Feb 17, 2017

Central Japan Winter Travel Itinerary (Takayama, Kanazawa, Gero and Nagoya)

UNESCO World Heritage - Shirakawago

This is actually my first winter travel in the last 7 years or so since I am back from UK. Most of the time I would avoid winter travel like a plague as I hated the heavy wrapping of layers of clothing and the frozen feeling of my toes and hands. However, this time I took the plunge and went ahead with a winter holiday in central Japan covering mostly Gifu area. We were actually lucky to score a good deal via Thai Airways which we flew to Osaka and back from Nagoya. The air ticket actually cost less than RM 1k (to be exact, its RM 980.90) and we transit for an hour each in Bangkok. We took the overnight flight from KL and reach Osaka the next early morning.
Kanazawa Castle
Day 1 - Kanazawa
We reached Osaka about 6.30 in the morning and we proceed to take the Haruka express to ShinOsaka and then the Thunderbird to Kanazawa. By the time we reached Kanazawa, it's about 12.30pm. As it's yet for us to check in, we decided to get the day bus pass which costs 500 yen and went to our first destination, sushi at Omi-cho market. It was raining the whole day and for the first time, KC actually disagreed with me to share a sushi platter but to have our own platter each instead. Our first sushi costs us about 2200 yen with 10 pieces and the feeling of sushi swimming in my tummy was enough to warm us up for our next stop, Kanazawa castle. We did not entered the castle but instead took some photos outside of the castle compound. Initially we wanted to enter the Kenrouken garden to see the hanging trees with snow but it was raining and no show, hence we decided to save the money instead. We went to Higashi Chaya, the old town of Kanazawa for some nice portrait shots before calling it the day and went back to our hotel for check in. We stayed in Oka Hotel for a night which costs us 5600 yen for one night. The hotel was old but it was comfortable and quite near to the train station. We hoping to catch some snow today but was disappointed that it rained instead.


Day 2 - Takayama
When we stepped out from our hotel the next morning, we were greeted with snow and lots of them. It was such a sight to behold as the last time I saw snow dropping down from the sky was 8 years ago in Edinburgh. The whole town was covered with snow but we did not have much time to admire as we rushed to the train station for our train to Takayama, the highlight of the trip. We took the Shinkansen to Toyoma station and changed to Hida train. We actually got the 5 day Takayama-Hokuriku pass which costs us 14,000 yen in Malaysia and the pass basically covers all our intercity train travel and also Nohi bus. We reached Takayama quite early, around 9.30am and it was snowing!! We were so excited but faced some difficulty in dragging our bags through the snow pavement. And since it's not time to check in yet, we dumped our bags at our hostel, J Hoppers and went out to explore the town. The first time we saw the famous red bridge in Takayama, we were totally blown away. Almost every corner was postcard perfect and we can't stop snapping photos. Plus I had my prime lens with me and every photo turn out great. I practically ooh and ahh at every single photo we took! We took a leisure stroll along the old town and ate soba for lunch. As we had an hour to kill before we can view the sake brewery, we went around the town and stopped by a grocery store. Bad decision as I can't stop buying ramen, soba, and all sorts of Japanese noodle to bring home. Meanwhile, KC was down with stomachache and had to rush off to the nearest toilet.
We joined the sake brewery tour with another two young Western guys as the rest of the guide only speaks Japanese. We get to sample some sake and I even bought a sake for myself eventhough I rarely drinks. I swore Japan has its way of making me want to spend all my money there! As KC was not feeling too well, we went back to the hostel to rest and while she slept, I was too hyper to sleep. Must be the side effect from the sake! We had a simple lunch as a nearby restaurant and went to sleep early.
On the way walking up to the observation point

