My visit to the Empire of Death

Warning.

This post contains some disturbing images. If you are not comfortable with looking at bones (and one rather creepy photo of a photo of skeletal remains), please stop here.

Thank you

Today is October the 31st Halloween so I thought it would be appropriate to have a spooky post to mark the occasion.

In case you’ve missed it, we in the Chinese world have a Ghost Month which does not involve dressing up in costume.

The Empire of Death in my blog post title refers to the inscription before the real entrance to the Catacombs of Paris.

Stop! This is the Empire of Death
Stop! This is the Empire of Death

When I was planning my May 2011 trip to Paris, the Catacombs was on the top of my list, right below the Lourve and the Eiffel Tower.

I first knew about the underground ossuary [Definition: A container or room into which the bones of dead people are placed.] from TV.

The Catacombs was shown on the rather unscary Scariest Places on Earth, hosted by Linda Blair who played the kid in The Exorcist. I was fascinated by the number of beautifully arranged human skulls.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve shared this, but I am a lover of anything spooky. New Orleans, I will visit you one day for your creepy plantations.

I started queuing up before 10 a.m. so I could finish the walk through the Catacombs early and visit the rest of Paris. There was a short queue when I reached.

Entrance to the Catacombs
Entrance to the Catacombs

It took a while before I was admitted into the tiny room selling tickets. With more body language than my broken French, I asked for a ticket and an audio guide.

I recommend getting the audio guide, or else you will be left with walking past graffiti and skulls without knowing what on earth is happening. (Not much is happening, by the way.)

The audio guides also make the visit seem more like a video game. Looking for the next audio point is like trying to find the treasure chest in old Chinese RPG games.

Ticket room to the Catacombs of Paris
Ticket room to the Catacombs of Paris

There are a few exhibition areas in the tunnel, telling the history of the Catacombs. One of it featured this rather scary photo of skeletal remains.

OK, this is rather creepy
OK, this is rather creepy

Be prepared to walk, a lot

Before going to the Catacombs, you should know that there is a lot of walking involved.

Walking up the stairs,

Catacombs of Paris
Light at the end of the tunnel

Walking down the stairs,

Well well well...
Well well well…

Walking in puddles.

Catacombs when it's wet
Catacombs when it’s wet

Walking in low roof areas.

Watch your head
Watch your head

Walking in the semi dark and so on.

There are no toilets in the passage so do your business before heading in.

As the tunnels are built underground, there are signs showing which part of the streets you are at.

Underneath Rue Hallé
Underneath Rue Hallé

The catacombs was not built in one day and neither is Rome, so I heard. But the tunnels were not built to keep human bones and was partly an old mine.

On parts of the walls, you can find carvings of years when that particular part was built.

Established since 1781
Established since 1781

Entering the Empire of Death

Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The real part of the ossuary comes after the long walk. You’re not supposed to take flash pictures inside but so many tourists were happily flash snapping away. Grits teeth.
Not to do list
Not to do list

Behind the walls of skulls are piled up bones which reminds me of the bones song: “The thigh bones connected to the hip bone.”
Interesting patterns, who thinks them up?
Interesting pattern, who thinks them up?

Catacombs of Paris
Skulls and thigh bones
Curved wall with skulls
Curved wall with skulls
Great interior design
Great interior design

Poetic Death

There were a lot of poetic inscriptions.

My favorite was this:

Where is Death?
Where is Death?

“Where is Death? Always in the future or the past.
And when she is present, she is no longer here.”
(The “she” being Death.)

My second favorite:

At the banquet of life
At the banquet of life

“At the banquet of life, unlucky guest,
I appeared one day, and I die:
I die, and on my grave, where I come slowly,
No one will shed tears!”

 Blessed is he who
Blessed is he who

“Blessed is he who keeps the hour of death in sight,
and who spends his days ready to die.”

O death
O death

“O death that your judgment is filled with fairness” (Help with translating this, please.)

Not quite poetic
Not quite poetic

Great walk

YQ at Catacombs of Paris
Happy camper!

I like the Catacombs a lot. The tunnels did not feel creepy since the bones are arranged beautifully.

It makes Death seem less scary.

