Saturday, 29 April 2017

#shuutravels Melbourne's 5 Must Visit Food (& Drink) Places

Melbourne - food and coffee capital of the world, they say. I say, this reputation is definitely well deserved! By the end of our 7 day vacation to the Australian city, our tummies could hardly be happier.

While we tried to squeeze in as many cafes and restaurants as our stomachs and wallets could allow, here's a review of 5 of my favourite joints, to guide your itinerary the next time you visit Melbourne:

1. The Glass Den
15 Urquhart St, Coburg VIC 3058

This cafe, in a residential district just slightly north of the city centre, wins the award for having the most photogenic food, ever. This was the first proper meal we had in Melbourne and it definitely blew our minds away.

Pictured below are the Pulled Pork Brioche, Tasty Tropics Smoothie & the Peach & Avocado toast respectively, and they were all fantastic. Beware the long queues though, despite us reaching at 2.30PM on a weekday there was still a queue to get in... Definitely worth it though - would have gone back in a heartbeat if it weren't so far out of the way!


2. OPERATOR 25
25 Wills Street, Melbourne VIC 3000

One of Melbourne's top brunch restaurants, much has already been said about this CBD establishment. And I'm here to vouch for its great vibe, great coffee and great food - definitely not overrated! Nestled in an old 1900s building, the place was already bustling by 8.30am in the morning - Melbournians sure love their breakfast! We ordered their Matcha Waffles and Teriyaki Benedict. Verdict: 11/10 for the waffles for sure, sooooo delish!


3. Higher Ground
650 Little Bourke Street, Melbourne VIC 3000

Located right across Southern Cross station, this was our last hangout before we bid Melbourne a sad goodbye. Located in a double story 19th century powerhouse, its beautiful industrial interiors were an absolute feast for the eyes. Food wise, we had the Ricotta Hotcakes and Kale & Cauliflower bowl, both of which were fantastic but the portions were just way too big for us two little Asian girls to finish haha. Not complaining though! As per all Melbourne brekkie locations, reach before 9am (or even 8.30am!) to be guaranteed a seat!


4. N2 Extreme Gelato Fitzroy
329 Brunswick St, Fitzroy VIC 3065

So Melbourne is not all about cafes. Walking around Fitzroy on a ridiculously hot summer afternoon, we had a sudden craving for ice cream and lo and behold, found this super cute gelato store just around the corner. You can order a variety of made-to-order liquid nitrogen gelatos here, and add toppings that come in a syringe, full science-lab style, if you wish! Think the flavours change regularly, but I had the red velvet cupcake, which was an absolute delight on a warm balmy day. They have another outlet in the CBD too I believe, though hipster neighbourhood Fitzroy is worth checking out for at least half a day!



5. Eau de Vie
1 Malthouse Lane, Melbourne VIC 3000

Of course, who can forget the drinks? Eau de Vie is a secret little hideout, tucked away from the main street behind a signage free door. Nevertheless, once you've found your way in, a bustling and dimly-lit speakeasy bar awaits. We had some great cocktails and cheeses off their menu, and were very entertained by their (very cute) bartenders as well - great night for sure! The Espresso Martini, featured below, is topped with mousse foam that was frozen with liquid nitrogen right before your eyes - very yums and very cool (no pun intended). Do remember to make a reservation though, this place is seriously crowded, but for good reason!



There we have it! A sleek list of 5 establishments to visit the next time you visit this lovely Australian city. I for one cannot wait to go back. No brunch in Singapore compares, and I'm not exaggerating!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

#shuutravels Trekking Taroko Gorge - A Guide

The highlight of my trip to Taiwan last December was, unsurprisingly, Taroko Gorge. #Natureloverforever :) No photos will ever do justice to how spectacular this scenic region is. We hired a private driver from our Hualien B&B, who drove us into the Taroko National Park so we could do some hiking. (P.S. we stayed at HL53 B&B 花漾村聲民宿, which was, by the way, fantastic and highly recommended.)

