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    Tokyo neighbourhoods: Shimokitazawa (photo by Ryosuke Yagi on Flickr)

    Tokyo counts as one of our favourite travel destinations here at GrateNews, and the first things that come to mind are the wonderful shopping and delicious Japanese cuisine. Just as iconic are famous Tokyo neighbourhoods such as Shinjuku, Harajuku, Shibuya and Ginza.

    Japan’s capital city, however, is much more than those popular tourist spots. We’ve identified some of our favourites, leaving out those that most travellers have heard of.

    Tokyo neighbourhoods: Shimokitazawa (photo by Guwashi999 on Flickr)

     Shimokitazawa

    One of the most up-and-coming neighbourhoods in Tokyo, Shimokitazawa is currently one of the hotspots for youth in Tokyo – it’s both happening and laid back at the same time. Comprising numerous cafés and hipster shops selling unique fashion, walking through its streets reminds one of the more famous and popular Harajuku. However, Shimokitazawa is our preferred destination due to its charming narrow streets and artistic vibe.

    Keeping up to its image as a centre for the arts, music and theatre performances and are also a mainstay in this neighbourhood located in Western Tokyo.

    Tokyo neighbourhoods: Kichijoji (photo by Ewen Boey)

    Kichijoji

    Kichijoji is a big hit with the locals, and has a reputation as one of the most desirable residential neighbourhoods in Tokyo. One of the highlights of Kichijoji is the beautiful Inokashira Park, which is an ideal spot for viewing cherry blossoms in Spring. The body of water here is also the source for the Kanda River.

    The shopping scene in Kichijoji is always bustling, and there are many shops worth exploring in the streets around the main sheltered area next to the train station. Visit on a weekend and you’ll spot many Japanese youths hanging out in this hip neighbourhood.

    With a quaint park at one end of the district, and a bustling shopping scene at the other, Kichijoji is great for both kicking back and doing some serious shopping.

    Tokyo neighbourhoods: Tsukishima (photo by Yuya Tamai on Flickr)

    Tsukishima

    Talking about quaint Tokyo neighbourhoods, if you prefer somewhere quiet and away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, then Tsukishima might be the place for you. Time seems to slow down in Tsukishima, a reclaimed island just outside of the main Tokyo city centre.

    With a blend of old world traditions and modern skyscrapers, visitors to Tsukishima can slow down from the normally fast-paced Tokyo lifestyle, and slowly unwind.

    If that isn’t good enough for you, Tsukishima is also the birthplace of the legendary Tokyo dish – monjayaki, finely cut ingredients pan-fried in a light batter.  It’s pretty similar to okonomiyaki. Having a meal here is reason enough to visit this island neighbourhood.

    Tokyo neighbourhoods: Odaiba (photo by Luke Ma on Flickr)

    Odaiba

    On to another island neighbourhood – Odaiba, a man-made island in Tokyo Bay.

    Fronted by an iconic view of the Rainbow Bridge linking it to mainland Tokyo, Odaiba is a popular shopping and sightseeing neighbourhood, well loved by locals and tourists alike. Offering an unparalleled view of the Tokyo waterfront, Odaiba also holds one of only two beaches located in urban Tokyo.

    The other distinct landmark in Odaiba is Daikanransha, a 115-metre tall ferris wheel that was the world’s tallest when opened in 1999.

    Onsen lovers can check out Oedo Onsen Monotagari Hot Springs here as well, it’s one of the more famous onsens in Tokyo. Other attractions include the distinctively designed Fuji Television building, Miraikan (Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation), a replica of the Statue of Liberty and much more.

    Tokyo neighbourhoods: Ebisu (photo by Azlan DuPree on Flickr)

    Ebisu

    Named after the legendary Japanese beer, Yebisu, this stylish neighbourhood is only a couple of stops from central Shibuya, without the crowds and chaos.

    One of the most expensive neighbourhoods to live in Tokyo, Ebisu, along with neighbouring Daikanyama, is known for its trendy boutiques and cafés. Whether you love chilling out in parks, shopping at fashion forward boutiques or having pastries over afternoon tea, Ebisu would be an ideal district for you.

    Yebisu Garden Place, formerly a beer brewery, is also worth checking out

    A common misconception is that Yebisu Beer (one of the most, if not the most delicious beer in Japan) was named after this neighbourhood. In fact, it’s actually the other way around. Speaking of which, do check out the Museum of Yebisu Beer while you’re there. People-watching over a refreshing mug of Yebisu draught beer is one of the best around. Other notable Sapporo Breweries in the area includes the Beer Museum Yebisu and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

    Tokyo neighbourhoods: Nakameguro (photo by Hajime Nagahata on Flickr)

    Nakameguro

    Nakameguro is the hippest neighbourhood in Meguro, and one of the most stylish in all of Tokyo. The neighbourhood has a distinct European feel to it, and is known to be a centre for fashion, art, culture, and of course, food.

    Nakameguro’s laid-back and European atmosphere sits well with us, and we really enjoyed the trendy boutiques, cafés and galleries. Vintage fashion and furniture lovers will go absolutely crazy over here, with Nakameguro’s wide selection of vintage wares on sale.

    Visit during cherry blossom season and you’ll get to not only admire the beautiful scenery, but also enjoy the festivities in the area, with food stalls lining the streets during this period.

    Azabu Juban

    Located and near the bright lights vibrant district of Roppongi, Azabu Juban is on the contrary, a quiet low-key neighbourhood of Tokyo. This slow-pace enclave boasts trendy cafes and fashionable boutiques as well as century old establishments and shops.

    This meeting of old and new gives Azabu Juban an eclectic vibe that is popular with youths and tourists. If you are in the area, don’t forget to make a pit stop at Abe-chan, a super popular yakitori place that’s been around for decades. The restaurant has a pot of sauce at the front of the shop has been around for 70 years! Other places include Naniwaya Souhonten for its Japanese ‘Taiyaki’ pancake with sweet red bean filling and Tanuki Senbei, a shop selling fresh rice crackers since 1928.

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      Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Photo: Ryan Altamera on Flickr)

      A UNESCO World Heritage Site status is some sort of a holy grail of travel destinations. Not only does it exalt locations of cultural, historical or aesthetic significance, it also serves as the list of must-go locations for travellers.

      Of the 981 World Heritage Sites in the world, Southeast Asia boasts 33. Yeah, it’s not a big number, but it’s enough to keep you busy. Here are our top selections of World Heritage Sites you absolutely have to see.

      Angkor Wat

      Angkor Wat (Photo by Dennis Jarvis on Flickr)

      Why go?

      Built in the 12th century, this temple ruins is one of the most beautiful on Earth, and is mentioned in the same breath as other famous ruins from ancient civilisations such as the Mayans and Incas.

      Pro tips

      • Get a local guide to bring you around. They’ve got guides trained in many languages – English, Mandarin, Japanese, French, Spanish, and many others – and they do so fluently.
      • The guides would usually bring you to Angkor Wat to watch the sunrise, and to another temple called Phnom Bakheng to catch the sunset. Do the tour the opposite way – sunrise at Bakheng and sunset at Angkor Wat – if you want to avoid the massive crowds. It really isn’t any less impressive.

      Borobudur

      Borobudur (photo by Johan Wieland on Flickr)
      Borobudur (photo by Johan Wieland on Flickr)

      Why go?

      Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and one of the greatest monuments of the religion. It also contains the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world.

