Greece 2018 with lotsa love

After a whole month of travelling, from Hongkong, Okinawa and Greece. I’m kind of tired. But I’m glad to revisit Greece especially Santorini.

I hope I can write on my Greece trip soon.

In the mean time, you can refer to my Greece trip two years ago (Link)

Advertisements

Hai-Sai Okinawa 4D3N

Earlier this year during CNY, I was planning to visit Okinawa via Bangkok using budget airlines. Then Jetstar started their direct flight service so it was a no brainer to fly from BKK.

In the end, I visited Koh Tao Island (link) during CNY and bought direct flight to Okinawa for May. I try to avoid the peak period which is also the typhoon season.

There are many blogs on Okinawa but mostly in Chinese so I decided to blog a quick entry, citing the important need-to-know details.

The red-eye flight arrived at Naha airport about 8ish in the morning. I collected my GoGo pass at the airport and proceeded to locate the car rental staff, then directed me to the free shuttle bus to the car rental company, about 15mins drive away.

PS: I will update this blog with more photos later. Yes it has been updated. TQVM

What’s GoGo pass?

It is a pass whereby I can visit several places of interests at a discounted price. I bought the GoGo pass + Churaumi Aquarium for about $35/pax (very worth it!). Else I would have to pay 6430yen/pax for everything. I visited all the places of interests except for the Southeast Botanical Garden which was not in line of my driving plan.

Car Rental & GPS

The staff at the car rental company speaks English and you have to read some traffic signs explanation and re-confirm your drop-off location. Depending on which drop-off location, the staff will advise you the nearest petrol station to pump petrol before returning the car.

The GPS installed in the car was easy to use and accurate. But first, ask the staff to change the language to English for you. As for the location, you can enter the map-code (if you have), else the phone number of the destination will be easier.

For example, you search for Churaumi Aquarium on Google Map and it will shows you the telephone number as +81 980-48-3748, you just have to enter 0-980-48-3748 onto the GPS.

>> Picture above showing directions to Neo Park

One of my destinations, which is my hotel at Nago, does not work so I just use Google Map for directions and it is accurate too.

Here is an overview of my 4D3N driving plan:

Day 1

After collecting the rental car, took the expressway towards Nago and the toll was 640yen (paid in cash). The maximum speed was 80kmh and it was an easy drive.

We went for lunch at Nakamura Soba (+81 98-966-8005, enter 0 98-966-8005 onto GPS)

then visited Cape Manzamo, 5 mins drive away (+81 98-966-1280, enter 0 98-966-1280 onto the GPS)

After, we proceeded towards Nago area. We visited Neo Park (+81 980-52-6348, enter 0 980-52-6348 onto GPS)

then Okinawa Fruitsland (+81 980-52-1568, enter 0 980-52-1568 onto GPS)

then Pineapple Park (+81 980-53-3659 enter 0 980-53-3659 onto GPS).

Nearby Pineapple park, there was this hundred thousand years old house which was a restaurant: Ufuya (+81 980-53-0280, enter 0 980-53-0280 onto GPS). Their dinner opening hours began at 6pm and we wanted to reach there before 6pm. But we only reached at about 6.15pm then we proceeded to take a Q number. The estimated waiting time was 80mins but we got our seats 30 mins later. We ordered their specialty Agu Pork Shabu Shabu and it was available despite with no reservations. It was delicious.

A word of caution

Getting to Ufuya was not as easy because it was driving into a bendy hill road. When we finished our dinner at about 8ish, the skies was already dark and the bendy hill road was of low visibility. So please switch on your high beam and drive slowly.

We then proceeded to check into Mr Kinjo at Nago using Google Map because the phone number does not generate a destination on the GPS. It was a fantastic property and we booked it for $40ish per night. The parking was 1000yen per night.

We booked this place because we wanted to visit the Churaumi Aquarium on the next morning which was about 30mins drive away.

Day 2

We left Mr Kinjo at Nago around 9+, went to Churaumi Aquarium (+81 980-48-3748, you just have to enter 0-980-48-3748 onto the GPS), for whale shark and dolphin show.

We watched the Dolphin show at 1pm then made our way back to the car park.

