Exploring Miyazaki & Aoshima Island at Sunset

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Aoshima Beach at sunset.

Since I couldn’t travel to the Philippines, Indonesia, or New Zealand this summer, I decided to take a trip to Kyushu Island—also known as the tropics of Japan.  I’ve been to Kyushu around 6 times (most notably for my Yakushima Birthday Adventure), but this time my goal was to explore hard-to-reach destinations in Miyazaki Prefecture.  Kyushu is most famous for Fukuoka and Okinawa, but Miyazaki is just as beautiful as those places and has some extremely rare gems like Takachiho Gorge.  Surprisingly some Japanese people don’t even know about Takachiho because it’s so remote.  If you like swimming and outdoor adventures, then Miyazaki is the place for you!

My plan was stay for 4 days and travel to the following destinations:

Narita Airport (Tokyo) ⇛ Miyazaki Airport (Kyushu) ⇛ Aoshima Island ⇛ Takaharu City (for Totoro Bus Stop) ⇛ Aoshima Island (for rest) ⇛ Takachiho Gorge ↺ Tokyo

I previously went to Miyazaki in 2018 and paid nearly 50000 yen for my plane ticket because I was traveling during a holiday.  This is sadly the average price of non-discount airlines and is more expensive than international travel to surrounding Asian countries.  However, this time I only paid 12000 yen through combining one-way Jetstar and Peach Aviation flights.  A huge difference!  I will admit that I was a bit nervous traveling here during the pandemic, but this is one of my last summer vacations before I start working full time again.  Both airlines took great lengths to ensure our safety and enforced social distancing more than the trains in the city so I was grateful.  Kyushu can also be reached by train, but it takes 6-9 hours by shinkansen and is usually more expensive than airfare.  I recommend flying to save time and also to feel more comfortable.

Aoshima Beach

I boarded my plane mid-afternoon at Narita Airport and had a smooth 2 hour flight directly to Miyazaki Airport.  All I brought with me was my Totoro purse and backpack so check-in was no problem.  Once I arrived, I could already feel the ocean breeze from outside so I instantly felt relaxed.  There is a cheap bus that runs from the airport to Aoshima Beach, but since I was chasing sunsets I hailed a taxi there.  I arrived just in time to watch the sun set and get some swimming in.  I also pounded down 2 glasses of wine while wearing a fake Gucci shirt I bought in Osaka.  It felt great to be back again!

Aoshima is a fantastic beach because it’s connected to a tiny island by a bridge you can walk over.  On the island you will find a shrine, some unique rock formations called the Devil’s Washboard, random bars, and infinite palm trees.  You can see the whole island in 15 mins or less but I decided to go swimming here even after the main beach had closed.  After it started getting dark, I decided to walk back and relax at Aoshima Park. This area has a variety of restaurants and bars and usually stays open until 8pm-10pm depending on the day.  There is a free alkaline shower you can use here as well!

Dinner

For dinner, I decided to try the famous Aoshima Crab Bowl for 3000 yen.  It came with a whole rainbow of sashimi with it too:

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Face Hugger

10/10.  After feeling fulfilled, I decided to head back to my guest house and get some sleep.  I was venturing all the way to the legendary Totoro Bus Stop the next day, after all.  The party had just begun.

Where to Stay

The two best options for backpackers to stay at in Aoshima are Hooju Guest House and Fisherman’s Beach Side Hostel.  Both are 2100 yen per night and are located right on the beach.  They are extremely simple and have limited amenities, but are perfect for those who are planning on doing outdoor activities for most of their stay.  I felt extremely welcome during my time here and the other people in my dorm were respectful.  There is also bike rental available which saved me a lot of time!

As far as onsen go, I recommend the day hot spring at Grantia Hotel in Aoshima.  It has an indoor and outdoor onsen, sauna, and only costs 850 yen to enter.  A perfect way to unwind after the beach!

Alternatively you could stay near Miyazaki Station if you are planning to visit other cities in Kyushu.  Aoshima is about a 45min bus ride away from the city center so you won’t be on the beach, but you will be close to it.  No matter which location you choose, there’s a lot to see and do!

Bonus

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The opposite of the Majora’s Mask Moon.