      Fun fact

      Singapore has one thing in common with Borobudur – both have Sir Stamford Raffles credited as their official founders.

      Halong Bay

      Halong Bay (photo by Lawrence Murray on Flickr)
      Halong Bay (photo by Lawrence Murray on Flickr)

      Why go?

      The beauty of Halong Bay transcends time, with its thousands of limestone karsts and islets shaped from 20 million years of weathering. Halong Bay is also listed as one of the New7Wonders of Nature.

      Fun fact

      Evidence of pre-historic humans were found in the area tens of thousands of years ago.

      Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

      Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Photo by Ryan Altamera on Flickr)

      Why go?

      Not only is this underground river system incredibly beautiful, it is also located in the “last ecological frontier” of the Philippines – Palawan.

      Fun fact

      Together with Halong Bay and Komodo National Park on this list, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is recognised as one of the New7Wonders of Nature.

      George Town

      Centre of George Town (photo by borisindublin on Flickr)
      Centre of George Town (photo by borisindublin on Flickr)

      Why go?

      If ancient ruins and landscape isn’t your thing, then the unique architectural and cultural city of George Town, Penang may just be the right place for you.. Another large draw would be the undeniably delicious Penang street food.

      Char kway teow, nasi kandar, assam laksa, prawn mee, chendol… who can resist?!

      Pro tip

      • While Gurney Drive is perhaps its most well-known food place with the widest variety, do walk around the Jalan Penang and Lebuh Chulia areas at night for some golden finds

      Komodo National Park

      Komodo National Park (photo by Robert Scales on Flickr)
      Komodo National Park (photo by Robert Scales on Flickr)

      Why go?

      For the Komodo Dragons, if nothing else. These fascinating critters exist nowhere else in the world. It’s probably also the most “exotic” location listed here. And by exotic, it means “less frequently visited” among the other attractions here.

      Along with Halong Bay, Komodo National Park is listed as one of the New7Wonders of Nature.

      Pro tip

      • While it’s possible to visit the national park at any time of the year, April to December remains the best time due to the dry season and more comfortable temperatures.

      Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras

      Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (photo from Wikipedia)
      Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (photo from Wikipedia)

      Why go?

      These terraces are estimated to have been built about 2,000 years ago by the Cordillera tribes. That’s a pretty crazy engineering feat if you think about how this landscape was shaped using primitive tools.

      Fun fact

      These terraces were the first ever site included under the cultural landscape category in the World Heritage list in 1995.

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        Ella train ride in Sri Lanka

        Barely a 4-hour flight from Singapore, Sri Lanka is a beautiful country that caters to the diverse interests of visitors. If you’re after a truly different experience on your travel, we recommend you skip the metropolis Colombo city and hit places like the hill country instead. Places like Nurwaraeliya and Ella are abundant with tea plantations, waterfalls and scenic hiking trails. A few hours south of Ella is a place called Yala which houses one of the country’s largest national parks. There, you can jump on a safari tour and come up close with wildlife, including leopards, elephants and water buffalos. Here are some stunning shots we took with our trusty iPhone camera that showcases Sri Lanka’s stunning beauty and diversity.

        Train ride from Nurwaraeliya to Ella

        train-ride-to-ella

        Sunset at Little Adam’s Peak

        sunsetting-at-adams-peak2

        On the way to the top of Little Adam’s Peak

        sunsetting-at-adams-peak

        Baker’s Fall, Horton Plains

        bakers-fall-horton-plains

        String Hoppers for breakfast in Yala

        string-hoppers-yala

        Southern coastal town of Sri Lanka, before Galle

        southern-most-point-galle

        Owner of coffeeshop preparing tea in the dawn hours near Horton Plains, Nurwaraeliya

        small-shop-before-horton

        Dusty tracks of our safari tour at Yala National Park, Yala

        safari-heading-back-yala

        Jetwing Lighthouse near Galle

        lighthouse-before-galle

        Beautiful glass building overlooking tea plantations of Nurwaraeliya

        hotel-at-nuwaraeliya

        Street graffiti offering a glimpse into the arty side of Sri Lanka in Fort Galle

        grafiti-fort-galle

        Friendly, young chap tending a fresh produce stall in a local market, Nurwaraeliya city centre

        fruit-stall-nurawaeliya

        Fresh catch of the day at Nurwaraeliya city centre market. Sashimi, anyone?

        fish-stall-nuwaraeliya

        Dew settling on plants, Horton Plains

        dew-horton-plains

        Crow in flight over the misty mountains of World’s End, Horton Plains

        crow-worlds-end

        Cattle crossing, outside Yala National Park

        buffalos-sri-lanka

         

         

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          Goryokaku Park
          Goryokaku Park

          Every year, groups of tourist from all over the world visit Hokkaido (北海道), one of the most scenic prefectures in Japan. From ski trips to hot springs and seafood binge to dessert overload, there is every reason to visit this picturesque destination.

          You probably had your itinerary down, noting every restaurant to eat, how to get from point A to point B, but there are still stuff you need to get done, preferably once you land at New Chitose Airport. So, before you scoot off New Chitose Airport at Sapporo to head into the city, here are some important items to check off your list and ensure an amazing holiday in the country.

          1. Buy your train tickets – Hokkaido Rail Pass

          You probably have a pretty good idea about where you want to go and what you want to do when in Hokkaido, so all you need to do is in what order you want to visit the various locations. Once you sort that out, you can better decide which Hokkaido Rail Pass to buy, that is if you are not driving of course. The Hokkaido Rail Pass is a multi-trip discount pass that allows you to travel from Naka-Oguni to as far as Wakkanai, thanks to an well connected JR Hokkaido lines. There are basically 4 types pf passes, 3 days, 4-day Flexi, 5 days and 7 days passes. Here are their prices:

          JR Hokkaido Rail Pass prices

          Adult tickets – 12 years and older Child tickets – 6 to 11 years old
          3 days S$205 S$103
          4-day flexi S$274 S$137
          5 days S$274 S$137
          7 days  S$299  S$149
          JR Hokkaido Rail Pass
          JR Hokkaido Rail Pass
          JR Hokkaido Rail Pass reserved seat ticket
          This is how the reserved seat ticket looks like.

          Although a 5-day pass might seem more value-for-money, we find that a flexible 4-day rail pass that allows you to decide which days to take the rail over a 10-day period gives you a lot more control. After all, you may not travel consecutively everyday without stopping overnight at a place like Hakodate or Noboribetsu.

          Bonus tip: Book your reserved seats

          An important thing to remember when travelling on the JR Hokkaido Rail is to book your reserved seats that comes with the pass. You don’t have to pay additional fees and it guarantees you a seat in the the reserved section of the train you want to take. To reserve your seats, all you need to do is to go to the booking office at the train station and tell them the train and the date you are taking the train. If you can plan ahead, it is better to reserve the seat once you reach a new city or prefecture. This will save you a trip to the train station.

          When taking the train, show your ticket and passport to the staff in the glass booth next to the gates. The staff will stamp the date on your flexible 4-day pass before letting you through.

          Children under the age of 5 travels for free.

          JR Hokkaido Rail and track numbers
          The numbers indicate the track the train is on.

