The Zaru Soba in Japan You MUST Eat!

When you travel to a place like Japan, the one thing you really need to dedicate yourself to is…

THEIR FOOD.

No questions about it.

The Japanese cuisine is world renowned for good reason; it has it’s own unique and original flavour, yet every chef does it differently – and when you dine Japanese-style, they believe that the meal should also be a feast for the eyes.

Singapore might be an awesome foodie hub – but I’d say that our food isn’t served too prettily. You’d hardly expect our hawker uncle to put a parsley or whatsoever on your plate of char kuey tiao to make it look more presentable.

Mark and I had LOADS of incredibly good food while in Japan. We even ate when we weren’t hungry, simply because we weren’t there for a long time… And the food was too good to pass up! 😍

Actually gained 3kg within the 9 days we were there. 😩

However the one place I couldn’t get out of my head was this little unassuming hut in the middle of nowhere where we had the most amazing Zaru Soba.

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

Zaru Soba is actually chilled noodles made from buckwheat flour. You dip the noodles into a sauce and slurp it right up from there!
Note that when eating noodles in Japan, it’s polite to slurp your noodles as loudly as possible to show the chef that you’re enjoying your meal! ✌🏻

Truth be told, I was always more inclined to Cha Soba – which is noodles made from green tea flour.

However this place?
Made me sway my opinion effortlessly.

Plus, cold noodles are traditionally a summer dish. It was freezing then, but I had no complaints whatsoever… Because it was SO GOOD!!!

Mark is simply amazing at finding such off-the-books places when we travel – much thanks to our good friend, Google. 😁

So he entered the coordinates into the car’s GPS and stopped right here where we trekked through a bit of snow to the restaurant!

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

Once we entered the restaurant, there was a receiving area and right inside where customers sit is abundantly ornamented with traditional Japanese interiors.

That large mask gave me the creeps a little bit… but everything else was simply lovely and cosy!

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

And we got to enjoy our meal next to this gorgeous winter view! ❤️

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

The place is not very touristy – so their menu is entirely in Japanese. And handwritten too! 😯

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

First to arrive at your table are a couple of small condiments – and very important… The sauces!

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

Later on you will receive a kettle of hot water, which is actually the water that was used to boil your buckwheat noodles.

After you’re done with your noodles, pour the hot water into the remaining dipping sauce… And drink it up!

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

It might not look like much… but it was delicious! Plus it was a great way to calm your tummy after all the cold-noodle-slurping.

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

As you can tell – I was thoroughly pleased with my meal! ☺️ *burp*

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan

Mark was probably even more pleased… because he bought a packets of the owner’s ready-made noodles and sauce.

After some reading, we found that this humble restaurant holds quite a bit of history! The chef makes the buckwheat noodles himself, and the restaurant has been passed down from generation to generation (if I got it right, 19 generations to be exact)! The owner (also the chef) moved to his location back in 1972.

Okay, to be entirely honest – don’t even know if I got it right… because everything about them is in Japanese and my Japanese is hardly decent. 😔

But the important thing to me was, the entire dining experience was AMAZING. The service was warm & polite (like most Japanese people), the food was absolutely delightful, the restaurant’s ambience was scintillating and the view was simply gorgeous.

We were there in winter, and I wish we could be there during the other seasons too!

そば処,三百坊, zaru soba restaurant, yamagata, japan
There I am looking deliriously happy

If you’re ever in Japan, do check them out! You’re definitely going to need a car though!

Restaurant Name: 三百坊 300 Bou | www.300bou.net

Address: 453-2 Tsuchizaka, Yamagata-shi, Yamagata-ken 990-2405, Japan (Google Map here!)

Have a slurp-tastic time, peeps! 🍜

XOXO, Gera. 

#GeraTravels: Flying into super typhoon Nepartak

Having grown up in a country as geographically well-protected as Singapore, exposure to natural disasters is often close to none.

Sure, we get updates via news channels on the devastation and severity of the storms – but to actually understand what the disaster entails?

I can safely say I’m very ignorant in this area.

Even when travelling, I had the privilege of not getting hit by natural disasters. Much reason due to the fact that when planning a trip, I’d abstain from traveling during ‘dangerous’ seasons.

Like for Taiwan – their rainy and typhoon season is around June to October. This year, 2016, it was said to be between July to August.

It’s honestly the worst time to actually plan a leisure trip there because it is the hottest time of the year for them; why would I want to escape Singapore’s diabolically hot weather to get into another one? 😒

But this time I booked my flight anyway because of my dear cousin, Kathlyn.

I knew I was making a dangerous decision (thank God for travel insurance)… but it was one I was prepared to make anyhow. This is what humans do, right? Make funny decisions out of love for another human being.

On Wednesday (6 July 2016), people were sending me messages about the warning of typhoon Nepartak moving straight for Taiwan from the Philippines.

