The 3 labors in Istanbul [YQrtw Day 47 May 24]

street of istanbul
street of istanbul
street of istanbul

My trials weren’t over when my long-distance bus stopped in Istanbul’s terminal. My 3 labors were:

  1. I had no Turkish money
  2. I had no idea where I will be sleeping tonight. (This will totally freak my father out, so thankfully, he’s not reading this.)
  3. I had no mobile internet

I remember reading that long-distance bus companies would provide shuttle service from the terminal to the city center. None of the signs on top of the buses said Sultanahmet which was where I planned to find a place to say.

Despite being a ‘fraidy cat when asking strangers questions, I asked one of the employees where the bus to Sultanahmet was. He pointed to an empty space, surrounded by other people waiting.

So I waited. The second bus that parked at the mysterious space was the bus I had to go.

Of course, I did not know where to stop. It wasn’t until the last stop when everyone got off the bus that I asked the driver, “Sultanahmet?”

The man who looked 40-years-old spoke a lot of Turkish loudly, throwing his hands in the air. I translated this as, “Stupid foreigner, why didn’t you get off when I asked about LOCATIONNAME?”

I had to put on my Stupid Tourist face the whole while and smiled brightly.

The driver continued driving and said something that had the word “Metro”. I wasn’t sure if he was referring to the bus company “Metro” or the metro system. I nod my head anyway. The driver looked pleased.

While he drove, he pointed to neighborhoods and said things in Turkish. I tried as hard as I can to decipher, getting it right some times.

I figured that a particular neighborhood was where rich people lived, since the driver said “doktor”. He also said that the lane was small, or narrow.

We amused ourselves with this guessing game. At one point, he stopped by the road, pointed to the clock and showed me 9 fingers. I nod.

He showed me mobile phone photos of his five-year-old. I smiled and nod my head. He rolled some dried grass into a square of paper and went out to smoke.

Just a minute before 9:00am, a call came. The driver had finished smoking and picked it up. It seems to be that the head office was asking where he was. He grumbled loudly and drove to a Metro branch to pick some people up.

He told the young lady who came in about the stupid tourist. I caught the word “Sultanhmet.”

When the bus reached the tram station, the driver stopped the vehicle and pointed to the metro. I thanked him and got off.

In search of an international ATM and SIM

Despite the driver’s helpfulness, I was still cashless. ATMs that accept withdrawal using foreign ATM cards were difficult to find.

It took me a damn long time, passing at least 6 ATMS, before I found one that had the CIRRUS sign. Turns out, it only accepted Cash Advance.

I moved to the other ATM nearby and successfully withdrew 300 Turkish lira (TL), thinking that it would be sufficient.

Just across the street, there was a Turkcell shop. I head in and waited a while before the other customers were done.

The lady in the shop, with bleached blond hair and heavy eyeliner, told me that it would cost 35TL for a SIM card and 25TL for 1GB internet.

35TL for a SIM was the most ridiculous price for SIM card. It was equivalent to about S$30, with 5TL credit.

I almost didn’t want to get the card but I knew that I would regret it. So I did pay 60TL in the end for the card and data connection.

I felt like one of my limbs had regrown as I searched for information using my mobile data. Now to find a place to stay!

Snow White and the Seven Grown Men

I chose a hotel that had dorm rooms, thinking that I needed to save since SIM cards ate up half of my daily budget.

Following Google Maps, I walked down slopes from the restaurant to the hotel. The staff was still cleaning up so I had to wait a while. I didn’t mind waiting since my bag was off my shoulder.

At last, I was shown the dorm room. Inside, about 7 beds were arranged messily. The hotel person pointed to the beds and said it was occupied by which nationality.

I decided to choose one of the beds but the hotel person asked, “Do you want to change rooms?”

Come to think of it, I don’t really want to stay in a room with 6 other men. Even if they were gentlemen, it’s just plain weird.

My budget was blown through when the hotel person showed me a double room with an attached bathroom. Oh well.

Later, after a half an hour nap, I was thankful for the private room and its air-conditioning.

All’s well that ends well, I suppose.

Post script: My 14-hour bus ride has sapped a lot of my energy away. It’s only 9:40pm now but I feel the need to get back into bed. Plus, I need to pick up mom from the airport tomorrow at 6:00am. See you tomorrow!

