V1 Boutique Hotel

Saturday, 29 September 2018

For this recent road trip to Malaysia, I’m just going to review certain highlights. I didn’t pay much attention to the itinerary when my parents first passed it to me. Plus, there were stops and detours along the way which weren’t in the original plans and I didn’t follow up on those either.

Nevertheless, while I don’t have a full itinerary for you, I still hope to be able to provide some helpful notes if you’re planning on visiting the same spots or staying in the same hotels.

V1 Boutique Hotel

The V1 Boutique Hotel was the first of our hotels in our 4D3N trip. The hotel is situated right next to the main road and was easily visible from our tour bus. I’m pretty sure with the address locked into your GPS, you won’t have an issue finding it.

The hotel is a pretty small one. Heh, my picture of the lobby actually captured almost the entirety of it. So that gives you an indication of its size. Despite that, the staff were able to quite quickly sort through our rooms and check-in seemed pretty fuss-free. The only hassle was for our guide to announce to the entire group of 30 that the hotel had security doors on every floor and we needed to key in a code in order to enter.

As we had started the trip super early in the morning, I was really grateful when I could finally get to our room. By that time, I was starting to pop Panadols to keep an emerging headache at bay. So imagine my joy when I realised that we were given a suite. It was one of the biggest rooms I've ever gotten on a group tour.

Photo above is a sitting area that was immediately to our right when we entered the room.


2 single beds in one room and a queen bed in the next room. Space was definitely more than adequate for my parents and me. The beds were really clean and comfortable too.

Headache temporarily forgotten in all that joy.

Except that joy was a little short-lived.
When we got to the toilet and the bathroom, little cockroaches started popping. I have a morbid fear of cockroaches (almost all flying insects actually). It's the main reason why I religiously clean my home regularly. So imagine my fear when there were at least 10 of them running around. My dad spent a good 10 minutes getting rid of them.
Mom was actually quite surprised to see these roaches since the room was pretty clean. We figured it maybe the suite was hardly in use hence these critters could proliferate.

Critters aside, V1 Boutique Hotel presents itself as a no-frills hotel. I understand from the other uncles and aunties who were in twin rooms, that they didn't even have a fridge. Our bathrooms also didn't come with any of the complimentary soaps or shampoos. Also, the sound-proofing isn't fantastic. The entire night we could hear the traffic, so if you're a light sleeper, you might want to get ear plugs. Wifi was also non-existent in the rooms and could only be accessed from the hotel lobby.

Having said that, V1 Boutique Hotel is listed as a 3-star hotel (i.e. rates are really cheap) so I guess you shouldn't expect too much. If you're intending to stay just for a night or 2, it's decent enough.

Tourist Information

V1 Boutique Hotel
Website: https://www.facebook.com/viboutiquehotel/
Address: 1 Jalan Penambang, Taman Seri Penambang, Kuala Selangor 45000
DID: +60 3-3281 2219

Sky Mirror Sasaran 天空之镜沙沙蓝

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Have you guys heard of Bolivia's Salar de Uyuni? It's a really famous salt flat which is dubbed the world's largest natural mirror. Just check in with your best friend Google, and you'll understand what I mean. The images are just awesome.

Well, unfortunately, I don't really foresee myself going to Bolivia anytime soon (I can only drool over Google for now). So when the opportunity came to visit world's other sky mirror, obviously I jumped at the chance. Even if it meant going on an organised group tour with a bunch of my parents' acquaintances and friends. Serious. I was like the second youngest in the entire group of 30 and I'm not exactly a spring chicken myself.

Sasaran Sky Mirror

So anyway, the world's second sky mirror happens to be located in Kuala Selangor, Malaysia. It's not an actual beach but rather a sand bar in the middle of the Straits of Melacca. Apparently, I learnt that it's only exposed about twice a month (something about tides and full moons) and that's when its time for the hordes of tourists to descend.
For those really curious, the sky mirror phenomenon occurs when the tides are at its ideal; i.e. only a very shallow level of water is left on the exposed sand bar. When left still, the water becomes a natural mirror reflecting the skies and its surroundings.
I forgot to check which operator ran the show for us to Sasaran. However, with Google's help (plus some power of deduction), I believe the operator was Sky Mirror Tour & Travel Sdb Bhd. I've included their details at the end of this post. Basically the jetty point was next to this seafood restaurant (photo below). The operator also offers sea eagle watching and fireflies viewing tours. We also did the eagle watching one. Haven't decided whether it's worth blogging about yet though.
Caveat: Not 100% confident whether Sky Mirror Tour & Travel Sdb Bhd was definitely our operator. Like I said its Google plus some of my brain power, so you may want to scount around for other reviews before making a decision.

