East Coast Part 2 – The Summerland Retreat, Pantai Telaga Papan, Pantai Rhu Sepuluh, Setiu Wetlands

July 3, 2014 at 10:31 pm

Continues from here.

♥Jan 3rd Tuesday♥

After googling for a place to visit around Setiu, which is the district The Summerland Retreat is located, we decided to visit Setiu Wetlands; not knowing the place is so illusive.

We only knew we were supposed to head North, and then try to locate signage. There was actually no signage, so we had to ask around, finally locating the narrow village road that led us to Setiu Wetlands. We knew we were there when we saw some boats docked with mangrove forests nearby.

We asked around if anyone would bring us around, but the folks there were more interested in their game of checkers. Only a Pak Din was willing to show us around in his boat for RM150.

Pak Din mentioned that the place is not well posted with signage because they were afraid that big tourist crowd may actually cause harm to the environment, how true that is, we don’t know. Usually only university students come to the wetlands for research purposes, and they normally hire him to bring them around so he’s quite familiar with the area.

In his small boat, he showed us around.

One of the main income in the wetland area is generated through oyster farming. We passed by many of them, with floating platforms.

Pak Din docked at a mangrove forest, and got us to explore a bit. He expertly watched over the shallow pool of water (for bubbles rising from sand), and dug out a couple of big clams. I’d never eaten clams this big, but they seem to be quite popular in the East Coast. He asked if we wanted to bring home to cook, and when we didn’t want, he happily pocketed them.

Pak Din pointed out some strange stack horn like parasitic plants which could only be found here, according to him. They look like a big sweet potatos attached to the tree, with a few thin stalks with leaves sticking out at the ends.

He took his boat out to the open sea as well, just to show us how the Peninsular looked like from the sea. He also docked at a sandy beach near the Laguna Agro Resort, pointed to us where Pulau Perhentian Besar, Pulau Perhentian Kecil and Pulau Lang Tengah are. His boat stalled when we wanted to leave, and took a while to restart. That got us worried, so we headed back soon after that as none of us wanted to get stranded in the middle of the sea.

If you are visiting Setiu Wetland, do contact Pak Din to show you around in his boat. His number 0139030119.

After our lunch at Pak Din’s little shop (run by his wife), it started raining. Nothing much we could do, so we headed back to our vacation home. On our drive back, we caught these. A heard of goats squeezing together to shelter themselves from the rain.

Another peck of animals sharing a shelter together.

While this duck was enjoying itself in the rain.

At Pantai Rhu Sepuluh, we decided to try the famous Ikan Goreng Tepung (fried fish with batter). Not only fish, they have prawns, squids, and keropok lekor (fish sticks) and some other processed stuff like crab sticks, sausages and nuggets. We picked a few items for tea, and they were good as long as you don’t see how they were fried! I guess you can’t go wrong with fresh seafood.

The long wide stretch of beach at Pantai Rhu Sepuluh was nice to explore after the rain. It was so difficult to get the girls to leave.

Back at The Summerland Retreat, we went for a swim at the sea. The water is clean and shallow, and the waves so gentle and calm, it was the first time the girls actually enjoying themselves swimming in the sea.

At night, we asked if Oya and Ena could cook us a simple dinner since we were too lazy to go out again, we didn’t mind anything, even just a plain omelette. Instead we got fried black pomfret, omelette, chicken rendang, and stir fried celery ♥♥.

While having dinner, Oya shared her story of how both of them started the place together. Their story of 2 city girls giving up the city and choosing to live a simple life running a small place like this is so inspiring. Have I mentioned that one of the dreams I have was to run a small B&B in the mountains or at a beach? They are living my dream.

♥Jan 4th Wednesday♥

When in East Coast, we should all try to catch the sunrise. Well, not me, the hubs did. This was at Pantai Telaga Papan.

For the last 3 days we stayed at The Summerland Retreat, we’d been having breakfast at this eatery recommended by Oya. Located just across the Merang Mosque, this small eatery, which is hard to miss because there’ll be lots of cars parked next to it, serves one of the best nasi kerabu we’d ever tasted. Owners were friendly, and besides nasi kerabu, they have nasi dagang, nasi lemak, and nasi minyak (translate to oil rice) as well.

The hubs who tried the nasi dagang claimed it was nice, so when he had nasi kerabu, he added the fish from nasi dagang as well; the girls had nasi lemak for 3 days with fried chicken and they like it too.

I love the nasi kerabu so much, I didn’t try any of the other rice, and had the same thing 3 days straight. The plate of nasi kerabu which is RM5 comes with rice, fish cracker, a slice of salted egg, 2 pieces of freshly barbecued chicken, ulam (Malay salad), serunding ikan (spiced fish floss) a pickled onion and the secret sauce. So yummy I tell you.

It was then time to leave The Summerland Retreat and move to our next destination, Kota Bharu.

We used the coastal road. Nice kampung houses were seen all along the coastal road, although most of them now have Astro Satelite dish attached to them.

This small quaint barber was empty when we passed it.

We had lunch at Kuala Besut, the main jetty to get to Pualau Perhentian, and also had some sata, a Terengganu fish satay grilled on a gentle fire fueled by coconut husks.

Then we reached Kelantan state. We drove passed Tok Bali, a small fishing port, before we headed inland towards Kota Bharu.

There were lots of clam stall at the road side selling the big clams we saw in Setiu Wetlands.

It was meant to be a 2hr journey from Merang to Kota Bharu, but it took us 4hrs using the coastal road and making numerous stops. When we finally arrived at Hotel Perdana, our hotel Kota Bharu, the girls were so glad; more so we got upgraded to a Deluxe Premier room, a big and modern room.