What staying at a Chinese-run hostel in Europe is like

Beds in dorm

The first time I was in Europe in Barcelona in 2009, I stayed at a Chinese-run hostel to save on accommodation.

This time in Florence, I did the same since accommodation in Italy isn’t that cheap.

A Chinese-run hostel is unlike the usual international hostel that you see:

  • The business usually doesn’t advertise on hostelbookers or similar sites (but I’ve seen one advertise on AirBnb).
  • The clientele is mainly Chinese-speaking people (as you would expect).
  • The hostel is in an apartment.

In Florence, I stayed in the Chinese-run hostel for 5 nights since it was one of the cheapest option around.

I paid 25 euro for each night  I spent in the dorm and paid an extra 5 euro for dinner. The price includes a Chinese breakfast every morning.

Back in Barcelona, I booked a double room for myself and was given a room large enough for 6. This time in Florence, I wasn’t able to be as generous with my money so I opted for a bed in the dorm.

On the night I went, my dorm which had 6 beds (including one unoccupied upper bunk) only had 4 residents. One of the beds was occupied by the other lady who helps out at the hostel.

However, on the busiest night, there were 8 people sleeping in it (with extra beds stuffed into the large space). The lady who helped out at the hostel had to sleep in the kitchen, along with the owner of the hostel.

Dorm beds in hostel

What does a Chinese-run hostel look like?

First off, it’s usually in an apartment with rooms boarded up to make smaller rooms or in the case of dorm rooms, a large room with a few beds pushed against the wall.

The Florence hostel I stayed at had 3 large rooms with multiple beds and a smaller room with a double bed. One of the large rooms was used as a dorm room while the other 2 were rented out as doubles for couples.

There is a kitchen/dining room where everyone has their breakfast.

If you are lucky, there are more than one toilets/bathroom. If you aren’t lucky (like me in Florence), there is only one bathroom/toilet.

I had to share that one toilet/bathroom with 13 other people on the busiest day in Florence but it wasn’t too bad because everyone was polite about doing their business quickly.

What I like about a Chinese-run hostel is that the guests are less random people: everyone is Chinese (either from China, Taiwan or less likely Malaysia). Since we share a common language, things get friendlier easier.

The dorm owners are usually very generous about travel tips in their cities. The lady in Florence took us out for a walking tour of Florence while the lady in Barcelona had a notebook filled with travel tips.

The people you meet at a Chinese hostel in Europe

The people I’ve met at the hostels were usually from China.

A lot of them were students studying in other parts of Europe, taking time off for a weekend holiday at a nearby European city.

Most of these Chinese kids are spoiled.

Two of the people I met in Florence were studying in Switzerland. They took the train down to Italy the night before and came to Florence to “do some branded goods shopping”. The transport for each of them were 300 euro for a return trip but it wasn’t much of a problem for them.

But I did meet one not spoiled Chinese student who was studying in France and was visiting Florence.

In Florence, I also met a newly wedded couple from Taiwan who were more rational beings. I’m thinking it’s a combination of being Taiwanese and being adults that made them so much more pleasant than university kids. (I sound like a cranky old lady.)

I’ve only stayed at Chinese hostels run by ladies from mainland China. I’ve read about those run by Taiwanese families but not stayed there before.

I never sat down and asked the ladies why they decided to leave their country and come to Europe. And if running a hostel was their ambition when they left home. I feel that it’s too personal to ask such questions, although they do make good stories.

Food at a Chinese hostel in Europe

The Chinese hostels usually provide breakfast. The food is likely mainland Chinese-styled breakfast with buns and noodles as dishes. I did eat a seafood paella once in Barcelona.

For some extra euros, the hostel owners would prepare an extra serving of dinner for you. The food is still Chinese.

In Florence, I got the chance to eat dumplings–something I haven’t seen for a whole month. The filling of the dumpling was odd though, there was glass noodles and some vegetable with soy sauce. (I like dumplings with juicy meat fillings the best).

Chinese dumplings for dinner

Other dishes include stir fry dishes such as this. On the upper right is Chinese-style pork knuckles. They are divine!

