Our Culinary Adventure in Tokyo, Japan – Part II

I am sure I left off with something about food. That did seem to be our focus on this trip. The next day involved more hunting for food and finding a few places by accident. We decided to head towards the Roppongi district with the intent of going up to the top of one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo at Mori Tower (http://www.roppongihills.com/en/) for the Tokyo City View. On the way, we passed the U.S. Embassy, compared to all the other ones we passed they take their security very seriously, and walked through a deserted office building where we stumbled upon a Katsu place. We love this type of breaded dish, especially if it includes Japanese curry, and this was a good place to store up extra carbs. It wasn’t the best but it was quiet and a good price. Plus it was one of the few places with a window display of fake food that always helps ordering when the menus are in Japanese! I think its great someone made a whole business out of all the different kind of fake food items.

Not for dining - near the Hard Rock

When finished, we walked through Roppongi and passed the Hard Rock Café on one of the side streets. No reason to stop here. I did that my first time when the Americans I was with didn’t want to venture out for local food at night (goofballs!).  It still is very touristy but the small club on the 2nd floor of the next building had a sign that caught our attention. Maybe it was a different kind of hot spot but not at 2:00 in the afternoon when we ventured by. Hmmm. Maybe later?

We eventually got to the Mori Tower – mainly by keeping it in sight because of its height versus actually knowing how to get there. Like most high rises, the top floor inside allows a 360 degree view of the city but the best part is the extra bit of Yen that allows you to go up and walk around the perimeter of the roof! Of course you can’t picnic on the helipad but the view up here is fantastic and there are no windows to get in the way of your camera. It can get very windy therefore they make you bag up any articles such as hats, small clothing, etc. The wait was 10-15 minutes this day and that seemed very short considering the amount of people and the fact this is listed as one of the top things to do in Tokyo.

Tokyo skyline wide-view

After the tower tour, we found an outdoor café at the Grand Hyatt next door. This meant a quick afternoon snack of cheese and beer. Ahhh. As we headed back to the hotel for a break, I happened to take a snapshot of local male fashion – you can see the colorful choices in the gallery at the end. It appears I am behind the times in my style and color choices with my Levis and t-shirts. Actually Levis are very big in Asia, and much more expensive, therefore maybe I wasn’t as out of fashion as I thought.

Time to head to dinner and one of the few places we planned in advance. Well partly in advance since we made the reservation about 2 hours before showing up on a Friday night! One of our favorite meals we miss is Shabu Shabu. It is cooking thinly sliced pieces of meat in boiling water. You also cook cabbage, noodles, tofu, mushrooms, etc. Back home, we knew of a great, popular place in Costa Mesa. Even more missed, once they opened the Japanese supermarket near our house, we could buy all the ingredients and make Shabu Shabu at home. It’s affordable and healthy. Good stuff!

The place we decided to try in Tokyo, Shabu-Zen (http://www.shabuzen.jp,- Japanese page only but it looks good! | 3-16-33 Roppongi Minato-ku Aoba Roppongi Bldg B1, Phone 03 3585 5600) is highly recommended albeit hard to find. It is located in the basement of a small building and you need to be able to read the characters on the outside sign to realize you are in the right place. It is below a large sports bar and the Hobgoblin bar if you can find those. My other hint is it is about 2-3 blocks from the Audi dealer. There are several other locations but this seems to be the most popular. Shabu ShabuThe staff confirmed Lady Gaga ate here several times during her tour week a while back. We were very lucky when we were escorted into a private room! Most of the tables are in a communal setting but our first night (yes we went twice) we had our own room. The first waitress came in and upon realizing we spoke English, sent in a young Japanese girl who was bilingual. We pigged out. 2 bottles of cold Sake, six plates of meat (it is all you can eat for 600 Yen more!), and 2 trays of vegetables were very filling. No dessert here but none needed. We did have some hot tea since only liquid would fit in any of the vacant space left in our stomachs. If it weren’t for the fact we were on the basement level, we would have rolled out of there. As it was, we staggered around town for a bit. This place is also in the Roppongi area therefore we wandered around the crowds and did a bit of tourist kitsch shopping.

The next day was much of the same. Wander here and there but this time we went to Ginza to do some shopping. One of the very large department stores was having a going out of business sale. We took a peek and somehow ended up in the art gallery section on one of the top floors. We spent some time, some Yen, and brought back one piece of Japanese modern art. The artist is Takashi Murakami and he is extremely well known in Asia and for those who are collectors of Louis Vuitton purses, apparently. (http://www.takashimurakami.com). Our piece has a different feel than many of his well-known designs but there is still playfulness if you know where to look.