One thing I loved about Miyzaki Airport is that all of the clocks resemble smiling suns.  The polar opposite of the Majora’s Mask Moon!  Miyazaki Airport is one of the happiest airports that you’ll visit.  The only thing that comes close is the Koh Samui Airport in Thailand with its beautiful outdoor garden.

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My dream house.

When I first visited Miyazaki in 2018, I stayed with two of my friends in their town house near Miyazaki Station.  This was very convenient for taking transportation and I got to know so much of the city thanks to their guidance.  While I was out running, I remember passing by this stunning pink house in their neighborhood.  The bright color and gorgeous design of the windows were extremely eye-catching.  Plus it looked extremely spacious.  That got me thinking…  If I ever get over my “party every weekend” phase, I might enjoy living in a house like this near the beach.  It’s really hard to predict the future at this point because Tokyo has the most financial opportunities for me, but it’s fun to fantasize about.  Where is your dream house?

Thank you for reading the first article of my Miyazaki Series!  I will be talking about visiting the famous Totoro Bus Stop in my next article.  Please stay tuned for more.

 

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Osaka (Day 2)

After exploring the Kaiyukan Aquarium and meeting a fire bender on our first day in Osaka, we decided to take our second day at a more leisurely pace.  Or so we thought.  Despite all the drinking we did the night before, we surprisingly weren’t hungover so it was somewhat of a miracle.  Craving Mediterranean and Halal food, I found a Michelen Star restaurant called Ali’s Kitchen right near our hotel.  They have a large assortment of Pakistani and Arabic food that we heartily feasted on.

I ordered the Arabic salad and the Baba Ganoush that tasted like nothing I had ever eaten before.  It was clear that a lot of special ingredients were used in this style of cooking to give it such an amazing taste.  Plus it was extremely healthy too!  My boyfriend ordered the keema curry and I could tell by the look on his face that he thoroughly enjoyed it too.  This restaurant definitely deserves 5 stars:

Feeling satisfied, we decided to walk around American Street (also called Ame Mura) to see some of the latest Osaka streetwear and colorful architecture.  Honestly, the aesthetics here were off the chart.  Some of my favorite things that we found was a coffee shop called W/O Stand with a fake vending machine door, a shoe brand called “Dr. ASSY”, colorful fashion and logos, random shrines, and a giant mall with jungle-like foliage called Big Step.  I snagged an ASICS jacket for half-off here and they had neon bathrooms too!  Plus free table hockey!  The highlight was when my boyfriend lost the game by ricocheting the puck off my side and directly into his goal.  Good times.

We then decided to explore the “Kyoto of Osaka” and see Mizukake Fudo, a beautiful Buddhist statue that has been covered in moss.  This temple is very small but is surrounded by a lot of unique restaurants and bars.  The path is connected by Dotonbori’s central streets but it has more of a Gion feel to it.  While we were here a small ceremony was going on.  Monks were humming and chanting prayers.  We left a donation to show thanks and then quietly made our way to our next destination.

My boyfriend decided we should first see Denden Town (the central otaku hub), and then proceed to the old arcades in Shinsekai.  I remember going to a maid cafe in Denden Town years ago while I was interviewing for jobs in Osaka.  However, I don’t think I had ever seen Shinsekai before because usually I stay in Dotonbori (for sake of parties).  Fortunately the two areas are close enough that you can easily walk between them on foot.  I was so happy to experience Shinsekai because it preserves the old 80s feel of Japan with its smokey Mahjong parlors and 50 yen arcades.  The claw machines here are absolutely hilarious too.

We played Street Fighter and Time Crisis 3 here for a long while and walked around the illuminated streets.  There were less people around due to the pandemic but this place still had a lot of charm.  I could see Tsutenkaku Tower here and snap some really good pictures.  I would really like to come back here and try some sushi in the future!  Maybe even spend a night here too!

As we were walking back up Dotonbori to go to the famous hammock cafe called Revarti, we came across a completely random, unannounced matsuri here.  Gotta love the Osaka life.