          2. Get the Otaru – Sapporo 1-day pass with free subway rides

          Take advantage of the Otaru – Sapporo 1-day pass that is available only to tourists to Hokkaido. It cost roughly around S$21 (1700 Yen) and allows you to take unlimited rides on JR Hokkaido trains between Sapporo and Otaru. You will probably only take the train twice, once to Otaru from Sapporo and another time back to Sapporo if you are on a day trip. The pass also comes with a free 1-day pass for all subway lines in Sapporo. You don’t have to use the free subway pass on the same day as the Otaru – Sapporo JR train pass. We recommend reserving it and using it for the day in your itinerary that you are traveling to multiple locations in Sapporo, like Maruyama Zoo and Shiroi Koibito Park.

          Sapporo - Otaru Welcome Pass
          Sapporo – Otaru Welcome Pass
          Sapporo - Otaru Welcome Pass
          The Welcome Pass also comes with a free one day subway ticket for traveling in Sapporo.

          3. Check Asahiyama Zoo dates and buy tickets

          At the counter where you buy your train tickets, you can also find out about Asahiyama Zoo’s opening schedule and buy your tickets at the same time. Located in central Hokkaido in the Asahikawa (旭川) prefecture, the zoo that is home to about 700 animals allows visitors to interact and see many of the animals up close. While taking pictures of penguins, our phones were so close that we were shoo-ed away by the zoo keepers. Asahiyama Zoo is closed for maintenance on certain days in Summer (typically around early April) and Winter (normally around early November) to prepare for the seasons. The dates vary from year to year, so it’s best to check the zoo website and validate it again with the counter staff when you are at Sapporo airport.

          Check out our full guide on Asahiyama Zoo.

          Asahiyama Zoo tickets
          Asahiyama Zoo tickets
          Asahiyama Zoo flamingos
          Flamingos at the zoo

          4. Get the free WIFI pass

          If you are not going to subscribe to a data plan or don’t intend to get one of those MIFI devices to surf the internet, get the free WIFI pass. The pass is valid for 14 days and is a lifesaver when you need to check your emails or post images to Instagram.

          Free Wifi pass for tourists
          Free Wifi pass for tourists

          5. Get a pocket WIFI

          For those that can’t live without connectivity and is more generous with their travel budget, you may want to consider renting a pocket wifi. It is basically a small device that allows you to create your personal hotspot. Although most times you can get by with the WIFI at the hotels, renting a pocket wifi will give you unlimited access to high-speed internet wherever you are in Japan.

          You need to rent if for a minimum of 5 days for approximately S$68 and up to a maximum of 30 days. There are a lot of companies offering this service and as well as promotions for the device, so shop around first before your trip. You can request for the device to be delivered to your hotel if you decide to rent one later, if not, you can ask for the pick up to be at New Chitose Airport.

           

          We hope that these tips will make your Hokkaido trip an enjoyable one. And oh, don’t forget to get a map too while you are at the airport.

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            at Tsukiji Fish Market
            It is usually very crowded in the mornings but it's still very comfortable and easy to walk.

            Moving to a better place, the Tsukiji Fish Market was meant to open at its new location in November 2016. However, complaints about toxins in the ground of the new location in Toyosu put the planned move on ice – as reported by the Japan Times. The new custom-built facility stays closed and Tsukiji Fish Market where it is now. It’s reason enough to revisit the market and gather up some facts.

            Entrance of Tsukiji Fish Market
            Entrance of Tsukiji Fish Market
            Dried goods stall at Tsukiji Fish Market
            Dried goods stall selling seaweed, dried scallops and snacks

            Tsukiji Fish Market in Numbers

            • The market is 80 years old – and nearing its end.
            • 1800 tonnes of fresh, frozen, and processed seafood goes through the market every day.
            • Although it’s known for the tuna auctions, there are 480 different types of seafood sold daily – worth of 1,5 billion Japanese Yen (13 Million euros).
            • 42000 people work at or use the market.
            • There are a total 630 wholesale vendors.
            • An incredible 19000 vehicles come and go every day.
            • 1800 metric tonnes move every morning from 2am until noon.
            • Every 2 weeks there is another fish in season.
            • Uncountable meals made with that amount of seafood and fish.
            Fish delivery at Tsukiji Fish Market
            This man is delivering tuna to the restaurant

            Things You Need to Remember

            • Don’t be a bother. Keep out of restricted areas and let the personnel run their business. If you disrupt the fish auctions in any way, you will be kicked out without warning.
            • It’s wet and smells fishy. Leave your high heels and flip-flops at home, as you won’t get in. You might also want to avoid wearing your nicest clothes to prevent the staining fish smell.
            • Don’t bring small children or pets. The market is no zoo nor enjoyable for kids or your dog who probably will go crazy with all this food.
            • Don’t smoke a the market! This might be obvious, but considering that you can smoke in many bars and restaurants in Japan, some people think the market is no exception.
            • Don’t touch anything! You are not selling nor buying – only looking.
            • Stay close to the market on the night before your visit somewhere. Your transport options from the city to the Tsukiji Fish Market are rather limited that early morning.
            • It is cold! Even if you are visiting Tokyo during the summer month, you will need to bring a jacket or something else to keep you warm. Remember that you are looking ar frozen fish!

            Tsukiji Fish Market Opening Hours

            • Outer Market 5:00 am – 1:00 pm
            • Wholesale Market 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
            • Tuna Auction 5:00 am – 6:15 am

            Closed on Sundays, public holidays, and on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month

            Finger food stall at Tsukiji Fish Market
            There are many stalls like these selling finger food and grill meat.
            Giant scallops at Tsukiji Fish Market
            Giant scallops!
            Scallop stall at Tsukiji Fish Market
            The owner preparing the giant scallops

            Tsukiji Fish Market (築地市場) Address

            5-2-1 Tsukiji (Tsukijishijo Station, Toei Oedo Subway)

            Tel: +81 03-3542-1111

            Tsukiji Market

             

            Article first published on theFoodstuff.com

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              Inside Everland theme park
              Inside Everland

              I didn’t go to Everland when I first went to Seoul in 2014. Seeing that it was my first trip to the city then, I wanted to make sure I devoted the limited time I had on visting the popular tourist spots within Seoul city such as Gangnum and Seoul Tower and ensuring that there was enough time for shopping (yeah, the shopaholic in me made sure of that).

              However, when I visited Seoul again in Fall ‘16, I finally decided to make that trip to Everland. And I’m glad I did – it was a great way to spend the day in Seoul among endless shopping, eating and sightseeing. If you’re planning on visiting Seoul, we strongly recommend that you check out Everland.

              Everland Main entrance
              Main entrance

              Everland is a large theme park divided into 5 different zones: Global Fair, European Adventure, Zoo Topia, American Adventure and Magic Land. Depending on how crowded the park is on the day you visit, the waiting time for the more popular attractions can take up to 1.5-2 hours, so it pays to be selective. Here are my recommendations on the top attractions you should not miss in each zone.

              Global Fair Zone

              Being the closest zone to the entrance of Everland, Global Fair is the first zone that greats visitors. Some of the features here change according to the season. I was there during halloween and there were lots of carved pumpkins, ghouls and hanging skeletons throughout the park. Nothing too scary, they were rather fun looking in fact. There are lots of great photo-taking spots in the Global Fair zone and only two rides. My advice is not hang around here for too long as there are lots of other exciting attractions in the park.