Lunch today was a basement restaurant in one of the food alleys we ventured into. Fried oysters, a small salad, and some draft Sapporo was enough to get us through the next phase of shopping – the large multi-level toy store. Not sure how we ended up here but we successfully made it out of there with only 2 puzzles and an assortment of gifts we’ll be sending to our family. I hope they can translate the Japanese instructions on some of the packages because I can’t! At least they’ll be conversation starters sitting on the coffee table unopened I guess. Good luck!

Time for dinner and guess where dinner was? You bet – back to Shabu-Zen. This time we were at one of the normal tables. I think we were aiming to break our previous night’s record but we only went through 6 plates of meat – the same – but this time one extra plate of veggies. Maybe it helped we only had one beer each? Again we were so full we had to roll up the steps. Even remembering how stuffed I was, writing about it makes me hungry and I just ate dinner tonight too!

After dinner, we hopped in a taxi to venture towards the Kabukicho red-light district (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kabukich?,_Tokyo). We like to see all the highly rated tourist destinations! Not. Of course it is not only a red-light district as there is the usual shopping, cinemas, and loads of people walking around at night.  Our first stop out of the cab happened to be a Japanese chain store Muji (http://www.muji.com) that we visit in Singapore too. I guess there is something different about shopping locally though since we spent time and Yen here too! It is actually a great store – sort of a combination of the Gap and a Travel Store for those U.S. folks.  They have a good assortment of ‘stuff’ you can use for travel or at home. There is nothing I like more that adding ‘stuff’ to my inventory. One of these days I’ll write about the electronic ‘stuff’ I continue to accumulate. I think those gadgets replicate on their own.

Short Time Hotel - Tokyo red-light districtWalking a few blocks off the main stretch took us into the red light district. Yes, apparently Tokyo also has a red light district of hostess clubs and love hotels. The signs make it obvious but the lack of Gaijins was also obvious that this may not be a place for us to wander too long. A little Internet research showed the high-end places don’t exactly reach out to invite you in when you are a foreigner. The ones that tend to solicit you are the low-end bars that we don’t expect to visit in any country! This might explain why the high-end places had big men in dark suits at the doors. Yes, the rumors of Yakuza doormen seems to be true. Doesn’t seem the friendliest place to hangout therefore we high-tailed it. The interesting part is on the way out of dodge, we passed the hourly-rate love hotels. These are not your local Motel-6. The signs outside not only show the price but also list many of the room amenities including Jacuzzi tubs, roman looking room designs, high-end TVs and stereos. The building designs and neon lighting were enough neon to make Las Vegas jealous. This was a side neither of us had seen on past visits to Tokyo.  Been there. Time to move on.

Foreigners welcome side street barWe continued to work our way out of the adult maze by following a quiet park path back towards the main intersection. As we did, we noticed a small set of alleys that had very small bars. 8-10 people seemed to be the maximum you can fit into these places. We walked over to the alleys discovering a hodge-podge of bars stacked up to three levels high on either side of a few narrow alleys. I would not want to be in one during an earthquake here but we saw one that said “foriegners welcome” (sic) and decided to give it a try.

The first challenge was this 2nd level bar had some very steep stairs. Not the kind of steps you want to try after you’ve spent any amount of time enjoying the libations the bar has to offer. This was at 9:30 PM on a Saturday night therefore we were able to get two of the 8 seats at the bar. This bar seemed about 15 feet wide and maybe twice as long. It really was like a stackable shipping container converted into a small bar. There were two bartenders and three other patrons. And that made it 80% full! The bartender spoke enough English that we spoke about the bar, Japanese history, and then some Chinese history which, not being the flattering kind from him, convinced us it was time to pay for our drinks and mosey on out. I am still not entirely Interior of a typical side street barclear on the purchase choices here but one option appears to be all-you-can-drink for a set fee. We chose pay-as-you-go which also includes a service fee. While talking to him, it turned out he was the owner at 35 years old and a huge fan of Queen. There were several shelves of rock concert DVDs and he was proud to play one of Mercury’s last concerts while we were there. He even taught us a new game of luck. A small box has a row of numbers 1 to 9 and you roll the dice hoping to get one or more of the of the numbers by either a single die or a combination. If you can flip up all the numbers, you win! You lose when there you roll and there is no number you can flip up. We came close a few times but no such luck. We are actively looking for the same game to buy here in Singapore though if you happen to see it.