Sadly to our dismay the hammock cafe’s hours had been drastically changed due to the pandemic.  Instead of staying open until midnight, they now only stay open until 5pm.  Closing at happy hour should be a crime but I vow to come back here some day when they are open.  We decided to initiate our backup plan which was the 200 yen bar called Moonwalk and drink cheaply to our heart’s content.  The entrance fee is 500 yen, but every drink you order after that is only 200 so you can drink like a sultan.  They have all sorts of liqueur that you can experiment with too.  My personal favorites are the Dalgona Coffee made with Kahlua and the ice cream grasshopper.  Each drink has stats like a Jojo character so you can strategically plan out how shit-faced you’re going to get:

After about an hour of this we were tipsy and ready for the next destination.  Our friend who owns the best gaming bar in Osaka, Space Station, invited us out and we drank more coffee drinks and an original cocktail called “Ecco the Dolphin”.  We then plopped in the most Australian Bomberman (Bomberman 3) and also played some Nidhogg.  I enjoyed looking out the Slime-tinted windows and into the night.  The design of this bar is iconic.

After chatting for a good while, we were invited to a music party at Sound Garden.  The genre was supposed to be house and techno so I was totally down.  The best part about this bar was it had a super comfy couch with a pillow that said “Fuck Tokyo. I [heart] Osaka”.  We sat on the couch and laughed about this for a good while.  It’s really true.

I was talking about music in Michigan and right as I mentioned Eminem, the DJ started playing “Sing for the Moment“.  That was our cue to get up and dance.  I was completely lost in the moment and let go of my fears and anxiety.  I can’t believe how amazing this trip had turned out!  Though our initial plans had slightly derailed, I was so happy that we were here together.  A sensation of euphoria came over me and after a while I wanted to wander by the river outside.  The music ended around 3am and we decided to make our way there.  There was a light rain in the air but it felt fantastic on our skin after dancing that long.  The river in Dotonbori had the most beautiful reflections that night:

As the sun rose we cuddled and listened to “P.S. You Rock My World” by Eels.  There were kids blasting EDM under the bridge and their playlist accidentally shuffled to “Last Christmas”.  It kind of felt like Christmas in July, in a way.  I really didn’t want for that night to end but eventually we drifted off to sleep.  What happens in Osaka stays in Osaka.

We left a few hours later at 11:30am via the Willer Express Bus and headed back to Nagoya.  However, we couldn’t leave without first picking up a souvenir:

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Takoyaki-flavored Pringles. The best parts of American and Japanese culture combined.

This was hands down the best trip to Osaka that I have ever had.  There was never really a dull moment—all of it was a highlight reel.  I hope to travel again with my boyfriend to Kyoto in the fall and hopefully make another trip back here.  Thank you all for reading up to this point!  Since we are currently unable internationally, this is the best alternative we could have asked for.

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Osaka (Day 1)

For the duration of the 4 day consecutive summer holiday known as “Marine Day” in Japan, my boyfriend and I decided to take our very first trip together to bustling city of Osaka!  We chose this destination because it’s much more laid-back than Tokyo and there is a myriad of things to do and see here.  You can walk by the river and sip on a Strong Zero while being right in the heart of the city where there’s never a dull moment.  I’ve traveled to Osaka about 10 times (mainly for music events), but I still haven’t seen it all.  This time I was most excited to see the Kaiyukan Aquarium and go to the old school arcades with my boyfriend who is a fighting game fanatic.  Along the way we discovered so many delicious restaurants and made heartfelt memories that I’ll never forget.

We departed from Nagoya via the Willer Express Bus at 8:30am.  This was a good move because it was cheaper than the shinkansen and we could peacefully sleep on it.  We arrived to the Umeda Sky Building (in central Osaka) around 11:30 where we walked to La Tartine for coffee and some sweets.  I found this cafe through my Instragram algorithms and wanted to try the dog macaroon because it reminded me of Pasocom Ongaku Club’s mascot.  I also tried a cookie with a beach design that tasted amazing.  All of the desserts were intricately made here.  Incidentally, we also got a free coffee jelly as a gift for discovering this cafe through Instagram.  How nice♫~

Next we made our way towards our hotel in Shinsaibashi and decided to get some okonomiyaki for lunch at Hanahana since it was nearby.  Not only was this place absolutely delicious, but it was dirt cheap too.  I ordered shrimp okonomiyaki and my boyfriend got a mix of pork and seafood in his.  It was such a satisfying meal:

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Okonomiyaki: The staple Osaka meal.