              Halloween decorations at Everland
              Ghouls and ghosts during Halloween at Everland
              Popular photo 'station' upon entering the theme park
              Popular photo ‘station’ upon entering the theme park
              everland halloween
              Halloween comes alive in Everland during Oct – Nov
              Reaper at Everland
              Realistic reaper decorations like these can be seen at the theme park
              MUST TRY:
              1. Live Hologram Theatre

              Great for: all ages, especially teenagers and music lovers

              The Live Hologram Theatre gives you a pretty realistic experience of being in a live Kpop concert without having to shell out hundreds of dollars to attend a real one. With the help of great sound technology, you’ll get to enjoy performances by famous Korean stars such as Psy and Big Bang. What a way to start your Everland tour.

               

              Zoo Topia Zone

              As the name suggests, Zoo Topia is great for animal lovers. You’ll get to experience everything from wild safari rides to viewing pandas and polar bears up close. There’s also a petting zoo for you to touch and cuddle animals like sheep and rabbits. I think what differentiates Everland from many other theme parks around the world such as Disney Land and Universal Studios, is the vast number of animals housed in the park. Start your journey with the Human Sky cable ride that connects you from Global Fair to Zoo Topia and make your way down from there.

              Human Sky entrance
              Human Sky entrance
              Human sky ride
              Enjoy the scenic Everland while taking a leisurely ride down
              MUST TRY:
              1. Safari World

              Great for: All ages, especially families

              everland lions

              everland white tigers
              Don’t mind me, I’m just chilling
              everland bear
              Will work for treats
              Special Safari tour
              Go for the special tour to get a thrilling experience with tigers, bears and other animals

              There are several attractions in Zoo Topia but the one attraction you must not miss is Safari World. During the tour around the attraction, you’ll get to see white tigers and lions in close proximity. But the main stars of the ride are the big brown bears. They are well trained and can perform tricks like basketball shooting. You’re guaranteed to be squealing from all the excitement and amazement throughout this ride.

              2. Panda World

              Great for: All ages

              Entrance to Panda World
              Entrance to Panda World

              everland panda

              Who doesn’t love pandas? When in Everland, you must pay a visit to Ai Bao and Le Bao, Korea’s adorable giant pandas. I was pleasantly surprised at how close you could watch them eat, sleep and play in the beautiful glass enclosure. You’ll also be able to catch a close-up view of the the giant panda’s smaller cousin, the red panda.

              everland red panda
              Say ‘hi’ to the adorable red panda at Everland’s Panda World
              3. Fox enclosure

              Great for: All ages especially kids

              Dart in for a quick look at these adorable foxes – which have bunny-like ears. It’s a lot of fun to watch the mammals hopping and jumping around their enclosure. Check out this bunch of foxes clamouring together for warmth.

              Foxes at Everland
              We counted 5 foxes
              IF YOU HAVE SPARE TIME…
              1. Lost Valley Tour

              Great for: All ages, especially families

              If you’re up for more animal adventures and can spare the time, check out the Lost Valley Tour. This is rather similar to the Safari World where you’ll also get to see lions, tigers as well other safari animals like elephants and camels. The ride can travel on land and water – could be a new experience for some.

              Lost Valley tour
              Giraffes will stick their head into the vehicle during the tour
              2. Amazon Express

              Great for: teenagers and adults especially adventure seekers

              Watch out water phobes, you could get wet on this bumpy ride that supposedly mimicks the the choppy waters of the Amazon River. Luckily the considerate park planners have desgined a plastic shield you can use to cover yourself during the ride – ok, admittedly, it stinks a little from all that dampness and high usage. Overall, it was a fun ride where the thrill of trying to avoid being splashed by the water was greater than the rapid current adventure itself. We wish there were more visual stimulation throughout the ride.

               

              European Adventure Zone

              Ready for some serious thrill rides? You’ll get your fill of heart-stopping action at The European Adventure Zone. We hope you’re sufficiently warmed up by now.

              MUST TRY:
              1. T Express

              Great for: dare-devils

              Touted as one of the scariest roller coasters in Asia, T Express has drawn many dare-devils to Everland specially for a death-defying experience. Perhaps the most unique thing abuot the T Express is that the entire track is made of wood. The queue is naturally also one of the longest at Everland, so if you want a piece of the action, make this your first stop. Express tickets known as ‘Q Pass’ which lets you cut the queue are available at a cost. Good luck and we hope you survive the 77-degree angle drop – the world’s steepest — of the ride.

              T-Express
              T-Express has a steep drop of 77 degrees and can reach a speed of 104 km/h
              2. Colombus Adventure

              Great for: dare-devils

              If the T Express is too scary for you, check out Colombus Adventure. Not that the viking ride is any less thrilling, but at least the Colombus Adventure’s swinging movements are more predictable than the T-express’ sharp turns, bends and dips. Still, be prepared for a scream fest as you are hurtled from a height of 33 metres!

              3. Four Seasons Garden

              Great for: All ages, especially families and couples

              Do not leave Everland without a visit to the Four Seasons Garden where you’ll be treated to the sights and sweet scents of the flowers in season. The rose garden was in full bloom when I was there in Autumn and the sight was simple stunning. After dark, you’re bound to fall in love with the magical wonderland illuminated by the castle lighting all around you.

              Rose garden at Everland
              Rose garden
              Main stage at Four Seasons Garden
              Main stage at Four Seasons Garden
              IF YOU HAVE SPARE TIME…
              1. VR Adventure

              Great for: Adults and teenagers, especially adventure seekers

              If you missed the T Express for some reason, you should hop on the VR Adventure. The VR journey simulates the T Express ride, giving you a good idea of what it’s like to take the roller coaster ride – minus the heart-stopping plunges. Great for those who want to experience the thrill of a roller coaster without getting a heart attack. If you tend to feel giddy from VR rides, you may want to skip this.

              2. Mystery Mansion

              Great for: Adults and teenagers, especially horror buffs

              This attraction takes you inside a haunted mansion – but there’s no time to cower in fear as your mission is to shoot the spirits indicated by a red light with a laser gun. At the end of the ride, you’ll be able to check your score on the board as you’re exiting the attraction.

              American Adventure Zone

              Another thrill ride zone. American Adventure is modelled after the American history dating back to the 1950s and 60s. It features a time when Colombus discovered the American continent to the American pop culture icons such as Elvis Presley.

              MUST TRY:
              1. Double Rock Spin

              Great for: dare-devils

              Imagine being tossed and shoved from left to right, upside down and back upright again – with your legs dangling off the seat the whole time.

              2. Rolling X-Train

              Great for: dare-devils

              This super fast roller coaster rides is a must-try for thrill seekers. It not only features sharp plunges, there are also two 360° loops to get your adrenalin pumping. It’s perfect for anyone who loves a good roller coaster ride.

              IF YOU HAVE SPARE TIME…
              1. Sky Cruise

              Great for: All ages, especially families and couples

              Take a leisurely ride on Sky Cruise, a cable car ride that takes you around Everland. We recommend that you take the Sky Cruise after dark to take in a bird’s eye view of the beautiful lights all around the theme park while you rest those tired legs.

               

              Magic Land Zone

              This family-friendly zone is great for fun kids rides. It’s where fairy tales and childhood fantasies come true. As the attractions here are mainly designed for kids, most of the rides may not appeal to the hardcore thrill-seekers. If that’s the case, we recommend that you take a quick tour around Aesop’s Village to bring back some childhood memories.

              Carousel at Everland
              Adults and kids alike will enjoy at quick spin on this beautiful carousel
              MUST TRY:
              1. Aesop’s Village

              Great for: All ages, especially children

              Ignite your childhood memories as you wander through Aesop’s Village, which is inspired by the fables of Aesop. Meet Aesop’s Village friends like Herky the rabbit, Timmy the tortise and many more. It’s a fun tour for the young and young at heart.

