Monday, July 25, 2016

Batam Beach Getaway

It's been awhile since we traveled and my itchy lakwatsera feet needed a quick getaway. We also had not gone to the beach yet this year so we decided to finally visit Batam.

Batam is an island just 35-minutes away from Singapore. I could actually see the island from my desk at work on clear days. After doing some research I found out that there are several areas in Batam you can go to. We chose to visit Nongsapura because it had more options for beach-front resorts and we really didn't want to go shopping.

Booked "Turi Beach Resort" based on ratings from Expedia and it was affordable (it was cheaper to book via Expedia rather than directly). I also booked our ferry ride through the Batam Fast website. We could have gone via Harbourfront Center though, but the trip would have been longer so we just went via the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal trip to Nongsapura.

As from our Bintan beach experience we decided to stay put in the resort and not go out. We plan to explore the rest of Batam when Kuya June is available for a day trip. Our trip theme was, "Chill and eat". Here's what we did --

Day 1 Late Afternoon: walk around the resort

Day 1 Evening: dinner and use the internet at the lobby

Day 2 Morning: breakfast, get stranded in a hut waiting for the rain to finish, swim at the beach and the pool

Day 2 Late Afternoon to Evening: movie marathon and dinner

Day 3 Morning: attempt to swim at the beach (low tide), move to green swimming pool; eat breakfast, chill then head home

A few things to know:

1. Internet - there's no roaming charges if you use a Singapore sim, BUT I ended up connecting to telcos in Malaysia since I couldn't connect to Indosat. No roaming charges too. Resort internet is very expensive at $20/day
2. Resort usually provides free shuttle service, they also offer free shuttle services to the mall.
3. Taxis are available.
4. You can bring food to the resort, but they don't allow cooking. Try to bring your own water if you are picky.
5. Seats aren't assigned in the ferry, if you don't want to sit in the open area make sure you get in the ferry early.
6. No need to get local currency if you don't plan to buy anything. We just ended up using our cash for tips, buying water and ice cream.

Hotel - SG$50-SG$1,000 (our beach front room was $216/night and had to pay for extra person for his breakfast, extra bed and other services)
Ferry - for three it cost us $138 (already includes terminal fees)
Food - resort resto meal for three average of SG$80-100

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Toy Shopping in Tokyo

Tokyo is a haven for collectors of anime. If you love going to Greenhills, you would absolutely go gaga over Akihabara -- the mecca for collectors. I have been there a couple of times, mainly to buy stuff for my boys and friends who ask me to buy books for them. I've gotten lost a couple of times, but I think I managed to master the area a bit during my last trip to Tokyo.

How to Get to Akihabara

Take the train! The tricky part though is finding the right exit. Akihabara station is I think one major interchange so it houses several train lines. Unlike Singapore, Tokyo train lines do not interconnect so it gets really confusing when you have to transfer lines and to find the right line to get on. Akihabara station has a gazillion exits so I suggest you check Google Maps prior to going so you'd know which exit to take. The station has maps on the walls as well so that could help. Easiest way to find your way is to use Google Maps and set it to walking mode. Be ready to walk more than 10,000 steps when you go to Akihabara.

How to Find the Toys & Books You Want

My boys and friends want a wide array of things so I've had to learn where to get the items. Good thing my Japanese colleague was very helpful and after sending my list to him his friend gave me ideas on where to get the items. The area is big and there are a gazillion shops you can go to, so it's important to do some research before you go to Akihabara so to save time and making too many steps!

Popular Anime Toys and Books

Currently showing anime items are easy to find. You can start with the gachupons lined up everywhere in the area (and usually some are inside the train station!). There's a smattering of stores on Chuo Dori Street, but I usually frequent Animate. I get lost in there for at least an hour to an hour and a half because they have 6 floors (if I remember correctly). I usually take the lift to the top floor and work my way down. There are other shops near Animate which I also go to (particularly the one at the corner) and they usually have more souvenir type anime items like mugs, notebooks, clocks, ID holders, stuffed toys, pens etc.

Collectors Items and Hard to Find Books

I learned about Mandarake from a friend. He insisted it is the place to go to for collectors. It's a hidden gem in Akihabara and a bit off center. It's worth the walk though because it is a place where you could buy collector's items like Transformers masterpieces, first generation toys, items for modeling, hard to find books. I think it has 6 or 7 floors and has a floor just for adult anime books (which I have ended up in because of "the list", I did get a lot of funny looks waving around "the list" but the folks there were very helpful). If you're buying a gift and need help just approach any of the staff and they will help you.


Buying gadgets? Robots? Drones? Equipment to build a robot? Android stuff? There's a huge building just beside the station -- Yodobashi building. My uncle had to buy a cable and I was surprised to see that it was a gigantic building just selling all sorts of gadgets and appliances. I'm not sure though if it's cheap price-wise (I found gadgets to be cheaper in Singapore), but you can go check. In another area near the Gundam Cafe/Electric Town Exit there's an area that sells electronics (tiangge style). That's where I saw robots/drones/equipment to build stuff being sold. There are also a lot of electronics shops across Akihabara, but the most interesting time to be there is during New Year where they have special offers and sell lucky gifts (forgot the term for this but you can actually get lucky and get a Nintendo if you pick the right gift). Specialty shops (like Sega) abound as well in the area.

Food and Other Things to Experience

With all the walking you do you'd eventually get hungry and you'd need to rest your feet. I have gone to Gundam Cafe and it was an interesting experience. I like eating at Denny's though because they have a wide array of food choices and they have Philippine mangoes! For dessert I discovered a French cafe at Atre Akihabara 1 (3rd or 4th floor) and their strawberry cake is to die for! Of course there's a lot of sushi/ramen/gyoza places in the area and a Starbucks if you absolutely need to have coffee (the vending machines are much more fun though).

Pasalubong and Extra Bags

If you need to buy pasalubong, there's Don Quixote near Animate. Allot at least an hour as well for that place, but you'll definitely finish your pasalubong shopping there.

Shop too much and need a bag? There's a place near Animate where you can buy an extra foldable bag for just Y1000 (only PhP400 more or less). I already have a collection of this bags from over-shopping!

Need to find something? Just do some research on Google and use Google Maps to find the place. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Adventure Down Under: Sydney Fish Market

I love seafood and I especially love eating grilled scallops!

We had the chance to try visit the Sydney Fish Market and found out that seafood was very affordable and fresh at the dining area. After taking a 20-minute walk from our hotel we were so famished we ended up ordering a lot of stuff.

We decided to order the family package so we could try out different types of seafood -

The big winner for me though was the scallops (which James bought from another store). The scallops were gigantic! It's the biggest scallop I've tried in my entire life. What was surprising though was the scallop had rice on it as well so it was a meal in one bite! What probably made the scallop really delicious was the cheese that they used.

After the sumptuous meal we walked around the Fish Market to check out what else they had to offer. They had a wide array of fresh seafood from fish, shellfish, giant lobsters and crabs, sea urchin, octopus and other things which I did not know could be eaten.

The market also had a few shops selling cooking related items, fruits/vegetables, bread, coffee etc. I had wanted to go back for dinner but the place was only open until 4pm on weekends and until 3pm on weekdays so we didn't have a chance to go back.

The hefty meal cost us around AUD100, so average of $25/head.