Pretty gassho covered in snow

Stumble upon this while walking around the village

Day 3 - Shirakawago
I could say this was the highlight of the whole trip and we prepared ourselves with ear muffs, lots of heat pad, thick socks and gloves for the day trip to Shirakawa village. We took the earliest Nohi bus from the bus station and the whole journey was filled with heavy snow. I was a bit worried as we might not be able to get to the view point and we reached Shirakawago around 9am. It was still snowing quite heavy and we took some time to eat our breakfast, pile on the heat pad and a quick toilet break before embarking on the journey to walk up the observation point. Initially, we wanted to take the shuttle but after KC bumped into a girl in the hostel, she specifically mentioned that we need to walk up as the scenery is stunning along the way. As we still deciding to walk or sit on the shuttle, the snow began to stop and we just go ahead with walking. The girl was right! The scenery is stunning, so beautiful that every photo was just like a postcard. We can't stopped gushing at every corner and the 20 minutes journey up turned into 30 minutes. It was not a tough walk and fairly doable. Highly recommended to walk up instead of taking the shuttle. Many bus passes us by and I guess they probably felt pity seeing us walking up but we were actually pity them for not able to appreciate the scenery like we do, haha. Once we reach the observation point, it started snowing again and we loitered in the souvenir shop for some time for the snow to stop. The view? If I were to compare photos from summer/autumn with winter, winter wins hands down! Nothing compare to seeing the little gassho houses covered with white snow !

We spent some time exploring the village, taking photos in every nook and crook and not forgetting posing and using my modelling skills. Pity KC for being forced to model and taking photo of this fake model. When I looked back at the photos at home, every single one of them was gorgeous. I felt like a winter wear model, lol. And for the first time, I had so much good photos of myself instead of my travel partner. We took the 3.15pm bus back to Takayama and since we did not reserve the bus, we went to the bus station earlier. Luckily for us, we managed to get into the bus and reached Takayama around 4.30pm.

Day 4 - Gero
The following day we went to check out the market in Takayama and for the first time, I almost could not feel my fingers and toes. Forgot to bring out my gloves and did not check the weather forecast. Later only we found out that it was -5 degress outside. No wonder my toes and fingers were frozen. We did not stay too long outdoors and we took the 11.30am train to Gero. This is the day we will be spending a night in a ryokan and have our Kaiseki dinner and breakfast. I have booked us a cosy family owned ryokan and the owner was kind enough to fetch us from the train station to the ryokan. This time, the ryokan was larger than the one we had in Hakone but we had to eat at the dining hall instead in our room. I told KC that next time, I want to try out the resort style onsen. Gero town is small and we basically covered it in less than 2 hours. With nothing much to do, we went back to the ryokan and went for our onsen. This time we were not culture shock to shower naked in each otehr presence unlike the first time, lol. The onsen was great and it's good to dip our tired bodies into the hot spring water and unwind. It's time for our multiple course dinner and after that we went out to see the fireworks and a free Kabugi at the nearby hotel. Kabugi is basically like a Japanese opera but since it's spoken in Japanese, we can understand only bits and pieces of the play.

Nabana no Sato

Day 5- Nagoya
We set off from Gero station leaving towards Nagoya around 10am after taking a last dip at the onsen and our breakfast. As it stared snowing in Gero, the whole town was covered in snow. Kind of sad to leave the town when it started snowing and once we reached Nagoya, there was no snow, only rain. The main reason for getting to Nagoya is to see the famous winter illumination, Nabana no Sato. It is located a far bit from Nagoya and we got the package comprising of train, bus and entrance ticket amounting to 3,700 yen. At first, when the train ticket counter told us about the price, we were very shocked as we did not know that it comes with the entrance ticket as well. After getting some assistance from a lady who was stationed nearby the counter who can actually speaks English, only then we realised there's a package with train, bus and entrance. We took the Keitetsu line train from Nagoya station to Kintetsu Nagashima station and then the shuttle to the entrance of the illumination. The entrance ticket included 1000 yen voucher which we used for buying food.

Day 6- Flying back
It's the day to fly back to KL but not forgetting stocking up on Japanese snack in the airport.

Total Cost                                        RM 3,901
Flight                                               RM 980.90
Takayama-Hokuriku pass                RM 561.00
Hotel + Transportation + Souvenir  RM 2,360.00 (actual hotel costs are = RM 860)
If you do not buy much souvenir, RM 3,000 should be enough to cover the entire trip.

Feb 15, 2017

How to Dress for Winter Travel

With my down jacket, blocktech pants, Ugg style boots and a pop of blue

I recently went for a winter trip to Japan and I realised my previous winter clothing in UK were not able to withstand the harsher environment and snowing situation in Japan. Plus I swore never to buy one of those puffy down jackets that makes me looked like a penguin. But this changes after I saw some photos of Japan covered in snow and makes me overhaul my whole winter travel wardrobe.

