doubt the shape is cute though) but I guess if the Japanese made it, it must be nice as well!

A not-so-popular choice among the tourists (no doubt the shape is cute though) but I guess if the Japanese made it, it must be nice as well!

Airport-exclusive KitKats! The matcha-flavoured one is pretty common and can already be bought at my local supermarkets but not for other flavours like strawberry, sakura, etc. WAAAAH SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

Airport-exclusive KitKats! The matcha-flavoured one is pretty common and can already be bought at my local supermarkets but not for other flavours like strawberry, sakura, etc. WAAAAH SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

And THIS is what I have been searching high and low for in Tokyo. I tried finding it at Harajuku and other touristy places but to no avail! It seems to be exclusively sold inside the departure hall only!

And THIS is what I have been searching high and low for in Tokyo. I tried finding it at Harajuku and other touristy places but to no avail! It seems to be exclusively sold inside the departure hall only!

Another popular Japanese snack which expires as fast as a loaf of bread is the Tokyo Banana! Boyfriend bought a few boxes for himself because he LOVES Tokyo Bananas!

Another popular Japanese snack which expires as fast as a loaf of bread is the Tokyo Banana! Boyfriend bought a few boxes for himself because he LOVES Tokyo Bananas!

Interesting toilet design! The black figures on the wall are moving shadows, not of the actual toilet users, of course!

Interesting toilet design! The black figures on the wall are moving shadows, not of the actual toilet users, of course!

Look how SPARKLING clean the toilet is! I wonder how much effort is put in on a regular basis to keep the toilets this white! Even the walls of brand new HDB flats are not as white as this okay lol

Look how SPARKLING clean the toilet is! I wonder how much effort is put in on a regular basis to keep the toilets this white! Even the walls of brand new HDB flats are not as white as this okay lol

A personal sink and hand dryer for introverts like moi? Truly appreciate that thought, Japan!

A personal sink and hand dryer for introverts like moi? Truly appreciate that thought, Japan!

Our meal onboard our Don Muang Airport-bound AirAsia flight! I can't remember what the exact name of this chicken rice is is called but it wasn't disappointing :)

Our meal onboard our Don Muang Airport-bound AirAsia flight! I can’t remember what the exact name of this chicken rice is is called but it wasn’t disappointing ūüôā

We landed at Don Muang Airport at Bangkok past midnight on a Sunday¬†with about five hours to go before our next boarding time. It was our longest and most miserable five hours yet because most shops in that dimly-lit dilapidated airport were closed at that time (no offence, Thai readers,¬†but I would¬†stick to landing at¬†Suvarnabhumi Airport next time) and getting free Wi-Fi access (without having to register myself with the service provider over and over again after 30 minutes or so¬†– no thanks) is more impossible than getting connected in the busiest Capitaland mall on a freakin’ public holiday. It truly felt like a budget terminal but yeah, I know I can’t complain because I chose to fly budget, yadda yadda.

That’s it, another lesson learnt. No more transfers at Don Muang Airport ever again! :\

And now, I shall unveil the colossal amount of purchases I made over my 5-day stay in Tokyo. Brace yourself, especially if you’re a Pok√©mon fanatic.

Japanese snacks from Narita Airport! ALL ARE SUPER NICE. I will buy an air ticket to Narita Airport just to buy more of these!

Japanese snacks from Narita Airport! ALL ARE SUPER NICE. I will buy an air ticket to Narita Airport just to buy more of these!

From Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea!

From Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea!

Snacks from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo!

Snacks from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo!

Universal handphone flip cover with slots for cards (left) and porcelain plate from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo! Pikachu socks from one of the shops at Harajuku

Universal handphone flip cover with slots for cards (left) and porcelain plate from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo! Pikachu socks from one of the shops at Harajuku

We didn't have money to collect plushies but we were able to afford plastic folders and files! So we went around collecting different designs at Harajuku and Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo! :P

We didn’t have money to collect plushies but we were able to afford plastic folders and files! So we went around collecting different designs at Harajuku and Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo! ūüėõ

Nanoblocks (waaaay cheaper in Japan!), pouch, stickers, sticky tape roll - all from Harajuku!

Nanoblocks (waaaay cheaper in Japan!), pouch, stickers, sticky tape roll – all from Harajuku!

Sleeping Pikachu plushie (now my bed companion) and Pikachu backpacks from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo

Sleeping Pikachu plushie (now my bed companion) and Pikachu backpacks from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo

Pikachu headgear, notebooks, cartridge holder, card holder, Pikachu T-shirt, miniature Mew plushie (which ran out of stock really fast!) and more sticky tape rolls from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo!