After leaving the bar, it was time for the taxi back to the hotel, fast packing, and sleep. They next day we used the car service back to the airport and thus ended our journey to Tokyo. The nice thing about Singapore Airlines is they let us check-in the large painting for free! It actually helped that our overall suitcase weight was under the limit and the painting was light but still I appreciate the no cost shipping. We had a great time in Tokyo and I can’t believe how much we wandered each day. Now it is a few weeks later and we are trying to find a good Singapore Shabu Shabu place! I hope we don’t have to wait until our next trip to Japan or wait until a trip back to the U.S. for our next meal.

Our Culinary Adventure in Tokyo, Japan – Part I

May 1st was Labour Day here in Singapore which means no labor, i.e. a day off! We take advantage of any time off therefore we took off the rest of the week and headed to Tokyo, Japan. This was my 2nd time there, the 1st being over 20 years ago. It was YAW’s second time although her first trip several years ago was solely business which meant no touristy stuff. We decided to hop on a Tuesday night Singapore Airline’s red-eye and arrive at Narita airport early Wednesday morning. Although the immigration line was a bit slow, getting through the airport was a breeze. Based on some pre-trip research, I paid for a car-service, Tokyo Airporter (http://www.tokyoairporter.com ).  The cost was 56,000 Yen round-trip (SGD$681 or USD$550) but considering taxis can cost close to $300 USD each way, it was well worth it. Plus, having a driver right there at the exit with our name was very handy. It is an hour into Tokyo in no traffic and up to two on a normal day – ideal nap time after the flight. Luckily unknown to us it was Golden Week in Japan. This is a weeklong holiday and there was little traffic. The weather was in the 60s F most days and that was great after 9 months of 88-90 degrees each day.

We arrived at the Capitol Hotel Tokyu at 10am. The hotel is in the heart of the government offices and part of the business district.  It is located above a subway station on the Ginza line (http://www.capitolhoteltokyu.com/en/index.html). The fact the hotel was so close to the subway was great!

Capitol Hotel Tokyu LobbyWhen we checked in, they told us we could not have a room until 3pm. This was my only disappointment with the hotel. I expected at least a “come back around noon or 1pm and we’ll see if we have a room” but that was not an option. We dropped off our luggage and ate at the hotel restaurant. I have to say the French toast was great but YAW’s ‘local’ Japanese breakfast wasn’t very good. We wandered off and headed towards the Emperor’s Palace grounds, which is about a 15-minute walk. As we were walking, I was wondering why so many policemen were in the neighborhood. We found out the Prime Minister’s residence is a block from the hotel and we were walking right by! This explained the large group of protestors a few days later.


Capitol Hotel Tokyu Bathroom

We eventually ended up in a nearby business district that had an indoor mall with a level full of restaurants. Our first local meal was a really good tempura bar. You sit down and order tempura piece by piece or a small set meal. They cook it right in front of you and it was really good. Although they had an English menu, that seemed to be the extent of English but our smattering of Japanese was enough. I probably should not say “Okane ga arimasen” as much as I like to! After eating, we wandered around the mall and then eventually made it back to the hotel to check-in and clean up. The room was very nice and very modern. The bathroom was great and the tub and shower had much more pressure than home. Plus, I did not have to turn on the wall switch and wait for 15 minutes for the hot water to heat up like  Singapore. I have to say it was the quietest hotel I have ever stayed in. It is very much a business hotel and this meant it was not very busy this week. At night, we never heard another guest and could not hear any traffic. Living in a high-rise, I think I am so used to some traffic or equipment noise that this seemed like resting in the middle of a remote mountain.

For dinner, we decided to walk to streets near the hotel. There were hundreds of eating options. Many multi-story buildings have a restaurant or two on each floor and it can be a challenge to pick! Because YAW reads and speaks Mandarin, it makes it easier when she can pick out words on the signboards. We ended up in a small basement restaurant that specialized in grilled beef. We were the first customers for dinner, which always seems a little strange, but it actually became busy while we were there. We picked a set meal that serves different cuts of Kobe beef (12,000 Yen each or $120 USD).

Tokyo Kobe beefI may not be showing all the photos but we had cuts from the inside of the thigh, butt, back, core thigh, shoulder, tenderloin, sirloin, etc. The chef cooked the meat for us at our table since we were the first ones in and he could explain the cuts. He said the reason the meat is so marbled, other than feeding the cows beer, is the massage the cows receive each day. Some of the cuts were exceptional – the best I have had. They literally melt in your mouth. Our favorites in order from the best were the tenderloin, back, shoulder, and sirloin. The set meal comes with grilled vegetables and after the meats, a serving of shabu-shabu with more meat. We were so full! The multiple mugs of Kirin draft beer probably didn’t help. Draft Kirin is the way to go! It tasted so good with the dishes.