Friend: According to calculations, the typhoon will be hitting Taiwan Friday morning (8 July 2016).

Me: Well, f**k. My plane is scheduled to land 8 July 2016 at 5:30AM.

Seriously.

When buying lottery, I was never this lucky. How come when I bought plane tickets, it was exactly at the time and date the typhoon was expected to hit.

Well, anyway… It was quite scary yet exciting for me. It was the first time a natural disaster was affecting me in a direct manner. 😅 Sorry that I sound awfully lame…

All went well on 6 July 2016! Sure, there was an influx of news and warnings… Mark’s mom was getting very worried and even told me to just forgo the trip. But I was optimistic! Didn’t receive any news from the airlines directly… My cousin was still messaging me….

Then on 7 July 2016 at work, things got a little crazy. I started receiving more and more messages about the typhoon and how it upgraded into a super typhoon. Being it’s not just your regular typhoon! No, sir. It’s a super one now!

And I saw pictures of the monster – it was HUGE. Definitely merits the upgrade.

Image Credit: Jeff Schmaltz/NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response via AP
Image Credit: Jeff Schmaltz/NASA/LANCE/EOSDIS Rapid Response via AP

The typhoon was indeed terrifying. The very size of it was proof of the disaster that will befall all in its way.

Plus the name Nepartak was actually a designation for a warrior in Micronesia. Fun fact! So quite aptly named… Definitely a clear indication of the kind of wrath you can expect.

Then in the afternoon of 7 July 2016, there were news articles that airlines were cancelling flights into Taiwan. And I just resigned to fate. I messaged Kath that my flight was cancelled and then I had another typhoon to handle – Kathlyn.

And it felt awful not being able to do anything. There I was just dying to get to my baby cousin who needs some love and support, but I couldn’t do a single thing about it. I even tried arranging an earlier flight – but apparently many other people thought of that genius idea as well, and I didn’t stand a chance.

😭😭😭😭😭

And honestly I just started praying for the best. I was grateful for the measures taken into safety, but I was being greedy – I still wanted to be in Taipei with Kath.

Felt like forever; but soon enough, I received a message that my flight was merely delayed!!! By a whopping 11 hours – but hey, I still get to be in Taipei! People still said it was dangerous, but it was happening!

I never thought I’d feel so happy to fly into possible death – but YAY!!!

Then when I was getting ready to board the plane at around 10:30AM, I received news about the devastation the typhoon left in Taiwan. And positively went mildly ballistic – sending my cousin messages and demanding her to reply me. Of which that wanker didn’t.

WHY?? SHE WAS SLEEPING IN BECAUSE SHE DIDN’T HAVE TO REPORT TO WORK!!!

So yes, she messaged me just before I had to turn my phone into flight mode. That adorable wanker.

Because of the aftermath of the typhoon, my plane ride was plenty bumpy. It actually felt like a roller coaster many times – too many times for comfort. I started getting bleak thoughts in my head, “In a roller coaster, this seat belt is to make sure that I’m safely attached to the seat to bring me down to safety. But for this plane ride, it’ll make sure I’m attached to this seat so they can identify my body.”

And honestly, I didn’t even pray much. My only prayer much, “Okay, ol’ Father… If this is the time and way You take me home, then okay. Death by Nepartak sounds pretty badass.”

Landing was quite bumpy too – but I really must credit the pilot! It mustn’t have been easy for him to fly in that sort of skies, but he did a great job in getting us there safely anyway. Don’t know his name, but I was on Scoot TZ 202, flight from Singapore to Taiwan then to Narita on 8 July 2016, left Changi Airport at 1100 hours.

The good news is – Taipei didn’t receive much of a hit. It was really the more rural parts of Taiwan that suffered quite badly. This auntie told me that this shop keeper was trying to pull his door or window shut, but then was sucked out into the storm and just died… It was scary to know such things could actually happen.

When I got to Taoyuan International Airport, the flooding had stopped and while the roads were still filled with puddles here and there – everything was fine. Just that my drive there was a little swirly… because of the strong wind. While driving down the highway, the car was swerving left and right almost uncontrollably.

But anyhow, got to my cousin safely! And we didn’t care much about the wind or rain – still had to take a happy reunion selfie!

In #Taipei with cuzzie wuzzie!!! Typhoon or not; we got each other ❤️ #family #love #GeraTravels

A post shared by Geraldine Sim (@gera.shen) on

😁😁😁😁😁

When I got to her apartment, she was ready for a storm! She stocked up on instant noodles, water for drinking, water for flushing… Never had this in Singapore! Cannot imagine how fortunate we are, actually.

For those of you who are interested, here’s a video from CNN about the storm.

It was quite insane! Roofs were torn off, signs on the street, vehicles thrown around… And lives were taken and some scarred. 😔  I pray that God be by your side through these times to watch over you.

XOXO, G. 