A Tip for you

Please park at P7 Parking Lot which is nearest to Churaumi Aquarium entrance.

From Churaumi Aquarium, we visited the Ryugujo butterfly park (+81 980-48-3456, enter 0 980-48-3456 onto the GPS) nearby.

Then on the way down south, we stopped by the souvenir shop http://www.okashigoten.co.jp (+81 98-982-3388, enter 0 98-982-3388 onto the GPS). It was actually nearby the Nakamura Soba.

Then we proceeded to visit Ryukyu Village (+81 98-965-1234, enter 0 98-965-1234 onto the GPS). Over here, if you have time you can also visit the Blue Cave & Cape Maeda.

Then we visited Murasaki Mura (+81 98-958-1111, enter 0 98-958-1111 onto the GPS) and you can also visit Cape Zanpa if you have time.

Then we went to American Village (+81 98-936-6333, enter 0 98-936-6333 onto the GPS).

Finally we proceeded to Naha for check in at Hotel WBF Art Stay. Their parking was just besides the hotel at 1000yen per night. You will have to pay at the hotel reception; else you pay at the car park exit for 300yen/hr parking. You can also park slightly further away for 750yen per day parking. The hotel can provide you with more information. This hotel was in a good location, within walking distance to Donki/Pablo/Macdonalds and the walking street. The hotel was also 10mins walk away from the Makishi station.

Day 3

We left the hotel around 11+am, went to Okinawa World (+81 98-949-7421, enter 0 98-949-7421 onto the GPS), paid 700yen/pax extra (excluded in GoGo pass) to visit the Gyokusendo caves, watched Eisa Dance at 2.30pm.

>> you will have to go down stairs to the cave then is a flat ground to stroll through the cave. At the end of road, there is an escalator to bring you back to the ground.

then went to Ashibinaa Outlet Mall (+81 98-891-6000, enter 0 98-891-6000 onto the GPS).

Finally we headed back to return the rental car by 8pm at Kokusai-dori, nearby Hotel WBF Art Stay. As advised by the car rental, we pumped up petrol nearby Omoromachi Station then returned car at CARGOES Shopping near Makishi station.

A Tip for you

At the petrol station, the pump attendant will assist you. You just have to inform him you want to pump regular petrol for full tank. S/he will ask if you want to pay cash. Then you will pay him/her cash on the spot. S/he will go to the cashier on your behalf and then return you the change. Please retain the receipt as the car rental may ask for proof of pumping petrol.

Driving in Okinawa

On expressway, the maximum speed is 80kmh.

On other roads, mostly 50kmh and some can be 30-40kmh. Some of the other roads can go up to be 60kmh. If you think you have miss a turn, you can make a left turn and turn one round to go back. Else if the traffic allows, you can make a 3-point turn. Else but not if, turn into some parking area and turn towards the correct direction.

Most of the roads are one way and the traffic lights can change back to red very quickly.

Be prepared to go slow because there are many downslopes and curves.

A Tip for you

Always stop for pedestrian crossing and signal early, the other drivers will allow you to pass through.

Parking in Okinawa

For our trip, we only paid 2000yen for parking which was for the two nights parking at hotels. All the places of interests, shopping areas and restaurants have free parking

Day 4

On our departure day, we asked the reception to call us a taxi to go to the Naha Airport. The estimated fare was 2000yen and we only paid 1530yen and only took us 10mins.

I hope the above information can give you a quick overview.

For now, I am planning for my next trip whereby I can include more sea activities.

More Tips

Pls weigh your luggage before checking in at the airport. This is because you will need to screen your check in luggage before checking in. You are not allowed to repack after screening.

  Summary of places Telephone No. to enter onto GPS
1 Nakamura Soba 0 98-966-8005
2 Cape Manzamo 0 98-966-1280
3 Neo Park 0 980-52-6348
4 Okinawa Fruitsland 0 980-52-1568
5 Pineapple Park 0 980-53-3659
6 Ufuya 0 980-53-0280
7 Churaumi Aquarium 0 980-48-3748
8 Ryugujo butterfly park 0 980-48-3456
9 Souvenir shop http://www.okashigoten.co.jp 0 98-982-3388
10 Ryukyu Village 0 98-965-1234
11 Murasaki Mura 0 98-958-1111
12 American Village 0 98-936-6333
13 Okinawa World 0 98-949-7421
14 Ashibinaa Outlet Mall 0 98-891-6000

Harbin Ice Trip 2018

Yeah, I fast forward this post. I will post about my 11 days trip to Seoul during winter later.

