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    Snowy slopes of Tomamu Mountains

    For a travel destination as picturesque as Hokkaido, travelling there once or twice is simply not enough. If you have been following our travel section, you would know that Hokkaido is a place we cover most extensively (click here for our Hokkaido features). Even though we have been there a couple of times, one activity we have been dying to try out is skiing.

    With the launch of Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido, its second all-inclusive holiday resort on Japan’s second largest island, the thought of making another trip there to experience the powdery snow-capped slopes of Hokkaido is definitely swimming in our heads. The new resort is roughly 90 minutes away from New Chitose Airport and an express coach will send you straight there.

    Snowy slopes of Tomamu Mountains
    Snowy slopes of Tomamu Mountains

    Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido features a total of 29 ski courses that span a total length of 21.5 kilometres as well as 4 ski trail ratings suitable for all levels of skiiers. The resort provides ski services like pre-arrival equipment rental, ski in and out access, as well as all-inclusive ski and snowboard lessons for guests aged 4 and above with professional ski instructors. This certainly makes things a lot easier for families and first-timers like us who have no idea what to prepare for a ski trip.

    If you are wondering if the resort is only suitable for holidayers with just skiing in their itinerary, you couldn’t be more wrong. Club Med has a slew of activities that will certainly drain all your adrenaline and then some. Activities like mountain biking adventure in the snow, snow trekking and snow sledging will certainly provide a lot of instagrammable opportunities to make the trip one to remember. If you like, you can also pay a visit to a nearby ice village where you can ice skate to a ice hotel and have a drink at Bar Icewood. For family with kids, Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido also offers a suite of kid-friendly activities and exclusive ski slopes for suitable for beginner and intermediate levels.

    Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido - resort room

    For now, we can only imagine how it feels to kick back and enjoy the amazing landscape from the comfort of Club Med’s room after a full day of outdoor adventure and activities.

    For more details on the resort, pricing information and promotions, visit Club Med Tomamu Hokkaido.

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      Noboribetsu
      The devil welcomes you to Noboribetsu

      Planning a trip to Hokkaido? Lucky you! Everything from Hokkaido’s amazing food, rich culture to picturesque scenery is sure to wow its visitors. My favourite city in Hokkaido is Hakodate, thanks to its beautiful bay area and what seems like endless supply of fresh, succulent seafood. Check out our list of the 15 things to do in Hokkaido to make your trip a memorable one.

      1. Enjoy Kaisen Don

      How Singaporean to pick a food item to kick off a must-do list! But didn’t they say that the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach? First on our list of dishes to try is the kaisen don or seafood bowl. Whether your favourite seafood is swordfish, salmon, snow crab or those juicy ikura fish eggs, there’s such a wide variety of kaisen don in Hokkaido that you’re bound to find one that suits your palate. Some of the best places to enjoy kaisen don is at a seafood market like the Hakodate Morning Market or the Sapporo Nijo Market.

      Kaisen don in Hokkaido
      You can have Kaisen don for breakfast
      Kaisen don in Hokkaido
      Kaisen don for lunch…
      Kaisen don in Hokkaido
      and Kaisen don for dinner. Burp
      Kaisen Don in Otaru
      The mother of Kaisen don. Look at the variety of seafood!

      2. Experience Winter at Asahiyama Zoo

      Enjoy your own version of the penguin march at this well-loved zoo. During certain periods in winter when the ground is covered with snow, visitors get to walk alongside the adorable, waddling birds. It’s guaranteed to be a fun-filled experience for kids and family. Do note, however, that the zoo is closed for a few days during winter so make sure you check the opening schedule on the Asahiyama Zoo website before you go.

      Penguins at Asahiyama Zoo
      Playful penguins at Asahiyama Zoo

      3. Savour a sea urchin or uni

      Fresh sea urchin can be found in various restaurants or seafood markets throughout Hokkaido for about 1,000 yen a piece. Savour the soft and creamy orange flesh of this sea creature and you’ll remember its sweet taste for life! Oishii! Some may choose to have their uni slightly torched but we think fresh is best.