Since our hotel wasn’t quite ready to check in to, we dropped off our stuff and headed straight to Kaiyukan Aquarium which I had never been to before!  This is one of the most famous aquariums in Japan so I figured it would be the perfect date spot.  Unfortunately since it was a holiday,  a lot of other people had the same idea so we had to wait an hour to enter.  Luckily it was worth the wait.  I had been to Japan’s largest aquarium in Okinawa years ago, but I hadn’t been to another one in ages so this was refreshing.  In addition to colorful schools of fish, smiling stingrays, and the “Silence Brand” crab, they also had capybara which is my favorite animal there too!  My boyfriend most enjoyed the waddle of penguins (yes, a group of penguins is actually called a “waddle”):

We were very impressed with the large variety of sea creatures here!  I also loved seeing the “Keep distance” penguin sign, though it was an impossible challenge for the over-excited Japanese children here.  I also liked the message that said “all things are connected” at the end.  It really had me thinking for a while.  By the time we finished seeing all of the exhibits here, we were exhausted.  This aquarium is quite huge compared to other underwater exhibits in Japan.

Admission Fee: 2,550 yen (worth in in my opinion)

Not wanting to miss out on every food opportunity that life presented us, we stopped for ramen and ice cream.  The two main food groups.  I bought a capybara souvenir at the aquarium so I could forever remember this moment.  This isn’t the first time this has happened.  My boyfriend chose to eat ramen at Zundoya which has a branch in Osaka.  He said it was some of the best that he’s had in a while.  I tried the Pokemon ice cream flavors at Bakin Robbins, but unfortunately they didn’t live up to the hype.  I give them a 6/10 because they taste like sugary melted soda.  They would be much more satisfying if they contained vodka.  Fortunately that’s what we had next…

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Drinking the galaxy at Mixology Bar Factory & Gear.

Yet another bar that ended up in my Instagram algorithms was called Mixology Bar Factory & Gear.  And boy, it did not disappoint.  It was here that we met a fire bender and drank magical cocktails from the galaxy.  My boyfriend also ordered a Tuxedo Mask-esque drink and another drink that was wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer.  I ordered the “Little Planet” (pictured above) and a mysterious pineapple drink with a bubble that you can pop.  Watching the video is easier than explaining it.  This is peak aesthetic:

The taste of all of these drinks can be described as “works of art” but this Tweet sums our experience up the best:

If you have time, please check this bar out!  The average cost of drinks is 1300 yen but I promise that you won’t be disappointed.  There’s also some “Viagra Liqueur” (the opposite of whiskey dick) for those who are feeling adventurous.  We will remember this bar for the rest of our lives.

Where to Stay

Normally I stay at Asahi Capsule Hotel when I’m alone since it’s one of the cheapest places in Osaka, but since I came here with someone special I wanted to stay somewhere a bit nicer.

This time I chose Felice Hotel because it was only 5000 yen per night for 2 people.  This was within walking distance of Dotonbori and all of the bars we wanted to go to so it was the perfect choice.  Our bed was huge and extremely comfy.  There is also a public onsen bath and a rooftop bar that you can visit.  I would honestly love to stay here again!

Aesthetic Food Finds in Hanoi

As an avid lover of all things that are aesthetic, searching for unique restaurants and trying the most colorful foods around the world is one of my life goals.  As far as Vietnam goes, I noticed most of the trendy bars and cafes were located in Hanoi.  Ho Chi Minh has a lot of upscale restaurants and fancy cuisine from around the world that I enjoyed trying, but Hanoi had the most photogenic food plus the famous “Obama Combo”.

Here are some of my favorite aesthetic restaurants that I discovered in Hanoi.  Please see my first Ho Chi Minh article for some food recommendations there too.

The Unicorn Pub

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The Butterfly Cocktail – One of the most aesthetic drinks I’ve ever had in my life.

“You have entered a different world… one filled with good times and specially-crafted artisan cocktails. Enjoy your journey through our exclusive, fun-filled menu found nowhere else on Earth!” -The Unicorn Pub

While walking down the narrow streets of Hanoi as a tourist, you’ll definitely draw a lot of attention from the locals.  Food vendors with carts will follow you down the road, shop owners will yell and beckon you into their stores full of everything from bootleg designer bags to handmade accessories… At first all of the attention is nice but it gets hard to relax after a while.  My favorite example is when I sat down at a restaurant with outdoor seating and a woman selling fried bananas tried to get me to buy them.  I politely showed her my receipt and explained that I had already ordered food and I didn’t want any, but she started putting the bananas in a bag and tried to sell them for me for a discount.  Even when I started to ignore here, she simply wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Eventually the food that I ordered arrived and she finally left when I started eating, but man…

I understand that these vendors need business, but being polite with how you approach someone is important.  Though I ate at some smaller food stalls to give them business, on my first night in Hanoi I decided to try an upscale bar called The Unicorn Pub to see what the atmosphere was like.  And let me tell you; it was completely worth it!

