Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (Day 0 & 1 & 2 – Travel, Kumamoto, Kagoshima)

See: Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 itinerary and intro

Day 0 & 1: January 17 & 18

Our flight was at 12:30pm and I woke up at 6am (!) to shower and get ready. T’s parents drove us to the airport. We arrived around 9am and it took around an hour to get through to the gates. We had some breakfast at Little Ludlow and bummed around until our flight (with JAL).

Our first leg landed at Singapore Changi airport around 5:30pm and it only took around half an hour to clear immigration. I met my friend and she took us to the staff food court adjoined to the airport where we ate some hawker food. This was a great way to catch up with her in the few hours we had to transit since we didn’t have to travel anywhere.

We hung around until 8:30pm before going back to our gate. Our next flight departed from Changi at around 10pm. We landed at Tokyo Haneda airport around 5:30am (on time) but we had a domestic transit at 7:30am, which I hadn’t realised would be a problem. We had to clear immigration, which took around an hour because there were so many people, run out and find our checked luggage and re-check it in for the domestic leg. I noticed that a lot of domestic flights were cancelled due to severe snow weather. Then we had to catch a monorail for the domestic terminal! We made it to our boarding gate with 15 minutes to spare, so it was really a lot more stressful than I had anticipated!

All over the country, Japan was actually having abnormally cold weather with lots of snow storms and many unusual places experiencing snow. Our plane was actually delayed because they had to de-ice the plane… this seemed to involve a man on a crane hosing the plane down, haha. I’m just grateful we were one of the few planes not cancelled! Shortly before take-off, a flight attendant also came and informed us that our checked luggage had not made the flight and would be on the next flight (roughly an hour behind). This wasn’t a big deal to me because almost anything is better than lost luggage.

After landing at Tokyo Haneda airport, we waited at the boarding gate another two hours (the second flight with our luggage was also delayed). I did have to check that the staff member knew who we were and that we were waiting for our luggage. She was quite concerned about disrupting our travel plans but honestly it wasn’t a big deal to us. When the plane landed, a staff member informed us and we went to baggage collection, where someone else was waiting there with our luggage – yay! It was such a relief to see it.

But the crazy first leg continues (I don’t think I’d ever do this again…)! We took a bus to Shin-Osaka station (25 minutes), exchanged our 21-day JR pass, booked some shinkansen seats, and activated our passes for our 3+ hour ride to Kumamoto, the first city on our trip. From Kumamoto station, we took a tram to our hotel, Richmond Hotel Kumamoto Shinshigai, which was located in the central shopping arcade of Kumamoto. It was a lovely hotel and exactly what I wanted. We checked in and picked up the pocket wifi that was mailed to our hotel. And so after 30-odd hours we were finally in our first location. Good gosh what was I thinking…

After relaxing for a bit, we left to walk around the area and find somewhere for dinner. We definitely wanted izakaya food!






We settled on Hakata Ichibandori, a quiet restaurant (I think we were one of only two sets of diners there) with a huge menu. It’s actually a chain restaurant, I think. The skewers were ah-mazing! Kumamoto’s specialty dish is basashi, horse sashimi. We ordered some and with some apprehension (none from T though because he’s game for everything), I tried it. It wasn’t bad, but also not memorable.

Day 2: January 19

Due to the weird cold weather Japan was experiencing, we actually had light snow in Kumamoto! Kyushu is the southernmost of the main Japanese islands and has a subtropical climate, hence why I chose to visit in January. Snow is pretty rare overall. Locals said it happens once every five to ten years or so. It was quite cold and windy though the light snow didn’t really continue into the afternoon. We were only going to sightsee around Kumamoto for half a day. First we walked to Kumamoto-jo/Kumamoto Castle, which is a modern reconstruction of the original castle, though some original structures still remain (such as the Uto Turret). Although it’s a modern reconstruction, the castle and its grounds are considered one of the most impressive in Japan, especially during sakura season. Very sadly, this castle suffered severe damages during the 2016 earthquake and it is still closed to the public.


I believe the structure on the left of the enormous tree is an original structure. We also went inside the castle, and at the top you can see a beautiful view of Kumamoto city, since the castle is perched on a hilltop.