But I am sort of disappointed that I didn’t feel any paranormal vibes. Maybe next time!

Visiting information
Catacombs of Paris (Catacombes de Paris)
Web site: http://www.catacombes-de-paris.fr/english.htm
Nearest subway and RER: Denfert-Rochereau
Open from 10a.m. to 5p.m. (Closed on Mondays)

Interesting sites nearby: Montparnasse Cemetery

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How to book AirAsia Free Seats

airasia free seats

It’s that time of the year when AirAsia has its “Free Seats” sale. This time, the sale will be held on the coming Monday, Oct 29 at 0:00 GMT +8.

Unfortunately, I probably won’t be able to book those Free Seats because I am still travelling at the start of the sale.

However, I’ve whipped up a few tips so you can successfully book those Free Seats* (airport tax and service charge not included).

Before you go around saying, “Hey, why do I still need to pay if it’s a Free Seats sale?”, remember, the plane ride itself costs nothing but you pay the usual airport tax, service charge. You can beat secret extra charges too if you know where to find them.

These RM0 sales was once a really rare event. But AirAsia had two of these Free Seats sales just this May and September. It’s great that it’s getting more frequent. This also means that if you cannot book your flights in this round, the other round will come soon.

Are you ready to book those Free Seats? Let’s go! (PS The following tips are adapted from a guide by AirAsia. Even if you have read the guide, I have a few tips based on my booking experience so please read on.)

Preparation before sale day

You should prepare for the sale by following the list below a few days before the sale. Doing it on the day of booking will cost you time and even make you lose your Free Seat.

Step 1: Sign up for an account
Even if you will only book from AirAsia once, sign up for an account as this will cut down the time you make bookings later.

You will be able to save your travel information (such as passport number, passport expiry date, phone number etc) to the account as well. You will need these information when you make the booking.

Step 2: Register your Family and Friends list
Once you have an account, register your travelmates’ names and travel information in the Family and Friends list.

This list saves the travel information of your Family and Friends so you can add them into your booking with only a few clicks. (Similar to Step 1, you will need the personal information of those travelling with you.)

Tip: If you or your travelmate’s passport is expiring around the dates you want to book, just give a pretend expiry date. You can change the passport number and date later after you’ve made the booking.

Step 3: Figure out the routes and dates you want to fly
There are only a few “Free” tickets for each flight so if those RM0 tickets are snatched up, you will get slightly more expensive tickets. This is why you need to be quick and plan really far ahead.

As the tickets are usually for dates that around half a year earlier, you have to figure out which are the best dates to travel. This includes finding out if there are long weekends or public holidays which you can take advantage of.

Also, it’s not worth going on trips where you reach too late or leave too early because you will waste half day’s leave (or your precious holiday time) going to the airport or flying back.

Step 4: Have two or three backups
Even if you are clever enough to plan your trip around public holidays, other buyers are thinking the same. That’s why it’s important to have a few backup destinations or dates.

Without backups, changing dates while booking might be easy if you are a solo traveler. But if you are travelling in a group, make sure everyone is fine with the backup dates.

Step 5: Familiarize yourself with AsiaAsia’s booking system
Practice makes perfect so go ahead and pretend to book a few tickets until you’ve reached the page where you actually need to pay money.

This way, you will also see where the tricky extra charges are laid out. My post on how to beat AirAsia’s b***s*** charges tells you how to avoid those fees.

AirAsia also has a nice guide on how to book tickets for novice bookers.

On the date of the sale…

Tip 1: Book early or at a weird timing
I don’t think I’ve been lucky enough to book a Free Seat in the first hour of launch because the servers are usually too busy.

But I’ve had success booking at strange timings like early in the morning, in the office (don’t tell my boss. Shh…) or some days after the initial craze.

For the last few sales, AirAsia has implemented a “Waiting Room” system where you wait for the servers to be less busy before you are brought to the booking page. Make sure you have enough time to wait for your turn when making the booking.

Tip 2: Book through mobile site
There was a year when I booked my free seat through the mobile site and managed to snag one or two free seats. Unfortunately, I could only pay by credit card so there was the extra credit card processing fee.

