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The Enchanting Tokyo, Japan

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 The experience of visiting Japan will always unlike any other countries you visited before. With their unique culture, the courteous of their people and Japan itself will make you feel welcomed the moment you arrive at this sunrise country.  

Japan is in the continent of Asia with no land borders to any countries and it is the 64th largest nation in the world. The capital city of Japan is Tokyo, which originally known as Edo. The surface area of Tokyo comprises a very impressive sprawl with a population estimated to be over 13.4 million. Being a capital city of Japan, Tokyo is known to be hectic with a fast-paced scene all around it.   

Growing up watching anime, collecting figurine of my favourite anime and playing Japanese video games like Super Mario, Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Zelda and many others make me always eager to visit Japan. And when the opportunity arises for me to visit Tokyo, I never think twice!  

My experience visiting Tokyo during a winter season (December to February) is a bliss. I loved how discipline they are (i.e. people queuing up when getting on the train or getting up an escalator), how clean their country is (i.e. it is hard to find a rubbish bin while exploring Tokyo since their people are encouraged to bring back their rubbish home and yet their city is still clear from rubbish), and how courteous they are (i.e. the gesture of Ojigi or also known as Japanese bow).  

During our visit to Tokyo, we cover all the top places to visit while we are in Tokyo, trying their local cuisine and also to shop at some famous spot.   

Must-Try Foods  

i) Sushi  

Sushi has become widely known worldwide and eating sushi has become a common thing in most part of the world. The dish is done on a wooden or lacquer plates and involves dipping sushi in soy sauce. Others also enjoy eating it with wasabi and pickled ginger.   

Your trip to Tokyo will never be going to complete if you did not eat sushi in its homeland. And believe me, sushi tastes way much better when you are in Japan.   

ii) Udon / Soba / Ramen  

Udon is actually quite similar to Soba in terms of being a noodle. As with Soba, it can be served either hot or cold. Udon is made in a broth and best served while it is hot. There is a lot of a variety of toppings can be added into Udon like scallions or prawns.  

Ramen is also another famous Japanese dish. Ramen shop can be found almost anywhere in Tokyo and really easy to find. There are also tons of different types of Ramen available across Tokyo and one of them surely will strike to your likings.  

iii) Tempura  

Another must-try Japanese food while in Tokyo is Tempura, which is introduced by the Portuguese back in the 16th century. This dish includes a vegetable, seafood and other ingredients, all covered in eggs and flour which then fried in cooking oil to form a very crispy texture. Good tempura is always crisp and delicious but never greasy nor soggy.  

Local Attractions  

i) Mount Fuji  

Mount Fuji is Japan’s highest mountain with 3776 meters high. It is considered as a sacred mountain and becomes popular among tourists and locals throughout the centuries.  

A day trip to Mount Fuji is one of the best ways to see this Japan’s biggest attraction depending on the season you are visiting Japan. Since it was a winter season during my visit to Tokyo, I get an opportunity to head to Fujiten Snow Resort to try skiing for the first time of my life.   

Heading to Mount Fuji from Tokyo is easy since public transportation is ready for you to grab. There are two options to go to Mount Fuji from Tokyo which is via train or bus.   

  • A bus ticket from Tokyo Station to Kawaguchiko Station or Fuji—Q Highland will cost you around JPY 2000 (one way) and the journey will take around two hours. You can make your bus reservations for Tokyo to Kawaguchiko here. From Kawaguchiko Station, you can hop on a local bus or taxis which are readily available.  
  • The train is another option you can have if you are not interested in taking a bus. However, the price will be a bit expensive than buses. From Shinjuku Station, take the new Fuji Excursion Limited Express train direct to Kawaguchiko Station. It will cost you around JPY 4000 (one way) and the journey will take around two hours.  

ii) Disney Sea / Disney Land  

Tokyo Disneyland is the first Disney theme park to be open outside the United States. Just beside it is the Tokyo DisneySea, the one and only Disney theme park based on myths and legends of the sea making it the 4th most visited theme park in the world.   