———————-

Finally I have decided to make the trip to Harbin. This is because of the recent direct Scoot flight from Singapore.

I also have decided to write this post in a easy to read manner.

This is written for 2018 Harbin Snow & Ice World (冰雪大世界). I went on the official opening day 5 Jan and I went again on 6 Jan.

Be prepared:

Once you land in Harbin Taiping Airport, you will need to walk down the stairs (outdoor) then transfer into a bus.

As we all know, even the normal day temperature is always below 0 deg C. So pls bring along some of your winter wear on your hand carry. You can wear the rest of the winter wear after you collect your luggage.

Airport taxi/bus

You can easily find taxi outside the airport. The taxi fare from airport to Central Street (中央大街) is about 130-160RMB.

For me, I have time so I use the airport bus.

If you land at the international Arrival, you can use the free mini bus transfer to domestic airport. This is because the airport bus departs from the domestic airport.

The fare is 20RMB and you will need to buy the ticket at the bus station inside the domestic Arrival airport. For me, my hotel is at Central Street so I will take Airport Line 3.

Usually the bus will leave when it is full so you may need to wait for a while.

The bus is fast, it takes about 40mins to reach Central Street. The drop-off point is opposite Central Street entrance. You will see Holiday Inn hotel as your landmark.

For the return trip to airport, the boarding area is opposite the drop off point when you arrive. The bus timing is pretty unpredictable but give and take, every half hour frequency.

Don’t be alarmed when the airport bus arrives and there are no more seats. This is because Central Street boarding area is the last few stops before reaching the airport. There are plenty of taxis around the boarding area and they will offer you car-pooling. If you are a party of 3/4 then it will be easier to just take a taxi. The car pooling rate is about 30-40RMB/pax. The toll for taxi to enter airport is 30RMB so it will/will not be included into the fare.

Airport bus timing

The signage at the drop-off and boarding bus stop is the same. As I have mentioned earlier the timing is not really accurate. So try to have enough time if you intend to take the airport bus.

Places to stay

For me I choose to stay at Ibis nearby Sophia Church, along Zhaolin road. This is excellent choice for me because I have paid $70/night (no breakfast). The room is heated, spacious and plenty of space to walk around. The reception is 24hrs and you can store your luggage with them if you need to go on tour such as Snow Town (雪乡) which usually requires 2D1N. It is located inside a shopping centre and just besides Central street. It is also within walking distance to the Ice sculpture park, a smaller scale exhibition compared to the Snow & Ice World (冰雪大世界) and Sophia Church.

I also have look around, there are plenty of hotels/motels around so no worries on accommodation. But if you are here during peak season, it will be wiser to make reservations.

Simcard/Wifi

At the hotel, their wifi is very good and I can even watch Korean drama using Chinese app.

If you need FB/Google/Whatsapp services, then you can either pay for VPN or use a roaming simcard.

If you are using wifi, you can use this substitute app.

  • Google Map – Baidu Map
  • Internet Browser – Baidu
  • WhatsApp – WeChat

Activities

Majority of the winter season tourists are here for the snow and ice festival.

There are many choices:

1. You can take tours from agents whereby they are all over the place. Note: BUYER BEWARE

2. At Ibis, there is a small tour desk at the lobby so I just use their service.

3. For the Snow & Ice World (冰雪大世界), there are many free buses but you pay for the admission fee. From the website, it cost 330RMB (at entrance), 310RMB (website).

4. Pls note that these free buses usually have a time limit, about 1.5hr to 2hrs for you to roam around before boarding.

5. If you miss the bus, you can easily find your way back by using the public bus/taxi.

This sign says from Central Street (中央大街) to Snow and Ice World (冰雪大世界) costs 5RMB single trip.

6. There is no need to spend the whole day there because it is only worth to see it during night time when the lights are lighted. This refers to 4.30pm because the sun sets at 4ish.