After many days of having Malay food, we were craving for Chinese, so we went to Four Seasons Restaurant, a halal Chinese restaurant; it was ok food.

Taiping Dec 2013 – Glorious Food, Around Town and Sentosa Villa

May 4, 2014 at 8:53 pm

(What we saw and where we visited in Taiping during our year end visit is captured in the earlier post.)

Possessing local knowledge helps tremendously in a trip, with this Taiping trip, we just referred to our “Where to eat” list from Zaria’s teacher, not having to hunt around or experience any disappointment during meal times.

One of the places that should not be missed is Restoran Kakak 家家茶室 (111, Jalan Pasar, Taiping)

The kuey teow soup is supposed to be famous, with a choice of your own topping (fish cake, fish ball, stuffed tofu etc) tasted alright with a nice soup and smooth kuey teow. And we saw lots of people ordering the chicken feet, which we should have tried but didn’t. What we really like is the Kakak Ping 家家冰, which is a cold Nescafe mixed with barley drink; a unique combination, which made the Nescafe has a slight malty taste.

The place is opened early in the morning, and sold out quickly, especially the Kakak Ping. We went back the following day at noon, missing the Kakak Ping already only to find they have sold out.

No photos were taken at the coffee shop as it was a mad morning rush when we were there.

As the coffee shop is located in town, we had a stroll around town after our breakfast.

The girls were fascinated with a shop next door to Restaurant Kakak, which sells animal food, chicken feed and also chicks.
Taiping Town Centre - shop selling chicks

The road that attracted Zaria, Jalan Boo Bee (just because it sounded like boobies) is just nearby.
Taiping Town Centre Pre-war shop house

Nice pre-war shop houses around town.
Taiping Town Centre Pre-war shop house

And we like all these old style shops.
Taiping Town Centre

Here are some other places we’d been for something to eat..

♥Siang Malam♥ (Jalan Kota)

It’s a bustling hawker centre beside the KFC Restaurant in town.
Taiping Pasar Siang Malam

We went there for supper, and hence couldn’t order much, but the cup of tea made by one of the stall was really good. The ‘barista’ deftly made cups of coffee and tea from the tiny kitchen was interesting to watch.
Taiping Pasar Siang Malam Drink Stall

We tried the chee cheong fun (flat rice noodle) there which was drenched with a reddish sweet sauce with generous topping of friend shallots and toasted sesame seeds. Unlike the brown sweet sauce we get in KL, this red sweet sauce is nicer and more fragrant.
Taiping Pasar Siang Malam Chee Cheong Fun

♥Larut Matang Food Court♥ (Jalan Panggung Wayang)
Best place for lunch I believe, as we went three times, once late afternoon, where some of the stalls were finishing up and closing, another before noon, but the Nonya kuih stalls were just about to start their business, and another time slightly after lunch, and the stalls were all bustling with activities.

Famous stalls include, Fishball kuey teow (stall number 78); it’s actually like a dry soy sauce fish ball noodle getting fried before serving.
Larut Matang Food Court Fried Fish Ball Kuey Teow
Unlike the fried kuey teow that we are used to, this one is a little wet, and the noodles are thicker cuts; I think we prefer the usual fried kuey teow.

Red Bean Soup 红豆水 and Groundnut Soup 花生汤 (stall number 40); We can just keep going back to this stall. The red bean soup is so rich and thick (but not bitter); while the Groundnut Soup is so fragrant, with melt in your mouth groundnuts. Best of all, only RM1.40 per bowl!

Larut Matang Food Court Red Bean Soup

Larut Matang Food Court Groundnut Soup

All stalls in Larut Matang Food Court have sign boards which indicate their stall number.
Larut Matang Food Court Stall Number 40

There are also two traditional nyonya kuih stalls (in front of the fishball kuey teow stall) which sell a huge variety of nyonya kuih.

♥Restoran Mr BBQ♥ (Jalan Maharajalela)
This place was so good, we had dinner there two nights in a row.

The BBQ stingray is not to be missed, but the asam steamed fish is also fantastic.
Restoran Mr BBQ BBQ Stingray

Restoran Mr BBQ Nyonya Steam Fish

Restoran Mr BBQ Fried Squid

On the eve of Zaria’s birthday, she, who’s the only pork eater in the house, wanted sweet and sour pork for dinner, so we ordered this for her in Mr BBQ. She said it was really delicious as well.
Restoran Mr BBQ Sweet And Sour Pork Rice

Restoran Mr BBQ Taiping

♥Ipoh Bakery 怡保面包西饼屋♥ (144-146 Jalan Taming Sari)
We chanced upon this when we googled for a bakery to get Zaria’s birthday cake. This bakery has been operating for more than 90 over years, the bread and the chicken pies are famous. They have also progressed with time and now they make fondant cakes as well.

Ipoh Bakery Taiping

Besides getting a slice of cake for Zaria, we bought lots of buns and bread too, and they were all quite nice, some of the bread like the cream roll, sure brought back some childhood memory.

