Went over to mm’s for lunch. She made many, many jars of homemade tomato sauce so we decided to simply do pasta. I went to the market on the way and got some clams–both on the shell and shelled. The pasta turned out to be really nice, very homemade flavours. She thought it lacked a bit of character, may be next time she’ll cook out the sauce a little more and add more garlic and chili. I thought it was great. We also did the most sacrilegious thing–tomato seafood pasta and we sprinkled cheese on top!! Hahaha.
All of a sudden it got dark, heavy rain and a few bursts of thunder too. The hills visible from her living room were covered with clouds one minute, then they peeked out. I took a snap, then played around filters in snapseed.
Went to visit her dad, running into her brother’s family on the way out. She drove me home, I was showered by 8pm. Didn’t feel like dinner because I was still full from the pasta, just fruit for me.
Met mm for lunch at a new korean place. It’s a branch of the one I went to a couple of times with Mum. It was pretty good so we have another Korean place to go to, yay. I had cold noodles with barbequed pork and mm had her usual seafood tofu pot.
Walked around ikea, we both needed to look at stuff. I continued to look for ideas, a single bed for the helper, shelves and cabinets; mm needed a cabinet or shelf for her bathroom. There were different choices, in order of least expensive to most expensive: a wooden shelf, a pine shelf, an open metal shelf, and a tall cabinet with doors. Each has its own advantage and disadvantage. There’s time to look further.
I was originally going to go home for dinner but decided to stay with her. Her dad is being transferred to another hospital, this one to focus on recovery. She was calling once or twice an hour to check his progress and he finally reached there at 6pm. So we walked over to visit. Her mum came as soon as she knew he arrived, and later we all went to a pasta place for a quick dinner.
In other news, sis made this delicious sticky toffee pudding and brought half over to us. She followed Mary Berry’s recipe to the tee and it was indeed gooey yet light. The pudding wasn’t too sweet, the sauce is sweet but used with restraint it’s balanced. Can really taste the yummy treacle in the pudding.
Somehow it feels like a normal day, I had to look at the calendar to realise it’s a saturday. Days bleed into each other nowadays.
Mum and I went to central to the electrical appliances shop to look at ovens, fridges and washing machines. They also have air-conditioners. I saw a double door fridge that I like, will need to get someone in to measure the stairs and kitchen space.
Lunch was simple noodle soup. There’s some superstition that says must have noodles on birthday to ensure longevity, probably because noodles represent longevity. Anyway, suited our purposes. Popped back to my flat to check mail.
Met sis and gis for tea buffet at the Conrad. Nice atmosphere, small atrium café with not too many tables, and we got a corner table to boot. Debated whether to get the free flow drinks but decided against it. In terms of food, there was more than enough to satisfy the most hungry: salad, dimsum, noodles (more noodles, I had laksa), satay, cheese, fruit, waffle, pastry, ice cream. When I called round the hotels to book, I asked if they offered anything for birthday and the answers were disappointing. The Marriott and Conrad both said they can bring a cake from the buffet selection and ice “happy birthday” on it. I was like, nope. I did the birthday cake myself, took a piece of chestnut cake–one of my favourite–and sis brought a candle. We did a low key birthday celebration, that was fine.
After tea, they all went home. I met up with mm for an hour for a glass of wine. She couldn’t join tea buffet, and she has a family dinner. The dinner as it happens is in the same area as the Conrad so it was convenient.
I was still very full, so didn’t need dinner. Only afterwards did I see a missed text from sis at around 7.30pm asking me to join her and R for dinner. Hahaha, I was already home by 7.30pm.
Travel day. Lounged around in the morning, did laundry, took out batteries and closed the flat down.
At the HK side interchange, we had to get on different buses to go home. I was the first one on my bus, it stood there empty and then all of a sudden scads of people got on until it was full. When it got into town, everyone but 3 people (including me) got off. Eventually it made it to the my stop, close enough for me to walk home.
Last full day, more errands. Bank, market, checked out mm’s other 2 flats. She’s had them a few years as an investment. The flats are completely empty. Not only no plastering or paint, the bathrooms are an empty concrete hole and there are only wires and pipes in the kitchen. Apparently that’s how property is sold, all the buyer gets is a shell.
She’s not feeling 100%, with the beginnings of a cold, so we didn’t do anything more ambitious than poke around the local area. The most interesting thing was we tried steamed milk dessert served in a coconut. Very nice.
Met up with mm’s contractor, who is local and has a car so he can take us to places a little out of the way. This one is a farm restaurant that has its own fish pond, chicken, vegetable garden. Not the fanciest setting or tables, the most important thing is the food is fresh and homemade. We had roast duck, steamed fish, vegetables and a soup made from the stem part of the choy sum and chicken parts. Okay, I love me some offal and am not afraid of trying new organs. The soup had a part of the chicken I’d never seen before, it looks like it comes from a rooster, and that’s all I’m saying.
After lunch he dropped us off at the large park halfway between town centre and mm’s flat. Very nice place, with a lake and very pleasant walking paths. Where we started wasn’t very crowded, but as we headed to the other entrance there were more crowds. People also enjoying a walk in the park, lots of people cycling, and families camped out on the grass. Like literally camped out, they brought their own tents. Pretty good idea, a tent provides shade, storage and shelter if it rains.
We walked the whole afternoon in the park, something like 3hrs. Took the bus to the local market and rummaged around for what to cook for dinner. Ended up with a simple meal of rice, chicken and these round courgettes.
The fruit and veg in the market is good, some vendors simply spread their produce on a mat on the ground. Some are more sophisticated, selling from the back of their bike-vans.
Watched some tv during dinner. I understood none of it, the program we settled on eventually was a feel-good reality program where several presenters took turns telling the stories of brave and patriotic individuals. A father built actual working models of robots for his daughter; a woman waited for her soldier who was teaching at the borders for over 10 years; a group of 80- and 90-year olds told the story of how they travelled to a rural area and started a university. A bit tear-jerky and definitely state-approved tv. Gave up after a while and read my book.
We finally made it to the dim sum place. The problem today is their system is down and food orders aren’t getting through to the kitchen so customers are having to wait a long time for their food. We were in no hurry and still had to cancel a couple of dishes and get the bill.
Then it was bus adventure to Walmart. Buses are really cheap, equivalent to USD 0.25 for the majority of city trips. There are maps at each stop and I can just about decipher the stop names. Plus mm’s complex has 3 entrances and therefore access to different groups of buses.
Walmart was a bust. There was nothing there we wanted to look at, let alone buy. The whole store felt depressed and empty. Much, much worse than US Walmarts. We walked around the rest of the shopping centre and it was a bust too.
The silver lining was, we found a nice café that had 20+ varieties of swissrolls and another 20+ varieties of fruit teas. Perfect. We had iced fruit teas and shared a matcha roll. Quite expensive, more like western prices. The contrast between this type of modern place and streetfood at the market is quite stark.
Dinner was at the same restaurant last night, same table, same people, same food. Saw the elders and children off home and went for a massage with mm’s brother and SIL. The place was pretty cheap but mm and I found it extremely tacky and downright tasteless. All massage places have staff who wear uniform, at this place the massagers were all young women in short skirts and high heels. Completely unnecessary. I didn’t talk to the woman who did my massage, I closed my eyes and napped. I suppose she may be relieved but I’m thinking they are numb to this exploitation.
Mostly local day. Brunch at a small diner serving noodles. For breakfast they have cheung fun too but we were too late. The fried noodles were nice, not too oily or too salty. These hole-in-the-wall places can be very good here.
Rest of the day was pretty boring for me, sitting for a long time at the bank whilst mm sorted out her account. The most interesting thing was seeing this postal delivery van. No pokemon to catch, nothing to read, the tv in the waiting area continually showing either promotional videos or public service announcements. Had no idea what they were showing, couldn’t understand the subtitles. This is the downside of visiting a country where I can’t understand the spoken dialect and can only read 5-10% of the written language. I can usually get by, mostly by ignoring people and trying to understand written stuff by context. Many menus have pictures which help.
After the bank, we attempted to go to Tesco but sadly discovered that it’s closed. Sniff. We were headed towards city centre, since we had time we walked instead of taking a bus or taxi. Taking advantage of the nice weather. Browsed around various shops in the city centre. Bought biscuits, and mm bought a bedsheet & pillowcase set.
Two things we noticed. One is there are dockless bikeshare bikes everywhere. The dominant one is called hello bike but we see some ofo and others. We figured we need a local phone number and local means of payment to sign-up and I don’t have those. Speaking of payment, everybody uses WePay on their smartphone. Paying by cash makes us look old-fashioned or tourists! We were buying sugarcane juice from a street vendor and another customer paid by WePay. We got talking to the vendor and he said it’s a must. The amazing thing is, he told us even beggars have a WePay QR code. It’s actually be fairly widely reported that it may be a scam to harvest personal data. Ugh, when is begging not a scam?
Dinner was with mm’s parents, her brother’s family, and her brother’s in-laws. They seem to go to the same restaurant, they know the food and they get good service too. We rated a private room and the food was the best this trip so far.
We’re going up to mm’s flat in Shunde for the Easter weekend. The aim is to do very little and try to relax. We anticipate little or no internet, since eveything is blocked or not available. Can’t even play pokemongo.
Since we live in different sides, we bought tickets for different starting coach stops. All coaches go to the SZ border where there’s a huge interchange for onward journeys. My coach was at 9.30am. I left early in case there’s traffic but sod’s law happened–the bus arrived within 30sec and there was absolutely no traffic so I got to the coach station before 9am. The ticket collector waved me onto a nearby coach and I was ready to sit there for half an hour. But no, 5mins later the coach left. May be it was an extra one on the schedule? I dunno. I still had to wait a good 45mins for mm to arrive at the interchange.
The rest of the journey was uneventful. We arrived at the destination and got a local bus back to her flat. Dropped our bags and she tried to turn on all the appliances. Thought there was no hot water but actually she forgot she’d removed the batteries for the gas meter! Hahaha. No issue at the end.
Lunch was at the local shopping centre, the regular dim sum restaurant was closed for a private event so we went to a new one. Not as good. There are definitely more shops and restaurants at the shopping centre. Tried going to the bank but the branch had been replaced by a lobby of just ATMs. We looked around and discovered that the branch had moved across the road.
