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

Happy 2018, everyone! 🎆🎉

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, fiancé 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 🤣

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 🤣), 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 fiancé 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 😫 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 🙄..

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 😴). 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? 😋

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

Pokémon milk cartons in the Eland Cruise convenience store! (PokémonGO wasn't launched in Korea yet at that point in time 😫)

Pokémon milk cartons in the Eland Cruise convenience store! (PokémonGO wasn’t launched in Korea yet at that point in time 😫)

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 😂

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 😣 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 🤩

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 😆)!

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, 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

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 TurtleNamsan 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 😛 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 😛

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 😛

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 😟

Basking in the sun while it lasted 😟

Fiancé 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 😝

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 😌)!

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 😍

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

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 🙄) 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) · 경기도 고양시 덕양구 용두로 121 번길 6 (용두동) / 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 😥

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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 😏 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 fiancé 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 😆

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

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" 🤣

Literal meaning of “holding (your) sh*t together” 🤣

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 😅

@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 😅

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 (다해정) · 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!), fiancé 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 🤔

Yongduam Rock (Dragon Head Rock 용두암) · 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 😆) 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 Frappé. 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 ₩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 fiancé’s soiled jeans all the while 😑 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 VillageSeongsan Ilchulbong Peak
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 😋 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 😋

Restaurant front – all the fresh seafood 😋

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. Fiancé asked if we could go for a second serving but for some reason, I refused?! 😭

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 (올레가서전복먹자) · 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’s 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 😆

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 (제주테지움) · 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 fiancé 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 😐). 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), fiancé purchased one jar on a whim despite my best efforts to stop him 😒 And as usual, it’s still sitting in the refrigerator, barely touched.

Seongeup Folk Village (성읍민속마을) · 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 – the Seongsan Ilchulbong Peak or also known as Sunrise Peak – and 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 😑

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 😝

Smelly boi 😝

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] →
Nami IslandGeummun 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 😆), fiancé 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 ₩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 😑 It made me feel like staying in the bus..

Wet everywhere 😑 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 fiancé and me against these trees but it turned out awful.. I looked so fat in my pink Taobao winter coat 😭

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 fiancé and me against these trees but it turned out awful.. I looked so fat in my pink Taobao winter coat 😭

More dreamy lights

More dreamy lights

Fiancé 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 (남이섬 종합휴양지) · 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 façade. 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 금문 닭갈비 · 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 🤣) 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 😑

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 😉

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!

Fiancé’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 😐).

By the way, the hotel (as with most hotels in Pyeongchang) charges for WiFi access at ₩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? 不认老都不行了。

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₩). 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 (₩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 😄

Alpensia Ski Resort (알펜시아리조트 스키장) · 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 🙄 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, fiancé 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 😑 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 😆) 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 → Sky 한식 (Sky Hansik) → Dalin Laver Museum →
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 fiancé’s acrophobia (*yawns* 😏) 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 😠

Closed 😠

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 😁

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 😁

Dine-in area

Dine-in area

Panda Mushroom Soup (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?

Panda Mushroom Soup (₩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 😍

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

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 fiancé’s will) and queue for the rides 😁

Everland · 199 Everland-ro, Pogog-eup, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea · Operating Hours: 10:00 – 19:00 (Mon to Thu, Sun) 10:00 – 20:00 (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 한식) 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 😆 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 🙄

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

Laver sales pitch 😄

Laver sales pitch 😄

Laver rice balls!

Laver rice balls!

Samples 😋

Samples 😋

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! Fiancé 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 😐 So.. anyone booking a Seoul tour package soon and doesn’t mind letting me tompang my laver order? 😫

Strangely enough, the museum also enables visitors to partake in a hanbok fitting experience on the second floor 🤨 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 – we just took whatever matched and fit us from the rack!)

Food replicas - can see, cannot eat 😆 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 😆 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 😸

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, fiancé 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 😏 #doublestandard

Doota Mall · 275 Jangchungdan-ro, Gwanghui-dong, Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea · Nearest Subway Station: Dongdaemun (Line 1 or 4 – 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 fiancé’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 😶) 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 😪 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 fiancé bought a box of red ginseng extract. Then, we were driven to a cosmetics megastore that stocked up on seemingly passé 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 fiancé, these tourist traps failed to make me any poorer ✌

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 고구려 (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 (₩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 (₩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 (₩15,000, cheaper than the fried chicken 😯) meant for two. The broth was thicker and more flavourful than the one we had on Day 1!

My samgyetang (₩15,000, cheaper than the fried chicken 😯) 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, fiancé groused about spending too much time at Lotte Department Store earlier 🤣 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 😆

Fiancé's favourite snack - mochi

Fiancé’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 ₩30,000 and ₩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 🤑) 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 😥 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 😭

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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[POP-UP] MINIONS CAFE @ THE Guest cafe&diner Singapore

Bello everyone!

After two runs of the immensely popular Pokémon Café at EwF Bugis Junction in 2015 and 2016, PARCO (Singapore) returns with another pop-up café concept and this time, it revolves around the adorably small, yellow, cylindrical critters of the Despicable Me series – the Minions!

For a limited time, the first pop-up MINIONS CAFÉ outside Japan will operate from 23rd November 2017 to 31st January 2018 on the third floor of Orchard Central. Rebranded from “The Despicable Me 3 Cafe” in Japan at five THE GUEST cafe&diner outlets located in Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Sapporo and Fukuoka during July and September this year, the Singapore edition brings in 14 original food and beverage items on the menu – all of which are specially conceptualised and developed by THE GUEST cafe&diner for the MINIONS CAFÉ.

MINIONS CAFÉ

MINIONS CAFÉ

Waitstaff are donned in Minion-inspired attire so it's very easy to identify them!