Tip 3: Be patient!
This tip is actually targeted at myself. I run out of patience when trying to book and that doesn’t really help with the booking experience.

Do you have any tips to share?

That is all I have for now. I’ll update this page if I think of any new tips. If you are a AirAsia veteran, please share your tips for booking Free Seats.

Until my next post, have a safe trip.

Further reading: How to beat AirAsia’s secret extra charges

#FoodFri Glutton in Bangkok

I’ve never been to Thailand before my trip a few weeks ago. I’ve always thought of Thai food as hot, spicy and sour.

Problem is, I can’t do hot or spicy. The last time I accidentally had a bite of chilli curry, my lips were swollen for half a day–not in an Angelina Jolie sexy lip way but a literal bee stung lip way.

So I was a little bit worried that I could only eat the desserts of Bangkok. Not that that’s a bad thing.

Turns out I got my food stereotype wrong and I had great non-hot meals during my 24 hours in Bangkok.

Day 1 in Bangkok

I only had one meal on Day 1. I skipped dinner because I was in a 1.5 hours queue for a 2.5 hours-long my Thai massage.

Tom kha kai
Tom kha kai
My first dish was a slightly overpriced tom kha kai (Thai chicken soup in coconut milk) from Cabbages & Condoms. I shouldn’t complain about the price because I’ve read about how the restaurant a bit pricey for the quality of the food. (A review of the place will come soon).

Tom kha kai was one of the few non-spicy dishes on the menu. It was an interesting soup. Slightly sour from lemongrass, it had an overpowering coconut taste. The coconut milk had curdled.

I supposed it was meant to be shared because by the time I had my last bowl of soup, my stomach felt like bursting.

Strawberry smoothie
Strawberry smoothie
I picked up a glass of strawberry syrup with ice from a stall set up for the vegetarian festival.

The drink was ok but the strawberry tasted a bit off.

Day 2 in Bangkok

I wasn’t very hungry in the morning from yesterday’s lunch. But I made myself have some food since I know that the Grand Palace is pretty huge.

I chose one of the hole in the wall which is on the way to the palace from the jetty.

Duck horfun
Duck horfun
I didn’t know what was on the menu. The lady of the shop asked, “Noodle? Rice?” I asked for noodles and said “yes” to duck.

My dish of duck horfun noodles came with shallow soup and a duck drumstick. It smelled good and tasted amazing.

The horfun was smooth and the duck tender. Even the soup was good.
Le menu at duck noodle shop
I paid 60 baht for the bowl, since I think it was the most expensive dish on the menu.

After my breakfast, I went to two shops down for a breakfast dessert. The spicy ginger soup seduced me into the shop. There was another large pot with white beancurd.

I pointed at the big pot of soup outside, and signalled “1” with my index finger and said “no” to the croutons.

Tao huai nam khing
tao huai nam khing

I later found out that the dish is called tao huai nam khing. Bean curd served with ginger syrup.

The ginger syrup was both hot temperature-wise and gingery-hot-wise. I choked on the spicy ginger taste a couple of times but I finished the bowl because I learned that ginger is good for health.

The beancurd didn’t have the usual soybean taste. Instead, it had a hint of peanuts. I couldn’t figure out if they used peanuts or if their soybean just tastes different.

Tao huai shop
The little shop seems to be famous. There were newspaper clippings and photographs of the owner with a celebrity with a bowl cut.

Pad Thai
Pad Thai
I had the first pad thai of my life at the small restaurant in the compound of the National Museum.

I initially thought pad thai was just like char kway teo and was surprised to find the rather pale-looking dish with peanut grounds.

It was sour and oily but still yummy. I believe it was only 30 baht.

McDonald’s at the airport
Thai McDonald's at the airport
OK, I broke the Number 1 Rule of Eating in a Foreign Country: Do not eat globalized fast food.

My excuse was that it was the only affordable meal in the airport. I didn’t want to go hungry on my 2 hours and 45 minutes plane ride back and end up eating Popeyes when I reach around 10pm.

The food tasted exactly like it does in Singapore and Malaysia. But my drink seemed to be upsized.