Pikachu headgear, notebooks, cartridge holder, card holder, Pikachu T-shirt, miniature Mew plushie (which ran out of stock really fast!) and more sticky tape rolls from Pokemon Center Mega Tokyo!

And that’s¬†about it!¬†I sincerely apologise for the long interval between the previous and this part of the travelogue (if anybody was waiting for it at all) because I’ve since entered the workforce and I’m usually too tired to blog¬†when I get home. You won’t believe how many MONTHS I took to complete this final instalment because I kept dozing off at my desk XD But blogging helps me to remember key events which I would otherwise forget so I know I had to do it. My terribly poor memory is¬†why I tend to be really detailed in my writing. Sometimes¬†my brows would furrow in anxiety and my jaws drop in disbelief when I reread my archives because I don’t remember what I wrote XD

But despite the sky-high cost of living in Japan, we¬†appreciate how much importance is placed in the freshness of their food.. and we miss their delicacies (*cough*fresh sashimi*cough*). The Japanese are very friendly and helpful – no doubt about that! We¬†had met security officers who wouldn’t hesitate to temporarily leave their post just to bring¬†us to the nearest washroom because we couldn’t understand a word of Japanese they were saying. Tokyo is¬†definitely worth another visit but I’ll be sure to go back in my thickest winter coat next time with more than sufficient cash ūüėÜ !

Thanks for reading, everyone! ūüôā

Read also
Tokyo, the Land of the Rising Sun (PART 1)

Tokyo, the Land of the Rising Sun (PART 1)

Hello everyone!

It is an annual affair for boyfriend and I to take a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and jet off for a year-end vacation. But¬†unlike previous years where we would remain in our comfort zone and opt¬†for a destination that speaks a language we are familiar with, we dauntlessly planned a free-and-easy trip last December to a country which mainly converses in a language we are absolutely stranger to. I was determined to overcome all the odds, though (even tried to pick up basic Japanese), because I had been dying to¬†bask myself in the glory of authentic Japanese food and Pok√©mon in their country of origin ūüėÜ

Source: Dan Price (FreeImages.com)

Tokyo (source)

We booked our flight and accommodation for four nights (starting from 15 December) via Expedia a month prior (we’re spontaneous like that) which amounted to a cost of S$1762 for both of us. Considering that we made our travel plans very close to the peak period, we obviously didn’t clinch the best deal. In fact, I felt it was extremely¬†pricey for a budget carrier (Thai AirAsia X) with a 5-hour¬†stopover at Don Mueang Airport on return (as we couldn’t afford the direct flights listed.. or so we thought) and a hotel¬†accommodation¬†without breakfast. To top it off, we had to fork out an additional S$264 for our luggage because AirAsia does not provide any free baggage allowance.¬†The staggering amount was also due to the change in flight during the stopover on both¬†departure and return, so we had to pay TWICE the usual baggage cost. Admittedly, it was our fault for not doing proper research before we went ahead with the booking but still… I think what we paid for was equivalent to the price of the direct flight tickets ARGHHHH!!

In-flight meal: Spicy Fried Chicken with Rice and Traditional Thai-Style Omelette (THB180)

In-flight meal: Spicy Fried Chicken with Rice and Traditional Thai-Style Omelette (THB180)

We boarded the plane with a virtually-empty stomach because of my tardiness (I had an advertorial due on that day and had only managed to pack my luggage an hour before I left the house) so we satisfied our hunger with some Economy Class airline meals. As unappetising as the picture above may seem, the dish was actually very tasty and fragrant. The chilli hot basil sauce that doused the fried rice had the right amount of heat. I was literally savouring every spoonful of this flavoursome dish.

What a view!

What a view!

Being amateur travellers without Japanese in our linguistic repertoire, we had our qualms about getting around Tokyo independently. But our worries were unfounded as soon as we landed at Narita Airport. From the moment we touched down to the time we arrived at our hotel, there were English signage guiding clueless tourists like us.

Narita Airport

Narita Airport

* * Day 1 * *

(WiFi router rental, Shinjuku Granbell Hotel, Sushizanmai, Harajuku, Shibuya Crossing & CoCo Ichibanya)

Getting our WiFi router from a telecom booths at Narita Airport

Getting our WiFi router from a telecom booths at Narita Airport Level 1

Everything went well until we¬†tried communicating with the locals, that is. Before we left the airport, we combed the first storey for a telecom booth that we could purchase a prepaid SIM card from because we would need internet¬†to use Google Maps on the go. We eventually¬†rented a 3G WiFi router at ¬•1,000/day¬†(converts to approximately S$12+, slightly cheaper to rent from Changi Recommends which charges S$12/day) from the first booth we spotted (didn’t bother going around comparing prices) because there was a daily mobile data limit for SIM cards which I remember was definitely not enough for one full day of touring. The price of a SIM card was also comparable to that of renting a WiFi router so it made more sense getting the latter. Plus,¬†up to four devices could be connected to the router at the same time too! Yay to live Instagram updates!