Took a taxi to where the big supermarket is and went to the massage place nearby. Shoulder, back and foot massage for 2hrs. A little sore afterwards because I hadn’t gone to massage for a long time. We wanted to browse around the supermarket quickly then go to dinner; next time we looked at the time it was almost 8pm and we’d been browsing for way longer than we thought. One of the ‘interesting’ things we saw was low alcohol pineapple beer. Scary.
Anyway, the restaurants near the flat would be closed, so we went to one opposite the supermarket. Most restaurants in Shunde are small and tend to specialise in one type of food. Our dinner was a hotpot place, and their specialty is pork parts. We didn’t have the pork offal, though we did get chicken gizzards in addition to the standard beef and lamb. All in all, not too bad but not a place we’d be in any hurry to return to.
Really nice to return to a completely quiet flat. It overlooks a park and a government building complex (office, library, museum) so there’s almost zero noise at night. We did buy a 1GB SIM card that goes through hk servers so we actually could access websites outside the great firewall. Not a lot of motivation to do that, I stuck to reading and mm played her game. Pretty relaxing.
Lazy morning, watched tv mostly. We finally finished watching all the HP films.
We had the remainder of the dumplings for lunch, then drove out to another beach for a walk. So surprised that it was so empty at the weekend. We remember last time we were there we had to wait for people to leave to get a parking space, today there were fewer than 10 cars altogether. There were people fishing at the pier and the students at the watersports school were finishing up their sailing and windsurfing lessons.
There’s a derelict bar at the top of the beach, with abandoned tables and chairs outside so we could sit and watch the sea. A family playing on the sand. A trio of young people lounging around.
And in the bbq area, a group of people enjoying a bbq party. They brought bottles of wine and had set up a couple of hammocks using the railings. Because it was so quiet, they had the use of 2 or 3 grills, one of which they set up a teepee system with two ginormous beef pieces that look like either tomahawk steak or bone-in rib. We got talking to one of the guys, he says he’s a food distributor and got the beef from a butcher friend. It’ll have to be something like that because it looks delicious and expensive.
We didn’t have beef ribs or anything like that ourselves. Went to the market to get clams and prawns. Made a soup with sweetcorn and apple too.
We went out for buffet lunch at a small indian restaurant. They’ve recently renovated, and increased their prices. Still fairly decent value. The buffet is simple and tasty: papadum, salad, vegetable samosa, onion pakora, butter chicken, lamb rogan josh, vegetable curry, beans, daal, fruit, gulab jamun, and unlimited drinks–soft drinks, tea, coffee, beer and best of all, mango lassi. I ended up having 3 or 4 glasses of lassi, and we finished the meal with marsala tea.
The place was full, lots of office workers. We weren’t in any hurry so we sat around after almost everyone had left.
Ran a couple of errands after lunch, then took the slow tram so we can spin pokéstops along the way. I dropped my bag at mm’s place and we took a drive to one of the beaches for a walk. Nice to get some fresh air, and it’s always great to go to the seaside. The beach was moderately busy, by the time we got there it was almost sunset and people were packing up to leave.
Popped by the market after the beach and bought clams and dumplings for dinner.
There was so much tempting and fresh food at the market, we were spoilt for choice. With great reluctance we limited ourselves to fresh clams, blue swimmer crab, and some very interesting small shell abalone that neither of us had seen before. On the way back to mm’s place, there was a pop-up stall selling still moving squid and clams. We got only the squid.
Food this fresh doesn’t need much work. Steamed with a little garlic, and for the abalone some dried orange peel. One dish at a time so piping hot when we started eating. Very sweet and delicious. My favourite was crab and mm’s favourite clams. The abalone were okay, not a lot of flavour although tender.
The squid we’ll reserve for lunch tomorrow. At the market we also got some ripe tomatoes so it’s simply a matter of making a calamari and tomato sauce then throwing in some pasta.
Best day ever! And we didn’t do much. I keep saying I’ll cook lamb rack for mm so today I went over to her place with a couple of racks marinating in olive oil, rosemary and pepper. We can’t just eat lamb so we walked over to the market to look for inspiration. What a great market! We got there around 5pm and stallholders were beginning to discount their produce. Got some portabello mushrooms as well as prawns and clams for starters. The seafood was so fresh that all we needed was to drop them in boiling water. I overcooked the lamb slightly but it had lots of flavour and was still tender.
Opened a bottle of cabernet that a friend of hers brought back from California. Highly recommended, very fruity and not too tannic. Great for sipping whilst cooking and eating.
Watched HP 1 and 2, we decided to watch all 8 films as a goal this coming few weeks. Much more preferable staying home and cooking vs going out to eat.
The sun came out so we went cycling. There’s a waterfront bike path near the velodrome park that we’ve been talking of trying out for a long time. It turned out to be perfect! A little out of the way, we each have to travel around 1hr to get there, but once there it’s pretty easy. We explored signing up for one of the dockless bike schemes that seem to be everywhere nowadays but opted for the more expensive, but safer and more reliable, option of renting from a proper bike shop. We weren’t the only ones, plenty of other people were renting from him too; we’re glad the shop isn’t suffering because of the dockless bikes. The advantage of the dockless bikes is they’re so much cheaper, but that’s about it. Some of the bikes weren’t in the cleanest condition, and they had no gears. The bike shop guy let us try out machines until we found the ones we liked, he checked everything, put in a basket and gave us his mobile number in case of problems. The additional customer service is worth it. May be for other purposes we’ll try the dockless bikes another time.
Like I said, the bike path was great. Well used, but thankfully not overcrowded. Can imagine gridlock at the weekends. There were of course the usual idiots who think they’re Chris Hoy as well as whole families spread out along the entire width but by and large, fairly civilised. After negotiating our way past housing estates, the velodrome and a sports stadium we found our way to the waterfront area. Flat and straight almost the entire way. There was a bridge which provided the only gradient and even then for the lazy, there was a lift.
We brought snacks for a picnic, and there were lots of benches along the waterfront to rest and take in the view. A few boats moored around the end of the canal, a few people put-putting their small boats around. Other people running, walking, just enjoying the day.
We kept track of distance and out and back was only 5k, so a nice gentle day out with fresh air and a bit of exercise.
Cold but sunny day. We decided we needed some fresh air so we headed out to the wetlands countryside area. Late lunch at an AYCE Japanese bbq place, then followed the signs to an “eco farm.” It was a big letdown. They charged an admission fee and it looked from the map outside that the so-called farm consisted of walking paths, small gardens, a playground and a kids’ petting area. There was one other car in the carpark which didn’t bode well either. We decided to save our money and give this placa a miss.
Ended up at the small village at Nam Sang Wai. First thing we saw when we parked the car was a row of dockless bikes that have invaded the city. No fewer than 3 different companies with yellow, green and blue bikes. To the credit of the users, the bikes were parked in a neat row. We saw others in poorer shape elsewhere–covered in mud or just thrown into an unsightly pile. How these schemes make money we don’t know.
The famous “wedding bridge” had been slightly repaired, and handrails added. This is the place where a lot of people come to take wedding pictures, because of the beautiful scenery. The bridge is more a small wooden pier but its location at the side of a canal and the background of trees and a small hill is ideal for photography. This was taken on the iphone and with no adjustments whatsoever. I know, golden hour and all that. Still, pretty.
Walked further into the small village. There are around a dozen houses, mostly metal-cladded and quite run down. People do live there though; we saw a young woman watering her vegetable garden, heard the sound of a tv or radio through the gap of another house, and there’s laundry out to dry in front of several houses. The concrete path turned into one that was basically rotten wooden planks, which is part of the charm.
The wooden planks lead to another small pier, this one at the side of a river/canal. There’s a boatman who rows people across to the other side, probably the shortest river crossing ever. Equivalent to 50p per crossing, add 10p per bike. Very sedate. A sign says it’s around 15mins’ walk to the nearest train station from the other side of the river. During the 10mins that we were there, we saw a good 5-6 people crossing, one came back to this side with his bike and 2 bottles of either detergent or comfort in the basket. Looks like it’s widely used by locals.
We caught the sunset as we were walking back to the car. It was quick! We were both full from lunch, so decided to call it a day. I was home by 7.30pm.
We’re a little tired of hotel breakfasts by now. Noodles or congee seem to be the best choice. We had a few different noodles over the past few days, sometimes they have more condiments, our favourite is when salted eggs made an appearance.
Walked over to emporium and em quartier after breakfast, mainly to check out the gourmet supermarket. I bought mangos and mm bought a large bag of passionfruit. We had late check-out at 2pm so there was time to take a shower.
Enough time in the afternoon to go for a quick massage, this one at the place directly opposite the hotel. Small and other customers were quite noisy, but cheap and the therapists were okay. Definitely liking the location.
Our driver came at 4pm to pick us up, 1hr to the airport in the rush hour traffic. We’ll keep his contact details for next time, he has a fleet of cars and taxis and is knowledgeable and experienced. Check-in, wander around the duty free and early dinner in the airport–thai styled raw prawns, green curry beef, pineapple rice.
Flight was full again, but we got upgraded, yay! The plane arrived late, there was a delay boarding but it caught up so not substantially late. By the time we got our luggage and on the airport express it was past midnight. Got home around 1.30am.
A day on the river. Took a taxi to the shangri-la hotel, after the taxi driver didn’t understand we wanted the mandarin oriental–he took us to a smaller, local hotel called the mandarin. The shangri-la is located on the river, but the area didn’t seem as versatile as sukhumvit. Anyway, the itinerary today included going on the river.
There were different types of boats available. First to approach us were longboat tour guides. They advertised tours lasting from 1.5hrs to 3hrs in a private longboat. I’m guessing the sky’s the limit for price, they’ll hit you for as much as they can. Next to the private pier is the public pier. Two types of boats available. The tourist blue boat offers a day pass for ฿180 (£4), operates like a hop on hop off bus in other cities. Seems like a bargain? Nope. The public river taxis are ฿15 (35p) for a single trip, and it’s not likely anyone will need to take 12 trips to make the tourist boat break even. So advice is, stick with the public express boats.
The orange flagged boat goes to the piers at all the tourist areas. We were able to get seats on our first ride from sathorn pier all the way to thonburi railway pier. Some of the piers are numbered, like sathorn is #1 and thonburi #11. The boats are quick and the river quite busy, especially at the central locations. There are schedules and route maps at all piers.
Great views of Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Royal Grand Palace. We also saw a number of other wats, the church of Santa Cruz, the 24hr flower market and lots of other sights along the river. It was so nice we didn’t want to get off.