7. Furthermore the weather is really cold and the windchill is strong.

I paid for this tour 330RMB and nothing more. On the way back, they will drop you off at a “toilet” break whereby it is a shop.

There is no obligations to buy anything. For example, the Russian chocolate are slightly more expensive than the same Russian chocolates you will find at Central Street.

》this Russian baby chocolate costs 28RMB

》whereas it costs 22RMB at Central Street (中央大街)

》the guide will get your contact number so it is easier to download WeChat to use here. You can also inform the guide if you are late for the return bus.

More activities

As I have paid for the Snow & Ice World (冰雪大世界), I was offered a 20RMB for a day tour the following day. I mean why not since I have more places to go and travelling in a bus with a tour guide is easier.

If you do not like all these day tours, you can easily take bus/taxi to visit but the overall transport costs will be higher.

As you know 20RMB bus for the whole day, means there will be many self-expenses.

Let me list it down here.

1. 龙塔 (Dragon Tower), for photo taking

2. 索菲亚大教堂 (Sophia Church), for photo taking

3. 松花江金河湾湿地 (Golden River), pay 300 RMB, a place whereby you can pay go-kart, ATV, dogs/horses riding, snow tube, winter swim performance and etc

4. Lunch included

5. 太阳岛俄罗斯风情小镇 (Russian style town), 20 RMB (alrdy included)

6. 东北虎林园 (Siberian Tiger Park), pay 300 RMB

7. 冰雪大世界 (Snow Ice Festival world), pay 330 RMB

8. You can skip the activities and wait in the bus or you can leave the tour on your own expense. There is no such thing as you must stay until the tour ends.

9. I revisit the Snow & Ice World (冰雪大世界) because I did not see everything on my first visit.

If you are going by yourself, I have check that for #3, you need to pay 330 RMB and #6, you only need to pay 110 RMB. For the Snow Ice Festival world, it will be 330 RMB. So all in all, total will be 330 + 110 + 330 = 770 RMB but transportation and lunch and other places not included.

I took this one day trip and paid 930 RMB, so it was about 140 RMB extra (I’ve -20 RMB for #5). Not forgetting I have paid 20 RMB in the first place.

So in total 140 RMB for 11hrs of bus , lunch and personal driver and guide was pretty a good deal.

More activities

You can visit Snow Town (雪乡)and if you are being quoted a ridiculous low price then pls start asking qns. Else for all included based on 4pax sharing accommodation will be about 1100RMB/pax. If you want to have non-sharing, you have to pay more. This place is small and have limited accommodation.

I did not visit because it is a 5-6hours bus journey and another 5-6hours bus journey back.

Since I have returned from Seoul and went Harbin the following week, I do not need to see so much snow or skiing.

On your own

I take my time to explore my surrounding, Central Street (中央大街)& Ice sculpture park (150RMB) & flood control memorial & Wal-mart.

All these places are within walking distances.

Winter wear

Yes, you need winter wear.

My suggestions are:

1. There is no need for thermal underwear unless you are working in the snow for the whole day. You need to be “easy” when you visit the toilets.

2. Pls wear more layers if you are on day tours.

3. Pls wear lesser layers if you are going in/out of shopping areas else you are going to burn inside your winter wear.

4. Be waterproof! You don’t want to be wet and get sick.

5. Pls wear good waterproof shoes with good traction. The roads are slippery and when it start melting, higher chance of slip n fall hazards.

6. Try to walk in smaller step to avoid slipping and look before you step. Avoid icy surface and metal surface.

7. Protect your other parts of body such as face, neck, ears and hands.

8. Protect your camera or iPhones. I always keep hand warmer inside my pockets so I can warm up my iPhone else they can just shut down despite having 40% battery life.

9. Another important thing to note. Pls exercise caution and be on high alert when you cross the roads here. Even when it is green man, the cars will still move. There are also roads without traffic lights and you can see many locals/tourists crossing. Don’t forget the road is slippery so pls be safe.

Toilets

I know it is strange that I list this section.

In general, if you use the toilets in the shopping centres, restaurants then it will be less dirty.

Pls bring your own tissue/toilet paper and be prepare for squatting toilets.

If you really “see” something then just try to “unsee” it.

