A new chapter to a distinctive and unforgettable whiskey adventure story opens this month with the launch of The Whiskey Library. Ensconced within the ornate and luxurious interior of The Vagabond Club- Singapore’s preeminent luxury boutique hotel with 41 individualistic and elegantly appointed rooms and suites; the Whiskey Library offers over 1,000 bottles of thoughtfully curated rare and refined award-winning whiskies from around the world, and comes with a Membership Programme to beguile guests with a love of whiskey and give them access to the captivating vagabond experience.
Adventure awaits within the vintage art deco exterior of The Vagabond Club. Each room within the luxurious hotel is an oasis of comfort and calm bathed in natural light, bearing the touch of the genius French designer Jacques Garcia, executed in his renowned over-the-top, maximalist panache with Parisian-chic flair.
With the unique Membership Programme, guests who sign up will enjoy 10-room nights at The Vagabond Club (fully transferrable) as part of the S$3,000 annual membership fee.
Members will also have privileged access to 80 lockers, each with its own gilded and tasselled key, evocative of a bygone era of old world charm and hospitality, kept on-site in a specially designed wood-crafted armoire placed in a private space at The Vagabond Club’s salon.
Each locker will store up to 15 bottles of whiskey. Members can bring one of their own bottles for every two bottles purchased at The Whiskey Library. Members will also enjoy special bottle pricing, access to the Vagabond Club gym, and reserved seating at regular Whiskey Club events and experiences.
Each bottle at The Whiskey Library has been carefully collected from the finest distilleries from Scotland, Ireland, Japan, the US and other countries around the globe, with the collection comprising predominantly single cask and limited-edition bottles. Just as with a great literary work, each bottle is a unique work of art that stirs the imagination, beguiles the mind and excites the spirit.
The creator behind The Whiskey Library is luxury hotelier Satinder Garcha. Motivated by his love and passion for artistry, Garcha has spent two years bringing his dream to realisation.
“What started out as a vacation with friends travelling around Scotland and visiting distilleries soon turned into an eye-opening journey of discovery; a discovery of the depth of craftsmanship, the artistry, the culture and the incredible history behind whiskey making. These elements combined inspired me to bring these untold stories to Singapore where anyone and everyone can experience the profound pleasure of enjoying truly great whiskies,” says Garcha.
“No two bottles are the same. Each is unique, each has its own story, and many bottles will be unfamiliar even to the most experienced connoisseur. To me whiskey is art, and the craftsmanship behind our whiskies in The Whiskey Library is truly astonishing,” adds Garcha.
Designed for what Garcha calls “a club for vagabonds seeking a unique and hidden experience”, the warm and beautifully appointed Whiskey Library hosts up to 75 guests who, while relaxing and enjoying their whiskies, will be entertained with bespoke experiences such as specially curated sung and told Jazz stories, intimate theatre, book readings, artist evenings, musical showcases, and even independent film premieres. Guests will also be able to enjoy delightful small bites prepared by the Chef de cuisine at The Vagabond Club.
In keeping with the theme of artistry and luxury, the vitrines housing the whiskey collection and other crafted white spirits were designed and hand-crafted by local woodsman Mr Ng – one of the few remaining craftsmen in Singapore who continues to create unique furniture pieces. Designed to enhance the decadent elements of the hotel surrounds, the armoires feature brass claw feet to complement the similarly brass Allahbuksh-designed Rhino reception desk.
Akin to the Allahbuksh family from Rajasthan who crafted the enchanting Banyan Trees at The Vagabond Club, Mr Ng has contributed much to the artistry ambience in Garcha’s hotel portfolio.
Bespoke elements such as artisanal ice and an international selection of the finest of cigars, together with the extensive collection of whiskeys, bourbons, and other crafted spirits bring a truly complete and unique experience to guests of The Whiskey Library.
The Whiskey LIbrary is perhaps one of the world’s great whiskey bars! Check them out today!
Following the successful return of the Sucimurni Retreat, the award-winning luxury destination, Tanjong Jara Resort, will launch a special edition entirely dedicated to women. Taking place from 17th to 19th November; the Sucimurni Retreat, Women’s Edition, will be a unique getaway for mothers, daughters and girlfriends to rest, recharge and discover Sucimurni, the Malay concept that emphasizes purity of spirit, health and well-being.
This exclusive retreat will allow guests to learn a new concept of relaxation through a weekend of female-focused classes and workshops led by renowned wellness professionals. The retreat will include, but not limited to signature WeBarre classes, Yin yoga and sound & breath meditation session by Align Origins, wellbeing and batik workshops led by The Busy Woman Project and The Batik Boutique respectively, and a cooking class to learn the secrets of Malay kitchen from the resort’s resident Chef.
Amy Blair from The Batik Boutique will kick-off the retreat with a Batik Workshop where guests will explore the Batik process and unleash their creativity to take home their own personalized Batik Boutique product. Following the batik workshop, Linda Tang, co-founder of WeBarre Singapore, will lead a WeBarre Stretch & Technique session, guiding attendees to stretch out and lengthen all muscles to increase flexibility, improve mobility and reduce the risk of injuries.
On the second day, Linda Tang, will start the day with an energising Sunrise WeBarre Signature Multi-Level class, an exhilarating workout inspired by ballet, yoga, pilates and strength training which aims to transform the entire body.
For lunch, Tanjong Jara Resort’s resident Chef Ann will teach attendees her best-kept secrets at the ‘Secrets of Malay Kitchen’ cooking class. Guests will be able to savour their scrumptious creations just before the next session with Jaslyn Koh, founder of The Busy Woman Project, an online platform focusing on mental, physical & emotional health for busy women living in Asia. In WE, Introspective Conversations, the ladies leading the classes and workshops during this weekend, will share their insights and connect with like-minded women on topics such as self-acceptance and self-worth.
To wrap-up the second day with a deep sense of balance and relaxation, Amanda Ling, founder of Align Origins –musician, yoga teacher and sound healing practitioner–, will share with guests the healing wonders of Yin yoga. In this slower-paced practice based on the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Taoist Yin Yang philosophy, postures allow a sense of release within the deeper connective tissues, fascia and joints in the body. A unique Sound and Breath Meditation session will follow. Focusing on the aspects of Nada (Sound) Yoga, Amanda will teach attendees various breath techniques to induce calmness and inner peace through breathing. Using Tibetan Tingsha bells and Singing Bowls to integrate sound vibrations into each breath, guests will learn how to build awareness to manage stress effectively.
Before the retreat comes to an end, guests will partake in the resort’s signature Sucimurni Exercise led by the resort’s very own Resident Naturalist, Captain Mokh. The Sucimurni Exercise held by the beach at sunrise will see guests going through a series of stretches inspired by the main animal chakras, giving them a chance to explore their main energy centres and find inner peace.
The Sucimurni Retreat, Women’s Edition is priced at SGD333++ per room per night, with a maximum occupancy of two adults and one child and is inclusive of:
· Return airport transfers from Kuantan airport
· Daily breakfast, lunch and dinner
· One 50-minute massage for two per stay
· Two barre classes
· One Yin Yoga session
· One sound and breath meditation session
· One wellbeing workshop
· One batik workshop
· Sucimurni exercise
· One Secrets of Malay Kitchen cooking class
Babysitting services are available at the resort for an additional fee.
Sure thing, Africa will be the first place you’ll imagine if someone suddenly proposes this travel idea, “Hey, why don’t we go on a safari adventure?” And quickly, you drop your bag, sit on your desk and look up pieces of information about travel to Africa. But, is Africa the only continent where you can go on a safari adventure? What if you discover there’s something equally exciting and fantastic somewhere else?
Apparently, it’s easier to decide where to go when you know that Africa is the only place to explore if you’re wishing for some safari adventures. It turns out though that Australia can be a close rival. Wait, what? You read that right. Let’s take a look at what Australia has to offer.
Australia: Where All Sorts of Diversity is Found
If you say the word ‘diversity’, perhaps, Australia is on the top rank among the most diverse countries in the world. In fact, Australia is very diverse in almost all aspects—the people and their backgrounds, the landscapes and terrains, the mix of city and countryside vibe, and a great number of diverse, unique species of flora and fauna. Check out valuable pieces of information on that subject here.