When we did get off, we headed towards wang lang market, around 10mins from the pier walking through a teaching hospital. Late lunch at a café at the market with river view. Tom yum soup, stuffed squid, sea bass & pineapple yellow curry. Not too bad, streetfood would have been tastier but this place had more comfortable seating.
The market was part indoors and part outdoors. Mostly clothes, accessories, decorations that were on the cheap and cheerful side. There was a section that was distinctively camden like and we weren’t sure if the clothes and shoes on sale were second hand or new but grubby from being on display for a long time.
The pavement outside the market was lined with streetfood stalls. Again, either fried food or salad. Not that the food we’ve tried hadn’t been tasty, I may lose weight if I lived in thailand for a long time because the style of food isn’t altogether suited to my palate. Or may be it’s because I’m sick this trip, dunno.
Here’s a pic for my friends J&T, they’ve reached Australia in their trip. They posted pictures of entire families on motorbikes when they were in SE Asia, and here’s one with 4 members of the family on one motorbike. By and large, motorbikes in Bangkok have been well behaved and it seems motorbike taxis are very prevalent. Not sure if I dare go on one: no helmet, pretty precarious, can’t speak language so have to haggle for price. Seems to be used a lot by locals. Still have never been on a tuktuk.
We headed to a nearby pier and caught another orange express boat downriver. This one was more crowded, still a nice experience to see the sights on the other side. Destination was Chinatown, and we stopped by sampeng market along the way. Nothing much to see, cheap goods and many stalls closing.
The main stretch of chinatown is yaowarat road, which looks like nathan road in he 1950s. Houses are still in mid-20th century style, and it seems every shop is either an eatery or a gold shop. The neon lights are pretty though, the area really came to life after dark.
We stopped at one of the side streets and took obligatory pics of the streetfood cook with his woks, and the vendor selling edible insects. If I were feeling better, I would have tried the insects: I’m especially interested in grasshopper and the worms though not quite there with the scorpion and large bugs. Actual dinner was satay at a stall where the auntie grilling the sticks wore plastic bag covered sneakers. My friend T told me to look for an auntie with camo shorts and wellington boots, may be this is the right one, or may be it’s another stall at the other side of yaowarat. Ah well.
Followed up the satay with a bowl of bird’s nest soup. Long time since we tried and it was pretty good.
Taxi back to the hotel. Had to walk outside the chinatown area to find one, and had to agree to fixed (no meter) price. No massage tonight, we had one every night on this trip. Resting and packing.
Spent the whole day at chatuchak market, the largest market in Thailand and probably the largest in the world. Around 5mins walk from mo chit bts and no need for a map, just follow the crowd. It has over 15,000 stalls divided into sections and hosts something like 300,000 visitors.
So much to buy and see! Accessories, decorations, clothes, shoes, socks, hats, bags, kitchenware, furniture, lights, herbs & spices. Plus much, much more. The best thing is, the products were rarely repeated. Which also meant, buy there and then because we’d forget and can’t find the stall again. Some stalls allowed bargaining but many didn’t. The only places we tried were when we were buying a few more items.
There’s a whole section of art too.
Let’s see if I remember what we bought: t-shirt for mm, sneakers for both, notebooks, passport holders (with personalised decoration), tuk tuk souvenir, elephant souvenir, fridge magnet, bookmarks, lemongrass wardrobe scent packet, aromatic oil for room, handkerchief, slippers, belts.
Lunch was quick noodles and we stopped at a craft coffee place to rest. The people at the coffee place really knew their stuff and seemed passionate about coffee. The beans come from thailand and they recommended me a blend that was quite light, fruity and not bitter at all for my iced coffee. It tasted more like tea than coffee, a big plus in my book. After more walking, we stopped for mango sticky rice and coconut ice cream.
By the time we headed out, I was exhausted and could barely put one foot in front of the other. We went to emporium supermarket and got rice paper rolls. My lack of appetite continued and I could only eat a few rolls.
Massage at a small place virtually next to the hotel. My back and legs were hurting from previous massages and walking all day, so I was a bit worried. Lots of time spent on feet and legs, and that was really great. The therapist said I felt hot and may be running a fever. Showered back at the hotel and put a cold towel on my head, and yes it felt like I had a temperature. Hopefully I can sleep it off.
The original plan was to visit ayutthaya, the old capital city around 80km from bangkok. We’d even arranged the car for the day. But with me being sick, we cancelled the day trip. I slept till 10am. Didn’t feel dizzy but not much of an appetite. Good thing for noodles for breakfast.
Since we suddenly had more time in the city, we headed to the central shopping areas. Found a pop-up street market next to siam square station. Half the market had stalls selling mainly clothing and accessories. I didn’t have much interest in clothes but the accessories were cute. There were shoes, bags, watches, toys, keychains, and one stall selling nothing but pens.
The other half of the market was all streetfood. We noticed that much of the streetfood was fried with some grilled. Pork is the main meat product with some seafood too. Vegetable selection mainly fresh and spicy looking salads. Pomegranate juice and sometimes mango. We were tempted by grilled prawns and they also had huge slabs of pork belly with crunchy looking crackling. The prawns were okay, some fresher than others. The pork was room temperature, the crackling was good and the meat was quite tender. Also ordered a vegetarian pad thai too. Today’s pad thai was made with the normal noodles, not spaghetti at the treehouse. All in all, a decent enough streetfood lunch.
Took the bts one stop to chit lom. This was our first trip on the bts this time and i must be still sick because we got on the wrong train. This should be hard to do because there are only 2 lines, but that’s what we did, got on the wrong line. Ah well.
There’s an elevated walkway from chit lom station to the shopping centres around. Very much needed, because of the sheer amount of traffic. The elevated walkway went past Erawan shrine, so we stopped there for a minute. I vaguely remember the shrine being in the middle of the road, but I guess its location at a busy junction is similar. The small enclosure was heavy with smoke and incense from worshippers. We hadn’t planned on visiting any of the landmark shrines and wats during the trip, though it was nice to view it from the walkway.
Stopped at Central World and had two fresh coconuts. I’m not allowed cold drinks for the time being (no alcohol either, naturally) and fresh coconut water was perfect. Not a lot to see inside central world so we made our way to the Big C hypermarket. Two stories of food and household items. And extremely crowded with tourists. Compared with the frenzied mob, we were very restrained. I bought two boxes of cereal bars for mum and some snacks; mm bought coconut oil to make body lotion. We also saw bottles of 100-count paracetemol for some ridiculously low price and got that too.
For dinner we headed back to central world where we saw a pop-up streetfood market. They had grilled salt-crusted whole fish, and we got grilled squid too. Took it back to the hotel to eat while resting. The fish we picked was tilapia, suited me because I still didn’t have much of an appetite. Came with an awesome dipping sauce that had a great balance between sweet, sour, and spicy.
The day wasn’t over! We’d booked a massage at another place nearby, this time it was four hands thai massage. It’s the first time either of us tried four hands and it was great. Normally I tend to focus on where the therapist was massaging, and sometimes would sub-consciously tense up in that area. With four hands, it was too distracting because too much was going on. My team worked well together and were quite synchronised; I could tell one was more experienced than the other but both were good. The two hour session was equivalent to a 4-hour session, so we came out feeling very relaxed.
Destination today was the articifial island of bang krachao, located south of the city on the chao praya river. Technically it’s in another province, phra pradaeng, so when we asked the front desk manager, she was a little confused. Luckily, there is plenty of online information by other travellers. The island is mostly car-free and no commercial or high-rise buildings are allowed, to preserve its nature and culture.
We took a taxi to Wat Klong Toey Nai and walked through a small street market with the wat to one side. We weren’t sure the instructions were to walk through the temple grounds or continue on the street and a kind elderly gentleman pointed us down the street. We weren’t even asking and he knew where we wanted to go! At the end of the street is a small pier for boats going to the island, just across the river, ฿10 per person. We let a bike tour group go through first, they all fit, together with their bikes, on a flat long boat.
Our boat was much smaller and narrower. The trip across the river took just a couple of minutes. We walked outside the pier and found that there weren’t much in the vicinity that was walkable, so we rented a bike. ฿70 for the whole day; if ฿10 is 20p, then ฿70 is £1.40. That said, the bikes were pretty basic gearless models aimed at simply getting from one place to another. Good enough for us. We had to leave one ID with them for security deposit though. We hadn’t cycled for a while so both of us were rusty in the beginning. The island isn’t completely car-free and there are also lots of motorbikes so initially we were very careful on the narrow roads.
We were given a hand-drawn (and later discovered to be not-to-scale) map, and I’d also printed one before we left so we had a good idea of our first stop. Sri Nakhon Khuan Khan park, otherwise known as bike park, is around 1km from the pier. Lots of trees, vegetation, a lake and a few bridges.
Really picturesque, especially around the lake. Difficult to take good pics because of the intense midday sun and everything was green. We were in the park for around 30mins, then headed back to the main roads. Stopped at a roadside stall to get fruit, and skipped a few coffee places. There’s a weekend floating market on the island, which would have been interesting to visit. May be next time.
From research and according to the map, a good place to head for is the bangkok treehouse, which has a restaurant and is also a hotel. We used a combination of the paper map and google maps, which took us along alleyways and eventually a narrow, unmarked path.
It was worth it. The treehouse rise above surrounding trees yet blends in harmoniously. There’s an honesty bar selling snacks and drinks, and the restaurant has two upstairs decks with good views across the river to the mainland.
There was a long wait for food, they told us there were a lot of back orders. It was okay, we found a table in the shade and enjoyed our drinks: watermelon smoothie and lime-mint smoothie; the smoothies are more like slush puppies made from fresh fruit. Eventually when the papaya salad and spaghetti pad thai arrived, they were tasty and just what we wanted. I ordered a local leo beer to try it out, tasted pretty bland. Anyway tt was nice to sit and relax after cycling for a couple of hours.
It took us much less time to get back to the pier, because we weren’t looking at the map every few minutes and by then were more confident on the road. The boat had one stop on the island before making its way across the river and it gave us another view of part of the island, of the stilted houses overlooking the river. So much greenery and nature so near the city, it’s a must see and we’ll keep it on our itinerary for future visits.
We’d booked a massage in the sala daeng area so we took a taxi there. Early enough to wander around the shopping centres around the station and dinner was chicken rice and mango sticky rice at streetfood stalls. The massage was at a place called chiwe chiwa, a small family-owned place. We had thai massage this time and the therapists were absolutely phenomenal. Took care of the stiff muscles from a day of cycling and hit the acupressure points on our feet perfectly.