This Tokyo DisneySea is made up of seven themed ports which are Mediterranean Harbour, Mystery Land, Mermaid Lagoon, Arabian Coast, Lost River Delta, Port Discovery and American Waterfront.  

We are intrigued by the fact DisneySea is only available only in Tokyo and we gave it a shot. We get to DisneySea by taking a JR Railway (Keiyo Line) and getting off at Maihama Station. It is only 15 minutes from Tokyo Station. We made our booking at KLOOK which made our entrance to DisneySea smooth as butter.   

iii) Tokyo Tower  

If you wish to view Tokyo from a top view, the Tokyo Tower will be your best bet. This tower painted in orange and white is the tallest structure in all of Japan and become the landmarks in Tokyo.   

Built-in 1958, this tower is used for communication and broadcasting but it is possible to visit one of the two observation decks which offer a spectacular view of the city below.  

We found the best deal for the admission to the Tokyo Tower from KLOOK. You definitely can check it out here.  

iv) Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing  

Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing is a part you must – see while in Shibuya because of its unique and beautiful sight. It is an enormous pedestrian crossing flooded with people at every change of the spotlight with a giant neon above displaying advertisement in bold colours with a flashing light. It is believed that around 2,500 will cross the streets every time the signal changes. And while in rush hours, this Shibuya Pedestrian Crossing could fill a football stadium with all the people that cross. That is how dense the population of the city is. 

Just directly in front of the Shibuya Station, you will notice the statue of Hachiko, one of the most touching real-life stories in the world. Hachiko is a golden-brown Akita owned by Hidesaburo Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo. Every single day, Hachiko will greet its owner near the Shibuya Station. This continues to happen until Professor Ueno did not return because he suffered from a cerebral haemorrhage and died, never to return to the station where Hachiko was waiting. Every day for the next nine years, Hachiko loyally waited at Shibuya Station patiently waiting for its owner until Hachiko also met its maker.   

Shopping Places  

i) Shinjuku  

Shinjuku is one of Tokyo’s largest shopping and entertainment districts. This district is home to half a dozen major department stores and outlets of Japan’s largest electronics retailers combined with a host of other shops and boutiques along its streets and underground shopping arcades. 

ii) Akihabara   

Akihabara is a major shopping and electronics district in Tokyo. Japanese flock to Akihabara for tons of reasons and it is definitely a top pick for travelers primarily because of these two things; electronics shopping and otaku culture. There are a lot of electronics retailers such as Yodabashi Camera, Yamada Denki, Laox and Sofmap as well as several hundred small electronics shops jammed along the district’s streets.   

Apart from that, Akihabara is also known as a center of Japanese otaku and anime culture where there are dozens of stores specializing in anime, manga and others collectables. Honestly, since electronics and anime are my forte, one whole day walking around Akihabara definitely still not enough for me to explore all Akihabara had offered.   

Male: Smallest Capital City in the whole World

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Imagine a capital city that you could walk from one side to the farthest end in less than 30 minutes. That’s how small this capital city is. And yes, it’s Male; the capital city of Maldives.  
 

Exploring this compact size Male is the only chance for you to meet Maldivians on their own turf. The whole Male is an area less than six square kilometres with a total population of 150,000 citizens and that is why it is currently ranked as the world’s smallest capital city.   
 

This town is built on a grid pattern and is heavily urbanized. However, thanks to its grid pattern, roaming the town is easy and you will never get lost when exploring the city. The streets fill with a mix of shops, old and new apartment blocks with traffic jams here and there.   

 
Most of Maldivian is Muslim, hence visitors are advised to dress casually. Exploring Male will definitely take you away from the beach and vacation vibes you spend on the other island scattered all around the Maldives.   