The Unicorn Pub has by far the best atmosphere and original cocktails that I discovered in Vietnam.  The bar owner is very kind and speaks great English.  She came out and introduced herself and her staff to me and asked what kind of liquor I liked.  I explained that I was an aesthetic food enthusiast (though I didn’t use that terminology exactly) and she already had a cocktail in mind for me.  The very first cocktail I had was the Butterfly Cocktail!  It was sweet and had a mix of fruity liquor and vodka with the adorable butterfly decoration on the rim of the glass.  Next I ordered the Pho Cocktail which is a spicy cocktail that is exclusive to this bar.  It takes a precise level of mixology to prepare this concoction, but the flavor is out of this world!  I have never seen a drink prepared with such care before.

This bar draws in a number of foreigners and locals so it has a good mix of people.  The guy sitting next to me was Vietnamese and was telling me all about Sapa village.  I unfortunately couldn’t fit it in on this itinerary, but I’d really like to travel there in the future.  He was sipping on some 38% alcohol which I couldn’t read the name of, so the bartender let me have a sip.  I can’t even remember the taste but mixing liquors sure is an adventure in itself.  Conversation flowed easy after that.  I ended my night with some kind of lemon cocktail and walked back 10 mins to my hostel.  I added all of the people at the bar on Facebook and I still keep in touch with them today.  Fortunately the corona virus hasn’t spread as much in Vietnam and this bar is still in business!  I’ll be sure to come back some day.

Egg Coffee at Cafe Giang

Egg Coffee is without a doubt one of the biggest food memes in Vietnam.  It was invented in the 1940s while there was a milk shortage.  The true recipe is unknown but it is said to contain egg, butter, and cheese along with a coffee base.  Giang Cafe is one of the best coffee shops to try egg coffee in Vietnam.  According to The Guardian, currently the son of the coffee’s inventor runs the shop.  Not knowing what to expect, I ordered a hot glass of the standard egg coffee.  It surprisingly didn’t taste like egg at all; it had a creamy coffee texture almost like a latte but much thicker.  Plus I bet it’s still healthier than most drinks at Starbucks!  I would recommend trying a cup while you are here because it’s quite satisfying.

The “Obama Combo” at Hương Liên Bún Chả Obama

Ah yes, another great meme.  My friend informed me that there was a famous bun cha (pork and noodle) restaurant that Obama once ate at while he visited Vietnam.  This had such an impact on their business that they added “Obama” to the name of their restaurant.  Is Hương Liên Bún Chả Obama worth the hype?  The ingredients in bun cha are undoubtedly delicious, but this restaurant is pretty standard in what it offers.  There unfortunately weren’t many vegetarian options here but I had fun checking this place out and ordered my noodles without pork.  The Obama Combo tasted good, but it was higher-priced than other places and I prefer eating pho.  If you go, be sure you walk up all the floors so you can see all the framed Obama photos.  It must have been the greatest moment of honor for this restaurant!

Aroi Dessert Cafe

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Beary Delicious!

Aroi Dessert Cafe is a cozy relaxing space that’s open 24 hours and serves the cutest desserts!  I came here to charge my portable wifi and try one of their famous bear cakes.  It was light, fluffy, and filled with chocolate.  Exactly what I needed after walking around the city all day.  In addition to cakes they have a large selection of coffee and fruity cocktails.  It’s really easy to kill time here between planning your next move so I would recommend it!  I recall the chairs being extremely comfy too.

Oh Manh!

Remember my story about the old lady who tried to sell me fried bananas?  I narrowly escaped her by ordering this sandwich and showing her my receipt.  Oh manh!  A Spicy Perspective describes manh as “one of the most vibrant and delicious sandwiches in the world” and I can agree.  Manh is usually filled with pork and fresh vegetables, but the stall I ate at in central Hanoi had a vegetarian option too!  The pickled vegetables in the grilled baguette topped with mayo and spices definitely made my day.