Sides to go with porridge

Would I stay in a Chinese-run hostel again?

It would depend on the price and the country.

For example in Athens, there was a Chinese hostel advertising on online forums. However, the price for a dorm bed was exactly what I paid for a single room.

In Rome, I e-mailed a Chinese hostel to ask about their bed prices. The hostel didn’t have any dorm beds left and only had a 60 euro private room. I decided to opt for an AirBnb room instead.

I do like Chinese-run dorm better than international ones because I get anxious interacting with too many people. In a Chinese dorm, the number of people is limited to the rooms they have, which makes it easier to interact since there’s not as many people around.

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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Stayed: Loc Phat Homestay, Hoi An review

I spent four nights at Loc Phat Hoi An Homestay during my trip to Hoi An. The place is runned by Linh–who deserves her Superwoman title–her husband (Quoc) and the two kids Billy and Tony.

It’s a terrific place for a solo travelling female since being in a homestay feels safer than a generic hotel or a backpacker’s place where you meet drunk kids on their gap year.

It’s also great for an ISFP like me because there is just the right number of people for me to interact with and not feel too overwhelmed.

Since I arranged for airport pickup, I didn’t take note of the address when I left for Hoi An. Airport shuttle was US$13 one way and Linh’s younger brother’s picked me up from Danang airport. It’s a lot more convenient than trying to haggle with cabbies.

The household

The previous tenants were not exaggerating when they say how accommodating Linh and her family is.

Linh whose day job is at a nearby hotel made sure that I was comfortable and changed my bicycle which had a loose chain. She even made extra keys for the tenants.

While I was there, Linh and her family slept in the living room, giving up their room to a pair of travellers. I think there was a mix up so they didn’t confirm their accommodation or something like that. I thought it was really nice of the family.

I also ate two of Linh’s meals, not refusing the second serving like how our Asian culture dictates. The family dinner was nice. And the cau lao which I had before leaving was the best cau lao I had during the trip, trumping even the central market one.

The tenants were really colorful characters. There was R who spent 30+ years with her husband and son on a boat! Two travelling 20-year-olds who asked me to have dinner with them (so sweet).


$10 room

My $10/night room was the one facing the front garden. I had a large window and an even larger bed.

In the room, there are hangers which I used to dry my laundry. Multiple electrical plus. A tiny table with an equally tiny chair (children size) which acted as my makeup table.

Room with a view

The room has a standing fan which I had to use throughout the night because of the hot Vietnamese summer. In the morning, I can see a bit of sunrise right out of the window.

I do feel conscious that the opposite neighbors might see me while I change or sleep in ugly positions, but it’s probably my over active imagination.


The road to Old Town

The house is in the middle of the roads to Old Town and Cua Dai beach. While it might seem a chore cycling to both destinations, it’s actually really easy if you pick Nguyen Duy Hieu to cycle (there’s less traffic compared with Cua Dai Road).

If you don’t have much time in Hoi An, I would recommend staying in the Old Town for the night view. But staying away from the attractions means I have incentive to explore the neighborhood and to discover the best coffeeplace in Hoi An (Cafe 139, on Nguyen Duy Hieu).

At the end of Cua Dai Road is the tailor where I made a qipao (more on that in a future post) so the location’s great.

Taxis are cheap and run on meters so they are a good alternative to cycling.

My trusty bike


I recommend contacting Linh directly through the site since it takes away the hotel booking site charges that both parties have to pay.

Stayed: Loc Phat Homestay, Hoi An review
Pro: Wonderful hosts, in middle of road to town and beach, cheap (US$10), airport/train transportation available at extra charge
Cons: Might be a bit warm in the room (because of the Vietnamese summer)

Stayed: Pacific Tradewinds Backpacker Hostel, San Francisco review

Pacific Tradewinds Hostel was my second hostel in San Francisco but I booked it a lot earlier than I did San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel.

I spent seven nights there and loved the location. It’s between Chinatown and the Financial District. Plus, Union Square and Market Street is within walking distance. For the facilities and location, the less-than-US$30 rate is darn cheap.

The area’s also safe for a solo woman traveller since I didn’t see many shady characters hanging around at night.

