Monday, 25 January 2016

Winter 2016: Cost Breakdown

Whenever I travel, one of the first things friends will ask is how much it cost me. The misconception is that travelling is very expensive. No doubt, it is expensive, but with proper budgeting that is carefully tailored to your own needs and capability, travelling is possible without burning a large hole in the pocket.

So I decided to share couple of numbers on how much my recent 3 night trip to Tokyo cost. Based on my pictures, how much would you think it has cost me? Make a guess.

So here's a pie chart on the break down of stuff I have spent on, categorised under six different categories - Transport, Food, Shopping, Accommodation, Flight and Miscellaneous.

The answer to my earlier question is S$1,229.49. And yes, its all in, including flight, accommodation and tax.

I did mention that my Flight on Delta was $540.00. That takes up 43.9% of the total cost (almost half!) Don't forget that this is for a 3 night trip. Should it be a week stay, the same $540.00 may end up taking up only 30% of the pie or even lesser.

Naturally, Accommodation takes up the next highest share of the pie. At 21.7%, it is almost similar to that of Shopping. Accommodation is almost always lower when you travel in pairs and share the room as well as its cost. I don't usually spend a lot on shopping. But this time around, I spend a little bit on shopping for trading purposes.

Similarly, most places I go to, I do not spend much on Food because most cities I go to do not have Halal food readily. Which is why, Food only takes up 8.9% of the pie. If you are a foodie, your percentage for food will potentially be higher.

The smallest (miscellaneous not included) here happens to be Transport. At 4.6%, it is only S$56.81. Note that this is not always the case. As I was only in the immediate Tokyo area, transport is not costly. Should there be inter-city trains or rail passes involved, this category will naturally take up a bigger percentage.

So why again am I sharing the cost breakdown? Other than to say that travelling may not necessarily burn a hole in your pocket, it is also to share how much money goes to what in a typical trip. And if you know which segment takes up a big portion of your expenses, you will do well in keeping that particular cost down.

Good luck budgeting and have fun travelling!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Winter 2016: Day 4

The final day of the trip!

The flight home was scheduled at 5.30pm. It meant that we needed to be at the airport at 3.30pm. We figured that we wanted an hour more in the airport as a buffer and also some extra time for duty-free shopping. So that works out to 2.30pm arrival at Narita Terminal 1. The journey from the hotel in Asakusa to Ueno takes about 15min while the Keisei Limited Express train shuttle between Ueno and Narita takes 70min. That will set us back another 1.5 hours to a 1.00pm departure from the hotel. However, the check-out timing for the hotel is 11.00am.

We wanted to take our time a little on the final day, so leaving the hotel for a return to Nakamise Shopping Street late will mean that we will need to rush back to meet the check-out timing. So we did the logical thing every traveler would do. We left our packed luggage at the hotel lobby and check out when we left the hotel for Nakamise at 9.00am. This meant that we have 4 solid hours outside before coming back for our stuff.

First up was the much needed morning coffee which we had at Starbucks. Partly because the electric kettle in our room stopped functioning that morning causing me to miss my caffeine fix from the 3-in-1 pack.

So the order for the day was pretty straightforward. Leisure shopping at Nakamise, followed by lunch at Naritaya - an eatery which serves Halal ramen - and then the journey to Narita Airport. The bowl of ramen I ordered at Naritaya had 1 boiled egg, seaweed, chicken cutlets and mushroom. The hot soup really hit the spot on a cold day. It was tasty, yummy and cost me ¥700.

Naritaya's Shop Front

I THINK this bowl I had was the "Special Ramen"
Its good to know that Naritaya has a tiny surau within their restaurant. It is on the second floor (tall people should watch their heads when climbing up the stairs) of the restaurant that comes complete with a simple tap and basin for ablution. The space fits only one person - or maybe two very small people.

Naritaya's ablution area
With shopping and lunch settled, we headed back to collect our luggage and went straight to the airport. Even with all the calculations done, we eventually only reach the airport at 3.30pm and not 2.30pm as originally intended. It was a little bit of rush because the duty-free shops in the airport can have very very long queues which eats up a lot of your time. So do take this in consideration when you plan your time.

Find Mt Fuji..!

More Kawaii drawings on my food :) 

And with that, my "Smash & Grab" Tokyo trip comes to an end! Till I see you again in 2018 Japan!

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Winter 2016: Day 3

The other full day in Tokyo started pretty late, no thanks to the previous day's load. Packed some bread from the hotel breakfast and decided to have morning coffee first at Starbucks.