Waitstaff are donned in Minion-inspired attire so it’s very easy to identify them!

More Minions posters hanging from the ceiling. Sadly, these are not for sale at the merch corner

More Minions posters hanging from the ceiling. Sadly, these are not for sale at the merch corner

Or in the language of the minions, "Po ka?!"

Or in the language of the minions, “Po ka?!”

One part of the dining area

One part of the dining area

Apart from that, exclusive MINIONS CAFE Original Goods – currently not available anywhere else in the world – can also be purchased alongside other official “Despicable Me 3” merchandise with either cash or NETS (we didn’t see the option to pay by credit card). Considering how well-received the Minions are, long queue is expected at the MINIONS CAFÉ so why not take this chance to browse the merchandise booth while waiting to be seated or served?

A small corner for the merchandise

A small corner for the merchandise

Minion-inspired toys, snacks and stationery found here!

Minion-inspired toys, snacks and stationery found here!

Below is a low-down of all the dishes offered at the MINIONS CAFÉ with the exception of the Banana Smoothie (S$12.30+) which was missing from the media preview. Dishes that we managed to taste at the event would also be accompanied with our (honest) review as well as our verdict of the presentation, taste and value for you to make better informed decision on whether it is worth the trip.

The menu

The menu

As with most themed pop-up cafés, do bear in mind that licensing fees (the killer) and importation charges among other overhead expenses are factored into the costs so the prices will unsurprisingly be on the high side. All prices stated are not inclusive of 10% service charge and prevailing government taxes. Payment, we believe, can be made with cash, NETS or credit card. We will update should there be any factual error.

Unfortunately for my Muslim readers, MINIONS CAFÉ is not Halal-certified.

Minion’s Great Escape Cream Stew (S$20.90++)

In the latest Despicable Me film, Minions are caught and imprisoned! Oh no! This time, they are really in the cream stew!

In the latest Despicable Me film, Minions are caught and imprisoned! Oh no! This time, they are really in the cream stew!

Presentation-wise, the Minion’s Great Escape Cream Stew gets all the credit it deserves. The visual presentation of the displeased Minion is very well done to the point that it was a struggle deciding whether to keep the edible facial features of the Minion or to dissect and eat it. Of course, we went for the latter choice. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have known it was actually made of tasteless thin rice wafer instead of some cardboard material we initially suspected was solely for decorative purposes.

The saffron rice that forms the bulk of this dish is slightly buttery with a subtle sweetness. The cream base – which reminded me of cream of mushroom soup – was a little too cloying on its own for my liking but when paired with the rice, the fragrance from the carb complemented the sweetness of the sauce very well. That said, the amount of ingredients in this dish is too little. Visibly, the number of broccoli florets, carrot and potato chunks on the plate is minimal to say the least and there is far too little protein in the form of chicken meat for it to qualify as a main course. If not for the scanty portion of meat, we would have seriously thought this was a vegan dish. Nevertheless, the abundance of greens, coupled with the fact that this comes with a mini salad bowl, makes this an extremely healthy dish.   

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌🍌
Taste: 🍌🍌
VALUE: 🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌

Minions Vacation Plate (S$23.90++)

Aloha! Take a trip to Hawaii with Minions and indulge in the Hawaiian Iuau inspired plate of beef hamburg and garlic shrimp, accompanied by tropical pineapple and luxurious avocado. Margo, Edith and Agnes certainly thought this dish was a great idea for a honeymoon's set up for Gru and Lucy! It comes with a green soup of Gummi Bears and meat, courtesy of our darling Agnes.

Aloha! Take a trip to Hawaii with Minions and indulge in the Hawaiian Iuau inspired plate of beef hamburg and garlic shrimp, accompanied by tropical pineapple and luxurious avocado. Margo, Edith and Agnes certainly thought this dish was a great idea for a honeymoon’s set up for Gru and Lucy! It comes with a green soup of Gummi Bears and meat, courtesy of our darling Agnes.

Looks like a glorified version of Nasi Lemak!

Looks like a glorified version of Nasi Lemak!

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌
Taste: (NOT RATED)
Perceived value: 🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌

Minion Riceball Party (S$21.90++)

Straight from Japan, Minions transform into adorable rice balls, flanked by fried prawns, sweet corn, fried chicken and French fries with original Minions Balloon.

Straight from Japan, Minions transform into adorable rice balls, flanked by fried prawns, sweet corn, fried chicken and French fries with original Minions Balloon.

Tulaliloo ti amo~

Tulaliloo ti amo~

An original Minion’s balloon will be provided with each order of Minion Riceball Party. The image on the balloon may differ and the colour (I saw pink, blue and maybe yellow) is chosen by the staff at random. The balloons are not helium-pumped and will be tied to a stick.

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌
Taste: (NOT RATED)
Perceived value: 🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌

Pizza Box (S$13.90++)

Mel and Minions are hungry! They want pizza! Unexpectedly, a live singing competition awaits them... Hawaiian pizza topped with chicken ham and pineapple, with corn and French fries on the side.

Mel and Minions are hungry! They want pizza! Unexpectedly, a live singing competition awaits them… Hawaiian pizza topped with chicken ham and pineapple, with corn and French fries on the side.

This dish comes with a Movie Scene Card which we didn’t see at the event. The inside of the cover has a maze game stuck on it to keep your children entertained as you devour the pizza in peace!

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌
Taste: (NOT RATED)
Perceived Value: 🍌🍌🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌🍌

Minion Pudding (S$24.90++)

This Minion is too cute to be eaten! Mango pudding with fruits and vanilla ice cream within.

This Minion is too cute to be eaten! Mango pudding with fruits and vanilla ice cream within.

