Travel is a very subjective matter – everyone has different preferences and appetite for adventure. My preference is for food, sightseeing and light shopping. I also prefer to pack as many places to visit as possible into the itinerary. I call this Fast Travel. As for adventure, i don’t bungee jump nor scale any mountain, but i do take a rental car wherever and whenever it’s cheap to do so (it usually is). I will share with you what was worthwhile and what’s not on my trips, as well as tips that may be helpful to your trip planning.

What you need to know about renting a car in Japan

So i’ve just made the car rental arrangement for my upcoming Japan trip. This would be my 4th time renting a car in Japan (well the 5th time including the rental on Yakushima Island). You could say i’ve learned quite a bit along the way. For the upcoming car rental, i chose to go with Tocoo. Yes, i’ve been critical of Tocoo in my original post about renting a car in Japan, but, this time round, they make sense.

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How to use digital FastPass at Tokyo Disney Resort

Using a digital FastPass (i.e. get FastPass on your phone) is essential at Tokyo Disney Resort to reduce waiting time for the rides. Unfortunately, there is a lot of difficulty involved in achieving this for foreigners. I managed to do it with the help of these two guides, and i have more details to share on how to do it.

Sunday crowd
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How to receive SMS overseas without roaming

Let me first explain why anyone would do without roaming, and why the need to receive SMS while overseas. Well, i signed up the Circles.Life flexi plan which has $0 monthly subscription. With this plan, which is completely free of charge, I get 1GB data, 30 minutes talk time and 10 SMSes, which, believe it or not, is sufficient for my usage, especially since the data part is bolstered by the free unlimited data plan from TPG. So, yep, i pay $0 per month for my communication needs.

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5 days itinerary of Shantou, Chaozhou and Meizhou

If you’re into history and food, these destinations may be of interest to you. I took advantage of a Jetstar promo and bought return tickets to Jieyang/Shantou for only $64. Here’s my itinerary:

Day 1
Jieyang airport is about half an hour from Chaozhou, an hour away from Shantou and two hours from Meizhou. You may actually start your trip from any of the three cities. For me, Shantou seems to be the logical place to start. The Jetstar flight timing is such that by the time you’re checked into your hotel, it’s almost time for dinner.

Fuyuan is the place to be for Teochew dishes.

Air-conditioned and hygienic
The signature dish, braised pork (隆江猪手). Marinated through and through and so delicious.
Raw crabs. Rich and creamy.
Large chunks of goose liver
The porridge is thicker than the Singapore version and it is better. Superior rice grains for sure.
Vegetables are always served in huge portions in China, and always very fresh
Pu Ning (普宁) bean curd. Deep fried and tastes very good when taken with the accompanying chives dipping.
The restaurant is huge, but you should still be there early to avoid queuing

After dinner, we took a long stroll towards Xiao Wu rice rolls (小吴肠粉), stopping by Suning mall along the way.

Opens 7+ pm to 4am
Some people are out off by the shirtless chefs
The pork, seafood and eggs is the more popular option and it is loaded with fillings
Seems quite easily put together but very tasty

Day 2
The Shantou old city area is worth spending half a day to check out. Various traditional food outlets are littered throughout this area.

First stop, Laomagong (老妈宫) dumplings. It is named after the temple across the street, which is near the centre of the old city area.

Hidden in a small alley but well marked
It is different from the Hokkien style dumplings we are used to. It is mostly savoury but also has red bean paste embedded, and served with sauce. Tastes good.
Besides dumplings they sell a few other items
Just around the corner, Aixi noodles
It is similar to the Fuzhou noodles but with much less Tahini. You can also choose Kway Teow.
Comes with soup as a set
What the old city looks like and it is in Chinese baroque style
Restoration underway and I think they may have gone a little too far in the “correction” done
I hope they retain the present looks. I even prefer retaining the plants growing on the roof
The center of old city, cslled little garden (小公园)
Iconic octogonal windoes

To relieve the stomach from too much food, we visited the Shantou development museum, which is free admission and interesting enough. Still quite stuffed but had to proceed with lunch, at Fuhecheng (福合埕), just to check it off the list.