We then walked back to the Shinshigai area to line up for katsu (Japanese port cutlets) at Katsuretsutei Shinshigai Honten, a very famous and popular katsu restaurant in Kumamoto. We arrived before midday and didn’t have to wait too long.

After lunch, we trammed to Suizenji-jojuen/Suizenji Garden, a landscape garden which reproduces the post stations of the Tokaido (including a miniature version of Mt Fuji).






The garden was so immaculate and beautiful. There were hardly any people, and in general I was surprised by how few tourists we saw in Kyushu until we got to Beppu and Fukuoka. (Honestly, it was kind of glorious compared to the rest of the trip)

I also picked up my first dango of the trip! (FYI I freaking love dango)

We trammed back to our hotel and picked up our bags to then take the shinkansen from Kumamoto station to Kagoshima-chuo station (around 45 minutes to arrive around 5pm). I was first introduced to Kagoshima from the taiga drama (period drama), Atsu-hime, in which the first half is set in Kagoshima, with the beautiful backdrop of the active volcano, Sakurajima. I was so excited to visit Kagoshima and Sakurajima!

It is very clear everywhere you turn that Kagoshima is also very proud of Sakurajima.


We checked in to our hotel, Solaria Nishitetsu Hotel Kagoshima (also excellent), and they had a great view of the mountain from the hotel! Sakurajima is so close to Kagoshima that it’s visible from almost everywhere.


We headed out to grab dinner. We went to Kagomma Furusato Yataimura, which roughly translates to Kagomma old hometown food stall village. It has a bit of a novelty factor, but it was really quiet and there really weren’t any tourists at all! We sat down in one tiny little stall (seated about two people on three sides so six to seven people total sitting around the chef). The store owner-chef (shopkeeper?) and the other locals were very friendly and chatted to us. One man said he/his company built a lot of important buildings around the world. One thing I always get in Japan is people exclaiming how far I’ve travelled (from Australia) to visit Japan. I find this so bizarre because I consider Japan one of the closest countries for us to visit!





We left after we had tried everything we were interested in, because a couple of them were smoking. We also like hopping around and trying a lot of stuff in Japan. The sizes of izakaya dishes means we can try a lot of things in small portions. We went to another little place, where we tried some oden. This one was more like a small restaurant and we sat in our corner, rather than squished up against other customers.


Travel: Japan Trip #4 2016 (3 week/23 days) itinerary and intro

Intro

This was my first holiday with T and we were both pleased to discover that we had similar and often complementary travel habits and priorities. T also discovered to his joy how much I enjoy trip planning because he hates thinking about it. So I get to plan all our holidays forever and ever, yay!!

It had been just over three years since the previous visit to Japan. The trip was my longest yet – three-ish weeks, meaning I could fit in first-timer must-see tourist places (my opinion) for T who hadn’t visited before, and I could easily expand the itinerary to include other sites that I want to visit for the first time. This trip was a monster to plan. We visited southern Kyushu and northern Hokkaido (briefly), and used the 21-day JR pass which is known as the most difficult JR pass to get your money’s worth out of. We exceeded the value significantly, which shows the distance and frequency we used it. Now I know we both adore Japan and T really gets why I want to keep returning to Japan for travel, there will be many more trips to Japan in the future. We are visiting again this coming April!

I chose January to February because it is the low season (and I love escaping Melbourne summers to enjoy winters) and timed it to visit the Sapporo winter festival.

The plan

    Visit the top “first-timer” places (if I designed a 1.5-week itinerary for someone’s first and last Japan trip) – Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Miyajima, Kawaguchi-ko – could not fit in Kawaguchi-ko and not great time to visit
    Sapporo Winter Festival
    Otaru Snow Light Path Festival (Otaru and Sapporo festivals usually overlap by a few days)
    Visit Himeji castle, often considered the most beautiful original castle in Japan – Was under renovation for many years when I wanted to visit in 2012
    Visit Kobe – Never been!
    Visit Kyushu including Yakushima (and Jomon Sugi) – Southern Japan would likely have a milder winter and Yakushima looked like a stunning island but we didn’t manage to visit Jomon Sugi because winter is actually not the right time to make the hike – oops!
    Visit Shirakawa-go and see the gassho-zukuri farmhouses – carried over from the 2012 trip where I couldn’t fit it in and because winter is still the best time to visit
    Visit Amanohashidate, one of the nihon sankei (three most scenic views of Japan) – carried over from the 2012 trip where I couldn’t fit this in but did visit Miyajima (one of the other nihon sankei