Luk at tu!

Luk at tu! *jiggle*

This dish comes with a free character cup. A brand new cup will be provided upon order. But better act fast because limited quantities are available (while stocks last).

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌🍌
Taste: (NOT RATED)
Perceived Value: 🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌

S’more and Minion’s Ice Cream (S$16.90++)

Perfectly browned marshmallows surround a lone Minion (made of mango ice); sandwich molten marshmallow with biscuits for a campfire s'more effect!

Perfectly browned marshmallows surround a lone Minion (made of mango ice); sandwich molten marshmallow with biscuits for a campfire s’more effect!

Gelato!

Gelato!

If you’ve been eating marshmallows straight from the bag, you’ve been doing it wrong. Or rather, you probably haven’t tried s’mores yet! This traditional nighttime campfire treat popular in the United States involves roasting marshmallows before placing them between two biscuits (or atop just one piece since the biscuits provided are odd-numbered). Then, you proceed to chomp them down like a sandwich. Yummy!

The brown crust and soft gooey middle of the still-warm toasted marshmallows (which sweetness is further enhanced by the chocolate syrup beneath them) represent an epitome of a simple pleasure. In between bites, take generous spoonfuls of mango ice-cream in the shape of a lone Minion for maximum enjoyment. Needless to say, it took us no more than one bite for us to realise that we were in the presence of an absolutely heavenly combination of comfort food!

Granted, this may not exactly be the most innovative dish on the menu but is certainly one of, if not the best. However, I would advise you to share this dessert with your friends as it may be a sugar overload and calorie overkill.

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌🍌
Taste: 🍌🍌🍌🍌
Value: 🍌🍌🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌🍌

Caramelized Banana (S$16.90++)

Minion's favourite food... Banana! Torched lightly to create a smoky caramelized taste. No wonder the Minions want some too!

Minion’s favourite food… Banana! Torched lightly to create a smoky caramelized taste. No wonder the Minions want some too!

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌
Taste: (NOT RATED)
Perceived value: 🍌🍌🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌🍌

Rescue Mel Affogato (S$13.90++)

Save Mel by unlocking his cell! Break open the chocolate with your spade and pour espresso into vanilla ice-cream; watch Mel float to freedom!

Save Mel by unlocking his cell! Break open the chocolate with your spade and pour espresso into vanilla ice-cream; watch Mel float to freedom!

We didn’t get to taste this, unfortunately, but just by the looks of it alone, the fun factor of this beverage warrants a high score for creativity!

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌🍌
Taste: (NOT RATED)
Perceived value: 🍌🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌

Upside-down Minion Jelly Soda Drink (S$12.90++)

Enjoy the jiggly mango jelly soda drink from bottom up!

Enjoy the jiggly mango jelly soda drink from bottom up!

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌
Taste: (NOT RATED)
Perceived value: 🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌

Be Bad Café Latte (Hot S$8.90++, Cold S$9.50++)

Minion commands you to Be Bad!

Minion commands you to Be Bad!

Hot and iced

Hot and iced

A closer look at the latte art on the hot latte

A closer look at the latte art on the hot latte

The Be Bad! Café Latte comes in hot (what we were offered) and cold and topped with two versions of latte art on thin, flavourless gelatin strips which are served randomly. Made from boiled fresh milk and espresso, the bitterness of the latte complements, or rather, balances out the sweetness of the s’mores dessert earlier. On top of that, it also refreshes the palate and provides a caffeine jolt to go with your sugar rush from the all the other dishes.

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌🍌 (both)
Taste: 🍌🍌🍌🍌 (hot) / NOT RATED (Cold)
Value: 🍌🍌🍌🍌 (both)
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌🍌 (both)

Free limited edition original coaster with any order from the drink menu (but you're unable to choose the design)

Free limited edition original coaster with any order from the drink menu (but you’re unable to choose the design)


GRU&LUCY “GRUCY” Soda (S$8.90++)

Perfect combination of Gru and Lucy. Frozen fruits in stunning blue soda drink.

Perfect combination of Gru and Lucy. Frozen fruits in stunning blue soda drink.

We are not sure if this drink is meant to be stirred but we did in attempt to evenly distribute the flavour and fizziness. But surely it wouldn’t have caused the soda drink to instantly lose its carbonated sting? The absence of the tingling sensation intensifies the sweetness of this drink so we ended up not enjoying it as much as we hoped to. But if you are not a caffeine person in any way, this would be the most affordable (i.e. cheapest) non-caffeine beverage option on the menu.

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌
Taste: 🍌🍌
Value: 🍌🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌

BALTHAZAR’s Bubble Gum?! Milk Tea (S$10.90++)

Fashioned after Balthazar's giant pink bubble that ravaged the city, dance battle it out with Robot Clive in this eclectic milk tea drink!

Fashioned after Balthazar’s giant pink bubble that ravaged the city, dance battle it out with Robot Clive in this eclectic milk tea drink!

Kampai!

Kampai!

VERDICT (out of 5)
Presentation: 🍌🍌🍌
Taste: (NOT RATED)
Perceived value: 🍌🍌
Overall: 🍌🍌🍌

Free limited edition original placemat (paper) with any order at the MINIONS CAFÉ

Free limited edition original placemat (paper) with any order at the MINIONS CAFÉ

Gru and Minions make a special appearance at the media preview!

Gru and Minions make a special appearance at the media preview!

Find out when Gru and Minions will make another appearance on The Guest Cafe Singapore Facebook page!

Find out when Gru and Minions will make another appearance on The Guest Cafe Singapore Facebook page!

You would, however, have to either make a purchase on the merchandise or dine in to get a chance to take photo with Gru and Minions. (Psst.. the easiest way to meet the mascots is to get something affordable from the merchandise corner!)

