Hong Kong Holiday

​We took an afternoon flight to Hong Kong just in time for New Year’s Eve. This time, we decided to stay on the Kowloon side and got a great rate for the Shangri-la in Tsim Sha Tsui through Pan Pacific Travel. At just over Php 10,000 a night, the rooms were luxurious with alot of space, a rarity in Hong Kong. The hotel is close to the main shopping district along Nathan road, making it a convenient place to stay.

The next day we walked around Nathan road and chanced upon Ah Yat restaurant. Located in the iSquare building, the one Michelin star restaurant boasted amazing views of the harbour. A restaurant known for its Abalone, the selections were plenty. We decided to go with another set menu that included the seafood delicacy along with the ever popular roast duck and suckling pig. The food here is delicious and I would definitely go back!

The last meal of the trip was just steps away from the hotel. Found on the second floor of the Tsim Sha Tsui Centre, Shanghai Min is a chain restaurant with locations all around Hong Kong. It has been around for over thirty years and for good reason – the food is unique and offers a creative selection of interesting dishes.

After dinner I went to meet some friends over in Wan Chai to a pub called Stone Nullah. Filled with expats, it is a cozy pub that is great for small groups but struggled to accommodate our large party. We then moved to the Pawn; a landmark in Hong Kong, it used to be a pawnshop but was transformed to a restaurant and bar. They had a wide selection of cocktails and the venue was a great place to lounge. 


Sayonara Skiing 

​Our last day of skiing was perfect. Niseko, known for its powder snow, truly upheld that reputation. We ended up getting the five hour consecutive ride for Hirafu which connects to the Hanazono side and has the most number of runs. At ¥3,600 a pass, these were by far the best deal and is literally a whole day of skiing as lifts close by 3pm. 

For those looking to rent a car, DO make sure that you have an international driver’s licence as that is a mandatory requirement when renting. A car during the off peak season would save you quite a bit of money and way more convenient. 

The last meal of the trip, was the famous Rakuichi Soba. Reservations for the restaurant need to be made very early on as it fills up quickly. Expect to spend around ¥10,000 per person on the Kaiseki (Japanese Set Menu) meal. Since everyone gets the same menu, you need to inform the restaurant beforehand for any allergies or dietary restrictions. One important thing to note is that it is a CASH ONLY establishment, so make sure to bring more than enough. 

The simple yet delicately prepared meal started with fresh sashimi. The ebi sashimi was one of the highlights – sweet and succulent, it was a perfect start to the coming meal. Next was a seafood soup with clear broth that cleansed the palette. Hokkaido scallop topped with uni followed, and showcased the renowned shellfish that the region is famous for. Our next dish was an Iberico pork shabu shabu where you dip the meat into a broth for mere seconds and cooks it to a nice pinkish color, letting you know it is ready to eat. A sweet soy sauce based sauce accompanied the dish for you to dip the meat in, which you thereafter pour into the soup to drink. We were then presented with a vegetable tempura platter – each piece of broccoli, yam, red pepper, and radish perfectly fried. The batter was just the right amount without the usual oiliness.  Lastly was the chef renowned Soba or Japanese buckwheat noodles. You have the option of getting it hot or cold, having tried both, I would go with the cold which gives you a more holistic taste of the dish. Overall each course was cooked remarkably well and you can tell how fresh ingredients were. Run by a family, the restaurant also provided remarkable customer service and made the dining experience all the more enjoyable!

The next day on our return to the airport, we booked a transfer with Chuo Bus Lines. At almost half the price of our original transfer, the cost for each person was only ¥2,600, and takes the exact same route. Do try to book this roundtrip to secure a spot on the bus. 

Winter is Coming…

​The second day in Niseko we had breakfast at the hotel, which was included in the rate of $140 a night. Quite a wide spread of options, the breakfast buffet included both traditional Japanese and Western options. 