Since our main goal was local Japanese food each day, we continued our culinary adventure the next day for lunch at a basement sushi restaurant, also a few blocks from the hotel and in the same area as dinner. I like sushi but admittedly eat only a few things. This time I had a set meal that included some items I actually tried, some for the first time. The one I struggled with was strings of “jelly”, which is what YAW thought it was, but then I noticed the small eyes. I did eat some of the little fish but trying to eat the whole group in a seaweed roll was out. Our total for the two set meals was  $45 USD including two bottles of Sake! This was a great deal for fresh sushi and drinks. Again, just point to the items you want since this is not a big tourist hangout and there are no signs in English.

Meiji Shrine

With fresh, albeit dead, fish in our bellies, we hopped the subway to Harajuku and the Meiji Shrine. The shrine is in a large park and it takes a while to walk to the actual shrine.  This is a big tourist spot and although it is worth visiting, we did a quick wander and then wandered right off!  We walked out the opposite side of the park to the north and eventually made our way back to Harajuku. On the way, we stopped off at The Deck Coffee and Pie. It’s a small café hooked to a retail shop. They have a selection of a few fresh meat and fruit pies. No, they are not meat and fruit mixed; yes they are separate pies! The apple pie was good (I don’t pass up desserts/sweets too often) although I would have preferred a crispier crust.

Once back in Harajuku, we found the street where the teens tend to shop. We hit up one of the small tourist shops to pick up local fun stuff.  They even had Pez candy dispensers! Eventually we made it to Shibuya with the high-priced stores such as Ralph Lauren, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton. It was not our destination but the day was nice and we just kept walking here and there. There are quite a few small streets and local shops in between the two extremes that are worth checking out if you walk the neighborhood. We rested for a bit, i.e. toilet, at the Omotesando mall. Because I had to take a work call while sitting there, YAW roamed around.

When she came back, she took me up to look at the top-level restaurant named Omotesando Ukai-tei. (http://www.ukai.co.jp). It has a very unusual design as a merchant house from the late 1800s. I did some quick research on Trip Advisor, which seems to be the Asia go-to review site, and found it came very highly rated. Since we were walk-ins, we made a reservation for an early dinner at 5:30 PM (it was 4:30 pm when we walked in!).  We went shopping to waste the hour, walking south on another street full of great local stores. Eventually we made it to dinner.

Chef at Ukai Tei

The setup is a half-circle counter where you have your own chef. We ordered a set meal that included the wine sampler for each dish. This meal included top quality steak, a prawn appetizer, cold pea soup, garlic rice, and dessert. The meat was great! Has your mom ever told you to chew your steak 50 times to help your digestion? You won’t get anywhere close to 50 chews here. Maybe not even 20 with this really tender steak. It was another great meal! The restaurant is famous for serving abalone. We aren’t sure if it was alive or dead but watching it squirm in the half-shell when the chef first puts it on the grill right in front of the couple next to us was very strange indeed. The chef grills it for a few minutes then covers it under a mountain of salt to cook.


After the meal, you are escorted to a sitting room that has a nice view of the city. You can select one dessert from a small list of about 5. I had the caramel pudding, a 38-year old recipe. Very similar to Flan. Of course the second phase is when the trolley rolls by loaded with mini-desserts – small pastries, chocolate covered almonds, flavored marshmallows, cookies, etc. I don’t think the waiter realized I was serious when I said I’d like one of each. I toned it down a bit and had one of each from only half the cart. YAW tried the other half and that way we covered all the items! We work well as a team. One of the desserts was a pastry with fresh California blueberries. The waiter said the Japanese diners love CA blueberries. Now at least I know why those small containers in the store cost at least $12 SGD. Too popular!

That’s the end of Part 1 because we are only to Thursday night! I don’t want to show all the food on one page. Part 2 we’ll cover our favorite 2-night-in-a-row stop for Shabu Shabu where Lady Gaga has spent a night or two indulging. In between the meals, there are vending machines everywhere therefore there is no lack of drinks and snacks! Want fries with that?

Want fries with that


Our Part 1 Image Gallery!






Christmas Trip: Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa Maldives

Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa Maldives

It has been way too long since I have written any updates, let alone talk about our Christmas trip to the Maldives! I figure if we’re going to spend the same amount of money as a new Kia (U.S. prices of course) to go on a 6-day trip, then I better write about it to get my money’s worth! Plus, how else will I show some of the cools pictures. Time to get back on board.