Probably the Most “Feel Good” Massage in Singapore

never knew that Singapore had something like the blind massage in Vietnam or Thailand!

Mark and I were having dinner at Great World City and the man really wanted a massage. The stresses of work, he says. So being the dutiful fiancée that I am *shameless grin*, started Googling for massage parlours in the building.

And I found this little gem!

My Foot Reflexology Great World City
My Foot Reflexology @ Great World City #02-01

I was a little thrown off by the name, but they actually offer full body massages as well – which is always a huge plus for me. 😌

This was the therapist assigned to me – Angela!

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Pai seh about my face… Slept face-down for over 60 minutes. Cushion + bloated face 😛

Initially I had no idea the Angela was partially blind. I just picked up signs like when she welcomed me to enter the room when I was already right in front of her. And that her watch reads out the time to her.

Apparently My Foot Reflexology hires only handicapped individuals! It was giving them a trade where they could earn some income to get by their days – which I find absolutely amazing!

Haven’t even told you the best part – I’ve been to countless places for massages. But I can tell you that Angela provides spot-on massages. My theory is that due to her lack of sight, she is therefore stronger with her other senses. So she was able to feel my tension in specific points and knead them away.

Plus her hands are crazy strong!

Mark sung praises about his massage too! He came out looking like a happy groggy baby. ❤

It was an awesome experience! The massage was great and at the same time, my purchase helped someone in need have a job.

Looking at it from a business-y point-of-view, I felt like I bought 2 things with the price I paid –
1. A really good massage
2. A small step in making the world a little happier & better

Y’see, when you go to large massage chains – the profit they earn off you will probably go into buying their big boss a new summer home. But at such places, you’re helping someone in need put food on their table and a smile on their faces.

Here’s their menu:

My Foot Reflexology @ Great World City

So the next time you’re around Great World City and need a little quick fix – be sure to pop by My Foot Reflexology! 😉

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Address: 1 Kim Seng Promenade, #02-01 Great World City, 237994

Contact: +65 6738 6235

XOXO, G. 

17 Tourist Survival Tips for Vietnam!

Couple of weeks back, my crazy friend Arati and I made our way to Vietnam! Not my typical choice of holiday destination; but it was her birthday wish and she made me choose between Philippines, Cambodia or Vietnam. 😐

And you simply cannot deny a birthday girl! Especially when she’s such a dear friend. ☺️

During our 5 day stay, we explored Hanoi and Nha Trang. Most people don’t know Nha Trang; it’s a super gorgeous beach area! Check out the Google images here.

Okay, so you’re here for tourist survival tips… Here goes!

#1 Get ready to be intimidated by the VND (Vietnamese Dong)

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Especially when you’re a Math idiot, like myself. 😩

Vietnamese dongs come in plenty of zeros that majority of the world aren’t too familiar with. It can really throw you off sometimes… but don’t let it fool you. Don’t even bother with 1,000 VND – even 10,000 VND is nothing.

It was pretty challenging for the first couple of hours, but I quickly trained my mind to do a quick calculation.

Y’see, when I changed currency – got it for around SGD 1 = VND 17,000

So when you see the thousands, simply cancel the zeros behind the comma out!

So for example someone quoted me VND 50,000, I would go:

50,000 -> 50,000 -> 50/17 = 2.9-3

Therefore VND 50,000 is about SGD 3.

It becomes heaps easier once you cross out the zeros at the back. 😉

#2 When it comes to taxi companies, insist on Mai Linh or Vinasun

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Personal horrible experience! Read about it here.

Basically if you take other taxi companies, you can expect to get conned quite blatantly. And it’s quite hard to do anything about it when it happens. 😞

They take super long routes; but you most probably won’t know any better.

Their meter jumps at an insane pace, it’s freaky. The one I took, the meter jumped 2,000 VND every 5 seconds!

Some of them have been known to bring you to touristy shops instead so they can earn a commission.

Or they will add random (but not so modest) amounts to your fare, and demand you pay them.

These companies are quite popular among the locals too, so sometimes it can be hard to grab one. But trust me, the wait is worth it! You can book from your hotel as well; just tell the concierge you will only accept Mai Linh or Vinasun.

#3 When you see someone trying to sell you something, gesture or say a firm no and turn away

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What I learned was, don’t bother even smiling.

At the beginning I smiled and said no, they got rather crudely persistent. It was almost like they were forcing me to buy from them. So I learned to be nasty for protection sake.

When you’re waiting for a Mai Linh or Vinasun taxi, there will be loads of other taxi companies that will stop and ask you to hop on – but you just wave a ‘no’ and turn away. Don’t make eye contact!

#4 Always look for a place that has written/printed prices

Somehow when you’re a tourist, you have the word “ATM” stamped on your forehead.

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It’s really quite obvious the way they try to mark up prices shamelessly. I can honestly say it’s even worse than Bangkok. 😫  So make sure there’s some sort of black & white agreement on the price.