Zaria said the slice of cake we got her tasted very much like my cake, meaning it’s very home-styled.
Zaria's 7th birthday cake from Ipoh Bakery

♥Restaurant Tepi Sungai(十八丁海上食店)♥ (150 Tepi Sungai, Kuala Sepetang)
Kuala Sepetang has many seafood restaurants but this was recommended by our friend. The fried little crabs are not common, but I think the fried little shrimps are nicer. They are so tiny they could be eaten whole.
Kuala Sepetang Seafood Fried Little Crabs

We tried the Bismillah Cendol (Jalan Barrack) as well, but maybe because we are not cendol connoisseur, we didn’t find it that nice (Just like we didn’t find the famous Penang Road Teo Chew Cendol nice as well).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ . ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

♥Sentosa Villa♥

As for hotel, we stayed in Sentosa Villa which is at the fringe of the Lake Garden. We got a family room at the main hotel block. Room is huge and clean but without any character. I think staying in the family villa would have been better (but they are quickly snapped up).
Family Room at Sentosa Villa

The hotel surrounding is beautiful, we only realised this when we stayed back on the last day for breakfast.
Cafeteria at Villa Sentosa

There’s a natural stream and pool in the compound.
Duck swimming in the stream at Sentosa Villa

Stream at Sentosa Villa

And there are chickens, ducks, turkey running around in the garden, which the girls were fascinated with, trying to feed them with bread from the breakfast buffet.
Feeding chickens at Villa Sentosa

They also tried catching some fishes from the pond, and because there were so many, they could actually scoop them up with their bare hands.
Catching little fishes at Villa Sentosa

Exploring the gardens at Villa Sentosa

Taiping Dec 2013 – The Sights And Places We Visited

April 30, 2014 at 11:26 am

To end our year last year, we made a trip to Taiping and spent 3 days there.

My memory of Taiping was of a drive we took many years ago (before the children came) passing the big angsana trees at the Taiping Lake Garden, last year, after gathering some information from Zaria’s teacher from Taiping, on what to eat, and what not to miss, we decided to make a trip there instead of Ipoh (which we’d been going for the previous 2 years at year end).

These are the sights and the places we visited in Taiping. Refer to this other post on where to stay; where and what to eat.

Taiping Lake Garden

The first public garden established in then Malaya; huge and scenic, the garden has lots of huge gigantic rain trees or Angsana trees lining the lake with its branches stretching from the road to the waters. This place obviously is a popular place for various exercise.

Soldiers did their physical exercise and this few didn’t mind a photo taken after completing their sit ups.
Soldiers at Taiping Lake Garden

There was a coach (Volunteer? Assigned?) doing some stretching exercises on the stage, with those interested following.
Morning exercise at Taiping Lake Garden

Small exercise groups did their own routine. This group doing taichi.
Taichi at Taiping Lake Garden

And this group doing fan dancing.
Fan Dance at Taiping Lake Garden

The huge trees were so fascinating, the hubs just couldn’t stop taking photos.
Taiping Lake Garden

Such a big beautiful park, so picturesque.
Taiping Lake Garden

Taiping Lake Garden

Taiping Lake Garden

Taiping Lake Garden

Taiping Lake Garden

The lucky residents of Taiping, we envy you!
Taiping Lake Garden

Bukit Larut (Maxwell Hill)
The oldest hill resort in Malaysia, perched at 1250m above sea level, it is the wettest place in Malaysia, with temperature ranges from 10C to 25C. Access up the hill is available only by (government owned) Land Rovers although people are free to walk up the hill as many do for exercise.

The journey up the hill is about 13km, so we decided to take the Land Rover, and then walk down.

The Land Rover operational hour is from 8am to 5pm daily with a frequency of 1 hour. Fees is about RM5 for adult and RM3 for children.

We bought our ticket for a specific time slot, waited at the stop 15mins earlier, (but like all things badly operated by the government) but the land rover just zoomed passed us without even stopping for us (he claimed he didn’t see us later). We complained at the office (nobody was mending the ticketing office as it was 1:30pm on a Friday, prayers time), but was asked to wait for the next available Land Rover (coming down from the hill) to bring us up.

So we reached the top of the hill in the next available Land Rover late afternoon; it was a thrill ride all the way up, the roads were narrow with sharp bands, I chose the front seat, and tried not to get nauseous while the girls were screaming and shouting like they were on a roller coaster ride. The weather was nice and cooling at the peak, but we didn’t see anything operating, the cafeteria, tea garden were all closed, and I wasn’t sure if any of the bungalows were habitable. Whatever buildings we came across looked dilapidated.

We didn’t spend much time up at the top; took the next available Land Rover downhill but alighted midway and walked the rest of the journey to the foot of the hill. On foot, we were able to enjoy the fresh air (diesel smell on the Land Rover) and the flora and fauna available.
Spider at Bukit Larut

The last 3km we decided to take one of the jungle trek instead of walking on the tar road. This is the popular exercise trail lots of people take, but it’s not an easy trail especially with children. It was steep all the way, with lots of tree roots forming steps, and ropes provided to assist with the climb/descent at some part.

Climbing down Bukit Larut

Climbing down Bukit Larut
Zaria, the fearless, took the lead all the way.

Taiping Zoo Night Safari

The night before Zaria’s 7th birthday, we asked her what she would like to do in Taiping, and knowing there’s a night safari at the Taiping Zoo, she said she wanted to go just there.

Taiping zoo is located in a beautiful natural setting in Taiping Lake Gardens and pretty well maintained. Ticket was RM20 for adult and RM10 for children for night safari.
Night Safari Taiping Zoo

The animals were healthy looking, and some were very active in the night, like this clouded leopard which we could watch so closely through the glass cage.
Clouded leopard at Night Safari Taiping Zoo

Kuala Sepetang

Kuala Sepetang (formerly known as Port Weld) is a coastal town famous for its mangrove forest and also charcoal factories. The Port Weld railway station was located at the centre of the town, now dismantled, it was the last station up North on the first railway line in Peninsular Malaysia.