The WiFi router we rented

The WiFi router we rented

Rental of the router is chargeable from the pick-up day to the return day, regardless of whether it will be in use.¬†According to the information leaflet we saw at the booth, the maximum download speed of the WiFi router is 40 Mbps but may slow down in trains (especially Shinkansen, or bullet trains, and subways), near mountains, seasides, basement floors on and near high buildings (higher than 15 storeys) so it is advisable that you share¬†your itinerary with the staff before committing to the rental. Insurance (in case of loss or damage of item) is also available at ¬•300 per day.¬†You would need to produce your credit card for them to do a “temporary” charge to it as a form of deposit.. just in case you fail to turn in the router.

There were a few staff manning the booth and we were served by one who couldn’t really speak and understand English (but he was nice and I could see that he was trying very hard). Boyfriend had to rely on Google Translate (all hail the mighty Google) to get our message across. We wanted to know¬†their¬†operating hours as we were afraid that they would be closed by the time we reached the airport for our departure flight. If I remember correctly, they open at 8am and close at either 6 or 7pm (Japan time). I’m not sure about the telecom booths on other levels but if you’re going to arrive in or depart from Narita Airport at ungodly hours, then you should play safe and rent a router from Changi Airport instead.

Following that, we took the elevator down to the basement floor to purchase our Narita Express (NEX) pass to Shinjuku station (map here, line coloured red). There was a long queue at the ticket office and we had to wait for close to 45 minutes for our turn. The same pass could also be used for travelling back to the airport via NEX on our day of departure.

Waiting for our NEX train to Shinjuku station

Waiting for our NEX train to Shinjuku station

The time of arrival for the next NEX train clearly depicted on the electronic scroll board and trust me, the trains come on the dot

The time of arrival for the next NEX train clearly depicted on the electronic scroll board and trust me, the trains come on the dot

The platform serves different train services such as the JR (Japan Rail) and Keisei Electric Railway so it is important to pay attention to the¬†announcements on the electronic scroll board as well as through the PA system to know if you should board the incoming train. You don’t want to get lost in a foreign country!

Inside one of the NEX train cabins

Inside one of the NEX train cabins

Upon boarding the train, we went to look for the seat number indicated on our passes, though we could technically¬†occupy any one we saw since the train was quite empty. There is a storage space for the baggage at every cabin but¬†you have to be quick to get the lowest compartment (the most convenient one which doesn’t require you to lift your heavy luggage). Once we fixed the position of our luggage, we secured them with the provided combination lock. With¬†plenty of legroom¬†and a comfortable reclining seat in a tranquil environment,¬†I was kinda worried I would fall into deep slumber and miss our stop LOL.

All in all, the journey took about 1.5 hours. Reminders would be made a few minutes before the train pulls into the station to allow you to have ample time to collect your luggage. And the moment we alighted, I could immediately feel the chill (and omg I hate winter) ūüėź We were supposed to¬†take a 15-minute walk from Shinjuku station to get to our hotel but¬†clearly that wasn’t possible in this cold weather. So we hailed a cab! This was despite¬†having¬†warned about the¬†exorbitant cab fares (even for short distances) in Tokyo. True enough, it was expensive for we paid about S$15 for a 10-minute ride.

Never been so excited to ride a taxi!

Never been so excited to ride a taxi!

The first thing we noticed upon entering the cab was this plastic partition that separated the driver from the passengers, perhaps for safety or hygiene reasons? We had to show the driver the address of our hotel on our phone and pass the cab fare through the rectangular gap on the plastic panel. Honestly, it felt kinda.. weird. Haha.

Shinjuku Grandbell Hotel

Shinjuku Grandbell Hotel

Partially covered with foliage,¬†the Shinjuku Granbell Hotel is inconspicuously located at the back of an alley, away from the main road. It seemed like a housing estate to me at first glance as the hotel signage wasn’t even noticeable (why the grey on grey though). Still, I loved the serene surrounding and how it was near to convenient shops and popular restaurants.

Be better prepared for your next trip!
Check out HotelsCombined to compare the best hotel deal for your next trip to Tokyo!