Verbal agreements have no standing.

Basically Arati went to get her nails done and we actually agreed on 50,000 VND – but after the service was completed, they demanded a whopping 300,000 VND instead. And they refused to let us leave the premises, actually using physical actions to stop us until we gave them the money they asked for.

#5 Don’t think that anything is for free

The roads were littered with people carrying around their traditional things, which were nice to look at. And some of them would ask you if you wanted to take a picture with it.

Unless you really want a picture with it and willing to pay for it – then by all means. If not, just shake your head and turn away.

This woman actually cornered Arati, asking her to hold her pole to take a picture. Arati had problem declining, so I grabbed Arati’s wrist, glared at that money-sucking bitch and walked off.

And just as we walked by, I saw a Caucasian having to pay 200,000 dong for taking a photo. Such audacity.

#6 Cross your eyes and cross the road

Grandmother-Fa-and-the-crickett

This is the fun part of Vietnam! …at least for me. Arati was positively dying.

The roads at Vietnam are always busy and most of the road-users don’t respect traffic lights a great deal, especially on smaller roads. The roads are filled with motorbikes and scooters and they don’t stop for anyone/anything.

So when you’re crossing the road… Just walk. Look out for a gap and walk consistently; meaning at the same pace. Don’t hesitate, don’t slow down or hasten.

The riders there are very good at gauging your speed and knowing how to avoid you – so you need to cooperate to make your road-crossing a successful one.

#7 It’ll be useful to have some survival vocabulary handy

Judging from my experience and some hearsay from friends, about only 2 out of 10 people can speak English there. The communication barrier between us and them was super real.

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The only people who were able to speak decipherable English were at the hotels.

So asking for directions to an attraction, asking what meat was in the food etc… They were pretty difficult.

#8 Convenience stores aren’t convenient to find at all; so when you find one… Stock up!

I really took this for granted. In Singapore, it’s easy to find a convenience store or at least a mama shop. So you can get your bottled water and whatever from there.

But in Vietnam… They weren’t that easily found. So I went thirsty for a while, because we couldn’t find a store.

#9 Their airports don’t have great communication, so always keep a super keen lookout

Part of me thinks that it’s because as a Singaporean, I tend to be too pampered by our world-class airport – I tend to compare with other countries.

Well, it’s not hard to see why Singapore’s airport is number 1 if this is what we’re up against… #justsaying

The dirty and gloomy interior aside – we almost missed our flight because of their communication.

Basically our flight changed gate and we had no idea whatsoever. The announcement was drowned out by screaming children; and most of it was in Vietnamese and hard-to-understand English.

It was a good thing that we decided to check up on our flight 5 minutes before time! Otherwise we had no idea that the plane was at a different gate. And unlike Changi Airport, no kind staff was going to walk over and physically inform you nicely.

There was another flight that was supposed to leave at 7AM; but got delayed till about 11AM. No one tried contacting us whatsoever. They claimed they called and emailed, but neither of us received a single thing. So we basically woke up at 4AM, paid the driver extra for driving us to the airport at odd-hours… Only to wait at the airport for 4 hours.

It was infuriatingly annoying to say the least.

For those who are interested, we took Vietnamese Airlines for all flights. 

#10 If you absolutely must take a taxi at odd hours, get the hotel car instead

No personal experience regarding this… Thank God.

But the hotel staff and even some friends told me about it before; going out on the street to get a taxi at odd hours is very dangerous.

If you have a flight in the early morning or super late at night, get the hotel car to come for you.

#11 Carry a sturdy bag that can be zipped up entirely

Not even those with buttons or buckles that you can close; you need something that will shut out everything. Because they have plenty of pickpockets around that will dip their hands freely into your bag and take whatever they can grab.

#12 Some beggars will grab you; don’t be startled

Okay, easier said than done – I’m sure.

This beggar grabbed onto my forearm tightly with one hand, and with the other he rubbed his thumb and middle finger. (Gesturing: money)

Typically in other countries, I’d take pity on the poor man and give some money.

However he looked angry at me; like he was pissed that he had to ask me for money. And he grabbed onto me so tightly, it was getting invasive.

…and also due to an accumulated unhappiness about my travel experience… I wasn’t feeling too kind; I’m only human.

So I glared (again. I used this trick a lot…), turned my head and pulled my arm fiercely away.

I learned not to show the least bit of weakness or niceness; for it tends to get exploited.

#13 People there can be quite touchy

When we asked the police officers for directions, the guy actually slightly put his arm around Arati.

Another woman touched my leg.

And some other instances… It wasn’t something we were expecting in Vietnam for sure!

#14 You can change your money at the gold shop!

This is a neat trick I picked up from Mark’s dad!

And apparently they (usually) offer better rates too. 🙂 So why not?