Our group was scheduled for the 12 noon tour and once we arrived, we just boarded the boat with life vests that were supplied. The ride out to the sand bar itself was about 30 minutes. Got to say this, it was probably one of the most exciting rides for quite a number of the senior citizens in my group.
Speedboat + Choppy Seas = A extremely fast and bumpy ride
The uncle opposite me was clearly fearful and clinging onto the rails with white-knuckled fists. The one beside me commented that he thought the boat may split while yet another uncle at the rear of the boat shouted for our driver to "please slow down". We also actually saw someone else (outside of our tour group) throw up onto the sandbar after his ride.

So if you're travelling with eldery (or anyone for that matter) who have never done anything similar (and fear thrill rides), please do explain to them what to expect and assure them that it's all right. My parents were fine because I had assured them before and during the ride. Good thing they trust what I tell them! Plus, I've done similar speedboat trips (like to Redang) so I could tell them clearly what to expect. 
It's pretty easy to tell when you've reached your destination. There'll be crowds of tourists swarming and boats docking. We then clambered off a ladder into the sea and onto the sand bar. Ok, that was the part where I freaked out a wee bit. Because while some other boats had proper ladders attached to their boats to get on and off (like you know, at swimming pools), ours hauled out one that was used by my renovation workers! I was wondering how the hell they even stabilise it in sand and sea! And OMG! My entire group was like 99% senior citizens! Somehow, everyone managed to get off safely and no one landed on their butts or heads.

I have to admit, I wasn't impressed by the place at all. At least, not until I saw our photos. As far as my eye could see, it was trampled sand that met with the skies at the horizon. And because we were waiting for the other half of the group to arrive, it got boring after a while. Sure, there were some sea creatures crawling about on the sand flat, but sea snails and tiny crabs can only capture your attention for so long.
Once the photo-taking started though, people stopped feeling bored. The good thing was, there was an assistant who helped us take the photos. He was also very creative in coming up with different group shots. Probably copied over from too many photo groups. He also came prepared with props. And best part, all part of the package. Yup, at no additional costs! Our group had so much fun, we spent more than an hour in the blazing sun taking photos. Pretty sure some could have continued if it wasn't time for us to head back for a super late lunch.
I have to confess, since this was an organised (and very short) tour, I really didn't bother to do any research prior to the trip. Like I mentioned in my previous post, it's something I regretted. Especially since I have been an advocate of the "must do research and be prepared" belief.
So, now that I have gone and returned from Sasaran, I'm going to share some tips with you in the hope that you'd be more prepared than we were.

Tip #1 (and probably what almost every other blog you read will tell you)
Please wear super bright colours.

Especially if you really are going to the Sky Mirror just to cam-whore for your Facebook or Instagram (or whatever) pics. And I do mean SUPER bright. You’d want the Chinese New Year red, the neon highlighter green or the sunflower yellow sort of shades. Don't believe me? Let me present you actual photo evidence below.

The ladies in our group happened to be more brightly coloured. You can see how our reflections pop because of the strong colour contrast against the white and blue. Vs the men on the other hand, who were mostly in safe whites, darks or blues.

Basically the idea is to colour contrast against the blue skies and white clouds.

Tip #2
Please wear shorts.

Not even crop pants or three-quarter pants k. Go with anything that is above the knee. You may look at Internet pictures and think that there's not much water. However, don't forget that you'll have to get off the boat and into the sea to wade to the sand bar. There's the return trip too!

Tip #3
Please DO NOT wear shoes.
Do come in slippers and sandals. Ok, it’s not a rule thing that you have to follow, but I’m really saying this for your comfort. It’s likely that you will be asked to remove your footwear and leave them on the speedboat that you arrived in. Hence slippers and sandals would just make it easier for you. Not saying that taking off shoes is a hassle but trust me, once you’re done at the sand flat and back onto your boat, you definitely wouldn’t want to thrust your wet and sandy feet back into shoes. Well, I know I sure as hell wouldn’t want that.