The national park is huge, but if you only have a day's worth of time, like we did, I'd recommend going for these 3 trails/look-out points:

1. Qixing Tan Beach 七星潭 & Qingshui Cliffs 清水断崖


On the road from Hualien into the Taroko region are two scenic spots where our driver took us for brief photo stops. Qixing Tan Beach is a tranquil pebble filled beach facing an endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean, while a spectacular 5km stretch of cliffs called the Qingshui Cliffs can be viewed from a purpose built observatory. 

 

2. Taroko Gorge - Shakadang Trail 砂卡噹步道


Also known as the “Mysterious Valley Trail”, this was the first hike we embarked on that day. The whole time it was threatening to pour, but thankfully the rain held up and we managed to enjoy our scenic walk.

This is one of the few trails in Taroko that are right by the river, offering a unique perspective to marvel at the towering marble cliffs of the region. The trail follows the Shakadang Stream, famous for its crystal clear turquoise waters. On a warmer day I heard you could take a dip in the calmer pools, but unfortunately the weather was not fantastic that day. This trail takes about 1.5-2 hours to complete, and is an easy walk with well paved paths.


3. Taroko Gorge - Baiyang Waterfall Trail 白楊步道


Featuring rivers, waterfalls, valleys, cliffs and tunnels, this trail deep into the Taroko Gorge has it all. The stars of this trail are the magnificent Baiyang Waterfall and the Water Curtain tunnel, but unfortunately the latter was closed off to public when we were there due to rockfall.

This easy 2 hour hike brought us through pitch black tunnels, hair raising cliff edges and a suspension bridge before leading us to the Baiyang Waterfall observatory deck. The views from this trail are insanely beautiful, and so humbling. The Taroko Gorge started off merely as sediment at the bottom of the ocean, and these towering cliffs we see today are the result of over hundred million years of geologic forces. Now this is the real #taleasoldastime.


We managed to complete all this, plus a few more photo stops along the way at Swallow Grotto and the Cimu Bridge in about 10 hours - we left Hualien at 8am and reached back at 6pm.

If there was more time I would have loved to hike the Zhuliu Old Trail but that 4-5 hour hike would have left us with little time left to see anything else! Next time then, see you again Taroko, you were amazing!

Thursday, 18 August 2016

#shuutravels 9 Beautiful Summer Landscapes Worth Seeing in Hokkaido


Hokkaido in Summer is hands down the most picturesque destination I've been to yet. Here, pristine lakes set against virgin forests and rolling hills lit aflame with summer flowers promise a breathtaking holiday unlike any other.

We spent 9 days travelling across Japan's northern-most island and were rewarded with so many picture perfect moments. If you're like me and love travelling in search of beautiful spaces, Hokkaido is surely the perfect destination for you. Here are my top 9 places to visit to capture that tumblr perfect backdrop or even the next Mac OS wallpaper:

1. MOERENUMA PARK, SAPPORO

 

Hokkaido is famously known as Japan's breathing space, and Sapporo, its capital is no exception. Little pockets of garden and green dot the city, providing ample hiking and strolling opportunity to the weary urbanite. Moerenuma Park, on the Northeast fringe of the city though, is worth a special visit. The sprawling park is designed by renowned sculptor and landscape artist Isamu Noguchi and features several themed zones, including Hokkaido's kind-of version of the Louvre. Walking through the park's clean lines and harmonious landscape, the park felt like a showroom of Japanese design.


2. THE BIEI COUNTRYSIDE


A bike is your best bet to exploring the picturesque countryside that is Biei. If you can just persevere through the steep inclines, the rush downhill through acres of blue-sky-meets-golden-farmland is the best reward ever.

This little town has the cutest monuments too - there is a specially curated cycling route bringing you to renowned trees around the countryside. E.g. the 2 poplar trees below have a name and a special inscribed plaque next to them - they have been christened the 'Ken and Mary Tree', after a famous car commercial that was filmed there. How cute hehe.