The worst part of planning Japan trips is everything that unfortunately cannot make it onto the itinerary! For resources, Japan-guide and Hyperdia were my indispensable best friends as per usual. To be the most time and distance efficient, I wanted to fly in and out of different cities, and ended up flying with JAL to Itami airport (Osaka) and departed from Narita airport (Tokyo) with stopovers in Singapore on both legs and an additional transit at Haneda airport (Tokyo) for the first leg to Japan. That made both legs pretty intense (considering Japan is not that far to Melbourne) and the first leg arriving in Japan especially crazy! I tend to find the combination of Tokyo and Osaka flights optimal since both cities have two major airpots and both cities typically end up on itineraries. I think I would look less favourably on spending 24 hours to get to our starting city (after our flight we had to take a shinkansen to our first destination!), especially as I hadn’t realised we would have to check-in again on the domestic leg (including hauling our luggage, which ended up missing our flight during the short transit – but more on that later). On the other hand, fewer airlines can string together Osaka and Tokyo routes, and I considered under $1000 for JAL pretty good at the time. The route also allowed me a few hours in Singapore – enough time to exit and leave immigration in order to meet my friend, who came to the airport.

Final itinerary

17 January – 10 February 2016

Click links to see the corresponding blog entry!

Day 00: Flight from Melbourne to Itami/Osaka via Singapore and Haneda/Tokyo [enroute]
Day 01: Arrival in Osaka; travel to Kumamoto [Stay in Kumamoto] *JR Pass Day 1*
Day 02: Kumamoto – Kumamoto Castle, Suizenji Garden, travel to Kagoshima [Stay in Kagoshima]
Day 03: Kagoshima – Sengan-en, Sakurajima [Stay in Kagoshima]
Day 04: Travel to Yakushima, pick up rental car, Yakushima [Stay in Yakushima]
Day 05: Yakushima – Shiratani Unsuikyo [Stay in Yakushima]
Day 06: Yakushima – Kigen-sugi, Yakusugi Land, return rental car, travel to Kumamoto [Stay in Kumamoto]
Day 07: Pick up rental car and drive to Takachiho – Takachiho Gorge, drive to Beppu [Stay in Beppu]
Day 08: Beppu – Hells of Beppu, return rental car, travel to Fukuoka [Stay in Fukuoka]
Day 09: Fukuoka, visit Nagasaki [Stay in Fukuoka]
Day 10: Travel to Kyoto – Fushimi Inari Taisha, visit Osaka – Umeda Sky Building [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 11: Visit Hiroshima, visit Miyajima – Itsukushima-jinja [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 12: Kyoto – Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto Imperial Palace, dinner at Sojiki Nakahigashi [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 13: Visit Himeji – Himeji Castle, visit Kobe [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 14: Visit Amanohashidate, visit Osaka [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 15: Kyoto – Ginkaku-ji, Philosopher’s Path, Nanzen-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Higashiyama, Gion [Stay in Kyoto]
Day 16: Travel to Nagoya – Nagoya Castle [Stay in Nagoya]
Day 17: Visit Takayama, visit Shirakawa-go [Stay in Nagoya]
Day 18: Travel to Tokyo – Asakusa, Tokyo Sky Tree, Sumida Aquarium [Stay in Tokyo]
Day 19: Travel to Sapporo [Stay in Sapporo]
Day 20: Sapporo Snow Festival, visit Otaru Snow Light Path Festival [Stay in Sapporo]
Day 21: Travel to Tokyo [Stay in Tokyo] *JR pass day 21 – last day*
Day 22: Tokyo – Tsukiji, Roppongi, Odaiba [Stay in Tokyo]
Day 23: Tokyo – Shibuya, Shinjuku [Stay in Tokyo]
Day 23+1: Flight from Haneda/Tokyo to Melbourne via Singapore [enroute]
Day 23+2: Arrive in Melbourne

Important costs (AU$ or ¥)

(Not well documented…)

    Flights: ~$990pp with JAL
    Hotels: ~$140/night for 2 (most expensive ¥35728 for one night at The Tokyo Station Hotel)
    Dinner at 2-Michelin star Sojiki Nakahigashi: ¥15000pp
    Kobe beef dinner (in Kobe): A5 120g-180g sirloin and flank/bottom sirloin (a bit of confusion on the cut) ~¥9000-11000
    JR pass: $676pp (21-day JR Pass)
    Return ferry to Yakushima from Kagoshima: ¥16100yen
    Car rental: ??