 
When visiting Male, there are no definite and mandatory attractions for you to visit. Rather, this is a casual town for visitors to wander and to fill their curiosity about this city.   

 i) Activity to do  

  • National Museum  
    If you are fancy about learning the unusual history of this island, you are more than welcome to come and visit this museum. This museum holds a large collection of historical artefacts where you could learn all of its glorious eras.   
  • Old Friday Mosque  
    This is actually the oldest mosque across the entire country. The unique thing about this mosque is that the structure of the mosque is made up entirely from coral stone.  
  • Grand Friday Mosque  
    The golden dome of this modern mosque dominates the skyline of Male and already become the symbol of the city. This mosque happens to be the biggest mosque in the whole country and it is built with white marble and free from decoration.   
  • Fish Market  
    Since Male is surrounded by the vast seas, Fish Market easily becomes the soul of Male. There are tons of tuna, octopus and grouper all over the place. The price is cheap and if you wish to buy it, you can talk to the locals and purchase some from them.   
  • China – Maldives Friendship Bridge  
    If you are from the airport going to Male, you will not miss this incredibly impressive piece of engineering that connects Male to Hulhule. This project which cost about USD250 million was the agreement Maldives made with China. Maldivian have a mix feeling regarding this bridge; some says connecting the capital to the airport is important infrastructural to Male while some see it as a huge waste of money as they think the traditional ways of transportation is very much preferable.  

ii) Shopping District  

 Shopping in Maldives is not a compulsory thing to do. However, all their merchandise and goods are way cheaper than the one you find on other islands. So, if you are looking for mementoes that will instantly remind you about your lovely Maldives trip, head over to these spots to satisfy your shopping needs.  

  • Male Local Market  
    Situated on the northern side, Male Local Market is a huge market and one of the most popular streets markets in Maldives. This market is ideal to buy local products, handicrafts, mementoes and gifts items. Apart from that, this market also has kiosks selling delicious local snacks.  
    Time: 8 AM to 11 PM  
  • Majeedhee Magu  
    Situated in the city’s heart, Majeedhee Magu is a street market in the Maldives. Primarily, this area is popular for clothing, cosmetics, electronic goods, shoes, watches and others. There are also a few restaurants you could spot along the road.  
    Time: 9 AM to 11 PM  
  • Malls and Supermarkets  
    Maldives do not have a lot of large and luxurious malls. However, if you search for one, your best bet will be the Centro Mall situated in Hulhumale island. This mall hosts over 30 brands outlet, foods and games all under one roof.   

Medan, Indonesia: The World’s Largest Volcanic Lake Toba

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Medan   

Medan is among the places in Indonesia that get less attention from the outside world especially to a traveler. Located in North Sumatra, Medan is the fourth largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta, Surabaya and Bandung. There are a lot of ethnic groups that form almost 2 million population in Medan.   

Visitors flock to Medan mainly because of their food scene. Medan’s top attractions are primarily focused on the food and lack of other attractions. However, there is still a place you could visit while you are in Medan such as;  

  • Maimoon Palace – Former royal palace of the Sultanate of Deli.  
  • Vihara Maha Maitreya – Biggest temple in Southeast Asia.  
  • Tjong A Fie Mansion – A historical mansion with Chinese and Malay design influences.  
  • Great Mosque of Medan (Masjid Raya) – One of the best examples of architecture in Medan.   
  • Annai Vellangkanni – Examples of religion fusion in Medan.  

Having only a few places and attractions to visit while in Medan, visitors who came to Medan usually spend only one day at here or skip to visit Medan entirely making Medan as a transit before going to Lake Toba  

Lake Toba  

Yes, you heard it right. Lake Toba is the biggest volcanic lake in the world. The Lake Toba formed due to the eruption of super volcanic that took place 77,000 years ago. With this background history, it’s no surprise that Lake Toba becomes the top destination for tourists visiting Medan.    

With its unique and unbeatable largest volcanic Lake Toba in the universe, a lot of visitors from Indonesia and even from far away came to witness this lake. Among the famous place to go while you are in Lake Toba is;  

i) Samosir Island  

Samosir Island is an island at the middle of Lake Toba. It is home to the Toba Batak people. While in Samosir Island, you can visit the Tomok Village and Ambarita Village, where you could witness the remnants of Toba Batak kingdom which still exist up until now. Other than that, you could also check out the Tomb of King Sidabutar and watch a Sigale – gale funeral dance.   

In order to get to Samosir Island, you need to go to Parapat first by either taking their public transportation or renting a car. After reaching Parapat, you can then take a ferry to Samosir Island that takes around 30 minutes.   