On the way there, this huge green piece of land was covered with cement buildings for housing swiftlets for their bird nests.
Swiftlets House at Kuala Sepetang

We had lunch at the fishing village at Kuala Sepetang, and bought some dried seafood.
Kuala Sepetang

Kuala Sepetang

A visit to the charcoal factories shouldn’t be missed when one is in Kuala Sepetang, in my opinion (here is the direction to get there).

We always go to Mr Chuah’s factory. There’s a smokey smell in the air upon arriving. The factory has many huge beehive like kilns to bake big wooden logs until the moisture is gone and turn them into charcoal.
Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Kiln

These logs, stacked outside of the factory, is ready to be baked.
Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory

This place has a nice charm, and it’s probably quite popular for wedding shots.
Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory Wedding Shoot

And of course, we took the opportunity to take some arti-farti shots too. Zaria doing a bridge.
Zaria doing a bridge at Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory“ title=

Me doing a Reverse Warrior pose.
Reverse Warrior at Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory“ title=

My current favourite bag from Ki Ichizawa gets an ‘advertisement-like’ shot too.
Ki Ichizawa bag at Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory“ title=

And Zaria trying to push a cart loaded with charcoal.
Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory“ title=

The charcoal produced here are mainly exported out to Japan (no wonder their yakitori there is so delicious), but visitors are able to purchase them too. We grabbed 3 big packs, freshly bagged.
Sorting out charcoal at Kuala Sepetang Charcoal Factory“ title=

Happy Easter And Peace Offering

April 9, 2014 at 3:28 pm

I’m a born Catholic, and wanted the girls to be baptised when they were born, but the hubs, an atheist, was against it. His reason, “They should decide (what religion) for themselves when they are older.”

This year, I just enrolled them into Sunday school, with Zara attending RCIC (Rights of Christian Initiation For Children), the children version of RCIA, so that both girls can get baptised and Zara can recieved her first Holy Communion this year like friends her age.

So I think the past few weeks at Sunday school, the girls have been taught about Easter, and Zaria, who likes to make cards and write notes to me, gave me this (see the word “Royce”? My favourite brand of chocolate).

Easter Card from Zaria

And this.
Easter Card from Zaria

And this.
Easter Card from Zaria

First time I’m getting an Easter card!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ . ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Writing letters and notes are quite common with my girls; usually they will write to me, to tell me they are sorry for something they have done, or to say they love me; the girls have also started writing notes to each other.

Zaria has lots of pride, and never likes sharing anything she has with Zara; Zara gets extremely annoyed because of the latter, especially when she shares everything with Zaria. After a round of squabble, Zara gave this note to Zaria as peace offering.

Zara's notes to Zaria

And then see what Zaria replied???
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
.
Zaria's reply to Zara

o.O”

Happy Easter every one!

Growing Up – But Not Too Grown Up

April 8, 2014 at 3:51 pm

One day, they are not too grown up :
Zara : ma, can you read to me tonight like how you used to?
Me : ha..
(I’d stopped reading to her almost half a year now; the girl’s English is getting so good she’s teaching me new words and correcting my grammar and the books she’s reading is getting thicker than mine)
Zara : You know, I’m not too old for things like this.

Another day, they are :
Zaria fell from the dining chair.
Zaria : Ma, can you check, I think there’s something on my back.
Checked, and found her skin to be chafed.
Me : Poor baby, it must be very painful.
Zaria : I am not a baby! And it’s just a little painful. Ouch.
Me : You think a kiss will help? *about to plant a kiss on her back*
Zaria : *wriggled away* No. Tea Tree oil will help.
I caught her and kissed her anyway, and she giggled.

Japan 2013 Part 10 : Day 11 – Osaka Castle 大阪城 Dotonbori 道頓堀 Shinsaibashi 心斎橋

April 3, 2014 at 9:24 pm

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here.

♥Dec 2nd Monday♥

Osaka, being the 3rd largest city in Japan, has a train network that is quite complicated. Every train trip, I (yes, read I, not we) had to plan out the route and then purchase the ticket.
Buying ticket at Osaka Station

The plan for the day was to go to Osaka Castle Park 大阪城公園 and then Namba 難波 in the evening.

Osaka Castle Park 大阪城公園 is a the second largest park in Osaka, a very beautiful and pleasant park, which attracts lots of locals as well as tourists.
Sparrow at Osaka Castle Park

It seems to be a very popular place to take wedding shots, we saw a couple of them; but this one seems to be having a great time getting their shots done.
Wedding couple in Kimono at Osaka Castle Park

Wedding couple in Kimono at Osaka Castle Park

Wedding couple in Kimono at Osaka Castle Park

We saw a few groups of children on a field trip there. As the park is near the Osaka Museum of History, it’s probably a good place for children to go for a field trip to cover both places.
School children at Osaka Castle Park

The park has lots of benches, and places to rest, and people do make good used of it.
Taking a nap at Osaka Castle Park

When it was time for lunch, we got ourselves Nissin noodles from the park vendors. The girls kept saying it was the best instant noodle they had ever tasted. Ha.
Lunch at Osaka Castle Park

Lots of people brought their dogs for walks the park. People in Osaka are generally more friendly than other Japanese, when the girls showed interest in their dogs, they slowed down to let the girls pet them. One lady let Zaria carried her dog, Nana; and Nana was so taken by Zaria (or was it because she tasted Nissin soup on Zaria’s face) she kept licking Zaria’s face!
Being kissed by a dog at Osaka Castle Park