That’s all from us. We hope this little review has helped in one way or another!

Pank yu for reading and poopaye! 🖐

MINIONS CAFÉ – a concept by PARCO

Orchard Central
181 Orchard Road, #03-23/24/25, Singapore 238896
(take the escalator next to Desigual for easier access)
Opening hours: 11.00 am – 9.00 pm (last order)
Nearest MRT station: Somerset
*MINIONS CAFÉ is not Halal-certified*
PARCO SG Website | The Guest Cafe Singapore Facebook

The post is co-written with Alphonsus, my fellow glutton.

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[LUNCH BUFFET] Element @ Amara Singapore

Hello everyone!

As the saying goes, all work and no play eat makes Jack a dull hungry boy so when the offer to attend a tasting session at Element Restaurant came, I jumped at it – even if it meant to forgo an entire afternoon of catching up on work.

Conveniently located within a few minutes’ walk away from Tanjong Pagar MRT station in the heart of the Central Business District, Element Restaurant – or rather, Amara Hotel where the restaurant is set – instantly comes to mind as one of the ideal dining destinations for a hearty meal with colleagues or business partners. The restaurant caters to lunch crowds and dinner patrons with a lavish international buffet spread from 11.30 am to 2.30 pm as well as the contemporary Sicilian cuisines in à la carte menus from 6.30 pm to 10.30 pm on Monday to Sunday (except Friday) – the latter of which I had to regrettably give a miss to when it was launched due to a flu bug.

Element Restaurant

Element Restaurant

We ordered a couple of cold beverages (separate charges apply) to whet our appetites at the bar within the restaurant since only coffee and tea are offered as part of the buffet. As far as I am aware, not many buffets allow you the opportunity to order such drinks but Element has their own bar so that alcoholics wine connoisseurs can drink and make merry at the same time.

Mocktail: Shirley Temple (S$13++)

Mocktail: Shirley Temple (S$13++)

Alcoholic: Bailey (S$14++)

Alcoholic: Bailey (S$14++)

Great tasting food is my Achilles heel. But as much as I love to eat, I do have certain standards when it comes to dining at buffets due to the fact that there are many buffets out there masquerading as nothing more than overpriced and over-glorified economical rice dishes.

Amongst all my expectations, a decent variety of food is a must and the spread during the lunch buffet at Element Restaurant was, to say the least, exquisite. According to the staff, the wide assortment of dishes changes daily. From local classics such as Laksa to crowd favourites such as Japanese sushi, sashimi and fresh seafood, there is bound to be something that appeals to your taste buds. To save you from the agony of having to sit through my babbling, the pictures will do most of the talking instead.

— Appetisers —

This section serves an array of bread, soup and dim sum

This section serves an array of bread, soup and dim sum

Assortment of bread

Assortment of bread

Siew Mai

Siew Mai

Soon Kueh

Soon Kueh

Char Siew Pau

Char Siew Pau

— Japanese cuisine —

Sushi spread

Sushi spread

Apart from these Japanese staples, this stop also serves sashimi freshly prepared by the chef stationed there.

— Salad bar —

Mix and match your own salad and toppings!

Mix and match your own salad and toppings!

— Cured and smoked meat —

Selection of cured and smoked meat platter

Selection of cured and smoked meat platter

Cold cut salami

Cold cut salami

Marinated Black Fungus

Marinated Black Fungus

Tuna Tataki

Tuna Tataki

The tuna tataki was one of my favourite! It has a slightly chewy texture that leaves a sourish and slightly spicy aftertaste, leaving my palate refreshed just after a bite. It was my first time trying Tuna Tataki and I absolutely love it because of all the different flavours rolling around on my tongue. Doing a little research, I discovered that Tataki or tosa-mi is actually a Japanese method for preparing fish that has been briefly marinated in vinegar, sliced thinly and seasoned for taste. I strongly recommend this dish to anybody who is a lover of Tuna sashimi – you will surely go back for seconds!

Smoked Salmon

Smoked Salmon

— Seafood —

Seafood aplenty and regularly topped up

Seafood aplenty and regularly topped up

White Clams

White Clams

Moreton Bay Bug

Moreton Bay Bug

I pointed out excitedly to Fiona that there was crayfish at the seafood section and was eagerly adding several pieces of the tasty crustacean onto my plate when I noticed the name of the dish.

Moreton Bay Bug.

BUG? I momentarily froze as that word registered in my head. Thinking that it was a typo error, I quickly whipped my phone out from my pocket to (what else?) Google for more information. It turns out this ‘bug’ is actually a species of slipper lobsters resembling the crayfish which explains my initial confusion (because why would anyone name a delicious food after something so off-putting?). The meat was firm and moist, which means that it was incredibly fresh! While it was my first time eating it, I know it won’t be my last ☺

— Live station —

This is where the chef takes orders from buffet-goers and prepares the food on the spot

This is where the chef takes orders from buffet-goers and prepares the food on the spot

The menu at the live station changes every day. When I was there for food tasting, traditional laksa was the dish of the day. If noodles aren’t your thing, you may also opt for a small portion of claypot rice next to the live station.

