Category: Travel

Japan Travel Tips


Recently, two friends asked for a list of recommendations for their four days trip to Tokyo, Japan. Being their first time, I started to inject a few tips on getting around and saving time and money. I figured why not share some of them here as well.

Airport: Getting Out and Back
This is only applies to Narita Airport. We usually take the JR Narita Express to the city, one way is about ¥3000 and takes about one hour, since we usually arrive so late. Check Japan Guide for a list of options; use the drop-down menu to find your desired stations.

As for getting back, some hotels provide free bus shuttle to the airport in the morning; Hyatt Regency provided one during our 2012 trip. On the second trip, I took the Sobu Line (Rapid) from Tokyo Station to Narita, about ¥1300 via IC card. I would do the Sobu Line route again, personally. My friends used the JR Narita Express.

Taxi
If you are staying at a AirBnB, make sure have a map of the location, just in case. Our driver did not know where our place was but my friend was able to guide him there. Major hotels and spots will not be a problem for them.

Trains & Subways
Trains and subways will likely be your main methods of getting around. As such, you should download the metro PDF on your phone: Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. These were the ones I used, not too much clutter but enough detail.

The Tokyo map does not show the JR Yamanote Loop and Chou Line in detail. You can see the outline of the Yamanote Loop, black and white line, and Chou Line, faint gray thin line, on the PDF map from above.

The Yamanote Loop is your bread and butter. You can use this line exclusively during a short stay; most of the popular spots are located around this line and most subways are only a few stops away.

Use the Chou Line to cut through the Yamanote Line, especially if you’re in Shinjuku and want to head to Akihabara or Tokyo Station or vice versa. This line will save you a lot of time.

For example, getting to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa from Shinjuku Station: Take the Chou Line (Rapid) to Kanda Station. Once in Kanda Station, connect on the Ginza Line (Orange-Yellow) to Asakusa Station.

Or alternatively, from Shinjuku, take the Shinjuku Line (light green) to Bakuro-yokoyama, then transfer over to the Asakusa Line to Asakusa Station.

Do not be afraid to wait for the next train if you are not sure which side to hop on to. The next train will arrive in a few minutes. Knowing a few of the next stations towards your destination will help.

Eating and drinking is not allowed on trains and subways.

Train Tickets
Grab a IC card, Suica in Tokyo and Icoca in Osaka, if you’re staying in Japan longer than a few days; this will save you time. Obtained at the ticket kiosk area at any station. A new card will cost about ¥2000 but includes ¥500 “free” credits.

Plus, they are interchangeable, I used Succia in Kyoto and Osaka. If anything, the IC card can be kept as a souvenir until the next visit to Japan. My friend’s 4 years old card still works, and with remaining credits.

Do not put too much credit, just recharge it as you go since they are not refundable. Start with a few thousand yens and go from there. However, your IC card can be used to purchase from most vending machines, shops in the station, and some shops around the station so there is a benefit for loading up your IC card.

Credits are removed upon leaving a station gate and will cost about ¥75 to ¥200.

JR Rail Pass
I feel this is a must for those on long stays or looking to explore Japan. The JR Rail Pass lets you ride the bullet trains an unlimited number of times during the active days.

You can purchase it at the JR website for $260 but I bought mine from a vendor in a Japanese market for about $250. This pass can only be purchased outside of Japan. To put it in perspective, a one way ticket from Tokyo to Kyoto is about $130, so a round trip will break even. There is a 1st class option for about $70 to $80 extra

You decide when to activate the pass. You have to find a JR ticket office at the airport or train station. We exchanged our vouchers at the airport but activated the passes at the train station days later. You will need your passport for activating and traveling with the JR Rail Pass.

To use your JR Rail Pass, find the train station that has a Shinkansen line. In Tokyo, the Shinkansen is located at Tokyo Station. In Osaka, the Shinkansen is located at Shin-Osaka, north of the city.

Once inside the station, follow the Shinkansen icons to the ticket office. The attendants do speak English if you need help. After presenting your passport and JR Rail Pass, tell the attendant where you want to go and what time, I usually just tell them earliest one. That’s pretty much it. Hold on to the ticket they give you as you need to show this ticket to the train inspector once the train leaves the station. Great time to bring a few beers and relax; it’s a two hour ride from Tokyo to Kyoto/Osaka.

In addition, you can ride JR lines, not subways, for free during the active days. To use your JR Rail Pass for local lines, you must show your JR Rail Pass to the attendants at the ticket gates; they are usually to the far right or left. They will let you pass through a separate gate. Do not scan your IC card to pass the gate. When you are exiting the station, show your pass again to the attendants manning the ticket gates. Definitely, use the JR Rail Pass to get yourself to the nearest Shinkansen station.

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Money Exchange
Japan is still a cash society so you going to need cash. From my experience, Narita airport had pretty good rates. While in the city, Mizuho Bank had the best rates but not every Mizuho branch offers foreign exchange. Here are two branches that do in Tokyo: Shinjuku and Shibuya.

I found a ticket scalper across the street from Shinjuku Station that offered good rates, only slightly worse than Mizuho but open on weekends. Lastly, exchange machines in the mall at Shinjuku Station does offer decent rates, good in a pinch.

Avoid Travelex and other exchange booths. They’re generally bad, especially when there are many better options available to you.

Money Tray
Place money on designated trays. Hand-to-hand transactions are uncommon and seems to throw cashier off their routine.

For example, when eating at Ichiran, I asked for extra noodles. The server came by, started her courtesy routine, and brought out a collection tray. However, I placed the coins on the table ahead of time, thinking I was courteous. After a few seconds of awkwardness, she eventually took the coins, placed them in the tray herself, and finished her routine. Do not be like me.

Alcohol
If you staying in the Shinjuku area, you might want to stop by YaMaYa for your alcohol. Better prices and huge selection than convenience stores when you want to relax in your room, I wished I found this place earlier.

Although public drinking is not illegal, the common norm is that you do not. Nobody will stop or say anything, especially to a foreigner; just do not drink on the trains and subways. My friends and I did drink a few beers in front of a convenience store in Kyoto and he has been known to walk around with a can of beer in his hand. Nevertheless, public drinking is normally preserved for parks.

Breakfast/Morning
Cannot say for the rest of Japan, but Tokyo is not a morning city. Most establishments do not open until 10-11 am. In fact, finding breakfast can be a hassle, I learnt this the hard way during my first visit. Best to sleep in, in my opinion.

