Myoko-Kogen

We picked Myoko-Kogen as our ski destination this year mainly because we patronise Tomi Sushi a lot and their walls are filled with posters of monster snow capped mountains advertising Myoko-Kogen. And we were not disappointed! Snow was definitely not an issue, the slopes were dusted with new powder snow everyday!

Myoko-Kogen is made up of 4 ski areas: Suginosawa, Ikenotaira, Akakura Kanko & Akakura Onsen. The last 2 are connected by a small trail and there is a free shuttle bus linking each mountain. You can buy separate lift passes for each, a Big-4 pass for all or the Shin-Akakura Onsen pass which gives access to the last 2 mountains. We skied 3 days in Shin-Akakura and 1 day in Suginosawa. Though it looks close on the map, the shuttle bus took 30min to get to Suginosawa from Akakura Onsen, so set off early to make sure you have enough time to ski. Also, most of the bus time tables are in Japanese, it’s important to check the route as well as the correct departure and arrival venues. The shuttle bus we took went on a 15min loop around town, went back to the same place where we boarded before heading off to Suginosawa! At least we had a seat!

Most of the slopes are beginner to intermediate level – however Akakura Onsen is home to the steepest ski run in central Japan “The Wall” at 38° and getting down is a real challenge for an intermediate skier like me. H on the other hand is an expert and conquered it like a pro. The runs are generally very wide and on a clear sunny day, the 8.5km trip down the longest ski run in Japan on Suginohara’s mountain is extremely rewarding – the views are amazing!

Akakura Onsen is where the main village is, so that is the best bet for restaurants and hotels. Getting a hotel was not easy – I think alot of the hotels open their doors to students on school ski holidays so book early to secure something decent. Food wise I found the village offerings were rather basic when compared to our trip last year to Nozawa Onsen.

Getting there
Take the Shinkansen Asama from Tokyo to Nagano (90min) and change to a local JR line (JR Shinetsu) to Myoko-Kogen (40min). Train timings can be found at Hyperdia and it’s best to plan the best timings to avoid having to make more than 1 transfer.

Restaurants
Food is generally very basic and it is not that expensive to fill your stomach. Most places don’t speak much English, but should have an English menu. The point and order method always worked for us. A few things we enjoyed were Koyama’s yakiniku don, the udon at Udon no Fu, and the 2 crêperies we enjoyed were Parfait Crepe and Gelato Okura. Don’t forget to try the home made ice cream at Gelato Okura as well… Oishi!!

Where we stayed
We stayed at Refre Akakura, who only recently opened their doors this season. We had to book through Japan Snow Access and according to them, the Refre used to be a resort house of one of the biggest foodstuff company, but closed the business last season. They are off the main road and having only 9 rooms here guarantees that it is very quiet. There are indoor and outdoor onsens which were great if you didn’t managed to book one of the en-suite rooms. Their Japanese breakfast was a great way to fuel up for the day and their keiseki dinner though not extravagant was very warm and heartfelt. Yoshi and Reika were extremely helpful and friendly and made our stay very enjoyable. There is a short cut up the slope to get on the run down to the Chuo Triple lifts. There were 2 days where it snowed so much in the day that it was possible to ski right back down the slope to our front door! Ski in but not ski out!
¥9,400 per person a night for the combination en-suite room.

Refre Akakura
549-23 Akakura, Myoko-shi, Niigata-ken
Tel:+81(0)255-75-1230

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Sushi Sho

We allowed ourselves to splurge on one meal this trip to Tokyo and following my boss’s recommendation, we chose Sushi Sho. A relative unknown in the foreign guidebooks, it is well known among the locals. We were lucky to be able to get a dinner reservation despite a booking only a week in advance.

The small restaurant seats only 12, with 3 chefs behind the counter. 2 chefs prepare the sushi on each end and the middle chef assists both. Fish for the night are displayed in front on the counter so you have an idea of what’s coming despite it being an omakase dinner. I would have preferred the counter seating to be higher or the display boxes lower so I could have a better look at the chefs at work, but that is just a very minor detail.