Wax Rice with Chinese Sausage, Roasted Meat and Mushroom

Wax Rice with Chinese Sausage, Roasted Meat and Mushroom

— Light snacks —

Mostly cooked food

Mostly cooked food

Japanese Salmon Croquette with Spicy Mayo

Japanese Salmon Croquette with Spicy Mayo

Crispy Chicken Wings so good, Fiona ate about 8 pieces

Crispy Chicken Wings so good, Fiona ate about 8 pieces

— Desserts —

Sweet and savoury desserts to conclude your buffet experience

Sweet and savoury desserts to conclude your buffet experience

Pandan Pudding

Pandan Pudding

Cempedak Creme Brulee & Blueberry Panna Cotta

Cempedak Creme Brulee & Blueberry Panna Cotta

THIS is the star of my entire meal in my humblest and honest opinion. Element’s Cempedak Creme Brulee is out of this world! I am quite sure even Gordon Ramsay would not have anything negative to say about it. Do not be deceived by the small unassuming saucer for it packs a punch in its delivery of flavours. The Cempedak is the smaller cousin of the Jackfruit. Compared to the Jackfruit, the Cempedak is sweeter and has a stronger aroma when ripen. I caught a whiff of the aroma while I was walking past the dessert section which was what led me to try it. I had no regrets at all but if there was one, it was not helping myself to more servings of the dessert before the buffet service ended. It is a seasonal fruit and as such I do not expect this dish to be available all year around so I highly recommend you to try it if you get the chance.

Overall, it was a wonderful experience dining at Element. The servers were very friendly and responsive – our plates were cleared constantly and the warm smiles they carried on their faces increased the pleasure of our dining experience. And no, our tables were not cleared all the time because we were there on a media invite. Looking around, I also noticed that other guests were also the subject of such excellent service and hospitality.

Thanks for reading!

Element at Amara Singapore
165 Tanjong Pagar Road
Singapore 088539
Tel: 6879 2607
Nearest MRT station: Tanjong Pagar

International Lunch Buffet
Monday to Friday, 11.30 am – 2.30 pm
Adult: S$49++
Child (6-12 years old): S$25++
Reservations: Chope | Quandoo

The writer is a glutton who occasionally allows his appetite free rein and steals food from Fiona’s plate. Among some of his favourite food are a good steak and meaty crabs doused in chili sauce. Read more posts by Alphonsus here.

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[FOOD NEWS] Kay Lee Roast Meat opens 7th outlet at Bukit Batok

Hello everyone!

There is now another reason to journey to the west of Singapore for popular roast meat joint Kay Lee Roast Meat has announced the opening of its first outlet in the west at 21 Bukit Batok Crescent. The chain’s seventh outlet, which will open its doors on 15th June at WCEGA Tower, will offer a part of the local iconic roast of more than 40 years. Being a Bukit Batok resident for the first 23 years of my life, I’m both thrilled and delighted that more established F&B brands are seeing potential in this mature town not widely known for its food offerings.

credit: Aztech Group

credit: Aztech Group

Legendary Dark Char Siew

Using only high quality marbled pork glazed in Kay Lee’s special home-made sweet and savoury sauce, the Char Siew are freshly and painstakingly grilled to perfection by their experienced chefs.

Signature Roast Duck

Marinated with 11 different herbs and spices for 24 hours, Kay Lee preserves its tradition by roasting the ducks over charcoal stoves to perfection. Each duck is meticulously seasoned and roasted by their experienced chefs for 6 hours. The duck skin is crispy to the gentlest bite while its meat retains its full flavour and texture.

Crackling Roast Pork

Kay Lee’s signature Crackling Roasted Pork has puffed crisp skin that crackles with every bite.

Kay Lee started out at Upper Paya Lebar Road (a few minutes away from Tai Seng MRT station) and was originally run by an elderly couple who had since sold their eatery to Aztech Group in 2014 for S$4 million as their children were not interested to carry on with the family business. With its original outlet still standing strong, the new owners have gone on to expand its reach to consumers in the central and eastern regions of Singapore.

Are you excited about this new addition to Bukit Batok? Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

Kay Lee Roast Meat (Bukit Batok)
WCEGA Tower
Ground Floor, 21 Bt Batok Crescent
Singapore 658065
Operating hours: Mondays to Saturdays, 10:00 am to 9:00 pm
Bus services: 41, 183 (from Jurong East MRT) or 77, 106 (from Bukit Batok MRT)
Website | Facebook

Pokémon Cafe Singapore @ EwF Bugis Junction

Hello everyone!

Anybody growing up in the ’90s was bound to have a favourite cartoon that they would religiously follow on TV.  For me, I was an ardent Pokémaniac. Much as I hated waking up early, I made the effort to drag myself out of bed before 10am every Saturday just so that I could watch a 30-minute episode of Pokémon on Kids Central (now okto). That was before the internet became a household commodity so unless I blew my meagre pocket money on VCDs, there was no way I could catch up on episodes I missed. Even as an adult now, I still go into a frenzy at the thought and sight of Pokémon (I have a Nintendo 3DS purely for playing Pokémon). Hence, receiving the news about the opening of Pokémon pop-up cafe in Singapore has got to be the best thing that has ever happened to a Pokémon aficionado like me.

In collaboration with Everything with Fries (EwF), the pop-up cafe at Bugis Junction happening between 27 May and 31 July 2016 is the first in South-East Asia following its roaring success at Shibuya PARCO in Japan. The concept of the food and drinks in the cafe’s original menu are inspired by Pokémon stories and characters with Pikachu as the main protagonist.

The queue on a Thursday afternoon

The queue on a Thursday afternoon

As I had expected, the queue had already started to form before the opening of the cafe. Then, as if the 5-hour waiting time wasn’t intense enough, everything was sold out about 2 hours ahead of closing time on the first day. HA! Beat that, Hello Kitty!

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Pokémon merchandise is also sold exclusively at the cafe alongside other official Pokémon products which you may find at, no doubt, a way cheaper rate at the Pokémon centre in Japan. When I was there, however, popular items like the Pikachu T-shirt for adults were already out of stock, leaving only the plainly-designed one for kids. The key holders (cheaply made with plastic that scratches easily) and can badges each encased in silver plastic packaging to prevent customers from choosing the design. The only thing that is honestly worth buying is the Pokémon XY Omnibus Kalos Region at S$22.90. The merchandise corner is open to walk-ins so you don’t need to dine in order to get anything there.