And what do all of these things mean? Yup, you’re right indeed. A tour of just a few days in Australia won’t be enough to explore everything wonderful. In fact, it would be the most awesome option if there’s a way you can do a long-term backpacking journey around entire Australia as you dream of how unique your everyday experiences would be. You’ll never run out of new things to try and see!
Hike up the mountains or sail to the islands, one after another. You’ll find that there is no shortage of wildlife creatures in Australia—they’re even abundant. You can swim with the whales, meet and greet the cutie kangaroos and koalas, get awed by the different, lovely birds on a birdwatching adventure, and discover various species of reptiles. And there’s a whole lot more! The scenic views are even enough to make your heart skip a beat! Learn more about that by visiting Aus wildlife tours.
A Learning Experience in a Classroom the Size of a Country
There is no doubt that travelling makes us smarter. We get to learn a new culture and new words from another language, we are able to taste new cuisines, uncover history, and discover art; and when we derive such new learnings, we also develop our creativity which helps us become more productive at work or at school.
Thus, we can compare wildlife tours in Australia to a wonderful learning experience in a classroom that’s the size of a country. It would be a unique experience for the whole family, especially if you have young children. It will help them fully immerse themselves in an interactive learning experience when they get to learn about wildlife creatures not just in pictures, books, and videos, but in their natural habitat as well.
It also motivates us to start making sustainable and eco-friendly choices in our daily lives; as we know that a single piece of trash we throw or a single foolish thing we do against the environment, could impact the lives of other creatures, especially those nearing extinction. In addition, growing our appreciation for nature moves us to teach our kids to be gentle with animals, take care of them, plant trees, and take every effort to care for the environment.
There are so many things to learn and discover while you’re on a wildlife tour. You can even choose one based on your interests. Love the ocean? Go whale-watching, diving, or snorkelling. Want to meet marsupials? Say “Hi” to kangaroos and koalas. Want something even wilder? Meet and greet reptile species! There’s no doubt that including off-the-beaten-track experiences in your travel bucket list is a must when you visit the land down under!
Are you planning on a trip to Singapore? Or are you a local who has yet to explore every nook and cranny that your friends have been raving about? Whatever the situation may be, this guide might just be the help you need to plan out your trip to Singapore. We have rounded up the top 5 must-see things to do and hopefully, anyone who has never been to this city-state will have a great experience when exploring these places.
Psst… you can book all these activities from Klook where it’s convenient and wallet-friendly too.
1. Take a Walk on the Wild Side
If you have never been to a tropical Zoo; then Singapore Zoo, River Safari, Night Safari, and Jurong Bird Park are all excellent attractions in their own right and they tend to be on the itinerary of most first-time visitors to Singapore. A stroll through the river-themed River Safari will bring you through the greatest rivers in the world and let you experience the wildlife of the Amazon and the Nile. Here’s where you can also find the loveable giant pandas, Jia Jia and Kai Kai.
2. Explore the Iconic Gardens
There is no doubt that Gardens by the Bay is one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Singapore. Your trip to Singapore is incomplete if you don’t visit this amazing place. Enclosed in two massive greenhouses are some unimaginable and unusual exotic plants and greenery that you don’t often get to see.
The garden also features statuettes cuddled up between the trees and mesmerising waterfalls. At night, the garden comes magically alive with the beautiful lights that light up the giant Supertree Grove. Even people who may not find flora and fauna exciting might just find a new sense of connection and closeness to nature.
3. Stuff your Tummy with the Best Tasting Local Delights
If you don’t have the time to visit the most famous food market in Singapore, Lau Pa Sat, fret not because they are still open after 7 pm and there are also many other hawker centres that are located at the heartlands where you can plan a nice time out with your family members and friends.
You’ll get spoilt for choices as there are so many food options that are available. Whether it’s the tantalising chicken satay or the stuffed Murtabak, be sure to try as many local delights as you can as they are rather affordable. Just dress comfortably though; as it can get quite hot and stuffy in Singapore’s rather humid weather.
4. Scream Your Heart out At Universal Studios Singapore
There’s much to see and do at Sentosa and one of the highlights of visiting Sentosa is to check out the exhilarating rides at Universal Studios Singapore. You can plan out a full-day trip here as you probably would want to conquer all the rides that are available at Universal Studios Singapore.
As you swing off the world’s tallest duelling roller coasters and get drenched on a whitewater rafting experience; don’t forget to get some souvenirs from the souvenir shops at the various themed zones. You can pre-book your Universal Studios Singapore entry ticket from Klook.
5. Experience the Mythological Ten Courts of Hell
Have you ever been to a place where everything seems to be strange and wonderful at the same time? If not, then you must visit Haw Par Villa; it is a park that’s filled with many statues that depicts the scenes from Chinese mythology and legends.
The best highlight of the park is the Ten Courts of Hell. Here, you will see a small-scale tableaux showing the human sinners being punished in a range of dreadful and ferocious ways – in graphic details.
It does not matter whether you are planning to move to France, Mexico, Australia, or any other corner of the world; there are just so many things that need to be considered. More and more people are moving overseas today but you need to plan and prepare effectively to ensure it goes as smoothly as possible. With that in mind, read on to discover some tips on making moving abroad work for you.
Plan, plan, and plan some more – It is never too early to start planning your move overseas. This is especially the case if you need to sort a visa or you need car transport companies. The sooner you get started, the better. It will make your move a lot easier.
Download free messaging and video calling apps – Luckily, you are not going to need to spend a fortune on calling home, as the likes of Skype, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger have made this possible for free with a good Internet connection.
Learn the language – You don’t need to master the language, but it is a good idea to learn the basics at least. This will help you to get by with greater ease. This will also earn you some respect from the locals because they will appreciate that you have put in an effort to learn their language to communicate with them.
Rent first – In most cases, it is better to rent before you buy so you can get a good understanding regarding the best location and property type for you.
Save up more money than required – No matter how good your budget is, it is likely that you will end up needing more money than expected. Don’t leave yourself short.
Don’t go back to your home country in the first year – Of course, it can be tempting to return to your home country, but you should avoid doing this in the first year. If you do this, you can end up feeling unsettled.
Sort out health insurance before you move – One of the worst things you can do is leave health insurance until you arrive. What happens if you were to fall ill or suffer an injury in your first few days? You could end up blowing your entire budget on a medical bill. Make sure you research thoroughly before you move abroad. Every country has their own health system.
Don’t take clutter with you – Last but not least, you need to sort out your clutter before you move. The last thing you want to do is fill your new home with things you do not really need. Not only will this make your new home cluttered but it will cost you much more money than needed in terms of moving fees and shipping costs.
Hopefully, you now feel more prepared for your big move overseas. Good luck!
So you’re finally going on a trip, eh? You’re finally leaving your comfort zone. Well, good! The world’s your oyster, one that you open with your passport. There’s plenty to discover and more to experience.
But before you fly off to lands unknown, learn a few things first; for knowledge is power, and it may well save your life.
Here are a few crucial things that you should know before you travel the world.
Check Your Gear
Prep time is half the fun of travelling. There’s a certain kind of excitement that experienced travellers get when browsing stores for stuff they’ll bring on their next trip. You may feel that too, once you rack up some mileage on your visa.
That said, prepping your gear isn’t just for fun. It’s also for your own good.
You’ll be a stranger in an unfamiliar land, and the commodities and conveniences of home will no longer be within your reach, particularly when going to areas untamed by civilisation, to meadows and groves where you commune with nature and soul.
Thus, make it a habit to check your gear, days before your trip. Go over your pack, and review what you need and what you don’t need. Packing too much can unnecessarily burden you; packing too little may leave you stranded somewhere without even basic necessities like food or water and without the hope of rescue.
Check the Culture
One of the many things that can fumble a traveller’s stride is the culture shock. It’s usually the first gale that greets one so used to the comforts of home. The impact can strike so overwhelmingly and so frustratingly that one can become homesick in a matter of days.
Experiencing how other people live in other parts of the world is part of the fun in travelling. But if you don’t do your research in advance, you could be on the receiving end of sudden culture shock. Then all your preparations will be for nought as you hurry to book a return flight home.
What you see in the movies isn’t always the truth; it’s often embellished by false fluff for production value. You expected the romances of Casablanca but then get chased by bulls in Pamplona. You expected Mickey Mouse, but it was actually Dio.
So be a smart tourist. Be informed. Do a quick search about where you’re going. Read up on the news from your destination, and set proper expectations so you’ll be prepared for the reality.