If you must venture out, jet lag or catching the morning train, bakeries are open if you’re in a mood for coffee and pastries; they are located at the train stations. There are Western-style breakfast joints scattered around Tokyo, like Eggs N Things in Harajuku.

There are some of 24-hours joints; some of my favorites are Ichiran and Iwamoto Q. Convenience stores, like 7-Eleven, are great for picking up a quick breakfast, like oden, and snacks to bring on a bullet train.

Street Level Navigating
A major concern for many travelers is getting around at the street level. I’m fortunate enough to have unlimited international data on my mobile service, enabling Google Maps and Yelp to guide me. I was even luckier to have a friend that knows the city. Google Maps does offer offline download and there is free WiFi at all train stations.

You can screen capture parts of the map ahead of time, like my friend, if you do not have data on your phone. The problem with using static maps is that you, for me at least, tend to lose sense of direction once you exit the station after all the twists and turns. Get a detailed map, if you’re using a static map, to help you hone in on the location. I have walked in circles a few times using a map meant for train and subway lines.

Related:
Japan 2016: Favorite Places
My Top 4 Coffee Shops Japan 2016
My Top 4 Best Ramen Japan 2016
Tokyo 2012 Reflections: My Top Places to Visit

Japan 2016: Favorite Places

As the 2016 Japan trip slowly fading away into memories, I would like to make one final look back on my favorite places during the trip. Without further ado, in no real order, here are my favorite places that I would recommend if you’re visiting Japan.

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Deers chilling at Nara Park. 2016

——Nara Park
One of the most unique destinations during the trip. I do not know any other places like this. The beautiful park is filled with hundreds of wild sika deer that freely roam around. Most are very tame and even “bow” to visitors for crackers, which you can buy throughout the park for about ¥100. The deer due have a tendency to swarm around you when you have food but it’s a bit funny to see people freak out.

While in the area, take your time to explore the park. Making your way to Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha will let you experience most of what Nara has to offer.

——Fushimi Inari Shrine
This place was magical. Dense rows of torii gates give this place a unique visual experience that are featured in hundreds of photos and your friends social media feeds. The seamlessly, endless torii gates follow wooded mountain trails; about 2-3 hours round trip to the top and back. Many people usually stop at the halfway point since the rest of the path up is pretty much the same. At the top, you will be greeted with a makeshift “you reached the top” sign but the journey up there that counts, right?

There are various street vendors selling snacks and souvenirs at the entrance after your short hike. One last thing, Fushimi Inari Shrine technically does not close so you can visit this place at night.

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Entrance near sundown. Kiyomizudera, Kyoto. 2016

——Kiyomizudera
Although my time in Kyoto was short, Kiyomizudera is a must if you’re in the area for any length of period. Accessible by bus, Kiyomizudera features a lovely and atmospheric neighborhood, along Matsubara Dori, that is filled with shops and restaurants on the way up to the temple. The main attraction here is the famous wooden patio that offers a nice view of the courtyard. Directly across and a short walk from the patio is a trail that offers the photogenic shot of the Kiyomizudera raised patio.

On the way back, I suggest using the narrow Sannenzaka path that will take you close to the Yasaka Pagoda. % Arabica is also located nearby for a quick caffeine fix on your way to another location.

In addition, the sight of seeing women dress up in kimonos really adds to the charm to the place; the main reason I like Kyoto so much.

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——Arashiyama Bamboo Groove
One of my anticipated stop in Kyoto was the bamboo grove at Arashiyama in Western Kyoto. Walking through the columns of bamboo was enchanting; like walking through a scene of a romanticized kung fu movie. Another good thing about this place is that it’s quite a short visit so you can move on to other sights in Arashiyama.

Stop by Monkey Park Iwatayama where there’s free roaming since you’re in the area. And if you’re a caffeine addict like me, % Arabica has a shop here looking at the the Katsura River. Truly beautiful.

——L’Escamoteur Bar
Glad I decided to come here after dinner at Chojiro for a few drinks. Welcoming and entertaining during my visit, I planned for one drink before reuniting with friends but stayed for two. If you’re looking for cheap beers, this is not the place; although they do serve beers. Cocktails are what they do here and Chris, the owner, is proud of it. Order the Smokey Old Fashioned if you’re looking for a bit of a show. I personally look forward to returning here.

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The”White Heron.” Himeji Castle. 2016

——Himeji Castle
Never planned to visit this castle until I made a trip to see Osaka castle and saw the stop at Himeji on the bullet train; I figure, why not? I must say that the approach to Himeji castle from the train station was the best part for me. Truly awe inspiring to see the castle tower over the city like a sentinel giant in the distant.

This is an extensive complex that can be a time sink if you’re into exploring all the nooks and crannies; there’s an adjacent garden, Kokoen, that you can visit for an additional ¥40 when you purchase the ticket, ¥1000, to enter the main castle complex and keep.

——Lilo Coffee Roasters
I picked this place as my #1 coffee shop in Japan during my 2016 visit. The full list of my favorite coffee in Japan is here. In short, they have a wide variety of beans – even a chart to help you pick one – and full menu of beverages and food with excellent service.

——Fuunji
My #1 ramen joint, even beating the famous Rokurinsha. I posted a more in-depth list of my favorite ramens here. For the short version, Fuunji specializes in tsukemen that very rich in flavors that explode in your mouth. In addition, the chef serves every ramen with a smile and flare.

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March, 20th. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. 2016

——Shinjuku Gyoen Garden
There are tons of parks and gardens in Tokyo but Shinjuku Gyoen Garden is one of the largest with many different themes so there something for everyone, even featuring a greenhouse – although it was closed when I visited. A popular spot during cherry blossom seasons – late March to early April – with hundreds of people gather in the park for photos and picnics.

The garden closes at 4:30 pm.

——Umegaoka Sushi No Midori Sohonten
Most will point towards Sushi Dai and Daiwa Sushi at Tsukiji for the sushi loving tourist – without losing your wallet – but the lines there are very long and requires waking up at the crack of dawn. Umegaoka makes a great alternative with tourist friendly menu but expect to wait an hour at any of their many locations. The crab roe salad was delicious, by the way, and usually comes with a set; highly recommend trying that.

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Chef’s sushi set. Sushitomi in Tokyo. 2016.

——Sushitomi
I went light on sushi this trip but I had to try this place due to Tripadvisor’s ratings. This is a secluded joint that caters mostly to locals with occasional foreigners . As such, there is no menu but the owner does speak English. I went with the sushi set that came with miso soup and pickled vegetables for ¥1500. I want to try their lunch chirashi bowl next time. I would recommend this place if you’re looking for a more local feel.