Any other things

Pls bring enough RMB or credit cards which are accepted in China. It won’t be easy to change $ here because even tourists are being restricted to many verification.

If you are using WeChat Pay / Alipay, make sure they can work in China.

Enjoy the ice!

The weather has been good to me. The lowest was -19deg C and the snowing is not as heavy as I have encountered in Niseko/Sapporo.

Of course I have lots of photos to share but my aim of this post is not about that.

❤️

Maldives

I will park this and try to complete this post soon. Updated: I have complete this post.

I have been visiting Maldives on a yearly basis ever since 201X. This is one of the few destinations whereby very little information on cheaper/alternative travels. I have stayed in a few nice resorts, locals islands and tried out seaplane, domestic and speedboat rides.

I will update soon. After all, my japan entries took me 10 years.

My Thailand entries are still missing and I have been to Thailand so many times over the last 20 years.

Don’t blame me. Blame the system.

—————————

December 2017

Since I just got back from Maldives, I thought of writing whatever comes to my mind.

From where I am i.e Singapore, it takes about 4hr+ direct flight time to Male Maldives. Over the years, I have paid $200/pax the lowest with morning outbound flight and night inbound flight. However, this flight was discontinued and the outbound flight became a night flight. This means you will arrive in Male late at night and you have few choices (1) stay overnight in Hulhumale (connected to Male airport), (2) take a ferry to Male capital island which is nearby and stay overnight, (3) go to your resorts.

This is how Hulhumale looks like. Their buildings are short and it does resembles Singapore. Even their airport buses also look like SBS buses. On some local islands such as Hulhumale, there are public beaches too. But these are NOT bikini beaches so you have to be fully clothed to use these beaches. I also do not find these public beaches to have the clearest water.

Public beach in Hulhumale

Earlier this year, Male airport has changed their name but the airport remained as it is. All planes will have to use staircases for departure and arrival. Maybe in another few years time, when the new airport is ready, then aerobridges will be available.

public ferry terminal to go to Male capital island. Now they are building roads linking the airport to Male city so give them a few years.

If your resort is nearby, able to arrive via speedboat/domestic flight then it is possible to arrive late at night. If your resort is only accessible via seaplane then you will have to stay on overnight and fly out the next morning. This is because seaplanes only operate during day time.

For me, I will prefer staying overnight in Hulhumale because it is only 10mins drive by car. If you choose to take their airport bus, it is possible too! There are many timing but if your local hotel included airport transfers or you have a good deal on airport transfer then take it. Usually it is about 8-10USD/pax/round trip airport transfer.

In Hulhumale, staying one night will cost around $70-$100/night.

Simple Ensuite room

I have been to Maldives a few times and have stayed in local hotels and used their excursions to save costs. Yes, I did saved quite a bit as compared to staying in resorts. I did most of my excursions with the local hotel Operators. You can also purchase resort day pass to visit the resorts such as Centara Ras Fushi, Banyan Tree, Angsana etc from the local hotel Operators, costing 100+USD/pax and includes lunches and airports transfers and speedboat transfer to to resorts. You have to find out more from the local hotel Operators because they have the means to get you these day passes.

Day pass to Angsana Ihuru & on their private beach

Sample of resort food prices in USD before tax (as of today, 10% service charge & 12% tax)

Sample of food prices in Hulhumale local island in USD (taxes were included)

Warning: you need to have an open mind, in Maldives, everything is slow so pls expect to wait a lot!

You can also do live abroad whereby you live on the boat and dive as you sail. You will need to find out and make arrangements before arriving.

Most places accept USD so changing local currency is really redundant at the airport. But you still can change some if you want to spend most time on local islands. This is because if you pay in USD, you will get local currency as your change (if there is any).

There are public ferries too but their timing are unpredictable so you have to check and recheck. Sometimes you have to make transfers and you don’t know what time is the connecting ferries. So it will be wise to ask about transportation mode from your hotels/resorts.

I do not recommend island hopping because there are no such excursions. But if you have cash to burn, I’m sure there is a way around it.

Remember that I’ve mentioned before to have an open mind?

Types of transportation

(1) speedboat to resorts

If your resorts are nearby and only requires speedboat transfers then the waiting time will be shorter because speedboats can leave as the resort wishes. Although, most resorts will want to have as many guests as possible in a trip.