This ‘review’ gives the resort  4.5 out of 5 stars for our one-week stay. For those who wonder where we went, the Republic of the Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean comprised of 26 atolls approximately 250 miles southwest of India. The 1,100+ islands are spread over 35,000 square miles. The average ground level is less than 5 feet above sea level. No risk of altitude sickness here! Dhivehi is the official language and Islam is the official religion.



We stayed for 6 days at the Centara Grand Island Resort and Spa in the Maldives. We picked Christmas week, a Sunday to Saturday trip. This is an all-inclusive resort and like most in the area, it is on its own island. This is the wow factor! The hotel has 112 suites and villas and you can walk the circumference in about 15 minutes. The majority of rooms are villas constructed out over the reef. The island is in the South Ari Atoll, which is a 45-minute seaplane ride from Male proper. Although we really only saw the sun the last day, the weather temp was ideal for wandering every day and night around what little land there is. It was perfect for relaxing. There is one main pool, one pool at the private club, a lot of beach, and a whole lot of warm ocean


All-inclusive means we often ate at the main buffet style restaurant, which actually has a Japanese grill that is included free for one night. There is a Thai restaurant and an Italian/Seafood place. The restaurants, other than the buffet, have set menus that are 2-3 courses depending on your all-inclusive package choice. We usually ate lunch at the Italian place and breakfast was always the buffet. They have the typical standards which include pancakes for me! This is a very popular destination for Asian ‘snowbirds’ and the meals have specialties for their palate as well. Christmas-eve buffet was an extra charge but they had a great selection and I am never one to pass up 2-3 stops at the dessert table. Some of the staff were even caroling during dinner. We spoke to one of the bartenders the day before and he commented how many weeks he and his peers had spent learning the Christmas carols. They did well!


Because we paid extra to be part of the Island Club, with top shelf free flow alcohol at any restaurant or bar (it was a HOLIDAY!), we could also eat at the Island Club restaurant which had 4-course set meals and a more private atmosphere. The trick was to look at the menu the day before and see which place you preferred. For dinner, it was recommended reservations be made the day before. For the first 4 days, the resort guests were less than 60% of the capacity which meant we rarely ran into anyone and never had issues at mealtime. It became a little more crowded as the after Christmas but ready for New Years guest arrived. The overall food for the week was not the best of our various resort stays but relatively good with a wide selection. Each night the buffet was a different theme. We ate at the Thai place one dinner and the Island Club most nights. The quality of the food is one of the two reasons I can’t give a full 5 stars to the resort.




Our room was five stars. We had an overwater villa facing the sunset. The first and last night were the only two sunsets we saw however. The other nights were overcast but still warm. Based on our wandering around, we had one of the best room locations at the entire resort. Looking at the picture from the air, we were in the middle of the right hand side overwater villas near the long walkway down the center (Outside edge of the upside down C). The interior reminded me of a room I would expect in the U.S. Northeastern seaboard. It was a very nautical décor with small lighthouses and other sea or fishing artifacts. Warm wood floors, white walls and blue and white striped curtains. The room was huge and had a great cathedral ceiling. The bathroom was as big as our master bedroom in Singapore! There was a separate bathtub with a view straight through the bedroom out through the double doors over the deck to the ocean. The free mini-bar was handy in the afternoon for cleansing the palate after swallowing some salt water. There was even a reading nook which was very useful. After all, there is only so much snorkeling, eating, and walking circles around an island you can do each day. Reading or relaxing is the norm.


Our Deck I have always wanted to stay in an over the sea villa and YAW let me pick this trip! Being from California, I expected my goal would be reach in Fiji or Tahiti but since the Maldives is only a 4.5 hour flight from Singapore, who am I to pass this one up. The outside deck was my favorite part of  this hotel.  The deck has two levels near the water and a sun-deck above. The sun-deck provided nice shade for lower main deck. You actually don’t ever need the sun deck since the second lower deck is exposed to the elements with two comfy lounge chairs. There was a small set of wooden stairs that led directly into the ocean. I used those steps at least twice a day to go snorkeling. While in the water, YAW would throw breadcrumbs and I was quickly surrounded by hungry fish. Luckily the small reef sharks don’t seem to like bread. The first day I ventured out, I saw something strange sticking up from the muck. As I swam to investigate, I discovered an umbrella stuck tip down in the sand! Needless to say that allowed for some amusing pictures in the middle of the ocean. Doesn’t it look like there is nothing anywhere near me? Scary! I hope I can follow the bread crumbs home. Not likely, dang fish.