Thank you for reading yet another aesthetic food article for me!  I hope to take another trip to Vietnam when things start to calm down.

Temple Hopping through Angkor Wat after Eating Happy Pizza (Part 1)

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Angkor Wat’s nostalgic reflection in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Traditionally every year during the half of October I spend my birthday alone on a remote island in Asia.  Traveling to the final destination takes a lot of research and effort, but in return gives me valuable time to reflect on life and also become acquainted with a new culture.  Past destinations have included Okinawa and Yakushima (Japan) and Phu Quoc (Vietnam), which were all unforgettable experiences that have taught me a lot about myself and the stunning world around me.  This year I wanted to go somewhere similar that had tropical beaches and lush nature so I could relax and do photography.  Since I’ve already been to Thailand twice and loved it, I decided to try one of its adventurous neighboring countries: Cambodia.

Cambodia is beautiful, less developed country with a sad past (which I’ll get into later), but is now extremely safe for foreign tourists and backpackers to travel to.  Like Thailand and Vietnam, the majority of people you will meet speak English and are quite friendly.  On a rainy day while I was in Australia, I came up with a tentative Cambodia itinerary which I managed to successfully complete in the 10 days while I was here.  Please take a look at it for reference if you plan on traveling to Cambodia in the future!

Overall, this trip was extremely eye-opening and completely changed my outlook on how I should live my life.  Staying 4 days on a small Cambodian island in a village that only stretched for about a mile taught me how to live frugally compared to my extravagant city life.  The villagers there were extremely kind and I was always surrounded by friendly people that took care of me.  This really helped me let go of a lot of anxieties and insecurities I had that were holding me back recently.  Though I have many caring friends in all the countries I have visited, being in this setting helped me resurface to reality and form an entirely new perspective so I could enter a new mindset that I couldn’t reach before.  I am very excited to start this blog series and share the knowledge I have gained with others.

Exploring Siem Reap’s Pub Street

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Pub Street: A endless expat all-night party complete with strobe lights and neon signs.

I chose Siem Reap as my first destination simply because it is the cheapest city to fly to from Tokyo and has all of the famous temples to explore.  Fortunately getting a visa to Cambodia is quite easy; all you need to do is fill out a form and pay $30 to enter the country for a short-term stay.  You can do this upon arrival, but I applied for an e-visa through Cambodia’s official government website.  This will speed up the process and ensure your swift entry into the country.  *Please be wary of other advertised e-visa websites on Google because they are often double in price.

I arrived to the center of the city around 9pm, just in time to try some of the infamous “happy pizza” adjacent to Pub Street–every bar lover’s dream.  What is happy pizza exactly, and why is it sold openly around Cambodia?

According to The Culture Trip:

Traditionally, marijuana was used as a herb in some Khmer dishes to complement the flavour. In the provinces, it’s also used by some for medicinal purposes.

Though recreational marijuana is illegal in Cambodia and most Asian countries, the “happy” foods and drinks sold here create a loophole in which it can be safely consumed by travelers.  In addition to happy pizza, they also have regular pizza and food here as well.  I decided to try the Happy Angkor Pizza restaurant first due to its raving Google Reviews:

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Needless to say, I was extremely satisfied with the light vegetarian pizza I ordered, so I tried another nearby restaurant called Ecstatic Pizza too.  “Why just be happy, when you can be ecstatic?” the official website questions you.  After my long 10 hour flight, I definitely needed to relax and the “add some extra :)” for a mere $3 more on my receipt did just the trick.  I felt calm and ready to explore the rest of Pub Street.

What I walked into was a street full of strobe lights, loud music, and people from around the world dancing in a trance under the light of the moon.  Fortunately I was in the perfect state of mind to join them:

Angkor What?

The first bar I checked out was called Angkor What? which is a hilarious pun of the famous temple I was going to the next day.  It is actually the oldest bar in Siem Reap and has been “Promoting Irresponsible Drinking since 1998” (though the atmosphere was kind and welcoming with no overly drunk people like in Tokyo).  It’s mindblowing to think about how the oldest bar in Siem Reap is actually younger than me!

