Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Most Expensive Train Ride of My Life - Kyoto to Tokyo on the Shinkansen

While planning for my trip to Japan, I had decided to take the bullet rain (Shinkansen) from Kyoto to Tokyo for the sake of experiencing it.

The Shinkansen is one of the most efficient and safest trains in the world with no fatal accidents in its history.

Just to give you an idea of why it's called a bullet train, the 450km journey between Kyoto and Tokyo can be completed in approximately 2 hours. That's how fast it moves.

But safety, efficiency and speed comes with a price, and that's why this ride has become the most expensive train ride of my life.

So how much did the ride cost?

A whopping JPY13,080 for the 2 hour journey!

(JPY13,080 is equivalent to approximately MYR500 which could have bought me a return ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Bali or someplace else).

Take a look at the ticket for the most expensive train ride of my life:



We purchased our tickets from the ticket counter at Kyoto Station because we wanted to pay using our credit cards so that we don't have to touch our cash. Money exchange bureaus are difficult to find in Japan, you know ...



Tickets can also be purchased from the ticket vending machines:



We bought non-reserved seats because it's cheaper compared to reserve ones.

[Tip: Since it was a weekday and low season in Japan (we went in June 2017), purchasing non-reserved seats poses a low risk of not finding a seat on the train. However if it's the peak season, perhaps it's better to get a reserved seat or risk standing throughout the journey.]

After purchasing our tickets, we made our way to the turnstills that leads to the Shinkansen tracks:



After inserting our tickets into the turnstills and collecting them back, we made our way to the platform to wait for the train.

Non-reserved seats are in Cars 1 - 3:



Soon the train arrived and I started to get excited:



The type of train was the Nozomi 226:



The train interiors were bright and clean:

The seats were wide and comfortable, even better than airplane seats.


Just like on an airplane, the Shinkansen also had stewardesses who went around selling food:



Prior to the trip I had read that food sold on the Shinkansen is nothing to shout about. So I had pre-packed a ginger pork burger from McDonald's for lunch:

A most delicious burger, cannot be found in Malaysia of course.


I had also bought a can of Kirin Ichiban to accompany my burger:

Japanese beers are just so delicious!


After wolfing down the burger and beer and cleared the rubbish, I started dozing off. The ride was smooth and almost noiseless - would put anyone to sleep after that burger and beer.

Soon I woke up with a start and realised that I had fallen asleep on the middle aged guy seated on my right.

Interestingly he didn't push me away, said or did anything when I fell asleep on his shoulder. So it's true that Japanese people do fall asleep on each others shoulder in the subway.

After about 2 hours, we arrived at Tokyo Station.



The cleaning crew were already waiting when we arrived. In typical Japanese style they thanked us one by one as we alighted from the train.

I stayed back a few minutes to watch them clean the train in 7 minutes. Watch this video to see how they do it.



Monday, 10 July 2017

Osaka Umeda Catholic Church

I attended Sunday Mass at the Osaka Umeda Catholic Church when I was in the city last month.

The church is located right smack at a road junction, beside Hearton Hotel. In this photo, it looks like the mighty hotel is embracing the church:




At the entrance are two stone tablets inscribed with the name of the church:




The main entrance:




Step inside the main entrance and you'll find yourself in the lobby where the parish office is located as well as a bookshop:

The bookshop was closed when I was there.



Unlike other churches where Mass is usually held on the ground floor, Mass at the Osaka Umeda Catholic Church is celebrated on the Third Floor.

You may use the lift or the stairs to get to the Third Floor.

Climbing a flight of stairs would be a good workout before Mass.



This is where Mass is held:

The pews, altar, tabernacle and overall look and feel is modern and contemporary.



Masses are celebrated in Japanese, English, Spanish and Indonesian at the Osaka Umeda Catholic Church and here are the Mass times:





I attended the English language Mass at 9.00am.

Most of the congregation were Filipinos and other expats. I suppose the locals would attend their native Japanese language Mass.

Towards the end of Mass, the commentator welcomed all visitors and asked each one of us to stand up and introduce ourselves. Such a warm welcome indeed.

Getting to the Osaka Umeda Catholic Church
Ride the subway to Nakatsu station (Midosuji line) and take Exit 4.

Once you come out from Exit 4, immediately turn left and walk about 70m till you see a 7-Eleven at the corner on your right. Turn right at this corner and walk for about 80m. You'll see the Osaka Umeda Catholic Church on your left.

Tough luck if you need to ask for directions as a majority of locals wouldn't know where the church is. I went to the 7-Eleven to ask for directions and the staff didn't know where's the church which I later found out was a mere 80m down the road from their outlet!