The only issue was, I got unwell near the end of the massage. One minute I was dozing while having my head massaged, the next minute there was a loud buzz in my head, the room spun around and I was literally sick. The aunties took really good care of me, giving me sweet tea and their local tiger balm ointment. Got us a taxi and I sat on the chair in our room to try to get better. Hot shower helped for a minute but I was dizzy and sick again when I tried to lay down in the bed. We think it’s dehydration and heatstroke from the island. It was a hot sunny day, I guess I didn’t drink enough water. Sigh.
Bangkok airport at 2.30am was surprisingly busy, lots of flights arriving. We detoured to the duty free, found nothing special, and proceeded to passport control. Our luggage got to the belt just as we arrived. We read that the best exchange rates are at the airport but weren’t impressed with the rates on offer. We had enough cash to last us a day, so we decided to check out the forex places in the city.
When I was changing my sim card, I discovered to my horror that the casing on my iphone had cracked open on the long side, the screen was warped and the inside circuit boards were showing. The phone still worked fine so there’s nothing I can do until I get home. Fingers crossed it keeps working.
We’d booked a private car transfer with a driver recommended by someone mm knows, and he’d texted us his picture, a pic of his car and the licence plate. We texted him when we arrived and went out to the pick up area to wait for him. It probably was a little more expensive than a regular taxi but there was no danger of him taking the long way (agreed fixed price) and he was polite and nice. Got us to the hotel around 4am. The street outside looked dark with not many streetlights, so we may have to be a bit careful.
The hotel is hyatt place sukhumvit. It’d recently reopened after renovation, which was why the price was so good. There’s a small sitting area on the ground floor and the lobby is on 3/F. Nice modern and spacious area with sofa seating, a small bar, and a vending machine area. We never saw anyone buy anything from the vending machines the entire time we were there. Even the front desk staff told us that we’re better off going to the 7-eleven opposite. The room is large, with a bench at the end of the bed which meant we could both put our suitcases up. Long table with lots of space for me to put my mba and us to put food and other stuff. The best feature of the room is that there are SO.MANY.SOCKETS. For the first time in my memory, I didn’t need to use my extension cord, we were able to plug in all our electronics. There were 2 sockets at each side of the bed, and 2 sets of two at the table. What’s more, the sockets are multi-whatever the name is for being able to take different types of plugs. Our three-pronged UK plugs, my flat US charger for idevices, and if needed, circular European plugs too. I think only Aussie slanted plugs or less common plugs need an adaptor.
After some basic unpacking and shower, time to take a nap. Yes, booking the room the night before sounds like a waste of money, but believe me, it’s worth it simply because we didn’t have to worry about asking if there’s a room available (almost 12hrs before offcial checking in time) and we could get a few hours’ rest.
And since we were booked in the night before, we could have breakfast. The usual selection: bacon, sausage, eggs, salad, fruit, breads, cereal. There was an omelette station and a noodle bar. The noodle was really nice, and I wisely asked for the spicy looking chili sauce on the side. The other food was pretty unremarkable. I didn’t have to break into my own tea bags, they had english breakfast.
The plan today was to take it easy. We explored our street, sukhumvit soi 24, from one end to the other. There’s a 7-eleven across the street from the hotel and several more walking down the street. A couple of other hotels, a smattering of restaurants, quite a number of posh looking apartment blocks, and lots of massage places. One of the places that we noticed when we were researching was a large restaurant called seafood market, with a logo that said “if it swims we have it” where customers pick their seafood and bring it to the chefs to be cooked. We looked inside and were definitely not impressed. The counter was very, very long with lots of choices, from alaskan king crab to lobster to clams to fish. Didn’t look very fresh and pretty expensive too. All the way to the end of the soi was a petrol station and a tesco’s. Not very large supermarket, typical of service stations, we wandered around and headed back.
Had our first street food! Skewers of chicken heart and liver from a street cart halfway down the street. Very tasty and fresh, no horrible stale offal taste. ฿10 each, that’s like 20p (30c for Americans). Looks like we’ll be streetfooding a lot.
The top end of the soi is phrom phong bts station, and the big emporium shopping centre complex. We found the forex place we were looking for at the basement of the emporium, giving a much better rate than at the airport. Explored around the kitchenware department and the gourmet supermarket.
Walking around, trying to find more streetfood. Came across a noodle shop hidden behind cars and a huge sign. The owner waved at us when we stopped and the shop was definitely a land of curiosity. Obviously family owned, half the shop had tables for customers and half looked like their home, with tables, chairs, shelves and stuff everywhere. There were magazines were for sale, displayed on shelves at both sides of the shop. English, French, Italian versions of Hello, Vogue and such like. Wrapped in clear plastic, and looking pretty recent. There was a Hello with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle prominently displayed.
The menu looks like it has 3 items plus a few add-ons but it’s in Thai so we couldn’t read it. So mm went up to the front and picked out what we wanted. I think she pointed at what someone else was eating and said we’ll have that. The proprietors spoke a little english so we weren’t completely lost. We got bowls of noodles with wonton and charsiu, plus coke in a bottle for nostalgia. The noodles were simple yet delicious. Love the place. It’s at one of the sois north of sukhumvit (33, 35 or 37). Total cost of the meal ฿100, or £2.
Rested back at the hotel for a bit, then headed to the asia herb association 5mins down the road for the massage we’d booked in the morning. This is one of the more expensive places we found when researching, but even the longest package that we picked was only around ฿3000. For that we get 4.5hrs: body scrub, aromatic oil massage, herbal ball, foot massage, head & shoulder massage. In most countries, that price (around £60) gets a 60min standard massage. Overall, the massages were good, but not spectacular. Mostly aimed at relaxation, so light pressure instead of the deep intense massages we usually like. Suited the occasion though.
Past 10pm when we finished. Had late dinner at nearby ramen shop.
Mostly waiting. Flight is tomorrow at 0040 so have to leave for airport today. Google maps says it’ll take 1.5hrs on the bus so I left at 8.15pm to get to the check-in area to meet mm at 10pm. Turned out, google maps was being overly cautious and I got there around 9pm. Meanwhile, mm was waiting for her bus for so long that we decided she should get the train instead. I got a mint tea at the agnès b café but didn’t have to wait long.
Check-in and everything else was quick, we had plenty of time to browse around the duty free. I’d thought of getting a bottle of sake so we can enjoy it in our hotel but couldn’t find any. Whisky selection was okay, nothing special. I got a bottle of octomore that I’d been eyeing for a while.
Flight boarding was at 0000, very full. 2-4-2 and I got the last two seats at the window side when I checked in on sunday. Not a huge selection of films or tv, but the flight’s only around 2.5hrs. I watched ep7. They fed us a hot dog and it was perfect because we were getting peckish.
Met mm in the afternoon to visit a friend of ours from KCL. He’s now a professor and manager at a new college that only started about 3 years ago. We wanted to visit the campus, learn more about what they are doing and plan on doing. He treated us to tea and scones at a nearby café and we had a long chat.
Dinner at a streetside place, we had lamb hotpot. It’s one of those places where the tables are literally on the street. Plastic tables, plastic chairs, plastic tablecloth held in place by large binder clips. A bottle of cheap, flavourless lager with the meal. Because that’s what you have.
Walked to the computer district, more of our habitual aimless walking. By the time we got there, around 8pm, most of the stalls had closed or were closing. We found an open stall that sells sim cards and bought a couple of them for our bangkok trip. As regular stalls were closing, other people started spreading their wares on blankets on the pavement. Guess the night market is starting. Most of the good for sale are junk second hand stuff, but it was interesting to look at.
We saw a woman riding a bike that was covered in soft toys earlier and we saw it again, next to one of the closed stalls. The owner must like soft toys. It’s an interesting urban sight, my first pic of 2018.
Although we said goodbye to my cousin’s family yesterday, we saw them again when mum convinced me to join them to visit our grandparents and great-grandmothers at the cemetery. We had an interesting time telling the kids about their great- and great-great-grandparents. My great-aunt (my grandpa’s sister) is still alive, and the kids know her, having gone to visit her in RI several times–they’re only like 4hrs’ drive away. So it was easier to have them relate to her.
They went back to their hotel for other appointments afterwards, this time it was hugging them goodbye for real, they’re flying home tomorrow, sniff. Mum and I had lunch at the foodcourt and she went shopping while I met up with mm. We slowly and aimlessly walked around, covering the flower market, the fruit market, the street that had fish (for pets) shops, and then looking for a birthday card for one of her family friends. It’s surprisingly hard to find cards nowadays and the place we ended up finding a suitable one was at the Catholic shop at one of the old buildings.
There was still time before she had to go to dinner with her folks, so we headed to a craft beer place I saw a while ago. They had a selection of around 20 on tap. I had one called torikage birukatsugan, apparently named after a ninja leader. It’s a black IPA made with lots of hops and dark malts and is roasty and bitter but not overpowering. She had a blueberry fruit beer that is very different from mine–the scent of blueberries come through and it’s very refreshing without being tart.
Nice morning and afternoon. I was home by 6pm to cook dinner.
And, the modem failed. All the lights went off except the power one, which blinked so sporadically and weakly that I could barely see it. I even changed to another wallplug with no success. Called in and luckily the technician will come tomorrow. Meanwhile, I can tether.
Met sis, gis, my cousin and his kids for lunch at a sushi restaurant sis suggested. It used to be a conveyor belt restaurant, but now it’s a sushi train. We order via a tablet, the food is prepared in the kitchen and sent to us on a miniature train. We take the plate and push a button to send the empty train back. It’s very, very cool. Much better than conveyor belt because the food is fresher and we can actually pick what we want instead of sitting around hoping for something good to arrive. The kids loved it.
After lunch, sis had booked us all to go to an escape room game at a place called Lost. The coolness of the day continued. We played a game called Alcatraz, where we were split into 3 teams and locked in 3 cells: Red, Green & Blue. We had to work together, solve puzzles and escape from the cells. The puzzles, in retrospect, were pretty straightforward, but in the moment when everything was unknown and we were all trying to scream at each other, it felt more stressed. Plus there’s always the time limit–45mins. We all managed to escape our cells but ran out of time to solve the last puzzle to escape from the room itself. A huge amount of fun and something I’d do again in a heartbeat. The kids say it’s one of the best they’ve played.