It was 20 minutes past ten when we¬†arrived at the hotel and all we wanted to do was dump our luggage aside and¬†sink into the bed, re-energise ourselves before we hit the streets. But¬†the concierge wouldn’t accommodate to our early check-in request (stipulated check-in time is 3pm) unless we paid ¬•7500¬†(S$91.. that’s¬†ninety-friggin’-one Singapore dollars), like, whaddaheck?! It wasn’t like it would¬†affect their housekeeping¬†activities because¬†the room was clearly ready for occupancy.¬†I was raging inside and annoyed (which spoiled my morning) by that ridiculous policy but both of us didn’t want to waste time loitering around the area with our bulky luggage (or worrying about our luggage at the lobby) so we relented! Looking back now, we shouldn’t have because ARGH it’s S$91 goddammit!!!¬†Imagine the things I could do with S$91!!

*sigh*¬†The hotel¬†śó†Áľėśó†śēÖ (without any reason) earn ¬•7500 from us. This, I cannot swallow! :angry:

Bought this from one of the vending machines at the lobby

Bought this from one of the vending machines at the lobby

The Japanese looooove their vending machines. Look, they even dedicated a room for one at the hotel HAHA

The Japanese looooove their vending machines. Look, they even dedicated a room for one at the hotel HAHA

Our room number

Our room number

Economy Double room

Economy Double room

The room¬†overlooked the alley leading to the main street¬†and was¬†illuminated by the morning light that shone through¬†the window. I’ve come to¬†appreciate hotel rooms with¬†unobstructed window view because it seems like a privilege¬†these days only offered at deluxe rooms, so this was definitely a plus point.

It was also equipped with the necessities like a bar fridge, hairdryer, kettle, coffeemaker and a TV. Speaking of which, the hotel very kindly¬†*cough* treated us to the preview of selected premium television channels (HBO and the like) for a day.¬†After which, we would need to PAY to access them if we don’t want to watch the free¬†channels (the only English channel with clear reception was CNN¬†I think – pathetic and unacceptable).

NANJA KORYA?! (WHAT THE HELL?!)

Is it a common practice among Japanese hotels to charge (unreasonably even, in my book) for every nitty-gritty thing? Money seemed to be king in this hotel and I absolutely hate it -_-

Also, just a word of caution if you’re intending to book the cheapest room at Shinjuku Grandbell Hotel:¬†the¬†Economy¬†room is¬†as small as the typical cage apartment you see in Hong Kong. After assembling our luggage on the floor, there was practically no space for walking around the bed. If you’re claustrophobic, please do yourself a favour and upgrade to a bigger room.

The toilet was the best part of the room

The toilet was the best part of the room

The toilet bowl control panel!

The toilet bowl control panel!

The highlight of the bathroom¬†was, of course, the smart toilet bowl which releases jet of water to cleanse your private area after you’re done with your business. I used to think that it would create more mess but the water pressure (adjustable to your preference) was actually strong enough to remove any fecal residue and what’s more, there’s even a function to blow-dry so you don’t wet your underwear after! On top of that, the position of the nozzle can be adjusted to aim the water at the right spot. My favourite function of all, however, has got to be its¬†ability to warm the toilet seat before you sit on it because cold toilet seats are my mortal enemy especially during winter. So thank you, Japan, for this brilliant invention!

Now, where can I get this smart toilet bowl in Singapore?

Fog-proof mirror

Fog-proof mirror

Another discovery we made (I sound like a suaku) in the bathroom¬†was the steam-proof¬†shower mirror! It does not fog up because that particular area is heated¬†and it¬†saved me the trouble of wiping my mirror every time after bath. This is such a great toilet accessory to have so why aren’t other hotels following suit?!

Shinjuku Grandbell Hotel
2-14-5 Kabuki-cho
Shinjuku-ku Tokyo
160-0021, JAPAN
Nearest subway station: Higashi-Shinjuku

Tel :+81-(0)3-5155-2666
Website: http://www.granbellhotel.jp/en/shinjuku/

* * *

After spending close to an hour frolicking in bed, we headed out for an early lunch at Sushizanmai, a famous sushi restaurant, under the recommendation of the hotel! It was conveniently located less than 10-minute walk away but the journey felt like an eternity because of the cold.

Vending machines, vending machines everywhere!

Vending machines, vending machines everywhere!

Sushizanmai

Sushizanmai

Sushizanmai entrance

Sushizanmai entrance

You might have heard of Sushizanmai as they were in the news (albeit one that caused a fair bit of uproar) recently for paying US$117,000 for a 200 kg bluefin tuna, an endangered species. But putting the negativity aside, this restaurant is regarded as the best sushi restaurant in Tsujiki Fish Market (where their main outlet is) and is known for serving reasonably priced sushi meals. They have over 40 branches in Tokyo and Kanagawa and are open 24 hours.