Since I broke the rule of travel-eating, here is a photo of a Thai Ronald McDonald who is greeting passers by in a Thai way.

mcdonald bangkok

What’s your favorite Thai dish?

Bangkok’s Grand Palace is the Versailles of the East

I made a travel plan for Bangkok because I did not want to commit the same mistake as I did in Kuching.

My plans for the Sunday was to see the Grand Palace and then walk north to the museum and then to Khaoshan Road. It was a relaxed plan since I didn’t want to stress myself.

My friend N told me that it would take more than 2 hours to admire the Grand Palace. Looking at the 2×4-inch map on Lonely Planet, I wasn’t too convinced.

I set off for the palace after a meal of noodles and beancurd at two of the hole-in-the-walls outside the palace gate.
Behind the walls

When I reached the white walls, a loudspeaker spoke in a patient voice reminding tourists that there is only one ticket seller and trust no one. (It’s to prevent tourists from being cheated by swindlers.)

There was a bit more walking from the walls to the ticket selling booth. There were quite a lot of people around since it was Sunday.

The queue was short though, everyone seemed to crowded away from the ticket booth. I paid my 400 baht and got a lot of tickets.
Pricey Grand Palace tickets

I wasn’t even sure what most of the tickets were for.
Grand Palace tickets

I read that visitors need to dress modestly when visiting the Grand Palace so I brought along my own sarong cloth. I tied it haphazardly around my waist with one side higher up than the other.

When I headed in, I was stunned.

There was a small shrine dedicated to a medicine man. But the shrine was so over-the-top sparkly from the tiles that I just stared at it with my mouth open.

Wow.

I’ll let you look at the pictures instead of babbling about.

Mini shrine

Relaxed doc

Versailles of the East

I immediately thought of Versailles when I saw all the golden walls.

The castle of Louis XIV The Sun King must also be as grand as these.

Gold stupa
Gold stupa

Violet building at Bangkok's Grand Palace
Violet building at Bangkok’s Grand Palace
green+ gold building
green+ gold building
Another building
Another building

The map that came along with the brochure was not that useful because I promptly forget which building I was looking at when the sparkling walls blind me.

Random colorful wall
Random colorful wall
Green wat
Green wat
Tiles of Bangkok's Grand Palace
Tiles of Bangkok’s Grand Palace
Tiles of Bangkok's Grand Palace
Tiles of Bangkok’s Grand Palace

Statues of mythical beings

Guardian at Bangkok's Grand Palace
Guardian at Bangkok’s Grand Palace
Many green guardians at Bangkok's Grand Palace
Many green guardians at Bangkok’s Grand Palace
White guardian at Bangkok's Grand Palace
White guardian at Bangkok’s Grand Palace
Garuda at Bangkok's Grand Palace
Garuda at Bangkok’s Grand Palace
Many gold guardians at Bangkok's Grand Palace
Many gold guardians at Bangkok’s Grand Palace
Intricate shrine at Bangkok's Grand Palace
Intricate shrine at Bangkok’s Grand Palace
Hydra at Bangkok's Grand Palace
Hydra at Bangkok’s Grand Palace

Emerald Buddha

There’s a Chinese phrase “镇庙之宝” which loosely translates to the treasure that holds the temple. It’s the treasure which attracts people to a certain place.

At the Grand Palace, there is a temple for the Emerald Buddha. It is housed in a gorgeous building and on high steps so no one can go near.

There’s not photo taking inside the temple. Visitors sit on the floor and are not allowed to point their feet towards the small statue.

Emerald Buddha shrine (?)
Emerald Buddha shrine (?)
Entrance to Emerald Buddha shrine at Bangkok Grand Palace
Entrance to Emerald Buddha shrine at Bangkok Grand Palace
Exit of Emerald Buddha shrine at Bangkok Grand Palace
Exit of Emerald Buddha shrine at Bangkok Grand Palace

Cool stuff in the Grand Palace

ALTrashcan in Bangkok's Grand PalaceTTEXT
Trashcan in Bangkok’s Grand Palace
How not to sit on the banister
How not to sit on the banister
Closed to tourists
Closed to tourists
Ramayana murals at Bangkok's Grand Palace
Ramayana murals at Bangkok’s Grand Palace
Seniors tour group with German-speaking guide
Seniors tour group with German-speaking guide

I spent about two hours in the palace grounds and I got hungry.