Everyone had separate plans so I ended up sitting in a Mcdonalds for 2hrs drinking one small coke zero and reading on my ipad. This branch is pretty good, not very crowded. I was waiting for mm to finish to meet her to help her with shopping. Her family is having a gathering this weekend and doing a New Year’s version of Christmas Secret Santa. The budget is local$200, but the difficulty is the gift has to be suitable for her parents (in their 70s) as well as her nieces and nephew (teen and pre-teen). I gave her a magnetic noughts-and-crosses game I’d originally bought for my nieces and she got a box of nice biscuits and a bottle of sparkling grape juice. Under budget too.
We weren’t that hungry so dinner was just noodles. Went to HMV to have a beer and chat for a bit until time to go home.
It doesn’t feel like Christmas. I turn around and it’s Christmas Eve already. We have zero decorations at home and only managed to get gifts for my cousin’s family yesterday at the last minute.
Met mm in the afternoon for a simple walk at the fishing village she can reach by ferry. I took the train and walked 10mins. We walked to the end of the promenade, where the shrine is, then back. Played a little pokemon go, some new gen 3 came out.
Took the ferry back to her place and it was perfect timing to catch the sunset. Found a hotpot restaurant nearby with unlimited food and they had beer too. Not a huge selection, but suited us. The small selection is probably why we were able to walk-in at 6.30pm.
I was going to take the bus home but mm said she’d drive me. Which involved getting the emergency mechanic out to jump start the car, the battery is so dead that even the doors couldn’t open. We drove to a nearby dessert place but decided against switching off the car so I went and got takeaway dessert. We ate in the car at the park near me, still with the car idling. Hopefully the drive recharges the batteries.
Met uncle A and auntie J to visit my grandparents and great-grandmothers at the cemetery. As usual we met at the flower market, but when mum and I got there, the usual flower shop has closed down. In its place is an empty shop currently undergoing renovation. Mum usually gets handmade small baskets but most of the other shops don’t do them. We walked around and decided to get some really beautiful potted flowers instead. For my grandparents we got a large pot of…some red flowers and for the great-grandmothers smaller pots of…other red flowers. Okay, I’m really terrible at flowers and I forgot to take pictures.
Quick lunch of wonton noodles, this place used to serve giant wontons but nowadays they are definitely deflated. Also got a dish of deep fried fish balls, so piping hot when they came to the table they scalded the tongue. There was enough time to walk around before meeting my uncle and aunt and we ended up in a small supermarket that sells a lot of Tesco products. I have my eye on olive oil, juice and wine. Will need to make a shopping trip one day.
We were efficient at the cemetery. There were quite a number of people there today, unusual for a weekday. The weather was nice, a little cooler than before so may be that’s why.
Had tea and cakes afterwards and then we said our goodbyes. Mum went shopping and I took the bus to mm’s place. I was really early so I bought some snacks and walked one stop. We were going to skive but then her mum texted inviting us to dinner. There was about an hour before we had to get going so we tried to fit in a happy hour drink. Didn’t work. We’d only started on our drink when I glanced at the clock and it was already 5.20pm. We were supposed to pick her dad up and then drive to the restaurant at 5.30pm. Yikes. So we asked the bar if they had takeaway cups and thankfully, it being a mexican place, they had those plastic cups with dome lids they probably use for margaritas. We hurried and managed to get to her dad’s place at 5.45pm.
Dinner was nice, her mum’s friend P was also there. I managed to take an orange and some dessert home with me.
A rare bbmm day out on a weekday. Met mm for dinner because we hadn’t seen each other for a while, and we both needed cheering up.
I went there early to walk around and to scout for possible restaurants. There’s a sous-vide steak place I found online and the prices look okay. Reviews are not good though, a lot of service related issues. Even if the food is good, if the service is rude it’s a big no-no for a restaurant.
There was even time to explore the so-called bar street where a number of drinking holes have sprung up. Mostly the same prices and mostly beer focused–a bucket of beer for xxx or discount on tap and bottled beer. I found one near the station and had a pint of murphy’s. I don’t think I will go to those bars again, they charge for “nuts” which made the price of that pint way too high. I hadn’t expected it and didn’t read the fine print carefully enough so it’s a lesson learned.
In the end, we had an easy dinner of congee at a local place. Many other customers were there for full scale dinner but we were fine with something simple. Just give us a decent place to sit and chat without feeling rushed. Lots to update on her work, family and a mutual friend who is just admitted to hospital for a minor surgery. We debated whether to get in touch or visit the friend, who hadn’t told us. In the end, our conclusion is to pretend we didn’t know because that’s probably what our friend wanted.
It’s also world mental health day, so we talked a little about the importance of making sure we take care of our mental health. Sometimes it means other people will need to take a back seat because we have to take care of ourselves first. It’s not being selfish or inconsiderate. If we’re not in good health, there is no way we can take on the worries of other people.
This was a much needed few hours together. Nothing special in terms of location or cuisine but so essential to both our well-being.
We went out for a drive to one of the far away suburbs. 45mins from where I live, which is a long way here. (Okay, we took the longer way that didn’t go through an expensive tunnel, which added around 10mins or so.)
The covered carparks in the town centre were expensive, so we found one of those unofficial carparks just outside the immediate centre. There are altogether around 30 spaces there and the poor guy who was at the entrance was in a booth but no air-con. We decided we’d always find these types of carparks going forward.
Just wandered around for an hour or so at the shops, mainly a furniture/home accessories shop. It’s a chain so the shoe rack mm saw and was interested in she could get elsewhere near where she lives. Went to the market and poked around the vegetable stalls that were having a late afternoon sale. Cheap veg but quality not so good. We both ended up buying some noodles.
Dinner was ayce hotpot. It came with a small selection of sashimi, a plate of A4 wagyu beef, and assorted seafood–mostly clams with some fish and a couple of oysters. We don’t go crazy with ayce menus anymore, carefully picking the food we like. The normal beef was good too, and we also ordered lamb slices and lots of prawns. Most hotpot restaurants also offer noodles and dumplings, cheap filling food so people will order less seafood and red meat, most like.
Non-alcoholic drinks were included, as was ice cream. We both had 2 small tubs; my sesame and red bean were okay, mm had red bean and mango which she said tasted exactly like the three-flavour ice cream we used to have when we were young. Tasted artificial to me, but there was a nostalgic factor.
An easygoing afternoon and evening, which suited us.
And just because I’m feeling random, here are some penguins taking a selfie. (Waiheke Island, Auckland, NZ)
My tenant moved out. We exchanged emails around 2 weeks ago so I know he’s accepted a job offer in another country but I didn’t know that he’d be flying out so soon. He left the keys in the mailbox.
To his credit, he had professional cleaners come in and clean the flat. He also left his large coffee table, a dirt devil vacuum cleaner, a doorframe pull up bar and a modem which he should have returned to the internet provider. He also left lots of beer and vitamin water in the fridge–there must be 20 bottles of beer and 10 bottles of vitamin water. Now I have to figure out what to do with the flat next.
I didn’t have too much time to spend at the flat, I was rushing to a doctor’s appointment to clear my blocked ears. Yeah, I finally decided to get them sorted. It was nice to live at reduced volume but it’s not ideal. I’ve been to this ENT doc since I was young and he knows my ear health history. He poked and vacuumed the gunk out of my ears, pretty uncomfortable but effective. Expensive though, around USD80 and that was without medicine.
Took a bus back across the harbour to Sam’s. He out-did himself this time. Gave me an even better than normal haircut and within 40mins too. This time he cut it shorter than before and it feels so good to have so much of the thickness gone.
Went to the supermarket and bought a couple of bulbs of fennel. Seeing so many contestants use fennel on masterchef gave me a hankering after it. Organic and imported so very expensive. Almost USD10 for two small/medium bulbs. Ah well. Sis gave me a voucher for this supermarket and I still have quite a lot of balance left.
By then it was around 5.30pm and I’d been running around since 1pm. Have over an hour till meeting mm for dinner. Decided on beer over wine so walked over to frites with their huge belgian beer selection. I wanted to see if they have St Bernadus abt 12, which I came across very often when I was googling Westvleteren 12. The story is shortly after WW2 the owners of St Bernadus brewery and the trappist monks from nearby St Sixtus monastery had an arrangement where they would share equipment and location. More importantly, the brewmaster from Westvleteren brought over the recipes, the know-how and the St. Sixtus yeast strain. The arrangement stopped in 1992 when the trappist monks decided that authentic trappist beer could only be brewed and sold within monastery walls. Nevertheless, St Bernadus continued with the recipe.
The long and short of it is, St Bernadus is the nearest alternative to the extremely rare Westvleteren 12.
I didn’t know enough when I was tasting the Westvleteren 12 to get a bottle of St Bernadus too. So I’m comparing a beer today with one I tasted a month ago. There are similarities and differences. Both are dark, creamy and complex. The Westvleteren was richer, smoother and had more dried fruit notes. The St Bernadus seemed more aerated and towards the end, I felt it tasted like any other dark ale whereas the Westvleteren was fruity and rich even at the end.
I still think the St Bernadus is a top-notch beer. Frites has happy hour monday to friday between 3-8pm and it was half price. With Westvleteren extremely difficult to get, I’ll be back again to taste the St Bernadus and I won’t feel like it’s a second choice.
Met mm at the travel agent’s to get some information about cruises and resorts. Her mum’s doc says she can go on short breaks and it will likely be beneficial. But she can’t go too far away and preferably as little travel hassle as possible. It was the doc who suggested cruises. There are definitely advantages, mostly it’s the minimum amount of travelling and yet she can enjoy going away.
We’re limited by the total number of days, preferably under a week. There are only a few itineraries that fit the criteria. Vietnam, Taiwan, Japan. And the Japan one is only as far as Okinawa. I knew Okinawa is south of mainland Japan but I didn’t realise it’s that far south. It’s nearer to Taiwan. From brief research, it’s mainly a beach resort type of destination.
The Okinawa cruise is on the huge Ovation of the Seas. Over 4000 passengers, 167000 tons. One day at sea, then arriving at Okinawa at 1pm. Stay overnight then leave at 2pm the next day. Another day at sea. Truth be told, it’s an odd itinerary and doesn’t give a lot of time on the island.
Went with mm to buy a new fridge. She’s needed to replace her existing one for a while, but the available dimensions in her kitchen really limited her options. In the end there were only 1 or 2 models that fit the space. Seems like fridges have become deeper and less wide than before.