      Fresh Uni at Hakodate Morning Market
      Feast on fresh uni at Hakodate Morning Market

      4. Have Soup curry

      Unlike the usual Japanese curry, soup curry is thinner in consistency as the gravy combines soup and curry – thus its name. There’s different levels of customisation depending on where you eat, including choice of meat, the soup base, amount of rice and down to the spiciness of the curry. it’s very popular among the locals in places like Sapporo city – so don’t miss this special culinary treat.

      5. Organise a picnic during sakura viewing season

      Every year, tens of thousands of tourists flock to Hokkaido and parts of Japan for the sakura or cherry blossom viewing in Spring time. If you’re lucky enough to catch the Hanami or cherry blossom viewing activity, why not join in the local practice of setting up a picnic at these scenic spots too? Just pack a picnic mat, bento and some snacks and enjoy the best of what nature has to offer.

      The scenic Odori Park during the sakura season
      The scenic Odori Park in Sapporo during the sakura season

      6. Shop at Don Quijote

      No shop is equally ecclectic or well stocked as Don Quijote, which is located across Japan rather than just Hokkaido alone. It’s your one-stop shop for everything from Japanese snacks to make-up to Halloween masks and cosplay supplies. Every aisle is crammed with supplies so take your time to shop here.

      7. Enjoy the produce of the season

      Take a walk along the fresh produce section of the supermarket or farmers’ markets in Hokkaido and you’ll find a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. But the best produce are often the fruit or crops of the season, not to mention it’s more environmental too. For instance, honeydew and persimmon are the sweetest and most abundant in Autumn, while strawberries are the best enjoyed in Spring.

      Honeydew are seasonal produce in Hokkaido
      For big groups, go for a whole honeydew. A mid-range one costs around 1500 – 2500 Yen

      8. Attend a festival

      The Japanese simply love festivals! There are various festivals to celebrate the season, religion, cultural practices and other special occasions, so plan your travel date accordingly. Some of the most popular festivals include the Sapporo Snow Festival in February, the Kamome Island Festival in Esashi, Hokkaido to celebrate the sea in July, the Kachimai Fireworks Festival in August and the Yokata Andon (fighting lantern) festival at the end of August. Did we mention there’s even the Nemuro Sanma festival in September which worships fish!

      A performer taking photos with the crowd
      Devil and Fireworks performance in Noboribetsu

      N9. Visit the Hakodate Morning Fish Market

      If you visit the serene coastal town of Hakodate, the morning market is a must. It is breeming with fresh and cooked seafood every day of the week. Go on an empty stomach and enjoy your fill of seafood like grilled scallops, sashimi, seasoned cuttlefish as well as snacks like mochi and hokkaido milk ice cream. Keep a lookout for the prized whole tuna being transported around the market by fishermen. The occurrence never fails to raise awe!

      Interior of Hakodate Morning Market
      Plan your Hakodate Morning Market visit early in the day when it’s less crowded
      Hakodate Morning Market
      Crabs in abundance at the Hakodate Morning Market
      Street view of Hakodate Morning Market
      The market may not be big but it has plenty to offer

      10. Eat at Lucky Pierrot

      Another exclusive place of Hokodate is fast food chain Lucky Pierrot. The most famous item on the menu is the Chinese Chicken Burger which is served with a sesame specked bun and some fresh lettuce. The Fried noodles with chicken combo and Original Curry + Chicken are also very delicious and good value for money. There are a lot of other dishes and burgers to try so take your time to pick and choose what appeals to you.