Sushi prices

Sushi prices

Apart from sushi, Sushizanmai offers delectable bowl dishes with complimentary miso soup as well. Throughout our stay at Tokyo, we have patronised the restaurant more than twice and had tried various dishes on the menu. On several occasions,¬†we were given seats¬†at the counter¬†and the friendly¬†itamae (chef), knowing very well that we were foreigners,¬†would try to strike up a conversation in English with us. The service staff also provided us with spoons for the miso soup even though (based on our observation) it is to be drunk directly from the bowl. All these little actions¬†made us feel so welcome we felt so happy spending our money there ūüėÜ

Kanpai! (Complimentary and refillable hot matcha)

Kanpai! (Complimentary and refillable hot matcha)

Chawanmushi (¥500)

Chawanmushi (¥500)

Chawanmushi - ingredients

Chawanmushi – ingredients

The scrumptious steamed egg contained generous portions of shrimp, eel, shiitake and chicken and had a bit of zest from the small piece of orange peel. Served hot, the egg was so soft and silky, it melted in my mouth!

Sea Urchin Temaki Sushi (¥500)

Sea Urchin Temaki Sushi (¥500)

It wasn’t long ago that boyfriend and I had our first taste of uni (sea urchin) and I remember how we were so apprehensive about the flavour and the texture it would leave in our mouth.¬†Now that we have become complete lovers of uni, we find it hard to satisfy our craving in Singapore because not only is the serving generally small, it is also expensive here! But at Sushizanmai, the pocket-friendly price of the uni maki meant that we could¬†have¬†our fill of the¬†coveted sea urchin.¬†If you haven’t tried uni before,¬†it actually feels like caviar on the palate and tastes slightly like seawater with a hint of sweetness. It’s hard to accurately describe the taste, though, because I find it¬†rather unique, so keep an open mind and try it some¬†day!

Clam Miso Soup (¥400)

Clam Miso Soup (¥400)

When it comes to customer service, the Japanese never fails to go the extra mile. Noting that we already had two complimentary bowls of miso soup that came with our don, the service staff who attended to us offered to swap them with the clam miso soup we separately ordered at only ¥200 each. In other words, we got to have two full bowls of clam miso soup for the price of one! We certainly did not make any special requests or show any signs of displeasure; she made the arrangement on her own accord!

Squid Leg Tempura (¥480)

Squid Leg Tempura (¥480)

We ordered tempura on our last day at Tokyo because we were starting to feel deprived of fried food¬†after consuming mainly healthy dishes¬†which were either steamed or raw since our arrival. We had something similar at Itacho Sushi (a sushi chain from Hong Kong) back home¬†and we wanted to try for ourselves the original version of it. Although the taste didn’t turn out to be¬†vastly different from what we had in Singapore,¬†we preferred¬†the squid leg tempura at Sushizanmai (duh!) as it was better battered (not too oily too despite being deep fried) with a light crunch.

Deluxe Tuna Don (¥2800)

Deluxe Tuna Don (¥2800)

Undoubtedly, what boyfriend and I miss most about Tokyo is the generous servings of fresh and high-grade sashimi in restaurants (so much so that there were still pieces of sashimi left even after we were done with the rice) while paying tens of dollars less than in Singapore. For less than S$40, you get an assortment of thick and succulent chunks of bluefin tuna (yes, the highly-coveted fatty ones too) over seasoned rice. The cold, buttery chewy flesh had a nice pale pink-red colour and was adequately moist. Boyfriend loved it so much that he had it at every single visit.

Deluxe Chirashi-don (¥1480)

Deluxe Chirashi-don (¥1480)

As much as I would love to sink my teeth into those bluefin tuna, I¬†couldn’t resist having my all-time favourite Chirashi-don¬†because¬†I prefer variety. The Deluxe Chirashi-don boasts an assortment of thirteen kinds of rawfish and shellfish atop vinegared sushi rice for just (..wait for it..) S$19?! There were unagi (eel), ika (squid), saba (mackerel), salmon, tako (octopus) and many other types of sashimi as well as tobiko (fish roe) and tamago (egg) – all probably were still alive awhile ago.¬†I don’t know how else to describe this dish, except to say that it’s pure perfection.

Both dons were so good, we completely abandoned our low-carb way of life and finished our meals down to the last grain of rice. Seriously, already writing this is giving me the urge to pack my bags and fly to Tokyo right now!