The dinner started with some sashimi and then progressively moved to sushi. From the first dish, I knew we were in for a treat. The clams were extremely fresh and sweet. What followed was a succession of 24 different courses that kept our taste buds intrigued with different tastes, texture and temperatures. Each fish was paired with a different rice, some with brown rice, some with warmer rice. It was also the first time trying some of the fish we were served, which deviated from the usual otoro and uni served at most high end Japanese restaurants.

One of my favourite of the night was the last dish, an odd combination of uni-ika maki that brought 2 very different tastes and textures together that worked perfectly. I laughed out loud when he said “uni and ika… best friends”. So Jamie Olivier!

The chefs were very friendly and engaging despite only speaking a little English. The experience felt very comfortable, and we felt genuinely taken care of without the stuffiness.

Thanks to head chef Keiji Nakazawa for the best sushi meal of our life.

Dinner was ¥20,000/pax paired with 3 different types of sake.

1-11 Yotsuya, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

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36 hours in Singapore

H has had many visitors over the past 7 years of staying in Singapore and I would say on average most of them are here on transit. The daunting tour guide responsibility falls on my local shoulders where I am tasked with showing them around my little island in 24-36 hours. Honestly there is not much sightseeing to do in my petit country, but I try my best to offer a true Singaporean experience, filled with local hideouts and flavours.

36 hours in Singapore

Start the day early with a local breakfast of kaya(coconut jam) toast, soft boiled eggs and local coffee or tea. My favourite is Killiney Kopitiam, but there are many alternatives like Ya Kun and Toast Box which are equally as good. Powered up for the day, take the MRT to Bayfront to start the day at the newly opened Gardens by the Bay before it gets too hot. Next, cross the bridge to Marina Bay Sands where a ticket to the SkyPark will give you unblocked views of the city. On a clear day, you’ll be able to see far past the city skyline into the residential area and the ocean littered with shipping vessels.

Take the MRT to Chinatown for some cultural immersion. Walk along the old shophouses and stop at the Chinatown Heritage Centre for a peak into the lives of Singaporean’s early immigrants. Pass by Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman Temple and admire its colourful architecture. Hungry? Stop for some Dim Sum at Yum Cha or walk further to Maxwell Food Centre to sample local cuisines. Tian Tian‘s Hainanese chicken rice is considered one of the best on the island. On the way back to the train station, pop into Mei Heong Yuen Dessert House for traditional Chinese desserts like mango pudding, mango sago, peanut soup, sesame paste…

Recharged and ready for another cultural experience? Take the MRT to Bugis and walk towards Arab street to visit the Kampong Glam district. This area in recent years has been sporting the “bohemian” vibe with the emergence of new restaurants, bars, cafes and independent fashion designers setting up shop along Haji Lane. To experience the traditional feel of the area, just walk across to the street parallel. Arab Street is lined with colourful fabric shops and the Sultan Mosque is considered one of the most important mosque in Singapore. If visiting at night, stop for a smoke at the many shisha bars or head to Blue Jazz for their live jazz band.

Tired? Head back to rest before dinner or use the time to pack in some shopping. The most common things that our visitors have bought are electronics like cameras, ipads and iphones as they are cheaper here than in Europe. Head to Sim Lim Square, Lucky Plaza or Funan DigitalLife Mall for electronic products but beware of touts that are out to cheat naive tourists (esp at Sim Lim and Lucky Plaza). Also note that Apple products are price controlled so just buy them from any Apple store. For the ladies, go shoe crazy at local brand Charles & Keith or Pedro. Comb Far East Plaza along Scotts Road for some cut-label designer clothes or just relax to get your nails done at the countless salons in the building. Along Orchard, most shops or clothes are imported so they will not be cheaper, but a few local standout brands to check out are M)phosis for casual comfortable wear, Alldressedup for fancy delicate dresses and Raoul for business smart shirts.

Have dinner at Newton Food Centre to sample the local staples. Chilli crab, sambal stingray, oyster omelette, bbq chicken wings, satay, hokkien noodles and popiah are must tries! Wash it all down with ice cold Singaporean Tiger beer and to end the meal on a sweet note, try the local deserts like ice kachang, bobo cha cha, tau suan.