The rooms

I was given the Haigh Ashbury bed in one of the two rooms on the fourth floor. There are six beds in each room. I believe the third floor has extra rooms (and showers) as well.

The room is not tiny as there’s still space for everyone of us in the room to open our luggage. There’s also storage underneath the bed. Remember to bring your lock.

My bed was comfortable. The room is nice and toasty at night if we keep the windows shut. Sheets were clean. Two mirrors in the room, in case you are a mirror person.

There were two power outlets which were shared among six girls who probably each have 2 devices. Other power source is available in the hangout area.

Hostel folks


If you are a people person who LOVEa making new friends, this is the perfect place for you. You’ll make lots of friends with the guests and staff in the kitchen/hangout area.

Unfortunately for me, I’m not that much of a people person so I kept to myself most of the time. (The hostel actually inspired my ealier post on ISFPs and hostels.)


The fourth floor is the hangout area. Unfortunately, the hangout area is the thing between me and the bathroom. So most of the time, I have to not-so-discreetly walk to the bathroom while everyone’s chatting about. (Psst, the shower next to the toilet has hotter water than the other one.)

If you are a light sleeper, the hostel has lights out at 12 midnight (hurray!) and most people leave the hangout area for some place else. Just in case, bring earplugs for snory roomies. I got mine from Daiso which has a branch right on Market Street.

Overall, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is a great place to stay. Do remember to make advanced bookings because they had to turn down a lot of people while I was there.

Pacific Tradewinds Hostel

Pro: Great location, cheap (<US$30), safe area, near good food
Cons: More power points please.

Heading to San Francisco? Here are some money saving tips for SF.

Stayed: San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel review

During my San Francisco trip, I had the chance to stay at two different hostel. Well, “chance” doesn’t really describe my situation. I had to book separate places because I misinterpreted my work schedule.

Since I had already booked Pacific Tradewinds Hostel for seven nights so I thought that I should give San Francisco Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel a try for my first night in San Francisco.

This is the Fort Mason branch of Hostelling International’s three hostels in the city. I didn’t pick the other two because they seem to be in shady locations. For a solo woman traveler, safety is always a priority.

I got off one bus stop too early and had to drag my luggage up an extra slope. (I should have stopped at Van Ness instead of Polk.)

After I reached the Fort Mason entrance, there was another slope to conquer. The slope’s not too bad and there’s a beautiful community garden along the way to distract me.

The hostel front desk is on top of the hill. There’s plenty of parking space around.

I lived in this building. The stairs leads to the breakfast room.

The front desk person is curt but I don’t expect hostel staff to fawn over me so it was the right amount of civility. She used a marker to write that day’s date on my receipt for use as an entrance pass and my breakfast slip.


I was lucky enough to get one of the smaller dorm rooms. There was only six beds instead of some other’s 10 to 12. There’s a radiator in the room for those cold San Franciscan nights.

I had the lower bunk which is good because there’s no ladder to climb up the upper bunk. You’ll have to step on the rungs (which were quite high). Under the bed is a luggage space which I locked with my padlock. I couldn’t find a power point in the room.

Room access is with an electronic card. My Room 13 was right outside the bathroom so it was convenient for showers. The bathroom was bright with three showers with three toilets.

There’s a theater and a large kitchen. I did a bit of blogging in the kitchen since there was Internet connection there.

Hostel with a view

The view from the hostel itself is not too fantastic as it’s covered up by trees. But if you stand at the edge of the hill, you’ll get a great faraway look of the Golden Gate Bridge (if the weather is gracious with low fog).

In the mornings, cyclists will ride past the hostel since it’s along the way to the bridge.

Breakfast was great. I had a bagel with peanut butter, a fruit (which I forgot to take away), unlimited coffee and juice. The breakfast lasted me from 11am to 3pm.

One thing cool about Fort Mason on Friday is Off the Grid. At least there was one the Friday I was there.

The event brings the street cards and food trucks around the city in a central location. Head banging music and crowd expected. I had the chance to try out the Creme Brulee Cart there.

Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel

Pro: Good view, great breakfast, space, cheap (US$29.99), safe area
Cons: Far from most sights, a bit of a trek from nearest bus stop, slopes, no power point in room

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