Exploring Samosir Island will not take much of your time either. You can spend your half – day to explore the entire island or spend a night here before moving on with your other activities.  

ii) Taman Simalem Resort  

Taman Simalem Resort is located in front of Lake Toba. This mountain resort was built at almost 1,500 meters above sea level, making the air in this area always cool and breezy. Taman Simalem Resort offers an elevated view of the lake which makes this place a perfect spot for sunrises with a stunning view of Lake Toba below which will definitely take your breath away.    

There are two different types of accommodation in this resort; Waterfall area or Tongging area. If you prefer a waterfall over the lake view, you are most welcome to stay at the waterfall area during your stay at Taman Simalem Resort. But as for us, since Lake Toba is the highlight during our trip to Medan, we prefer to stay at Tongging area as this room provide a direct view to Lake Toba.  

There are several kinds of activities you can do while in Taman Simalem Resort. Some of them are like horseback riding, hiking, jungle trekking, farm tours and many more. But, to us, the highlight activities are watching sunrises at One Tree Hill area. This resort is vast, hence, going from one place to another required own transport or you could request their shuttle service.   

In order to get here, you could request a transportation service to pick you up at the airport from the resort itself. The price will be IDR900,000 for one – way. You could opt for a public transportation option too;  

  • Leaving the airport, you will see two signs. Turn left for taxis, turn right for buses.  
  • Cheaper option will be buses. Approach them and tell your destination. They will bring you to the correct taxis or buses for you to take you to the destination.   
  • Their buses do not have any scheduled time to depart. They will only depart when the number of passengers is sufficient for them.  
  • The destination covers a wide area around Medan region. However, to reach Taman Simalem via buses, they will first bring you to Medan City and you will be directed to change another bus. The price per person will be IDR100,000.

Spending one night in Taman Simalem Resort is good enough if you plan to stay over here. Or else, you could do a half – day tour exploring the resort facilities and activities.  

iii) SipisoPiso Waterfall  

Sipiso – Piso Waterfall is the tallest waterfall in Indonesia. The massive eruption of super volcanic resulted in Sipiso – Piso Waterfall. It has a 120-metre high and located in Tongging Village, 45m from Berastagi.   

You could take 35 minutes to hike down to see the waterfall up close. The trek is safe as the route is moderately being maintained. The climb back will make you sweat a little but the hike totally worth it.    

iv) Mount Sinabung & Mount Sibayak   

Berastagi is another popular pit stop when people visiting Lake Toba. From here, you have the option to get up close and personal with two active volcanoes; Mount Sibayak and Mount Sinabung. Mount Sibayak is one of the top mountains in Indonesia and the last it erupted dated a century ago. It produces crystalline sulphur and has hot springs around the mountain. Mount Sinabung situated not far away from Mount Sibayak. The latest eruption for this mountain dated in 2015.   

However, if you don’t feel hiking a mountain, Gundaling Hill is perfect for you. This spot is popular for the locals to do a picnic. From this spot, you will see Mount Sinabung and Mount Sibayak right before your eyes. 

Five (5) Main Reasons you should Stay at Sheraton Maldives

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Maldives is a place where you dreamed of a perfect vacation. A private island is definitely a place you should search and stay when you in Maldives. And since there is a high demand for a private island, a lot of resorts are built and it is scattered all around Maldives to cater to all the demand. Since the competition is high, everyone will showcase their best to serve their guests.  

In general, each resort has its own pros and cons. The rules when finding for your perfect place to stay is to search for places that suit your preferences and obviously your budget. The prices for each resort differ based on location, what they offered, and their quality. Since there are tons of resort in Maldives, do your homework properly to find that one place which will satisfy all your needs. For us, we did our research for more than a month before deciding Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa as our vacation in Maldives.   

Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa is located in the South of North Male Atoll. This resort provides at least 176 guests’ rooms that are surrounded with greenery and with a shallow lagoon all around the private island. Sheraton Maldives is just a 20-minute boat ride away from Velana International Airport.  