We then got suited up and headed to the mountain. Since we did not have any gear with us, we had to rent for the duration of our stay. Good Sports was by far the most affordable company and were very accommodating as well. The day before you hit the slopes, they schedule a time for you to try on and fit the gear, ensuring the perfect fit. The total cost for the three day rental was only ¥13,000 and includes the board and bindings, boots, and a helmet. You can choose to add gear depending on what you already have. 

There are a few options on ski passes for visitors which I have posted below. For beginners, I would recommend the 12 point pass and should last a few days. Passes are cheaper at your hotel so make sure to get it before you hit the slopes!

Since it was still off peak season, not all the lifts were in operation, with a majority of them only working on the Hirafu side. I would highly recommend staying there as most shops and restaurants are in the area. During the off peak season, there bus schedule is limited and only run until 5pm with full operations only beginning on December 10th. A cab from Hirafu to Annapuri will cost roughly ¥3,000 one way, which can add up! 

The late morning conditions were not ideal, with icy snow and low visibility. After a few runs on the Annapuri side, we decided to grab lunch in Hirafu and took the bus to the intersection. We decided on a Japanese restaurant right by the bus stop. We ordered the seafood ramen, tempura set meal, and a chirashi don. Although all were satisfying, the food was not that great and I would definitely recommend other spots.

After walking around a bit after lunch, we decided to have a quick drink at Green Cafe. I got the hot chocolate with butterscotch – extremely satisfying after a day on the slopes, albeit a bit pricey at ¥800. We also tried the beef burger which had roasted potatoes on the side for ¥1,200. It was very tasty and a good change from all the Japanese food. 

Just around the corner was our dinner reservation. Ezo Seafoods is unlike most restaurants. Their menu is displayed live in front of you and you simply choose what you want. We chose the mixed sashimi platter that included the famous Hokkaido scallops, with all the sashimi tasting so fresh! The Alaskan crab, meaty with a hint of sweetness, is another dish worth getting at ¥4,000. The tuna cheek is also a must try. Cooked in a sweet sauce, the dish is perfect with a hot bowl of rice. For those wanting a taste of fresh seafood, Ezo Seafood should be on the top of your list!

Niseko Ski Trip

​After finding a cheap ticket to Niseko a few months ago on Jetstar, I decided to impulsively book it. The base fare was indeed very cheap, but after the baggage and seat selection add-ons, it came out to about Php16,000. Still a considerable amount of savings compared to the regular price of almost Php 30,000. It is always best to travel light as the extra baggage cost was over Php 2,000 each way, definitely unavoidable when traveling to an area with such a cold climate.

The three and a half hours to Nagoya was not a very pleasant one as I accidentally selected the wrong seat (for which I paid extra for). For those that don’t know, the row in front of the emergency exit row and the first emergency exit row do NOT recline! Enduring the whole flight with an upright seat was extremely difficult. Once we got to Nagoya for a our two hour layover, we did not have much time to do anything else and proceeded to check in for our second leg to Chitose, a quicker hour twenty minute flight.

Upon arriving, we exited the arrival area and found several booths all around providing ground transportation to Niseko. We settled on the Resort Liner which was departing soonest, to better maximise our time. There are convenience stores right by the booths, making it easy to grab food to bring onboard. The one way cost is ¥4,000 and takes roughly around three hours. The boarding process is a bit disorganised, coupled by the fact English is not widely spoken, made it hard to mobilise everyone, leaving almost fifteen minutes past the departure schedule of 11:30am. The bus is also a bit older with no added amenities, a bit disappointing since the regular Chuo Bus also runs to Niseko at a fraction of the cost. 

We got dropped off at our hotel Northern Annapuri Resort, and promptly checked in. I made the reservation through Agoda and was disappointed to find out that even though I had booked a twin room, I had inadvertently booked only one guest a room and therefore had to be charged extra per person. Although luckily the charge was minimal, it is something to take note of when booking a room in Japan.