Filled up and ready to party? Start the night with a few artisan cocktails at 28 Hong Kong Street or The Library or a slow beer along Emerald Hill or Duxton Hill. The night life starts to be happening around midnight so once you are ready head to Clark Quay for bar hopping or to Mink for some serious partying. If dancing is not your thing, The Vault offers a laid back venue for drinks without rubbing shoulders with sweaty people on the dance floor. There are plenty of venues to party the night away in Singapore, with most clubs closing at 3 or 4 in the morning. Take note that most bars and clubs have a dress code, and you will be denied entry even if they are Gucci flip flops and shorts.

If you are hungover the next day, I suggest putting on your aviators and heading to PS Cafe at Dempsey for a laid back brunch before heading to the airport. Try to sit outside facing the forest for some sun and mother’s nature remedy.

If you have more time in Singapore, here are my other suggestions:
Universal Studios at Sentosa– at least half a day
SEA Aquarium at Sentosa
The Zoo if you have young kids – at least half a day
Visit a local wet market, I suggest Tiong Bahru market or Chinatown market (only open in the mornings)
If you have time for another meal I suggest Jumbo Seafood for their chilli crab and black pepper crab. Don’t forget the fried buns to dip in the chilli crab sauce!

You’re dead tired and on the way to the airport but the past 36 hours have been worth it. You can sleep on the flight back!

Further details
Map of the MRT (metro)
-Taxis are cheap by European standards and are all metered
-Skypark visits are only at scheduled timings
-Maxwell Food Centre 1 Kadayanallur Street (Chinatown or Tanjong Pagar MRT)
-Blue Jazz Bar 11 Bali Lane
-Newton Food Centre 500 Clemenceau Ave North (Newton MRT) My favourite stalls are #66 Sin Sin Seafood BBQ for chilli crab and sambal stingray, #73 Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette, #69 for fishball noodles, #72 for BBQ chicken wings and satay.
-The Library 47 Keong Seik Road
-Emerald Hill bars: No. 5 and Ice Cold (Somerset MRT)

For more local insights to Singapore please check out my other posts:
Singapore’s Local / Asian food scene
Singapore’s Western food scene
Singapore’s party scene

Iggy’s

Iggy’s always been on our go to list, and we’ve not had the opportunity to celebrate since we last had lunch 4 years ago after getting the keys to our apartment. This is the first time in a long while we stayed in Singapore for H’s birthday, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity to try dinner at their new venue.

With the influx of countless celebrity chefs setting up branches in Singapore, Iggy’s might have lost some shine. However, this place was around almost 10 years ago and is a pioneer in the fine dining scene. Their new premise in the Hilton hotel is remarkable bigger – they have kept the original counter seat concept (now facing the pastry chefs) and have added private rooms and a dining hall. Service is top notch as expected of a place of this standing and was perfect without being ostentatious.

We had not read any recent reviews on the place so were surprised that the menu was highly Japanese influenced. Almost every dish had a Japanese element to it and our favourite was the foie gras risotto. Their famous sakura ebi cappellini was on the menu and though well executed we didn’t think it was outstanding. Every dish was beautifully presented and the succession of each dish flowed perfectly into the next. Though each dish was executed perfectly, we wished more dishes had surprised us or have the wow factor.

Only the menu is served for dinner, so this is a place reserved for special occasions. Lunch is a cheaper alternative and the experience is no less special.

Iggy’s
The Hilton Hotel, 581 Orchard Road Level 3

January Menu @ $275/pax

Gillardeau Oyster
Iggy’s sushi
Buri, egg sauce
Alaskan King Crab
Alba white truffle, foie gras risotto
Sakura ebi cappellini
Kuro Mutsu with Jamon Iberica
Roast Duck
Forest Berries
Pumpkin spong cake
Hinoki chocolate box

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Singapore’s party scene

I remember my first clubbing experience – I just turned 18 and I celebrated my legal age of drinking at the now defunct China Black at Pacific Plaza. The music, the laser lights, the smoke machines… everything was new and exciting. There wasn’t much clubbing options 10 years ago, it was either Zouk, Centro, China Black or China Jump. The clubbing scene has evolved since then, giving party goers a pretty long list of choices. I’ve hung up my glitter tops and clubbing shoes a long time ago, but I still do enjoy a night out with my girlfriends.