After getting the fridge we went to PP where we were supposed to have dinner with her family. It was only 4.30pm so there was time to walk around or find somewhere to sit. Surprised to see bizou had happy hour. On a saturday, that was unexpected. 2-for-1 plus a small snack selection. Salad, cheese, prosciutto, watermelon, pineapple. We were both careful not to eat too much because of dinner. I had a few plates of just salad after my first plate with cheese and prosciutto. She had a tempranillo from australia and I had a petit syrah from new zealand. Two unexpected origins for these two grapes. No complaints.
Dinner was in the usual restaurant. Excellent ordering by her mum, there was a perfect amount of food and very little leftovers. I left with an orange.
Typhoon coming again–we had T10 on wednesday already. By the time I was at the bus-stop it was T3 and the wind was definitely picking up when I got home.
Went over to mm’s parents’ place for dinner. Her mum is looking better, more energy and alert and she’s up and walking around. They have 2 helpers now, one to take care of household chores and the other is a carer for auntie. The household helper apparently isn’t a very good cook so mm and auntie were supervising the cooking today.
Simple home cooked meal, limited by what auntie can eat. Steamed eggs, steamed pork, steamed fish, vegetables. Yes, mostly steamed but there was plenty for everyone, tasted good and everyone had a nice dinner. We opened a bottle of wine and shared with auntie’s friend. After dinner we played a game of checkers then it was time for them to get some rest.
Staying with mm tonight. Initially we thought we might chat but after showering we were too tired and went to bed.
Went to the hospital to visit mm’s mum, she found out she was ill mid-july when I was in chicago. I’ve been trying to support and cheer up mm. I feel guilty about being in chicago when it all happened and she was all on her own taking care of her parents. I feel much better that I’m close by and she can talk to me more.
After the hospital visit we went for a quick drink at the salted pig, one of those places along the shoreline 5mins’ walk from her place. She had a wine and I had a rather expensive craft beer. It being saturday 8pm everything was full price.
Ordered crackling which inexplicably came with guacamole. Guac from a jar, no taste of fresh avo at all, ugh. The crackling tasted like it was from a packet too, which was surprising because this was supposed to be a pig restaurant.
Staying over with her tonight, so we can talk till later and I don’t have to take a taxi home. We’re both pretty exhausted, early to rest.
Met mm after her appointment. Lots of catching up, just a couple of cups of tea. Then went walking for a bit, went to a gift shop so I can get some small presents then to a clothing store where she got a t-shirt. I was looking at some cargo pants and when I put it back my finger caught the metal hanger. At first it was an annoyance, then it started bleeding quite heavily. The staff reacted quickly and put 2 plasters over it. It’s like a paper cut but much deeper.
On the way to the restaurant for dinner we came across a small craft beer store with a blackboard outside that said free tasting. They were featuring beers by Singapore brewlander brewery and we got to chat with their brewer John Wei. He started as a home brewer and only started producing commercially a few months ago. The beer is actually brewed at premises he rented in Cambodia. The first beer we tried was a light, floral brew that is supposed to be perfect for the hot, humid tropical summer. We also tried their saison beer and liked both.
For dinner we went to a japanese ayce place. I think I was there with my parents a long time ago but haven’t been there with mm. The usual ordering method by ticking various pieces of paper of sashimi, sushi, grilled, deep fried etc. The sashimi selection was good, although not fantastic. They had a special offer of complimentary uni which was well received. Drinks including sake, beer, soft drinks were buffet style so we can fill our own sake jug. I tried half a glass of Orion beer and it wasn’t as good as the brewlander so I stuck to sake and tea.
Meeting mm’s family for lunch. The weather is grotty and heavy rain and thunderstorms all day. She said 12.30pm. When I arrived at the restaurant around 10mins early, I couldn’t see anyone. No one by the correct name on the reservation list either. I sat on one of those plastic circular stools in the lift lobby to wait.
Around 12.50pm, mm called. They changed the restaurant without telling her, which had the knock-on effect of not telling me.
I was pissed. Jumped on a minibus to go to the new restaurant but at the back of my mind I was considering not going. Poor mm, I took it out on her because she’s the nearest. It’s not her fault and she was very angry too.
I’ll probably not go to a lunch or dinner with them for a while.
The main purpose of us meeting up was to go to sam’s. I needed a haircut and she wanted highlights. I waited till he got her started then he cut my hair then I waited till she finished. I could have gone out to walk around or pokemon but the weather was simply too bad.
Dinner was at passion, opposite sam’s. We got a whole bottle of house red and munched on a brie & onion palette (flat bread), braised pork rib with chickpeas and a 3 item salad of beetroot, quinoa & feta and orzo.
It was absolutely chucking down with rain when we left. I got a taxi and thought she would too, but she went to the sweet shop and took a bus.
Met mm for drinks. She had a rollercoaster day of expectations and disappointment. We’re both in need of social support.
I told her I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own room. The atmosphere at home is miserable. I have no patience to listen to pointless talk or answer inane questions. I can’t deal with stupidity and ignorance and laziness from a lifetime of having other people taking care of everything. I don’t know how much longer I can stand this.
Bless her, mm said she’s only an uber away and I should pack an uber bag in case I need it. What got me depressed was I couldn’t think of where I could store my uber bag. There’s crap everywhere. Things that no longer work and we’ve bought replacements for. Empty boxes. The clear plastic bag toilet paper came in.
I then realised I don’t need a full bag, definitely not my emergency go bag or stuff recommended on quora like a knife or documents. So now I’ve packed a plastic bag of basic toiletries, medicine, t-shirt and shorts. Small enough to quickly stuff inside my regular backpack. Everything else mm will have. Unless the situation is very dire it’ll only be for a night or two. If the situation is dire, I’ll be packing a suitcase.
With only so few items, I don’t really need to pre-pack. But it made me feel marginally better. I also learned about ranger rolling and skivvy rolling clothing. The ranger roll is very neat and skivvy roll puts socks and underwear inside a larger item of clothing.
Met mm and lily for lunch to share japan travel experience. At first we talked about going together but extensive communication with lily showed that we have different travel styles so best if we stuck to sharing experiences.
We went to toast box and had laksa. It’s a casual semi-fast food place so we could sit there as long as we liked; and we ended up having more drinks. Singapore place, so teh-o for me. It was a hot day but dry so we walked around for a bit after lunch.
Lily went home for dinner and we continued to look for a replacement fridge. My credit card points run out tomorrow so we were especially in a hurry. The problem was the available space, width and height were okay but not deep enough for most of the models we thought we okay. The smart shop assistant suggested we call up the bank to check if I can extend the points and, yay, success! Three months’ extension which solves the urgency issue.
We had wine and pizza at hmv café to celebrate and then went to find this ice cream stall. I had 2 vouchers for a free ice cream cone that expire tomorrow and no extension this time. This was from a chocolate place called dalloyau that we’d never heard of. Their shops are in the high-end shopping centres and they seem to peddle expensive chocolate, cake and coffee. The vouchers are for specifically, chocolate truffle ice cream.
As soon as the assistant handed me the cone I knew it wasn’t quite the chocolate truffle we were thinking of. Instead of truffle made from hot cream/milk and chocolate, this is truffle the mushroom-fungus that grows in the ground and gets shaved over food like pasta and omelettes. The smell is distinctive. The problem for me, it overwhelmed the rich chocolate taste of the ice cream and left an unpleasant aftertaste.
Adding truffle to a dish instantly signals it’s something luxurious and exclusive. And like the gold leaf ice cream we didn’t try in Kanazawa, truffle in ice cream screams of pretentiousness, pointlessness and frankly, lack of palette. At least gold doesn’t taste of anything. I have come across truffle in dessert before and mushroom dessert is unusual, but can be tasty. Obviously no one in dalloyau watched the episode on MKR where truffled truffles with truffle ice cream got creamed by the judges.
The conclusion is, this shop added a luxurious ingredient for marketing purposes and we are clearly not shallow enough to be in their target market.
Met mm to go fridge shopping. Alas she forgot to bring measurements so we ended up just looking. There are a couple of models that we like. The preference is to have the freezer compartment at the bottom. The supervisor at the store told us to make sure to measure: a) available space, not size of current fridge; b) available width of kitchen with door open to its maximum. Good advice.
Went to the supermarket and bought ready-to-eat stuff: pork knuckle, whelks, chicken wings. Opened a bottle of wine. It’s not like in Japan where we have too many choices of places to eat. We couldn’t think of a restaurant so home was best.
Finished writing up trip and uploaded pics. This was a fantastic trip, and I’m very glad I insisted on going to a new destination rather than Hokkaido or Tokyo. It was a bit hectic, we tried to cram probably one or two stops too many, but we both agree it was worth the hassle. Having a car really, really helped. Some numbers:
duration: 8 days, 7 nights
hotels: 4 total
distance driven: 882km (548 miles)
pics taken: 976 original, trimmed to 696 in 6 sets
Total spend excluding personal shopping around USD2,200 per person. The package was decent value, notwithstanding the 4 nights that the agent incorrectly booked. They confirmed they will refund my credit card, so it’s all good. Transport was expensive, between car rental, tolls, and the alpine route ticket. Looking a past Japan expenses, transportation is always expensive.
Checked out at 10am. We had loads of time, slowly wheeled our luggage across the station to catch the train to the airport. In retrospect we should have left our bags with the hotel and gone looking for chicken wings, but ah well.
The counter wasn’t open so we took our luggage with us to the food court. Had a decent local fish chirashi, then some shopping at muji and the pokemon store.
Flight was full, but we’d strategically picked aisle seats in the middle section and the seat between us was vacant, so yay. Watched Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them which was very enjoyable. Too tired to get the bus home, took a taxi.
Sniff sniff, our last full day. It’d been a hectic trip, we probably tried to cram in too much. But all of the places we visited had been worth it.
Went to a bakery café at the station for breakfast, bought additional bread and doughnuts for the road too. Went to the supermarket to get apples, and bought a small bottle of sake.
The drive to nagoya was just over 3hrs so we had plenty of time, setting off at 10.45am. Around half an hour in, we saw the signs for gokayama so we decided to take the detour. Gokayama is another world heritage gassho heritage village like Shirakawa-go. Somehow we ended up at Suganuma despite following the signs. No matter, what a revelation. Smaller than Shirakawa-go but so much more peaceful and with only a handful of tourists. All the houses were concentrated around a small area and there were even workers working to replace the roof of one of the houses.