Resting my legs with a Nipponia at Hitachino Brewing Lab in Akihabara, Tokyo. 2016

Relaxing with a Nipponia at Hitachino Brewing Lab in Akihabara, Tokyo. 2016

——Hitachino Brewing Lab
The best brewery in Japan – according to me. There’s actually some substance to that claim as Hitachino has won many international awards for their beers, especially the famous White Ale. The beers are quite pricy, ¥700 a glass, but I think this is a good stop if you’re in Akihabara. I really like their White Ale and Nipponia.

Related:
My Top 4 Coffee Shops Japan 2016
Japan Travel Tips
My Top 4 Best Ramen Japan 2016
Tokyo 2012 Reflections: My Top Places to Visit

My Top 4 Coffee Shops Japan 2016

Japan for the last few years is experiencing a new wave of speciality coffee shops popping up. My first time in Tokyo, in 2012, I got most of my caffeine fix from vending machines, mainly because I did not want to leave the group I was traveling with. I wanted to change that this trip.

With so much coffee shops to try and only so much caffeine my body can take, spending more time at each place would be optimal but what can you do? Of course, there were many missed. Next time. Here’s my top 4 best coffee shops in Japan 2016.

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Latte at The Roastery by Nozy Coffee

4. The Roastery – Shibuya, Tokyo
This busy little coffee shop, between Shibuya and Harajuku, is located on the curiously named “Cat Street.” Nice place to slow down and rest your tired feet from the day of walking around Shibuya or Harajuku.

They serve coffee by Nozy, a popular coffee shop that specialize in single origin. As such, they have a very simple menu at the main station offering only espresso, Americano, and latte. There are pour overs and French press at the back. They do offer donuts, coffee port beer, and even latte soft ice cream.

I got the latte this visit, which was quite smooth even though I not a latte person; I got it to see their latte art work. A nice touch is that the cashier lets you smell the two single origins available that day before picking your beans.

3. Toranomon Koffee – Toranomon, Tokyo
Of all the coffee shops, Toranomon Koffee was my most anticipated. This is the relocation of the highly praised Omotesando Koffee that was closed due to costly repairs a few years ago. I made sure this place was my first stop.

Located on the 2nd floor of the Mori Building, the sister tower of Roppongi Hills, you will find this sleek, contemporary coffee shop. The place has two wings to handle large volumes of caffeine seekers. They are located in a large business building after all.

I got the hot house blend coffee, Toranomon Koffee, straight black. Smooth and well balanced without much bitterness was my impressions. In addition, you can enjoy your drink at their tables or outside in the building’s patio.

With some many speciality coffee shops popping up in Tokyo, I find it hard to justify the commute for the morning fix if you’re staying near, for example, Shinjuku. Even with that, I would love to revisit this place again in the future and try out their espressos.

The tiny shop of the Arashiyama branch of Arbica

The tiny shop of the Arashiyama branch of Arabica

2. % Arabica – Kyoto
% Arabica was a pleasant surprise. While my eyes were focused on Tokyo for my high-end caffeine fix, % Arabica blindsided me with their expertise and presentation.

They positioned their two locations, Higashiyama and Arashiyama, near popular tourist spots so there is a good chance of running into one of them while sightseeing. Could be the enchanting atmosphere of Kyoto, but both shops are very modern and sleek looking. Simply put, they were both beautiful in a minimalistic way.

The Arashiyama branch was the one I sampled, which sits next to Katsura River on the way to Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama – lovely view. This shop, by the way, is very cozy and contemporary with large glass windows to stare out at the river. There’s very little seats inside but there benches outside. Beautiful little coffee shop.

Having a simple menu, I tried a hot Americano and, on the way back, an espresso shot; both black. Both good, but the espresso was very nice; very rich and smooth. It was a shame my stay in Kyoto was very short which prohibits me from trying the latte. Highly recommend this place.

The Gib at Lilo Coffee

Lilo Coffee’s Gibraltar

1. Lilo Coffee Roasters – Osaka
I don’t know if it was the long day riding the Shinkansen or the walking around Osaka, but for some reason or another, Lilo Coffee Roasters hit the spot on all levels for me; good coffee, excellent service, and great selection of beans.

They carry a much wider array of coffee menu than most of the other speciality coffee shops for those that like options. In addition, Lilo lets you select the beans to determine the amount of acidity, roast, and strength. On top of that, they offer soy milk alternative which is great for someone that is lactose intolerant, like me.

I got myself a lovely Gibraltar, which was the best cup of coffee I had during this trip – great ratio between coffee and milk. Perhaps I was tired, but this was what I was exactly what I needed. I even got a simple drip coffee to-go, afterwards. Lilo gives you a ¥150 discount when you order a 2nd cup; not many other places do this. Honestly, I thought of returning to Osaka before my JR Rail Pass expires just to return here.

The service, as mentioned, was great; the barista even brings the coffee to you. Please make a quick, or extended, visit to Lilo Coffee if you find yourself in Osaka. I look forward to returning playing this place another visit when I return to Osaka in the few years.

Filled to the brim, Military Latte, at Streamer Coffee Company

Filled to the brim, Military Latte, at Streamer Coffee Company

**Honorable Mention** Streamer Coffee Company
This was my favorite coffee shop in 2012. Then again, to be fair, I only tried two coffee shops that trip. I was close to putting this fourth on the list but I felt that The Roastery was better.

What attracted me to this place was finding out the owner was a latte art champion. After four years, Streamer is still serving quality coffee with lovely latte art – just look at that photo above. Plus, they have so many locations now, they must be doing well.

I stopped by the main in shop Shibuya and the new one in Harajuku to try their Military Latte – espresso and green tea – and blueberry latte, respectively.

Although the Military Latte was impressive to look at, I felt it was a bit bland for me – want to add that I was getting sick at this point in the trip as my taste might have been affected. The addition of green tea might have diluted the sharp caffeine kick. The blueberry latte, something different, was decent but nothing too special. Still a solid coffee “company,” overall.

Other coffee shops I visited:
Sarutahiko
Vermillion Espresso Bar

Related:
Japan 2016: Favorite Places
Japan Travel Tips
My Top 4 Best Ramen Japan 2016
Tokyo 2012 Reflections: My Top Places to Visit

My Top 4 Best Ramen Japan 2016

With my 14-nights adventure in Japan at an end, here’s my top 4 best ramen in Japan that you must try. Why four? Cause anymore would make the list too easy. Of course, this is not, by no means, a complete list and mainly focuses in West Tokyo – Shinjuku area – and Kyoto that I personally tried.