Strolling around the park was extremely pleasant, and we could see the Osaka Castle from almost every where in the park; and it’s extremely beautiful in the evening sun light.
Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle Park

Osaka Castle Park

Osaka Castle

One part of the park had lots of ginko trees, which have beautiful yellow leaves on the tree and scattered on the ground.
Ginko Fruits and Nuts

Ginko Plant

After a stroll around the park, we headed back to the train station located near Osaka Museum of History 大阪歴史博物館 and took the train to Namba and then walked to the shopping dining paradise of Osaka, Dotonbori 道頓堀 and Shinsaibashi 心斎橋.
Osaka Museum Of History

Bright neon lights, LCD billboards brighten up the place.
Dotonburi Neon Signboards

Glico Man at Dotonburi

And when you are there, you will never miss the tempting scent of grilled crab from Kani Doraku Dotonburi かに道楽. They purposely grilled it at the front of the restaurant to lure customers I believe. For ¥700, we got a small portion of grilled crab and ate standing. The crab siew-mais were also very nice. ¥500 for 3 pieces, we bought 3 portions as they were just too delicious.
Dotonburi Crab Restaurant

For dinner, we chose a conveyor belt sushi restaurant.
Dining at Dotonburi sushi restaurant

I love the tacky restaurant signs in Osaka. Unlike the signs in Kyoto, they are loud here.
Seafood Restaurant at Dotonburi

And they like using 3D signboards.
Fugu Restaurant at Dotonburi

Gyoza Restaurant at Dotonburi

Some are also quite artistic.
Birdland at Dotonburi

Mural at Dotonburi

After some shopping and walking, we passed by Kinryu Ramen (金龍 ラーメン), and thought of trying. So we queued up, ordered 2 bowls, and waited. There’s only char siew topping, but there’s condiments such as kimchi, chives, for us to add, so while Zaria had all the char siew, hubs and I shared the rest with heaps of condiments added. It was quite nice, and Zaria claimed it’s the best ramen she’s ever tasted and the char siew melted in the mouth!
Ramen Restaurant at Dotonburi

Japan 2013 Part 9 : Day 10 – Gero 下呂 Friends Making and Osaka 大阪 Takoyaki Making

March 12, 2014 at 2:51 pm

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

Girls' shadown

♥November 30th Sunday♥

Leaving Gokayama, we started driving to Gero 下呂, a city about 2 hours away from Gokayama, which is famous for their onsen.

Why a stop at Gero? It’s all because of the beautiful listing of Shinko’s House in Airbnb.

The House is 100 years old and when I read about the place and the feedback, I immediately thought we had to make a stop there, even if it was just for one night.

Arriving at Gero after dark, we got lost trying to find her place, but with the help of a worker at a convenient store, who called Shinko (the house owner) and charted our route on a map, we managed to locate it easily). It’s located right at the top of a hill. We got a section of the house ourselves, which includes a living room and the bed room.

Shinko cooked us a simple local Gero chicken dish for dinner, and after dinner we went to an onsen for our bath. As this is a town famous for onsen, there are many onsens, and I couldn’t believe that they only charge as low as ¥300 for adults and ¥150 for kids to use the facilities. The girls’ feedback on the onsen here? “The ladies were younger and more beautiful at Takayama, the ones here are bigger size and older.” They enjoyed the dip none-the-less.

Sleeping arrangement in Shinko's house

♥December 1st Sunday♥

Shinko brought us a breakfast tray in the morning, and then sent in fried eggs and pancakes later. It was a big breakfast! Zaria enjoyed the pancakes so much she said that was her best breakfast in Japan.
Shinko's breakfast tray

After breakfast, the girls went to Shinko’s section of the house and met up with Shinko’s 2 children, Francois, 3; and Claire 9; the four of them clicked immediately. The rest of the morning, the 4 of them played in Shinko’s compound.

A holiday is not just about the places you see, but the people you meet and the friends you make.

Girls making friends at Gero

Girls making friends at Gero

Zaria was so taken by their hen Peacock, she kept asking us to get her a pet hen when we got home.
Francois was so taken by Zaria, he wanted to stay close to her all the time, and asking her to play with him. He wasn’t happy Zaria spent so much time with Peacock the hen.

Shinko’s house is situation on a hill, most houses have big plots of land to plant rice and vege. It was the same for Shinko’s house. There is a clear stream as well (she said during summer, it’s nice for swimming), and there are chestnut trees, persimmon trees, flower bushes around.

Drying persimmons

Fallen Chestnuts

Beautiful flower

We were rather sad to leave her house, especially the girls, who asked if they could stay for another night. We left at noon time after all the hugs and good byes, and then headed to Gero town for lunch.
Japanese restaurant

Then it was the long drive to Osaka, where 1/3 of the journey is on trunk road.

We arrived at Osaka after dark, checked into our hotel Crowne Plaza ANA. This was the hotel with the biggest room we got in Japan, however, we there’s only one king bed. So Zaria had to sleep on the sofa, while the 3 of us shared the king bed.

Room at Crowne Plaza ANA Osaka

Room at Crowne Plaza ANA Osaka

We then returned our rented car at the nearby Nisan centre, and had dinner at Takonotetsu, a Takoyaki (or Octopus ball) restaurant where you can cook your own Takoyaki.
Takoyaki at Takonotetsu
My first try in Takoyaki making, and it they came out quite good actually, and properly rounded. I saw some other diners’ Takoyaki came out pretty ‘disfigured’. I’m not sure if they were self cooked or the Takoyaki here is in deed nicer, we love our Takoyaki; we tried other Takoyaki in Osaka later in our trip, and they were never as nice.