Beef is a specialty of Shantou and Chaozhou
The beef ball was very springy and juicy
The original outlet, and they have outlets all over Shantou
There is a sense of serenity around here
Another age old store near the center specializing in all types of Kueh (粿)
No room for these
Quite a wide variety
The old buildings look sturdy and well ornamented
This is called almond and sesame tea, though it is obviously not tea. A little too starchy but delicious nevertheless.
Quite a few shops selling this but this one is one of the oldest, and it is air-conditioned!
Before dinner, we had a go at this dessert place famous for bean curd
On the left, cylinder shaped Tangyuan (glutinous rice dumplings) with filling that is called 鸭母捻, and bean curd on the right. There is a sticky feel to the bean curd and it is quite special.
The seaside corridor near People’s park
Shantou is full of seafood stalls called Da Pai Dang, and Cai Ji is a well known one that has been upgraded into a restaurant.
A small fish that is said to be popular in Shantou
A very interesting signature dish at Cai Ji, pumpkin in coconut milk. Also has yam cubes. It is like Bo Bo Cha Cha.
So good we finished it despite being very full

Day 3
There are frequent buses to Chaozhou, although it is somewhat annoying that the bus spends half an hour picking up passengers in Shantou before actually starting on the journey to Chaozhou. It is also possible to take a train to Chaozhou and the trip takes only half an hour (vs more than an hour by bus), but you may have trouble finding a taxi when you arrive! In fact, this was the biggest problem we faced when in Chaozhou. The taxis don’t go by meter and you have to haggle over the price. More importantly, you may not even be able to find a taxi when you need one!

Other than this very distasteful tourist trap of being swindled every time you need to get around, Chaozhou is a pleasant place to be, despite being very touristic.

Grabbed some Kueh before leaving Shantou. The chives and green bean ones are savoury while the dark red one is red bean.
Paifang street, the successful tourist magnet that all the neighbouring cities are trying to emulate
The traditional businesses, like this noodle shop, on Paifang street are slowly taken over by new enterprises.
Hanshanglou (韩上楼) is the biggest dim sum place in Chaozhou
The harkao is good. Overall, don’t expect Hong Kong kind of standard here. Price is reasonable.
The alleys around this old city area is fun to explore
Old city gate that is wide enough for a car to pass through
Ghangji bridge is beautiful and functional at the same time
Supposedly an ancient bridge but it is completely newly designed
The section of the bridge that is made up of boats
The boats are removed every day at 5pm
Ghangji gate, the old city gate
Huliangquan is a century old snack place along Paifang street
Popiah is called 春饼. They also sell other Teochew specialties like fermented beans biscuits.
Traditional way of making Popiah skin
The Popiah filling is green beans. May not work for everyone but I do like green beans.
This was totally unplanned for but the billboard grabbed my attention. Braised goose. Just around the corner from Hurongquan, built into the new East Sea Hotel that is still under renovation.
This was very good! And cheap too (80 Yuan)
The restoration effort is slowly progressing into all the alleys of the old city
Good thing they are preserving this ornamented wall
The streets are quite neat and they remind me of Japan
The old houses definitely look better than the modern ones
Fruit juice shops like this one is all over Chaozhou and Shantou
The fresh fruits are sprinkled with 甘草 which is a type of herb. You can choose to eat the fruits as is or blend them into juice. They add a lot of sugar to the blended drink so you might want to tell them to hold back on the sugar.
Another Chaozhou specialty, fish dumplings
They serve soup in the evening
You can taste the fish in the fish ball. A meaty feel which I like rather than the bouncy and starchy fish balls that’s been “improvised” to save cost.
Final food item to check off the list for the day – oyster omelette
Very thin and crispy. Thumbs up. I would say this is better than the ones in Singapore and Taiwan which are more starchy.
Even the locals come and walk about Paifang street at night. The shops stay open till around 10.

Day 4
You could say this was the day when everything went wrong. My plan was to take a train to Meizhou. There was conflicting information on the train schedule and it turned out the 11am train I was hoping to take was no longer available since years ago. Lesson learnt: the train schedule that is actually available for booking online (via ctrip website for example) is accurate.

Kway Chap for breakfast inside the courtyard of an old house.
This was truly tasty. The rice starch was thick and smooth.
The surrounding will keep you occupied before your food is served

It’s unfortunate that Chaozhou and Meizhou are not well connected. There is only a single train trip per day at 530pm and two bus trips at 915 and 3pm respectively. The situation will be much improved when the high speed rail link is launched later this year (2019). If you’re interested to go to Meizhou, you might want to hold off your travel plans until the high speed rail is operational. It departs from the high speed rail station near Jieyang Chaoshan airport.

Anyway, I decided to catch a bus to Jieyang and transit to another bus for Meizhou. Little did I know, there was a detour from the usual 2 hours route from Jieyang to Meizhou due to road closure, and the journey became 4.5 hours! Anyway, this was still the best outcome possible, being able to arrive at Meizhou around 6pm. If I took the 3pm bus from Chaozhou or the 530pm train, I would have arrived at 8pm! It was raining the whole day anyway, and I may not have been able to do much anyway if I arrived at the planned timing 1pm.