Best kind would be rubber slippers. I went wearing Fitflops and the cloth kinda soaked up all the water. It wasn’t as bad as someone else who insisted on wearing shoes, but it wasn’t the most comfortable either especially since I spent the rest of my day in those.

Tip #4
Please bring along a spare change of clothes and a towel.
Ok, this one really depends on your luck while out at sea. I went and returned completely unscathed. However, there were several in my tour group who got completely drenched. And I do mean the “head-to-toe soaked through” on our return trip. In fact, one of my dad’s friends was so badly soaked, he had to sit on a plastic sheet on the tour bus after. He was still dripping sea water and that was even after he had tried wringing out his clothes in the toilet.


Tip #5
Travel as light as you can.
First of all, there is absolutely no where on the sand bar where you can put down your bag without it getting wet and dirty. There are also no lockers at the jetty where we boarded the boat. And Malaysia isn't always the safest for you to leave your valuables in the car.

Secondly, you really don't want your bags to get in the way of your creative photo shots.

If you are bringing valuables like passports, money etc along, consider keeping them inside zip-lock baggies or waterproof bags. This way, you don't have to worry about them getting soaked at all.

Tip #5a (since it's related to #5)
Just use your camera phone.
Leave those DSLRs, mirrors or compacts or whatever at home. Even if you brought them along, the assistance photographer who's helping you take those pictures would reject using them. And after seeing how they lie flat down on the sand to grab those photos, I wouldn't blame them either.

Essentially those DSLRs and all would be too bulky and very likely (confirm) will get dirty. Those dudes ain't going to want to damage your equipment and then pay the price for that.

The group shots you see in this post were all captured using iPhone. Good enough.
And yeah. My Sony became a burden.

Tip #6
Go to the toilet before you get onto the boat.

There is absolutely nothing and nowhere for you to relieve yourself. You really don't want to find yourself stuck after 3 hours, wishing desperately you didn't drink that much water. Like me.

Tip #7
Sun block and brollies are your good friends.

Please make sure you slather that sun screen everywhere. The sun can be merciless and you really wouldn't want to come back looking like Rudolph the reindeer. Or have photo reminders of how you turned lobster. Back of the neck too people!

Alternatively, bring along some really colourful umbrellas. They'd not only shield the sun, they make really good props for the pics too! And walking sticks or support for the eldery.

Tip #8
Sensitive skinned people, bring your medicated creams along.

You'd need them after your excursion back from Sasaran. Several of us in the tour group suffered from redness, swelling and itchiness within the next few hours after our return.

I only found out much later that the waters around the place was terribly polluted from the nearby factories. It was a good thing my mom and I always travelled with our creams because dad and I suffered that night. We were able to recover quite quickly by the next day but unfortunately, one of the uncles in our group got it so bad, he started bleeding from heavy scratching.

Tip #9
Get cheap and good love letters from a nearby shop.

Heh. Me and my mom's sixth sense started twanging on alert when we spotted this. Travel with us and you won't be disappointed when it comes to food. This wonderful tin of love letters was from a shop called 阿嬷的家 (Ah Ma De Jia, i.e. Grandmother's Home). It's located along the shophouses across the street from the jetty. They have a humongous sign board so it'll be hard for you to miss really.
It smells so heavenly whenever we opened the tin back home, and its one of the best home made love letters we have ever tasted. Very affordable too at RM20! We bought 2 tins home and barely a week later, they're already half gone.
I can now check Sasaran Sky Mirror off my bucket list. It's interesting but I don't think I will go back for a second time.
Those love letters are a different story though...