Lunch was soba, fried tofu, hida beef buns and unfiltered sake. All the delicious food we have been trying on the trip. The other side of the main village, through a short tunnel, were more gassho houses. Completely empty, until we noticed a map that said it was a youth camp. Probably the off-season and it seemed like a great place to camp in the summer. Both Suganuma and Shirakawa-go offered ryokan accommodation; next time it’d be something we will consider. Tha facilities would be basic, no air-con and likely shared bathrooms, but the villages offered tranquility and the opportunity to get away into nature.
Long drive back to nagoya and the GPS took us to some odd building, not our hotel. Google maps to the rescue, it was just a few blocks out. The hotel was a higher class business class hotel than the no-frills one we were supposed to be booked into. Double the price. Really nice room with large beds, a sofa and a large bathroom. Top floor with floor length windows offering views of the city. Just a few minutes’ walk from the station. We went to the petro station, returned our car (882km total, less than one tank of petrol and an eye-popping ¥18650 in tolls), walked to Jins to get our glasses and did some drugstrore shopping.
Seemed like the Chūbu region is more famed for cooked food than sashimi so we walked around the station looking for chicken wings. This izakaya we came across was cozy and had a great Friday evening atmosphere. Our new favourite drink was umeshu soda and we ordered 10 chicken wings, plus an assortment of other small dishes. Another new favourite was cucumber with miso, this we could make at home easily.
Last minute shopping at lawson’s then back to hotel to pack and rest for the night.
At last, a leisurely day with no huge pressure to wake up early. First stop was the fish market, which after more walking than we preferred, we found a place that served sushi. We both got the tuna, ikura and crabmeat chirashi. Some Korean tv crew came into the restaurant whilst we were eating and filmed some tv star eating the restaurant’s largest sushi dish at one of the outside tables. It attracted a crowd, but we were never sure who the star was so we focused on eating our meal. The sushi was okay, nothing special. Had grilled eel and fish at another nearby stall and then we left for our next destination.
The highlight of Kanazawa was Kenrukuen garden, one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens. It had all the elements of great garden design like tranquility, harmony, water feature. Although it was fairly crowded, we never felt bothered and we could always find a quiet spot. There was a beautiful lake, and the trees and flowers were in perfect harmony with each other. A great place to walk around, breathe in the fresh air and take in the features.
Even the shops outside were nice, we bought even more folders and I got a salty soda which tasted like upmarket fizzy pocari. We saw a group of three women in kimonos, whether they were geishas or just women in traditional costumes we didn’t know.
From the garden we drove to higashi chaya tea house district. Traditional wooden houses in a pedstrian district, the houses used to be inhabited by geishas, hence the tea house aspect. Lots of picture opportunities and we stopped at a teahouse–iced matcha for me, hot matcha latte for mm and we shared a tea-flavoured chiffon cake. One thing we did resist throughout the day was the gold leaf covered ice cream that seemd to be everywhere. Kanazawa produces the majority of Japan’s gold leaves and these ice cream are supposed to be unique. Problem was, gold leaves are tasteless and we didn’t see the point of trying plain vanilla soft serve. We had green tea and sesame ice cream near kenrukuen and it was much better.
A few minutes from higashi chaya across town was a shopping district. We hadn’t done much shopping on this trip so it was nice to stop by tokyu hands. Bought some stationery and mm bought more cosmetics. Looking at google maps we saw a nearby chicken restaurant. We were early so were the only customers. The chicken skewers and chicken wings were nice, but nothing to write home about, so we went back to the hotel for ramen, bath and dessert in our room.
Our travel agent had been in touch throughout the past two days, trying to find a hotel for us in nagoya. Not successful, so we’re keeping the one we reserved ourselves.
6.30am alarm, we set off before 7.30am. The destination was tateyama-kurobe alpine route 立山黒部, or alpenroute as they shortened it. This region of the japanese alps get huge amounts of snow every winter and the buildings at the top of tateyama are snowed in until they can get snow ploughs going in march. A narrow corridor gets opened along the road up to the hotel at the top and the snow can reach 20m. A few years ago they realised they could turn this into a tourist attraction, and in typical Japanese fashion, came up with a route that goes from Tateyama up the mountain, along the snow corridor, down via ropeway and cable car to Kurobe dam on the other side. Several different modes of transport on one ticket. There are also a couple of companies that lets people drop off their car and then pick it up on the other side. We opted for a return from Tateyama to Kurobe dam and I bought the ticket online earlier, with a specific start time of 10am.
The GPS guidance up to now had been stellar. The navi systems in Japan allows us to enter a phone number of the destination as well as name. There was a hiccup this time round to Tateyama, almost at the end it took us to a steep footpath with an abrupt dropoff on the driver’s side. I shouldn’t have followed it but I did. Luckily we got through and rejoined the road, but it was scary for a moment.
We had experience with a planned, organised route through a sightseeing area before when we did the Hakone loop, but that didn’t prepare us for the sheer mayhem that was the alpenroute. We joined the queue at 9.55am for the 10am cable car, which was completely full. It took us up a 24% incline to the next stop where we joined another queue for the bus, which was also full. So full that a few people had to sit on the additional tour guide seats that opened up between the regular seats. The bus trip was almost one hour, and it took us from temperate temperatures to snow. Then we drove through the snow corridor, literally a corridor opened up with walls of snow either side of the road.
We made an executive decision once we got to Murodo, the end of the bus leg and where the snow corridor attraction was. The place was pandemonium, people everywhere. The reason was it was around noon, and people who started their journey on both the east and west points on the route were converging at the same time on Murodo. Since we were going roundtrip as opposed to one way, we decided to get to our end point, Kurobe dam, then make our way back, to avoid the crush. So it was a matter of hopping on even more modes of transportation: a trolley bus that went through a tunnel in the mountain, the ropeway and another cable car.
It was a good decision. The dam was really peaceful and the weather was good. Took around 15mins to walk across to the other side and then it was time for lunch; I had katsu-don and mm had tempura udon. Probably the most disappointing food on the trip so far, definitely below par and tasting like fast food. Served its purpose, filled us up considering we didn’t have a proper breakfast.
Went through the clouds on the way back up and down the mountain, which was an interesting experience. By the time we arrived at the snow corridor it was around 3pm and the crowd had thinned out somewhat. The snow corridor was basically a stretch of road leading to the bus stop, with one side of the road roped off for pedestrians. A sign at the end of the roped area showed where the snow was highest, 16m this winter. People queued up for pictures and the gentleman who took our picture tried to get a bus in the background. As it was nearing the end of the tour day, there were plenty of buses along the road, which was the perfect way of showing how high the wall was. To be honest, at that point we were quite tired from all the travelling and found the snow wall a bit underwhelming. The light didn’t give pictures as good as postcards and the snow wall itself wasn’t pristine white. Still very nice and an interesting sight.
The map showed a trail to a small lake at the back of the building and we thought we might try going there. Problem was the path hadn’t been ploughed and it was slippery to negotiate. We needed boots and poles. Gave up after about 100m and took the bus and cable car back to the bottom of the mountain. I like this pic that shows a bus coming up through the corridor. When we got back down the mountain to Tateyama station we still had a 1.5hr drive back to Kanazawa but it was a good day out and we were back in our room by 7pm.
The hotel recommended a nearby izakaya, around 5mins’ walk. Unfortunately it was full and everyone was smoking so we left and went to one across the road. It was a good choice. I had a much needed beer and we ordered yakitori, chicken wings, chicken cartilege and a really yummy asparagus-mushroom dish. They were sold out of beef and gizzards, and chicken wings too when we tried to order a second portion. We went back to the hotel, went to the bath and had the hotel ramen. Did laundry too, the washers were free and the dryers ¥100 for 20mins.
We asked for a window seat at breakfast and were not disappointed. What a view! The server told us that we were looking at umbrella mountain, the #1 mountain in Gifu Prefecture (Fuji is #1 in Japan, he acknowledged). The breakfast was even more satisfying than yesterday’s, if that was possible. The tray was positively brimming with smal dishes and we got to grill our own fish too.
We set off at 10am to head to Shirakawa-go 白川郷, around 1.5hrs. The village is a UNESCO World Heritage site of gassho thatched cottages, or steep high-sided thatched roofs intended to withstand the heavy snowfalls in winter. The name gassho meant prayer hands, because of the shape the roof made.
The entire site was quite crowded with many tour groups. There was the inevitable commercialisation of the village, with the main street full of souvenir shops and food stands. Didn’t detract from its natural beauty though; after the region attained world heritage status, the houses had to be maintained using thatched roofs but we could see a few that had been modernised before they got the status. We stopped at one of the shops that had a sake bar and ordered one sake and one unfiltered sake. The unfiltered one was absolutely delicious. The intense taste of the rice that was still present in the liquid, so sweet and so satisfying. We bought a jar to take home with us.
We didn’t go inside the houses that were open to the public. At the top of the village was a steep path that led to a viewpoint up the hill. Good exercise and worth the walk. Stunning views of the village, surrounded by green mountains and there was still snow at the top of the mountains in the background. I played around with the tiltshift app on my phone, the small lego-like houses were perfect for this purpose.
Despite the commercialisation, it was still a working village. Away from the main street, villagers were farming the land or in greenhouses. It wasn’t as remote as it seemed–there was no part of Japan that was truly remote–the villagers went about their business, there were plenty of cars around and we saw the post being delivered throughout the day. Lunch was soba with a small bowl of flavoured rice. The cold, refreshing soba dipped in sauce was the perfect lunch, not too heavy and no need for meat.
Explored the lower end of the village and stopped at a café-shop. I had iced matcha latte and mm had coffee. The matcha latte was just like green tea milkshake and better than ice cream. The shop sold cute accessories and stationery; I bought a couple of notebooks for my niece. We’d been stocking up on folders along the way and I had a good selection already.
The last stop of the day was the open air heritage museum. By the time we got there we were the last people to enter and the place was completely empty. Didn’t think the tour groups went there anyway. There were around 20 thatched houses that we learned were transported from the village to the museum and faithfully reconstructed. The interiors were large and open plan. We ventured up to the first floor of one but didn’t go to any more because the stairs were pretty steep and precarious. A couple of houses were showing videos of the village’s history and there was one video of how the thatched roofs were made. Very manual and intensive. Takes a lot of skill and knowhow to add the thick layers in the right way to ensure support and protection. Thick ropes and needles secured the bundles to interior beams.