Note: T didn’t really buy anything and spent around $4500-5000 total for the whole trip (inclusive of flights) and I wouldn’t say we were frugal at all

Final thoughts

We packed one check-in suitcase (~17kg), one carry-on suitcase and one carry-on backpack (we packed a change of clothes in our carry-on plus anything we wouldn’t want to lose, such as cables and chargers). We packed a light duffel bag in case of shopping – which we ended up doing a lot of. The whole check-in suitcase ended up filled with souvenirs (mostly food and alcohol) so we additionally checked in the carry-on suitcase and duffel on the return flight (we haven’t needed to expand with the duffel bag for our later Europe or USA trips though). We avoided breakfast-included rates where possible because I find conbini so much more convenient and much cheaper, especially as T doesn’t tend to eat breakfast. I usually purchased vegetables or salad the night before to eat while getting ready the next morning (I find vegetables far too lacking when eating out). If still hungry, I’d grab something on the go while we were out for the day. As with previous trips, I mostly chose mid-range business hotels, which are small but clean and well-priced. Often it’s possible to find good ones near the main stations. I stayed at Hotel Sunroute Plaza (Shinjuku) for the second trip in a row because I really like it’s value and location. It’s reviewer ratings are lower than what I typically choose but having stayed there before, I knew what I was in for and it met all my needs as it did the previous time. One of my favourite things about travelling in Japan is that mid-range hotels usually have coin laundries. We only had difficulties with machines taken up by other customers once and had to leave and come back, but otherwise we were able to do our (planned) laundry every 4-6 days.

We only made one restaurant booking, which including ringing up months ahead to book the Michelin restaurant (among my shortlist, this was the first one to accept a reservation from a non-Japanese patron – usually they would ask your hotel to book for you). For everything else, we looked up restaurants on the fly or just walked into a restaurants that looked alright. Most restaurants that came highly recommended from the Internet, we planned ahead (like the day before) and made sure to arrive early to minimise the queuing. It was hit and miss – I wouldn’t trust English reviews anymore. Notable restaurants will be discussed in subsequent posts. Overall the food was amazing and cheap – T is the most adventurous eater I’ve been to Japan with, and I think we were really able to eat very well for pretty cheap. In particular we are both fans of izakaya (and drinking Japanese fruit liqueurs), which we ate at for most dinners. My impression is that on average, most of our dinners cost ¥3000-6000 for two (with alcohol), proper lunches around ¥2000-3000 for two, and on-the-go quick snack/lunches around ¥1000-1500. This isn’t representative of Japanese food but these are the kind of places we naturally gravitate towards based on our taste and preference for Japanese food (casual and homely)… and occasion need to just keep moving and not prioritise food. Street food and conbini food is pretty awesome!

As mentioned above, we purchased the 21-day JR pass ($676 at the time but this moves with the exchange rate) which we picked up locally from HIS Japan because they had the cheapest AUD price at the time. We exchanged and used it upon arrival in Japan and I made almost all my reservations on the first day as well, for ease. With this, we literally zipped all over Japan and made some trips that seemed pretty silly if not using the JR pass (such as shinkansen travel between Kyoto and Osaka just for dinner).

For the first time, I also rented a pocket wifi. My previous travelling style had been without phone/internet and relying on maps and diagrams stored on my phone (or, I admit, hard copies printed and folded in my bag!). As my planning got more complicated, this method got more complicated for travelling through Japan. Now with T as my travel companion, he made it clear that Internet was non-negotiable. It is much easier to rent pocket (portable) wifi devices in Japan than to try and get a phone sim (it is now easier to get a data-only sim, but still harder and more expensive to get a sim with calls/text). We did some research on wifi coverage (since we would be visiting some pretty remote places) and daily limits in deciding on the company to go with (neither of us can remember the company or find the emails from that time unfortunately…). We chose to have ours delivered to our first hotel (also possible to pick up from major airports) and then return it via reply-paid post on our final day. This worked seamlessly and I believe many travellers who rent pocket wifi devices would agree that the process is very convenient for most companies. Our coverage was great even in Yakushima (except for maybe for some spots deep into our hikes) but actually it was surprisingly bad on long shinkansen rides. I am using a data sim for my upcoming trip so I will see how I get on with that compared to a pocket wifi.