Check the Weather
Lastly, check the general weather and environment of your itinerary. It’s not always sunny in Philadelphia; storms can come a-knockin’ too. That’s part of life. But if you don’t prepare for such times, it may be the death of you.
This may seem like it’s part of common sense, but it’s still too vital to be left unsaid. Not anticipating bad weather can ruin a good time. Worse yet, your chiselled-for-the-beach body may get wet not because of the sea but because you’re sweating under the 34.4 degrees Celsius average temperature of Ethiopia.
Keep yourself up-to-date on the weather around your target destination/s. Download an app so that you can check anytime and make adjustments accordingly.
Envoi: Bon Voyage!
The fundamental point of all these things is to be prepared. As mentioned earlier, prep time is half the fun of travelling.
Be a smart traveller and prepare well. Check the three items noted above, and you’ll get the most out of your time abroad.
One of the many great things about Singapore is its strategic location. As a central hub in southeast Asia, it’s incredibly convenient and easy to go to many of the beautiful places around the area. Whether you intend on taking the family along, just your partner or you just want to fly solo, you can be sure that you’ll find the right place for you. There are tons of picturesque places nestled in nature, so make room in your memory (phone, camera or otherwise!) and click away so you can do postcard printing in Singapore when you get back to get the most precious keepsakes of your journey!
Now, beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and all that – but it has a little something for everyone. With that spirit in mind, we’ve shortlisted a few places that stand out as travel destinations for those looking for solitude, romance or a bit of adventure!
Those looking to escape the city bustle can find comfort in Kampot – where travellers can experience the riverside charm by renting boats, canoes or simply plunging in for a swim! For those who like some good old countryside adventure, you can also wander through their pepper farms. Another option in this country is Mondulkiri – where adventurers can hike or trek to waterfalls and climb beautiful hills!
While the more commercial parts of Thailand like Bangkok may be better known for its bustle and architecture, Kanchanaburi is recognized for its national parks, waterfalls and intriguing caves. Of course, Thailand also hosts an array of beautiful beaches in places like Phuket and Krabi that are perfect for those who enjoy white sand beaches, snorkelling, and scuba diving.
Another country that’s known for its beautiful beaches and a popular honeymoon destination for young couples! Places like Bali are dotted with white sandy beaches. If the idea of cycling around the countryside and exploring quiet coves and secluded beaches appeal to you, this is the place for you! Ubud, known for its rice terraces and its romantic allure, is also a popular choice among travellers.
Halong Bay in Vietnam is an excellent place to be for cave explorers and seafood enthusiasts (whether you like to look at them or eat them!). But for those of you looking to get a taste of rural life in Vietnam, head to Sapa – a quiet, pretty place with green hills celebrated for being an area run by women alone! A great place for solo female travellers to enjoy some quiet time.
Si Phan Don in Laos is the place where you go to enjoy bike rides, tranquillity, and peace. The country itself is scattered with beautiful places all over and offers a quieter environment than its neighbouring alternatives. If you’re someone who wants a taste of architecture, mountains, peace, and adventure – Laos has it all. Vang Vieng is just rivers of peace and calm, and it offers a number of adventurous activities like zip-lining and hot air ballooning.
These 5 places are our top picks, but let’s not forget that there’s a vast array of other options too! Philippines and Malaysia, as well as the lesser known countries like Brunei, Timor-Leste, and Myanmar, are all swamped with gorgeous places too. The fact is, every one of the countries that make up Southeast Asia has something different to offer. So, don’t stress it too much, have a happy holiday and take a lot of pictures!
You can have a gander at photojaanic.sg to find fun ideas and advice on travel photography and how to bring your holiday memories into life!
Man-made objects can never compete with the creations of nature. Nature is majestic, beautiful and raw. If there’s any man-made object that comes close to competing with nature, it’s Gardens By the Bay. An amalgamation of mankind’s capabilities and nature’s beauty, Gardens By the Bay stretches across 250 acres and has more than 1 million plants.
Who would have thought that there are 1 million plant species in this world?
It’s safe to say that Gardens by the Bay is a marvel. It has attracted over 40 million visitors since its inception and has managed to capture the imagination of all.
Popular Things to do at Gardens by the Bay
There’s plenty to do at Gardens by the Bay and because it’s a massive area, it’s easy to get lost and miss out on certain attractions and landmarks. Apart from fascinating sights like the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest that can catch your fancy; there’s a lot more that Gardens by the Bay offer which can get quite daunting.
The Supertree Grove is one of the highlights of Gardens by the Bay. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture with stunning lights in the night. The music light show is gorgeous, breathtaking and absolutely worth its time.
The Cloud forest is nature at its finest. The lush green interspersed with bits of color will rejuvenate you immediately. The falling water will take you places and give you the feeling that you’re one with nature.
The best way to make most of your ticket and the day is to take a guided tour with the help of an app! How does an app help you might ask.
Well, Locomole is a hiking trail app that gives you self-guided tours of popular tourist spots. They focus on finding the hidden gems in every tour; so hidden, even the local won’t be aware of its existence. If you are an avid hiker, you should check out this app which is developed by a Singapore-based company.
Using the QR Code
To make the best of your trip to Gardens by the Bay, head on a Locomole tour using the QR code below.
It’s been a long while since I last sat down to write or pen down my thoughts and in this post, I will be sharing some insights that I have gained during our most recent trip to Japan, the land of the rising sun.
Japan is very well known for many things… ninjas, samurais, World War 2, green tea, sushi, tofu, geishas, Toyota cars, anime and many more. To appreciate your trip to Japan even more, do read up a little about the history and development of Japan because you will be very amazed by its resilient and forward-looking culture and its preservation of traditions.
We booked for a Singapore Airlines flight from Singapore to Kansai International Airport, Osaka on SQ618 and for our return trip, from Haneda International Airport (Tokyo) to Singapore on SQ633.
SQ618 to Kansai International Airport is an overnight flight and it is a rather popular flight with travellers who frequent Japan. You will want to get as much sleep as possible during the flight and not fiddle around with the in-flight entertainment so that you will be all rest up when you arrive in the morning.
One of our most enjoyable flights thus far is SQ633 as the aircraft (the A359) is one of the newest in Singapore Airline’s fleet of aircraft. The in-flight entertainment system is pretty sophisticated and the fact that we were assigned bulkhead seats for a 6-hour flight back to Singapore makes the flight all the more comfortable due to the extra leg space.
The flight time from Singapore to Japan is approximately 6-7 hours.
The Time Difference
Japan (GMT+9) is one hour ahead of Singapore time.
Japanese people are very mindful and considerate and they are also approachable and friendly. However, most of them might not be able to converse fluently in English and you may need to pick up some simple and basic Japanese phrases and words prior to your trip. As we speak and write Mandarin, we were able to roughly interpret some signage and instructions that were written in the Japanese language because some Japanese and Chinese characters can be quite similar.
The currency that Japan uses is the Japanese Yen. Before our trip, the exchange rate that we got was 1 SGD to 82.4 JPY. For the best exchange rates, head down to the Money Changers in the Central Business District area and do take your time to shop around for the best rates because if you’re changing a large sum of money, any small movements in rates do make a lot of difference!
It is rather easy to get around Japan with the help of some navigation and travel apps like Google Maps, Tokyo Subway, Japan Official Travel App, and Live Japan.
One of the best websites that have been the most instrumental and helpful in our planning is Live Japan and Tsunaga Japan. There are a lot of guides and articles that are worth checking out so be sure to do some research before your visit to Japan.
The common modes of transportation in Japan are as follows:
The train is the most common way of getting around in Japan. However, with so many different rail lines and rail companies that are operating in Japan, it can get quite confusing. Day passes are available for tourists so do make it a point to get one if you plan on visiting a couple of places.
The bus is another way you can get around in Japan conveniently. Day passes are available for tourists so do make it a point to get one if you plan on visiting a couple of places.
We took an ANA flight from Kansai Domestic Airport (Osaka) to Haneda Domestic Airport (Tokyo) for less than SGD$95 per person. This is relatively cheaper than taking the bullet train. But of course, if you have never taken a high-speed train in your life, experiencing it in Japan could very well be on your bucket list.