              IF YOU HAVE SPARE TIME…
              1. Magic Swing

              Great for: Teenagers and adults especially adventure seekers

              Think of this as a mini Colombus Adenture. The Magic Swing is not as high and features some twists to the motion to give you a more varied ride. Great for those who want a moderate thrill ride while still able to enjoy the view of the theme park at the same time.

              Fireworks

              If you’re not too tired by nightfall, stay for the fireworks, which starts after 9pm every night. It’s a spectacular way to end your day at Seoul Everland.

               

              Seoul Everland

              Opening hours: Daily: 10am – 9pm
              Address: 199 Everland-ro, Pogog-eup, Cheoin-gu, Yongin-si, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
              Phone: +82 31-320-5000

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                Popular photo 'station' upon entering the theme park
                Popular photo 'station' upon entering the theme park

                Ready to spend a day at the magical Everland theme park in Seoul? Getting there is easy by taking bus 5002 from Gangnam Station. Just follow the directions below and you’ll arrive at Everland before you know it. Make sure you check out our must-try recommendations at Everland.

                By Bus 5002

                1. Take the train to Gangnam station (line 2)
                2. Take Exit 10
                3. From Exit 10, walk around 200m to the bus stop directly in front of WHO A.U. to take bus 5002. You can pay by T-Money or cash when you board the bus. (Fare: 2,500 won 1-way)
                4. Alight at Everland Bus Station (around 40 mintues – 1 hour journey)
                5. Take the free Everland shuttle bus (around 5 mintues), it will take you to the entrance of Everland.

                How to locate the bus stop to take 5002

                Once you exit from exit 10 at Gangnam Station, walk straight. You can soon see Massimo Dutti. Keep walking in that direction for another 5-10 minutes until you see the WHO A.U shop. The bus stop is directly in front of the shop.

                How to go to Everland: Step 1 - WHO.A.U.
                Walk straight until you see the retail shop WHO.A.U.
                How to go to Everland: Step 2 - queue at bus stop
                Just join the queue at the 5002 sign post near the bus stop
                How to go to Everland: Step 3 - board bus
                Bus 5002 interval is around 20-30 minutes

                How to go to Everland: Step 4 - Take the Everland bus

                You need to take another Everland bus to reach the theme park. This is the arrival and departure stop.

                Ticketing area at Everland
                Ticketing area at Everland
                Inside Everland
                Inside Everland

                Of course, there are other ways and buses to get there as well. Here are the others and their routes:

                5700
                Gangbyeon – Jamsil-Songpa Station – via Suseo
                No. 1500-2
                Sadang Station – South Terminal – board trade-diesel per minute (Seohyeon Station)
                1113
                Gangbyeon – Gangdong Station Gwangju City Hall – University of Foreign Studies entrance via

                Useful tips:

                • Set out early to make the best of your trip at Everland. The theme park opens from 10am-9pm daily.
                • If there are no seats on the bus when it’s your turn to board, I would prefer to wait for the next one (around 15 minutes interval). Otherwise, you would have to stand throughout the journey.
                • For bus 5002, try to board the bus at the WHO A.U bus stop. We saw some passengers boarding the bus at the next stop. The bus was very crowded by then and they ended up standing throughout the journey.
                • Pay by T-Money rather than cash as it’s more convenient
                • Have your breakfast on the bus, to save time in the morning. Or simpy take a nap on the bus. You’re going to need all the energy at the theme park.

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                  Hokkaido Shrine near Maruyama Zoo in Sapporo
                  Take your kid to a Shinto shrine.

                  Hokkaido (北海道) is one of the most scenic prefectures in Japan and one that is extremely popular with Singaporeans. From its picturesque flower fields in summer to its powdery snow in winter, Hokkaido is a destination I can never get enough of visit after visit.

                  The city is also known for having one of the freshest sea produce in Japan, thanks to its proximity to the ocean. Whether it’s the kaisen-dons (raw seafood rice bowl) or the fresh unis (sea urchins), Hokkaido is an amazing holiday destination. While all these might sound perfect for an adult, it could be potentially sleep-inducing for young kids around the age of 5. They will probably wished that they are heading to Tokyo to meet with Japanese speaking Disney characters.

                  Before you give up the notion of going to Hokkaido with young children in tow, check out my guide on the 12 things to do with kids in Hokkaido.

                  1. Squid fishing in Hakodate Morning Market

                  One of the must-visit places for visitors to Hokkiado is Hakodate, the third largest city in the northernmost island. Know for its fresh seafood and night view atop Mount Hakodate, Hakodate’s Morning Market located close to Hakodate JR Station is a great place to stop by early in the day. Opened from as early as 5 am, you can shop for fresh and dried seafood, vegetables, fruits and have your breakfast from the many stalls serving a multitude of seafood dishes. Other than the tanks and tanks of live crabs, shellfish and even octopus (we saw a huge one when we were there) at the market, kids will be thrilled to try out squid fishing here as well. There are many squid tanks around the market so it’s hard to miss. It is pretty easy to ‘hook’ up a squid with the rod provided and your kids will have no problem doing it all by themselves. These tanks are normally operated by restaurant owners so once you caught the squid, a staff will ask how you would like to ‘cook’ the squid. I asked for it to be prepared sashimi-style. The price for the squid fishing and dish is 1000 yen (S$13).

                  How to get there: Take JR train to Hakodate station and walk to Hakodate Morning Market (9-19 Wakamatsu-cho)

                  Squid fishing at Hakodate Morning Market
                  Anyone can fish a squid!

                  2. Sakura picnic (hanami) at Odori Park, Sapporo

                  This is an easy one. Pack some awesome food and snacks from the supermarket and restaurants and have an impromptu picnic at Odori Park during the cherry blossom season. It’s a great time to take a break from all that walking and sightseeing and experience the traditional Japanese custom of hanami (flower viewing). You can let them run wild in Odori park (there is even a black slide sculpture) or spending some quality time over a relaxing meal with your kids, all while basking under the beautiful shades of pink of the cherry blossoms. Another great location to do this is at Goryokaku Park in Hakodate where there are thousands of cherry trees. It is hard to time the season of the cherry blossoms, so do your research before you go. When we were there in Spring (late April), we missed the bloom in Goryokaku Park for just a few days but managed to catch it in Odori Park, Sapporo.

                  How to get there: Take subway to Odori station in Sapporo

                  The scenic Odori Park during the sakura season
                  The scenic Odori Park during the sakura season
                  Cherry blossoms in full bloom at Odori Park
                  Cherry blossoms in full bloom at Odori Park

                  3. Maruyama Zoo

                  Maruyama Zoo is one of the most popular zoos in Hokkaido. Located in Sapporo, the concept of the zoo is to recreate the natural habitat of the animals so visitors can ‘experience’ these environments. The zoo is grouped into zones like Tropical animals house, Kangaroo house, Reptile house and Kid’s Zoo, where they get a chance to feed and touch animals like rabbits and guinea pigs. There is also a large outdoor playground for kids to expend their inexhaustible energy on. Unlike the Asahikawa Zoo below, Maruyama Zoo is open all year round from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm daily. The zoo is free for anyone under the age of 16 and 600 Yen (S$7.50) for adults.