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Ichiran with spice level 10!

4. Ichiran
This wildly popular ramen restaurant chain is located all over Tokyo and Osaka. I feel their many locations is a way to prevent everyone from coming to one spot.

The rich and flavorful tonkotsu broth is the reason why people are flocking to Ichiran. Ichiran lets you customize your order; everything from the amount of oil to the firmness of the noodles. Adding the spice is a must, in my opinion, as the spice adds a nice extra layer to the broth, creating a more exciting profile.

My favorite extras are an egg and seaweed. If you order an egg, be prepare to peel it yourself. Extra noodles can be order after finishing your initial serving for ¥150 or ¥130 for a half order of noodles, as much as you want.

Plus, unlike many other restaurants, you will be seated in individual booths with dividers and binders. You will not even see the face of your server. Very unique and Japanese experience. Just you and the ramen.

Some of the locations are open 24-hours which makes Ichiran very convenient at odd hours. Our 24-hours Ichiran was near Shinjuku station.

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Welcoming  fatty, delicious Nikutamamen bowl from Mutekiya

3. Mutekiya – Ikebukuro, Tokyo
Close to skipping due to being “ramen-out” at the last leg of the trip, but I’m so glad I made one last trip on the last night to Mutekiya.

If you like tender pork and a fatty, rich broth, then you will definitely have to give Mutekiya a try; truly savory and filling. Mutekiya gives you thick slices of chashu along with an egg, bamboo shoots, and leafy vegetables on most variants. I went with Nikutamamen for about ¥1,050 which comes with three slices of chashu. There’s also fresh garlic with a crusher and spicy pickled vegetables at each seat, along with self serve jasmine tea.

Since there’s usually a queue at Mutekiya, a staff will come out to take your order while in line and will have the bowl ready a few minutes after sitting down. Extremely efficient system.

Sugari speciality: tsukemen with yuzu noodles

Sugari speciality: tsukemen with yuzu noodles

2. Sugari – Kyoto
This was one of the better and unique ramen experiences I had in Japan. And to think, I decided to come to Sugari, a hidden restaurant with no English menu, last minute after skipping another ramen joint.

Sugari came up Yelp with only 16 reviews but only a block away from my hotel; I figure, why not. Luckily, one of the reviewers had instructions on how to order.

This small ramen joint specializes in tsukemen with yuzu noodles. The dipping broth was very flavorful but simple. The savory and salty broth with the light citrusy noodles really help balance the meal out; very unique.

The kicker, for me, is that Sugari uses flame grilled pork, you can see the burnt marks on the small chunks of pork and pork fat. These morsels were a bit chewy and delicious; probably the best “chashu” I had during the trip.

In addition, the atmosphere of this place was enchanting; feels like a secret slice of an older era Japan, but this is Kyoto after all. After entering a low unmarked door, you’re presented with a short, dark alley way with a ticket vending machine at the end. You’ll then encounter a courtyard with a blooming cherry tree, at the time, and an open kitchen. You will not know any of this is there judging from the inconspicuous front.

The "special tsukemen" at Fuunji

The “special tsukemen” at Fuunji

1. Fuunji – Shinjuku, Tokyo
My number one spot was a tough one, but I have to give Fuunji the title. I made this trip a mission to try tsukemen style and this place – and Sugari – really open my eyes to the world of tsukemen.

They have tradition ramen and tsukemen but the speciality here is tsukemen. The special tsukemen, which I got, costs ¥1,000 and don’t mind all the consecutive “Best Ramen” awards on top of the vending machine. And, expect a long queue that forms outside and inside Fuunji.

The dipping broth is truly a flavor bomb in your mouth. Incredibly rich, creamy, porky, fishy, and salty – all good things. In addition, the dipping broth is loaded with pieces of chashu, bamboo shoots, onions, seaweed, and an egg.

The noodles were decent; thick and chewy. But, the thing that pulls everything together is the chef; he’s a rockstar of ramen. A dash of showmanship and expertise, watching him practice his craft was very entertaining. You swear he was in a Japanese rock band before discovering his calling. Runs the kitchen with an eye on detail, handles preparation, manages the line and seatings, greets, and thanks every customer all with a smile. Do not worry, you will know who he is.

I totally recommend Fuunji if you find yourself in Tokyo, even if you don’t necessarily like ramen. You can at least said you battled the queues to try the “best” ramen in Japan. I had a friend return twice in the same day.

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tsukemen, their speciality.

Rokurinsha’s tsukemen, their speciality

*Honorable Mention* Rokurinsha – Tokyo Station
This is a very popular tsukemen joint located in “Ramen Street” in the basement of Tokyo station, on the Yaesu South Exit side. Look for the one with the long line.

Rokurinsha’s dipping broth is good. Rich, salty, and fishy were the dominant flavors. They do give you a lot of noodles so a great value for your yen. I just rather have Fuunji if I wanted tsukemen in Tokyo.

A lighter shio yuzu ramen served at Afuri

Lighter shio yuzu ramen served at Afuri

*Honorable Mention* Afuri – Ebisu, Tokyo
I was feeling under the weather when I came to Afuri. I definitely have to try this place again.

Afuri specializes in shio ramen, salt-based, with a twist of yuzu for a bit of a citrus, which is not overpowering. This is a bit different from all the tonkotsu ramen I had during this trip. Although good, I prefer the more rich tonkotsu style ramen. Please give this a try if you like the lighter broth of shio and shoyu ramen.

Staff was super-friendly, by the way, and they have full English labeled vending machine. Afuri also has many locations throughout Tokyo; I went to the Afuri near Ebisu station.

Extra soybean ramen with level 4 of both spices from Kikanbo

Extra soybean ramen with level 4 of both spices from Kikanbo

*Honorable Mention* Kikanbo – Northern Tokyo
Having two locations in Kanda and Ikebukuro, Kikanbo specialize in miso based ramen, really spicy miso ramen, to be exact. I was really excited for this place before coming to Japan; I enjoy testing my threshold.

I had the second hottest level for both spice, red chili and numbing spice. The ramen was exciting at first but the numbing spice made the ramen really boring to eat half way through, as I couldn’t taste anything. I think this is a very fun ramen to eat with your friends, however. Next time, I’ll reduce the numbing spice level.