Tip: If you find difficulties looking for the church, try asking for directions to Hearton Hotel instead and you're bound to find the church as both buildings are located side by side which you can see from the photo above. More locals would probably know where the hotel is compared to a Catholic church because Catholicism is not a major religion in Japan.

Happy worshiping!

Note: All information and Mass times are correct at posting time.


Monday, 3 July 2017

Vietnamese Instant Noodles (Pho)

If you've read my blog post before, you would know that I dislike Vietnam mainly because of the many dishonest people there.

The numerous Vietnamese prostitutes who live in my apartment block in Kuala Lumpur and always screaming at the top of their voices have also increased my dislike for all things Vietnamese.

However last week a colleague visited Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam during the long Hari Raya Aidilfitri hols and he brought us each this packet of instant noodles (pho) which I like very much:

I finally found something nice about Vietnam - it's instant noodles (pho).


After opening the packet, the noodles look like luminous plastic (I'm really hoping it's not!). But after cooking it like regular instant noodles, it turned out like a regular pho, and tasty too.

I'm glad my colleague decided to bring us instant noodles instead of other Vietnamese foodstuff which would have sucked like its people.

Coincidentally another colleague had visited Hanoi in Vietnam during the long hols, but he brought us Vietnamese chocolates instead which was one of the worst I've tasted.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Enjoy Huge Savings with the Amazing Osaka Pass

If you're planning a visit to Osaka in Japan, use the Osaka Amazing Pass to enjoy huge savings.

The 4 features of this pass that I like are:

1) Free entry to 35 attractions
2) Discounts at selected attractions, retailers and eateries (terms & conditions apply)
3) Unlimited rides on the subway, new tram and bus
4) Free gifts from selected establishments (terms & conditions apply)

There are 2 types of passes, i.e. the 1-day pass and the 2-day pass.

We bought the 2-day pass which costs JPY3,300 per pass.

The 2-Day Amazing Osaka Pass.


When you purchase the pass you'll get a guidebook containing instructions on how to use the pass, attractions that you can visit for free, coupons to redeem your free gift, subway map, other benefits, etc.

The guidebook that comes with the Amazing Osaka Pass.


Read the guidebook carefully and plan your trip in order to maximise the pass.

Note that there are many attractions that you can visit for free by using the pass. The choice is entirely up to you depending on the amount of time you have and your interest.

Let me share with you the four attractions we visited and experienced for free with the 2-day pass.

1) Osaka Castle Museum (JPY600):



2) Japan Night Walk Tour (JPY1,000):

I like to follow walking tours whenever I visit a new city.


3) Cruise Ship Santa Maria Day Cruise (JPY1,600):

Visitors queuing up to enter the ship.


4) Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel (JPY800):

We had an amazing view of Osaka city from the highest point of the wheel.


We wanted to use the pass for the Tombori River Cruise. Unfortunately tickets were sold out during the two times we were there.

With the Amazing Osaka Pass I also received a free gift when we visited Hard Rock Cafe Osaka ...



... to get my City-T Guitar V+ bottle opener:

Price: JPY1,800 + JPY144 (tax) = JPY1,944 


Since Hard Rock Cafe Osaka is a participating establishment in the Amazing Osaka Pass, I received this free gift for making a purchase:

The gift was four button badges.
You'll need to present your coupon called Tokux2 Coupon (included in the guidebook) to the cashier to redeem your gift.


If we had paid individually for the four attractions, the cost would have been:

Osaka Castle Museum: JPY600
Japan Night Walk Tour: JPY1,000
Cruise Ship Santa Maria Day Cruise: JPY1,600
Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel: JPY800
Total: JPY4,000

But we paid JPY3,300 for the 2-day pass and also used it to travel across Osaka using the subway for an uncountable number of times. In case you're not aware, subway fares in Osaka are relatively expensive (by Malaysian standards) especially if you purchase individual tickets.

Now you know what to do when you visit Osaka - get the Amazing Osaka Pass because it's a huge saver. Your pockets will be happy, trust me.

Note: All prices are correct at time of posting.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Japanese Beer in Japan

A Japanese colleague told me that I should try Japanese beers when I travelled to Japan. Apparently the taste is different compared to the Japanese beers brewed in Malaysia. 

I was curious at what he meant by "the taste is different", and since my colleague loves to drink, I believed him and decided to give it a try.  

Since I prefer beers that are not too bitter, I made sure I selected the correct ones. Luckily beer cans are labelled in English in Japan!

I had also put in my bucket list for Japan to try at least 3 different types of Japanese craft beer but only managed to try 2 types, one in Tokyo and one in Kyoto: 

Saison by Suntory - this is my favourite beer in Japan because it fits my description of a delicious beer and has a nice flavour to it.