Next stop, the National Museum!

Have you been to the Grand Palace? How was your experience there?

The real 24 hours in Kuching

My weekend trip to Kuching from Sep. 15 to 16 wasn’t my most productive trip.

By productive, I mean having a planned itinerary packed with activities from the minute I set foot in the airport to the second I head into the boarding room.

You would think that as the author of 24 hours in Kuching, I would have everything planned out.

Nope, I didn’t.

Instead, I accidentally left my guidebook at home and didn’t really bothered doing much research.

So, here’s what really happened that weekend.

1:18 pm Walk out from Kuching airport

Kuching International Airport
Kuching International Airport

I was adamant to find the public bus into the city, despite Lonely Planet saying it will be a difficult task. I walked from Kuching airport to the east (left) in search of the long-distance bus terminal.

D who took a cab some days before said it’s within walking distance from the airport with an umbrella or else it’s a RM17 ride.

On the way to Kuching Sentral
On the way to Kuching Sentral

So I walked on the side of the road, stepping on broken stones and grass. I don’t think the road builders were expecting anyone to walk on that trail so it was pedestrian unfriendly.

While I walked, trucks and cars zipped pass. Some in the truck would cheer (or cat call, depend on how you see it) me on. I considered hitchhiking.

1:37 pm Reached Kuching Sentral

Finally! Kuching Sentral
Finally! Kuching Sentral

It wasn’t long until I saw the two-storeyed Kuching Sentral. There were loads of shops inside the airconditioned building but I needed to find my bus.

A man working for the long distance bus companies asked where I was going. He pointed to the opposite side of the road and said I can find my bus there.

I asked if there’s a bus stop. He told me to wait at the side of the road which bends in.

1:44 pm Bus that never came

Waiting for the bus that never comes
Waiting for the bus that never comes

I waited for about 20 minutes under the sun, with my umbrella. No bus came.

1:58 pm Had milky cold coffee

Ice coffee
Ice coffee

I gave up and went to a coffeeshop nearby for a drink. The coffee was more milky than the usual ones I have in Singapore.

2:29pm Waited more for bus

Real bus stop but no bus
Real bus stop but no bus

I walked around Kuching Sentral and saw a real bus stop. The bus didn’t come.

2:41 pm Got on cab

In a cab
In a cab
I gave up and took a cab. RM30. I should have saved myself the time and took a cab straight to the hotel.

The cab ride felt really far. I even passed many places I was sure was opposite the bank of where I was supposed to go. I did reach my hotel in the end.

3:10pm Reach hotel

Tune Hotel Kuching
Tune Hotel Kuching

I made a video of Tune Hotel Kuching before heading to the shower. I’ve included the video in my review of Kuching Waterfront Tune Hotel.

3:42pm Checking out Kuching city

Sarawak Regatta
Sarawak Regatta

I walked along the Kuching River. There was the Sarawak Regatta happening so it was really packed.

I checked out the Chinese temple which I didn’t manage to see during my last trip.

Tuo Pek Gong temple, Kuching
Tuo Pek Gong temple, Kuching

As it was the last day of Ghost Month, people at the temple were busy preparing for the night’s event.

Preparation
Preparation

I walked among the shop houses, found two other nice temples.

Fancy temple
Fancy temple

I walked to Padang Merdeka but couldn’t find anything fun to do.

St Thomas Cathedral
St Thomas Cathedral

4:35pm Rain

It's raining (men).
It’s raining (men).

It suddenly started pouring. I had my S$2 umbrella with me so I braved the heavy rain and went to the open air food center nearby.
kolo mee stall
kolo mee stall

Most of the stalls were closed. I ordered a kolo mee which was tasted slightly better than the regular “gan lao mian” I have back home. I am not sure why people are obsessed over it.

Kolo mee
Kolo mee

When I finished my meal, it was still raining heavily. I stood at the sidewalk of the shops, listening to a mix versions of Adele’s “Someone like you” and Psy’s “Gangnam Style“.