So how do I managed to survive and bundle up against the winter? Here's are some of the tips

1. Have a good base layer. For this, I bought the Uniqlo Extra Warm Heattech which is very good in keeping the body warm.

2. Get a good down jacket preferably with down duck feather. Check the label to ensure it's feathers. Best is to get one with detachable hoodie and water resistant as I realised winter weather mostly comes with rain and snow. I got mine from Mango Spain which surprisingly is stylish yet warm.

3. Layer and layer and layer up. The best is to wear a few layers and I usually layer a wool based shirt/top after my heattech.

4. Buy lots (and I mean LOTs) of heat pad. I particularly find this very useful after I almost could not feel my toes while walking around Takayama. For your info, I worn a pair of thick woolen socks with Ugg style boots and still my feet are extremely cold. I put the heat pad on top of my toes and the warm feeling makes the walking much more pleasant. I kept some heat pad in my down jacket pocket so that it can keep my fingers warm.

5. Pack gloves and earmuffs. Personally, my hands are not so cold compare to my feet.

6. Pack some colour popping scarf. Trust me, this could change the outfit in an instant and makes your photos pop.

7. I bought a blocktech pants and a heattech legging pants, both from Uniqlo. I find that both the pants can block the wind better than jeans.

Here's come of my ootd shots from Japan
All wrapped up with beanie and gloves
With my shades as a fashion accessories

With my Uniqlo Heattech Leggings Pants. As you can see here, I took out the hoodie
Different way of styling the scarf
Adding shades and different colour scarf brought a different feel

Jan 6, 2017

Viewing the Midnight Sun in Tromso, Norway

First post for 2017! Hopefully I can keep up with the writing and photography this year. Last year I wrote only a grand total of 5 posts for the whole year. Definitely one of my worst year in blogging, career and personal wise, hence the missing in action. I am not a person who make new year resolution or going to recap what happened in 2016 but hopefully this year I can start moving towards achieving some of my long time dreams. Now back to writing business.

View of Tromso

One of my biggest wish travelling to Norway is to witness the midnight sun. During summer, the sun never sets in parts of Northern Norway, at the Attic Circle and since I could not stand bitter cold winter, I have to settle for midnight sun instead of Northern Lights.

Did some research and set on flying to Tromso from Helsinki. What I did not expect was the epic coldness and wind chill which can make the temperature fell below 5 degrees and stupid me for not bringing a pair of gloves. We spent two nights in Tromso and the town was pretty small but fill with stunning scenery and that's how I fall in love with Tromso.

Cold and feels like winter

view from the harbour

The town is practically surrounded by mountains

On the first day, we decided to take the cable car up to the viewing point at night to see the midnight sun. Instead of the sun, we were 'rewarded' with windchill and I practically ran back and forth between the viewing point and the waiting room to warm myself. Scenery wise; astounding and eerily beautiful.

The next morning, we took the city bus day ticket costing NOK110 and went out of the city center. We went to Telegrafbukta to see the amazing mountain view and Prestvannet for the lake and it was quite easy to navigate around using the bus.

View from Telegrafbukta

And we are the only two person there

From Prestvannet
Even the view from the airport is amazing. While many travel guide would recommend coming to Tromso for the Northern Lights, I would say ditch that and come here for the midnight sun. It's less colder, less tourist plus the sun never sets!

Amazing scenery even we were about to fly off 
We actually walked out from the airport after checking in to take more photos

Dec 21, 2016

Hiking the Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) at Stavanger, Norway

The famous Pulpit Rock, inspiration for the Frozen movie

One of my dreams of going to Norway to hike some of the famous landmarks but I realised most of them are quite difficult to reach either with public transport or it's still snowing when I was there in May, one of them being the famous Troll's Tongue. So imagine my surprised when I googled for Pultpit Rock and it's a doable day trip from Stavanger, and Stavanger was not part of my initial itinerary. I decided to cut short my days in Bergen and did a trip to Stavanger, just to hike the famous Pulpit Rock. I read that Frozen's backdrop is inspired by Pulpit Rock and when I was at the top, I know why!

So it began my research on how to get there the most cost efficient way. I read that most people will take about 3-4 hours ascending and descending from the Rock and I budgeted that I would take around 5 hours. 