Japan 2013 Part 8 : Day 8 and 9 – Snow at Shirakawa-go 白川郷 And Gokayama 五箇山

February 21, 2014 at 4:40 pm

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

♥November 29th Friday Night♥

Heavy snow fall started after we left Takayama 高山, and it slowed us down getting to Shirakawa-go 白川郷.

(A bit about Shirakawa-go 白川郷. From Japan-guide.com and Wiki : The Shirakawa-go 白川郷 and neighboring Gokayama 五箇山 regions line the Shogawa River Valley in the remote mountains that span from Gifu to Toyama Prefectures. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, these villages are famous for their traditional gassho-zukuri 合掌造り farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.

The Gasshō-zukuri, “prayer-hands construction” style is characterized by a thatched and steeply slanting roof resembling two hands joined in prayer. The design is exceptionally strong and, in combination with the unique properties of the thatching, allow the houses to withstand and shed the weight of the region’s heavy snowfalls in winter.)

We were adviced by Shirakawa-go Tourist Association 白川郷観光協会, where we booked our farm stay from, to arrive at the information centre before 5pm to be shown to our farm house.

When we got to Ogimachi Village 荻町集落, the biggest and more popular village for tourists, where we would be spending the night in, it was after 5pm and it was pitch dark, except for a convenient store. The hubs went to ask for direction to Yoshiro 与四郎, where we’ll be staying. A lady came out of the store and told us to follow her car, in the heavy snow fall! I’m really in awe of all the help we’d received in Japan!

Yoshiro 与四郎 is a small farm house with about 4 rooms. It wasn’t one of my choices when I sent my inquiries to Shirakawa-go Tourist Association, but glad that we were assigned this farm house. Another group from Thailand arrived at the same time as us. The 4 Thais, refusing to be split into 2 rooms had to be given the bigger room which the owner, an elderly lady, had originally assigned to us. The owner kept apologising to us, “I am sorry. I am sorry.” and bowed her head. She told us that Zaria will not be charged anything (we were meant to pay ¥5,000 for Zaria).

The room we got was small but clean, rooms were not en suite. I went with the girls to bath at the common bath room, where a big hot tub of water was awaiting us.

Dinner was served at the common dining room at 7pm. Although children were charged at a cheaper rate (and Zaria free this round), all the portions served were the same. Zaria’s main was Hida beef slices, while we got chicken. (And Zaria said her beef was so soft and very yummy).
Dinner at Yoshiro Shirakawa-go
We were overfed and the food was delicious!

We were then entertained by the owner playing popular Japanese tunes (Doraemon theme song, Sakura) on her shanisen 三味線, a Japanese instruments with 3 strings.
Yoshiro owner playing the shanisen

And she asked us to play for her after that, all of us had a go, but no one could produce tunes she did. We had great fun though, laughing at each other’s attempts.
Thai tourist playing the shanisen at Yoshiro
The dining room was filled with laughter from all our failed attempts!

While we were dining and being entertained, someone went to our room to set up our futons. Because of the cold, we each had a heater box placed under our blankets. As there was nothing else to do, we all had an early night.
Thai tourist playing the shanisen at Yoshiro

♥November 30th Saturday♥

We were woken up by hub’s return from his early drive out. He told us it was beautiful outside, everything was covered in snow!
Snow covered Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Snow at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Snow at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go
He showed us the photos he took where everything was covered in snow, and the girls immediately got up from their warm futons and wanted to go out and play. I insisted we have breakfast first as it was ready.

We were served a big breakfast, with rice and a hotpot of chicken (which were not in the picture).
Breakfast at Yoshiro Shirakawa-go

I did the packing, and the hubs brought the girls out to play.
Snow at Yoshiro Shirakawa-goThe girls were so happy to step on crisp snow!

We thanked the owner, while she kept repeating “I am sorry. I am sorry.”; paid her (and yes, she didn’t charge Zaria), and left Yoshiro.

The hubs brought us to the viewing point, which he went in the morning.

The good thing about staying in the farm house is, we got to enjoy the place before the first bus from nearby cities arrived.
Snow at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

But looks like some early riser beat us to making the first snow man.
Snowman at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

We quickly got to work and made ours too.
Snowman at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

We got a really good view of Ogimachi Village 荻町集落 from the viewing point.
Snow covered Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Snow covered Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

The area around view point seems like it’s popular for locals to exercise too.
Walking the dog at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

The girls had their share of exercise too by gathering balls of snow, and tossing at each other, dodging and laughing all the time. It’s nice to see them so happy enjoying the snow.

We went back to the village. It was a sunny day, and the snow was melting away, so it got pretty wet every where. However, it was still beautiful and serene.
Snow covered farm at Shirakawa-go

Gassho-zukuri farm houses at Shirakawa-go

Snow at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Chili drying at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Chili and persimmons drying at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Restaurant at Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

Ogimachi Village Shirakawa-go

The girls, especially Zaria, was enjoying all the slopes she could find climbing up them, sliding down on her buttocks, doing cart wheels or whatever stunt.
Zaria on a snow slope

Zaria doing cart wheel on snow

We thought we would visit another village in Gokayama 五箇山 area, and we picked the nearest Suganuma Village 菅沼集落. It’s a small and quiet village with not many tourists nor locals.

