November 3, 2015

Spending time in Manchester

Continuation from here ...

My train back to London was at 6 pm so after I was done with my mission at Old Trafford, I took my own sweet time sightseeing in the city center.

Didn't walk far though, just around Piccadilly Gardens and the Albert Square. Didn't wanna miss my train later cos if it happens, I'd be stranded here cos the trains won't be operating on Christmas day.

It was Christmas eve so the area was buzzing with last minute shoppers. Surveyed some items in Primark. Fuhhh.. everything was so cheap! No wonder all my girlfriends who went to UK were crazy over this retail outlet. Clothes, bags, shoes, scarves, accessories.. mostly going for GBP 10 and below. Almost went crazy but I held myself cos it's better to wait for the Boxing Day Sale! hehe..

To add to the joyous atmosphere, there were many performers at the street market and groups performing Christmas carol.

Walking around, I couldn't help but fell in love with the city. The city has rich variety of architectural styles; modern, contemporary, gothic, roman etc. The buildings were beautiful.
Manchester Town Hall

The Albert Memorial
St Ann's Church

 not sure what is this building

There's a giant ferris wheel at Piccadilly Gardens. I love ferris wheel. Wanted to ride it but after I went to the counter and looked at the ticket price, I slowly backed away. It was GBP 9 for adult, and the ride only lasted about 10 minutes. Quite expensive for what is a fairly short ride, no?

I read in the news that the ferris wheel was dismantled last June. You won't see this Wheel of Manchester anymore..

Anyway, I came across one halal food outlet in front of Piccadilly Gardens.

Tapau-ed some food for my ride back to London.

One day was not enough to cover everything in Manchester. Next trip, I should spend a night here (and make sure I get to watch a game in Old Trafford!).

October 31, 2015

Cheap Accommodation in Tokyo

Sharing some of cheap accommodations that I've tried in Tokyo.

#1 Anne Hostel Asakusabashi

Located in Asakusabashi, Anne Hostel is just a few minutes walk from JR and Toei Asakusabashi station. If you land in Haneda Airport, you can take direct train from the airport straight to this station.

It's nearby Asakusa. And Akihabara is just 1 stop away where I can change to Yamanote Line later. So convenient and that's why I keep on coming back staying here.

Each bed has curtain for privacy, and also comes with a rack, a reading lamp and power outlets. There's also locker to keep your belongings.

The hostel provides unlimited breakfast (toast, jam, eggs, coffee/tea) which is also one of the reasons why I love to stay here. Having breakfast included is not typical for Japanese hostels so this is a plus point.

I paid about 3000 yen per night for the dorm, and to me it's really worth it.

#2 J Residence

On my last trip to Tokyo, I stayed in J Residence for a night cos I travelled with a few friends. The apartment is located in Kabukicho area in Shinjuku. You either like or hate this area cos well.. it's the entertainment and red-light district of Tokyo.

The apartment is compact and simply furnished. There's a small kitchen which includes a fridge, microwave, kettle and a rice cooker. Perfect if you want to cook during your stay. The apartment also comes with an LCD TV, hair dryer, toiletries and free wired internet. There's also coin launderette should you want to do your laundry.

The toilet is small, but that is normal in Tokyo. It's good enough for me. Other than complimentary toiletries, towel is also provided so you can leave your big towel at home.

Paid 7700 yen for a 2-person apartment so it's only 3850 yen per person (the rate when I stayed in Oct 2014). If you are not keen to stay in a dorm or hostel but still want a cheap deal, this apartment is a good choice. 

Other than those two, I've also stayed at Toyoko Inn and Tokyu Stay hotel chains during my business trips.

This is Tokyu Stay Gotanda.

My favorite hotel in Tokyo. Super love it but the room rate has gone up about 50% since my last stay. T_T

Anyhow, if you have extra budget but don't want to splurge, you might wanna consider these hotel chains cos they're still considered cheap by Tokyo standard.