Problem is – they’re not easily found… So just change about 20-30% of your money at the money changer, then save the rest for the gold shop.

#15 For first-timers, I fully recommend staying in hotels versus home stays

I’m a fan of Airbnb and HomeAway; but when it came to Vietnam… I was entirely grateful that we chose to go with hotels.

For one, it’s actually safer.

For another, it was nice to have people ever-ready to help you out with questions and get you taxis.

#16 The locals there are fairly patriotic, so don’t insult their country in any manner

You will see flags flying proudly around the streets, it’s not a rare sight. And it’s quite lovely actually! I wish Singaporeans were that in love with Singapore.

And it’s usually common sense not to insult a foreign country when you’re in that foreign country… but just adding it into the list because you need to be extra careful.

#17 Not everyone is a cheat; it’s still a beautiful country

To be honest, I didn’t have a spanking great experience in Vietnam and there’s a high chance that I won’t head back. But everyone has different experiences and maybe some of you will be way luckier than me!

It’s not that hard… I’m not a very lucky person. 😔

The country is indeed beautiful and I find the women’s traditional costume very pretty! 😍 The bustling culture of the city area and all was a real learning experience.

Sure, it wasn’t my exact idea of a leisurely holiday – but I surely didn’t regret the experience. And if anyone were to ask me if they should go to Vietnam, I’d say, “Why not?”

Just be careful of your money and aware of your surroundings, and you should do just fine!

Every country has an experience to offer; and Vietnam has one you shouldn’t miss.

Image Credit: www.operationworld.org
Image Credit: http://www.operationworld.org

XOXO, G. 

Disgusting taxi scam in Hanoi!

Just last week, my friend Arati and I flew to Vietnam for a little girlfriends’ getaway.

We were super excited! Prior to the trip, I didn’t really bother looking for attractions; I was more interested in learning how to survive there.

And an important one that I read was: Only use Mai Linh or Vinasun taxis!

We got to the airport at about 8PM there and didn’t see any Mai Linh or Vinasun taxis, so we asked the airport staff for assistance. And she told us to use any of the airport taxis, they’re okay.

She seemed quite nice 😇, so we decided to trust her.

BIGGEST F**KING MISTAKE OF THE TRIP!!! 😡 😡 😡

First, the taxi driver gave a quote instead of turning on the meter. That was already a huge red flag and I was ready to walk.

Taxi Driver: US$30! 

Us: No. Meter. 

Taxi Driver: US$30!!! 

Us: No. (Was pulling my luggage away)

Taxi Driver: Okay! Okay! US$25!!

Me: No, I said METER. 

Then he very reluctantly agreed. And till now I regretted getting onto the taxi. It was such a horrifying experience!

We should’ve just turned away, but we were tired after the flight and wanted to get to our hotel.

We got onto the taxi and the meter was turned on, but after driving about 3 minutes out, there was a toll booth. And he stopped, telling us we needed to pay 100,000 dong. I read that it was supposed to be absorbed by the taxi company, but thought I could be wrong. I didn’t want to think badly about someone who is trying to earn a living.

So we gave him 100,000 dong.

Then he drove up to the toll booth. Showed his taxi ID and drove off!!!! He didn’t even have to pay the toll! What the royal f**k! Within 10 minutes of seeing the country I was already abhorring it.

And I kept on eyes on the movement of the meter – just as I read; the ‘non-legit’ taxi companies’ meters move at the speed of light. The meter was jumping at 2,000 dong every 5-8 seconds!!!

Then throughout the journey, he pointed at random buildings lesser than 5 times – telling us their names. Which honestly I didn’t give a flying rat’s ass about, I was already cursing him, his family and entire ancestral line. Hearing him blabber just pissed me off, but I tried to be light-hearted with Arati about it anyway.

We were nearing the hotel area at Old Quarters, and then there was a couple with their luggages standing by the road. This f**ker just stopped the taxi, lowered his window and shouted, “Go airport??”

Arati and I looked at each other, “Wtf?!”

Like, hello royal wanker. WE ARE STILL IN YOUR TAXI AND YOU HAVEN’T EVEN FULFILLED YOUR JOURNEY ON THIS ONE, YOU WANT TO TAKE ANOTHER ONE??

I CURSE YOUR BOWLS OF PHO TOO!!!

Roar.

Then he drove couple of meters down and told us to get off.

Me: This isn’t our hotel! 

Taxi Driver: Inside! Inside! 2 minute! 2 minute! 

I don’t know what is it about these people who cannot speak proper English; they somehow simply love to repeat and shout what they’re saying twice. Like that’s supposed to ease the communication. Him repeating his words just made me repeatedly angry at him.

Me: No, I don’t see it! 

Taxi Driver: Inside!!! 

I knew he wasn’t going to cooperate. So just decided to pay him off. Meter said 367,000 dong, so I took out a 500,000 dong note. It was the smallest I had at that time.