I also discovered and bought my first goshuin-chou – a bit late from Kinkakuji though, so I missed out on several good opportunities earlier on! Argh! I almost filled my first book from the trip. We spent many days with no plans and just wandering the streets and obsessively going to teeny tiny shrines and temples annotated on Google maps and finding a priest or caretaker to give me a goshuin. I definitely surprised many poor priests/caretakers in some fairly obscure suburban shrines and temples. I am super proud of my first book and hope to collect many more books and fill them!

Unlike previous trips to Japan where I only used cash (pre-exchanged in Melbourne), we got the 28 Degrees credit card and used it for about half our expenses. I pre-exchanges only some cash, in anticipation for being able to use a credit card at most restaurants. This trip is where I noticed that more merchants were accepting cards than previously.

I also planned places where we would need to drive because public transport in Japan does have it’s limits! So for the first time, I had to rent cars and we both had a go driving (we rented twice). It’s actually really easy driving in Japan (especially in small towns). We got our Internal Drivers’ Permits just before leaving (received on the spot).

Camera: My beloved Canon G15 – unfortunately I dropped it a few times early on and then the focus didn’t work properly… this was my last trip with this camera although I tried to use it with difficulty for several more months. 🙁 I adored my G15 and should have taken better care of it.

Travel: Sydney Trip 2018 – Day 3 & 4 (4 days in Sydney)

See Day 1 & 2 post

Day 3: May 2

The day of my graduation! In the morning, we took an Uber to USyd and I got robed up. I’ve only attended UniMelb graduations before, so I don’t have a lot of “experience”, but my impression was the USyd graduation organisation and logistics was chaotic and poorly executed (and it shouldn’t matter if there are multiple in one day!). Robe rental was pre-booked and you get a time slot to turn up for your robes. This didn’t appear to be in effect, as the line was long and I got in a lot later than my time slot. So everyone was basically finished later than their scheduled time. Graduands and guests entered the ceremony hall after the scheduled start time. We weren’t given instructions on what to do, and we weren’t told that we’d be returning to a different seat so I had no idea what to do with my phone as I had no pockets (I handed it to a staff, who had her arms full with people’s phones). We started and finished really late and it was just a long and confusing ordeal. Despite a specified time by which robes were meant to be returned, the ceremony finished AFTER this time. Seeing as no one else rushed off to return their robe, I also didn’t care too much so I finally took some photos. There was otherwise zero time before or after the ceremony to properly take photos. This wass incredibly disappointing! I think the ceremonies need to start and end on time so people can organise their day and have the time to take proper or professional photos! I took photos for less than ten minutes after the ceremony before running off to return the robe, and it was a stressful ten minutes. My friend (who I met with the previous night) is studying and working at USyd so she came to see me too. Of course, she had to wait around a long time since the ceremony ended late. Sigh. Overall, I remember the graduation as more of a confusing and stressful headache.

After we were all done, we took an Uber back to Bowery Lane, where we visited two days ago, to have a late lunch. I was ravenous!


After the late lunch, we basically just wandered around the city and ducked into a few shops. I had planned for the afternoon to be quite flexible since I wasn’t sure when the whole graduation thing and then lunch would finish. We went to Queen Victoria Building, which I do like to check out every time because it is so beautiful! I am disappointed my favourite overly-fancy female bathrooms appear to be just fairly normal bathrooms now. Around this point, my Dad left to fetch his bag from the hotel and catch his flight back to Melbourne.


We walked around quite aimlessly for a few hours. We checked out a few of those designer outlets that seem to be common in Sydney, and lusted over Max Mara coats (drool).

Running out of places to walk, we started making our way back towards Circular Quay to see the harbour at night before heading to my dinner reservation, which was very close to our hotel.






Mejico – This Mexican restaurant was definitely busier than I had anticipated for a Tuesday night. The service and food were great! It’s elevated, modern Mexican food and sooo yummy.