Pokemon cafe - bar and kitchen area

Pokemon cafe – bar and kitchen area

Occupying the entire EwF space, the Pokémon cafe is adorned with yellow balloons, blown-up Pikachu figures and decals of other favourite characters from the Kalos region. It is apparent that considerable thought had been put into the look and feel of the cafe. Apart from the familiar tunes of the Pokémon game playing rather softly in the background, all the waitstaff sport Pikachu ears headband and have Pikachu tail dangling from their backside. Perhaps it would seem more coordinated if they have worn a yellow shirt instead of their white EwF (I suppose) uniform.

But that’s beside the point. I would rather more effort be put into the execution of the dishes because many of them turned out to be a huge letdown and embarrassment. If you haven’t been there yet, maybe this review would save you the hassle of making a trip to the cafe and waiting at least 1 hour in line (the dwindling crowd speaks for itself) only to spend close to S$100 on substandard food. In this entry, you will be treated to some behind-the-scenes happenings relayed to me by a staff as well.

Pikachu Smiling Rice Omelette with Magma Sauce (S$25++)

Pikachu Smiling Rice Omelette with Magma Sauce

Pikachu Smiling Rice Omelette with Magma Sauce

I wouldn’t have bought this Pikachu Smiling Rice Omelette with Magma Sauce if not for the complimentary Pokéball mug that comes with this dish. For the price of S$25++ for a big insipid mound of Saffron rice as Pikachu’s face and two miserably dry, malnourished and thin omelette rolled up into the shape of the ears, surely that is daylight robbery. Seaweed was used to recreate the darker areas of the face and ears. I was appalled by the ridiculous use of ketchup for the cheeks and mouth. I mean, they could have gone with red-dyed crackers or something since this rice omelette was starting to remind me of Nasi Briyani. And at the side was some salad to inject some greens in the dish. Basically, I felt like I was having a vegetarian meal because of the apparent absence of meat on the plate.

The profit margin from the sale of this dish alone must have already been enough to cover the overhead costs of the business because it’s so overpriced and bland, to say the least. How cunning of the owners, I thought, to have used the mug as a bait to diehard Pokémon fans.

Carb-loaded meal - that's how much rice was on my plate. The portion is as big as my face

Carb-loaded meal – that’s how much rice was on my plate. The portion is as big as my face

Colour of magma sauce

Colour of magma sauce

The highlight of this dish was the Primal Groudon’s magma sauce which tasted like curry, except that it was reddish-pink and not spicy at all. The overall lack of flavour of the rice was momentarily salvaged by the semi-sweet and earthy taste of the sauce which filled only half the small Pokéball cup. Goodness me! Can they get any stingier than that?

Special Move “Fire Blast”! Primal Groudon’s Bolognese (S$20++)

Special Move “Fire Blast”! Primal Groudon’s Bolognese

Special Move “Fire Blast”! Primal Groudon’s Bolognese

Upon learning that the beef patty dish was unavailable, we reluctantly switched our next order to this Special Move “Fire Blast”! Primal Groudon’s Bolognese.

Worse. Decision. Ever.

It was a typical chicken bolognese paired with egg white patty in the middle and two sides of a toasted bun with a faded Pikachu imprint and that’s it. No pasta, rice whatsoever. You’re expected to fill your stomach with just bread as your main carbohydrate food from this supposedly main course *slow clap* Perhaps the overwhelming amount of Saffron rice from the Pikachu Smiling Rice Omelette is meant to be shared with whichever poor soul has ordered this dish. Taste-wise, it was unsurprisingly mediocre. The chicken bolognese from Pastamania certainly tasted heaps better with a more generous serving of meat. So, steer clear if you’re hungry.

The “Pokéball” – looking nothing like the fondant-textured one on the menu – is made of egg white and had ketchup once again (what’s with the excessive use of ketchup, though) smeared on the upper half, thereby adding even more acidity to the already-acidic flavour of the chunky bolognese sauce. Despite the fact that all the recipes and artistic direction of the dishes were provided by the licensor (which I doubt were conscientiously conformed here because it’s quite unlike the Japanese to produce such unacceptable standard of food), the whole dish seemed to be put together by amateurs and there is clearly no attempt in flavour balancing at all.

Wanna Get Tingling!? “Volt Tackle” Soda (S$10++)

“Volt Tackle” Soda

“Volt Tackle” Soda

Mango sherbet

Mango sherbet

Just when I thought things would get better once we had our beverages, we were subjected to yet another disappointment. As per usual cafe/restaurant protocol, we expected our drinks to be served first before our mains. But alas, they only came just before our dessert. Even though we were thirsty from eating too much Saffron rice and ketchup, we were still rather cool with the wait.

About 30 minutes into our dining experience, our beverages finally came. Everything was pretty much identical to what we saw on the menu except for the mango sherbet in the “Volt Tackle” Soda. From my knowledge, sherbet is a sweetened frozen dessert made with fruits and dairy product such as milk or cream. But the barely-recognisable Pikachu sherbet in my drink looks more like coloured ice. And to top it off, there is not a single mango flavour. Nevertheless, the passionfruit soda was refreshing but no way it is worth S$10++. Not even with that less-than-one-teaspoon amount of popping candy for the added tingling effect.

(Seriously man, want to give so little popping candy then might as well don’t give la)

Stick-on Pikachu tail on all cutlery

Stick-on Pikachu tail on all cutlery

Iced Pikachu Latte (S$9++)

Iced Pikachu Latte

Iced Pikachu Latte

Finally, a perfectly executed art direction. Give this barista a pay raise!