Traffic in Japan can get pretty hectic especially during the peak hours. It is, in fact, easier to get around the city area via public transport. However, if you’re travelling around the suburban or rural areas, driving is an excellent option. In case you’re wondering, parking in the city area is very expensive while parking in the suburban or rural areas is cheaper and sometimes free.
To drive in Japan, you will need to apply for an International Driving Permit (IDP) and you can do so via online or at the Automobile Association of Singapore (AA) offices in person. If you’re not in a hurry to get your IDP, you can apply for it via online and then wait up to 7 days for the courier to deliver it to you. However, if you need an IDP urgently, just head down to the (AA) offices in person and get it on-the-spot for just $20! The last transaction at the AA offices is at 10.30pm so don’t worry about not being able to make it in time to apply for the IDP in person.
While there are a lot of car rental companies around, we rented a car from Toyota Rent A Car and it was a convenient and hassle-free experience. Car navigation system is offered as a free option and it is available in English or Japanese. You could either punch in the telephone number of the place that you want to navigate to or the address of the place.
A paid option which I feel would be a good add-on to the car rental is the rental of an ETC card. The ETC card is inserted into the ETC device (it is very much like our ERP IU in Singapore) and it pays for the toll charges. Just so you know, it is cheaper to pay for toll charges using the ETC card than by cash.
One other great thing about our car rental experience with Toyota Rent A Car was that I could just return the car without having to make a visit to the Petrol Kiosk to top up petrol because what Toyota Rent A Car will do is that they will calculate the amount of petrol that I have used and from there, determine the petrol charges that I need to fork out.
If you’re planning to rent a car to drive around in Japan, I would strongly recommend that you purchase full insurance coverage; you don’t want to end up with nasty surprises that can spoil your holiday.
During our time in Japan, we stayed at 3 different accommodations.
1. NEST Hotel @ Nishiki, Kyoto
NEST Hotel @ Nishiki, Kyoto is situated in an attractive location. Just 800 m from the Kyoto International Manga Museum, a 13-minute walk from Samurai Kembu Kyoto and 2.5 km from Nijo Castle; this 3-star boutique hotel is highly sought after for its close proximity to popular landmarks and places of interest.
There are 3 types of room available; Standard Twin/King Room, Superior Twin/King Room, and Japanese-Style Room. We stayed at the Superior Twin/King Room for 5 nights and we had such a pleasant stay that we hope to return again. Just so you know, the service and amenities of a 3-star hotel in Japan are considerably good so don’t be deceived by the star ratings. Not only is free WiFI available, every room is stocked with a Nespresso coffee machine! The hotel also has a common laundry area that is equipped with a washing machine and clothes dryer for guests’ use!
NEST Hotel @ Nishiki, Kyoto is owned by NESTatNEST and they have other luxury properties around the Asia Pacific area. What is even more interesting to note is that NESTatNEST is a subsidiary of Sin Heng Chan Group, a Singaporean company!
Room rates start from $156 onwards. With only 23 rooms available, be sure to make your reservations early to avoid any disappointment!
2. Super Hotel Lohas Akasaka, Tokyo
Super Hotel Lohas Akasaka is conveniently located in central Tokyo and it is a 4-minute walk away from Akasaka Subway Station. The non-smoking hotel features a spacious public bath and free WiFi. Super Hotel Lohas Akasaka provides coin launderette service and internet PCs in the common area. Although there’s a convenience shop just beside the hotel, drinks vending machines are also available on site.
There are several subway stations accessible within a 10-minute walk from the hotel, such as Akasaka Mitsuke Subway Station, Nagatacho Subway Station and Tameike Sanno Subway Station. Popular Shibuya or Ginza areas can be reached within a 10-minute subway ride from the Akasaka Station.
Room rates start from $119 and do make your reservations early because they tend to sell out pretty fast!
3. Shojiko Camping Cottage, Yamanashi
A trip to Japan without a glimpse or a photo of Mount Fuji is incomplete and I really wanted to do some outdoor camping and stargazing in Japan. To convince my wife (who’s not very outdoor-ish), I decided to glam it up and made some arrangements to do glamping at Lake Shoji for SGD$170 a night.
To get there, we rented a car from Toyota Rent a Car in Akasaka and drove from Tokyo to Lake Shoji. Along the way, we also made a stop at Gotemba Premium Outlets in Shizuoka Prefecture.
Our host, Masaki, is very fluent in English and he made sure that everything was all well in place before we arrived at our glamping tent. There’s hot-water shower and as well as cooking facilities available at Shojiko Camping Cottage.
There may be wild animals around the area but when we were there, the only wild animal that I spotted were some cats and a herd of deer foraging for food early in the morning. It was really a pity that the sky was cloudy when we were there. If not, we would have been treated to a marvellous sight like the one below.
As it can get really cold at night (about 10 degrees Celsius and below), you really need to be fully equipped and prepared. Do bring along some heat packs and layers of clothing to keep yourself warm if you’re going to camp at Lake Shoji.
If you’re an outdoor person, camping at Lake Shoji is something you must do when you’re in Japan!
The Places That We Have Been To
Nishiki Market has a history of many centuries and lots of shops are manned by the very same families for decades. Everything began as a fish wholesale district, with the very first store opening around the year 1310. A bigger assortment of stores moved in afterwards, and the neighbourhood shifted from a wholesale marketplace to a retail marketplace. Today, it remains a significant marketplace for Kyoto and is frequently packed with tourists and locals alike.
Known as “Kyoto’s Kitchen”, this vibrant retail marketplace specialises in everything food related, such as fresh seafood, produce, cookware and knives; and is an excellent spot to locate seasonal foods along with Kyoto specialities such as Japanese candies, pickles, dried fish and sushi.
Tip: Kyoto is well-known for its Matcha (Japanese Green Tea) and what that means is that you probably might want to find some matcha-related goods as souvenirs for your tea-loving relatives and friends.
Open daily 9 am – 6 pm.
Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades
Nishiki Market branches off Teramachi about 100 meters north of Shijo Street.
At the centre of downtown Kyoto, Teramachi and Shinkyogoku streets form the core of Kyoto’s most important shopping district. Shinkyogoku is full of tacky souvenirs and Teramachi is a much-refined place with many different art galleries, bookshops, and clothes stores. You will also discover several stores selling spiritual goods including incense, Buddha pictures, prayer beads and so on. These stores are a holdover from the 16th century when the warlord, Toyotomi Hideyoshi moved a number of the town’s temples into Teramachi Street in a bid to restrain the clergy; hence the name of this street, Teramachi, literally means”temple town”.
Kyoto Owl Forest Zoo
Japan is rather well known for their animal cafes and even though there are a couple of owl cafes in Osaka and Tokyo; we decided to visit the one in Kyoto since we would be spending more time in Kyoto than anywhere else. The Kyoto Owl Forest Zoo is not a typical owl/animal cafe. No food and drinks are served here and visitors are not allowed to carry or hold the owls. At the very most, visitors are only allowed to pat some of the owls. Unlike other animal cafes where there is a fixed time limit of an hour per visit, there is no time limit here and you can choose to stay for as long as you wish.
While the animal’s welfare is a major concern for me, I was told that the owls here have been raised as domestic pets. One thing I also noticed about Kyoto Owl Forest Zoo is that they try to create a cosy and comfortable atmosphere and ambience for the owls. The lights here are pretty much dimmed and signages are put up to educate visitors about the different types of owl.
As Kyoto Owl Forest Zoo is pretty near Teramachi and Shinkyogoku Shopping Arcades, you may want to consider adding it to your itinerary.
Hours & Fees
11:30 to 19:30
Ichiran Ramen, Kawaramachi
Some say that Ichiran Ramen serves the world’s best ramen and I must say, it is absolutely true for me because ever since I dined there, I have not had any ramen that could match up to Ichiran Ramen’s. Although long queues are expected at almost every Ichiran Ramen Outlets, the Ichiran Ramen outlet at Kawaramachi opens 24 hours and so; you could visit at a time when it’s not so busy. The ramen and soup base here is just perfect and you can even customise the way you want your ramen and soup base to be! Prices are also pretty reasonable and the entire dining experience is unique on its own. My recommendation? Remove every distraction and the itch to reach out for your phone and just fully concentrate on savouring your meal. You will definitely notice the wonderful goodness of the soup and the ramen. Will I return? Absolutely!
Kama-gawa River Bank
Kyoto has a river running through it; it’s known as the Kamo-gawa and it’s one long stretch of park that Kyotoites use for relaxation, exercise and contemplation.