Headed for a Hakka meal right away. Food from a factory assembly line restaurant like this one is so-so as expected.
The Hakka noodles here (腌面) is said to be among the top ten in Meizhou (a commercially motivated listing so take it with a pinch of salt), but it was bland. The texture was good though. If you didn’t know, 腌面 is THE Hakka dish.
Abacus seeds (算盘子). It is more chewy than the ones we are accustomed to in Malaysia and Singapore. You can see that it looks translucent.

Day 5
My original plan for the day was to visit the neighbouring small town called Songkou as well as the Nanyanfei tea plantation (雁南飞茶园) and Qiaoxi Hakka village (桥溪古韵). Instead, I moved the itinerary I had planned for the day before to the present day, and thankfully it worked even better this way.

Youluo street (油罗街) is the logical place to start the food tour of old town. It’s tragic that they destroyed the original facade of the old town and installed a completely homogeneous and uninspiring new facade. No soul. They got it all wrong here in Meizhou, unlike Shantou and Chaozhou.
The name of the street comes from the trade of selling fried snack items. Fried balls of pumpkin and yam being prepared.
A snack that would be familiar to Malaysians – Gaizaipeng.
Came to this little eatery by chance and the food was delicious
炒粄皮 is like Kway Teow, just slightly thicker. Full of Wok Hey.
This was the best 腌面. Texture and taste were superb. It’s true, as they say, that the best 腌面 is found in the little shops in the little alleys littered around Meizhou.
三及第汤 which is a combination of pork, liver and intestines.
Thick layer of oil and pork lard for the noodles
What the old town really looks like
Hidden in this quiet alley is a specialty glutinous rice balls shop Rongji 荣记
38 years selling just glutinous rice balls, amazing
The soup has pomelo skin
Not like any glutinous rice balls I have ever tasted. Super smooth and has a special caramel sweetness. The plain ones were actually the best.
Meizhou is quickly destroying all things they deem old and ugly
This corner of the old town is full of Clay pot rice restaurants
So fragrant you don’t need a lot of meat go with the rice
Donghu street is slated to undergo the “upgrading”, a pity
Already so full after all the food but must eat here
Take your pick, chair or bench seating
Got to try 梅菜扣肉 (pork belly with pickled vegetables), arguably the most famous Hakka dish
Huge plate of steamed fish belly. I really love Hakka steamed fish. It does not have much gravy like Hong Kong style steamed fish. The two dishes came up to only 56 Yuan, unbelievable!
Took a stroll towards the Hakka museum after lunch and came across this algae filled pond.
Traditional house
Pond adds aesthetics
Renjinglu, the former residence of Wang Zunxian
Once a consul general to Singapore, and later he represented the Chinese in San Francisco
The museum has many well presented exhibits like this fire dragon
The link bridge to the Hakka museum
The museum is very well put together
Model of a 围龙屋
Malaysians will be familiar with this figure
Singaporeans will know him
Figurine that captures a heartbreaking moment so well
1Q84 takes their coffee seriously. A good place to chill after the museum visit.
The typical look of a cafe in this region
Having seen a 围龙屋 in the museum, I chanced upon information about a restaurant housed in a 围龙屋 and promptly decided to go there. 万秋楼 is undergoing extensive restoration but was still open.
It was a mansion of a rich man, and does not look anything like the model shown in the museum
Dining in the courtyard
Had to try this dish 娘酒鸡. The chicken was too tough. The sweet gravy takes a bit of getting used to but is good.

Day 6
The plan for the day was to buy Hakka goodies and to have the final meal in Meizhou. The 1230pm bus arrived slightly ahead of the scheduled 230pm at Jieyang airport. Given we had more than 2 hours before the check-in counters open, we decided to explore the neighbouring villages. There isn’t any public transport at all, so we took a taxi to save some effort (the nearest village 孙畔村 is actually within walking distance). The fare had to be higher (20 Yuan) because the taxis usually take people into Shantou and Chaozhou instead of the nearby areas.

Meizhou neighborhood is abuzz with people shopping for groceries
Wuhua (五华) is most well known for Yong Tau Fu (stuffed bean curd) and I had to try them. This restaurant sandwiched between the other two supposedly does not “slaughter” customers, though I’m not so sure if that were true in the end. Prices were reasonable I think.
Bean curd wrap
Yong Tau Fu made with fresh bean curd, done in the most original style. Honestly speaking, I was too full from breakfast to be able to tell if it was really good.
Hakka style steamed fish. Had to have it one last time.