Contact Information:

Sky Mirror Tour & Travel Sdb Bhd
Website: https://www.facebook.com/skymirrortour/
Email: skymirrortour@gmail.com
Addrss: 15, Jalan Yu 1, 45800 Pekan Sasaran, Kuala Selangor, Selangor, Malaysia.
DID: +6019 266 6665

Hotel Excelsior Ipoh

Saturday, 22 September 2018

It's been a long time since I even went on the Internet to look at my own blogs. More than a year in fact, and the blogging decline all started when I first bought my own house, did renovations and moved in.
It's almost a year (in another month's time) since I moved out to stay on my own and hence more than a year since this blog saw any action. And on a scarier note, also more than a year since I have travelled. In fact, even my colleagues have been pestering me to remember to use my leave allowances. They're just all kinda stunned that I've accumulated so many days of leave that I never used. Well, let's just say that I was adjusting to life on my own. The introvert in me just celebrated becoming a pseudo-hermit.
Nevertheless, the travel bug in me finally decided to rear its head after its long slumber. And I finally made a small step towards getting this ass out of the country again. Interestingly though, my first trip since moving out, was a road trip to Malaysia with my parents organised by my dad's "union". "Union" because while they probably started out being a company thing, this bunch of aunties and uncles have since been travelling together frequently for more than a decade, so they're kind of more like travel buddies. I honestly didn't think I'd enjoy going on a trip with a bunch of senior citizens but it was an opportunity to visit one of the 2 only Sky Mirrors in the world. Be quite dumb to pass up such an opportunity isn't it.
So, in my next post (which I WILL get around to), I'd write about the Sasaran Sky Mirror in Kuala Selangor, Malaysia. Well, at least once I get my photos back. Another dumb thing I did, I accidentally deleted all my trip's photos. Complete dumb blonde moment which I'm paying for with a hefty price (yeah, actually hefty money penalty). Blame it on a year of not touching the cameras. But I'm going to (re-)start instead with a review of a hotel we stayed while in Ipoh, Malaysia. Sigh. A negative review to boot. But heck, these were photos I had in my phone and hence spared the agony of idiocy.
 *This image was taken from Agoda website

Hotel Excelsior Ipoh
As this was an organised tour, I didn't bother to do any research/homework prior departure. Which was another moment of idiocy on my part, having been an advocate of the mantra "MUST do homework before holiday".

Oh well, but no research done prior meant also that I arrived at Hotel Excelsior Ipoh with no expectations at all. And even then, this hotel really failed to make the mark.

Our tour bus arrived at the hotel at approximately 6:30 pm that evening. Checking in was relatively efficient. For a tour group of 30 pax, my family were in our room before 7 pm. Unfortunately, that's about the only good thing I could say for the hotel.

Because we arrived as a family of 3, we were given one of the bigger Family Rooms (Triple) instead. The minute we stepped into the room though, I turned around and went back down to the receptionist to ask for a room change. The air-conditioning unit was spoilt and leaking, resulting in a pool of water on the floor. There was absolutely no way in hell I'm going to allow us to sleep in a no-aircon room in Malaysia. The freaking heat and humidity would kill us. Second, water puddle on the floor is just going to be a fall-hazard, plus a potential flood disaster.