Both sides are lined with broad green areas and bicycle paths, with lots of benches and exercise locations. Up near the Demachiyanagi end of the river (in the north, where Imadegawa-dori crosses the river), you will find broad play areas which are fantastic for picnics and for kids to run around.
Do make a stop for some really nice pictures!
Starbucks Teahouse in Higashiyama
By setting up shop in a two-storey renovatedJapanese townhouse which was once occupied by geishas, the Starbucks outlet has brought a breath of fresh air to the historical town of Higashiyama in Kyoto.
From the tiled roof and aged wood exterior to the logo printed on Noren curtains, the coffee shop blends right in with the rest of the classically designed temples and shops around it. The interior resembles a traditional tea house that features three tatami-matted rooms where guests are expected to act and follow the same rules given to them in a tea house. Shoes must be off and they must sit on cushions placed on the floor.
The rest of the space is filled with very few tables and benches to maintain the intimate atmosphere and flow throughout. Lines are not allowed to form beyond the shop so the number of customers allowed inside will be monitored, especially during its busiest times.
Nijo Castle was built in 1603 as the Kyoto residence of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo Period (1603-1867). His grandson Iemitsu finished the castle palace buildings 23 years later and further enlarged the castle by adding a five-storey castle keep.
Following the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1867, Nijo Castle was used as a royal palace for some time before being donated to the city and opened to the general public as a historical site. Its palace buildings are arguably the greatest surviving examples of castle palace architecture of Japan’s feudal age. Niji Castle was designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.
Nijo Castle can be divided into three areas: the Honmaru (main circle of defence), the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defence) and some gardens that encircle the Honmaru and Ninomaru. The entire castle grounds and the Honmaru are surrounded by stone walls and moats.
Visitors to Nijo Castle enter the castle grounds via a massive gate at the east. English sound guides are available for rent (500 yen) at a kiosk just inside the gate. Venturing further into the castle will bring you to the Chinese style Karamon Gate, the entrance to the Ninomaru (secondary circle of defence), where the castle’s main attraction, the Ninomaru Palace is situated.
The Ninomaru Palace served as the residence and office of the shogun during his visits to Kyoto. Surviving in its finest form, the palace consists of multiple different buildings which are linked to each other by corridors with so-called nightingale floors that squeak when stepped upon as a safety measure against intruders
The tour route passes by multiple waiting and audience rooms. Only the highest ranked visitors were allowed all the way into the main audience room where the shogun would sit on an elevated floor, flanked by bodyguards hidden in closets. Lower ranked visitors would be allowed only as far as the adjoining rooms without a direct view of the shogun. The innermost rooms consisted of offices and living chambers, the latter of which were only accessible to the shogun and his female attendants.
Outside of the Ninomaru Palace extends the Ninomaru Garden, a traditional Japanese landscape garden with a large pond, ornamental stones and manicured pine trees.
The Honmaru (main circle of defence) was the site of a second palace complex and a five-storey castle keep. However, both structures were destroyed by fires in the 18th century and were never rebuilt. After the fall of the shogunate, an imperial residence was moved from the Katsura Imperial Palace to Nijo Castle’s Honmaru where it remains today as the Honmaru Palace.
Unlike the Ninomaru Palace, the Honmaru Palace is not regularly open to the public, although there are occasional special openings. Visitors may, however, walk around the Honmaru gardens and climb up the stone foundation of the former castle keep, which offers views over the castle grounds.
Cherry trees of numerous varieties are planted throughout the castle grounds, including nearly 400 cherry trees of late blooming varieties in a cherry orchard. Because of the many cherry tree varieties present, the blooming season at Nijo Castle usually lasts from late March through the entire month of April.
The castle also features a plum orchard, which is typically in bloom from late February to early March. Many areas of the castle grounds are also populated by maple, ginkgo and other trees that offer brilliant autumn colours usually during the second half of November.
The entrance of Nijo Castle is a short walk from Nijojo-mae Station along the Tozai Subway Line. From Kyoto Station, take the Karasuma Subway Line to Karasuma-Oike Station and transfer to the Tozai Line to Nijojo-mae Station. The whole trip takes about 15 minutes and costs 260 yen. Alternatively, the castle can be reached from Kyoto Station by Kyoto City Bus numbers 9, 50 or 101 (15-20 minutes, 230 yen one way) or from Shijo-Kawaramachi by Kyoto City Bus number 12 (15 minutes, 230 yen one way).
Hours & Fees
8:45 to 17:00 (admission until 16:00), entry to Ninomaru from 9:00 to 16:00
Tuesdays in January, July, August and December (or following day if Tuesday is a national holiday), December 26 to January 4
Tenjin-san Flea Market
The Tenjin-san flea market is held on the 25th of each month in the early morning at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. There are about 1,000 shops selling all kinds of goods, second-hand goods, pottery, toys, foods and kimonos in and around the shrine.
This market is popular for antique goods, used kimonos and vintage kimonos. You can find kimonos for 500 yen to 1,000 yen in this market. If you find a beautiful kimono that’s to your liking, be sure to check the size before you buy. There are also a variety of foods such as vegetables, fresh fruits and local foods on sale.
The Kitano Tenmangu Shrine is also famous for having 2,000 plum trees. You can enjoy many beautiful plum flowers in full bloom in February and March.
Bakuro-cho, Kamigyo ward, Kyoto city, Kyoto
Kyoto city bus number #50 or #101 from Kyoto station to Kitano Tenmangu-mae stop
Takes Place On
On 25th of every month
6:00am ~ 4:00pm
Kinkakuji is a Zen temple in northern Kyoto whose top two floors are completely covered in gold leaf. Formally known as Rokuonji, the temple was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, and according to his will, it became a Zen temple of the Rinzai sect after his death in 1408. Kinkakuji was the inspiration for the similarly named Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), built by Yoshimitsu’s grandson, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, on the other side of the city a few decades later.
Kinkakuji is an impressive structure overlooking a large pond and it is the only building left of Yoshimitsu’s former retirement complex. It was burnt down numerous times throughout its history; including twice during the Onin War, a civil war that destroyed much of Kyoto; and again in 1950 when it was set on fire by a fanatic monk. The present structure was rebuilt in 1955.
Kinkakuji was constructed to replicate the extravagant Kitayama civilization that developed from the rich aristocratic circles of Kyoto throughout Yoshimitsu’s times. Each floor reflects a different kind of architecture.
The first floor is built in the Shinden style used for palace buildings during the Heian Period. Statues of the Shaka Buddha (historical Buddha) and Yoshimitsu are stored on the first floor. Although it is not possible to enter the pavilion, the statues can be viewed from across the pond as the front windows of the first floor are usually kept open.
The second floor is built in the Bukke style used in samurai residences and its exterior is completely covered in gold leaf. Inside is a seated Kannon Bodhisattva surrounded by statues of the Four Heavenly Kings which are not shown to the public. Finally, the third and uppermost floor is built in the style of a Chinese Zen Hall and is capped with a golden phoenix.
After viewing Kinkakuji from across the pond, visitors pass by the head priest’s former living quarters (Hojo) which are known for their painted sliding doors (fusuma). The path once again passes by Kinkakuji from behind then leads through the temple’s gardens which have retained their original design from Yoshimitsu’s days.
Outside the exit are souvenir shops and a small tea garden where you can have matcha tea and sweets for 500 yen.
You can get to Kinkakuji from Kyoto Station by Kyoto City Bus number 101 or 205 and the journey will take about 40 minutes and cost 230 yen. Alternatively, it can be faster and more reliable to take the Karasuma Subway Line to Kitaoji Station (15 minutes, 260 yen). A taxi ride Kyoto Station to Kinkakuji will take 10 minutes and cost 1000-1200 yen while a bus ride (bus numbers 101, 102, 204 or 205) will take 10 minutes and cost just 230 yen.
Hours & Fees
9:00 to 17:00
No closing days
Arashiyama Bamboo Grove
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is one of Kyoto’s top sights and for good reason; standing amid these soaring stalks of bamboo is like being in another world.
Apart from the Fushimi-Inari-Taisha Shrine and Kinkaku-ji Temple; the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is also one of the most photographed sights in Kyoto but no picture can capture the feeling of standing in the midst of this sprawling bamboo grove. You truly have to be there to experience it for yourself and although it is usually packed with people; you could go for the Arashiyama Rickshaw Tour where the guide will help you capture those beautiful moments while you just sit back and admire the scenery.