We knew we would arrive at the airport too early, so I did research and found out there were villages in the vicinity of the airport worth checking out.

Caught a glimpse of an old village near the airport from the bus. There are quite a few.
孙畔村 is the village nearest to the airport. Looks deserted. People are slowly moving out of these dwellings to modern ones.
Picture perfect. Authentic, unlike the famous mural in Penang.
Finally managed to try Chwee Kueh at the airport. Did not get to try them while at Chaozhou because the shops selling them don’t open early in the morning.
The Chwee Kueh is not as good as the ones in Singapore. These were tougher, much more oily and salty.

The Teochew connection

Having been to Swatow and Teochew, i discovered that a lot of the food that many identify as “Singaporean” are actually Teochew. Here are the proof:

Chwee Kway
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The cheapest way to access Google, WhatsApp and Facebook on a trip to China

The easiest way, and actually still relatively inexpensive way to go about this is to use a local SIM card with data roaming activated. I say it is relatively inexpensive because it cost only $8 for 1GB of data over a week if you use a Starhub prepaid card, and I think it is wise to do so. Forget about buying any other types of prepaid SIM card, or worse, renting a WiFi sharing device. M1 data passport is also very expensive ($25) in comparison.

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North-south highway lunch stop – Yong Peng 688 coffee shop

Yong Peng remains the best lunch stop, timing wise, when traveling down to JB from KL. 688 coffee shop is a lively place with 5 stalls, which is considered a high stall count for Yong Peng. There is the drink stall that also sells Bak Kut Teh, Assam fish and porridge. There’s also a chicken rice stall, a Wanton noodle stall, a Tze Char stall and a soup stall (fish balls, pork ribs etc.).

Chicken rice. Notice the coffee is the typical thin type common in the region, and it looks very milky, though it doesn’t really taste milky.
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North-South Highway lunch stop – Tangkak revisit

I started off from KL fairly early in the morning and i wanted to have a quick lunch stop. Well, more like a snack stop. As with Yong Peng, Tangkak is just a short distance from the Toll booths, so it is good for a quick stop.

Everyone probably goes to the beef noodle shop. Not for me when i want to grab a quick bite and run. From Google maps, the eatery that caught my attention was Lok Pin Hotel & Coffee shop, conveniently located on the main street. From the name, you would know that it harkens from the days (many decades ago) when it was popular to run a hotel and coffee shop as part of the same business. It certainly reminds me of Chong Kok Kopitiam in Klang, which uses 中国酒店 as its Chinese name, meaning China Hotel. Except, Lok Pin Hotel is actually still in operation.

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Iceland 5 days itinerary

Iceland boasts some of the most unique and impressive landscapes I have seen in my travels. My 5 days itinerary crams all the important sites you shouldn’t miss in possibly the shortest time possible, so you can use it as a reference if you like to get the most out of your time in Iceland.

The best sites to see in Iceland are mostly littered along the southern coast, including the Golden circle. My itinerary is for the winter months, and you can definitely see and do more during the summer, but some sites/activities are exclusive to the winter (and vice versa), like seeing ice caves and glacier formations.

A 4-wheel-drive car actually makes a difference in Iceland, as some gravel paths are exclusive to a 4WD. I would suggest avoiding gravel paths though, as you can end up damaging your rental car easily.

Another tip: you don’t need to exchange your currency into the Icelandic currency, as everything can be paid for by credit card, including the unmanned public toilets.

Day 1

All tours begin in Reykjavik, and my itinerary is always planned such that the easy parts are done last. So we headed out of Reykjavik immediately towards Seljalandsfoss (Foss means waterfall). The coolest part about this waterfall is being able to walk around behind it.

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Travel Bucket List – Northern Lights

The northern lights is probably one item that I would imagine is high on anyone’s travel bucket list. The majority of us don’t live within the Arctic circle, and seeing a band of coloured light in the sky is a rare privilege.

I failed in my first attempt to catch the northern lights over 7 years ago, mostly because it was a last minute wish list item added on during the trip. I was in the Arctic circle (Tromso in Norway) for just one day, and I signed up for a tour (expensive as you can imagine), but didn’t get to see anything.

This time round, I made sure I did all the homework prior to planning my itinerary. I discovered however, that, though there is quite a bit of information out there, you won’t have a very clear idea on what you need to do exactly to gain the best chances of seeing the lights. One reason for this is that there is so much commercial value attached to seeing the northern lights that many options (i.e. tours) are made available. So, this is what this article is about, i’m going to tell you exactly what to do to see the northern lights.

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