Strolling through Sentosa Island (Singapore)

Sentosa Island, dubbed “The State of Fun”, is a great getaway for both thrill seekers and those looking to unwind at beaches or resorts.  It also has rain forests, theme parks, and a giant Merlion observatory where you can see a beautiful panoramic view of the island.  The majority of the island is reachable on foot, but you can take cable cars from one end to the other.  Though some parts of the island are quite touristy, the beaches are never overcrowded, so I highly recommend traveling here to see them.

The best way to access this island is to travel from Mount Faber Station via cable car to Sentosa’s Mount Imbiah Station because you get the best views and most exciting experience.  However, taking the MRT is a cheaper option.  I decided to get the Cable Car Free & Easy Package they were selling at the entrance to the cable cars so I had unlimited rides and access to two attractions on the island.  This package was priced at $55 (SIN), and seemed to be overall worth it.

The view I managed to get from riding the cable cars was truly amazing!  I loved looking down at the sparkling pools and seeing the architecture of the massive theme parks:

Upon arrival, I decided to make my way to Sentosa’s most scenic beach, Palawan Beach.  Sentosa has a total of three beaches you can visit, but Palawan is hands down the most popular due to its famous suspension bridge you can cross to climb a wooden watchtower.  Even though I went to the beach on a weekend, it still wasn’t overly crowded and I had a lot of room to swim.  If you come, be sure to bring some water to be hydrated, as most of the restaurants are located closer to the station rather than the beachfront.

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In addition to this beautiful palmed-lined beach, you can also see Siloso Beach and Tanjong Beach, which are a bit more remote but definitely a great change of scenery.  You can also check out some of the many attractions that Sentosa Island has; everything from animal encounters to skydiving.  I chose to go to the Merlion Observatory and seeing an amazing view from its gaping mouth, as well as take the Skyride down to the beach area.  There are activities for all different interests and age groups available, so you have a lot to choose from.

The Sentosa Merlion is a lot bigger than the one in central Singapore and is definitely worth checking out!  You can learn some of the history of the country and also why the Merlion was chosen as its courageous symbol.  It has two galleries; one from atop its head and one from its mouth.  Both are very fun to check out.  In addition, you also get a card to receive a lucky gift from the Merlion!

I am very happy for my experience at the State of Fun because it was exactly the trip I needed to recharge from the bustling city life.

Exploring Singapore: From the Utopian Center to the Graffiti Streets

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The brave Merlion Statue is a symbol of good luck in Singapore.

Singapore is a vibrant and and multicultural country off the coast of Malaysia with a gorgeous bay, beautiful gardens, and picturesque beaches on its southern resort island, Sentosa.  Similar to Hong Kong, the island capital Pulau Ujong is highly condensed with shopping districts and bars which means you can easily travel to a lot of destinations on foot.  Though it is somewhat expensive to live here due to the cost of fuel and electricity and lack of natural reserves, there are many backpacker hostels and cheap transport options (buses, Grab, and the MTR) that are readily available.  I would recommend staying 2-3 days here to see the major attractions.  You do not need any special visa to enter Singapore for the purpose of travel, and almost everyone in this country speaks very good English.

What fascinates me about this country is the center of the city is really futuristic and looks liked something out of a Utopian society, but the suburbs (where I stayed at in Spacepod) have a huge Turkish and Indian population, so all the temples and shops look like structures from another planet.  Each part of the city has extremely intricate architecture everywhere you look.  There are clear influences of Japanese culture here too; you can tell by the way some foods are prepared and the interior decor of certain places.  When traveling here you’ll truly find a fascinating blend of cultures!

Here are the four main areas of Singapore that I recommend exploring, and I will be writing a guide to Sentosa Island as well.

Worldly Temples

From my hostel, I decided to walk towards the City Square Mall to the public transit and stop by the nearby temples.  I saw a variety of Hindu and Buddhist temples including Sri Srinivasa, Leong San, and Sakya Muni Buddha.  It was surreal to see so many different worldly temples in such close proximity together!  They were absolutely beautiful and only required a small donation to go fully inside.