Tip: The Arashiyama Rickshaw Tour is highly recommended especially if you have rented the traditional Kimono to take photos with.
You can access Arashimaya Bamboo Grove directly from the main street of Arashiyama; it’s a little to the north of the entrance to Tenryu-ji Temple and it’s best paired with a visit to that temple (exit the north gate, take a left and you’ll be in the grove in no time). There’s just one main path through the grove which leads slowly uphill. Once you get to the top of the hill, the entrance to the sublime Okochi-Sanso Villa is right in front of you.
If you plan to take the train, the nearest train stations are Saga Arashiyama Station (10 mins walk) and Arashiyama Station (15 mins walk).
Kyoto’s Higashi Tenno Okazaki Shrine
Okazaki Shrine has been a place of worship for more than 1,200 years. Originally, this shrine played a role in protecting the emperor, his court and its citizenry. It is also called Higashi Tenno (Emperor of the East) because it is located to the east of the former capital, and it is beloved by the locals even in the present day.
The deity Susanoo-no-Mikoto, his wife Kushinadahime-no-Mikoto, and their children are enshrined here. Susanoo-no-Mikoto is a hero in Japanese mythology, especially in the famous tale of where he saved Princess Kushinada from the monster called Yamata no Orochi (a gigantic serpent with 8 heads and 8 tails) and after that, they fell in love, got married, and had many children. These deities are also enshrined at Yasaka Shrine in Gion and other shrines nationwide.
The Shrine’s Atmosphere
The area of Okazaki is a lively sightseeing spot, but originally it was located on the outskirts of the capital and therefore nature was plentiful. However, the peaceful grounds inside still remind visitors of the atmosphere of the past. The air is very fresh and clean because the shrine is surrounded by a lot of trees.
After going through the torii entrance gate, the area widens into a relaxing, sprawling open space. The building that is behind the trees is the Honden (main hall) and in front of the Honden, in the centre of the grounds, are shrubs and trees.
On the left side, there is the Miyashige Inari Shrine, which houses the deity of business prosperity. There is also a building called Amasha, which is said to be beneficial for eye diseases.
The Grounds of the Shrine are Awash with Rabbit Statues!
It has been said that “Usagi” (rabbits) are messengers for the deities of this shrine, and the reason for this is still unknown. One theory states that there were many wild rabbits living around the shrine, so there are many sculptures, statues and pictures of rabbits around the shrine!
First is the “Koma Usagi,” 2 statues of rabbits sitting adorably in front of the main hall. On the right side of the front face of the main hall, there is an opened-mouth male rabbit and on the left side is a closed-mouth female rabbit. Petting their heads and praying for marriage and a married couple’s compatibility is a common custom.
There are other rabbits statues close to the main hall, one is an Usagi Lantern, and there is also a pair of “Maneki Usagi” (rabbits inviting good luck) standing in front of the main hall. The rabbit to your right is for marriage and the rabbit to your left is for good fortune.
The surrounding area of the main hall is not the only place that has plenty of rabbits. In the chozuya (a building for purifying your hands before praying), there is a statue of a black rabbit looking up at the moon. This rabbit is called “Kosazuke Usagi,” and it is customary to splash water on the statue and rub its belly which is beneficial for having children and the safe delivery of children. There are other rabbits hiding all over the grounds in unexpected areas, so the fun part of visiting this shrine is finding these hidden rabbits!
Get Some Usagi Juyohin!
“Juyohin” means the blessing of items, like charms and omikuji fortunes which are offered at the shrines. They are available for purchase by offering money to the deity. The blessed items from Okazaki Shrine are very popular because of the adorable rabbit motif, especially the large variety of omamori charms which are beneficial for things like passing an exam and having good health.
There are unique omamori such as the “Usagi Mikuji Omamori” which include the fortunes and cost 500 yen, as well as the “Fukumimi (big ears bestowing good fortune) Mamori” for 1,000 yen. The Fukumimi Mamori is a blessed charm so that you might have a fortune from sharing benefits granted to rabbits with large fukumimi ears. They also offer a variety of items like the”Usagi Ema” (rabbit votive) for 600 yen, another amulet for the safe delivery of children called “Anzan Kigan Ofuda” for 1,200 yen, and “Usagi Dorei” (ceramic rabbit bell) for 500 yen at the shrine office which, when facing the Main Hall, is located on the right hand side. Do stop by after you have finished praying!
What’s So Special About the Omamori?
Originally, people regarded this shrine as important for protecting the emperor, his court, and its citizenry. At the same time, it has also been famous for granting blessings for having children and their safe delivery. Also because of a Japanese mythology hero, this deity shrine was said to be a place that blesses marriages, and therefore, many couples chose this location for their wedding ceremony every year. Wanting to share the benefits of this shrine, a staggering amount of amulets, including those for the safe delivery of children, are hung at both the main hall and the chozuya. Amulets are offered at the shrine office and what you need to do is to write down the date and contents of your wish and your name, and then just hang it with the others. If you feel that praying for something would help, why don’t you try it?
Okazaki Shrine is a prestigious shrine and is located very close to shrines and temples like Heian Jingu and Nanzenji Temple. There is a bus stop right in front of the shrine, and it is highly accessible from Kyoto Station as well.
Hours of Operation
9 AM to 5 PM
Address 51 Okazaki Higashi Tenno-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Take Kyoto City Buses 32, 93, 203 or 204, and get off at the “Okazaki Jinja Mae” bus stop and it is a short walk from there.
Nara Park is a large park in central Nara. Established in 1880, it is the location of many of Nara’s main attractions including Todaiji, Kasuga Taisha, Kofukuji and the Nara National Museum.
The park is home to hundreds of freely roaming deer. Considered in Shinto to be messengers of the gods, Nara’s nearly 1200 deer have become a symbol of the city and have even been designated as a natural treasure. Nara’s deer are surprisingly tame, although they can be aggressive if they think you will feed them. Deer crackers are for sale around the park, and some deer have learned to bow to visitors to ask to be fed.
As the deer are wild animals, do be careful (especially if you have brought your children along) and do keep a constant lookout especially when interacting with the deer. You are highly encouraged not to leave your children unsupervised.
It is pretty easy to get to Nara Park from Kyoto and there is a 1-day pass which you can purchase for just 1500 yen and it gives you unlimited rides on the KINTETSU Railway and Nara Kotsu Bus Lines within designated zones. We recommend that you set aside 1 full day to experience Nara.
Nara Park is a five-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station or about a 20-minute walk from JR Nara Station. Alternatively, the park can be reached by bus.
Kasuga Taisha Shrine in Nara
Kasuga Taisha is Nara’s most celebrated shrine. It was established at the same time as the capital and is dedicated to the deity responsible for the protection of the city. Kasuga Taisha was also the tutelary shrine of the Fujiwara, Japan’s most powerful family clan during most of the Nara and Heian Periods. Like the Ise Shrines, Kasuga Taisha had been periodically rebuilt every 20 years for many centuries. In the case of Kasuga Taisha, however, the custom was discontinued at the end of the Edo Period.
Beyond the shrine’s offering hall, which can be visited free of charge, there is a paid inner area which provides a closer view of the shrine’s inner buildings. Furthest in is the main sanctuary, containing multiple shrine buildings that display the distinctive Kasuga style of shrine architecture, characterised by a sloping roof extending over the front of the building.
Various Types of Lanterns at Kasuga Taisha
Kasuga Taisha is famous for its lanterns, which have been donated by worshipers. Hundreds of bronze lanterns can be found hanging from the buildings, while as many stone lanterns line its approaches. The lanterns are only lit twice a year during two Lantern Festivals, one in early February and one in mid-August.
There are many smaller auxiliary shrines in the woods around Kasuga Taisha, twelve of which are located along a path past the main shrine complex and are dedicated to the twelve lucky gods. Among them are Wakamiya Shrine, an important cultural property known for its dance festival, and Meoto Daikokusha, which enshrines married deities and is said to be fortuitous to matchmaking and marriage.
Kasuga Taisha is located in the east of Nara Park. It is about a 30-minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station or a 45-minute walk from JR Nara Station. Alternatively, it can be reached by bus from either station. Get off at the Kasuga Taisha Honden bus stop (210 yen, frequent departures).