Though obviously aimed at expats, I enjoyed Pub Street more than I have other expat drinking holes I have visited in Japan and Thailand.  This is because the street only stretches for a few blocks and is not overly crowded with obnoxious tourists.  Most drinks are priced from $3 – $5 and are extremely affordable.  The menus contained a variety of imported beers, fruity cocktails, and other hard liquors.  Despite the dirt-cheap prices, I was pleasantly surprised to not run into any reckless drinkers–everyone that I met was just drinking to relax and enjoy the night.  And that’s how it should be.

After having my fill I wandered through the night markets (which are a lot similar to those found in Vietnam), walked by a few “Doc of Fish” massage places (I’ve already tried this in Tokyo and it’s quite a weird sensation), then I decided to go back to my hotel.  I stayed in a private room at the Jasmin Hotel for less than $20 a night.  I highly recommend it because it is close to the center of the city and has a beautiful pool.  I was able to sleep peacefully and wake up in time for my tour the next day, as well as finish my morning workout.

I will be writing in detail about my trek through the famous Angkor Wat temples in my next blog entry this week.  Thank you to all of my readers!  I will try to be as open and honest about my experiences here as possible.

My Favorite Bars in Singapore: Nineteen80, Platform 1904, and Don’t Tell Mama

Singapore is not only home to the courageous Merlion, but is also a reputably safe country to go drinking in.  Like many big cities in Asia, Singapore has no shortage of unique night life places to explore until the early hours of the morning.  The plus is that almost everyone in this country speaks English among other languages and are generally helpful and willing to talk to you.  Most bars and clubs usually stay open until 1am-4am depending on the day.  Essentially whatever you’re in the mood for you’ll probably find here!

A lot of people enjoy drinking in the upscale Clarke Quay district near the heart of the city, but I did my best to venture off the beaten path and into the bars with unique themes and original cocktails.  Here are my top picks:

Nineteen80

When I was researching bars online, the name and theme of this one caught my attention right away.  Who doesn’t love a Nintendo-themed bar?!  Not only that, but they also have a number of Midway Arcade machines available to play, a worthy collection of cartridges displayed on the wall, and an original hand-drawn menu (my favorite was the shooters page).  There are also DJs that frequently play a handful of genres depending on the event.  I came during oldies night which wasn’t really my taste, but I still enjoyed the atmosphere of the bar.  Seeing “It’s on like Donkey Kong” written in the Sega font IRL in a foreign country was surreal.

The downside was the crowd was mostly drunken expats, and the music was loud so it was difficult to hear anyone.  Nineteen80 is definitely a “get up and dance” bar when they have weekend parties, so be sure to come here when you have properly pre-gamed (fortunately I had).  The cover fee was around 18 SD, but that included one drink so it wasn’t bad.  If the music was more my type, I’m sure I would have stayed here a lot longer.

This bar is situated near Chinatown, and is also in the gay district so there are a lot of interesting bars nearby.  I would recommend getting here before your main destination on your barhopping journey.

Platform 1904

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The deer seats add an interesting aesthetic to this Harry Potter cafe.

As someone who’s been a Harry Potter fan for more than half of their life, I could not pass up the opportunity to go to this magically themed cafe.  They not only brew magical potions filled with booze, but also have a full food menu with delicately crafted desserts.  I had previously gone to the Wizarding Worlds Cafe in Tokyo and had a great experience, so I wanted to see how this place measured up.  Platform 1904 has a more extensive menu and less of a wait time since it’s a permanent establishment (as compared to the pop-up cafe that I went to).  I enjoyed ordering a golden snitch cake and the Flaming Brew Cocktail because the presentation was very elaborate:

In addition to the golden snitch cake, there are many other colorful pastries for sale that all beautifully capture the Harry Potter theme:

The only downside of this cafe was the price.  I could buy a lot more food for a cheaper price at most restaurants around this area, but I came here once again for the experience.  One dish and one dessert are pretty filling, plus I mastered the art of potions class and took some neat photos in the process!

This restaurant is located Serangoon Road where many of the hostels are, so I was able to walk here.

Don’t Tell Mama

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What mama don’t know won’t hurt her.

First of all, I love the name of this restaurant–it truly stands out for being a Korean bistro.  Second of all, I love the shochu cocktails here.  They are absolutely gigantic and craftily tipped into a glass of margarita mix to create a wonderful flavor.  Though I’ve been to Korea twice, I’ve never seen a cocktail like this before:

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What happens in Singapore stays in Singapore.