Kyoto beer


Here are the other types of Japanese beers that I had the privilege of tasting:

Asahi 


Kirin Ichiban


Yebisu


All of 'em are more smooth and flavourful compared to the Japanese beers brewed in Malaysia. Now I know what my colleague meant when he said Japanese beer tastes different back in Japan. Maybe it's the water that they use.

Here are the zero alcohol beers that I didn't like because there's no kick:

Ichi


Suntory


Later when I returned to KL, I tried the Azahi Zero and it tasted much better, almost similar to a regular 5% alcohol Asahi.

Just to give you an idea how much beer costs in Japan, here are the prices:




Since we're on the topic of alcohol, I'll end this post with this photo of different types of Japanese alcohol (shochu, sake, yuzushu, etc.) sold in milk cartons in Japan:

A friend asked whether they also have them in smaller packets with straw. I replied that would encourage juvenile drinking.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

My Bucket List for Japan

I've been doing lots of research for my trip to Japan this week.

Our 9-day trip will cover Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo. Trying to fit in all the must-sees into 9 days is no joke, but doable.

I've also prepared a bucket list of items that I must do while I'm in the Land of the Rising Sun:

  • Bathe in an onsen (time to get naked!).
  • Watch a sumo wrestling match. Alas there won't be any matches when we're there. So we'll have to make do with watching a practise session, free of charge I suppose.
  • Try at least 10 street food in Osaka. In case you're not aware, Osaka is known as the Penang of Japan, i.e. a food paradise. I think I'm gonna put on 3kg after I return from Japan!
  • Try at least 3 different types of Japanese craft beer.
  • Attend Mass at a Roman Catholic Church.

Please leave a comment if you have any other ideas.


Tuesday, 16 May 2017

How to Shower in Ice Cold Water

When I was in Dhunche, a small town in the Langtang region of Nepal, I stayed at Hotel Himalayan Legend ...



... which didn't have hot shower. There were solar panels on the roof but the guesthouse owner claims they were not working. 

I know there're trekkers who don't bathe throughout the duration of their trek which can last for days. But I can't do that. After coming in from a long trek, sweaty, dirty and all, I always appreciate a hot shower. It is refreshing and I can sleep well ready for the next day's trek.

Since Hotel Himalayan Legend didn't have hot shower, I had to shower in ice cold water. Here's how to do it: 

1) Warm up by doing some vigorous exercise like jumping around and running on the spot.
2) Open the shower and let the ice water flow.
3) Use your hands to wet your arms followed by your body and legs. Your body will eventually get used to the ice water if you wet your body in stages. Last of all, put your head under the shower to wet your hair.  
4) Quickly shampoo, lather soap on your body and rinse off.
5) Step out of the shower and continue doing small exercises to warm up your body. 
6) Towel down and put clothes on.

Those who can stand the ice water may even step under the shower at one go. I prefer to do it step by step.

Good luck!

Monday, 15 May 2017

Putting on and Removing Contact Lenses in Basic Conditions

During my 3 trips to Nepal, I've mastered the art of putting on and removing contact lenses in basic conditions, i.e. without water and no wall mirror.

Most of the guesthouses along the treks don't have ensuite bathrooms in the bedrooms. The bathrooms are usually located outside the rooms and extremely basic, i.e. no wash basin, no mirror, no shower (some of the guesthouses boiled water for us to bathe for a fee), run down, etc.

Therefore putting on and removing contact lenses in these conditions could be pretty challenging especially when cleanliness must be observed at all times when it comes to contact lenses and our eyes.

Here are the 4 items you'll need to put on and remove contact lenses in basic conditions:

1) Antibacterial hand sanitiser
2) Compact mirror
3) Contact lenses (goes without saying)
4) Disinfectant (goes without saying)
5) Headlamp or torchlight (optional)


Method:

a) Prop your compact mirror up firmly against anything that's convenient for you, e.g. window, bagpack, etc.
b) Open ready your contact lens case and caps on the disinfectant and antibacterial hand sanitiser.
c) Squirt a little antibacterial hand sanitiser on the palm of your hands and rub it all over your hands especially your fingers.
d) Pick up one lens from the contact lens case and rinse it with disinfectant.
e) Using the compact mirror to guide you, place the lens into your eye. Repeat for the other lens.
f) Guesthouses in the mountains of Nepal operate on generators which kick in during specific times only. So if you need to put on or remove your lenses in the dark, use a headlamp or torchlight (clinch with your teeth or get someone to hold for you).

I promise if you follow this method properly you won't develop any eye infection.

Good luck!