Can't see it in the photo because my dearest mommy went to remove the evidence when I went down to try get a room change. I had to explain to her why she needed to leave the evidence but the OCD in her wouldn't tolerate it. Anyway, the towel marked the spot of the water puddles.
Unfortunately, I was told at the receptionist that the hotel was fully booked and there were no other family rooms. Instead, the options offered to me was to wait and see if a mechanic could do damage repair or move into a twin room where they would add another mattress for the third person.
Seeing how we were going to just stay for a night and I didn't want us to put up with a cramped room and lousy mattress, I opted to let the mechanic try his brand of magic.
That was at 7 pm.
By the time the fella rolled his ass around and dealt with the mess, it was way past 9 pm. And he worked on it for less than 30 minutes. Which meant if he had rolled fasted, we wouldn't have wasted our evening waiting in the room for him. I was quite irritated by then because I had really wanted to get out to explore since it was my one and only night in Ipoh.
And that wasn't the end of it. While waiting for the mechanic to do his work, I realised that the room was extremely dusty and worn down. Mom actually spent some time wiping down some of the tables and ledges, otherwise my nose allergy would definitely have acted up.
It was as if maintenance was not a priority at all for this hotel. In my pictures above, you can see that the curtains have been spoilt and the paint peeling from the walls. There were also pieces of carpet around the edges of the room that were sticking up, ready to trip the next unwary person. One of the table lamps was also not working anymore but just left unplugged on the table.
At first glance, the bedsheets also did not seem to be washed properly either. Pillows also definitely had seen better days. Thankfully, we were still able to spend a sound night.
However, the last straw for my family was when dad realised (being the first to shower) that even the shower head was damaged. The water pipe was leaking so essentially water was just sprouting from the pipes and not the shower head. I gave up taking photos by then so you only have my word for it. Luckily, there was still a rain shower that functioned so we could still wash up. But by then, the hassle of trying not to get our hair wet became another sore spot in a string of sore spots. A string that leaves the impression that the hotel really cannot be bothered at all.
Breakfast, thankfully, was still an ok affair. It's not fantastic (and yes, I forgot to take photos of the breakfast spread), but decent enough to fill the tummy of the average tourist. There was an omelette and soup noodle station, breads and cereals, and some Malaysian selection. Not mouth-watering delicious (maybe except the omelette) but good enough.
Now that I'm back, I see that reviews for this hotel was incredibly mixed on TripAdvisor. Its plus point was definitely its location, and that's also what the positive reviews tended to note. One of the reasons why I was irritated with my evening wasted was because I had wanted to get around the nearby streets. There were a couple of really famous food stalls nearby and a shopping mall. Obviously, no comments since that didn't materialise at all.
All in, not a hotel I'd recommend to anyone. So no website link or anything for you guys.

I'm a Home-owner Now!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

To be honest, I have no idea who's reading this blog, but I haven't given up writing about my trips. Yeah, I know. Hard to tell when I haven't posted anything in a month!
My apologies.
I've been away for a good reason. I've bought a HDB apartment recently and I'm going to be receiving the keys to my new abode in about 2 weeks time! Hence the disappearance, since I was busy getting ready for renovations and all that.
I admit though, any spare time I had, my focus was still on keeping my other nail blog running first.
But anyway, I'm going to try to keep this side running. I'm now so super excited (and freaked at the same time with all that expenses) about being a new home owner, I'm going to try to channel some of this excitement into blog posts.
Don't worry (as if you would), I'd still try and fit in and continue with the Japan posts.
hmmm.... I just realised that this post is going to be so wordy without much pictures! The only one you're going to get is with my floor plan below:
Anyway, my home ownership process started actually with my brother saying that he intends to buy his own flat now that he is eligible to do so. Until then, I had merely been saving up with the general thought that I'll get a flat myself one day. 
However, my brother's words spurred me and last year, I contacted a friend who works as a property agent. A bit of financial discussion with her and I realised I'm actually good to go!
I have to say, I'm pretty fortunate. Within the first week of appointments, I found a unit that I liked. The only setback to not getting it sooner was because the seller requested for an extension since they were transitioning to another unit and needed time for renovations and to move. Not a problem for me.
My friend took me through the whole HDB processes (thank goodness for her!) and in 2 weeks time, I'll be collecting my keys, ready to takeover my new place!
Let's hope I'd remember to get more photos so as to properly document the rest of the process!

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 6: Mameda-machi

Monday, 1 May 2017

In Japan, there are several places with the nickname of "Little Kyoto" simply because they convey the rustic charms of Kyoto. Mameda-machi is simply another one in Hita, a shopping street where the locals have tried their best to preserve old-world Japanese customs and architecture.
According to some Japanese websites, some of the wares sold here are also unique to the area. A decent pit-stop really if you are passing by the area.

Day 6: Mameda-machi (日田豆田町商店街) --> Beppu Hell Valley --> Yufuin Town --> Hotel
By day 6, we started moving towards Oita. Our first stop that morning was the famous shopping street of Mameda-machi. Except we probably got there a little too early. Many of the shops weren't even open yet!
So if Mameda-machi is a place you intend to visit, please make arrangements to get there after 11 am. The place felt so deserted at 9:30 am, we were done by 10 plus and decided to leave since there wasn't anything else open. A real pity since I had actually read so much about it online that it was a shopping street that I was looking forward to!

I had originally scheduled it later in the itinerary but because of some changes made, it was re-scheduled to this morning. That kind of irritated me since it obviously showed that our guide didn't do much to advise us.