The entire island is surrounded by a coral reef and the underwater scenery, even close to the villas, was great. I was disappointed in how gray the coral was – seems resort by products are damaging the coral in the area I venture to guess. I expected bright vibrant colors. Yet it was still well worth the swim. When I swam out a few hundred feet from our villa, I came to the edge of the reef surrounding the island. You quickly realize the ocean drops away at least several hundred feet. I could not see the bottom.  It was very cool but a little intimidating. Strange to suddenly come to an edge and wonder if you continue, will you make it back?

Reef and Shark

Up close, I saw reef sharks, manta rays, stingrays, colorful fish, funny slugs, and giant clams. At least I justified my Xmas present, an Olympus Tough TG-1 underwater and shockproof camera (Thanks Honey!). It took great shots and I used it everyday. One day I took a long boat ride out to look at whale sharks. I only saw one but at one point I was within 20 feet of it while taking a video of it swimming by. There were 8-10 boats and over  50 people dropping in the water at different points trying to follow this one shark. Comical in a way but it was crazy. I heard there are other areas where groups of 15-20 sharks can be found and that would have been a lot easier. Not sure the hour-long boat ride each way in crappy weather was worth the trip. It was very choppy out and a little choppy heading back. I did a lot of standing into the wind taking deep breaths. At the resort there is a full dive center if you need more adventure. They even have a shipwreck close to the island.

Whale Shark

When it is time for the extra level of stress relief, there is a small spa at the resort. Our package included a 30-minute spa session each day per person. I think we only used it 3x each but I do remember the coffee body scrub. It felt like being rubbed by rough wet sandpaper but it smelled good. The spa is small and there are no after treatment facilities like a steam room or dry sauna.

Time for the second reason I can’t give 5 stars. Our room attendant was great. Within two days he realized we ate breakfast at 7AM and dinner around 7PM. This meant our room was always tidied up when we came back from either meal. He was the only staff I hunted down before we left to tip. The team at the Island Club was also very nice and talked to us, specifically more to YAW who spent a lot of time at the smaller pool there during the day while I was snorkeling around. The morning buffet wait staff was nice too. We often came in when they first opened for breakfast since we decided there was no real reason to get adjusted to the time zone difference from Singapore.

Where I was surprised with the majority of staff was the lack of smiles or even a nod while passing by. Some might say good morning or hello but rarely with a smile that made you feel welcomed. We believe, after some research, this is just the culture in a country that has only been inundated with these types of resorts for the last few decades. However, it is their country and culture and we are the visitors – I respect that.  Although I don’t expect everyone to love us visiting, when I stay at a 5-start resort I do expect that the HR team has done a little extra prepping the staff. When we compare it to places in Bali or Hawaii where the staff greeted us by name within a few days, this is why I give it a 4.5 star rating. I know we won’t return to this resort.  This is in large part because of the staff and well quite honestly it would be too far from the U.S. once we go home!

There were a few other little things that we did not expect. I knew we had to take a seaplane but did not expect it to stop at another resort first and then land at our resort where the seaplane dock is free floating. While rocking on the dock, you wait for a boat to come and take you to the island. The day we landed, it was a little rougher and that wasn’t the best experience but we got through it. Next time though, we will pick a resort with one less transfer point, i.e. a seaplane dock linked to the island. The view from the air is very nice as you pass a number of islands with resorts. The schedule for the seaplanes means you will spend a few or several hours waiting at the airport before and after your resort stay. We landed on Sunday at 11:00 AM but did not leave for the resort by seaplane until after 2 PM. We did have a short chat with the Australian Minister for Tourism who was on the plane with her family. On the way back after our stay, we had a long wait too but at least had access to the nice airport lounge.



We think this will be our one and only trip to the Maldives. Although the islands are beautiful, I like the more tropical and Polynesian feel of Hawaii and the like. Therefore I guess Southern Philippines, Fiji, or Micronesia is still on the To Do list! We realized 6 days are 2 days too long for us to spend on an island. We can relax like the best of them but it actually gets a little slow. The good news is that means cheaper trips to these exotics destinations in the future.

Next up: Sydney, Kuala Lumpur, Phuket, and Shanghai (no, not all at once!).