Sushizanmai (Higashi Shinjuku)
1-1-13 Okubo, Shinjuku, Tokyo Prefecture
169-0072, Japan
Nearest subway station: Higashi-Shinjuku
Operating hours: 24 hours

Tel: +81 3-5155-6655
Website: http://www.komura.co.jp/shops/detail/22#_=_iy

* * *

Foreseeing that we would be slightly jet lag on our first day in Tokyo, we didn’t plan anything strenuous on our (non-existent) itinerary¬†and instead, went sightseeing at Harajuku and visited famous landmarks¬†around the busy¬†Shibuya station. The cheapest and most efficient way of getting around Tokyo is via subway but¬†before we could do that we had to familiarise ourselves with the different routes and service providers – which is no mean feat, I tell you – or risk getting lost. Just by looking at the map is enough to give anyone a throbbing headache! We learnt that the easiest way to understand the map is by looking at¬†the¬†line symbol and station number because there was no way we could remember all the station names.

Subway ticket machine

Subway ticket machine

Even buying the pass can be a tricky business because certain terms we Singaporeans use such as¬†‘top-up’ is labelled differently¬†on the ticket machines. But we eventually got the hang of it after a few attempts. If you’re going to Tokyo for the first time, here are some step-by-step guides to buying subway passes (or PASMO, as the Japanese call it) from the self-service ticket machines:

How to buy a subway pass

How to buy a subway pass

How to add value to your subway pass

How to add value to your subway pass

The subway station near our hotel (a 10-minute walk away) is an interchange station for the Oedo line (E) and Fukutoshin line (F) so in a way, it added to our convenience and¬†saved us transport time. It is also worth noting that both lines are operated by different companies so they are accessible by different gates (housed on different levels)¬†with separate charges. Boyfriend and I once entered the wrong gantry but fortunately the station master promptly refunded the money to our cards. We couldn’t afford to let the money go to waste¬†because train fares in Tokyo aren’t cheap. I think we added ¬•1,000 to each of our card about four times throughout our 5-day stay even though we only took the train up to four times each day!

¬•4,000.. that’s approximately S$50 oh my god, and¬†about how much I pay for my concession pass every month in Singapore. Oh Japan, Y UR COST OF LIVING SO HIGH?! (And we still have the cheek to complain about our transport fares back home)

Our subway station! (taken on the final day)

Our subway station! (taken on the final day)

The level of discipline among the Japanese is truly admirable. More vending machines that dispensed beverages and snacks were found at every corner of the train platform but even so, the platform and trains remained sparkling clean. I can’t imagine how dirty our train platforms would be with all the regular spillage if we were able to purchase food and drinks there.

Another memorable feature of the train stations in Tokyo was the use of melodies to signal train departures (typically about 3 seconds after train doors are open). As far as I can remember, every station has its own jingle and listening to them¬†made our mundane train rides more enjoyable (I kinda looked forward to every station in the train HAHA).¬†Many of them¬†are also based popular songs like “It’s A Small World”/”Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” (the two jingles I heard on separate occasions at Maihama station¬†where¬†we¬†got off for¬†Disneyland and DisneySea, and I understand that it was recently changed to “Let It Go” – how cool!) or Astro Boy theme song. The melody is so loud and crisp that sometimes I’d see passengers in the train waking up from their slumber and rushing out as¬†it played LOL maybe Singapore should implement something similar because I find it more effective than the boring “doors closing” announcement ūüėÜ

I wonder if train companies have to pay royalties for using those popular jingles, though.

* * *

Ice cream vending machine inside Meiji-jungumae metro station!

Ice cream vending machine inside Meiji-jungumae metro station!

We took the subway and alighted at Meiji-jungumae station – just four stops away – to get to Harajuku, a district¬†known for having the most fashionable brands in Japan.¬†Contrary to what I saw on the internet, there weren’t many Lolita girls or people dressed in a bizarre fashion in sight, perhaps save for one or two loitering¬†around the street with a boombox on their shoulder. Majority of the people there were decked out in normal winter outfits, or maybe.. those I saw were¬†tourists just like us LOL

Harajuku

Harajuku

Since it was winter, there was nothing practical for sale that we could wear in sunny Singapore so we mainly combed the streets for food!

As we were walking around Harajuku, we saw a long queue forming outside this pastry shop called Croquant Chou Zaku Zaku and couldn’t help but get in line as well. Being Singaporeans, a useful rule of thumb is that anything with a queue must probably be something good. True enough,¬†those almond cream sticks (or “Croquant Chou”) the shop was selling were so delightful, they’d warrant¬†joining the snaking queue again (which, by the way, moved rather quickly too).