There is no direct train services from Bergen to Stavanger, so the most reliable option is to get onto a bus, which takes around 4-5 hours. It costs about NOK 400. It's advisable to book the tickets online from the website before reaching there as the bus was quite full when I boarded. 

I booked myself a nice studio apartment at City Housing- Kirkebakken 8 for my two night stay in Stavanger which cost around NOK 1200. I was ready to conquer the Rock! 
Ferry schedule from Stavanger to Tau
The package combination by Tide bus
 To get to Stavanger, you need to first take a ferry from the harbour in Stavanger to Tau,  then transferred to a bus which will take you to the starting point of the hike. There's a package combining both the ferry and the bus but I decided to take it separately as the cost was cheaper that way. The package cost NOK 300 for return but if not mistaken, buying the ferry tickets only cost NOK 110 for return and bus NOK150 return. Be mindful that there are two bus companies to Pulpit Rock and I took the green one (Boreal) instead of the Tide bus (which is package together with the ferry).
The start of the hike

The dramatic drop of the Rock

Enjoying the view

The fjord, alternatively you can take a cruise to view the Rock from the fjord 

Me and the Rock

I started the hike around 9am. The hike is fairly easy at the beginning but turn rocky from the middle towards the end. It took me about 2 hours to reach the Rock and I was rewarded with the most beautiful scenery ever. Feels like singing 'Let me go' on top of the Rock, hehe. To get the view of the Rock against the fjord, I climbed up to another level and just sat there to enjoy the view and had my salmon sandwich, lol.

After that, it was descending time and me being the very clumsy type, managed to slip and fall a few times and got a few scratches from the trip. Painful but very rewarding hike.

Dec 14, 2016

Norway in a Nutshell On Your Own

Little coloured houses at Myrdal station

Wow, time flies! And it's already end of the year. Personally many things had happened this year and I had gone through major changes within a year. Not going to dwell much on my personal front in a public space but let's just say I grew up a lot from the experience and learn to love myself more and hence more shopping and travelling guilt.

Been meant to share about my experience of doing the Norway in the Nutshell on my own but after my laptop crashed, the idea had been shelved for months. Well, better late than never. Basically, Norway in a Nutshell is a combination of bus, train and ferry from Oslo to Bergen or vice versa which is something like this:

Oslo → Myrdal → Flam→Gundvagen→Voss→Bergen

You can actually booked Norway in a Nutshell via a tour but basically the tour requires you to take the train, bus and ferry as well.  So I guess I tried to save some money and did the whole thing on my own using the Norwegian train timetable and this website as a guide. The tour can be done in a day but I decided to break the journey into two days and spend a night in Flam.
Check out all the snow

Never been so excited to see snow in May

The red lady which I thought is a ghost

My plan was to start from Oslo and took the train to Flam but along the way, we need to change train at Myrdal to a smaller train, Flamsbana. What I did not expect was in May, I can still see snow along the way. In fact, it was still snow in Myrdal which makes the weather pretty cold and pretty, haha. The Flamsbana will stop along some pretty stops for tourists to take photos. Do spot the lady in red singing at the waterfall. For a second I thought I heard and saw a ghost!! The whole journey through the Flamsbana is very interesting and very very scenic. And once it gets into Flam, the town is very pretty although it was raining by the time I reached there and there went all my plans to do some hiking around the town. I ended up just walking around the town to get some food and went to bed early. I stayed in Flam hostel which was not too far away from the train station and the ferry port. Basically the port and the train station is just next to each other. I had booked for the earliest ferry to Gundvagen at 8am. Glad that I took such an early ferry as I managed to snap some really good photos although the sky seemed quite cloudy along the whole cruise. There were only me and this other Korean family in the ferry.
As the Flamsbana going into Flam town

View on the cruise 

Love the reflection. Early morning before the ferry ride to Gundvagen

It's gloomy yet it's so mysterious

When I reached Gundvagen, I got a bit confused as I was not aware of the bus schedule to Voss and waited almost an hour for the bus. Take bus number 950 from the bus stop just right in front of the souvenir shop.  The bus timetable is slightly different during summer and winter. I read that there's actually an express bus to Bergen from Gundvagen but one of the perks of getting the bus to Voss and then train to Bergen was the view. As the bus to Voss will take you up to the Stalheim hotel which will goes through Stalheimskleiva hairpin road which cost around NOK 110. That was one of the highlight of the trip! Once in Voss, it's just a direct affair to Bergen using the train.