He took it and asked Arati for 70,000 dong more.

Me: Why?!

Taxi Driver: Tourist! 

Me: So you want to cheat my money?? GIVE ME MY CHANGE BACK! 

Taxi Driver: Tourist tour! I give you tour! Tour 200,000 dong! 

Me: That wasn’t a bloody tour! I didn’t even ask for a tour! 

Taxi Driver: No, no! 70,000 dong more! 

Me: No! You want more money? Take 3,000 dong! So give me back 130,000 dong!! 

Usually my mathematical skills aren’t so quick, but somehow at that moment I was so filled with fury and literally wanted to tie a rope with dongs and throttle the guy… I already calculated 3,000 dong to be like S$0.20 anyway.

Taxi Driver: *takes out a 200,000 dong note* This! Tour! I give you! 

Me: You didn’t give me a tour! I didn’t want any bloody tour. Give me back 130,000 dong NOWWWW!!!

Taxi Driver: *makes angry sounds and gives me back 130,000 dong* 

Arati alighted first, and just when I was about to – something told me not to… because he didn’t even open the boot for our luggage and was ready to drive off!!!

What the hell man! How disgustingly low can these people get??

So I opened the door super wide, refused to alight and asked Arati to get the luggages out first. If he wants to drive off with the luggages, I was ready to whack the guy.

We pulled our luggages along and looked for the hotel, but simply couldn’t! We were in a foreign country where almost no one speaks any English – the only ones who did were tourists as well! We asked uniformed officers who gave us all different directions…

From the “2 minute!”, we walked about Old Quarters lugging our luggages for about 60 minutes!

And it started to get dangerous – we spotted some men following us around. One guy even touched my suitcase, till I yanked it away and glared at him. And somehow he scurried off.

Usually I’d be quite scared in such situations, but at that moment I simply didn’t have the luxury to be scared. It was running late, we were hungry and tired, Arati was freaking out like crazy, no one was able to help us properly – I couldn’t freak out too.

Then I remembered that I kept a record of the hotel’s contact! Why didn’t I think of that earlier. So stood in front of this rather crowded tourist spot, and made the phone call. The staff came over to walk us over – thank God!

It was an absolute nightmare!

The stupid taxi driver actually stole 100,000 dong from us, citing that it was for toll. He didn’t even drop us off at our hotel, just so he could take another passenger. He had the audacity to demand for 200,000 dong extra for a ‘tour’ for naming a few random buildings on the way over. And he almost drove off with our luggages!

And when I had WiFi to do some research, I found that the wanker took a longer route too.

It was awful, awful, awful.

Within the first hour of visiting Vietnam, I was already missing Singapore. Hardly felt like it was a proper holiday if I had to be so on guard all the time!

But from then on we all entirely Mai Linh taxis, which were all amazing. They were professional, rates were very reasonable (by Vietnamese standards) and we felt super safe with them. And when we took the taxi to the airport, we didn’t pay for the toll!

Only down side was Mai Linh is popular with the locals as well (which actually is a good thing!), so most Mai Linhs are taken up.

Vinasuns tend to be bigger, so better for larger groups.

Now, be VERY careful about the spelling of the names as well. I spotted a ‘pirated’ brand that are similar to Mai Linh; spelling was something like ‘Mai Lin’ and it had the exact same green. But they’re not Mai Linh! Read up that other tourists were conned in those imposter-brands as well. 😰

On the left is Vinasun and on the right is Mai Linh.

vinasun, mai linh, taxi, vietnam
Image Credit: http://cafef.vn/

Trust me when I say this – don’t trust what the locals tell you. Just stick to Mai Linh or Vinasun!

We trusted a local and it ruined our mood so much!! You really don’t want that when you go for a holiday.

Gosh. Sickened to my bone over this.

Anyone else have any other con stories to share? Tell me in your comments!

XOXO, G. 

#GeraTravels: Otaru; BEST Seafood In the World!

24-25 March 2016

As usual, I jumped out of bed pretty early! Found it quite an annoying oxymoron… Especially since I’m on holiday. Why can’t I be this perky going to work? 😩

Well, today Mark and I had quite an exciting day planned out. We were driving out of Sapporo and into Otaru! So we made sure to fuel up nicely on breakfast.

And had a tray of choco-powdered mochi to munch on during the ride! 🍡

And lets not forget the beer.

It was a very enjoyable ride! Traffic wasn’t as congested (maybe because it isn’t as densely populated) and such gorgeously scenic views too!

See the snowy mountains in the distance? That was our stop!

First time Mark looked so happy and fresh after a long drive.

Otaru is a hidden gem that Mark discovered. Absolutely not touristy at all and is famous for its utterly fresh seafood!

Being a small town, their buildings are mostly quite short. The roads were very clear, the people were neighbourly and it’s all next to the big blue ocean.