Since I went here during the obon season where people believe their ancestors’ souls return to Earth, there were a lot of ceremonies and decorations around.  Anyone is welcome to enter the temples as long as they follow the dress code.  For those wearing short sleeves or dresses, there are usually cloths available for cheap rental so you can cover yourself up appropriately before you go inside.

Singapore’s Chinatown, which you can reach by the MTR, also has a number of Chinese temples worth seeing.  I recommend checking some of them out because they don’t take that much time to see.

Haji Lane

After seeing the temples, I decided to continue walking south to Singapore’s Hipster Street: Haji Lane.  This neighborhood is full of beautiful graffiti murals, shopping boutiques, as well as restaurants and bars popular for day drinking.  This is definitely an exciting place to come and mingle!  I stopped at Pita Bakery for some delicious bread and hummus, then walked to Singapore’s popular outdoor art gallery: Gelam Gallery.  There were so many gorgeous hand-painted and graffiti-sprayed original works of art there that I felt as if I had entered a wonderland of psychedelic colors.  I recommend walking though all of the little streets and back alleys because you’ll never know what you’ll find!

Sultan Mosque

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At the end of Haji Lane is the Sultan Mosque, which was originally home of Singapore’s first sultan.  Its gold roof gleams beautifully in the sunny weather and looks almost tropical facing the palm trees!  There are visitation hours where you can enter and go inside the glass domes that are a unique part of Muslim architecture.  There are also a lot of Middle Eastern restaurants around for those who are interested in trying some local food.  This was my first time seeing a mosque and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn about a new culture.

The Merlion

The Merlion is a half-mermaid, half-lion mascot that watches over Singapore and is said to bring good luck!  The head of the Merlion represents Singapore’s original name, Singapura, or ‘lion city’ in Malay.  Its four teeth represent the four main ethnic groups that reside in Singapore: Malay, Chinese, Indian & Eurasian.  The Merlion just may be my favorite mascot in the world because I love how much symbolism was put into its design.

I rode the MTR from the Sultan Mosque to reach Merlion Park.  From Merlion Park, you can get a beautiful picture with the Merlion jetting water out of its mouth, and also eat Merlion ice cream from the shop nearby!

There is also a Merlion Observatory Statue you can see on Sentosa Island which I will be writing about in my next article.

Gardens by the Bay

When the sun finally set, I decided to go out again and see Singapore’s famous gardens illuminated at night.  Gardens by the Bay was designed by professional landscapers and engineers boasting over 100 gardens housed with state of the art technology.  My favorite garden was the Supertree Grove, where you can see the giant trees with dazzling lights that Singapore is famous for.  There is also a Skyway available so you can see a great view of the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the surrounding area.  This area is quite large, so I recommend giving yourself at least an hour and a half to see everything.

Gardens by the Bay is located near the Merlion and stays open from 5am – 2am.  You can easily access them by riding the MTR.  The entrance price is $28 at the door, but you can get cheaper prices online or by asking most hostels.

As you can see, Singapore is influenced by many different cultures and is definitely worth traveling to for this unique experience.  I was happy I started with the historic temples and ended with the futuristic gardens, because it really gave me the chance to see everything.

For more information on Singapore’s nightlife, please see my Favorite Bars in Singapore article.

Gudetama Sushi Cake in Singapore

Sushi cakes that actually taste like cake.

This looks exactly like grilled tamago sushi… But it’s actually made of cheesecake! Instead of soy sauce and wasabi, maple syrup and a sweet cream that is colored to resemble wasabi comes with your order. Though I knew what I was ordering, this still came as a very impressive feast for the eyes.

You can find this amazing sushi cake dessert at the Gudetama Cafe in the Suntec Mall of Singapore. Dedicated to everyone’s favorite lazy egg mascot hailing from Japan, this cafe has a beautiful egg-shaped interior decor and some very original menu items.

Though I’ve been to the Gudetama Cafe in Osaka, this one is actually bigger and has more menu items! This restaurant serves many different dishes including burgers, pastas, teas, and desserts in decent portion sizes.

The Suntec Mall is on the way to the famous Gardens at the Bay in Singapore, so this is the perfect place to stop for some food before you go. I hope you have an eggscellent time here!