Total rough estimate for my diy Norway in a Nutshell trip (as prices may change depending when you reserved for the train from Oslo to Flam)

Train from Oslo to Flam     NOK 800
Ferry to Gundvagen            NOK  260
Bus to Voss                         NOK 110
Train to Bergen                   NOK 94
Accommodation in Flam    NOK 300
Total                                    NOK  1564
which is still cheaper than the tour quoted at NOK 1770

Jul 5, 2016

Conquering Mount Rinjani

People who know me well, knows that I hate camping, hate the feeling of stickiness and not be able to shower even for a day. But somehow, I end up signing up for a 3 days 2 nights including CAMPING to Rinjani!

It all started when I got  message from a friend asking me whether I am interested for a hike to Rinjani. I was like Rinjani what?!! Then I ask her day trip ah? She said no and there is camping involved. I told her no way I am going as I hate camping. But I asked another two friends and they said yes and somehow due to my yolo spirit and kiasuness of not wanting to ffk these two friends whom I persuaded to join the trip, I end up buying the flight ticket and paying for the 'camping' trip. I did not do much research nor train much other than hiking up Gunung Nuang two weeks prior and a two hour hike up to Pulpit Rock when I was in Norway. 

The day came when we boarded the flight to Lombok and then another two hours on the road to the foot of the mountain. Our group consist of total of 16 people with 8 were from the same group/clique. I prepared myself for the worst as we ate dinner and take a long shower before hitting the bed. We had three guides, Sarwan, Anan and Erun with another 16 porters bringing our big rucksacks, food, gas, tent, chairs and etc...yes...they brought even chairs up to the mountain, something we very much appreciated later on. We were briefed on the route and the hours for each route the night before. Physically I was prepared, mentally I was not sure..more like mentally not going to shower for 3 days. The plan is to use Sembalun trail for ascent and then Senaru for descent and spend 1 night each at the crater rim and hot spring. 
Carb loading before the hike

Our hotel at the foot of the hill

First stop. Let's take a photo
Our group of 16
(photo credit to tour leader)
The real deal is on the right hand side of the photo
(photo credit to tour leader)

We started the day around 9 am after having a heavy breakfast. The day was hot and humid and not long after 10 mins, I have started to sweat and asking myself why would I signed up for this. After about 1 hour, we took a small break eating bananas and filling up our tummies. This was before we reached Post 1 and it's already crazily hot and felt like in a savannah. After about two hours we reached the spot for our lunch, which is Post 2. We saw some half naked Dannish man running up along the trail and stopped at the same spot as us. My tour leader in his finest sense of humour decided he needed to take the moment of half naked men in full glory and captured us in his photos. Well, as least there were something for us girls to look back in the future:) After seemed like a more than hour of lunch and three bowl of rice for myself (I have never taken more than half a bowl of rice at home), we continue the journey, this time through the hot savannah field with not a single tree for shade.
Lunch for the day
(photo credit to tour leader)
cooking in the progress. the porter even brought a gas stove along!

check out all the stuff the porter has the carry
Oh and not forgetting that every few minutes, I felt like I was being 'chased' by one of the lady in our group. Apparently, after I told this to my other friends, they said the same thing of her trying to catch up with me and another girl. Sigh..it's not a race my dear! I conserved my energy and used most of the yoga breathing and small steps to hike up the Bukit Penyesalan, where there are seven small hills to be hiked. After seemed like eternity, we reached the camping site but to my horrow, it's surrounded by mist and I can barely see anything, let alone the lake or the peak of Rinjani. Apparently, our tent were set up at the most strategic spot overlooking the lake, but all I can see is layers and layers of mist. We settled down for the night and imagine my big surprise and happiness when we were provided with mattress and pillows. Ok, don't expect like the soft mattress and pillows in hotel but they were good enough for me, someone who hates camping! We washed up or more like using sheets and sheets of wet tissue for 'shower' and then I went out to 'survey' on the makeshift toilet prepared for us. Surprisingly again, it was far exceeded my expectation or maybe my expectation has been lowered down after witnessing how bad the toilet situation back in Everest Base camp. Soon after, we had our dinner and once again, it's a fight to get the chicken, lol.