      Lucky Pierrot stall at Hakodate
      Look at the number of items on the menu!
      Lucky Pierrot stall at Hakodate
      One of the many Lucky Pierrot outlets at Hakodate
      Chinese chicken burger at Lucky Pierrot
      The popular Chinese chicken burger at Lucky Pierrot

      11. Bask in an open roof onsen

      Going to an onsen is a popular experience in Hokkaido but more then just any onsen, pick one with an outdoor bath.  One of the most memorable onsen experiences I’ve had is at an outdoor onsen at Mount Kurodate in Asahikawa during Winter where I got to enjoy the contrasting temperatues of the cold surrounds while being submerged in the heated spring water, all whilst soaking in the the amazing views of the mountain. Simply out of this world.

      Open air onsen at Sounkyo, Hokkaido
      Open air onsen at Sounkyo
      Open air onsen at Sounkyo, Hokkaido
      Best time for open air onsen? When it’s snowing.

      12. Stay at a ryokan

      Get the full Japanese experience by staying at one of the ryokan or guest houses in Hokkaido. Prices per night vary quite widely depending on the ryokan, location and what’s included – such as meals and whether there’s a private onsen. You can also choose one with a personal onsen attached to your room, but those would come at a higher price. During my trip to Hokkaido in Oct 16, I spent a night at the Oyada Kiyomizuya ryokan in the popular onsen town of Noboribetsu and the overall experience was simply unforgettable.

      Ryokan at Noboribetsu
      A popular ryokan in Noboribetsu
      Ryokan at Noboribetsu
      Inside of a traditional Japanese ryokan
      Breakfast spread at a ryokan
      Waking up to a sumptuous breakfast spread!

      13. Take a ropeway

      If you plan to visit a mountain in Hokkaido, take the chance to ride on a ropeway if it’s available. It’s a scenic (or thrilling for some) to get to the top of a mountain in the elevator where you can get to a vantage point to enjoy the surrounding scenary. Some of the popular ropeways can be found at places like Mt Moiwa in Sapporo city and Mount Kurodake in Asahikawa.

      Ropeway up to Daisetsuzan
      Ropeway up to Daisetsuzan, a pretty thrilling experience

      14. Bring home a piece of Otaru

      The quaint, European-eque town of Otaru (about an hour train ride from Sapporo) is littered with ceramic and glassware shops. You’ll find nifty items like one-of-a-kind, handcrafted pottery, sake glass, music box made from glass and more.Take your time to visit some of these shops and bring home a piece of Otaru for friends and family.

      15. Check out the Otokoyama Sake Brewery Museum

      The range of sake or Japanese rice wine in Japan is mind-boggling. It ranges from under S$10 a bottle to the hundreds. One of the most popular sake in Hokkaido is produced by Otokoyama. If you visit Asahikawa, drop by the Otokoyama Sake Brewery Museum where you’ll get to see the brewery behind a glass panel, the equipment used for making sake and most importantly get a tasting session! The brewery is located at

      079-8412 Hokkaido Prefecture, Asahikawa, Nagayama 2 Jo, 7 Chome−1−3.

       

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        Man sitting on bench at Odori Park

        Sapporo is the largest city of Hokkaido. But due to its accessibility and location, it’s also commonly thought of as simply a stopover city, rather than a destination for the many tourists who fly into New Chitose airport in Sapporo. With the many attactions and unique experiences, Sapporo is really more than just as a stopover or connection city. Whether you’re after some sight-seeing, something fun for the kids and family to do or a vibrant nightlife culture, Sapporo will not disappoint. Check out our guide of fun things to do in Sapporo.

        1.Odori Park 大通公園

        Great for: families, couples, solo travellers

        Every year, major festivals and celebrations are celebrated at Odori Park. There’s the Summer Festival and Yosakoi Soran festival both taking place in summer and in winter, there’s the Snow Festival and White Illumination to look forward to. Depending on the time you visit Sapporo, you may get to catch ones of these exciting events. But even if you didn’t manage to time your visit to coincide with the celebrations, Odori Park is still worth a visit. Clean and well kept, it’s a great place to watch the best of what the different seasons has to offer – lush greenery in spring, yellow and red foilage in autumn and white and snowy scene in winter. Don’t forget to stop by the landmark TV Tower at the eastern side of the park for some selfies. One of my most enjoyable moments in Hokkaido was spent at Odori park having a bento picnic amidst the park’s beautiful surroundings.