Sunday, 12 March 2017

My Two Big Trips in 2017

Last year I only travelled to Nepal and it was not a pleasant trip because we couldn't do Everest Base Camp due to bad weather and also had to deal with the nasty Langtang region.

So I'm planning to make 2 big trips this year to compensate for last year and to catch up on my travel bucket list. 

Trip 1 - Japan in June
This trip was a spur of the moment kind of thing.

A colleague and I were talking about going to Japan especially since we work for a Japanese bank.

And after working with many Japanese people daily, we wanted to visit the country where they come from. For me, it's also to put to an end to neverending questions from colleagues asking when am I going to visit their homeland :-)

One advantage about planning a trip to Japan with Japanese colleagues around is that they share information that only locals know. For example I was searching online about sumo wrestling matches but couldn't find anything. Moreoever everything is in Japanese. So I asked a colleague and he immediately sent me the link to the Grand Sumo Tournament website. Yeah!

Trip 2 - Europe in September
I've bought my anchor flight to London (MYR2,300 return on Oman Air) but I've yet to decide which country in Europe I'm going to explore. At this point, I'm still toying between Croatia/Montenegro and Spain/Portugal.

It's relatively cheap to travel to Croatia/Montenegro because they don't use the Euro. And if I do travel to those countries, Split, Dubrovnik and Kotor (the word means 'dirty' in Bahasa Malaysia!) would definitely be in the list.

I didn't get to do the south of Spain during my last trip there in December 2011. So if I do visit Spain/Portugal in September, it would be Granada - Cordoba - Seville - Faro - Lisbon - Porto.

Well, I've still got about 6 months to decide.


Sunday, 19 February 2017

Sleeping in Open Air at 4,500 ft

During my travels to Nepal last September, we trekked to a village called Kyangjin Gompa in the Langtang region.

The highlight of Kyangjin Gompa is the Kyangjin Ri mountain which stands at 4,700 ft asl.

We stayed at Panorama Guesthouse when we were in Kyangjin Gompa. That morning we woke up early, had breakfast and started our trek.

The trail was relatively steep (something like an incline 5 if comparing with a threadmill) with loose stones. So we had to watch our steps to make sure we don't slip and fall down the mountain.

Along the way were were rewarded with this magnificent view (can't remember the name of the mountain) opposite Kyangjin Ri:

Panorama shot



I snapped a photo of Nobita snapping a photo of that mountain :-)




As we went higher and higher, it started getting hotter, so we started removing a few layers of clothing. The importance of layering ...

Here's a photo of Kyangjin Gompa village where we started our trek that morning:

Kyangjin Gompa village looks so small from up there.



The Kyangjin Ri mountain is 4,700 ft asl. However since the weather was not too favourable, I had already made up my mind to stop at 4,500 ft asl. No point trekking all the way to the peak because there's a high possibility that it would be cloudy and misty, which means no breathtaking views.

There was a rock at the 4,500 ft spot that was perfect as a resting place. It was slightly bent in the middle where I could place my bum and lie down. Perfect!

So the rest of them continued their trek while I waited for them at this spot: 

That's the peak of Kyangjin Ri. Looks pretty steep from this angle.



When the others continued their trek to the peak, I didn't have the faintest idea how long it would take for them to return to the spot and pick me up on their way down. So I walked around the area and snapped shots of the glacier like this: 

Can you see the mist at the top of the photo? That's the reason why I didn't want to hike to the peak.



Can you spot my blue windbreaker and red backpack in this photo?: 




After snapping enough photos of glaciers and customary selfies using my camera and mobile phone, I thought why not lie down on the rock and look at the mountains from a different angle.

Since I was to face the sun, I put on my windbreaker and pulled my bandana-like headwear closer to cover my face to avoid sunburn (sun rays are pretty harsh at that altitude).

I laid down on the comfy rock and gazed up at the sky. The stillness of the morning coupled with the magnificent mountain ranges around me was surreal. It gave me a sense of wonder and I felt a deep connection with God and nature. I felt ALIVE.

I dozed off at one point and woke up with a start to realise that I was completely surrounded in mist. I couldn't even see 5m in front of me. But the mist soon let up and the sun came up again.

Soon a few other trekkers started coming up the mountain. They were curious at what I was going there all alone. Some of them took the opportunity to rest on the rocks and even shared their sweets with me :-)

As I was talking to a group of trekkers, I could hear my group calling me as they were coming down the mountain. Soon they reached my spot and we trekked back to Panorama Guesthouse in Kyangjin Gompa. All in I had waited for them for about 2 hours.

My trip to Nepal in September 2016 was not too good because we didn't make it to Everest Base Camp and Langtang was dangerous. But the experience of alone time on the mountain and with nature didn't make the trip seem so bad after all.


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