3. FURANO'S FAMOUS FLOWER FIELDS


Summer is Hokkaido's flower season! We visited in early July, which was just before the peak blooming season, but we were still treated to a magical purple carpet of lavender when we reached. Tip: while Nakafurano Lavender Farm is ticketed, it is much less crowded than the free to enter Farm Tomita - so crucial for your perfect Instagram Moment.

Don't fret if you miss the infrequent Norokko Train to the Lavender Farm station either, the walk from Nakafurano station is pleasant and you'll get to see some super cute countryside houses too.


4. OTARU CANAL


Otaru, a town less than an hour North of Sapporo, is kinda touristy and crowded but still worth a visit. With its quaint canals flanked by old industrial warehouses and cobbled sidewalks, it is indeed a very photogenic town.


5. LAKE KUSSHARO & LAKE MASHU


We drove into the centre of Hokkaido to an area called Akan National Park, where there is a famous cluster of 3 beautiful crater lakes. Lake Kussharo and Lake Mashu are nearer to each other though, and as we had a tight schedule to follow we gave the third lake, Lake Akan, a miss.

If you're driving, don't miss the Bihoro Pass, a stop by the highway that offers a seriously splendid vista of Lake Kussharo and its islands. As you head downhill towards the shore, many ryokans dotted along Lake Kussharo offer you the opportunity to stay overnight and enjoy the peace of a quiet onsen town.


Lake Mashu is somewhat different. Dubbed the 'clearest lake in the world', it is heavily protected and nobody is allowed near the lake except for research purposes. So the only way to admire its beauty is to go to 3 purpose built look out points around the lake. That kinda made it a less magical experience for us but the views are undoubtedly still breathtaking.


6. KAWAYU ONSEN


After the 2 hour drive into Akan National Park (yeah I'm a noob driver...), the outdoor onsens were a sheer delight to relax in. Plus, bonus points because these onsens are SO BEAUTIFUL. The Kotan Onsen, especially, is worth a special visit. This hot spring is nestled in a rock pool right by the shores of Lake Kussharo. A comforting 40 degree bath with a panoramic view of the lake and the surrounding mountains is literally bliss.

There are a few other onsens along Lake Kussharo as well, and a rest stop nearby allows you to drink some hot spring goodness (too much of a sulfur smell for me to stomach... but reportedly it may be good for you...)


7. SHIRETOKO NATIONAL PARK


More lakes! I've never seen more lakes, nor more beautiful lakes in my life. Lake District in the UK unfortunately does not even come close (blame British weather...) Shiretoko Five Lakes is a section of the national park open to the amateur hiker and it is so beautiful. It was nearing the peak of summer and all the trees were resplendent in their crowning glory, creating a very vibrant and lively landscape. I need to come back in autumn or winter one day, I can only imagine how different a landscape it will be.

PS > Tip: Cover up! The mozzies and flies are relentless in summer! Tip 2: Check out the Shiretoko Nature Centre - it is a brilliant museum that will give you some background info of the park and explain its ecological significance. #geoggeekalert


8. UTORO'S SUNSET


How better to end a trip than a spectacular sunset to remind you of nature's glory. Utoro, the town closest to the Shiretoko Peninsular, offers multiple viewpoints to admire a brilliant sunset over the Okhotsk Sea. We checked out both the Yuuhidai Point as well as the Utoro Pier.


9. SHH IT'S MY SECRET


Don't plan your whole holiday itinerary, make some wrong turns and take the longer routes. Hokkaido is such an effortlessly scenic place that there's beauty to be discovered in every corner.


And there you go! Top 9 scenery-on-fleek attractions in Hokkaido as recommended by yours truly. I really enjoyed my trip to Hokkaido this summer, I really hope that I'll get the chance to visit again in another season - it's such a beautiful island (lol officially over-used the word beautiful in this blogpost...)

Hope this little Hokkaido travel guide helped for any of you planning an upcoming trip up North. The food in Hokkaido was also really noteworthy so I'll probably write a food guide soon; keep a look out for that! :)