Related:
My Top 4 Coffee Shops Japan 2016
Japan Travel Tips
Japan 2016: Favorite Places
Tokyo 2012 Reflections: My Top Places to Visit

[Updated] Japan 2016 – Places I Want to Visit


With the 2016 Japan trip coming closer by the day, there are a things I would like to do and see more this time around since there are 14 days to just slowly enjoy the experience. We seen many of the major attractions within Tokyo so I can focus on the things I, and perhaps many other tourists, overlook.

This time around, I would like to do more things on my own instead of sticking with the flock the whole time. This way, I can do the things I want to do without dragging anyone else. I definitely would like to check out the coffee scene since most of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee beans do end up in Japan. In addition, I would like to try Japanese craft beers and bars. Eat more ramen – including tsukemen (dipping ramen)- and sushi as well, since last time one of my friends did not like sushi at all.

Here is a, by no means complete, list of things I would like to do while in Japan this time around.

Toranomon Koffee – I originally wanted to try Omotesando Koffee, one of the highest reviewed coffee shop on Yelp and TripAdvisor, but they closed down on December 2015 due to costly repairs. This is their new location. It’s a shame since their old location had such a nice atmosphere – converted old Japanese home – but this will have to do.

[Edit: I picked this place as my #3 top coffee shop. Pleasant experience. I wish it was closer to where I was staying, a bit out of the way.]

Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant

Robot Restaurant – Anthony Bourdain claimed this was the greatest show on earth. My friend said it was pretty interesting and fun that was definitely worth the experience. Other friend said this is something you can only see once. Robots, women in bikinis, lasers, lights, and alcohol. Sure, why not?

[Edit: An one time event for me. This is the “gaijin” spot. It was interesting and had its moments but you can skip this; not worth the price at 8,000¥ . Many hotels will have discounts vouchers, just ask them or 6,800¥ at this site.]

Disney Sea – might as well, right? Described as a mini Disneyland Tokyo but with alcohol, I have not been to Disneyland for over a decade so this might be an interesting experience. Did I mentioned there is alcohol?

[Edit: Decided on the after 6 pm ticket 4,200 ¥. Did not went on any rides, lines were too long. I saw the night show at the lake, drank some sake, and walked around. Quite beautiful, even in the dark.]

Umegaoka Sushi No Midori Sohonten – picking this sushi joint purely on reviews. There’s two locations, Shibuya and Ginza, and both have long lines prime hours according to the reviews and photos. High quality with reasonable prices, maybe these are the reason for the lines.

[Edit: Check my favorite places post for my thoughts.]

Kikanbo – saw this place while watching I’ll Have What Phil’s Having. Japan is not known for spicy foods but this is a spicy take on ramen; mind numbing spicy ramen, I might add. In fact, you can choose the level of TWO spices – red chili pepper and szechuan pepper – when you order the ramen. I’ll probably try “hot” during my first trip and “demon” on the sequential visit. Wish me luck. By the way, I did not put many ramen joints on the list because my friend will be taking us to all the popular ramen joints he tried over the years.

[Edit: Check out my favorite ramen in Japan for my thoughts.]

Hitachino Brewing Lab & Baird Taproom – two of the craft beer brewery I want to visit in Tokyo. A quick look at Beeradvocate shows that the Hitachino (Kiuchi Brewery) and Baird beers dominate the top of the list. Hitachino Brewing Lab is located in Akihabara and Baird has a few locations, but I’m aiming for the Harajuku location.

[Edit: Check my favorite places post for my thoughts on Hitachino.  I only stopped by Baird once while in Harajuku but I enjoyed their Suruga Bay Imperial IPA.]

The spot Bill Murray sat

The spot Bill Murray sat in Lost In Translation

New York Bar – the bar of Lost In Translation in the Shinjuku Park Tower, where Park Hyatt is located as well, on the 52nd floor. Probably over hyped with high prices due to the movie but I still want to visit this place. My friend who been there did not think it was worth the 2,500 ¥ admission fee but it’s one of those iconic place to visit, I guess. Plus, the place is literally across the street where we’re staying.

[Edit: Did not have time, sadly.]

The Peak Bar – located in the same building as New York Bar, on the 41th floor, this bar – apparently also featured in Lost In Translation – has a happy hour special, called “Twilight Time,” for 5,000 ¥ that gives you unlimited drinks and snack food between 5-9pm. This place should like a better deal than the New York Bar, even with the price increase – the special was 3,500 ¥ a year ago. Potentially a lovely place to relax and enjoy the night skyline of Tokyo with a bunch of beers and cocktails.

[Edit: I got sick on the day this was planned.]

World’s Second Best Freshly Baked Melon Pan Ice Cream – with a name like that how could you not pay this place a visit? Melon pan, ice cream, and a pinch of sarcastic modesty in your hands; enough said.

[Edit: Tried the one in Osaka at Dotonbori. I got mine fresh out of the oven with a nice scoop of ice cream. Delicious. I would eat this again.]

Kamakura – an outlying area located about an hour south from Tokyo, Kamakura is a small city with many beautiful temples. Called the “Kyoto of Eastern Japan,” I look forward to just checking out the scenery, temples, and shrines in the area.

[Edit: Decided to go to Osaka instead. Friends said there was not much to see.]

Suntory Distillery – what can I say, Lost In Translation sold me on the Suntory brand. How can you resist Bill Murray? As such, I would love to visit the distillery for their whisky, which located between Kyoto and Osaka. Having a 7-day pass to use the bullet train, I might use a day to visit this place. The tour is out of the question since it’s been fully booked but the tasting room will do just fine, if I can get in, of course.

[Edit: Did not have time.]

Gate at Kiyomizudera

Gate at Kiyomizudera

Kyoto – we have two official days in Kyoto and my friend will be guiding us to all the major sites that he thought was worth a visit so I’m not too worried about attractions here. However, I can come back by myself later since we all have a 7-day JR pass to Kyoto. Places I would like to visit are Fushimi Inari Shrine, bamboo groves at Sagano, and Kiyomizudera so far. Apparently, Fushimi Inari Shrine is opened 24 hours, so I might do a night jog up the stairs for kicks.

[Edit: I love this city. So charming and atmospheric. I even made a solo trip back here to revisit a site and took my time. Only got to visit a few sites due to our short stay  so I’ll definitely be back.]

% Arabica – seems like the coffee joint in Kyoto to get caffeinated according to TripAdvisor and Yelp. They have two locations, Higashiyama and Arashiyama, in Kyoto so I’m looking forward to grabbing many cups during the stay there.