October 16, 2015

Kawagoe - the Little Edo

I was enjoying my sushi brunch in Tsukiji Market when my friend texted me.

"What are you doing now?"
"Having sushi in Tsukiji Market."

"If you are free, let's go to Kawagoe."
I didn't know where it was or what's the attraction there but my Japanese friends were so nice wanna bring me jalan-jalan how could I say no.

So we met up at Ikebukuro train station, before taking the Tobu Tojo Line Express to Kawagoe Station (the journey only took about half an hour).

It was already 3 pm when we reached Kawagoe so we actually didn't have much time to explore the city thoroughly. 

Kawagoe is an alternative to Kyoto if you want to see more of traditional Japan. There is a quarter in the central part of the city where streets constructed in the Edo period remain intact. You can see well-preserved century-old kura, or warehouses, which double as stores, workshops and homes today.

The oldest building on the street dates back to 1792.

The shops along the street mainly sell souvenirs and local snacks like pickles, nuts, sweet potato, rice crackers etc. Besides enjoying the ambience, we basically ate non stop!

Here is Toki no Kane (the Bell of Time), one of the important landmark in Kawagoe.

The bell tower has been telling the time to the townspeople through the ages. First erected nearly 400 years ago, the current 54-foot tower was rebuilt after a fire in 1893 and is held up with single cedar logs. The bell is no longer rung by hand, but chimes four times a day.

The thing I hate about winter is the short daytime. My friends wanted to show me more but it was getting darker so we changed plan and went for dinner instead. haha..

There's nothing fancy or spectacular in Kawagoe, but the trip was enjoyable nevertheless. It's a good option for a day trip out of Tokyo.

October 14, 2015

Tsukiji Market

I was looking at things to do in Tokyo when I realized that I haven't been to Tsukiji Market.

Always leaving out this market from my places to visit list cos I thought it's just a market. Do you visit Pasar Borong Selayang in Malaysia? I don't think so.. hehe..

But when I read about the market, it is actually quite interesting. Tsukiji Market is definitely not an ordinary market. Other than being the world's largest and busiest fish market, visitors flock the market early in the morning i.e before 5 am to catch the famous tuna auctions.

The auction is limited to only 120 person per day on a first-come, first-served basis, and it's free! So you have to come really early to secure your chance. Check out this website for detail, especially the market calendar cos the market does not open every day.

Mind you that there are no trains running before 5 am so you have to take a taxi or walk or spend your night somewhere nearby the market.

Since I have extra time in Tokyo, I decided to check it out. I actually wanted to watch the tuna auction but no one at the hostel was going (a group just went the day before). Taking a taxi in the wee hours of the morning sure is expensive so I decided to just skip the auction and go after 6 am.

But in the end, I woke up late and only arrived at the market at 10 am. hahaha.. The market has slowed down by then. Some of the fishmongers were already cleaning their spaces but luckily I could still see a lot of things.

Look at his knife O_O

Woah!! I definitely didn't know they used these kinds of knives to cut or fillet the fish.

The many kinds of sea creatures you'll see at the market other than fish...

After watching the tuna auctions, visiting or shopping at the markets, visitors would usually grab breakfast at one of the many sushi counters there.

But be prepared to wait if you want the best! Two of the most famous sushi place at the market area, Sushi Dai and Daiwa-Sushi are so popular that they have super long queues, it was madness!

This was queue for Sushi Dai...


Sushi Dai

You can find a queue in front of just about any restaurants here so I walked around the quarters quite a while cos I was looking for the shortest queue. haha..

Finally, I settled for this one restaurant, Bentomi. Queued for half an hour still.

I chose the S3 set, Sazanka.


How to go to Tsukiji Market:

 If you're travelling by train, take the Toei Oedo subway line to Tsukiji Shijo station, and take exit A1.
Alternatively, take the Tokyo Metro Hibiya subway line to Tsukiji station.