Reef1Reef3Reef4 Reef5Under Our Stairs


Bali – Ayana Resort: The End

I better finish this article off as I have other new stuff to write about (vent, complain, in awe, etc.). Therefore I will make Part 3 relatively short just to cover the highlights you need to know if you would like to spend three relaxing, sun-filled (albeit umbrella covered) days doing as little as possible. No, we never ventured off the grounds to see the rest of the big island that is Bali. We decided next trip, we may stay on the volcano side to see more of the island and so I can take a snorkeling trip!

I already wrote about the Saturday fish dinner and this being “Sunday” in the plan, we ended up there again. It was just as good a meal, an even better sunset since there was no cloud cover, and the same great wait staff. The only drawback was the table of 12 Aussies talking it up at the table behind us and taking their pictures right next to us! But even so, you can’t beat the view and the food. Just focus on that.

I do have to say there is a slight language barrier and we figured we caught 40-50% of what was being said to us in English. But I have become used to that because even with English as one of the official languages in Singapore, there are still heavy accents and grammar moved around. Think Yoda but with a heavy Asian accent. I am okay with this and I get better each week. I find it a fun challenge to figure out how much you understand of the entire conversation, the context, by focusing on the few words you do pick up. Most often, it is enough lah.

Sunday morning we walked down to the Rock Pool before breakfast. This is right next to the seafood restaurant and the island-wide famous Rock Bar, both at the bottom of the resort cliff. At night, there is a long line for the Rock Bar which uses an inclinator to get down the cliff.

We thought you could drop your stuff off and go eat but because this pool has very limited space, you are only allowed to leave for 15 minutes before they kick-out your stuff.

Therefore we stayed and enjoyed the quiet, the fantastic view, and the lack of people until about 9:30 AM when it was time to go up and eat.

The pool has an infinity edge about 40 feet above the beach (12 meters for you local folks). We could prop our arms and head on that edge all day just to view the ocean and the occasional fishing boat trawling nearby.

Since I will not really have a Part 4, 5, etc., I will say now we did the exact same thing on Monday morning before our flight home. The pool is so relaxing early in the morning. Then it is the perfect time to eat (plus the buffet closes at 10 AM). The buffet breakfast was just as good on Day 2 and 3.The local Indonesian dishes changed and it was great to try a variety each day. Of course each day included some Western fare on our plates – mainly 2 eggs over easy and a few strips of bacon. After all, if I can’t have fun clogging my arteries while on vacation, then I am not following my American roots.


On Sunday, after our meal and some gestation time, we walked around the resort to find the other pool (near the villas) and look at all the wedding guests go by. There seemed to be 3 weddings each weekend day and the mix was quite interesting. They have specific buildings with special views set aside for the weddings.

Once we found the river pool, we lounged there for a few hours. There were only 3 other couples at the large pool. Part of that could be it appears to be hidden in the trees with no ocean view. It is higher up in the resort, therefore has a good breeze. The pool construction was really interesting. It had multiple levels and edges.

We found the 18-hole practice-your-putting golf course and although it looked fun, and we said let’s try it, we never did. Too much fun doing very little. That was my motto and it worked out well.

Sunday night came and went and Monday it was time to leave. After our Rock Pool and buffet breakfast morning, we had a little wait time before checkout and the ride back to the airport. As we left, we once again meandered through a one-lane dirt road, merged into heavy scooter traffic, and passed the general populace on the way to the airport. Two minutes out of the resort gate we passed a small ramshackle hut where an elderly woman was just sitting down on her front steps in a skirt, and only a skirt. No top. You already have seen the jokes about very elderly women’s chests therefore I do not have to elaborate. It was that exact stereotypical image, I kid you not!

The flight home, a whole 2.5 hours, was uneventful which is exactly what you want to hear about any plane flight. We were the only two in the exit row and that meant plenty of elbowroom and plenty of legroom. This was our first time flying into Singapore since we received our government IDs and we weren’t really sure how that would work. I did know we no longer had to go into the long passport line for visitors. We went to the Resident line and asked the guard. He said this was the correct line but asked, since we were relatively new, if we had tried the automated line to the right. We said no but we shall!

You insert your passport into the slot and if it works, you go to the next kiosk for your thumbprint. And if that works, you go on through. It worked and this was super easy! It makes me want to fly again just to bypass the line. We had signed up for the same process at LAX about 6 months before we moved and only got to use it once or twice. Very handy but this time no background interviews with Customs.

That was the extend of our Bali trip and we are actively planning our next regional trip. I think Maldives will wait until December but there are so many options.  And at each, I shall keep my American-tuned eye open for some interesting things.