[Edit: I picked this place as my #2 top coffee shop.]

Chojiro – a sushi place located in Kyoto, this place has good rating on TripAdvisor with good prices. This place is a conveyor belt style sushi joint but the quality seems pretty good. There are high quality sushi joints in Kyoto but this will do for me.

[Edit: I thought this place was above average. There was a long line when I was there, probably other tourists drawn by the reviews. If you’re in the mood for sushi, not a must visit in my opinion.]

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle – to me, the most iconic castle in Eastern Japan is Osaka Castle. I know Himeji Castle is THE castle to visit in Japan, but I have no plans to visit that region this trip; this will have to do. This castle has historic significance value to me as it was the intended base of operation for Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who unified Japan and ended the Sengoku period.

[Edit: I made solo trip to Osaka to visit this castle. Much smaller in real life. Unfortunately, the visit would be eclipsed by an unplanned visit to Himeji Castle a day later. Still worth a trip if you’re not going to Himeji.]

Minami (Namba) – probably the most famous district in Osaka is filled with shopping and restaurants, plus Dotonbori is located here. If you’re in Osaka, there’s not much reason not to visit this place. To be honest, I just want to experience the atmosphere here; there’s not really anything here I have to try or see.

[Edit: I was only able to be here for an hour or so – I had to catch a train back to Tokyo. Tons of people and food of all kinds. I tried a few fried skewers and melon pan ice cream. Next time.]

Umeda Sky Building – this unique modern building houses an observatory with 360-degree view of Northern Osaka. Only charging 800 ¥ per person, I would be crazy not to at least visit this place at least once and they have a food court. Win-win.

[Edit: Beautiful building. I enjoyed the journey to the top more than the view itself but Osaka Castle can be seen from here. Although nice, you can skip this. Use the tunnel passage; I took the long way around.]

Of course, this is just a rough list. We will probably try a wagyu restaurant and other random places while there. Mainly, I look forward to just stumble upon places that leave me smiling while walking out the door. And another thing, I should watch Lost In Translation again, it has been years.

The photos were from my friend’s previous visits to Japan.

Tokyo 2012 Reflections: My Top Places to Visit


Japan. The land of video games and anime. Two things I absolutely adore like a religion when I was a kid. Oh, I dreamt of someday visiting this holy land of all things I love. I would not be able to fulfill this dream until 2012; by then, most of the fanboy in me was chipped away. Staying strictly in Tokyo, I still find the place enchanting as a fulfillment of a childhood dream, nevertheless.

With a plan return trip to Japan in March 2016 for 14-days; staying mostly in Tokyo, and surrounding region, with a few days in Kyoto this time. I cannot help but to reflect on my experience there and things I hope to do.

Firstly, I remember entering Shinjuku station for the first time after landing from the airport during the late evening rush hour. I felt that all of Tokyo was at this station; incredibly intimidating. Let’s just say I followed my seasoned travel friend like a hawk until we made it out of the station.

After checking in at the Hyatt Regency Tokyo, we went straight to Kabukicho district, in Shinjuku, for our first meal to my friend’s favorite 24-hour spot, Iwamoto-Q; a tendon and soba joint located in the heart of the red light district of Tokyo. Not saying this was the best tendon place, but it’s convenient and good. This spot would be our go to place late at night throughout the trip.

One thing you will immediately notice will be that many places will have vending machines outside where you place your order before coming in, which is great since you can avoid the awkward communication barrier if you can’t speak Japanese, like me.

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As with the rest of my experience of Tokyo, there are a couple of places I really enjoy visiting and would suggest for those looking for recommendations while in Tokyo.

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View from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. This is the governing headquarters of 23 wards that makes up Tokyo. Located in Shinjuku, the true main draw to this building, which resembles a Gothic cathedral, is the FREE observatory at the top of the building that gives you a nice view of Tokyo. Look for signs that point you to designated elevators. I suggest going to the SOUTH tower as this has the best view, in my opinion.

Google Map Link

Nakamise street at Sensoji Temple

Nakamise street at Sensoji Temple

Sensoji Temple. One of Tokyo’s most popular Buddhist temple, and the oldest, is located in Asakusa. The temple and Kaminarimon, a giant gate with an equally giant red lantern, are nice but I enjoy Nakamise, the vendor filled road that leads to the temple, the most. Souvenirs and snacks everywhere! Make sure to check out the branching roads to the sides. My favorite thing there was melon pan.

Google Map Link

Kanda Yabusoba, 2012

Kanda Yabusoba, 2012

Kanda Yabusoba. This might be my favorite restaurant during my trip; the atmosphere and quality was top notch. Located in Akihabara, across the Kanda River, sits this one story joint with a zen garden outside that makes you feel you walking into an Edo-era restaurant. They make their own buckwheat soba noodles. They’re famous for their duck soba soup and ten-seiro soba. As a side note, has been recently rebuilt after a fire a few years ago. I don’t know if the garden outside is still here.

Google Map Link

Seating at Alcatraz ER

Seating at Alcatraz ER

Alcatraz ER. This was an interesting experience to say at least. The name says it all, imagine being locked up in a small cell while be served by nurses and doctors. It is definitely a novelty experience; not the place for fine dining. I’m sure there are better theme restaurants by now, but if you’re looking for a crazy and unique experience, you might want to check this place out.

Google Map Link

Togetsukyo at Rikugien

Togetsukyo at Rikugien

Gardens. Tokyo has the most gardens I’ve seen in any city, there was like a garden on every block. We visited many of them since my friend was a photographer – the photos from this post are from him – but I missed the most popular garden, Shinjuku Gyoen, when I went off on my own one day. Of the gardens I did visited, I would recommend Rikugien and Koishikawa Korakuen. Rikugien has a lovely, scenic stone bridge (Togetsukyo), while Koishikawa Korakuen is just a very pretty garden with many different sections of plants to observe – it even has a small rice paddy.

Miniature models at Edo Tokyo Museum

Miniature models at Edo Tokyo Museum

Edo Tokyo Museum. Not big on museums, but this one was more enjoyable than I thought. Showcasing the Edo, and some World War, period of Tokyo, this museum is worth a few hours if you have time to spare. My favorite exhibitions were the little town models with small figurines; the details on these models were extraordinary. As an extra, the building itself is quite unique.

Google Map Link

Of course, these are just the short list of attractions that stood out to me besides the usual attractions. We visited Shibuya crossing, Odaiba island, Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Tsukiji Market, Imperial Palace, and even a cat cafe where you pay to pet cats. I feel most people will visit these sites without recommendation; okay, maybe not the cat cafe in Shibuya.