4:47pm India Street

I head to India Street while it was slightly drizzling. Only the smell of incense shows that it’s India Street as the wares sold are seen on any other street.

Kid and mom on India Street
Kid and mom on India Street

5:02pm Hide from rain by river

I walked to the river again. My umbrella was collapsing from the wind.

One of the rowers shouted from his boat about my umbrella. I waved. They hoot.

One of the stall owners told me to hide from the rain under the roof of the stalls. I was given a chair later. I chat with the people there. A kid was speaking pidgin Chinese but not directly at me.

Angry Bird balloons
Angry Bird balloons

One of the man asked if I needed a ride tomorrow. RM300 for a day’s tour. I said, No thanks.

When it looked like the rain was slowing, I said my thanks and left the stall.

“We do not want to be colonized.”

State Assembly Building

5:34pm Had bad cake watching Silent Hill

As I walked along the street, I saw a sign for Maria’s Cake House and headed in.

Not so good cake
Not so good cake

My coffee cake wasn’t terribly good. My coffee was so so. But I enjoyed watching Silent Hill.

During my teatime, J, who moved back home to Kuching, asked me if I was free during the night in a text message. I happily said: “Yes.”

I was in the shop for a long while before I went back to the hotel for a nap.

7:43pm Wake up from nap, play Pocket Planes

Woke up. Received a message from J that she was waiting for her friend to carpool.

Played more Pocket Planes.

10:29pm Supper with friend till late midnight

Car came to pick me up. We went to a restaurant nearby for food and gossip.

lamb chop #1
lamb chop #1

Night ended at 1 a.m.

Day 2 in Kuching

The last 6 hours of Kuching was filled with food which is a very good way to end a trip.

Woke up at 9:30 a.m.

Laid in the comfortable bed for a long long.

10:10am Check out and off to museum

Bye Tune Hotel
Bye Tune Hotel

Very surprised that D & M were already at the museum before 10 a.m. I packed quickly and check out.

The Sarawak National Museum was only so-so. There were a lot of stuffed dead animals, if you’re into that kind of thing.

The special exhibition on funeral rites was a lot more interesting.

11:33pm Breakfast of Sarawak Laksa

After the museum, we head to a random kopitiam for breakfast. My Sarawak laksa was great.

Sarawak Laksa
Sarawak Laksa

We walked around the area and to India Street. It was market day so the narrow corridors were cramped with stalls and customers.

12:17 noon Drink at Little Lebanon

Found the Lonely Planet-famous Little Lebanon where we stopped for non-alcoholic drinks. My mint tea was quite good.

Mint Tea
Mint Tea

We walked along the river, among the crowd. Nothing much to do and it was hot.
Regatta day 2
Regatta day 2

Kuching Waterfront
Kuching Waterfront

Kuching waterfront
Kuching waterfront

We went to hide in a shopping mall for the airconditioning. Most of the shops were closed.

1:33pm Lunch

Found a lunch place. Service was very very slow. I had cheap lamb chop.

Lamb chop, again
Lamb chop, again

2:00 p.m. Cab back to airport

Hailed a cab to the airport. RM27.

Have you been to Kuching? Was your trip productive?

#FoodFri Penang cendol @ Georgetown

Cendol is probably my second favorite Malaysian dessert. (The first being “bubur pulut hitam” which is black glutinous rice soup with coconut milk.)

The best cendol I’ve ever had was in Georgetown, Penang.

Penang cendol

I usually like my cendol icy with lumps of teeth numbing ice so I was very disappointed when I got a warm-ish bowl of cendol from the “Penang Most Famous Teochew Chendul” (Yes, that’s its name!).

But after a sip of the coconut milk, I was hooked.

Even L, who was repulsed by the florescent green cendol in Singapore, enjoyed the Penang dish very much. She admitted that the mild green cendol looks more edible than the artificial coloring added in Singapore’s dessert.

L and I visited this stall for all three days we were there (or was it two out of the three days?)

The green worm-like cendol was soft and had real pandan flavor. The sweet red bean gave the pale milk a hint of rouge.

Even though the melting lump of shaved ice didn’t help much with making the bowl cooler, it helped cooled me down in the hot weather.