                  How to get there: Take Sapporo subway to Maruyama Koen station, walk past Maruyama Park to get to the zoo. Once you alight at Maruyama Koen station, there are signs that will guide you to the zoo. The walk to the zoo is roughly 15 minutes from exit 3 of the station.

                  Floor tiles with animals printed on them at Maruyama Koen subway station
                  Floor tiles with animals printed on them at Maruyama Koen subway station
                  At the entrance of Maruyama Zoo
                  At the entrance of Maruyama Zoo
                  A curious chimpanzee at Maruyama Zoo
                  A curious chimpanzee
                  A sleeping hyena at Maruyama Zoo
                  A sleeping hyena

                  crocodile-maruyama-zoo

                  Outdoor playground at Maruyama Zoo
                  Outdoor playground

                  4. Asahiyama Zoo

                  If you have to choose between one or the other zoo, Asahiyama Zoo (旭山動物園) is the one you want to visit. Located in central Hokkaido in the Asahikawa (旭川) prefecture, the zoo is home to about 700 animals. What’s really great about the zoo is its unique design which allows visitors to interact and see many of the animals up close.

                  If you are there during Winter, (December through March), check out the zoo’s famous Penguin Walk designed to give the chubby birds a workout so they don’t become too obese. One thing to note is that Asahiyama Zoo is closed for maintenance on certain periods of the year, so it’s best to check the zoo website for the most updated schedule.

                  How to get there: Take the JR Hokkaido train heading to Asahikawa. Take buses 41, 42 or 47 in front JR Asahikawa Station to the zoo. Check out our full guide on Asahiyama Zoo.

                  Polar bear signage at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
                  There are a few signages like this one near the entrance around to zoo. Be sure to look out for it.
                  Polar bear at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
                  The polar bear section has these glass domes known as “seal eyes” that let you view the polar bears from different angles as they roam their enclosure.
                  Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
                  The famous “Penguin Walk” happens only during Winter
                  Ramen at Asahiyama Zoo, Asahikawa, Hokkaido
                  Delicious shoyu ramen with a piece of kawaii seaweed with the face of a seal printed on it

                  5. Hokkaido Shrine

                  It is great show your kids different customs and culture with a Shrine visit. The Hokkaido Shrine in particular is a perfect place to let them observe and participate in these customs. If you are lucky, you will see couples holding their weddings in customary dress as well. Built in 1869, the shrine dedicated to Shinto deities is amazingly well maintained and is surrounded by lush nature. If you are there during the cherry blossom season around late-April to early-May, take time to stroll through the parks and trails near the shrine. Let your child participate in customs like cleansing of hands and mouth at a ceremonial water pavilion called the Temizuya. Here’s how to do it:

                  Cleansing your hands and mouth at Temizuya

                  1. Scoop up some water from the tub using a small ladle provided with your right hand and pour water over your left hand.
                  2. Repeat the same process by transferring the ladle to your left hand and pour water over your right hand.
                  3. Next, hold the ladle with your right hand and pour some water into a cupped left hand.
                  4. Use the water in the left hand to rinse your mouth and spit out the water beside the Temizuya. Don’t rinse with water directly from the ladle or swallow the water.
                  5. Clean your left hand with the remaining water and lift the ladle to let some water trickle down the handle before putting it back at its original spot.

                  Do note that you only scoop up water once in the beginning of the cleanse. It might seems like a lot of steps but it is normally completed in about 10-15 seconds. If you can’t remember the steps, just see what others are doing and do the same.

                  Another thing you can do is to offer a prayer at the shrine. To make it easy for you, just remember you have to perform “two bows, two claps and one more bow”. Here’s how to do it:

                  Offering a prayer

                  1. First, drop a coin into the offertory box that looks like a long chest with gaps.
                  2. You will see a bell with a rope beside it. Ring the bell once before beginning your prayer.
                  3. Walk toward the enshrined deity without slouching, then bow twice at a 90 degree angle.
                  4. Clap your hands twice.
                  5. Hold your palms together and bow once more to complete the prayer.
                  Hokkaido Shrine near Maruyama Zoo in Sapporo
                  Visitors to Hokkaido Shrine write their prayers on these wooden blocks.

                  6. Shiroi Koibito Park

                  This place is a toy museum, a candy store and a chocolate factory all rolled into one. And its most famous product is its Shiroi Koibito chocolate cookie – two paper-thin butter cookies sandwiching a layer of white chocolate, that you can buy all over Hokkaido. The main park is free and most kids will be busy hopping in and out of little houses (too small to fit me) upon entering in the park. There is a Shiroi Koibito Railway at the end of the park where you and your kids can board a miniature steam train to tour parts of the park. The ride lasts about 10 minutes and costs 300 Yen (S$3.80) for adults and 200 Yen (S$2.50) for kids aged 12 and below.

                  For 600 Yen (S$7.50) more, you can also visit the Shiroi Koibito Factory where the famous cookie is made. In the factory, you will get to understand the history of Shiroi Koibito and see a live cookie production line. I would say that the factory tour is probably optional as there are a lot other places in the park that you can go for free like the toy museum, rose garden and Candy Labo factory. Oh, don’t forget to get everyone a Shiroi Koibito soft serve ice cream. It’s totally worth the calories.

                  How to get there: Take the Tozai Subway Line in Sapporo to Miyanosawa Station. Take exit no. 5 and walk for about 10 minutes to the chocolate factory.

                  Glass house at Shiroi Koibito Park
                  Glass house
                  Shiroi Koibito production line
                  Shiroi Koibito production line
                  The 2nd floor of the Shiroi Koibito shop houses an impressive collection of toys
                  The 2nd floor of the Shiroi Koibito shop houses an impressive collection of toys

                  7. BAKE cheese tart

                  Been reading about the BAKE cheese tart that is all the rage now in Singapore? The one you have to queue 3 hours at ION Orchard to get a bite of? Well guess what, you don’t have to queue at the Sapporo JR station outlet. The pastry is well-loved for its crispy baked tart dough and luscious, soft cheese mousse made from blending three types of cheese: cheese from Hakodate and Betsukai, both in Hokkaido and cheese from France.

                  The aromatic cheese tart is an absolute kid’s favourite and if you allow it, they will have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

                  How to get there: Sapporo JR Station

                  Kinotoya BAKE cheese tart at Sapporo
                  You will not get sick of eating this cheese tart everyday

                  8. Otaru and its amazing desserts

                  Otaru is a small city just off of Sapporo that you can get to most places on foot. Whether it’s the scenic Otaru Canal or the Sakaimachi Street, Otaru offers plenty of opportunities to take selfies as well as wefies with your children. Otaru is also famous for its desserts and snacks. The number of dessert cafes in this small town is just insane! Our top dessert picks for kids are LeTAO’s creamy baked cheese cake of the Double Fromage and soft serve ice cream from Rokkatei (六花亭). For more on Otaru, check out our ‘6 things to do and places you absolutely must check out when in Otaru‘ feature.