        Fountain at Odori Park, Sapporo
        Fountain at Odori Park
        Cherry blossoms, Odori Park
        Cherry blossoms in full bloom
        Mario cosplay at Odori Park, Sapporo
        Who knows, you might get to see Mario too!

        Address: Next to Odori Subway Station or 10- minute walk south of JR Sapporo Station

        2. Shiroi Koibito Park 白色戀人公園

        Great for: families, young kids

        Shiroi Koibito cookies are the Tokyo Bananas of Hokkaido – every tourist brings home some. The Shiroi Koibito Park in Sapporo is also very popular and consists of the Shiroi Koibito Factory where the dessert is made, Cookiecraft Studio, a dessert café, a rose garden and a vintage toy museum. For a small fee, you can take a tour of the factory and try designing your cookie at the Cookiecraft studio. Don’t want to pay for entrance fees (like me)? Well, there are a few free – and rather enjoyable – activities too. Inside the dessert cafe on the first floor, there’s a candy-making kitchen to showcase the fascinating process of how hard candies are being pulled and twisted into shape before being cut into small, bite-sized portions. Also free is the toy museum on the second floor which exhibits a wide range of vintage toys. My favourite part of the park is the rose garden where you not only get to admire the beautiful flowers but also enjoy the views of the European style courtyard and buildings in the park.

        Address: Miyanosawa 2-jo 2 Chome, Nishi-ku, Sapporo 063-0052

        Glass house at Shiroi Koibito Park

        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
        Shiroi Koibito production line
        Shiroi Koibito production line

        3. Mount Moiwa 藻岩山

        Great for: families, couples, first timers to Sapporo, photograhy enthusiasts

        Perhaps one of the best ways to view a city is from a distance and for that, we recommend Mount Moiwa, located in the middle of Sapporo city. To get to the peak, you can ride the ropeway (1100 yen) that takes you from the base to three quarters of the mountain to a transfer station. You can continue on to the peak by taking a small cablecar (600 yen). There is an observation deck and a restaurant called The Jewels at the summit. Guess how else you can get to the peak? Yes, it’s possible to hike up there too! There are 5 five hiking trails ranging from 2.4km to 4.5km, and the best time to do this is during Summer where the weather is conducive. You can visit Mount Moiwa in the day or night time and the views are vastly different – though both amazing. Personally I’m biased and find the dazzling lights after dark more romantic, so I figured the best time to go would be 1-2 hours before sunset. Once you’re at the peak, take your time to enjoy the breathtaking views of the cityscape and the surrounding areas such as the Ishikari Bay. We wouldn’t recommend you hike back in the dark so make sure you catch the last transport back to the base of the mountain.

        Address: Minami Ward, Sapporo, Hokkaido Prefecture 005-0041, Japan

        4. Maruyama Zoo 札幌市円山動物園

        Great for: families, animal lovers, kids

         Maruyama Zoo is the first zoo in Hokkaido – and a very well-kept one. The animals look well cared for in the environment created specially to suit their living habits. What’s also great about Maruyama Zoo is that it doesn’t just allow you to view the animals in their natural habitats, but also lets you interact with some of them. In the “Kids’ Zoo”, you can pat and feed animals like squirrels, rabbits, young kangaroos and other small animals. Don’t miss this chance to get in touch with nature.

        Address: 064-0959 Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo, Chuo Ward, Miyagaoka, 3 Chome−1

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

        5. Sapporo Beer Museum

        Great for: Beer lovers

        In case you’re wondering, there are other stuff to do at the Sapporo Beer Museum apart from, well, chuggling down a beer or two. For 500 yen, you can take a guided tour of the museum to learn about the history of beer in Japan and the process of beer making. Also popular here is the all-you-can-eat mutton BBQ at the adjoining Sapporo Beer Garden. Now, if beer is your thing, you’ll fit right in here. There’s an all-you-can-drink beer buffet for some serious imbibing. Don’t want a hangover the next day? Go for the beer sampling session instead.

