Friday, 20 October 2017

Our Accommodation in Okinawa

Over the course of the week that we were in Okinawa, my sister and I stayed in about three different places - two in Naha and one in Onna. If you want the rest of the posts for this trip, click here to go to the master post.  My sister actually booked two of the three places, so credit goes to her for finding them.

Airbnb near Kenchomae (link leads to the listing)
Price: 4314 yen per night for one person.
Stay: 1 Night
Payment Method: Credit Card

This was where I stayed in on my first night. My sister only came the next day, so this is basically for one person. Located about 10 minutes from the Kenchomae monorail station (and hence about 10 minutes from one end of Kokusaidori), this apartment was very clean and comfortable.

First look:

View from the other side:

The bathroom and shower area are shared and is located outside the room. But they were both very clean and I had no problems sharing with the other residents on the floor. The room has all the necessities - aircon, bed, kettle, hairdryer, desk and chair, and cupboard. It's also very spacious, which I appreciated a lot.

Rika, the host, was also extremely responsive and very easy to talk to. She sent me detailed instructions (complete with pictures) on how to find and access the apartment the night before, so I had absolutely no problems locating the place.

If you're looking for a cheap place with privacy, I think this is a good option. The neighbourhood was quiet as well (I had no problems falling and staying asleep) and I had an extremely comfortable stay.

Asahi Guest House
Price: 1500 yen per night per person (paid upfront)
Stay: 3 Nights
Payment method: Cash

This was the cheapest of the three hotels but also the most conveniently located. It's literally in the middle of Kokusaidori, between the two monorail stations, so going out is very convenient. It's also next to Makishi market, very close to the Pork Tamago Onigiri store.

Of course, at this price comfort must be sacrificed a little. The rooms are dormitory style, and I got a top bunk (and found an insect, which freaked me out on the first day). Each bunk comes with a place to hang your clothes, some shelves, and one power outlet, so it was quite self-sufficient.

Everything is basically shared with the other residents, which is good if you're an extrovert. There is a fridge you can store your food in, and markers so that others won't take it. If, however, you use your hotel rooms for alone time, then this is not the place for you. There is also a lights-out rule from midnight onwards (to about 7am if my memory is right), so if you're a night owl, you may be a bit inconvenienced too.

Lastly, it seems like the aircon isn't turned on every night. We had it for two of the three nights, but on the third night, we ended up paying about 300 yen for 9 hours of aircon. It does seem like the aircon is switched on nightly during the worst of the summer months, so I guess you don't have to worry if you come during summer. (confession: my sister and I need to sleep in a cool environment. We honestly considered forfeiting our hotel fee and just finding a business hotel on the first night when it seemed like there might not be aircon).

This is for people who prioritise price and convenience over everything else. We did manage to make friends, so it turned out to be a good experience for us.

Pension Weekend
Price: 5000 per person per night (includes breakfast)
Stay: 3 Nights
Payment method: Cash

This place was recommended to us by the dive shop and we were really happy with it!

While this was the most expensive of the three accommodations, it was also the the most spacious and had the most amenities in the room. Apart from the bed, there's also a rack for clothes (and another one if you need it), a fridge, a television, desk and chair, and an attached bathroom.

 There was also a ladder leading to the loft, but I didn't explore that.

Breakfast was also provided every morning, and they drove my sister and I to the dive shop on the first day (I went along so that I knew where the location was). Breakfast alternates between Western and Japanese style:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3
The couple that runs the place was very friendly and went out of their way to help my sister and I. We also found the place to be conveniently located - it was quite easy to drive to the various attractions around Onna, and there was a convenience store located about 10 minutes away on foot. We also managed to park our car here for free, so I would recommend you rent a car for the whole of your stay here.

And these are the three places that we stayed in on our trip! If you're planning a trip, I hope this was helpful(:

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Turning 24 in a Chocolate Room

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the room!

The view from the other side.

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

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

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

Even the switches look like chocolate!

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

The vanity area.

Other side:

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

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

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

The cake was good too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

It came with free chocolate because it was my birthday.

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

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

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

Monday, 16 October 2017

Getting Around in Okinawa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 13 October 2017

Okinawa Trip Master Post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other Posts
Getting around Okinawa
Our accommodations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 2 October 2017

Last Day of Work

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

I am now officially funemployed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Picking Grapes and Pears in Imari

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We decided to get both pears and grapes!

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

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

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

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

I like grapes so I happily had a few.

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

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

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