Headed down to Tsukiji Fish Market. In their standards, reaching at 10.30 am is already more than 5 hours late. Nevertheless, I'm glad I made the trip. I've been to Tokyo six times and this is only my second time here. The first was way back during my very first trip. I think I appreciate the place more this time round. There are plenty to see even though we missed the auction action. The food streets selling dry items, household items, cooked food and freshly sliced sashimis. The Fish Market will be relocated in November this year. I wonder what happens then, to the shops in the vicinity - some of them looked like they have been here forever. 

Man at work
Mochi Stall
Antique Cash Till

Close-up of the vehicle used to transport goods at the market

Tamago cake

Scallop sauteed in Butter
After almost half a day in Tsukiji, we moved on to our next destination. But not before having lunch at Hala Luna - an eatery with a Halal menu. Luna Hala is located on the ground floor of Tsukiji Business Hotel BAN. The hotel is within the vicinity of Tsukiji Fish Market as well as the Tsukiji Metro Station on the Hibiya Line. I had this dish that had rice in a bowl and it was topped by chicken pieces, eggs and a sweet sauce. I'm bad at remembering names, so here's a picture of it.

Next up is the visit to the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. The Meiji Shrine is a Shinto Shrine. The Meiji Shrine occupies quite a large area with pretty expansive gardens of trees and greens. I've been here a couple of times but I was always lazy enough to not explore the gardens. Before I highlight a few things through pictures, I should probably mention those stuff people do here which are not captured on photo.

At the entrance, you'll notice a Torii Gate. I observed that the Japanese will bow before entering. You'll come across two of such gates. And on the way out, after passing under the gate, they will turn back, give a bow, and then leave.

On the way to the shrine, you will also see a shed with flowing water and ladles. It is the purification fountain. This is where they perform the purification ritual. First wash the right hand, then the left and end it by pouring some of the water into your cupped hand, rinse your mouth with it and spit it to the ground.

When at the offering hall, visitors will throw a coin into the offering box (here, it is quite a big box), bow deeply twice, clap their hands twice, bow deeply one more time, before praying for a few seconds.

(Editor's note: These are the practice of the locals. Visitors will typically follow the rituals out of respect or for the experience. It is not a must to do all of the above. As a practising Muslim, while still holding a respect for a place of worship, I do not perform any of the above. The sharing is meant for readers who are comfortable with performing the practices)

Barrels of Rice Wine

Traditional Japanese Wedding

Votive Tablets where people write their prayers and wishes
After leaving Meiji Shrine, we did some leftover shopping in the area before taking a leisurely walk to nearby Shibuya. By now it was already close to 5.00pm. We have not really recovered from the previous day's exertion, so we decided this will be the last stop for the day.

It was a pretty long final stop.

What we eventually bought
At Shibuya, we spent some time in the Disney Store, Loft and the Supermarkets of department stores Seibu and Tokyu.

I have to highlight this point: It is a good idea to get sushi and sashimi at discounted prices one or two hours before the supermarket close for the day and have them for dinner. There are also cooked items that one can buy. Seibu has a fair spread of sushi and sashimi, but I find that Tokyu has a bigger spread and they have a large section for cooked food. And the food never fail to look so yummy and appetising. You will spend minutes, maybe more than an hour browsing through and find that you'd want to buy more than you can finish.

After getting our food, we took the long train ride on the Tokyo Metro Ginza Line from one end, to the other end - Shibuya all the way to the 19th station, Asakusa.
The day ended earlier than the previous day, but it was still a pretty tiring day. Not to mention that it was the third and final night. Meaning, we needed to spend some time to pack our luggage to prepare for check out.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Winter 2016: Day 2

Day 2 started with complimentary breakfast from the hotel. The breakfast was served at the lounge located at the top floor of the hotel with a view of the Sumida River and the Tokyo Skytree. Actually, the top floor is not that high at all. It was on the ninth floor. Anyhow, it offered quite a view.

View from the lounge
After that it was a trip to visit Senso-Ji and the Kaminarimon Gate. They were a short walking distance from our hotel. From the direction we came from, we went past the Kaminarimon Gate first, before walking by the Nakamise Shopping Street and eventually ending up at Senso-Ji.

Now, Nakamise Shopping Street is still one of the best places to find almost all things Japanese at a reasonable price. Souvenirs, street food, Kimono, toys, etc. I didn't manage to visit a flea market during this trip. I'll definitely review the Japanese flea market once I've had the opportunity to visit one.