Aesthetic Adventures in Singapore

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Singapore as it appears in Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure.

Starting this Thursday, I will be taking a six day backpacking trip through Singapore from Tokyo, and also visiting Malaysia!  I chose Singapore as my next destination because it is a highly condensed city with futuristic garden displays, beautiful man-made beaches, and unique food, so it’s been on my travel list for quite a while.

During my recent trip to Hokkaido, I met a traveling couple from central Singapore and they inspired me to come here myself.  I think the people and culture of this country are extremely kind so I’m excited to learn more about them on my trip.  The best thing about this country is you can see all of the major attractions on foot or via train due to its small size.  It also is extremely English-friendly and has a low crime rate, as well as being welcoming to international tourists.

Another perk of visiting Singapore is that you can easily book a cheap bus to Malaysia, and flights between the two countries are as low as $48.  The downside will be the extremely hot temperature, but I plan on wearing a light jacket and sunblock to protect my skin.  I am most excited to see the Merlion Statue!

My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Tokyo → Singapore & Sentosa Island → Mersing (Malaysia) → Rawa Island → Kuala Lumpur → Mirror Beach → Singapore → Tokyo

Aug 1st: Arriving to Singapore

I booked a $500 flight to Singapore in June departing a little after 5pm from Narita Airport through Delta Airlines.  I plan on playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses during the long 6 hour flight.  I will arrive to Singapore around midnight and be staying at the sci-fi themed Spacepod Capsule Hotel!  I’m already excited for this next big adventure!

Aug 2nd: Exploring Temples, Galleries, and Clubs

As soon as I wake up and finish my daily run, I plan on heading straight to the Merlion Statue to get some pictures with it!  People say it’s extremely small in person, but that doesn’t damper my enthusiasm for it.  I still think it’s cute!  From there I plan on walking to some of the nearby temples and landmarks including Thian Hock Keng Temple, the Abdul Gaffoor Mosque, and stopping at the Gudetama Cafe for dessert.  If I have time to see both the National Gallery Singapore and Art Science Museum, I definitely will, as well as try some street food on the way!  My aim for the first day is mostly walking around and getting acquainted with the atmosphere of this new country.

At night I definitely want to visit the Gardens at the Bay!  The futuristic neon lights and expansive greenhouses look amazing!  There’s also a ton of nightlife in this area.  I plan on checking out the videogame-themed Nineteen80 bar first.  According to the reviews, it’s awesome and I think I’ll very much enjoy the retro aspect of it it.  There’s also a Korean bistro called Don’t Tell Mama that I’m excited to go to!  Despite the name, I know my mother will eventually find out I’m there through social media…  So I might as well enjoy it!  I’m excited to try their shochu cocktails and also check out some nearby dance clubs!  This should be an extremely exciting first night full of crazy memories.

Aug 3rd: Sentosa Island

Before I hit the beach, I plan on checking out both the Harry Potter Cafe and the Durian Cafe for my daily dose of aesthetic food.  After I’m fully satisfied, I’ll ride the skyline from central Singapore to explore the exciting Sentosa island.  Here I will sunbathe on Palawan Beach which resembles the Caribbean with its white sand and tropical trees!  There’s a total of three beaches here and I hope to go swimming at them all since this island is also small and very walkable.

Sentosa also has Universal Studies, an aquarium, wildlife centers, and many bars and resorts so there’s a lot to do!  I hope to enjoy the attractions here as much as I did in Thailand.  Either way, I will definitely enjoy being on the beach again!  The beaches in Japan just don’t compare.

Aug 4th: Rawa Island

Rawa Island is a beautiful private island in Malaysia which is an extremely popular day trip from Singapore, so I decided to go here!

From the Golden Mile Tower in Singapore, I booked a $28 bus through Easy Book that leaves at 6:30am (ouch), and arrives at the Mersing ferry port of Malaysia before noon.  From there, I will purchase a ferry ticket directly to Rawa Island.  According to what I’ve read online, ferries depart every 1-2 hours depending on the tide.