        Address: 065-8633 Hokkaido Prefecture, Sapporo, Higashi Ward, Kita 7 Johigashi, 9 Chome−1−1

        Opening hours: 11.30am – 8pm (entry until 7.30pm), Tues – Sunday. Closed on Public Holidays.

        6. Pole Town

        Great for: ladies, shoppers

        Raining or too cold to explore Sapporo? No worries. Time to hit the underground shopping. In case you’re wondering, by “underground”, we literally meant underground — not the dark, dodgy stuff. The 400m-long Pole Town begins from Odori Station and stretches all the way to Susukino Staion on the Namboku Line. There are hundreds of shops selling clothes, shoes, accessories and kawaii knick knacks waiting to be explored. Prices are relatively affordable so shop to your heart’s content here.

        Address: Pole Town – Minami 1-jo Nishi 3-chome〜Minami 4-jo Nishi 3-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo

        Tanukikoji shopping arcade above Pole Town, Sapporo
        Continue shopping at Tanukikoji shopping arcade just above Pole Town

        7. Susukino district

        Great for: Party goers, couples, night owls

        Welcome to Susukino, the nightlife district of Sapporo where the streets are decked with bars, restaurants, cafes and pachinko shops! Take your hit at one of noisy pachinko machines – or check yourself into the first gitzy love hotel that tickles your fancy — just for the fun of it. Well, why the heck not? Whatver it is, take your time to explore the 4,000 or so restaurants and bars in the Susukino, the largest entertainment district of Northern Japan.

        Nearest station: Susukino station

        8. Sapporo TV Tower

        Great for: Families, couples

        The Sapporo TV Tower is located on the east of Odori Park. If you don’t know where’s the east, just stand in the middle of the park and look to either side, you won’t miss it. The tower offers a 360° view of Sapporo and has become one of Sapporo’s landmarks since its completion in 1956.

        The vicinity around the tower is also a great place for a picnic or a short rest. You can access the souvenir shop located on the 3rd floor to check out some unique collectibles like fridge magnets and buy your tickets for access to the observation deck located more that 90 meters above ground. We recommend reaching the place around 5pm in the afternoon and stay till past 6pm to observe the changing scene from day to dusk.

        Address: Odori Nishi 1-chome, Chuo-ku, Sapporo
        Opening hours: 9.00am – 10:00pm
        Admission fee: Adults ¥720, High School Students ¥600, Junior High School Students ¥400

        Walk to Sapporo TV Tower
        Walk to Sapporo TV Tower
        Sapporo TV tower at 5.30pm
        The observatory deck is 90 metres above ground

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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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            Beach in Palawan (photo by Shubert Ciencia on Flickr)

            Southeast Asia is well known for its island getaways, with Bali, Phuket and Boracay among the most popular island locations in the world to kick back and relax.

            But if you’re looking for other wonderful gems in the region, look no further than this list of treasures we’ve unearthed: some of the lesser-known, yet most beautiful islands in Southeast Asia that you should definitely consider visiting.

            Nikoi Island

            Nikoi island (photo: Nikoi Island)

            85km and 2.5 hours by ferry away from Singapore, this private island accommodates up to over 50 people at any one time, with no plans to expand on that number.

            This limited quota gives an impression of exclusivity – and indeed it can be considered as such – since 50 people on a 15 hectare island is still pretty private.

            Relax along the white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, and if you’re bored of doing nothing, the island offers a wealth of land and sea activities such as rock climbing, mountain biking, diving, and kayaking.

            Palawan

            Palawan (photo by Christian Ronnel on Flickr)

            While Boracay and Cebu are the more popular island getaways in the Philippines, many locals will tell you that Palawan is where you can find paradise.