Once back at the hotel, of course I had to take photos of my graduation gifts since I couldn’t keep the flowers my friend kindly gave me beyond the next morning. T got me an adorable graduation bear (okay, I had wanted it!). It was so cute that they were able to change his robe colours to reflect my degree’s robe colours! That was a really nice touch.


Day 4: May 3

For our final half day in Sydney, we had to firstly pack up and check-out. The hotel held out luggage for us until we came back to collect them later.

In the morning, we walked around the Royal Botanical Gardens, which has a beautiful harbour backdrop. I’ve only been once before.





The absolute highlight, and something I’d never known about before, was the indoor green wall at The Calyx. The theme seems to change, and I forget the name of the theme when we were there. It was so beautiful!!!

We then trekked to The Sydney Observatory, which was supposed to be a great lookout spot. I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t take any pictures but perhaps I was too hot from all the walking…! Lunch was at Bar Tapavino, which was strategically chosen to be in near the observatory and our hotel.







Tapa Vino – It may sounds weird to have Spanish tapas for lunch, but I much prefer sharing small dishes and trying more things. The restaurant was quiet for lunch and the food was delicious! The food was quite homely and comfortable.

Finally, we grabbed our bags from the hotel and headed off for our flight back home! Now I’m just dreaming of when I can justify going to Sydney for Chaco Bar…

Costs

Flights: $140 per person (carry-on only with Jetstar)
Hotel: ~$600 per room (3 nights)

Travel: Sydney Trip 2018 – Day 1 & 2 (4 days in Sydney)

In May, my Masters graduation was held at The University of Sydney. I was keen to attend even though I had studied via distance and it was in another state (I’d never even been to the university!), since I’d enjoyed the course so much more than my Bachelor. The ceremony would be on a Monday so I made plans with T and my family to make it a 4-day trip (Saturday to Tuesday). My Dad actually couldn’t make it for four days so he travelled in on Sunday morning and left on Monday evening. This was my fifth time visiting Sydney in the last decade, so I didn’t need to tick off many touristy sights anymore… but we still a lot of tourist-y things for my travel party.

Day 1: April 30

We (minus my Dad) took a morning flight to Sydney (I’ve learned that carry-on only is pretty difficult if you’re a guy bringing a suit!). We landed after midday and took an Uber into the city. We ended up taking Uber a lot and no public transport, which is not typical for how I travel, but with three people and my Mum who can’t walk super long, it worked out more time and cost efficient. We tended to walk throughout the city but took an Uber when going further. We booked two rooms at The Tank Stream Hotel (I would stay with my Mum on the nights my Dad wasn’t there – she’s never been able to sleep anywhere on her own in her life). It was a nice hotel with thoughtful amenities. The location itself is in the business-y district so it’s pretty quiet, but it’s pretty close to both Circular Quay and the busy areas of Pitt St and George St. The train from the airport stops nearby, but it’s a decent walk to the areas in the city with good food.

We walked across the road to eat some late lunch at Bowery Lane, which I actually visited on my previous one-day trip to Sydney to attend the introduction night for my Masters over a year ago. The space is nice, their opening hours suited us, and the menu is uncomplicated but good.




Bowery Lane – Seared scallops and blue swimmer tagliatelle were sooo good (spoiler: we went back again two days later because of it’s convenience, and my Mum ordered the tagliatelle because she liked mine so much). I like that this place does a decent breakfast, lunch and dinner Modern Australian menu. It’s in the middle of super casual and fancy, so it’s really comfortable and food is pretty good.

We took an Uber to Watson’s Bay, to visit Lady Bay Beach (there were definitely naked people here at this tiny nude beach) and Hornby Lighthouse, a great lookout point.



We spent about two hours walking through suburban streets filled with really wealthy and beautiful houses with gorgeous gardens to Nielson Bay, which was supposed to be another great lookout point, but there wasn’t really a clear view not blocked by the trees. It was dusk by now, so we got an Uber to head back into town. We looked up a chemist to stop at briefly before our dinner appointment – I had burned my arm really badly the week prior (I’m talking special bandages needed) and wanted to get a change of bandages because I ran out of the ones the doctor gave me. Luckily there was one really close to our dinner reservation. It was funny trying to explain to the Uber driver that our destination was actually chemist, haha.