However, if in the event that you happen to also be there at 9:30 am, you can pop into the Kuncho Sake Brewery and take a look at how local sake is brewed. The spring waters of Mameda-machi is also pretty famous and the brewery prides its good brew on the use of the spring waters.

Sadly, my parents aren't sake drinkers so the beauty of the brewery was kind of lost on them. After a moment's consideration, I also decided not to buy any. We were running short on luggage space because my dad was being stubborn and had refused to bring his big luggage. He definitely heard from me and mom when we realised we were running out of space and had to budget our shopping.

Plus, my mom was also complaining that our liquor store at home was over-flowing.
Heh. She's always lamenting how she doesn't really understand how her children become drinkers when their parents both hardly do so.

Anyway, I digress.
At Mameda-machi, you should also look out for this little wooden shack where you can refill your water bottles with their famous spring water. All for a token sum that's up to you.
Mom was worried that it would give us tummy upset (typical worried mom's reaction) but I went ahead and had a taste of the water.

Oh by the way, apart from the Kuncho Sake Brewery, you should also make a visit to Hita Shoyu. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the place, but to be honest, it's really hard to miss that place. Hita Shoyu is the other famous store in Mameda-machi.  It was serious disappointment that it was only opening as we were leaving so I didn't have a chance to go in. Otherwise I would have loved to bring back a bottle of Japanese soy sauce!

We also stopped by this place (photo above) that was selling traditional Japanese sweets. Whenever I have a chance during my Japan trips, I'd love to visit at least one of these traditional sweet shops. Each region/place usually has their own unique sweets and sometimes even seasonal specialities.
A word of caution though. Don't over-buy as these traditional sweets tend to be (ahem) very sweet. 
The first time I had these traditional sweets years back was a memorable culinary disaster. Primarily because I had over-bought. Basically I thought to get one in every flavour to try. It was major sugar overdose and we just couldn't finish them. Since then, my parents and I just get 2 to 3 different flavours to try.


Mameda-machi is also pretty famous for their Hina dolls. If I'm not mistaken, there's a Hina Doll festival running if you were to visit in March.
These Hina dolls are actually a tradition and not for play. The dolls are often arranged in tiers with the prince and the princess dolls right at the top. These dolls are said to possess special spiritual powers. Should a doll become broken, they are not to be simply discarded away. Instead, a ritual is needed to dispose of the doll.
So, when you're there, please be mindful and respectful. It's best to just visually admire these Hina doll displays and not meddle with them thinking that these are toys.

We also dropped by this craft store that was open at that time. A lot of very well-crafted fabric dolls for sale. Some were downright adorable and would have looked good if I had display shelves at home!
Tourist Information
Address: Mamedamachi, Hita 〒877-0005, Oita Prefecture
Local Address: 〒877-0005豆田町

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 5 (Part 3): Marriage Hotel Bientos

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Hotel Bientos

For the first time, I actually have a hotel in Japan that I'm writing a negative review of. And that in itself stuns me because I have been so used to the cleanliness and efficiency of Japanese hospitality.
Maybe too used.
Because, otherwise if I were to compare this with the places I've stayed in, in all my travel experiences, it's definitely not the worse.
Actually the poorer (since it isn't exactly bad) experience started only after we got to our room. It was the dustiest room I had ever stayed in Japan. And I mean in ALL of my Japan trips combined. Within minutes of stepping in, my nose started reacting.
Did I ever share on this blog that my nose is my cleanliness barometer?
I have a sinus allergy and whenever I'm in a place that's too dusty, I can fall ill. There was even once when after I had to move office, I fell sick for an entire week (fever and all) from all the dust and dirt. So, my nose reacting is definitely not a good sign.

Next thing that stumped us. Apparently, we have to lay out our own futons and duvets. Like I said, perhaps we were too used to the amazing Japanese hospitality. It's not a big deal actually, just something that stumped us because when we asked, we were told that the hotel does not do it.

The toilets were also incredibly small. How small?
Let's just say that was the best angle I had to try to capture all that's in the toilet.
And for someone who's known to be clumsy, that also does not spell good news to me. I definitely bumped myself in the elbow and on the hips that night.