Best cendol stall in Georgetown
I found out about the stall from a work acquaintance. I bumped into her on my way home on the train. She said she visits Penang a lot for work and recommended the “cendol stall opposite the police station”.

She told me that there are stalls selling cendol on the same street. The acquaintance said I need to pick the stall with blue bowls. It’s also closer to the junction and doesn’t have chairs.

(This site has the map if you are interested in visiting the stall: http://www.onestopmalaysia.com/food-reviews/penang/penang-road-cendol.html)

Money saving tips for Tokyo: Accommodation and sightseeing

Adorable Japanese baby

Minnasan konnichiwa,

We’ve reached the end my money saving tips for Tokyo series. This time, I will share with you how to save on accommodation and sightseeing so you can see more and do more in the capital.

[My previous tips include how to save on transportation as well as food and drink.]

Saving on accommodation

Cheap hotels in bad locations

Room in Hotel Maruchu
Room in Hotel Maruchu

Hotel Maruchu where I spent a night wasn’t in the most convenient locations of Tokyo. But I had a private room and the chance to participate in the ritual public bath.

My single room with shared bathroom facilities was 3,500 yen (US$44.5) while the price of a dorm bed at Sakura Hostel is 2,940 yen (US$$37.3).

I’ve stayed in a twin bed room at another budget business hotel Weekly Mansion Kameido before. It was 5,300yen for two with a private bathroom. But the location wasn’t the best.

What’s good about these two places is that they are still considered to be within Tokyo city, unlike some AirBnb rooms which are quite far from the city.

Overnight at onsen theme park

Reclining chairs at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari
Reclining chairs at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari

This option combines sightseeing, fun and accommodation at the price of one.

I stayed overnight at Ooedo Onsen Monogatari using the evening package which was cheaper than the day package.

While there wasn’t a bed and I was kept up at night by a snoring neighbor, it was plenty of fun since I got to soak in hot springs and participate in Gintama Land games.

Saving on sightseeing

Buy discounted tickets at 7-11

Ooedo Onsen Monogatari tickets from 7-11
Ooedo Onsen Monogatari tickets from 7-11

If you read Japanese, you can go to 7-11 to see if they sell discounted entrance tickets to places you want to visit.

There is a touchscreen machine in the store selling these discounted tickets. I had to poke around a bit before I found the tickets for Ooedo Onsen Monogatari (180 yen cheaper than buying at the door).

I believe there are discounted tickets for Skytree and other sites.

Sites with no entrance fees

Side entrance of Hanazono Shrine
Side entrance of Hanazono Shrine

Even if you are not a Japanophile, Japan is just bursting with so many amazing things to see.

Shrines are free to visit but it’s not free from capitalism.

I bought a charm for safe travels at Meiji Jingu and had my love fortune told in a slip of paper at Dai Jingu

(Fortune: I am supposed to really want love for it to come to me. Libra and Taurus are good choices, so is B bloodtyped folks but avoid Pieces people.)

I visited Hanazona Shrine quite accidentally and loved the peacefulness.

Kabuki-cho by day
Kabuki-cho by day

Tokyo’s infamous “red light” district Kabuki-cho looked very different in the day and at night.

For the fashion conscious, Shibuya and Harajuku are places to go. Anime fans, you know where to go to! (If you don’t please visit Akihabara.)

view from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building
view from Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building allows visitors to head up for an eagle eyes view of the city. One of the tower closes at 11pm.

People watching

Adorable Japanese baby
Adorable Japanese baby

Japanese children are probably the cutest human babies around. They usually look very packages as their parents dress them in adorable children clothing.

Japanese’s fashion sense is quite forward so even just walking down the street felt like I was at a fashion show (with me dressing down).

Check the rest of money saving tips for Tokyo:

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First impression of Bangkok

mcdonald bangkok

mcdonald bangkok
Ronald greets us with a wai

Hello, I’m still in Bangkok and I’ll be returning to Singapore on a 6.30pm plane this evening.

I quite like Bangkok. I love the Skytrain. Any city with a metro system gets one thumbs up for me. Two thumbs if it doesn’t smell like pee.

I love the shrines along every street. I love how the king is loved so much that I see as many of his posters as I would a regular celebrity.