We’ve been to the Sheraton Maldives to enjoy all their offer, and this is our honest review.   

i) Staff friendliness   

For all of our stay in Sheraton Maldives, all of their staff are very welcoming towards us. Smile is the key here and yes, whenever I pass by any of their staff, they will surely smile back.  

Working in the same line as a service industry makes me appreciate this small gesture and makes me feel grateful to have people who acknowledge your presence.   

Upon our arrival here at the resort, we came too early at around 8 am. Our request to check in early cannot be granted due to all the rooms are fully booked. However, all guests may use The Relax Room for free. This room has all basic facilities like a shower room, water heater and a place for you to take a nap.  

One of the staffs brings us to this room via buggy to relax before our room is ready. What I notice is at least one staff will tend to your every need once you step into their resort. This particular staff will be responsible to take care of all of your needs and request until the end of your stay.   

ii) Food & Beverages  

Sheraton Maldives offer two separate packages when you book to stay in their resort which is to choose for breakfast included or go for full board (breakfast, lunch and dinner included). The price difference from breakfast included to full board package ranges approximately $USD230 per night.   

You can definitely choose to have only breakfast included to save some budget for your trips. But since you are on a private island, there is no other option for you to eat other than to eat in one of the restaurants offered by the Sheraton Maldives itself.   

For us, the food buffet they offer is definitely generous. There are plenty of choices of food available for us to eat. The wide range of food they served will definitely make us full for our entire stay at the resort.  

This is the video we took to show you the variety of food they offered for breakfast buffet at Feast Restaurant.   

iii) Cleanliness (a walk into a video)  

Upon entering our room (Presidential Suite), we are extremely happy with our room. It is spacious, clean and the interior design fits with the environment.   

Our all-time favourite spot will definitely be the ocean view where we spend a countless hour to just stare blankly at the blue oceans trying to capture every moment into our mind.   

iv) Location  

As I mentioned earlier, Sheraton Maldives located just a 20-minute away from Velana International Airport by speedboat. Having located close to the airport makes this resort gain an upper hand in the sense of cheap airport transfer. It is without a doubt that Sheraton Maldives indeed gives among the cheapest airport transfer compared to any other resorts in Maldives which is $USD 137 per person for return airport transfer to their resort.   

For our experience during airport transfer to their resort is absolutely smooth. We are greeted by one of their staff at the arrival hall holding a sign with our names in it. We introduce ourselves and they immediately prepare us the boat that takes us to Sheraton Maldives. It is a very smooth boat ride that takes no more than 20 minutes.   

v) Activities  

Sheraton Maldives offer tons of activities to their guests all day long. They have a full schedule that they organize for their guests. You are very welcomed to join them if you feel up to it.   

If you want to experience something that is a bit adventurous, you are definitely can do so. Sheraton Maldives has a lot of activities like city tour, local island tour, reef snorkelling, dolphin cruise and many more. They have different activities available based on different days. However, all of these activities are not free and will cost you some $$$.    

Since our Presidential Suite is connected directly with an ocean, we decided to snorkel since snorkelling is one of our favourite things to do. However, they only provide the guest with a life vest without goggles and flipper inside our rooms. And we could not rent it either unless you take part in their snorkelling activities which are organized by them. So, I highly recommend it for you to bring your own goggles and flipper the next time you visit Sheraton Maldives.    

All in all, everything was perfect for all the times we spend in Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort & Spa. But there are two things we notice that consider being something they could improve on in the near future.  

  • The price of F&B is quite steep.   

We certainly going to enjoy more of our times at Sheraton Maldives if the price for their F&B is affordable without us calculating the prices every time we want to order something at their restaurants or at their bars. Perhaps if the price is lower, more guests will order from the resort which will definitely increase the revenue for Sheraton Maldives. Just my two cents.  

  • View of the building in Male is visible.  

While we are busy taking pictures and filming video, we could notice the building construction that is currently happening on the other side of the island which is at the main island, Male. Having a location near to Male is definitely a plus for cheap airport transfer but it takes its toll on how our background will be.   