However, the final straw came when we found dirty laundry that was left in the room.
Can you just see how dirty that place is!
We asked for someone to come clean the room, but guess what? NO ONE CAME!
In the end, we gave up. It was a good thing that we were only staying that one night.

Breakfast the next morning was also a pretty dismal affair. The spread was carbs-heavy with the usual breads, pastries and porridge. There were some eggs and sausages but that was about it.
The unfortunately thing was, the hotel was pretty isolated. It's like in the middle of nowhere. There's no convenience store nearby so we couldn't top up either.
Coming straight after the wonderful Crowne Plaza ANA Nagasaki Gloverhill that we stayed in Nagasaki, this definitely paled much in comparison.
Definitely not a place I'll recommend so I'm not even going to bother putting up their address or anything.

9 Days of Rustic Kyushu, Day 5 (Part 2): Yanagawa Canal Boat Ride + Tosu Premium Outlet

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Day 5: Yutoku Inari Shrine --> Yanagawa Canal Boat Ride (柳川川下り) --> Tosu Premium Outlet (鳥栖プレミアム・アウトレット) --> Hotel
Once we were done at the Yutoku Inari Shrine, our driver proceeded to bring us for a tofu onsen-hotpot meal: . According to him, the tofu was homemade and said to be extremely good for the skin.

When we got there, it was very obvious that we were the only group of tourists around. The rest of the restaurant was filled with local Japanese (especially ladies!). I guess this is one of those "you won't know unless you're a local" places. I couldn't even find a proper English translation of the name of the place. It's Japanese website says Saga-Hirakawaya, so I'm just going with that.
The proprietor of the shop was very lovely and took the time to try to explain to us (with some translation help and sign language) how we were supposed to enjoy the tofu. During the course of our meal, she also kept topping up our tofu! So much so we had to stop her as we were just too full!
Unfortunately, my family was divided on this meal. I like my tofu and I loved the taste of the homemade tofu in the hotpot! In fact, it was even good on its own with the accompanying sauce and sesame seeds. However, my dad's (who's not a tofu person) barely stomached any. He just scooped up all the vegetables in the hotpot. However, we all agreed that their home-grown green tea was one of the best! Immediately after our meal, Mom bought a bag of the green tea leaves.

Once we were done with lunch, we proceeded to the next item on our itinerary: the Yanagawa Canal boat ride.
Yanagawa is primarily known for its water canals. It was originally a farming village and the canals were built initially for the purpose of irrigation. Later, the canals evolved to also become a source of water transportation. Today, these canals continue to be a source of income for the people in the form of tourist revenue.
There are several companies offering the boat rides (also known as punting). All of them also provide free shuttle bus services from the nearest train stations. Just google and you should be able to find and compares their prices and services. Some of these companies have also collaborated with the cafes and restaurants along the venue to offer complimentary drinks or discounted meals. So just be mindful about what you're paying for.

Since ours was already pre-arranged, I didn't really bother to check out which company it was. Instead, I just happily followed to put on the hat and board the sampan like vessel.
I've got to say this. THANK GOD for the hat! The boat ride, while enjoyable, was more than an hour in the blistering afternoon sun! If not for that triangular straw cap, I think I would have been thoroughly sun burnt!
This was our punter. Well, I assume that's what they'll be called (punting --> punter). I didn't catch his name since he was conversing with everyone else in a thick Japanese accent. From what I understood, most of the punters are older. The younger generation isn't apparently too interested in punting anymore. And unfortunately, most of the older punters aren't conversant in any other language.
A pity since I could tell that ours was a humorous dude. Everyone else on the boat kept laughing at his story-telling and jokes. I would have loved to find out what they were all laughing about. On a few occasions, he even broke out into Japanese songs. While I didn't understand anything of what was being sung, our punter had a lovely voice reminiscent of folk singing. Our guide was kind of useless by now, he didn't really bother to translate much of what was said even when I asked.


The ride itself was quite scenic. There were several lovely photo points, be it of buildings, flora and fauna. There were even a couple of mini altars/shrines built along the route. One of them even had Kirin beer cans as offerings! The trouble though was because you were on a moving vessel (and it moves surprisingly quickly!) you need to calculate your angles pretty darn quick.
Another obstacle, you won't be the only person on board that vessel who'll want pictures. I've lost count of the number of times I had to shift because of someone's raised phone or camera. So if photos are what you're after, you should grab seats at the front of the boat to avoid those photo-bombs. Or else, move to the rear.