In addition to this crazy concoction, they also have a ton of westernized Korean food available.  The kimchi fries caught my eye, but the downside of this bar was that all of the portion sizes were too huge for one person to finish.  Though I very much enjoyed my shochu cocktail, I was only able to get through half of it.  I looked around and nobody else at the bar was able to finish it either!  Though in this case it was worth the money, I wish they sold their food and drinks in smaller portion sizes so it wouldn’t get wasted.

This bar is located near Chinatown not far from Nineteen80.  I recommend getting only one drink here, else you will easily get full.

Overall I was extremely happy with my bar choices, because I had the chance to try so many crazy things that I’ll always remember.  I hope that those traveling through Singapore find my experiences helpful!

The Best Mixology Bar in Tokyo: Bar Benfiddich

If you are looking for a unique bar experience with no menu but endless possibilities, Bar Benfiddich in Shinjuku, Tokyo is the bar for you.  With a selection of fresh fruits, vegetables, chocolates, herbs, and spices, mixology master Hiroyasu Kayama will whip up amazing cocktails with ingredients you’ve never even thought of trying before.  I’ve been to this bar a total of three different times and have never once been disappointed.

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A bashful Snorlax won at the game center nearby sips on some fine scotch at the bar counter.  His look says it all.

On my first time there, I decided to request something fruity with vodka as the base.  The bartender pulled out a basket of fruit and I selected strawberries and bananas for my cocktail.  He also mixed in some chocolate to give it a nice kick. In addition to that, you can choose from the selection of bottles on the wall or ask for something specific if you have anything in mind.  Chances are this bar will have it or will be able to create something similar, plus they have their own array of homemade liquors that will make for quite the evening out.

If you come to this bar, be sure to come early because it opens at 7pm and usually fills up before 10pm.  There are now 2 floors in the same building available for seating, but I would still try to come ahead of time because reservations are generally not accepted.

Though Japan is full of bars due to the loose liquor laws, your efforts for coming to this bar in particular will be rewarded with some of the most elegant drinks you’ve ever had!  Be sure to bring at least 6000 yen with you so you can sample more than one.

 

The Adventure of Hakodate, Monkeys, and Squid! (Part 1)

Over the weekend I went on a two day trip to the charming city of Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan!  This town has been on my travel list for a while because of its famous dancing squid dish and gorgeous views from the top of Mt. Hakodate.  Why I chose to go this weekend is because Nakata Yasutaka played a show at Riviera (in Sapporo), so I figured it would be the perfect combination of sightseeing and listening to my favorite music.

The first place on my list was Yunokawa Onsen to see the hot-tubbing monkeys!  This was very close to the airport and inexpensive to travel to by taxi.  I was happy to skip town for this scenic view:

Seeing monkeys bathe was definitely an experience.  Though you can’t bathe with them, there are a number of hotels that are part of Yunokawa where you can use onsen!  Here is a comprehensive list, including those that are available to day trippers.  I took a very relaxing bath at Hotel Banso which had an amazing aroma sauna, then took the tram to Mt. Hakodate to see this glistening view of the city:

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A lot of people say that the city lights of Hakodate glisten like a jewelry box, and it’s very true!  You can take a cable car to the top of the mountain from 10am to 10pm to witness this breathtaking view.  The sensation that I got from being up here was truly amazing–I felt like I could finally clear my head after being in Tokyo for so long.

This town is very peaceful and is probably the closest place that I’ve been to in Japan that resembles the countryside where I grew up in America (minus the squid, monkeys, and mountains).  It’s very quiet, the people are friendly, and there are a lot of parks and rivers.  However, I think Hakodate is definitely more fun!  A lot of towns in America are suburbs, but Hakodate has a lot of nature so it is better for sightseeing.

After my wonderful experience on the mountain, I went to Bar Jey’s in central Hakodate and was whipped up an impressive cocktail:

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There is not a lot of nightlife in Hakodate, but there are a number of fantastic bars!  Because I am a budget traveler, I stayed at Hakodate’s only net cafe called Eye Cafe.  It is cheap and close to Fort Goryokaku and is very convenient.  I will cover the rest of my adventures in my next post!  Please look forward to it.