From Shirakawa-go we headed to Kanazawa for the next 3 nights. When we got to the hotel we discovered to our horror that our agent had booked us on the wrong dates (June instead of May). The hotel front desk staff were wonderful, they got the manager’s approval to let us have a vacant room they saved for emergencies even though they were officially full. Additional cost, but we would claim this from our agent. We discovered the next hotel was also booked for the wrong date and the staff called for us, even though it was a different chain. Unfortunately there were no rooms so first thing we did when we got to our room was hit up hotels.com. Pretty full but I was able to find a room near the station. It was nice to have a bigger room for 3 days, the room was probably saved for VIPs as it was on the top floor and larger than the usual rooms.
Pretty tired after the long day so we walked to the station, found a supermarket and bought sushi to eat back in our room. The hotel had a sento, aka public bath. A small indoor pool, an even smaller outdoor pool and a sauna. The water didn’t feel like onsen water, we could smell chlorine. The sauna was great and much needed after a long day’s walking and driving.
Breakfast at this hotel was served in the restaurant, which was a change. A nicely presented selection of small dishes, with fish as the protein. What was outstanding was the miso heated over shiso leaves: a combination of salty, sweet, smoky. Yum.
Drove out to Takayama, parked in town today. Typical efficient Japanese carpark, only a few spaces with automatic sensor. A ramp comes up underneath the car when it senses movement, when we leave we pay at the machine and it tells us how much. The ramp lowers and we have 3 mins to move the car. We had been noticing yesterday, so were on the lookout for cheaper hourly places.
The destination this morning was miyagawa morning market by the river. Mainly stalls selling fruit, vegetables and some craft. A mix of local and tourists. We bought really huge juicy apples and sake from a sake shop. Stopped at a coffee stall run by an elderly lady. Two things on the menu-coffee and iced coffee–I was even okay with the coffee provided I added lots of cream. There was a sign that the stall had been in business since 1975. We felt proud to be part of its history.
Lunch was at a butcher shop-restaurant. Weekday lunch special, A5 hida beef that we grilled at the table, this time cut in cubes. The best beef on the trip so far in my opinion. Polished off with a bottle of cold sake.
There was more time to walk around Takayama old town, and by the end of the afternoon we had covered almost all of it. It being a monday, there were definitely fewer people than yesterday and we were able to spend more time exploring the souvenir shops, sake shops or take pictures of the traditional wooden houses.
There was even a visit to a miso / soy sauce shop and they were serving samples of miso soup. Discovered the souvenir find of this trip–plastic folders! We’d gotten to the point of not wanting to buy too many souvenirs, and tired of always buying the same mochi or sweets. Folders are cheap, useful and make great souvenirs.
We saved enough time to drive to a drugstore we saw yesterday. Bought tea and mm bought some cosmetics.
Time for onsen before dinner, and a little time to sit at the rest area to have a cup of tea or coffee too. The rest area looked out onto the deck, if we had more time at the hotel it would be so peaceful to sit out there and absorb the mountain view.
Kaiseki dinner started with a really refreshing yogurt liquor. The starters, sashimi, sticky dumpling. Hida beef was cooked as a shabu shabu, and the soup was used to make udon at the end. We were both full by then but the udon was so good we managed to eat a bowl each.
Our hotel included breakfast. It was pretty much a mad scramble with around a hundred people in a canteen-like dining room with long tables and everything self-serve. Curry, rice, scrambled eggs, sausages, heaps of salad, fruit. I made tea from hot water. Even though it was a mad scramble, everyone was well-mannered and organised. No shouting, no pushing, no cutting in line. There was even a queue to return dirty trays and people wiped the table after them using the cloth provided. This is what I love about the Japanese people.
We checked out and crossed the street to pick up our rental car from the toyota rent-a-car office. Spending time on research means picking the correct location. Our car was a blue Aqua, which is the local equivalent of a Prius C so basically we were renting Ryan for a week. Added ETC card rental because we knew there would be lots of tolls.
Attempted to go to the central market but it looked closed so we headed straight onto the motorway towards Takayama. Easy 1.5hr drive. We drove around the town, through the middle of the mass of tourists at the old town area and ended up at a shopping street 10-15mins’ walk from the station. Parking there was free, ostensibly for the shopping street only so we made sure to visit there first. Already we saw stuff we love: Japanese sweets and local sake. The nice lady gave us samples and we tried valiantly to communicate with each other using broken English and copious domo arigatou gozaimasu.
We walked around the old town quickly to find lunch. We knew we wanted hida beef, the local speciality that has similar marbling to kobe and matsuzaka beef. We chose the grilled thin-sliced A5 grade hida beef rice set. It was served hitsumabushi style, with condiments and broth. Fantastic. Tender and juicy beef and everything so well balanced.
We had around 2 hrs after lunch to explore around town. Saw part of the old town main street, bought cute ceramic ornaments, sampled more sake. Ate green tea ice cream that was disappointing (too icy). Bought fruit and tea at the supermarket. Walked back to the shopping street to buy souvenirs and a bottle of sake from the nice lady.
We were on a schedule. It was around 1hr’s drive to the onsen hotel and we wanted to get there before 5pm. It’s a big sprawling hotel with several wings. Luxurious lobby and an entire shelf of yukatas so we could pick the pattern we liked. We found out our dinner slot was at 8pm so that meant we had time to rest. Our room was absolutely wonderful and totally exceeded our expectations. It was a suite! The bedroom was tatami, with low mattresses and more than enough room to lay our suitcases out. Then there was a sitting room with sink and fridge, and a massage chair. The view from the sitting room out to the garden was spectacular, there was a small stream and daffodils just beginning to appear. Best of all, we had our own onsen bathtub, wow. Everything was clean too, so it wasn’t a case of not wanting to touch or use the tub.
There was time before dinner to go to the onsen. There was a large indoor pool, a couple of tubs outside and an outdoor pool. Not too crowded and all very nice. Oh, a low temperature sauna too. We needed the relaxation of an onsen, it was great to just soak in the hot water. Fresh milk was available for free in the small sitting area outside the baths, we shared one bottle so as not to ruin our appetite.
The restaurant was quite posh and as usual the kaiseki menu had lots of courses. Started off with an alcoholic aperitif, then starters, sashimi, sticky dumpling before the main course. It was the local attraction, hida beef, which we grilled ourselves at the table. Really yummy. Finished off with beef pot, rice and dessert.
Even though we’d already used the onsen, I wanted to wash my hair because of the grease and smell from dinner. So I used our private onsen tub. It was okay, took a long time to fill, by then I was bored so I only soaked for a few minutes.
Long day travelling, picturesque traditional town and an outstanding hotel room. Totally worth it.
Early start, 5am alarm because mm was setting off before me and I wanted to make sure she got up. I was planning on catching the 6.30am bus, managed to catch the one before that. It was standing room only! Seemed like I was sharing the bus with airport workers going to work and a few travellers catching early flights. Since I was early I went to get the pocket wifi before meeting mm. Check-in was easy and we were inside quickly. Breakfast was eggs I made yesterday (perfectly soft boiled if I may say so myself) and sandwiches mm made. The alternative would have been Mcdonalds and we only got tea and coffee from them.
The flight was almost full. I got us adjoining aisle seats when I checked in, on purpose. Watched La la land which, for all the hype, was a little disappointing. Not the sort of film I watch on planes.
The plane was a litte early. We checked the transportation board and confirmed that the limited express train was the best way. The information centre had a helpful hand-drawn leaflet too, so cute. Only 30mins to Nagoya main station. Our hotel was around 10mins’ walk and the only difficulty was figuring which direction. Pocket wifi and google maps took care of that. We were only there for one night, so the no-frills business semi-double room suited our purpose.
The area around the station was full of modern buildings and posh shops. Our first destination was Jins glasses shop. My research showed us it was at the station mall and we found it easily enough. Quite comical, trying to get my eyes tested and barely able to communicate with the optican there. I have the frame which I bought in Tokyo and it’s ¥5000 per feature–I needed graduated lenses and I added UV-sensitive coating. Economical price, and I’ll get the new glasses in 1 week.
More research told us foodwise we should be trying the unagi hitsumabushi. The eel in Nagoya are fatter and tastier river eels and they grill the entire fish instead of steaming then grilling in other locations. The idea is to add flavour and smokiness. Hitsumabushi means to sample three ways: plain, then with condiments, then dipped in a dashi broth. We found a restaurant in a mall next to the station and gave it a go. It was definitely tasty, as expected from well executed unagi. Plain, with wasabi and with broth were all great. I ended up mixing the eel and rice with wasabi then eating with the broth.
On the way back to the hotel, we visited drugstores we noticed earlier. Bought snacks and a 2l bottle of tea for travelling. We only started noticing drugstores last time in Tokyo, turns out they have an enormous selection of toiletries, cosmetics but also snacks, household goods, gadgets and interesting stuff.
Went to the bank, changed some yen for our trip. Then met mm at the transport department to get our international driver’s licences. I’m so used to using either my UK or US driver’s licence to rent cars that I almost forgot Japan didn’t accept them. They do accept, amongst others, Swiss driver’s licence but I’ll have to get a certified Japanese translation. Less trouble to get the international one. We tried making an appointment online but couldn’t get one so it was walk-in. Argh, there was a loooooong queue. As usual, it involved queuing up for ages to go to one counter to hand in our application and another queue to pay. At least we got the licence there and didn’t have to go to a third counter. Government bureaucracy. Took 1.5hrs.
Went to happy hour at the place sis and I went to in April. Two-for-one drinks plus a small cold buffet bar with proscuitto, cheese, bread, olives, fruit. Instead of wine or beer or even whisky (they only had Chivas and Jack Daniels) we ordered tequila, after our experience at frites. The drink came with salt and lemon.
There are right and not so right ways of drinking tequila. The clichéd method is salt on back of hand, shot in one then lemon wedge. Or neat, as zagat suggested in the video. We sipped it like whisky. Added a little salt and a drop of lemon juice, but mostly as a slow drink to enjoy the taste. We’re not yet at the point where we know what is good tequila, and I didn’t make a note of the brand. No wonder people get drunk off it, it’s so easy to drink. Good thing there was food. That was my dinner, I didn’t feel like eating anything else; mm had a meeting so I walked with her part ways until my bus stop. I was home by 7.30pm.