Clubs
Zouk is probably the longest standing clubbing institution in our little island and will always be known as a pioneer in the clubbing scene back in the day. 4 sections of Zouk have DJs spinning different music and there are different themes each night. The Butter Factory has 2 rooms both playing R&B and view of Singapore’s bayfront from the windows are spectacular. The crowd here is on the younger side (teens to early 20s) so expect to share the dance floor and bob heads with teenagers.
Mink is a relatively new club and it seems like the patrons are those that have outgrown Butter. The crowd consists of late 20s to 40s customers who have the spending power and they show it by buying 3L Belvederes or Doms by the buckets. It is a great place to people watch and definitely easy on the eyes in the eye candy department. Even more ostentatious is Pangaea at MBS, a playground for the rich and the who’s who. Prices are ridiculously expensive and I know of some tabs that have run to 5 figures.

Bars
If subjecting your ears to base throbbing music is not your thing, fret not, Singapore’s bar scene is equally diverse. Roof top bars with spectacular views of the city skyline are common in the financial district, either in office buildings or hotels – the popular ones are Lantern, Level 33, 1-Altitude and Ku De Ta. The Bank Bar and Boulevard are places for a quick after work unwind, filled with people in the financial industry gossiping or complaining about the markets. Cocktail bars are also getting popular; 28 Hong Kong Street has the NY underground scene vibe with really delicious bar food and the cocktails at Jigger & Pony mean serious business. For times when you just want a drink in your casual shorts and flip flops, Emerald Hill or Wine Connection at Robertson Quay are 2 great bars to chill.

Goldilocks’ choice
Want a night out, nothing too crazy but not too quiet? The Vault at an old OCBC bank premise in Chinatown is a good compromise for a fun night out without getting breaking the bank. Alternatively, the live band at Pump Room gets the crowd singing along to familiar hits and is probably the best band in Singapore.

Too many choices? Perhaps a night out at Clarke Quay, an entertainment area lined with restaurants, bars and clubs might be the best bet, making club hopping the whole night easiest.

Singapore’s Western food scene

You never notice change if you are looking at something or if you are in the situation all the time. Somewhere along the years, Singapore started opening up, embracing different cultures and food and has the onslaught opening of new restaurants to show for it. Restaurants from casual bistros to gastronomy have been sprouting like mushrooms with both local and foreign chefs at the helm. Not all of them are good and below is our take of places that we love.

French
We love Absinthe and Nicholas for their classic French cuisine without burning a hole in your pocket. L’Atelier de Robuchon
 on Sentosa is a great venue to try decently priced gastronomy – the quality of all L’Ateliers globally is of the same standard! Jaan, 
Au Jardin and Les Amis are places for romantic or celebratory dinner but be prepared for the huge bill at the end. For something more casual, Le Bistrot and
 Brasserie Gavroche
 provide a close match to the bistros in Paris.

Italian
Besides pastas and pizzas, we don’t really go for fine dining Italian. After having amazing pizzas in his restaurant in LA, we were super excited that Mario Batali decided to open Pizzeria Mozza and Osteria Mozza
 at MBS. Though the pizzas are not big, they are very filling and I find myself unable to eat more than half of a pizza. The portions in the Osteria are small and therefore makes it expensive but the fresh Burrata cheese is worth the price tag.

Spanish
There has been a recent influx of Spanish tapas bars and I love the concept, as I like to try a little bit of everything. The newly opened Binomio serves up traditional tapas cooked with the chef’s grandmother’s recipe in the bar area (there is a restaurant behind) while Esquina’s tapas have a modern take on them. I found it the most refined among the 3. Lolla puts a creative spin on their tapas and their squid ink sea urchin pudding is to die for. My only gripe is about their reservations policy – only Binomio accepts reservations. As there are not many counter seats, this pretty much leaves you standing by the bar waiting for a place if you arrive after 630pm!
Binomio 20 Craig Road

Modern European
Food that doesn’t fit into a specific category goes into the Modern European box, much like the “others” in a Singapore IC. Kilo is perfect for a laid back dinner in an old school setting with tapas style dishes to share, while Keystone is more upmarket but has value for money degustation menus. Iggy’s by Ignatius Chan is one of the older standing restaurants in my list, and it has been consistently delivers outstanding dishes over the years.