                  How to get there: Take a JR train to Otaru from Sapporo JR Station.  Here are 6 things to do and places you absolutely must check out when in Otaru. We recommend getting the Sapporo-Otaru Welcome pass for JPY1,700 (S$21.50) that comes with a one-day pass for unlimited use of Sapporo’s three subway lines. You can use the pass for the Shiroi Koibito Park and Maruyama Zoo visit.

                  leTao double fromage cheesecake and brulee tart
                  leTao double fromage cheesecake and brulee tart
                  8-layer soft serve at Otaru
                  This soft serve at Otaru is an 8-layer giant cone
                  Otaru canal in Otaru
                  The perfect selfie and wefie spot in Otaru

                  9. Cycle around Hokkaido

                  There are many towns in Hokkaido that are ideal for cycling as well. Whether your kids are old enough to cycling on their own or simply being a pillion rider, cycling in Hokkaido offers an unique way of exploring parts of the prefecture. My top picks would be to cycle in Hakodate and Biei. Hakodate, due to its quiet and laid-back vibe, has little traffic and is ‘kerb-friendly’ at traffic junctions. Cycling here allows you to explore places like Chiyodai Park and Motomachi Bay area easily. The flower fields of daisies, lavender, sunflowers and poppies in the town of Biei makes cycling a leisure and enjoyable experience too. Cycling here allows you to stop anytime you want for pictures and simply taking in the sights.

                  10. Hell Valley (Jigokudani) trail and performance

                  The town of Noboribetsu is famous for its onsen hotels and the Hell Valley (Jigokudani). The natural geysers and strong sulphuric scent makes this place a great location for the kids to have a first hand geographic experience. The Jigokudani has a easy-to-walk trail where you can bring your kids through the different landscapes, lush forestation and hot springs. Follow the trail and you will reach a look out point overlooking the otherworldly Oyunuma Pond with smoke spewing out of its surface. A breathtaking view is absolutely worth the 20 mins trek. On the way down, you can take a break and spend some time soaking your foot in a hot spring as well.

                  On selected nights, the town also features Oni (devil) fire dancing performance. Actors will dress up in Oni costumes and dance to the rhythm of drums. The performance comes with a series of handheld fireworks, giving the performance a surreal and dream-like atmosphere. Do stay on after the performance to take pictures with the performers.

                  How to get there: From Sapporo JR station, take JR train to Noboribetsu station. At the station, transit to a bus to Noboribetsu Onsen. The bus ride is around 10 minutes and costs 340 Yen per person.

                  Oni statue at Noboribetsu
                  The town is full of Oni (devil) statues
                  hell valley noboribetsu
                  Hell Valley
                  Oyunuma pond noboribetsu
                  Oyunuma pond
                  Foot bath at Noboribetsu
                  Foot bath
                  A performer taking photos with the crowd
                  A performer taking photos with the crowd

                  11. Sapporo Children’s Puppet Theatre “Kogumaza”

                  Put down your iPads and iPhones for a couple of hours and go really ‘old school’ at Sapporo Children’s Puppet Theatre “Kogumaza”, located inside Nakajima Park. The theatre here is dedicated to hosting puppet show performances and making these puppet characters come alive for children. The unique theatre organises puppet shows every weekend and during long school holidays, run these shows daily.

                  If you are worried about restless and noisy children, fret not. The theatre actually encourages children to express themselves and be as interactive as possible even when the show is on. The theatre also offer puppet classes for both children and adults. Most of the shows are less than an hour long and charges an affordable 300 Yen (S$3.80) for children above the age of 3 and 1,000 Yen (S$12.60) guests above the age of 18.

                  How to get there: Take the subway to Nakajima Koen Station on the Namboku Line. The theatre is about a 1-2 minutes walk once you exit the station.

                  Sapporo Children’s Puppet Theatre “Kogumaza”
                  Photo source: welcome.city.sapporo.jp

                   

                  12. Random playgrounds in Hakodate

                  One of the advantages of going on foot and public transport is the opportunity to soak in the sights and sounds of the attractive country at your own pace. On top of that, you will also get to explore unique spots that are hard to get to with self-driving. In Hakodate, there are many playgrounds like these with basic stuff like a swing, slide, and parallel bars to play with. Go old school and enjoy some outdoorsy fun with your kids. They can have their iPads back when the trip is over.

                  Playground at Hakodate, Hookaido
                  There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s only a swing.

                   

                  If you have places to recommend, places you want us to check out or suggestions on things to do with kids in Hokkaido, do let us know by posting in our comment section below.

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                    View of Bhutan rice paddies

                    For those who still don’t know, Bhutan is a sovereign state located in the Eastern Himalayas in South Asia. The country is better known for being the happiest country on earth, measuring its progress using “Gross National Happiness” instead of the usual Gross Domestic Product.

                    First six-night helicopter tours in Bhutan

                    Luxury hotel, COMO Uma Bhutan, hopes to make the kingdom even ‘happier’, at least for its visitors, by introducing Bhutan’s first six-night helicopter adventure itinerary that will take guests deep into the Himalayan Kingdom. “We are thrilled to be launching a six-night helicopter itinerary that allows our guests access to some of the Kingdom’s further flung wonders and to show travelers authentic Bhutanese life. We aspire to bolster tourism to Bhutan with remarkable trips on a grand scale,” says James Low, General Manager of COMO Uma Bhutan.

                    COMO Uma Punakha and a view of Punakha Valley
                    COMO Uma Punakha and a view of Punakha Valley
                    COMO Uma Paro in Paro Valley
                    COMO Uma Paro in Paro Valley

                    The ‘Scenic Heli-Adventure’ takes your through to Bhutan’s four key valleys: The Laya Valley otherwise known as Bhutan’s ‘hidden paradise’, the tropical Punakha Valley with its distinctive fortresses called dzongs, the Valley of Paro, fanned by rice paddies and ancient temples, and the Labatama Valley, home to the Turquoise Lake and to Bhutan’s nomadic people.

                    Guests that opt for the helicopter tours will be taken on two guided helicopter trips, allowing them to immerse themselves in dramatic flyovers over homesteads, farmland, pine forests, lush valleys and hard-to-reach areas. For us, this is definitely the most exciting part of the itinerary. Furthermore, you get the opportunity to record breathtaking aerial videos and images.

                    Guided hikes and excursions

                    When not in the air, guests will get a chance to get up close and personal with a series of guided excursions to take them deep into Bhutan’s mystical mountainous regions. This includes a hike through Labatama Valley, home to the almost inaccessible ‘Utsho Tsho,’ or Turquoise Lake. If you are lucky, you may get to see yaks, marmots or large squirrels and rare blue sheep herds along the trail.

                    Of course, an itinerary to Bhutan is not complete without a visit to the Taktsang ‘Tiger’s Nest’ Monastery, one of Bhutan’s most important pieces of architecture in upper Paro Valley. Legend states that this is the cliffside where Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava), a Buddhist master landed on the back of a ying tigress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet. COMO says that this is one of the more challenging treks on the itinerary, consisting of a steep two-hour climb to the Tiger’s Nest viewpoint.

                    Luxury stays

                    The itinerary comes with a four nights stay at COMO Uma Paro and two nights at COMO Uma Punakha lodges and comes with a complimentary body treatment or yoga session at COMO Shambhala Retreat. Also, COMO Uma Bhutan will help you arrange from the entire booking, including flights via Druk Air or Bhutan
                    Airlines and visa application processing.

                    COMO Uma Paro entrance
                    COMO Uma Paro entrance
                    COMO Uma Paro courtyard
                    COMO Uma Paro courtyard

                    After reading all that, one thing you are probably wondering is “how much is all that ‘happiness’ going to cost me”? Well, a two person booking with a COMO Uma Bhutan Valley Room is going for S$38,109 (USD 27,397)! Do note that prices might change due to the helicopter flight bookings. The package comes with:

                    • Two private guided helicopter flights
                    • Four nights at COMO Uma Paro
                    • Two nights at COMO Uma Punakha
                    • Full-board benefits include a private English-speaking Bhutanese guide
                    • 60 minute COMO Shambhala body treatment
                    • Complimentary yoga class at COMO Uma Paro (not available on Sundays)
                    • Use of all facilities and complimentary WIFI
                    • Private airport transfers and transport around Bhutan
                    • All Bhutanese government visa and royalty fees

                    Who says money can’t buy happiness.