Suganuma Village at Gokayama

Gassho-zukuri farm house turned Museum at Gokayama

Drying persimmons at Gokayama

Persimmons tres at Gokayama

Gassho-zukuri farm house turned restaurant at Gokayama

We break for tea at a quaint cafe 茶房掌, even in such a small village, the coffee and biscuit served were really good.
Coffee at 茶房掌 Suganuma Village Gokayama

And then attracted by a sweet aroma, we stopped at a snack shop for Gohei Mochi 五平餅, a snack available in this region made with rice, coated with miso sauce and then grilled; and a bowl of red bean soup
Gohei Mochi at Gokayama

Gohei Mochi at Gokayama

Red bean soup at Gokayama

Gohei Mochi shop at Suganuma

Gohei Mochi shop at Gokayama

Before we headed to our next destination, Zara and Zaria enjoyed the last bit of snow available right outside the restroom at Suganuma Village parking lot. It would probably be a while before they get to see snow again.

Snow at Suganuma Village Gokayama

Japan 2013 Part 6 : Day 6 – Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社, Tofukuji 東福寺, Gion 祇園

January 19, 2014 at 10:48 pm

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

♥November 27th Wednesday♥

Our last full day in Kyoto, and we decided to visit 2 more temples, Fushimi Inari Shrine 伏見稲荷大社 and Tofukuji 東福寺 which is on the same JR Nara Line, and one station away from another.

To be honest, if I were to plan for the holiday again, I would skip Nijo Castle, and probably visit a few temples less. We had in total visited 8 temples this trip! Way too many. Unfortunately, I can’t turn back time, but will learn from this trip.

From Wiki
Fushimi Inari Taisha 伏見稲荷大社, famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates (鳥居), is the head shrine of Inari, located in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto, Japan. The shrine sits at the base of a mountain also named Inari which is 233 metres above sea level, and includes trails up the mountain to many smaller shrines.

Since early Japan Inari was seen as the patron of business, and merchants and manufacturers have traditionally worshipped Inari. Each of the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha is donated by a Japanese business. First and foremost, though, Inari is the god of rice.

Guess maybe it’s a shrine for patron of business, and red is an auspicious colour, we see red everywhere.
Lanterns at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Lanterns at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari Shrine

A Taiwanese wishing (on her wishing plague or Ema 絵馬) she would pass her exams and become an official teacher soon. Hope her wish is granted!
Wishing Plague at Fushimi Inari Shrine

There were bunches of threaded origami cranes hung at the wishing board. All the best to them too.
Origami cranes hung at Fushimi Inari Shrine

For us non-believer, we just rang the bell at the shrine for good luck.
Making a wish at Fushimi Inari Shrine

Statue of foxes, which are the messenger of Inari, are found around the shrine.
Inari Foxes

Inari Foxes

Even the Ema (絵馬) or the wishing plagues are in the shape of foxes.
Fox wishing plagues

The trail leading up the Inari mountain is lined with torii gates (鳥居).
Torii gates at Fushimi Inari

Torii gates at Fushimi Inari

With the donors named written at the back, as well as the date the torii is donated.
Torii gates at Fushimi Inari

Fushimi Inari Shrine

After Fushimi Inari Shrine, we headed towards Tofukuji 東福寺, which is 1 JR station away.

It’s supposed to be another good place to view autumn leaves; but by this time, seriously, it was just another temple to me, I wasn’t really enjoying myself. Moreover, it was so crowded at the temple.
Autumn in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

Zen garden in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

Autumn in Tofukuji

I was so glad the temple visit was over, as it was a super cold day.
Girls at Tofukuji

Thank goodness for a sweet stall set up opposite the temple, which offered complimentary hot tea, seats around a couple of heaters, and free access to the samples of the various sweets they were selling.
Sweet stall outside Tofukuji

Since it was our last night in Kyoto, we all wanted to go back to Gion 祇園 for some shopping. Unfortunately, it started raining when we reached there.

We found a yakitori (grilled chicken) restaurant for dinner, which didn’t have most of what we wanted. So we had a quick bite and left. The rain subsided a bit, but it was still wet.

Yasaka Shrine 八坂神社, Yasaka Jinja), also known as Gion Shrine seemed interesting, but nope, I wasn’t visiting another temple!
Yasaka Shrine

I stood outside the shrine with the girls while the hubs went into to have a quick look, there, we looked out to Shijo (四条通)junction at Gion.
Shijo Gion

While we were shopping, we were very lucky to spot a big group of Geishas walking out from Hanamikoji Dori 花見小路通, they were catching cabs and seemed like they were heading to some function which invited/hired (ok, I don’t know how this Geisha thing works) all of them.
Geisha at Hanamikoji

After shopping (not that we did much), as we were not satisfied with our earlier dinner, we went searching for another restaurant.
葱や平吉

We chose Heikichi Negiya aka the Heikichi Onion Shop 葱や平吉, a restaurant which featured mostly spring onion or onion dishes.

葱や平吉

Yuba at 葱や平吉

This is some special grilled onion, a recommended dish, but to me it was just another white onion.
The grilled onion at 葱や平吉

Their yakitori was better than the earlier place that we went to though.
Yakitori at 葱や平吉

Then it was back to the hotel to pack for our next stop.

Japan 2013 Part 5 : Day 5 – Eikando 永観堂, Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺, Higashiyama District

January 10, 2014 at 11:56 am

The posts and summary for the whole trip, can be found here

♥November 26th Tuesday♥

Daily routine during our visit to Japan was to walk to the train/subway/bus station to get to the destination we wanted to visit. That Tuesday, it was Eikando 永観堂 that we planned to visit.
daily journey to the train station

We gave the girls ¥150 daily as ‘drink money’, so, they would always made a stop at the vending machine, cracked their heads to choose a drink of their choice.
choosing a drink at the vending machine

We took the subway from Gojo Station 五条駅 to Karasuma Oike Station 烏丸御池駅 (Karasuma Line 烏丸線) and then changed train to get to Keage Station 蹴上駅 (Tōzai Line 東西線), the station closest to Eikando 永観堂.