Our first meal simply had to be seafood. Anything else would be a carinal sin. We went to the centre of town and headed straight to the market like we were on a mission! 😎

Down this road, we were bombarded with an endless stream of unbelievably fresh seafood that will have you going, “Oii-shi! (Delicious!)” even before you put it in your mouth.

Most of those shops actually had their own restaurant as well! So you could pick out your food and they will cook it nicely for you.

At the end of it, we chose this place!

It was already about 2-3PM, so people already had their lunch… Rather quiet. But we liked it that way!

And it was nice to listen to the television that was broadcasting a baseball match.

Of course, we picked our lunch.

Mark pointed out this one right here… And the shop lady insisted that I carry it! *gasp!* Was a tad petrified because the crabs in Singapore would’ve snipped my fingers right off! But these were completely docile.

The reason seems to be that they have no real natural predators in the wild, so therefore haven’t developed any form of aggressiveness since it’s unnecessary. Probably in a few more generations they’ll realise, “HUMANS WANT OUR MEAT!!!” And then they get crazy fierce.

But for now, we can enjoy them.

Okay, readers. Get ready to drool.

It was a glorious meal. Ahh~

Even just thinking about it now makes me feel like booking the next flight back.

The seafood is crazy there! Look at this picture of the shop owner and a catch he made! 😱!!!

With stuffed tummies, we drove up the mountainous areas and to our inn!

This inn was located high up along the snowy ski areas.

And it’s so cute how they actually printed out the names of the guests on the board at the lobby!

Mark’s name, right there! 👇🏻

The room was like a pretty movie set. ❤

And at night we had a guy who introduced himself as “Japanese bed-maker” come in. He opened the storage cupboards and expertly laid out our futons.

He did it so nicely, I almost didn’t bear to lie on the bed and spoil it…

Anyway, the main reason why we went to this inn was for the onsen (hot springs). The last time we went to Arima Onsen, it was summer. I still enjoyed the soaking… but winter would definitely be a better time!

Through our stay there, we soaked every chance we had. I loved it!

It felt amazing to soak in the hot water in the cold season… And what I love about onsens is that, it’s somehow liberating to just go naked in a private yet public area.

No one looks at you, really. Everyone has what you have; at least in those gender-separated ones. Albeit during my visit to Arima previously, a fellow guest from China commented she loved my butt… I just assumed that it’s because of the saying about certain types of butts being good for child-bearing. And maybe she wanted her son to have a wife with good child-bearing features…? Well, anyway. Yes. And I don’t know anyone there… I most probably won’t ever see them again.

So there. It’s liberating and relaxing. I felt so amazing after soaking! ❤

After our night soak, we drove down the hills a little to the town area again where we had some supper!

I had a head of messy locks, makeup-less, hungry and super blissful! 😌

Here’s a shot Mark took of me while I was trying to teach him how to take photographs. Honestly he’s horrible at it.

“Rotate it, then it’ll become portrait.”

The night passed by super quickly and after a morning soak, we had to get ready to catch our flight back to Tokyo!

Shuttle bus to the airport after returning the rented car!
P.S. I simply loved the Toyota we rented! But Mark said they don’t sell it in Singapore, because well… Singapore has a small market and only a few models are brought it every round. 😔

I’m going to end this post with this picture of the restaurant owner with this HUGE tuna that he caught.

Absolutely in awe at how large that fish is! 😱 😱 😱

And then suddenly the Bible story about Jonah being in a fish’s belly doesn’t seem all that unfeasible anymore…

XOXO, G. 

#GeraTravels: 21.03.2016: Forever and Ever, Babe

21 March 2016 – Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan

So from my previous post, Mark and I officially made our way to Hokkaido!

It was about 3 degrees there; strong winds and snow-filled streets! Put on our layers, booted up…

And off we went!!!

Mark constantly stopping to take in the natural beauty around 🙂

So since we’re in Japan, simply must have some Japanese fast food right?

Believe it or not, I was getting a tad sick of fresh sashimi… #FirstWorldProblems

I was craving some cheeseburger and fries!!! SO OFF TO MOS BURGER WE WENT!

Helloooooo, baby
Soup served up in a porcelain bowl!

The food was wonderful, as usual. 🙂 Satisfaction fulfilled, thanks!

I love how FLUFFY the pigeons were!

Okay, so today our plans were to see the Hokkaido Shrine, Maruyama Zoo and the Hokkaido Ropeway! All geared up to be touristy.

Love the pretty art! ❤

Just the day before, it was Mark’s first winter. He was still going all happy over the white, fluffy things!

The surroundings of the shrine were very serene and calm. Even with the existence of man walking around; it was like as if the nature of man was programmed to respect that serenity. No one was loud, nasty or even nasty.

It was really quite amazing.

…Or maybe it was really the culture of Japanese people. If it were Singapore, I won’t be confident of the same result. :/

When we walked in, there was this little shrine. You have the option of throwing money in and then saying a prayer. Then you bow.