Croquant Chou Zaku Zaku

Croquant Chou Zaku Zaku

Almond cream sticks from Croquant Chou Zaku Zaku

Almond cream sticks from Croquant Chou Zaku Zaku

Encrusted with almonds on the surface (had initially thought they were cereal), the cream sticks were hand-piped-to-order with sweet milky custard to the brim. It kinda reminded me of the cream puffs from Beard Papa but these were a lot more gratifying because you get to relish in a bountiful amount of fresh custard with every bite. Apparently, Zaku Zaku originated from Hokkaido and was a huge hit (well, it still is judging from the queue) when it opened its first stores in Tokyo last year.

Harajuku

Harajuku

Harajuku

Harajuku

Japanese schoolchildren donned in their signature school ensemble dotted the shopping district as it was a weekday afternoon (winter break would only commence four days later on 19 December). Apart from a¬†multi-storey Daiso, there were small boutiques carrying streetwear as well as other sundry shops selling toiletries. I¬†blew most of the money we had allocated¬†for that day’s spending at a gift shop (sorry, forgot to snap pictures!) that stocked up on Pokemon-themed items. I have a soft spot for anything Pokemon and it is also one major reason why I had always wanted to visit Japan. So go ahead and take my money!!

As we were walking along the streets of Harajuku,¬†our attention was suddenly¬†drawn to the massive heart-shaped cotton candies a few girls were holding. Beside them was a flight of stairs leading to a shop called “Totti Candy Factory” which we wouldn’t have known if not for the walking advertisement.

Totti Candy Factory price list

Totti Candy Factory price list

Sans makeup at Harajuku... How daring of me.

Sans makeup at Harajuku… How daring of me.

Totti Candy Factory is basically a shop that sells merely¬†cotton candy in fanciful shapes and vibrant colours – a novelty which, no doubt, attracts the feminine eye.¬†There are a few flavours (marked by different colours) that you can mix and match for your pyramid-shaped cotton candy but the option to switch around the flavours is not available for the heart-shaped one I’m holding in the picture above. The standard flavours for that were strawberry (pink) and soda¬†(light blue) but honestly¬†the taste wasn’t anything spectacular.

Another way to draw customers to your shop is to have an eye-catching banner overhead just like how Calbee+ does it. It’s impossible to miss¬†Calbee+¬†when the area around it is illuminated by the¬†three spot lights affixed above its banner at nighttime.

Calbee+

Calbee+

Calbee+ food

Calbee+ food

In addition to the racks and racks of potato chip bags you’d expect from a Calbee shop, there was a kitchen at the back¬†that serves¬†freshly-made potato sticks in a cup!¬†I¬†can’t remember what toppings¬†there were but mine was sprinkled with¬†cheese powder. Crispy, crunchy and salty to the right amount, these¬†are a gazillion times better and more addictive¬†than Jagabees! You’d definitely need more than one cup to momentarily please your palate.

Potato sticks with cheese

Potato sticks with cheese

* * *

Following that, we returned to the subway station to catch the train for Shibuya because I wanted to sightsee some more before heading back to our hotel. Shibuya is where you can find the busiest¬†pedestrian crossing¬†in the world in front of the Hachiko exit of the subway station as well as a¬†very popular dog sculpture, just a stone’s throw away.¬†Visiting these attractions had been a lifelong dream (no joke!)¬†and I was extremely elated¬†to be¬†able to finally strike them off my to-do list.

Shibuya

Shibuya

Shibuya crossing

Shibuya crossing

It was an interesting sight to witness hundreds of people¬†surging forward at the same time while the motorists¬†waited patiently on one side¬†for¬†the traffic lights to turn in their favour. It¬†would have felt like a scene from Resident Evil if it had rained! ūüėÄ

Hachiko sculpture

Hachiko sculpture (a very kind Japanese man had offered to take this picture for us)

I remember watching Hachi (a movie based on the true story of a very loyal¬†Japanese dog¬†that waited faithfully for its owner to return home without knowing that he had already passed on) many years back and crying buckets of tears over it. When I found out that¬†there was indeed a sculpture made in honour of Hachi, I told myself that I would visit it one day, and I’m glad I really did!

* * *

We settled on an affordable meal at CoCo Ichibanya for dinner after having spent most of our moolahs for the day at Harajuku. The outlet near our hotel also opens late into the night (like 1am) which was perfect for late-night eaters like us.

CoCo Ichibanya (Higashi-Shinjuku outlet)

CoCo Ichibanya (Higashi-Shinjuku outlet)

We’ve had dined at CoCo Ichibanya before we visited Tokyo as they have outlets too in Singapore, so we knew how the food tasted like. But unlike the Singapore outlets (or those outside Japan, I guess), you do not incur additional charges for every increase of spiciness level of the curry. The dishes are also a lot cheaper (and I’m talking about a price difference of about S$8 here) in Tokyo and not forgetting, more choices on the menu as well.