Once I arrive to the island, I plan to go swimming and also rent some snorkeling gear.  I hear there are water slides here as well, so I really want to try them out!  Essentially this will be my relaxation day.  Hopefully the weather will cooperate too!

At 5:30, I booked a bus to Kuala Lumpur from Mersing for $15 where I will be staying for 2 nights of this trip.  The bus trip will be long, but it takes about the same amount of time from Vegas to the Grand Canyon which I endured at the beginning of the summer (5 hours).  I chose to stay at the Sky Society hostel because it has a beautiful infinity pool and is less than $30 per night.  Infinity pools are usually found on top of high buildings and create the illusion that they’re connected to the sky.  I’m more than enthralled to swim in one!

Aug 5th: Exploring Kuala Lumpur

Once I wake up, I plan on taking a taxi or bus to the famous Batu Caves for some hiking and sightseeing.  I am looking forward to seeing the famous Lord Murugan Statue there as well!  I then plan on seeing some famous landmarks in the city like the Petronas Towers and Merdaka Square.  If I have time, I want to see the Museum of Illusions and the bird park too!

At night, I want to wander around Petaling Street and try some street food.  This area of the city sounds like it’s always bustling, so it should be a great place to start the night.  There’s a bar called Skulldaggery around which caught my attention as well.  If I have enough energy, I plan on checking out some clubs too.  I’m not sure how Malaysia’s night life compares to other countries, but I’m willing to check it out!

Aug 6th: Sky Mirror Beach

One of the most mesmerizing attractions in Malaysia is Sky Mirror Beach, which clearly reflects your reflection on the surface of its low tide during certain times of the day!  Because it is a bit remote, I booked a tour through Veltra to go there from my accommodation in Kuala Lumpur.  I will be doing some experimental photography there while enjoying the beautiful natural phenomenon.  There is also some unique sea shells and marine life that you can see!

At night, I will be returning to Singapore via a cheap flight I booked through Jetstar airlines.  Though this trip is only a few days, I know it will be extremely fulfilling!  I also know I’ll be extremely exhausted from all of this traveling, so this time is sufficient.

Aug 7th: Returning to Tokyo

I will fly back to Tokyo via the very first flight of the morning at 5:05am!  The time is a bit dreadful, but I am extremely fortunate that I was able to take a budget trip here.

Please look forward to my future posts!  I’m extremely fortunate to be able to see two more gorgeous Asian countries and their beautiful beaches.  I aim to share my backpacking experience so others may enjoy it and use it for reference.  I’m excited for yet another aesthetic adventure filled with unforgettable memories.  I love traveling alone because it gives me the chance to reflect on my life and prepare for the future!

A Casual Day Trip to Hell Valley (Noboribetsu, Japan)

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Hell Valley, better known as Jigokudani (地獄谷), is a beautiful national park with an active volcano hidden away in a hot springs village called Noboribetsu.  Located in the north of Japan where it frequently snows during the winter, this village has become a popular getaway destination for those looking for a natural source of heat and a dip in the hot springs.  Many of the locals think that its appearance represents an image of hell, though with its picturesque views and fantastic food, other people would beg to differ.  Hell Valley attracted my attention because it is the perfect destination for hiking in Hokkaido, and there are rumored to be demons dwelling here!

To get to Hell Valley, it’s cheapest to fly to New Chitose airport, then take a bus from Sapporo to Noboribetsu Station.  I took the rapid train which was more expensive, but I was able to travel for about $80 roundtrip which is cheaper than most destinations in Japan.  From Noboribetsu Station, there is a nearby aquarium and amusement park that can be seen nearby, but most people travel to Noboribetsu Onsen since there are more attractions.  This is simply a 15 minute bus or taxi ride away.  From the onsen station, you can easily walk to Hell Valley and start your demon hunting adventure!

The first thing I noticed about Hell Valley was not the demons, but the strong smell of sulfur caused by geothermal activity; it was potent, but you know you’re at a legit hot spring when you can smell it.  Also, why are there demons here in the first place?  The Noboribetsu Website (English) has confirmed that these creatures are here to protect that natural hotspring!  There are a number of statues and maces scattered around the town that you can visit for good luck (check the tourist website for more information).