Hours & Fees
Hours 6:00 to 18:00 (April to September)
6:30 to 17:00 (October to March)
Inner area: 8:30 to 16:00
No closing days (the inner area is occasionally closed)
Free (outer area), 500 yen (inner area)
Harushika Brewery & Sake Tasting
The Harushika Brewery Shop in the Naramachi district of Nara has become popular with foreign visitors as a must-do experience as eating tuna at Maguro Koya. In fact, it’s possible to do both one after the other as they are not so far apart; especially if you are on a bicycle.
At Harushika Brewery Shop, you can pay a small fee and sample a variety of Nara’s famous sake along with traditional Japanese tsukemono pickles in sake lees (a by-product of the brewing process). The sake tasting lasts about an hour and is conducted by English-speaking guides dressed in happi coats, who explain the different grades of sake and try to answer any questions visitors may have. You will also receive a small Harushika sake cup as a souvenir and you can purchase bottles of sake, pickles and sake-flavoured ice-cream wafers at the shop.
We really like the sparkling sake that Harishika Brewery makes and it goes pretty well with desserts! Unfortunately, as their sparkling sake is unpasteurised, they are best consumed either on the spot or within a couple of days.
As the fount of Japanese culture, Nara can lay claim to being the first place that sake was produced, in a commercial, somewhat mass-produced way by 8th century standards, at least.
The lively entertainment area of Dotonbori is Osaka’s most famous tourist destination and renowned for its gaudy neon lights, extravagant signage, and the enormous variety of restaurants and bars.
The name “Dotonbori” generally refers both to the Dotonbori Canal and to Dotonbori Street which runs parallel to the canal’s southern bank. It is one of the most colourful areas in Osaka and an absolute must-visit location when travelling through the Kansai region.
The History of Dotonbori
The history of this area goes back to 1612 when a merchant by the name of Yasui Doton invested all of his personal capital in an ambitious local development project. Doton’s plan was to divert and expand the Umezu River into a new waterway that would link the local canal network with the Kizugawa River. Unfortunately, Doton’s project was interrupted by war and he himself was killed during the Siege of Osaka in 1615. Later that same year, Doton’s cousins completed his work and in his memory, the new canal was named Dotonbori or “Doton Canal”.
The new canal brought with it a flood of trade and from 1626, the area began to flourish as an entertainment district after theatre companies and playhouses began to move into the area on the canal’s southern bank. At the same time, the north bank of the canal began to prosper with restaurants and teahouses that supplied food, drink and entertainment to theatregoers after they left the theatres.
Today Dotonbori’s theatre culture is very much in decline. During World War II, bombing raids destroyed all the theatres except for the Shochikuza. However, there are still a number of small comedy clubs in the area and the Shochikuza continues to host classical kabuki plays, opera, modern dramas and musicals. Today, Dotonbori is better known as a gastronomic wonderland crowded with restaurants, street side food stalls, and bars.
Dotonbori’s Food Culture
Osaka’s obsession with food is often summed up with the expression “kuidaore” which is often interpreted to mean “eat till you drop” but it actually means to spend so much on food that you fall into financial ruin! Dotonbori is said to be the best place in Osaka to experience this kuidaore style/extreme love of food!
The Glico Running Man
Dotonbori is famous for its eye-catching signage and billboards with a giant pufferfish, an octopus, a clown, and the Kani Douraku crab which are all vying for your attention and creating an amusement park-like atmosphere. However, of all these signs, the most famous is that of the Glico running man above Ebisubashi Bridge.
An advertisement for Glico candy, the 20 meters tall and 10-meter wide sign shows a man running on a blue track with his arms raised in victory. This is actually the 6th version of the sign which was last renewed with LED lighting in 2014. However, the first Glico sign was installed here in 1935 and over the years, it has become a much-loved landmark of Osaka’s Minami area. In fact, the Glico running man and Ebisubashi Bridge below it is the focal point of Dotonbori. It is a popular meeting spot, an essential photo stop for tourists, and the site of wild celebrations when local sports teams are victorious.
The Dotonbori entertainment district generally designates the area between the Daikokubashi and Nippombashi bridges on the Dotonbori Canal with its focal point located at Ebisubashi Bridge. It is located in the Minami or “South” district of Osaka and is easily accessed from Namba Subway Station which is just four minutes away on foot.
Shinsaibashi is a popular shopping district in Osaka which has a long history as a regional centre of commerce. The entire area is named after the former Shinsaibashi Bridge which was first built by Shinsai Okada in 1622. This bridge crossed the Nagahorigawa canal and was a popular local landmark until 1964 when the canal was filled in and the bridge was removed. The name remains though and has become closely associated with high fashion retailers and chic brand goods.
One of the big-name stores in Shinsaibashi now is the main branch of the Daimaru department store chain. This store’s history actually goes back to 1726 when it was first opened as a kimono and textiles store called Matsuya. Already at that time, there were many well-established small stores in the area, and Shinsaibashi grew to be Osaka’s major centre of trade; with goods coming from all over Japan. In the early 20th century, stores here began to trade in goods from overseas and Shinsaibashi grew to challenge Tokyo’s Ginza district as a leading commercial centre for high-class luxury products. There was even an expression: “Ginza in the east, Shinsaibashi in the west.” These days, Osaka can’t compete on quite the same level as the capital city, but Shinsaibashi is still the fashion central for Osaka; and for the major brands and retailers, it is very important to be represented here.
The backbone of Shinsaibashi is the Shinsaibashisuji shopping arcade that runs north from Dotonbori to Nagahori Dori Street and which parallels the Midosuji Boulevard to the west. This roofed arcade runs for 580 meters and contains roughly 180 stores among which you can find major department stores, brand retailers, independent fashion boutiques, teashops, and cafes. Because of its roof, it is a great location for a rainy day shopping. However, it does get crowded, with 60,000 people passing through it on an average weekday, and double that number on weekends. If you don’t mind the crowds, this is an excellent place for discovering the latest fashions in clothing, footwear, jewellery and accessories.
Some of the big names on this street are H&M, Uniqlo, Zara, United Arrows, Samantha Thavasa, Calzedonia, and Ralph Lauren. However, be sure to watch out for the side alleys that branch off from the arcade, as it is there that you will find some of the older and more traditional stores selling traditional crafts, hanging scrolls, and kimonos.
Shinsaibashisuji shopping arcade is convenient for the restaurants and bars of the Dotonbori entertainment district in the south, and for the youth fashion and clubbing district of Amemura in the west. The southern entrance to Shinsaibashisuji is just across the Ebisubashi Bridge opposite the famous Glico Man sign. From here Namba Subway Station is 5 minutes away. At the northern end of the shopping arcade, you have direct access to Shinsaibashi Subway Station.
Tsukiji Market is a large wholesale market for fish, fruits and vegetables in central Tokyo. It is the most famous of over ten wholesale markets that handle the distribution of food and flowers in Tokyo. Tsukiji Market is best known as one of the world’s largest fish markets, handling over 2,000 tons of marine products per day.
The sight of the many kinds of fresh seafood and the busy atmosphere of scooters, trucks, sellers and buyers hurrying around, make Tsukiji Market a major tourist attraction. In fact, the number of visitors has increased so much over the recent years, and that has become a problem to the course of business, as the ageing market’s infrastructure was not anticipated to serve as a tourist spot.
A visit to Tsukiji Market is best combined with a fresh sushi breakfast or lunch at one of the local restaurants. There are restaurants both in the inner and outer market area, which are typically open from 5:00 am in the morning to around noon or early afternoon.
If you plan to visit the tuna auction, do note that the number of visitors to the tuna auction is limited to 120 per day; the maximum number which the market’s infrastructure can accommodate. You will also have to apply at the Osakana Fukyu Center at the Kachidoki Gate, starting from 5:00 am (or earlier on busy days) on a first-come, first-serve basis. Successful applicants will be able to view the auction from a designated visitor area.
Tsukiji Market is just above Tsukiji Shijo Station on the Oedo Subway Line. Alternatively, it can be reached in a five-minute walk from Tsukiji Station on the Hibiya Subway Line. The closest JR station is Shimbashi, from where you can walk to the market in about 15 minutes.
From Tokyo Station
Take the Marunouchi Subway Line from Tokyo to Ginza (3 minutes) and transfer to the Hibiya Subway Line to get to Tsukiji Station (3 minutes). The fare is 170 yen.