            These islands, which stretch from Mindoro in the northeast to Borneo in the southwest, is widely acclaimed as the “last ecological frontier” of the Philippines.

            Looking for pristine beaches? Head down to El Nido and Coron, where the sand is known to be sugary fine and white. Don’t forget to also visit Puerta Princesa Subterranean River National Park, which comprises of an incredibly beautiful underground river system. The National Park is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as recognised as one of the New7Wonders of Nature.

            Gili Islands, Lombok

            Gili Meno (photo by Sergi Hill on Flickr)

            Part of the trinity of Gilis (gili means “small island” in Bahasa Indonesia) off Lombok – Gili Trawangan, Gili Air and Gili Meno – the latter two islands are still largely quaint and off-the-beaten-path while the former is the largest in size, and most touristy.

            If you like the Bali party vibe, then you’d want to visit Gili Trawangan. This is the place to be if a rowdy full moon party is what you’re looking for.

            Gili Air has an established, yet off-the-beaten path vibe, which is perfect for families as well as the casual island visitor. Activities at Gili Air include diving and surfing.

            Head down to Gili Meno and you’ll find that life slows to a crawl. It is the most laid back among the three islands, and it also has the nicest beaches.

            Togean Islands

            Togean Islands (Photo from Elena's Travelgram)
            Togean Islands (Photo from Elena’s Travelgram)

            The Togean Islands are commonly referred to as the Maldives of Southeast Asia, but comparing this island paradise to its more well known brethren does it a bit of an injustice, since it exudes its own unique character and charm.

            Of course, this archipelago of islands and islets located off the coast of Central Sulawesi is a little difficult to get to, but it is well worth the journey once you set your eyes upon its pristine white beaches and turquoise blue waters. Its isolation also means that the Togean Islands are pretty untouched by mainstream tourism, and you’ll get to enjoy your trip there in peaceful solitude.

            Togean is also home to a community of Bajau People (Sea Gypsies), who spend most of their lives drifting along the ocean. They are known to have amazing diving abilities – the kids learn to dive up to 10 metres deep from the tender age of seven.

            Flores

            Mount Kelimutu and her coloured lakes at sunrise (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

            Flores is an Indonesian island in Nusa Tenggara, and is located next to the more well-known Komodo Island.

            The most famous attractions on Flores are the crater lakes at Mount Kelimutu, which reportedly change colours regularly between turquoise, green, red and chocolate brown. This phenomenon is thought to be triggered by chemical reactions in the lakes, caused by the area’s volcanic activity.

            Of course, with volcanic activity comes the possibility of hot springs, and visitors will not be disappointed. There’s a hot pool close to the capital of Maumere, and it’s located in the middle of a jungle – perfect for relaxing and being one with nature.

            Ko Yao

            Ko Yao Noi (photo on Flickr by Nicolas Esposito)

            Comprised mainly of two islands, Ko Yao Yai and Ko Yao Noi, Ko Yao is located between Phuket and Krabi in Phang Nga Bay.

            Despite increasing tourism in the area over the years, Ko Yao has retained much of its laid back atmosphere. Both islands have the distinction of being among the last islands in the region to have avoided massive human development, which sets it apart from the more popular islands in the area such as Phuket and Ko Samui.

            Chill out by the beautiful beaches or explore the picturesque rice flats and mangrove swamps, Ko Yao offers visitors a great island experience unlike other more commercial locations.

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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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                  Image by CK Cheng

                  People don’t really talk about Iceland a lot, and when they do it isn’t always tips or things you should know before traveling there. When I headed off to Iceland there are a few choice things that I really would have liked to have known before setting off. I thought that I would share them without so that you don’t fall into the same traps that I did.

                  1. Weird traditional Icelandic food, anyone?

                  The first thing you should definitely know before heading out is that some of the traditional Icelandic food is weird. And no, we don’t mean its just a little bit different than what you might get at home, we mean weird. They eat a lot of fermented foods such as fermented shark and a lot of meats that you might not think of eating anywhere else in the world like Minke Whale. You’ll find them in kebab or in steak form  So if you are a picky eater you might want to keep this in mind or pack some cup noodles.