I really just watched how some locals did it, then mimicked them. I prayed for love, health and peace to be with the people I care about. ❤ And I said my thanks for having Mark love me.

After that little shrine, we walked through more gorgeously snow-covered fields. You could tell spring was on its way, because while most trees were still bare from winter – some already had little bits of green sprouting from their branches.

The main shrine was rather huge. And outside was this little hut where you ‘cleanse’ yourself.

There’s this water fountain, and you pick up a little scoop. Take some water from the fountain (it’s amazingly refreshing and clean!), pour on your hands gently, then pour some onto your cupped hand and drink some.

Probably psychological – but I felt cleansed inside-out! 😀

The inside of the shrine was spacious and glorious! I didn’t really want to snap so many pictures, because everyone looked like they just wanted to enjoy the serenity of the place. Pointing my camera lens around wasn’t going to respect that, I felt…

So anyway, after that we went to Maruyama Zoo!!!

To be honest, I’ve gotten quite sick of zoos. But Mark totally got me into believing that the animals are trained to bow like Japanese…

And the pathetic part of it was; even though I knew it was obviously a lie… A huge part of me wanted to believe it. Ugh.

Tourist and tickets look alike

As a Singaporean, I’m ashamed to say this… I’ve never been to the Jurong Bird Park. So when I saw this HUGE eagle in real life, I was amazed.

He was later fed a bald smaller fowl… Mark told me to go away, or else he must rip the animal apart and then splatter some juice on me through the cage.

There was a petting zoo area!

Which smelled really foul compared to the fowls… Hehehe, wordplay!

But really, the area smelled like a million hamster cages combined. And it was in the winter air! Things smell nicer during winter.

The villain in Zootopia!!!

Didn’t see many of the enclosures in the petting area, Mark looked like he was going to barf. You’d think he’d have more tolerance for the stench, since we have a cat litter box in our room.

I was wondered why this little fella was called red panda instead of racoon…

Red panda!

A distance away from the snow leopard enclosure, we heard rather loud sounds… And they were coming from this one right here!

Pacing up and down…

Sounded very much like she was squealing, whining and crying at the same time. Some other people thought she was feeling lonely because she was separated from the others… but Mark and I guessed otherwise.

Y’see, that’s the sound Meowster (our female cat) makes when she’s in heat.

We got her when she was very young, so she wasn’t sterilised – and there were moments when she would make such sounds to get Oreo and Milkie (our male cats) to screw her. We watched some cat documentaries on it… It was basically her screaming, “SCREW ME NOWWWW~~”

They should put a sign outside that cage saying, “We’re not abusing her – she’s just horny.”

And it makes sense because during the winter to spring, they’re in heat and all. She went up to the gate that separates she and her peers a couple of times, making a lot of sounds… but they just continued sleeping.

Probably going like…

Snow Leopard 1: Oh gawwwd, she’s horny again. It’s that time of the year…

Snow Leopard 2: Don’t move… She’ll think we’re asleep!

Horny Snow Leopard: SCREW MEEEEE!!!

Snow Leopard 1: I’m too tired for this shit…

Just reminds me of Futurama, death by snu snu!

That enclosure had another pussycat!

This huge tiger was easily 200KG. And he reminded me of my own Oreo… #CrazyCatLady

Animals aside, I thoroughly loved the ambience of the zoo itself.

The area was clean and air was reinvigorating!

I love how adorable those stands are!

And I love how Mark just obliged when I told him to pose like the bear… 😀

And while the horny snow leopard, huge hungry eagle and other animals were quite adorable… The cutest things I saw were this set of twins!!!

SO FREAKING CUUUUUTE!!!

wobble wobble

After all that touristy stuff, my feet were killing me.. and my stomach was lodging a complaint of neglect.

So we headed to Ramen Street! A whole street filled with different ramen stalls… It was like a dream come true.

Our ramen, with gyoza and Sapporo beer! Yums!

It was to our final stop at the Sapporo Ropeway Mount Moiwa!

Rode on the street car to the base of the mountain… Where we still had to climb up a steep slope to get to the cable car.

I was positively dying. I’m not used to all the walking… And melted snow becomes water; then water freezes over to become slippery ice. Walking around during winter isn’t all pretty and nice… I slipped a few times and had to grab onto Mark for my dear life.

My uncle always called me 不倒翁… Because I keep on rocking back & forth… And round & round. Simply cannot keep a straight stance. 😦

But anyway, we managed to get there!

But we got up there and everything was worth it.

Just look at the spectacular view!!! Everything that night… The view and the company I had was perfect.

I sometimes cannot believe how lucky I am; because I’m so used to people leaving me. But for whatever that’s within his power, Mark stayed by me and has promised me time and time again he’ll never leave me.

Thank you, God. ⭐

XOXO, G.