From Shinjuku Station
Take the Oedo Subway Line directly from Shinjuku Station to Tsukiji Shijo Station. The one-way trip takes 20 minutes and costs 270 yen.
Ameyoko is a busy street market along the Yamanote Line tracks between Okachimachi and Ueno Stations. The name “Ameyoko” is a brief form for “Ameya Yokocho” (candy shop alley), as candies have been traditionally sold here. “Ame” also stands for”America”, since lots of American products were available here when the street was the site of a black market after World War Two.
Nowadays, various goods like clothing, bags, cosmetics, fresh fish, dried food and spices are sold along Ameyoko. Opening hours and closing days depend on individual shops, but shops typically open about 10:00 am and close at 8:00 pm.
If you are craving for some fresh and big oysters, this is the place to go because they are very affordable!
There is only one DisneySea in the world and it is located next to the Disney Land in Tokyo, Japan. If you are torn apart between having to visit DisneySea and Disney Land; I would recommend that you skip Disney Land and head to DisneySea instead. Tickets to DisneySea can be purchased online or even at convenience stores such as Lawson (but you have to be able to navigate the Japanese menu). Just so you know, the Disney theme parks in Japan are not owned by Disney but by The Oriental Land Company. Hence, the language and signages used at the theme parks are all in Japanese. It is best that you set aside one whole day to visit DisneySea so that you can conquer all the major rides and attractions in the theme parks. Better still, plan your visit on a day when there’s not much crowd (even though there will still be queues practically every day).
Gotemba Premium Outlets
As Lake Shoji was our eventual destination and Gotemba Premium Outlets happened to be along the way, we made a pit stop here to shop for some branded goods. With more than 200 over stores to choose from, you probably might want to set aside half a day to shop here. Don’t forget to present your passport at the Information Centre to get some discount coupons for some extra savings in addition to the normal discount prices. Also, if you go to Gotemba Premium Outlets on a clear sunny day, there is a high chance that you can see Mount Fuji from here so do bring along your camera for some photo opportunity!
Gotemba Premium Outlets generally opens from 10 am and closes at 8 pm. However, do check their official website before you visit!
Forest Mall is about a 20-minute drive away from Lake Shoji and if you’re camping overnight at Lake Shoji, this is the place to get your food and toiletries since there are no convenience shops nearby Lake Shoji.
Sandwiched between Lake Motosuko and Lake Saiko, Lake Shojiko is the smallest of the Fuji Five Lakes. Together with its two neighbours; it was formed when lava flowed from Mount Fuji and divided a large prehistoric lake into three smaller ones. The lakes seem to remain connected by underground waterways as they always maintain the same water level of 900 meters above sea level.
Lake Shojiko borders the Aokigahara Jukai forest and remains largely undeveloped except for a few hotels around its northern shore that enjoy excellent views of Mount Fuji. Outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and fishing are popular around the lake, as well as water sports such as water skiing, jet skiing and boating. If you are into caving, there are some caves nearby Lake Shoji which you can explore but they do come with entrance fees.
This interactive museum is designed to stir the creativity and curiosity within every child and provide a rich educational experience. Through the museum’s many exhibits, you can learn about the creative thinking of Momofuku Ando, the founder of Nissin Food Products and inventor of Chicken Ramen. The entire museum is designed as a place for exposing children to the spirit of creative thinking that Momofuku possessed his entire life and as a place for stimulating the seed of creativity within them. More than just the educational aspect of the museum, you can even design and customise your own cup noodles here for just 300 Yen!
We had a really fruitful trip to Japan and personally, we would love to return for a holiday. Although we didn’t quite fancy the crowded city areas, it is worth exploring Tokyo or Osaka at least once in your lifetime. For us, we prefer the quieter suburban areas such as Kyoto and Nara.
There are indeed so much to do, see, eat and play in Japan that it’s really hard to cover every single attraction in a short span of time. Furthermore, the same place in Japan is totally different in spring, summer, autumn and winter! If you haven’t been to Japan before, you should include it as part of your bucket list of countries to visit in your lifetime!
When winter comes knocking at their doors, people living in countries that experiences winter will flock to the Bahamas where they can get more sun and warmth! Between mid-December to mid-April, this array of subtropical islands become the playground of tourists who crave for some sun-tanning on the beaches, endless shopping, various joyrides, vibrant nightlife, delectable seafood or even just some time for simple procrastination by the serene and pristine water of Atlantis. More than 700 islands and 2400 cays welcome tourists worldwide to explore a bit more in the lands of jaw-dropping coral and ocean trenches.
One of the major attraction in this country is the opportunity to do some duty-free shopping. From fortune-seekers to millionaires, who don’t want to be exempted from taxes while shopping? Not only that, high-end resorts with private beaches along with the rental houses in the Bahamas, are accessible to tourists worldwide.
Here are some of the reasons why one should visit the Bahamas for a beautiful sunny vacation.
Beautiful Places to Visit
The capital of Bahamas, Nassau, is a perfect blend of the old and new. Colourful abodes of Bay Street, numerous shops and restaurants and souvenir shops at Nassau Straw Market, and the white sand beach of Cable Beach; keep tourists busy enough with a variety of activities. Options for spending quality time here in this city are plentiful! One can choose to snorkel in the vivid coral reefs or visit the British Colonial Hotel where two of the James Bond movies were shot. Also, there is the Junkanoo Festival where tourists can witness the parades of indigenous costumed performers.
2. Grand Bahama
The Grand Bahama is the shoppers’ haven! Situated on the northernmost part of the country, Grand Bahama was founded in 1955 mainly as a tourist hub. The regional capital, Port Lucaya, captivates tourists with its grandeur of duty-free shopping centres, gourmet restaurants, casinos, nightclubs and other recreations such as boating, fishing, diving and even golf. If you’re not a fan of large crowds, worry not as places like the Garden of Groves botanical garden, the Rand Nature Centre or the Lucayan National Park will offer you a peaceful setting to relax and unwind.
3. Eleuthera and Pretty Harbour Island
The beaches in this region of the country are way different than the rest as the colour of the sand is pink over here. This is also where the oldest settlements in the Bahamas lie. That’s why the first Bahamian parliament found its place only here in this country. Besides all the popular water rides like diving or snorkelling, tourists can also indulge themselves in a golf game or two. It is no wonder why people often say that they see more golf carts on the streets here than the usual cars!
4. Paradise Island
Paradise Island is famous for its turquoise blue crystal clear water that gets tourists diving and snorkelling here. Besides that, there is the Aquaventure Water Park which is packed with plenty of fun options like high-speed water slides and etc. There’s also the Dolphin Cay where one can get the rare chance of swimming with the dolphins!
In the eastern side of the Bahamas, the Exuma Cays Land & Sea Park is a “no-take zone” and marine protected area. With its magnificent white seashore and transparent water, the park lures people who got a keen interest in diving, boating, windsurfing or snorkelling. On some of the perfect days in the year, divers and snorkelers often relish 30-meter-plus visibility. For the 007 fans, the Bond-famous Thunderball Cave is situated only in this part of the world.
Ease of Transport
The most popular form of transportation in the Bahamas is the Jitney or the public bus system. The service starts at around 6 am and continues till 7 pm. Do note that this bus service is not available throughout the country except the major cities like Nassau or Grand Bahama or Paradise Island. Hence, taxi services are also very popular in this country. If you have plenty of cash in your wallet, you can get onboard a water-taxi to get closer to the sea.
You will find numbers of high-end hotels and restaurants that offer gourmet cuisines of various taste and no one can ignore the option of mouth-watering seafood while being surrounded by water! Savour popular seafood items such as the grilled and fried grouper, conch served in chowder, broiled and steamed lobster while enjoying other popular items such as the johnnycake and the peas n’ rice. Many of the eateries also serve desserts like guava duff and rum cake and when you’re in the Bahamas, you cannot complete the cuisine tour here if you don’t taste the country’s rum!
Last but not the least, Junkanoo
The biggest festival in the Bahamas is the Junkanoo. It was started in the late 18th century and today, it is famous for its jovial dance, energetic music and vibrant costumes. Though the main festival is held between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the summertime sees an extension of it each year.
Is Winter knocking on your door? Don’t fuss and make a trip to the sun-kissed land by the ocean and let us know what more you could get out of Bahamas.