                  Preserved fish, anyone? Image by CK Cheng
                  Preserved fish, anyone? (image by CK Cheng)
                  Luckily, there's always chocs to fall back on. Image by Michelle Ong
                  Luckily, there’s always chocs to fall back on. (image by Michelle Ong)

                  2. You only get 5 hours of daylight

                  If you are planning on heading to Iceland in the winter, you should remember that it is probably going to be dark and rainy most of the time. This does not always have to be a bad thing, but it will cut your days short and make seeing a lot at one time hard. And if you should make sure that you are packing tons of rain gear and things that will keep you warm and dry.

                  Be prepared for the early night fall. (image by Low Chiat Yin)
                  Enjoy the amazing scenery but stay warm and dry. (image by Low Chiat Yin)

                  3. You may be disappointed by Blue Lagoon

                  If you are going to Iceland just to see the Blue Lagoon, you might want to change your plans. Yes, it is beautiful, but it really isn’t everything that it is racked up to be. It’s still basically just a pond – some say it’s a pretty commercial one too. It does not have to be on your bucket list.

                  Image by Low Chiat Yin
                  Checking off another item on my bucket list. (image by Low Chiat Yin)
                  The breathtaking Blue Lagoon
                  The breathtaking Blue Lagoon (image by Michelle Ong)

                  4. Don’t expect to party in the city

                  It is extremely safe in Iceland, but don’t think that you are heading into a big city. If you love the hustle and bustle of big city life, you are not going to find it here. There are so few people that it can feel very quaint. This will be a great thing for some people but a nightmare for others.

                  Iceland town (image by Michelle Ong)
                  A walk through one of the quaint Icelandic towns. (image by Michelle Ong)

                  5. Planning for more ‘me’ time can be rewarding

                  The last thing on my list is that there is so much that you can do on your own. For example you can do a self-guided drive around Ring Road which is beautiful. Because Reykjavik is so small, take some time to explore is on your own and get a feel for living as a local in Iceland.

                  road trips_low chiat yin
                  Hop onto the road trip of your life (image by Low Chiat Yin)

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                    Don’t be deceived by the petite look of this bag. It packs a laptop, a DSLR camera with lenses, magazines, headphones and then some.

                    Moshi Arcus multi-functional backpack is inspired by the shape of arcus clouds. The full-sized backpack is lightweight and can house all sorts of things an urbanite possesses. The backpack basically has three main compartments, a crush-resistant compartment for storing sunglasses, headphones, and other delicate items, a top-loading main section for jackets, workout clothes, books, and even shoes and a side-loading panel for easy access to hard-to-reach items that are typically reside at the deepest bottom. The length of the backpack also comes with independent shock-absorbing pockets that you can slip in your 15-inch laptop, tablet and smartphone.

                    For photographers who frequently carries a backpack for gadgets, electronics and a separate sling bag for camera and gear, the Moshi Arcus backpack is a great item to have. This backpack’s side pocket can easily hold a full-sized DSLR and a couple of the lenses you frequently use with room to spare.

                    Moshi Arcus Backpack in Black
                    Black
                    Moshi Arcus Backpack in Titanium Gray
                    Titanium Gray

                    The Arcus is not just good for packing lots of stuff. A lot of thought has been put into the details to come up with such a multi-functional backpack. It has an adjustable sternum strap for extra stability and comfort when carrying heavier loads, attachment points for carabiners, smartphone mounts, or other strap-on accessories and an elasticised side pocket that holds a tripod, umbrella, or water bottle. There are two discreet zippered pockets at the back of the bag perfect for stowing important items like a passport or wallet as well.

                    On top of that, Arcus’ stylish and minimalist-looking design is also a winner. We love both the modern titanium gray and discreet black colours. Moshi Arcus backpack is selling for S$315. For more details, go to Moshi Arcus.

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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