Besides the attractions, I was really addicted to Japanese vending machines throughout Tokyo. The first thing I did when I left Shinjuku station was buy a hot drink from a vending machine to keep warm; a hot drink from a vending machine. Japanese vending machines serve both hot and cold drinks, from the same machine. This feature, for whatever reason, totally amazed me.

Edit: Watch this video on the vending machines in Japan.

Gyudon with raw egg at Yoshinoya Japan

Gyudon with raw egg at Yoshinoya Japan

Another thing, try Yoshinoya in Japan. Beef bowls, or gyudon, are quite popular in Japan with various chains. I had them with raw eggs, which creates a rich texture, which is something you cannot get in the United States. in addition, Shakey’s Japan was surprising good; they had interesting toppings and a lovely thin pizza crust, plus it’s all you can eat.

I did wished to venture out on my own more. I wanted to check out the coffee scene there – I only visited two coffee joints, Streamer Coffee and Cafe de I’Ambre – since I hear 80% of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee beans are exported to Japan. I got my coffee fix from the vending machines on most days since I didn’t want to slow anyone down with my addiction.

Regardless, this post is getting a bit longer than I thought so I’ll split it up. In the next one, I’ll take a look at the places I wanted to check out in the 2016 trip; only months away.

Related:
My Top 4 Coffee Shops Japan 2016
My Top 4 Best Ramen Japan 2016
Japan Travel Tips
Japan 2016: Favorite Places

Bangkok – My Top Places to Visit


My 10-day trip in Bangkok was quite eye opening and, well, delicious. I spent most of the days eating all over the city. Of course, there were some touristy sight seeing that we felt, we must do at least once.

I’m by no means an expert on Bangkok in such a short time but here is my personal short list of things and places I recommend when you’re in Bangkok.

Soei
The place was recommended by Mark Wiens and I highly recommend this place as well if you love Thai cuisine. I thought the food here was extremely flavorful; lots of lime, basil, and chilies. This was probably my favorite restaurant in Bangkok as well.

Apparently, this place can get crowded at dinner time during the weekends, since the owner cooks most of the food himself. We came here at lunch time on an off day and there was plenty of open tables.

Our spread at Soei

Our spread at Soei

Using the picture above, starting with the fried mackerel heads, on the left, and going clockwise are: kaem pla too tod (fried mackerel head), tom yum pla too (tom yum soup with mackerel), pla goong pao (Thai prawn salad), chu chee pla too (curry mackerel), stir fried clams, pad woon sen kratiem dong (stir fried mung bean noodles), and with goong chae nam pla (Thai raw shrimp) in the middle.

I would have to say that the fried mackerel head, raw shrimp, prawn salad, and curry mackerel were my favorite dishes there. It was hard to pick a favorite, ok? The sauces on those dishes were addicting as hell.

By the way, this place is located next to train tracks. We sat next to the tracks for the view and lets just say we got extra “minerals” in our food when a train ran by. Unless you don’t mind that, you might want to get a table further away from the tracks.

Unfortunately, this place is a bit away from the BTS lines so unless you’re willing to walk, you will need a taxi. Victory Monument station is the closet via BTS with a major road then you might want to grab a taxi from here. We just took a taxi from our hotel straight there.

Google map link

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Boat Noodle Alley
Probably my favorite dish while in Thailand, mainly because I like spicy food, boat noodle is a very flavorful noodle soup that contains cow or pig blood which gives the broth the dark color.

Boat noodles with sides

Boat noodles with side toppings

Served in small bowls for less than $0.35 each. It’s common practice to stack up the bowls to see how many you ate. Ask for pork skin cracklings and fried wonton skins and throw a few of each into your bowls for spicy, rich, salty, and crunchy textures. It’s also common to add a bit of sugar for a bit of sweetness to each bite.

The alley contains 4-5 shops, all selling boat noodles among other things. Most of them were pretty good. The only one we didn’t like was the first one, facing the street – my favorite was the one at the very back of the alley with pink shirts.

Accessible by skytrain with a bit of walking. Take the Skytrain, or BTS for short, to Victory Monument. Walk towards the Victory Monument on the skywalk, it will be on your left as you walk. You will get a nice view of the monument as well.

Look for a small river and 7-Eleven on the right side, near the end of the monumental street circle. There’s a stairs that leads down to the 7-Eleven. Head towards the river after you take the stairs down. The shops are lining the right side of the river. The other side are a bunch of street vendors.

Google map link

P’Aor (Tom Yum Goong)
Another popular Thai and Lao dish, P’Aor probably serves the best tom yum goong I had the pleasure of eating while in Bangkok. Rich, spicy, sour, sweet, creamy and served with a large prawn, not much more you can ask for. I’m not the biggest fan of tom yum, but I really like this dish. They also have many other good dishes but tom yum is what they’re famous for.

Basic tom yum goong

Basic tom yum goong

Take the BTS to Phaya Thai station will bring you very close to P’Aor. It’s located in an alley and easy to miss so follow Google map. Of course, you can just hop into a taxi.

Google map link

Street Food/Night Market
Perhaps my favorite part of the Thailand experience, checking out the street food scene was a nightly ritual for me, even when I was not hungry. Nothing like seeing a whole street filled with countless vendors serving all kinds of goodies to be discovered.

There are many streets and alleys that have them all over Bangkok, but the two that I visited frequently were Sukhumvit Soi 38, below the Thong Lo station, and Ratchadamri Road, across from CentralWorld, that run north then wraps west onto Phetchaburi Road.

Sukhumvit Soi 38 night market is affordable and manageable street food experience, due to its small size; great for those getting introduced into Thai street food scene. We had our first street food experience here and was our to-go place late at night.

Two ways chicken rice

Two ways chicken rice

Chicken rice being very popular in Thailand, we all went for the fried and boiled chicken rice combination (khao man gai ruam) as this dish from this alley had been featured in various food sites and Youtube videos. The chicken, served two ways, were decent but the sauces, chilies, and garlic were really what made this dish great for me. The flavors and spices…hmm.

Google map link

Ratchadamri Road night market is located at the heart of modern Bangkok next to the BTS, between stations Siam and Chit Lom, and CentralWorld. This street night market starts at Phloen Chit Road and stretches to Phetchaburi Road.