Finally, a perfectly executed art direction in this cafe. Give this barista a pay raise!

The best item on the menu is surprisingly a beverage – the Iced Pikachu Latte – partly due to the perfectly execution of the latte art as well as its overall visual appeal.. which is sadly almost nonexistent in this cafe. The sweetness of the cream lent a refreshing contrast to the mild bitterness of the espresso which was pulled in the morning (yes, that’s right, the staff are asked to prepare the espresso early in the morning daily). But they somehow don’t blend easily so we had to keep licking the straw to taste the sweetness. One cup of iced latte takes approximately 10 minutes to make due to the pasting of Pikachu’s face and adding of the cream.

The cheeks you see here are colour melts but now the cafe has changed to using red whipped cream (man, the inconsistency..). The ears are formed with monaka (the same thin and airy wafer used in Japanese ice-cream sandwich) dipped in dark chocolate sauce forms the ears. Monaka has an light, airy and elastic texture, somewhat like our biscuit piring wafer, but is more resistant to liquid.

Complimentary Pokemon coasters with every drink purchase

Complimentary Pokemon coasters with every drink purchase

Pikachu’s Sweeeeet Pancake (S$20++)

Pikachu’s Sweeeeet Pancake

Pikachu’s Sweeeeet Pancake

Although we were told at the entrance that we weren’t allowed to request for desserts to be served later, we still ended up having to wait more than half an hour (from the time we settled down) for our Pikachu’s Sweeeeet Pancake to arrive and only after we incessantly chased for it because we were in a hurry. An insider divulged that food service can be slow at times as the cafe staff go in order of highest demand, hence the preparation of the less popular food items may be delayed. To cope with high volume of orders, the pancakes – which were the most sought-after – were made in batches of 20, kept aside and reheated in microwave oven when they need to be served. Even so, reheating takes time, thus greatly affecting the speed of service. Sometimes you may find thyme and mint leaves (for decorative purposes anyway) missing on your plate as well because the cafe has run out of them. Apart from these two ingredients, the cafe also constantly faces shortage in milk. I find this sloppy considering that the ingredients were all gotten from local suppliers.

FOR YOUR INFORMATION

Puffs and crepes are perpetually served a lot slower as they require much longer preparation time.

So I guess the above explains why the queue hardly moves? It all stems from the poor management of the cafe and shortage of manpower which contributed to the long waiting time for food to be served.

Going back to our expensive dessert which also comes with a free Pokéball mug, the first thing we noted was the disproportionate appearance of Pikachu’s face compared with the ears. The edges of the uppermost pancake were ripped off as if it was scooped out of the pan in a haste with no hoots given to quality control (do they even use the mold?). Despite being supposedly reheated, the pancakes we had were still cold but that’s honestly fine with me because the sweetness of the refillable maple syrup would have taken the attention away from it.

Pikachu’s facial features on the pancake are neatly constructed with cocoa powder and topped with monaka ears. The star of this dish is undoubtedly the tail. Made using a slab of Japanese-style butter cookie, it provides a soft crunch and a melt-in-your-mouth consistency. I personally prefer this to plain-tasting monaka.

Now, I believe many of you have read this review by Vivian Tian on the “bleeding” Pikachu served with the Pokéball Cream Puff. Here’s the other side of the story, provided by the preparer herself:

The blogger (Vivian) is my friend and whatever desserts and drinks you’ve seen here is done by me. And I will take this time to explain the reason behind it.

Originally the moose you’ve seen here is meant to have film used (the same EDIBLE FILM used on our iced lattes). And I have a minimum standard of professionalism when making food, and when we found out we had no film left, we had to make red whipped cream. And, obviously, those who baked before will know that too much red food colouring will make it more liquidy. And alas, I tried my best handling something new, and it bled. 

NEVERMIND, WANT TO REMAKE. But the bloody server decided to serve my pikachu from hell to them WITHOUT ASKING. Pissed, but nevermind. Knowing they will reject, I remade it. Cause I know them well, they will know what I go through. 

And she forewarned me how strict she will be, I said okay.

In conclusion, my experience was tainted by the unnecessarily long waiting time and expensive dishes prepared using cheap ingredients which I can readily find in my home refrigerator. But then again, I don’t blame the cafe staff because their morale has probably hit rock bottom after getting pushed around by their bosses. As much as I’m a huge Pokémon lover, I don’t condone the owners’ blatant profiteering and their poor staff management. So no, I don’t recommend dining at this cafe.

Thanks for reading!

Pokémon cafe @ EwF – a concept by PARCO
Bugis Junction, 4th Floor
200 Victoria St, 188021
From 27th May (Fri) to 31st July 2016 (Sun)
Operating hours: 11:00am (last order at 9:30pm )
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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 Pokémon in their country of origin 😆

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) 😐 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 无缘无故 (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 😆

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 urchinIf 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 😆

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! 😀

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! 🙂

Thanks for reading!

Kill the Urge to Snack with SlimJuice by EXPRESSIONS

SPONSORED

Hey everyone!