Hell Valley itself takes just a few minutes to hike up and see the geysers from the onsen station, but you can climb the nearby mountain for a better panoramic view and a free footbath.  You can also see the famous geyser called Tessen Ike nearby, or choose to enter one of the open-air hotsprings.  This area is very hiker-friendly because it has guideposts written in both Japanese and English.  Additionally, be sure to check out the oni toilets at the park entrance!

Overall, I had a lovely day trip here in Hell.  This actually isn’t the first Hell Valley I’ve visited; I’ve also been to the one in Hakone, Japan.  However, this one is colored in a redder hue and looks cooler, plus it’s a lot more remote and there are more places to explore.  One day here was enough for me because I mainly came here to do hiking and photography, but staying in a hotsprings inn is ideal for those looking to relax.  Hokkaido has a lot of hidden gems like this and I hope to uncover more of them during my backpacking adventure!

Setting Sail for Macau

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Ruins of St. Paul’s in central Macau (facade).

After kicking off the New Year on a junk boat in Hong Kong, my crew and I decided to sail to Macau and spend the first day of 2018 in an incredible new place we had never been before.  Macau is a unique country because it has a mix of Chinese and Portuguese culture, and the island has both fancy gold casinos and traditional temples attracting a lot of different travelers.  It truly feels like an adventure when you ride past a concrete capitalist jungle resembling the Vegas Strip and into the heart of the city where historic ruins lay waiting to be discovered.

Traveling to Macau from Hong Kong is very easy, all you need to do is get off at Shueng Wan Station and catch a ferry that runs every 15 minutes for $25.  The boat ride is only an hour long and is very pleasant.  There is also an international airport on the island.  When we arrived, we decided to hire a taxi for 4 hours and split the price between the three of us rather than use a bus.  I can’t remember the exact price as I was a new traveler, but I remember it wasn’t that expensive and was overall worth it for the convenience.

The two images above demonstrate the stark contrast of architecture in Macau.  From gold-tiled casinos to traditional temples, there is no shortage of exciting things to see here.  We first stopped at the Colosseum at the Fisherman’s Wharf, which is very similar to hotels in Las Vegas!  You can walk through the Colosseum and also go to the nearby casinos if you are interested.  This is an obvious tourist trap, but I was on one of my first international trips so I’ll admit that I was impressed.

Next we drove to the Ruins of St. Paul’s, which is actually a replica of the real church but looks completely real!  Next we wandered to the nearby Monte Fort and hiked to the very top.  You can see a beautiful view of Macau’s skyline and also take pictures of the canons that were used to protect it.  After that we were in the mood for food so we walked down to the market and I ordered some really interesting ramen noodles with fish balls.  They were surprisingly sweet and delicious!

You can walk from this area to Portuguese Street and spend hours seeing the shops and parks nearby!  We did a mix of activities including lighting incense at a temple, trying free samples at the food stalls, then looping around this area until dusk because there was so much to see.  On our last stop, we went to Macau Tower where you can go bungee jumping and skywalking!  This tower holds the Guinness World Record for “Highest Commercial Bungy Jump” in the world.  Unfortunately since it was New Year’s Day there was a long wait for bungee jumping, so we did skywalking instead (Luke would be proud).

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Skywalking at Macau Tower is actually quite the thrill.

Though it wasn’t bungee jumping, it was actually quite the thrill!  Our guide spoke perfect English and made sure everyone was comfortable before we started walking the perimeter of the tower.  She would instruct us to try different movements and took photos of us while we enjoyed the beautiful skyline and the sensation of being 731.6 ft in the air.  Though it was only for a few minutes, it felt like forever and was a really neat experience.

By the time we finished, it was night time so we decided to head back to Hong Kong from the port!  You can see Macau in a day if you make use of the buses or a taxi, but I recommend staying for a few days if you can.  I had a lot more fun here than in Vegas in comparison, and my money went a long way.

Seeing Fireworks on a Junk Boat for New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong

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New Year’s Eve on Victoria Harbor from a Junk Boat in Hong Kong (2018).