All in all, visiting the market was fun. FYI, half of the market is going to be relocated to the nearby Toyosu district in November 2016. So gonna visit it again to enjoy the market as it is now before it moves, as well as to watch the tuna auctions.

October 9, 2015

Snowy Hakone

Mount Fuji to Japan is like Eiffel Tower to Paris.

But in all my trips to Japan previously, I never had the chance to see it. *cries blood*

I saw it for the first time during my trip to Gotemba Premium Outlets. But it wasn't so clear, and so brief cos it kept playing hide and seek with the clouds. Thus I planned a trip to Hakone, known as the best place to view the majestic mountain. I've always wanted to go sightseeing in Hakone anyway, ever since I laid my eyes on this gorgeous picture.

The mountain. The lake. The lakefront Torii gate. So beautiful Masya Allah! 

But turned out, my luck with Fuji-san was not so good. 

Apparently, Hakone snowed heavily days before my arrival.

My heart dropped to the floor when the staff at Hakone-Yumoto Station told me that the Hakone Ropeway and the bus services were not operating because of the snow. Noooo!! T_____T

FYI, the most convenient and economical way to explore Hakone is by using the Hakone Freepass. It allows you to ride 8 different types of transport in the area, such as the Hakone Tozan Train, Hakone Ropeway, Hakone Tozan Cable Car, Hakone Sightseeing Cruise and some bus services.

Since the Ropeway and the bus wasn't operating, my plan to visit Hakone Shrine and watching Mount Fuji were ruined. But Hakone still has a lot to offer so the staff suggested that I bought Hakone pass for Tozan Train and Tozan Cable Car only.

Note: Hakone Ropeway is currently not operating due to increased seismic activity in Owakudani that could lead to a minor volcanic eruption.

There's a Tourist Information Center just across Hakone-Yumoto Station so I went to the center to get a map of the area and get advice on places to visit.

Yumoto town

Saw a group of people having barbeque outside a shop so I went to menyibuk..

Ohh the shop was promoting their sakana. So I joined the fun.

Free lunch haha..

Since Hakone is famous for onsen or hot springs, let's go to one! Luckily, Yumoto is Hakone's most famous hot spring area and there are a lot of public bath houses and traditional ryokans just within walking distance from the train station.

Me being kiasu as usual, I wanted the best experience. I was going to pop my onsen cherry anyway. It must be worth it! hahaha..

So I went to Tenzan.

Operating hours : 9 am ~ 11 pm
Admission : 1300 yen

Not gonna elaborate my experience baring my all with the other girls. :p You just have to try it once! haha..

Some other attractions in Yumoto.. 

Tamadare no Taki

Hien no Taki

 Tamadare Shrine

These attractions are actually located in the compound of Tenseien Onsen. But you can go in and walk around the garden.

Then I took the Tozan Train heading to Gora.

This train experience is special cos it takes passengers zigzagging through Hakone's steep hills. It departs from Hakone-Yumoto station (at 108 m above sea level) and takes about 40 minutes to arrive at the final stop, Gora station (at 553 m above sea level). Halfway up the line there are switchbacks, where the driver and the conductor change shifts and the train switch to reversed travel direction.

Though I only saw snows during my ride, the ride was still enjoyable.

See how thick the snow was.

Stopped at Chokoku No Mori Station to visit the Hakone Open Air Museum. It's an open air art museum, exhibiting various sculptures on its spacious grounds.

Air pon beku! 

All covered with snow...

Besides the sculptures, the museum also features various indoor galleries, including some Picasso Collection.

Hakone Open Air Museum is open daily from 9 am ~ 5 pm
Entrance fee is 1600 yen

Then finally I went for the cable car. The cable car links Gora Station to Sounzan Station, running effortlessly up another steep slope, and from there you can get on the Ropeway to Togendai-ko for the sightseeing cruise. Since the Ropeway was closed, I rode it just for the experience, going up the hill and down again.

My initial plan was to spend the night in Hakone but seeing the snow conditions, I returned to Tokyo. Definitely will revisit it in the future.