The next morning, we were woken up around 1.30 am to ascent the peak in time to catch the sunrise. Before the trip, I repeatedly told my friends that I am not gonna try ascending the peak and I just wanna chill at the camp while waiting for sunrise. But somehow, kiasuness kicks in again and off I went in the dark, dusty, full of rocks and sand trail. We started the journey quite late and I knew that I won't make it for the sunrise and hence took my own sweet time to hike up. The first 70% of the trail was ok, fairly doable but the last 30% where the loose sand, rocks, volcanic dust and not forgetting the chill wind which I swear was blowing at almost 80km/h. Every three steps up were followed by two steps down and it was so demotivating that after half an hour, I barely move 50m! I spotted our guide, Sar and Anan along the way and many thanks to them that I managed to reach the peak at 8am. I even asked Anan to shield the 80km/h wind for me, lol.
the toughest part of the journey
(photo credit to tour leader)

Only manage to catch the sunrise mid way

The lake is totally covered in clouds
tour leader making his signature coffee tarik

Made it to the top

What I did't expect was it was really cold up at the peak and I was practically shivering through my jacket and uniqlo extra warm heattech. And while waiting for my tour leader who tried so desperately to light up the fire to boil his coffee tarik, a signature drink that he must do everytime he went up any peak of mountain or hill. After the arrival of the last member of the group, we did some group shots and savoured our hot coffee tarik. Then it's time to head down and here comes the tough part. You see, I have no qualms of climbing up any mountain but I have trouble going down. With the loose rocks and sand, I fell down more than 10 times and I think after that, one of the guide took pity of me and kind of fed up that I was so slow that he proceed to help me 'figure skate' down the mountain! At one point, I fell and almost dragged him down with me, almost making him the first guide in history to 'tergolek' down, lol. With the skating down part, I had to stop every 30 minutes to get the sand and rocks out of my shoe before continuing the skating and after 3 hours I finally managed to reach the campsite in one piece but covered in volcanic dust from head to toe. As it was almost 1pm, we had to make a decision whether to proceed to the hot spring or stay another night at the campsite. As I was too 'pancit' to walk anymore, I voted for another night and the same with the others. Meanwhile 8 others will descent back to the foot of the mountain to catch the transport to the Gili Island. I think our decision to stay on made the guides and porters extremely happy as the dinner for the night, we get to eat two whole chicken between the 8 of us instead fighting over a small piece of chicken like the other night!
Dinner in progress
(photo credit to tour leader)

BBQ chicken, two whole chicken instead of bite size chicken
(photo credit to tour leader)

After conquering Rinjani
(photo credit to tour leader)

Camping in style

Segera Anak lake

We were so happy to finally see the lake 
The decision to stay another night at the campsite proved to be the best decision made as we managed to catch up on sleep, rest and finally able to see the lake in front of our tent during sunset. We also enjoyed gazing at the stars at night with the warmth from the campfire while trying to guess the title of the movies mentioned by our guides, haha. During the night, it rained but surprisingly it was quite warm in the camp. I was surprised that I was really enjoying my stay in the camp and quite chill about not showering for the 2 full days.

We enjoyed our hike down which turn took us about 8 hours plus lunch in between as we played, sang, jump and skipped along. I think our guide must be thinking these people were crazy and they might as well joined in the fun, lol
Plenty of Edelweiss

And my guide keep asking me to take a photo of him with the cow

Another jump in front of Rinjani

Crazy things that we do while descending
(photo credit to tour leader)

See what I mean, even our guide Sar and Anan joined in the fun

Didn't know that a can of coke can make us this happy
Rolling hills of Rinjani

And finally we made it back in one piece with 3 days of dirt and unforgetable memories
 Going on this trip made me cherished little things in life such as comfortable bed, meat, shower, being in good company and having good health. It is also my first ever camping trip that I really enjoyed and this time around, my leg was fully recovered from the ache by the second day, unlike the previous time in KK when it took me a week to fully recover. I guess being prepared and doing some yoga really helps a lot. To all the porters and the guide we had, trully appreaciate what they did, taking care of us for the past few days and not forgetting tour leader for organising this and lastly, my dear friend who first contacted and asked me,"Eh, wanna go hike Rinjani or not"? and to think that I almost ffk her :)