Minced Meat Cutlet Curry (¥659)

Minced Meat Cutlet Curry (¥659)

Curry, being the highlight of the menu at CoCo Ichibanya, is generously soused over the rice (most of it hidden beneath the cutlet) and the meat.¬†It is fragrant, mildly thick and extremely appetising with a very recognisable sweetness that you would normally find in Japanese curry. The pork cutlet in this dish was well-battered¬†with fairly chewy flesh and the portion was big enough to last ’til the final spoonful.

Soft-boiled Egg and Chicken Meatball Curry (¥714)

Soft-boiled Egg and Chicken Meatball Curry (¥714)

This is one of the dishes I believe isn’t available in Singapore. Well, it probably does with just the chicken meatball patty on rice and you’d need to make extra payment¬†to have the egg added. The egg yolk, in fact, marries well with the curry to give it a thicker and more buttery texture.¬†Therefore, I would really recommend adding a¬†soft-boiled¬†egg to whichever curry rice dish you have at CoCo Ichibanya. The meatball patty was extremely tender and moist (even without going with the curry) although I wish it would come in a much bigger portion.

Overall, I must say that the standard of the food there is not far off that of the outlets in Singapore. But while the food in the Tokyo outlets is served with people on a super tight budget in mind, it is the complete opposite in the case of the outlets back home and can cost me at least S$35 for just two simple dishes (after GST, of course).

CoCo Ichibanya Curry House
1-1-2 Okubo
Fujiichi Bldg, Shinjuku 169-0072, Tokyo Prefecture
Nearest subway station: Higashi-Shinjuku
Tel: +81 3-5287-5518
Website: https://www.ichibanya.co.jp/english/

That’s all from me for my first installment of my Tokyo travelogue! Do stay tuned for¬†the subsequent parts! ūüôā

Thanks for reading!

Enjoy a Fuss-Free Travel with Laneige Perfect Renew Travel Set

SPONSORED

Hey everyone!

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With the¬†mid-year school holidays (our version of summer break)¬†just¬†around the corner, many of¬†us would already have plans¬†for a getaway trip out of Singapore. My internship will come to a complete halt this coming June and I may be taking a short break before my next school term commences in August. I don’t have a particular¬†place to go¬†in mind yet but it’s possibly going to be somewhere not too far away as I’d prefer to set aside more funds for my year-end vacation instead.

My shortlisted destinations are Bali, Bintan Island¬†and¬†Bangkok.¬†Perhaps a staycation at a boutique hotel doesn’t seem like a bad idea too!

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Bali (cr: freeimages.com)

Villas in Bali are available for booking on The Luxe Nomad!
Click here to find out more.

But regardless of the destination, packing is the integral step to the journey. Packing light is pivotal to creating an effortless and stress-free trip, but it also takes an experienced and adventurous person to do it well. I used¬†to fail¬†miserably in this aspect of travel planning because I am overly-cautious and averse to risks. I would end up bringing all my full-sized beauty products and other redundant stuff because of my “just in case” mentality, eventually only leaving a meagre amount of weight and space for my holiday loots.

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Fuss-free travelling tip #1: collect small pouches (which are usually free with purchase of related products) to store small items like makeup and toiletries, and buy small containers to store your shampoo and shower gel (that is, if you have rather sensitive skin like me and can only use certain products, just to be safe)

It also never ceased to amaze me how¬†flight attendants report to work with only a small baggage in tow, and even more so when they are flying to farther destinations like Europe and USA. But according to my air stewardess friend, it’s not difficult as it seems. When it comes to toiletries and cosmetics (which are what occupy the most space in my luggage), they pack minimally (since most hotels have the bathroom essentials) and throw in only travel-sized items.¬†Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But many a time the brands¬†I use, especially for facial products, don’t come in travel sizes.

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Fuss-free travelling tip #2: save those samples you obtained from Sephora (or anywhere else) for your travels! A 20-cent coin placed there for you to compare the size (my LipIce sample so cute and miniature right?!)

So I started exploring other products which also exist in deluxe sizes – Laneige in particular, which was brought to my attention by Luxola Singapore.

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Beauty essentials. I love small pouches like this. Always come in handy when I travel ūüôā

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Laneige Perfect Renew Travel Set consists of 1x Multi Cleanser 30ml, 1x Perfect Renew Skin Refiner_EX 50ml, 1x Perfect Renew Emulsion_EX 50ml, 1x Perfect Renew Essence_EX 15ml & 1x Perfect Renew Cream_EX 20ml

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Basically, all the products needed in your daily skincare routine in a pouch! How convenient is that?