After the long journey to get to Niseko, we decided to eat close by and chanced upon BBQ House. Having had a light lunch, the buffet was just what we needed! For only ¥3,000 per person, it was an all you can eat grill that includes soft drinks! The options were plenty with a salad bar, noodle bar, curry, chirashi, to name a few. The meats and seafood were also very fresh, boasting the famous Hokkaido scallop! The meal is definitely worth every penny and a great deal for those with big appetites.

Universal Studios Japan

For our final full day in Osaka, we decided to go to Universal Studios Japan. Fairly close to the city, you have to transfer a few times as it has its own line to go to the park. It had been a while since I was there and they had added a few new areas, one being Harry Potter’s Wizarding World. As with all amusement parks, the lines were incredibly long.

Luckily, we got express passes which are well worth it! There are many options depending on how many rides you want to go on and we settled on the Express 7. For the more popular rides, you need to reserve a timeslot in advance so make sure to do that online. We got to check out the new Harry Potter 4D ride (after making an online reservation), with little to no wait at all and it definitely was one of the more thrilling and exciting rides. I did however get a bit dizzy so would advise anyone that gets motion sick to take medication. The Hippogriff coaster ride right across the Hogwart’s Castle however, was way too short for the length of the line and is one that can be skipped. One thing to note however, is that all the rides are in Japanese with no English subtitles or translation, making it harder to appreciate but still loads of fun!

For our final dinner we went to Zuientei for a Kaiseki (Japanese Set Course) dinner. One stop away from Osaka station, the restaurant is a favorite among locals and is considered to be one of the best in the city! Authentic Osaka food, each course was expertly prepared by the chef with a unique mix of many local ingredients. For those looking to experience true local cuisine, away from the common sushi and teppanyaki, make sure to try a Kaiseki meal and appreciate the simple yet delicately prepared dishes.

Rural Toyama

​The next day was a long one, as we made our business trip to Toyama. After a few transfers between the JR train and Shinkansen, heading further east for a one way trip of four hours, we finally got to our destination. 

A hydroponics farm located in a small rural town, the building was an older one but well kept. Inside housed a few employees and a small room that contained the hydroponics system. Without the need for natural sunlight and simply through the mix of water and fertiliser, the system can easily grow any type of fruit or vegetable given the proper settings, at a reduced timeframe.

After an exhausting and lengthy return trip to Osaka, we went directly to the busy main district of Shinsaibashi for dinner. Our hosts brought us to Tako Tako King, which is well known for its okonomiyaki and frequented by locals and travellers alike. The food is on the more affordable side, around ¥1000 per person and is better suited for sharing. 

Japan Journeys

​Upon arriving in Osaka, I’m always amazed at how efficient and organised everything is. Immigration was no different. Our flight landed along with a few other flights but even with all the influx of people, the officers still managed to process us quickly.

The flight on the way there with JetStar was a no frills flight, allowing me to sleep all the way without getting disturbed for one thing or another. Getting a good deal on the ticket, I only paid around Php6,000 roundtrip. Prompt departure also got us to our destination host half an hour earlier than expected! 

We then grabbed our bags and headed to the arrival hall when we were greeted by our business friends who drove us to the Hyatt Regency Osaka where we were staying.

Unlike most other hotel rooms, the ones in the Hyatt were exceptionally larger! The Club room that we were put up in had expansive views of the bay complete with automated curtains. The hotel however, is quite far from the main part of the city and difficult to get to even with the intricate public transportation system of Japan. I would recommend looking elsewhere if you want to be in the middle of all the hustle and bustle.

For dinner, we went to the Irodori, the teppanyaki restaurant right in the hotel. An authentic Japanese experience, this place does not have all the theatrics of the teppanyaki places we have grown accustomed to. Food is served as a set and prepared right before you. We went with the most expensive option and were amazing at the freshness of the ingredients. Even the prawns were still alive when being cooked, jumping around the grill!

The set also included seared foie gras and wagyu beef, adding to the already extravagant menu and making one of the top teppanyaki restaurants in my book!