There are an abundance of tourist friendly and local favorites. I personally spent a few nights trying out different places. The two that stand out for me was a popular chicken rice place called Kaiton Pathumwan – look for the pink shirts – and a donut stall next to the chicken rice place that my friend told me has been there for over 20 years.

Google map link

Again, roam and explore; I wished I venture out there more often during my free nights.

Chatuchak Weekend Market
This is a massive collection of stalls and permanent stores, located in a large and lovely park, that sells everything from coconut ice cream – served in a halved coconut shell – to wooden statues; if you can find it that is…

Getting to Chatuchak Market is quite simple; just take the BTS to Mo Chit. You can’t miss it, just follow the swarm of people. The market opens at 10am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday.

By the way, you might want to bring something to protect yourself from the sun and heat; it was really hot when we went. I’m talking about shirt soaked hot.

Wat Phra Kaew & Grand Palace
Of all the tourist spots we visited, I have to say that Wat Phra Kaew and the adjacent Grand Palace, you get to see both places, was my favorite in terms of architecture and beauty. Ayutthaya had history but this place just looks so pretty and unique.

By the way, entrance is on the north side if you’re hopping from another temple here without taxi guidance.

This place was ridiculously crowded when we were there, I regret not taking a picture of the mass of people trying to get in or out as I was more concerned with squeezing through to the ticket booth located inside the Grand Palace walls.

If you’re in this area, you’re probably hitting all the major tourist hotspots as well like Wat Pho and Temple of the Dawn just to name a few. So stop by Thip Samai to rest your feet after all that walking, grab some pad thai and cold orange juice or coconut juice, or both, you’re on vacation, right?

Google map link

Thip Samai (Pad Thai)
The quintessential dish of Thai food, outside of Thailand at least, is pad thai. I could not leave Thailand without trying it and this place delivered – way beyond my expectations.

Egg omelette pad thai

Egg omelette pad thai

The presentation was eye catching. The noodles were wrapped around an egg omelette, a feat I have not seen in the United States. Very flavorful. I’m no expert on pad thai but this was very good and I recommend you check them out for yourself.

They also sell an in-house made orange juice that very popular.

Thip Samai is a bit far from central Bangkok so taxi is needed to get to this place. It’s fairly close to Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, so you can stop by afterwards. They open at 5 PM. You can expect a queue, there was one when I was there.

Google map link

So there you have it, my short list of places I would recommend you visit when you’re in Bangkok. There were many places we didn’t have time but will definitely check out when I re-visit the country in the near future.

First Trip to Bangkok – Land of Hot, Sour & Sweet


With a recent flight booked for Japan in March, 2016, I could not help to think about traveling, especially my previous trip to Bangkok, Thailand in 2015 – also March. What can I say, we like March, as it works for all of my travel bitten friends.

First and foremost, being my first time, I really enjoyed my 10-day trip in Bangkok and would gladly come back in the near future. Of course, we had a friend, serving as our tour guide, who knows the city well and speaks a bit of Thai. I’ll admit that my experience would easily been different if he was not with us; being lost and not knowing the language can be frustrating.

Wat Phra Kaew

Wat Phra Kaew

We did many of the tourist things within and bordering Bangkok, like the Ayutthaya ruins and Amphawa Floating Market. Cause, you have to do it at least once, right? Just to say you seen/did it and never have to do it again. By the way, the temples at Wat Phra Kaew are spectacular, amazingly colorful and detailed; very distinct.

Food is amazing there; whether from street hawkers or food court in the malls, you cannot go wrong. The smell of the spices and herbs are enticing. In fact, experiencing authentic Thai food was the main reason why I came to the country.

So what else did I like about Bangkok? Good exchange rates. Although the exchange rates are not as great as a decade ago; I still hear my friend talk about “back then” prices. Of course, the cheaper prices can be deceiving if you’re buying three meals at one sitting – from experience.

Bangkok also has a modern skytrain system, or BTS, that takes you through many of the major spots and hotels in the metropolitan area. This was my choice of transport. Taxi is a must if you want to leave to the outer areas of Bangkok, like Ayutthaya or Wat Phra Kaew, or simply do not feel like walking.

Chicken (both sytle) & rice. Street Food.

Settling down for some street food

Speaking of the BTS, I would recommend staying in a hotel next to the BTS for first time visitors. It’s quite nice just walking out from your hotel to the skytrain and malls via skybridge. I would try the Holiday Inn next time, which is close the Chit Lom station; one stop away from Siam Paragon and a corner away from a popular night market on Ratchadamri Road that stretches to Phetchaburi Road. We stayed at the Radisson this trip, near Nana station, because it was cheaper.

Although I was not too bother with this, Thailand is really humid and hot. Many of my traveling companions could not withstand this and spent most of the day in malls. The Siam Paragon mall, one of the biggest mall in Asia, was our go-to place to get away from the heat and humidity; plus, their food court is probably one of the best in Bangkok.

In addition, diarrhea was an issue for some of my friends as well. As such, a few of them stuck to “cleaner” mall food – like the above mentioned Siam Paragon’s food court – but I feel they miss out on the great experience of wandering the streets with your eyes and nose. Of course, you have to listen to your body if it’s not agreeing with the food. Look for vendors with good turnover rates and you should be fine – in theory.

Although most Thai people I met are very friendly, do watch out for price gouging, especially area near major hotels. Look for places and vendors with established prices. There was a few times that I felt I got cheated. I do understand they’re trying to make a living and it’s really not much extra, but it never feels good to be on the bad end of an exchange.

One of many stalls at night

Chinese donuts on the streets

One example, I paid 400 baht plus 100 baht tip for a quick maintenance buzz cut at a salon near my hotel. I found later that most barbers charged foreigners 100 to 200 baht for basic cuts. Worst, it was badly done too – many uneven spots – as I had to fix it with a beard trimmer at the hotel. I didn’t check before leaving because I didn’t think you can mess up on a buzz cut. Honestly, I was a bit bitter, not because of the money, that I was cheated.

With that, my overall experience of Bangkok was very pleasant. Good food, ease of transportation, good exchange rates and beautiful sights. I definitely recommend Bangkok for those that never been there. In fact, we plan to return to Bangkok and visit Chiang Mai or one of the Thai beach townPhuket or Krabi – in the near future.

Because this post is getting longer than I intended, I will write a separate post on the places and locations I thought was worthwhile to help those taking the plunge and travel to Bangkok for the first time. Or experienced travelers that may have missed a few places here and there; because I am sure I missed many spots. That’s what Round 2 is for.

Related:
Bangkok – My Top Places to Visit

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