Ladies in pretty Kimonos
After that was a trip to Akihabara. The city of Manga, Otakus, electronics, consoles, etc. The main reason why I made the trip here was to stop by "Hard Off" - a Japanese recycling store that buys your unwanted but usable stuff to re-sell it back to customers. They have other stores named Book Off, Hobby Off and House Off for other categories of items. "Hard Off" sells old game consoles, cartridges, musical instruments, LPs, CDs and cassettes. I came to buy old nintendo game cartridges. I'm happy to find Mario, Rockman and Bomberman.

Some "fun" for the men at the urinal while peeing
After that it was an evening at Omote-Sando where more time was spent shopping and window shopping. We went back very late and with an empty stomach. We ended up buying back a kebab salad set from a Halal Kebab stall we bumped into on the way back to our hotel. I thought it was good to have some protein and greens to add on to our dinner menu which was cup noodles. The cup noodle I brought from Singapore was a savior because the Halal eateries I know around our hotel have all closed for the day by then.

Same view, but at night
It was a very tiring day. It started as early as 6.30am and ended (technically) on the next day at 1.30am. We were so exhausted. So it was a huge morale booster to know that we had one of the best beds I ever slept on. It was firm but comfortable. Enough to support my aching back and muscles.

Age is indeed catching up.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Winter 2016: Day 1

Among the clouds again
I went for a "Smash & Grab" Trip to Tokyo. It was one of the few trips that happen so early in the year. It was just a 3-night adventure because

#1 - Air ticket was relatively cheap
#2 - I had spare time
#3 - A friend asked me to go along

Tickets were booked and purchased on the 7th Jan for a flight on the 21st.

It was the first time for me on Delta Airlines. Return flight ticket price was $540 (could be cheaper at $500 if I had stayed longer in Tokyo). Relatively cheap because it is not a budget carrier, the flight times were perfect and it was a direct flight.

For comparison sake, here are the airlines that I took to Tokyo before and their respective prices:

I had some observations about flying Delta. Their security checks were more stringent. It started right from the time you need to obtain your boarding pass at Changi Airport Terminal 1. A handful of questions were asked by the security officer. Probably because it is an American airlines.
I always thought Asians give better service, but the one I got up on board Delta was very good, if not better.
I was really entertained by their flight safety instructions. I even watched it a second time on my flight back!
They serve Starbucks coffee on board.
Their flight entertainment system had a library of movies and programmes, and most were given complimentary. Yes, this is something I always assumed was a given. But this changed when I read the T&C on Delta's website.

"We Proudly Serve Starbucks"
So we arrived Tokyo's Narita International Airport and this time we got a pocket wifi router for our internet fix. I normally don't. Should you pay for internet? If so, should you get a pocket router or a sim card?

We chose the router over the sim card wifi because with the router, both of us can use the internet at the same time. The router can connect up to 10 devices at one time. It cost us an average of $10.00 for 500MB a day. There was an option to buy insurance for it, in case something untoward happens to it. We didn't. Simply because we know we are adult enough to return what we borrowed in the same condition when we receive them.

Pocket Wifi
Next is the journey from Narita to Central Tokyo. I considered my options and the cheapest for me will be the Keisei Limited Express. It is not the fastest, but looking at the options I had, paying double to reach 10min - 30min faster was not worth it. Of course, i'll be paying more for the comfort (maybe wifi too) as well, but low price appealed more to me than luxury/comfort. Here's a table of 3 rail lines and their specs. Prices quoted are the prices in general. They may differ from time to time due to seasonal promotions.

General Narita Airport - Tokyo Central Train Prices
So we went straight to our hotel to unload our stuff. The sun has already set, so the order of the day was only dinner and a small window for shopping. We chose to head to Ikebukuro where we knew there will be a Halal eatery and that I can buy something someone asked me to help get.

Asakusa Hotel Hatago
Dinner was at the Manhattan Fish Market. Here's a picture I took of their brochure.

Of course, after those boxes were ticked, it was random window shopping in the Ikebukuro area before heading back for a well needed rest.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016


So ever since I came back from Europe in Nov 2015, I have not updated this blog. Guilty as charged.

In my defense, I was doing a little bit of travelling very soon after that, which has kept me pretty busy.

I left for Saudi Arabia in early December for about 11 days. And at year's end was the first leg of a double-header in Shah Alam, Malaysia. I just came back from the second leg a few days back.

And just when I thought I am disciplined enough to temporarily stop travelling, I blinked and booked a flight to Tokyo.

I probably should just quickly do an update on the Shah Alam trips first.