However, we still feel grateful that Sheraton Maldives already did their best to cover this view by making a man-made island and planting vegetation to block the view of Male and making us feel like we are in a secluded island.

Songkran in Chiang Mai: A Mix of Traditional and Modern Festival

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Every 13th April till 15th April, Thailand will celebrate their traditional new year based on the Buddhist calendar which is also known as Songkran Festival or the Water Splashing Festival.    

What is Songkran  

Traditionally, Songkran is celebrated by Thais by showing respect to the monks and elders by sprinkled water over their hands. But over the year, the festival has evolved into a water war with people’s blasting water that turns into a massive water fight across the nation.    

Songkran: Chiang Mai or Bangkok  

Experiencing Songkran in both cities, all I can summarize is they have their own different vibes during Songkran. Bangkok tends to be more of a big party atmosphere while Chiang Mai is more friendly and laid-back water playing.    

In both cities, there is a bunch of different spots where people play water intensely with each location having their own different vibes.    

Chiang Mai    

Chiang Mai is one of the most popular cities in Thailand and has the longest celebration of the Songkran Festival. The Songkran celebration in Chiang Mai usually lasts for about 3—5 days.  

Best areas:  

Thapae Gate is one of the places you must visit during Songkran since the party is everywhere. Most people will gather around the moats, canals and the Ping River. The water fighting will start along Thapae Gate in 4km radius.  

Bangkok  

Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand and hence, it has more places to party than anywhere else in the country. During Songkran, most locals will back to their hometown and will be replaced with foreigners and tourists who come to celebrate this colourful festival.    

Best areas:  

There are two compulsory places you should visit while in Bangkok for Songkran Festival. The first one is Khao San Road where thousands of foreigners join together in the crazy water fighting you will ever see. The other famous spot is Silom Road, where they close the entire road to traffic just for the Songkran Festival.  

 Our Story: Songkran in Chiang Mai    

Having 3 hours of flight time to Chiang Mai from Kuala Lumpur, we as one big group gave Songkran a shot.    

Organizing a group of 8 peoples to celebrate Songkran in Chiang Mai is not that hard. There are plenty of houses you can rent during Songkran at a very reasonable price. We book our house with 5 spacious rooms with an outdoor swimming pool with only $USD180 per night via Airbnb. Getting around Chiang Mai is easy since Grab cars and taxis are available all around the city even during Songkran celebration.    

Our Songkran festival starts with seeing their religious ceremony held at Charoen Muang road near the Narawat bridge where they carry Buddha statues through the streets with crowds lining the street and wishing good luck for the new year by splashing us with water.    

After watching the ceremony, it is now time to celebrate Songkran with water guns. We head to Thapae Gate since the biggest water fights will be at this spot.    

Thapae Gate is a primary entrance into the Old City of Chiang Mai. This water fights will comprise both foreigners and locals. All kind of people will get excited and join in this madness big scale water fight. This area have several big stages being set up with a variety of competitions and performances.    

Near the Thapae Gate, there is a lengthy road stretch along the moat. There are lots of fun we could find here with tons of laughter and major water fights. Most of the times, the water being splashed is been fetched from the moat which might not be clean. Hence, we take extra precautions to prevent water from getting into our mouth, eyes and ears.    

Occasionally, we take a break and buy some street foods to refill our energy since the area fills with sellers who sell various foods and goods.    

Whenever we pass by house’s entrance, there will always people who will stand there with tubs of cold waters and hoses waiting victims to walk past them. Exploring the smaller streets would mean in plenty of interactions with the locals with numerous friendly soakings.    

Later in the evening after getting all wet, we ended our Songkran by taking tuk – tuk to our house. Little that we know, although in our tuk – tuk, we even get more water splash because we are an easy target especially when the vehicle is not moving due to traffic.    

As the sun sets, we are ready to close our Songkran Festival by experiencing the nightlife in Chiang Mai. When we go out, we could see no water splashing activity could be found approximately after 6 pm. We then go to the local bars and have a great time and party. We have a lot of fun, drink, chat and dance which marks the closure of our happiest day celebrating Songkran Festival in Chiang Mai.   

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