Unfortunately, I’ve only eaten one meal since I have arrived. Yes, the Glutton ate ONE meal in Bangkok. It’s a long story: I had to wait 1.5 hours for a massage and I was too lazy to find food. Plus, having a full stomach is not conducive for the wrestling moves I had to do.

Here’s a video I did before I head out into the streets.

#FoodFri Banmian from Kota Kinabalu

When people ask me what food I miss most from home. I can rarely give an answer.

Saying “Seafood” is too easy. Who doesn’t love cheap seafood?

So instead of a real answer, I will show you one of my favorite dishes from home.

Ban mian
This noodle dish is called “ban mian” which roughly translates as “plank noodles”. I think the “ban” or “plank” signifies how the dough is chunky…I think.

A regular bowl of banmian (which is available in Singapore as well) has a pork-based stock, doughy noodles, pork, salted anchovies and some vegetable.

But not all banmian are good. It depends on the stock and the noodles. Some soup are so bland that my tears are probably tastier. Some noodles are undercooked or overcooked.

At my favorite banmian shop, everything is mixed in perfect harmony. The soup is tongue-scaldingly hot and the noodles chewy. The meat that accompanies it is always tender.

I do miss my banmian from home.

Shinjuku’s (secret) Garden Shrine

When I was planning my third trip to Tokyo, I thought I would not discover anything new since I have crossed off a lot of the tourist attractions in my previous two trips.

I spent my second day wandering around Shinjuku, waiting for the evening to come so I could go to Ooedo Onsen Monogatari hot springs theme park.

My mind was numb as I walked from one street to another. All the buildings looked very much alike.

Suddenly, I spotted a patch of green between two buildings. I stopped in my tracks just before the traffic lights to look more clearly. Yes, it was indeed an entrance wedged between two tall concrete constructions.

Hidden entrance of Hanazono Shrine
Hidden entrance of Hanazono Shrine

I crossed the street to take a closer look. The name Hanazono Jinja was carved into a stone pillar. Hanazono shares the same Chinese character as “flower garden”, so I named it my secret garden shrine.

I was attracted to the hidden gates because it reminded me of Yuuko Ichihara’s house in xxxHoLic. A building (or empty field in the case of this screenshot) between two taller buildings.

xxxHolic
xxxHolic

I didn’t immediately go through the gates. Instead, I got a coffee at a cafe opposite the shrine.

While sipping my drink, I found out that the shrine was famous enough to be included on the map of the free guide pamphlet. However, there was no description of the place and why it was in the strange location.

After my latte, I crossed the road to the shrine. The path was shaded not so much by the trees but by the walls of the buildings.

Path to Hanazono Shrine
Path to Hanazono Shrine

At the end of the path, there was the “cleansing station” where visitors wash their hands and rinse their mouth.water.

Cleansing water at Hanazono Shrine
Cleansing water at Hanazono Shrine

Entering the shrine grounds

When I first walked into the shrine ground, I was expecting a small shrine at the end of the path, not a semi gigantic red shrine.

Main shrine
Main shrine

There was also a Treasure Room but I wasn’t sure what treasures could be hidden inside.

Hanazno jinja treasure room
Treasure room

Similar to other Shinto shrines, Hanazono Jinja sold charms and ema. You write your wish on an ema and hang it up at the temple.

Wishes on ema
Wishes on ema

I didn’t quite get what the banner said but I thought the calligraphy was beautiful.

"Old rake" submission area
“Old rake” submission area

Praying to Inari

Hanazono Inari shrine
Tori leading to the small Inari shrine

At Hanazono Shrine, there was a smaller shrine for Inari. You will recognize Inari shrines because of the red torii lined in front.

Torii
Torii

Compared to the grand main building, the Inari shrine was small and cute.

In front, two adult foxes guarded. I realized that the papa and mama foxes have little fox cubs with them. If these were Chinese stone lions, I expect one to have cubs while the other to have a golden ball to symbolize the female and male.

Parent fox 1
Parent fox 1
Parent fox 2
Parent fox 2

I left by the main entrance, which was large. I’m glad that I found secret Garden Shrine through its smaller entrance.