                    Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Limited
                    These will be the helicopters taking you on the tours.

                    For more information about COMO Uma Paro and COMO Uma Punakha and other itineraries by the luxury hotel, go to COMO Uma Paro’s website.

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                      Fresh Uni at Hakodate Morning Market
                      Fresh Uni at Hakodate Morning Market

                      Hakodate( 函館) is the place to be if you’re a seafood lover. The city is famous for its Hakodate Morning Market and the myriad restaurants touting fresh sashimi, seafood hotpots and Hokkaido’s well-loved king crab. However, that’s not the say that food is the only attraction in Hakodate. Places like the Hakodate Bay Area, Mount Hakodate and Goryokaku Park are some must-sees.

                      Not a seafood lover? We’re got other recommendations for you too. Check out our feature on ‘where to eat in Hakodate if you’re not into seafood’.

                      All in all, we’d recommend setting aside 2-3 days for Hakodate.

                      Top things to do in Hakodate

                      1. Mount Hakodate

                      Hakodateyama, Hakodate, Hokkaido Prefecture 040-0000, Japan

                      Most people prefer to visit Mount Hakodate at night. Indeed, the night view from the summit is breathtaking.

                      The best way to reach the  summit station of Mount Hakodate is via the Hakodateyama Ropeway. It’s a three-minute ride that’s both breathtaking and thriling, especially if you have a fear of heights. But if not, the best spot to stand in the ropeway is near the right-hand window towards the back of the car. You’ll get a good view of the city as the car is being hoisted up the 334- meter mountain. A one-way trip costs JPY660 or JPY1200 both ways. The ropeway operates during the coolder months between October and April.

                      Night view of the bay area from Mount Hakodate
                      Night view of the bay area from Mount Hakodate

                      During Mid April to November, the main public transport to the summit station is by bus. But do note that the bus can get very congested so don’t carry too much things with you. Also, there’s a pretty long wait for the bus of at least 20 minutes. During our trip to the summit, we’ve also had the misfortune of getting a guide who spoke halting English, so we couldn’t understand half of the things she was saying. The bus departs from Hakodate Station and takes around 30 minutes to reach the peak of Mount Hakodate. It costs JPY400 for a one-way ride.

                      When you reach the summit, take your time to enjoy the panaromic view of the city below, which is shaped like a hand fan. Depending on the season, the scenery changes. On a fine day, for instance, you’ll get a clear view of the dazzling night lights below, whereas on a foggy Summer’s day, the view may be obstructed by a veil of fog. The souvenir shops at the summit station are quite well stocked with food gift items and other knick knacks. As the shops are quite very popular with tourists, you might want to set aside some time to browse around. We had the BBQ king crab in a small portion. The flesh was very fresh and sweet.

                      2. Goryokaku Park (五稜郭)

                      43-9 Goryōkakuchō, 五稜郭町 Hakodate-shi, Hokkaido 040-0001, Japan

                      If you’re in Hakodate ‘s Gorykaku Park during Sakura season, you’re in for a treat! The park is adorned by some 1,600 cherry blossom and Japanese wisteria trees in bloom. Dressed in a sea of beautiful pink cherry blossom and layers of cascading lilac and purple wisteria, the scenery at the park is truly a sight to behold, not to mention the fresh flora scent that perfumes the air. Autumn is another popular month to visit the park to see the vibrant red and yellow foilage of Fall.

                      Cherry blossoms in full bloom in Hokkaido
                      Cherry blossoms in full bloom
                      Yugura Shrine at Goryokaku Park
                      Yugura Shrine at Goryokaku Park
                      Goryokaku Park during autumn
                      Beautiful autumn colours at the park
                      Visitor Centre at Goryokaku Park
                      Visitor Centre at Goryokaku Park

                      The other attraction at Goryokaku Park is the 107-meter tower overlooking the park and the star-shaped structure that is the Goryokaku Fortress, built to commemorate the Battle of Hakodate. To get to Goryokaku Park, take the tram to Goryokaku Koen-mae Station. The park is an eight-minute walk from the station.

                      Be prepared for a good walk in this massive park so comfortable shoes are a must. Pack a sandwich and drink to enjoy with the awesome scenery.

                      3. Hakodate Bay area

                      If you only have time for one place in Hokodate, we’d recommend you spend it at the Hakodate Bay area. Over there, you’ll get an expansive view of the beautiful port. Built more than 100 years ago, the rows of red-brick warehouses (Kanenori Red Brick Warehouse) along the bay, that have come to symbolise the Hakodate Bay area, have now been converted into souvenir shops and restaurants. One of best and cheapish way to enjoy the million-dollar view is at Hokodate’s exclusive fast food restaurant Lucky Pieriot. Just order your meal and park yourself at a table overlooking the bay.

                      View of the Hakodate bay area
                      View of the Hakodate bay area

                      The Hakodate Bay area is filled with restaurants specialising in seafood. If you keen to try the famous king crab, note that it costs around JPY12,000 for a whole crab, so it’s best for larger groups. The crab can have it prepared in different ways such as in soup and BBQ. If a whole crab is too much, just opt for a smaller portion instead.

                      4. Hakodate Morning Market (函館朝市)

                      9-19 Wakamatsuchō, 若松町 Hakodate-shi, Hokkaido 040-0063, Japan

                      Want to get some ultra fresh seafood at affordable prices? Then don’t miss the Hakodate Morning Market, which opens daily from as early as 5am (from 6am during winter) to noon. The shop owners are generally quite friendly and will offer you food samples to try. Don’t hesitate to try them and buy home your favourite snacks.

                      With over 100 stalls touting the freshest catch of the day, you can really have your fill of the freshest sashimi, uni (sea urchin), salmon eggs and squid. One of the specialties of Hakodate is squid sashimi (also known as ‘dancing squid’). The dish is called dancing squid because the sea creature is still moving when it is served!

                      Salmon at Hakodate Morning Market
                      You can see seafood of all kinds at the market.
                      Shellfish, clams, oysters at the Hakodate Morning Market
                      Shellfish, clams, oysters, you name it they have it.
                      Entrance of Hakodate Morning Market
                      Entrance of Hakodate Morning Market
                      Interior of Hakodate Morning Market
                      Plan your Hakodate Morning Market visit early in the day.
                      Street view of Hakodate Morning Market
                      The market is not big but they have plenty to offer.

                      While you’re at the Hakodate Morning Market, take some time to walk through the other sections of the market as well. There’s an area specialising in fruits and vegetables that you should check out. It’s a great place to pick up a Japanese melon, persimmons, grapes or any other fruits in season. Japanese melons are expensive, costing around JPY5,000 and upwards each but definitely worth it. You can also buy them by the slice for around JPY300-400. Sweet, juicy and perfumed by a slight melon musk, the fruit is a must try!

                      To get to Hakodate Morning Market, take the JR Hakodate Station. The market is a stone’s throw from the station.

                      manhole cover in Hakodate
                      You can see these unique manhole covers all over Hakodate