(2) domestic flights then followed by Speedboat

If your resorts require a flight transfer, a domestic flight + speedboat option is always cheaper than seaplane. Pls take note that you will need to check-in for domestic flight 2 hours before flight time. So this means waiting and flight times are fixed. You also do not know what time is your domestic flight until 1 day before you arrive. So if you are arriving in Male in the afternoon then try to ask for afternoon flights else evening flights. If you are staying overnight and fly out the next day then try to ask for morning flights. Once you arrive at the domestic airport, you will be transferred into speedboats/dhoni to your resort. A Dhoni is a local boat.

This is how a dhoni looks like.

On our return domestic flight, the resort will inform you what time to leave the resort One day before. My flight was at 11+pm and the resort arranged the speedboat to the domestic airport at 5+pm. The domestic flight was at 7.30pm and flight time was only 20-25mins. So there was plenty of time.

(3) seaplane (maybe followed by speedboat)

This is the fastest and easiest mode of transport but also the most expensive. Depending on the resorts, the cheapest I have seen is about 500+USD/pax/round trip and this price keep increasing. Also, flight time is subjected to seaplane terminal so you may have to wait for sometime for your flight. Also, in the seaplane, there may have different passengers going to different resorts so you have to wait for them to disembark. However, the ideal plan is to put all passengers staying at the same resorts together. Once the seaplane land on the floating platform, you will be transferred to speedboat/dhoni to your resort.

Some tips:

For the above transportation modes, your luggage will be handled by the staff. So take what you need inside your handcarry such as sunglasses, swimsuit, sunblock and etc. So when you reach the resort and waiting for check-in, you can use the resort facilities.

Also, stop the duty-free alcohol purchase because you are NOT allowed to bring in alcohol. Upon departure, you are also NOT allowed to bring out alcohol. But you can buy them inside Male duty-free.

The food in Male airport can be quite expensive eg. Burger King double whopper meal cost 18USD. There is no harm in eating if you want to eat. I am just sharing.

Price taken in 2016

price taken in 2017

Most of my trips, I will get All-inclusive, meaning all my 3 meals (breakfast&lunch&dinner) and alcohol and water are included. Depending on the resort packages, some all-inclusive do not include drinks, whereas some only includes breakfast. So it is wise to find out more when you choose your resorts. Some resorts have half-board and this means breakfast&lunch or breakfast&dinner. I also know some resorts do not provide hot water kettle because they want to refrain guests from making instant noodles.

Types of accommodation

Water-villa is a must try if you have not. You can have your private stairs leading into the sea. You can have a pool/jacuzzi inside your water villa too.

Beach villa is easier in a way because you only have to walk a few steps and you are at the beach. You can also have a pool/jacuzzi inside your beach villa.

Weather conditions

You can find out about Maldives weather easily. Despite the weather forecast, some resorts can have different weather conditions. After all, Maldives is made up of thousands over islands scattered around. If you want specific weather forecast, you can ask the resort directly.

Excursions

I will do 1 or 2 excursions if I have time. Mostly I just go diving and snorkeling around the house reefs. I will say dolphins are easily seen in Maldives. They are all around you.

I also tried line fishing during sunset and it was pretty fun too.

If you cannot dive, you can use this semi-submarine too.

Or just use the resort non-motorised sports which will (usually) be free.

If you have questions, you can ask me and I will try my best to answer you.

🙂

Some more photos if you like to see more:

here are some videos on fish feeding the sharks and stingrays.

Apr 2017 – South Korea

Yes. I was in Seoul and now I am waiting to go Bali.

This Seoul trip was mainly on Cherry Blossoms.

Here are some photos taken at Jinhae Cherry Blossoms festival which was held from 1-10 April 2017.
First stop: Yeojwacheon river stream 


Second stop: Jinhae railway station


It was also the first week of opening of the new Seoul Sky tower located at Jamsil, Lotte world.


We also admired the beautiful Cherry Blossoms at Seokchon Lake nearby. The night views was very mesmerising.

………..

Also, I have updated on the tax refund post (link) on Seoul. In short, the tax refund in Seoul have been somewhat simplified but still not as easy as Japan tax refund.