Brunch
I never heard of brunch growing up – it must be a cultural thing the foreigners brought with them in their suitcase. My idea of eggs and sausages was McDonald’s big breakfast! However, one of H’s favourite things on the weekend is to sit outdoors and have brunch. We have tried many places; some are either overpriced, or just tasteless. EM by the river and Rider’s café ticked all our boxes – decently priced, outdoors / open aired, surrounded by nature. PS Café at Dempsey outdoor seating is lovely but I find it on the pricy side.

Burgers
Don’t you find a woman that eats attractive? I’m not talking about ordering carrot sticks and pushing food around the plate. I’m talking about finishing a bloody steak or a huge burger. Anything that I put in my mouth has to be worth it, otherwise it’s just wasted calories. 
&made
 and Roadhouse make burgers the way we like them – toasted sesame bun, thick juicy medium rare patties and just the right size to pick up and eat with your hands.

Even with all these options, we often find ourselves at a loss when it comes to deciding where to eat. “What to eat ah?”

Phuket

We have been going to Phuket for the past 7 years in December to unwind and recharge after a long hard year at work. It is a short 2hr plane ride away and we love how convenient it is to get there. We have always avoided the Patong area, (ladyboys, drunken party goers are not really our thing) preferring to stay at Bangtao beach.

A collection of hotels make up Laguna Phuket and we’ve stayed at 3 over the past 7 years Best Western Allamanda, Angsana Laguna Phuket (formerly Sheraton) and Mövenpick Resort. Laguna is self sufficient but it is nice to have a car or scooter to explore other beaches or restaurants outside the Laguna area. Taxi prices are super inflated and I suspect there is a cartel (or mafia!) within the Laguna area. A trip to Patong would be ฿700 one way and you can either ask the driver to pick you up later (additional fee for waiting) or catch a taxi from Patong.

Places to eat

Lotus Restaurant
We think this is the best place to watch the sunset and have live seafood. Prices are roughly the same among the row of beachfront restaurants and we think this place has the best presentation and ambience. You can choose the live seafood from the tanks behind the restaurant. We end up eating here on most nights, and an added bonus is the view of fireworks or floating lanterns sold by beach peddlers. Provides free pick up in the Laguna area.
31/13 Banyan Tree Beachfront, Moo 4., Cherngtalay, Thalang

Toto Italian Restaurant
When we get sick of Thai food after eating it for consecutive days, we get our pasta and pizza fix from this Italian place. Portions are generous sized so you can share the antipasti, pastas or pizzas. We never had a problem with the service despite some bad reviews on Tripadvisor. Provides free pick up in the Laguna area.
24 Laguna Resort Entrance, Lagoon Road, Cherngtalay, Thalang

Flame, Pasta and Bake
These 3 outlets by the Twinpalms resort are beside each other at the entrance of Laguna. Flame is a rotisserie that serves chicken, kebabs, burgers, pizzas and wraps, Pasta serves well… pastas and Bake is a bakery and patisseries. This is the only bakery I am aware of that you can get freshly made pain au chocolate, croissants etc in the Laguna area other than hotels. They do not provide a pick up so the best way is to take the shuttle bus to the gates of Laguna and it is a 5min walk.
106/46 Moo 3, Surin Beach Road, Cherngtalay, Talang

Spas
If the hotel spas are too expensive, a good alternative is the Oasis Secret Garden Spa at the entrance of Laguna. They provide free pick up from the Laguna area but remember to book early as it is very popular and almost always full. Another alternative are the massage parlors outside the Laguna gates for a ฿400/hour foot or back rub.

Where we stayed
Mövenpick Resort Bangtao is right on the beach, perfect for lazy travellers like me who just want to roll out of bed and onto the beach. There is a beach area with umbrellas just for the hotel guest or if you prefer there is a regular sized swimming pool for the laps and pool bar for refreshments.
35 Moo 4, Cherngtalay, Thalang

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