From Japanese Search : At the southern end of the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto, just north of Nanzen-ji, you will find Zenrin-ji. Zenrin-ji was the name given to the temple at its founding in 863. It means “Temple in a calm grove,” but few people use the name any longer. In the 11th century it became known as Eikando (永観堂禅林寺) after a famous head priest named Eikan. Eikan is attributed with acquiring the unusual Amida Buddha statue in the main worship hall. The head is turned sideways, and the legend goes that originally the statue faced forward, but turned to speak to Eikan as he was walking by.

Entrance ticket to the temple is ¥600 for adults and ¥400 for children. It’s one of the best temples to view autumn leaves per a lot of websites. The temple was very crowded the day we were there, but gorgeous indeed. You can see for yourself here.

Eikando garden

Eikando garden

Eikando autumn leaves

Eikando grounds

Eikando grounds

Eikando grounds

Eikando statue

Eikando grounds

Eikando lake

Ducks and Fish at Eikando lake

Autumn in Eikando

Autumn in Eikando

Tea house at Eikando

Tea house at Eikando

Autumn in Eikando

It’s almost like a fairy tale!

After Eikando, we bought some onigiri at the road side as our lunch, and walked to Philosopher’s Walk/Philosopher’s Path 哲学の道. Maybe it was autumn, and there’s no cherry blossoms to view, it wasn’t that pretty. There were a couple of artists selling their art work along the walk.

Artist at Philosopher's Walk

And it’s home for a lot of (fat) cats.
Cat at Philosopher's Walk

Next we took a bus to Kiyomizu-dera 清水寺.

From the website : Located halfway up Otowa Mountain in the eastern part of Kyoto City, Kiyomizu-dera is a historic temple that was established in 778, even before Kyoto became the capital of Japan. Since its foundation, the temple has burned down many times. Most of the current buildings were rebuilt by the third Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu in the early Edo period (1631 to 1633).

From the bus stop, we walked along Higashiyama District, the city’s best preserved historic districts, with ancient streets lined with shops, eateries, to get to the temple; and picked up snack we fancied along the way.
Buns vendor at Higashiyama Street

I think it was a public holiday for Japanese the day we were there, there were so many people on the street, and of course the temple was extremely crowded.

We paid our entrance fee of ¥300 for adult, ¥200 for children, and joined the throng of people.

We went to Jishu Jinja 地主神社, a shrine dedicated to God of love and “good matches”.

Ema (絵馬) or wishing plagues at Kiyomizu-dera

A God at Jinshu Jinja

A lot of couples were there making wishes, or probably pledging undying love for one another.
Couple at Jinshu Jinja

Otowa-no-taki 音羽の滝, the waterfall where visitors drink for health, longevity, and success in studies.
Otowa waterfall

Kiyomizu-dera is best known for its ‘nail-less’ wooden stage (Kiyomizu Stage 清水の舞台) that juts out from its main hall, 13 meters above the hillside below, which gives a magnificent view of the city below. It was so crowded that day, people stood behind one another to get a chance to stand at the edge for photos; but it was worth the wait.

Kyoto City, with Kyoto Tower, can be seen clearly on that day.
Sunset at Kiyomizu-dera

Sunset at Kiyomizu Stage

We slowly walked back out.
Higashiyama District

Along the street there were lanterns, indicating there’s special night opening at Kiyomizu-dera, probably to see the autumn light up.
Lanterns at Higashiyama District

Yasaka Pagoda 八坂塔, is one of the most visible and recognizable landmarks in the Higashiyama District.
Yasaka Pagoda

Outside of Kiyomizu-dera, more people were queuing to enter the temple for its night visit.
Crowded Higashiyama District

We came across many non-Japanese ladies (they spoke Chinese or Cantonese) beautifully made up in Kimonos walking around Kiyomizu-dera that day. It seems there are several kimono rental services in that area, starting from ¥3500, you can be a kimono clad Japanese for a day.

These 3 ladies, presumably from Hong Kong (they spoke Cantonese), were giggling, posing in front of a cream puff shop.
Girls in Kimono at Higashiyama District

After the visitors started entering Kiyomizu-dera for their night visit, the streets quietened down slightly.
Yasaka Pagoda

We found a small eatery nearby for dinner, and then headed to Gion 祇園 for shopping.

Supper was at Issen Yoshoku 壹錢洋食, a famous eatery at Gion. The restaurant only serves 1 dish, an Okonomiyaki-liked pancake. At ¥630, it draws a lot of local as well as foreign customers. It’s renowned for its logo, a dog pulling the underwear of a young boy; its unique interior, where kimono-clad mannequins serve as your dining companions/hostesses at every table; and also the wall deco which are actually ‘wishing plagues’ or Ema (絵馬) with sexual content.

Issen Yoshoko

Issen Yoshoko Logo

Issen Yoshoko wall deco

Issen Yoshoko model

Issen Yoshoko food preparation

We only ordered one ‘Okonomikyaki’ to be shared. I didn’t like it, the combination of everything mixed together wasn’t to my liking.
Issen Yoshoko - Okonomiyaki

It was then time to walk to the nearest bus stop to take a bus back to our hotel.
Gion at night

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