The past weeks have been a period of unhealthy and sinful snacking for many Chinese. No matter how strong the will, there is no way anyone could escape the clutches of those irresistible and delectable Chinese New Year goodies (think those addictive, crumbly pineapple tarts *drools*) which are out to unravel all the painstaking hours of gym sessions spent on obtaining a trim figure. How many of you have reached for another cookie despite telling yourself that the one you just ate would be your last? I, for one, am guilty of this because when it comes to food, my mouth seems to have a mind on its own! And it would take a monumental effort to overcome the temptation of helping myself to the treats on the snack tray 😦

credits: Khoo Teck Puat Hospital

I would need to climb at least 1000 floors to burn all the pineapple tarts in my tummy. Why is life so hard? (credits: Khoo Teck Puat Hospital)

Now that we have passed the halfway mark of the Chinese New Year, it’s time to distance ourselves from these goodies and start planning on how to shed those extra pounds gained over the festive occasion before we get too comfortable with our weight! While partaking in intensive exercise is certainly the fastest and most effective way to get your body back in shape, it is not a foolproof method of losing weight for people who loses control around food… like me *buries face into hands* I don’t know about you but I feel especially ravenous after every workout session and would end up eating more than I usually do. Perhaps due to this reason, my weight never dips below 55kg (my ideal weight is 50kg) because I’m essentially putting back the calories that are burnt off.

My weight measurement at Expressions (Orchard outlet)

My weight measurement at Expressions (Orchard outlet)

Therefore, a balanced diet needs to be part of the game plan to lose weight – the only problem is how to control the portions you’re ingesting such that they do not exceed the amount of calories you’ve burnt from working out. I love food so much that I wouldn’t starve myself in the name of looking good, so to not eat at all would be out of the question.

My Expressions goodies!! *thumbs up*

My Expressions goodies!! *thumbs up*

But ever since I became an ambassador for Expressions, I have been privileged to trial some of their slimming products which I never knew about. Under the recommendation of my wellness consultant Chloe at their Orchard outlet, I was given two diet supplements. The first, a detox juice, will be reviewed in greater detail in this post while the other will be spotlighted in my next Expressions feature. I have personally tried both products for a couple of days and felt a world of a difference in my appetite, so I thought I should share them with you!

SlimJuice, S$19.90

SlimJuice, S$19.90 available on Expressions.co

SlimJuice, formerly known as KiloKiller but with an improved formula this time, is a slimming supplement that zeroes in on the unwanted fat cells.  It helps to burn stubborn fats in the body that refuse to budge, drains harmful toxins that hinder the absorption of nutrients, and aids in the breakdown of food. On top of that, it naturally keeps your appetite in check and therefore, reduces the tendency to snack.

Inside the box: 14 sachets and some information pamphets

Inside the box: 14 sachets and some information pamphets

Packed in the handy box are 14 sachets filled with soluble powder (like fruit salt) which are to be prepared in lukewarm (or room temperature) water. As I had been put into the Expressions’ 3-day detox juicing programme, my wellness consultant had advised me to consume one sachet twice a day (together with the other dietary supplement), morning and evening before meal, as opposed to what is stated on the packaging that only one is required every day.

SlimJuice sachet

SlimJuice sachet

A small gap at the side for easy tearing

A small gap at the side for easy tearing

Upon adding water, the powder dissolved instantly and a thick foam started developing on the surface with a faint sizzling sound. I was intrigued by the appearance of the mixture because it looked so much like a pint of beer! 😛

Before adding in some water..

Before adding in some water..

SlimJuice ready-to-drink

SlimJuice ready-to-drink

On closer look, it actually looks more like apple juice with a hell of a froth. In fact, it kinda smelt like it too! It tasted a little sour and fizzled in my mouth. Such fun! Heeding my beautician recommendation, I embarked on my 3-day detox challenge with no intake of solid food (mainly red meat, carbs and sugary foods) as well as cold water. It wasn’t easy switching to a diet like this, but I persevered.

credits: Expressions

credits: Expressions

This may seem ludicrous but I felt the satiation fill my body the very moment I downed the cup of SlimJuice and no, it wasn’t a sense of bloatedness! Although I still experienced urges to snack (out of habit) on the first day (which was easily resolved with some cut fruits), I felt my energy level taking an upward turn despite having less than 5 hours of sleep. I used to feel extremely lethargic and weary by the late afternoon but I felt less of these during the 3-day trial.

TIP

Apart from fruits, you can also substitute snacks with microwaved vegetables topped with oyster sauce (I prefer choy sum) or a bowl of healthy soup (such as sliced fish soup) because these are not only healthier, but also a lot lower in calories.

Amazingly, the craving for tidbits also died down from the second day. Furthermore, I had also felt my appetite suppressed as I hardly had hunger pangs throughout the day even though I was constantly on the go!

Even though it didn’t really aid much in my bowel movement nor lead to a significant drop in my weight, it had toned up my muscle fat and reduced my body fat by 1.2%. My VFA (Visceral Fat Area) level had also decreased from a ‘3’ to a ‘2’, signifying a healthier and younger body. These results were, of course, achieved with the combined use of SlimJuice and Wheat Bran & Psyllium, which I will talk more in depth about in the next installment. Perhaps I would be able to see better results if I had extended the duration of the programme! 🙂

Still, considering how affordable it is and how effective it was in curbing my appetite, I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a reliable slimming supplement and yet doesn’t want to spend a fortune on it.

What are your thoughts? Do share them with me in the comments below!

Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next instalment! 🙂

SlimJuice by Expressions (S$19.90)

Click here to purchase or here for the promotional bundle!
Enjoy 10% off all products on Expressions.co when you apply the code “GIVEME10” and quote “FIONASEAH” in the comments at checkout

Expressions (Orchard)
121 Penang Road #01-02 Regency House
Singapore 238464
Tel: 6235 9890
E-mail: orchard@expressions.co
Operating hours:
10:30 am – 8:30 pm (Mon – Fri)
10:00 am – 5:30 pm (Sat – Sun)

Expressions (Upper Thomson)
2 Sin Ming Road #01-06 Sin Ming Plaza
Singapore 575583
Tel: 6358 1555
thomson@expressions.co
Operating hours:
10:30 am – 8:00 pm (Mon – Fri)
10:00 am – 5:00 pm (Alternate Sat – Sun)