The next exciting bit about the ride was the amount of ducking we had to do. And by that I mean whenever we approached any of the low bridges or tight tunnels.
These boat punters have amazing skills and stamina. No matter how tight the tunnel would look, the boats were all able to pass through unscratched. When we approached the first tunnel, my mom actually looked bewildered when our punter started moving towards it. She even grabbed my arm and wondered if we were able to get through safely!

Very quickly, we came to learn to duck each time our punter started his weird song-song English of "Put your head down". English because it was obviously meant for us who didn't understand a single word of Japanese. Weird because he was definitely not a speaker of the language and did so in a heavily accented sing-song voice. Nevertheless, it had a fun effect and by the fourth or fifth one, even mom was laughingly ducking her head along with everyone else.
And I'm super amazed that these punters had the muscles and stamina to keep bending up and down, all the while pushing a boat full of people for more than an hour! Apparently, some even perform acrobatic jumps across those bridges! They must be damn fit!

Mid-way through the ride, our punter "drove" us past this shack selling snacks! I was seriously amazed that even soft serve was offered! Actually contemplated but since I was still quite full from all the earlier tofu, I decided to forgo the ice-cream. It would otherwise have been heavenly in that heat!

If I'm not mistaken, there are 2 options for how long you want your boat ride to be. Our tour agent had apparently arranged for the longer option without us realising it. If you're with young children or elderly parents, you may wish to consider the shorter option as they may get bored. Afterall, there's only so much interest buildings and trees can offer for some.
By the 45th minute mark, mom kept asking when the ride was going to end. On the other hand, dad got excited seeing a group of photographers on the bridge (picture above). Apparently he had thought that they were the tourist-commercial sort and were taking pictures for sale later. He actually kept waving his hands around because otherwise there was nothing much else to do...
The minute we were done with the boat ride, my parents hurried into a restaurant for their complimentary drinks. Not because they wanted the freebie, but more because they were too hot from the sun beating down on them. Mom also desperately needed the loo.
Actually, if not for the earlier meal, I would also have contemplated sharing a unagi don with my parents. Apart from the canal rides, Yanagawa is also famous for their unagi rice bowls! While seated in the restaurant, the smells wafting from all those unagi sets were just wonderful!
Heh. To be honest, I might have eventually caved if it wasn't because we had to catch the next shuttle out.

By late afternoon, we finally reached Tosu Premium Outlet, the trip's first major shopping stop. Whenever I bring my parents to Japan, I always make sure to arrange to drop by an outlet mall for them. They love the discounts from some of the major brands that are on offer. In fact, I always have to inform them beforehand what brands are available so that they can anticipate what to buy.
While my mom always grumbles about my shopping in Singapore, she has never once complained whenever I shop at these outlet malls with them. Heh. Another reason why they're always in my Japan itineraries with my parents.

We bought quite a lot in the short time we were there! I had a lovely Godiva Special Anniversary drink while I was there and bought tons of Godiva chocolates back for friends. Also bought 2 Coach bags (the 2 at the bottom corner right in picture below) for myself while mom got another 2 for herself. I also got quite a bit of clothes from Gap while dad (who hates shopping) bought 2 pairs of Hush Puppies shoes.
I swear. We were there for less than 2 hours.
What contributed to the speed at which we shopped was mainly because I had already printed out a map and studied where each brand was located in the mall. So in essence, we already knew which shops we wanted to go and just aimed straight for those.
I could have still continued for sure, if not because mom started to complain that we were going to miss our dinner time...

Tourist Information
Saga Hirakawaya (佐嘉平川屋)
Yanagawa Canal Boat Ride
Address: Takahata, Yanagawa 8320065
Local address: 〒832-0065高畑
There are many companies offering the canal rides. Please google and check for what suits you.
Tosu Premium Outlet (鳥栖プレミアム・アウトレット)
Address: 8-1 Yayoigaoka, Tosu 841-0005
Local address: 〒841-0005弥生が丘8-1
DID: +81 942-87-7370
Operating hours: 10 am to 8 pm