I never thought I’d be sailing through the Kowloon district of Hong Kong at midnight on a rickety junk boat with my former housemate and his girlfriend, but this was yet another exotic adventure I had somehow stumbled into!  At this time in my life, I had lived in Japan for 2 years and intended to stay there forever.  I had seen most of the major islands and cities in Japan, so my good friend Li Bai, who I originally met in a Tokyo sharehouse, invited my to come to Hong Kong for something new.  He had lived in Tokyo for 3 months and China for about a year, and said Hong Kong was one of the craziest places he had ever been to.  I took his word, but I still was a little nervous back then!

Now I would leap at an opportunity to go to a new country, but initially I had mixed feelings about traveling outside of Japan.  This was mainly because I was so comfortable with my daily life in Tokyo and didn’t want to leave, plus I wasn’t sure if I could navigate in another foreign country without knowing its native tongue.  It actually took a lot of convincing on Li Bai’s end, but he assured me if I loved Tokyo I would enjoy Hong Kong and all it had to offer.  After some time I decided this would be the best opportunity to see Hong Kong since both of my friends spoke Chinese and could guide me get around.  It was also the chance to see a whole new country and learn about its culture with people I was close with, so in retrospect I’m quite glad I took the opportunity.

I stayed in Hong Kong for a total of 4 days in a cheap hostel in Kowloon called Rainbow Lodge HK.  Li Bai recommend staying in Kowloon Town because it has a lot of history, and it is cheaper than the newer luxurious parts of the city.  Formerly called “The City of Anarchy”, Kowloon was known as walled city that was home to many imperial soldiers during the Sung Dynasty.  The city had a culture of its own as it refused to be colonized and was once one of the most densely populated areas of the world.  Though it was infamous for crime back in the day, now it is fully safe and historic.

Like Tokyo, Hong Kong is a bright and vivid city with a lot of neon lights, street vendors, and shopping.  The train system is very cohesive and you can get around the island with ease.  The biggest difference I noticed was Hong Kong was a lot more westernized; English was widely spoken and manners were a lot looser.  At the night markets you could barter to get lower prices which I did with the help of my Chinese-speaking friends.  This is concept is actually common in Asian countries, but not in Japan.  I also really enjoyed the warm weather.  Tokyo and Korea are much colder in the winter, so I felt like I was in the tropics the whole time I was here.

One interesting point I noticed is that people often lay down cardboard boxes in the street and have little picnics in them!  I think it’s a very clever idea because it easily brings people together:

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The streets of Hong Kong are really fun to wander because they are super condensed and beautiful murals are everywhere to be found.  I arrived before my friends, so I took to opportunity to explore the city on foot.  I saw a lot of unique murals and architecture, as well as graffiti.  My favorite was a green Slime from Dragon Quest was some kind of insignia on its forehead, not to mention the mysterious door with eyes.  The polar bear butt sculpture near my hostel was extremely charming too.

My friends from China arrived around 8pm and that’s when the party finally started!  It felt so good to catch up with them because it had been over a year since we last had seen one another.  We first barhopped around Kowloon and found a Mexican place with giant mixed drinks and tequila which we feasted on after the long flight.  We also bought a bottle of wine and drank on the streets while walking to the Victoria harbor.  Honestly, we got along so well like no time had passed at all!

Around 11pm we boarded a traditional Chinese ship with a vivid sail called a junkboat.  Junkboats resemble pirate ships and were used to transport cargo back in the day (not actual junk).  We booked the NYE fireworks tour through Aqua Luna online, and it included an all you can eat buffet and an hour of smooth sailing around the harbor.  Though it was somewhat of a tourist activity, it was extremely fun!  This was honestly one of the most enjoyable NYEs of my life because I had made it all the way here to Hong Kong, a place I never thought I’d travel to in my life.  I’ll never forget the incredible neon hue the sky turned once the clock stuck midnight!

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Midnight on Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong (2017-2018).

At the end of the little sailing expedition, we were all tired so we decided to turn in for the night.  But this was just the first day!  The next day we decided to sail to another exciting place!  Look forward to the next blog of my Hong Kong series: Setting Sail for Macau.