Dinner was at Chaco Bar, which had been on my radar for some four years. It was supposed to be a really authentic yakitori restaurant. Expectations were high (but we tried not to get them too high)!








Chaco Bar – This restaurant is tiny and honestly looks exactly like you stepped into a Japanese yakitori bar. We sat on a long shared table and most of the seats (on the shared table or individual tables) are quite uncomfortable and cramped. But sacrifices can be made when the charcoal grill skewers are this good. It was amazing and definitely the real deal. Everything was cooked perfectly and the smokiness was strong. T is a huge fan of Japanese charcoal grill, and he said Chaco Bar was pretty much the best thing ever. I would totally fly us both to Sydney for special occasion dinners here. We also saw Australian chef, restaurateur and TV chef Neil Perry trying to get a seat. He was still loitering around outside when we left.

We decided to walk the 20-30 minutes across the city to our hotel. We stopped at a 3-storey Woolworths supermarket on the way. This blew our mind because Melbourne does not have any multi-level supermarkets! We picked up fruit and banana bread for breakfasts.

Day 2: May 1

In the morning, we walked south across the city (our hotel area, in retrospect, was pretty far from the good food areas) to Koi Dessert Bar. We walked through Hyde Park, because my Mum loves gardens.

I visited Koi the last time I was in Sydney (and carried cakes back home to Melbourne), and also purchased their desserts many times when Koi was temporarily at HWKR last year. I am definitely a huge fan of Reynold’s desserts, and not just blinded by the hype. I would argue they’re my favourite artisan desserts. We picked up three little cakes to take back to the hotel. Unfortunately there was just no other time that I could work out in our schedule other than picking up this morning.

My Dad had landed in the late morning, so he took the train into the city (the hotel is close to a train stop on the airport line) and dropped of his bag. We all met at Chat Thai (Thaitown location) where I made a lunch reservation.





Chat Thai (various locations) – Chat Thai appears, from the Internet, to be the most popular Thai restaurant(s) in Sydney. I went to their main location in Haymarket even though there was one location much closer to our hotel. It’s a narrow restaurant with a half second level. We ordered five dishes between four. The food was really good across the board. The boat noodles, one of T’s favourite Thai dishes, was weak though. Overall we are not sure Chai Thai is actually better than Melbourne’s best Thai restaurant, so T feels like “we’re not missing out”, haha. That said, the latter has been noticeably decreasing their portion sizes in the last two years, but Chat Thai’s prices and portions were really good.

After lunch, we walked north through the city again, dropped off the cakes in our hotel’s fridge (the reason why there’s no good photos to show of our desserts is that they got squished in the fridge!), and continued on to Circular Quay to view the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. I’ve been so many times in recent years, but half of my travel team (T and my Dad) had not seen these in decades.



We walked to Darling Harbour, which has always been my Mum’s favourite part of Sydney.

We were meeting my friend to go on a cocktail cruise around the harbour a bit later, and had some time to kill (plus we were a little tired), so we stopped at a tourist trap bar in Darling Harbour to have some drinks and a snack.

I booked the five of us the Sydney Harbour Cocktail Cruise by Captain Cook Cruises. It was enjoyable but mostly I was catching up with my friend who is studying and working in Sydney for a few years.

After the cruise, it was pitch black, and we walked across to The Star for our dinner reservation at Sokyo. I’d never visited The Star before.








Sokyo – Sokyo is a fine dining Japanese restaurant, and reminds me of Koko and Nobu which are also housed in Melbourne’s casino area. I’m generally pretty sceptical of Japanese fine dining, but we all agreed that Sokyo was really excellent. I couldn’t fault any dish at all and I’ve probably never seen such a photogenic souffle before. It was a great dinner!

We walked back to our hotel and ate our slightly squished desserts from Koi – still delicious!

See day 3 & 4 post

Travel: Hong Kong Trip 2012 (Photo diary)

Travel: Hong Kong Trip 2012 (Photo diary)

Following on from the Japan leg of our holiday, we went to visit Hong Kong for four days. We met up with our some relatives who came from mainland China to see us in Hong Kong. We visited the typical places in Hong Kong, such as the Hong Kong skyline, Victoria Harbour, Lantau Island and Victoria Peak. We also visited Macau for a day trip.