Bali – Ayana Resort Part 2

It is Saturday and time to get up! Sleep in? Who does that when you can easily get up, go find some really comfy lounge chairs by the pool, and immediately pass right back out? The weather is the perfect combination of warm and no humidity – the weather I like to be out all day in just a swimsuit! By the way, yes, I did get some sunburn the 1st day, after 10 minutes, but not too bad. Although that was the last day of the 3 that I spent time in the direct sunlight! Large umbrellas were my saviors.

Besides, I did not want to look like the stereotypical Ang Mo lobster and I knew I actually don’t glitter in the sun (for the Twilight tweenies).

Breakfast is a buffet style with everything you can want: local Indonesian food, a lot of Japanese choices, some bacon, eggs, etc. The best was the fresh fruit – they cut the mango for you and hand it over. Also, there were a lot of coconuts roaming around with straws growing out of the side. Coconuts on the island? (No big birds flew them here). This hotel especially caters to the Japanese client. A lot of the menus and some signs were in Japanese as well as English. You’ll see why I mention this in a bit.

The morning was spent by the main pool (the photo from blog Part 1 with my feet!). It was very relaxing. The pool has an infinity edge which offers a great view of the sea. And it was not very crowded. The trick is to get there early, plop your stuff down on the loungers with a large umbrella, eat breakfast, a lot, then come back and pass out. Nice.

I don’t remember as much, hardly any, of the Japanese I learned in college but when we were hanging out by the pool, there were four chattering girls next to us and I couldn’t resist saying a few words to my wife in Japanese as we got up to leave. I figure maybe they wonder “how much did he understand?” Leave them hanging is my motto. I also noticed the Japanese folks like to take a ton of photos. And for some reason, 90% of the time they hold up two fingers in the form of the peace sign. Everyone does this, young, old, male, female. I have not researched why this is yet but it was very noticeable.

At one point as I was coming back to the lounger, I noticed the girl next to us had setup a tripod with her high-end camera aiming toward the infinity edge of the pool. At least that is what I thought she was aiming at until she sat down, faced the camera, starting smiling, and began clicking the camera remotely. She setup the tripod to take pictures of herself with the pool in the background! Her boyfriend was asleep – no help there. Awesome. This is tourism at its best.

In the afternoon, we both went for a Balinese massage at the resort’s spa, which is rated one of the best in Asia. It was really good! It hurt though. Should it? We went to separate rooms (been there, done that for the couple’s massage), me with my very young female masseuse and YAW with the older one. Figured maybe it would be the other way around. Mine was maybe 5’2” tall.  This is important because when we walked in the room, I saw the height of the massage table (off to the side from the large bathtub and the footbath) and wondered how she would be able to apply pressure from above. Later on I found out she just climbs up on one side of the table and then can easily, and with great strength, press down to apply just the right amount of pain. She was really strong.

Of course this was after the footbath. That is the starting point. Interesting, as I don’t think my feet have smelled like rose petals before. It was a very submissive position! YAW mentioned later she wondered if patting her masseuses’ head would have been bad form?  I won’t get into this massage stuff to0 deeply here. It was only my 5th ever and I am still trying to figure out the benefit. I felt relaxed but my calves hurt! After our massages, we lounged around in these outside pagodas at the spa.  We have decided we will build something similar in our backyard when we come back to the States. It was very cool.

I could regale you with how we wandered around, drank some ginger tea, etc. but let’s skip to dinner. This was the best ever! When was the last time you had a table 20 feet above the water with a direct view of a sunset while small one-man fishing boats are heading out to sea for night fishing. The hotel has a seafood restaurant, the Kisik Bar, at the base of the cliff right above the ocean. We saw it the night before and of course made reservations for our Saturday night dinner.

I cannot easily express here what this place was like – you have to experience it. The view above of the sunset is literally taken from our table without even getting up! When you are ready to order, you walk up to 2 counters and select your fish. The lobsters and crab are hanging out in large bowls in case you want to play catch-my-finger. There are about 3-4 different fresh fish (whole fish) and a lot of choices for prawns, oysters, etc.

The food was fantastic and very fresh. Six oysters was 180,000 rupiah (roughly $18 US) and, according to YAW, delicious. Me, I have had oysters once and only once. Done. We went through oysters, giant skewer (swordfish, shrimp, squid), jumbo prawns, and red snapper. Since alcohol is cheaper here than in Singapore, we added in an Australian bottle of sparkling Shiraz from Naked Range (990,000). This seemed to be a relatively new idea, a sparkling Shiraz, and it was excellent! The dinner was finished off with an Indonesian pudding colored green and with Java on top. It was fantastic.  The entire dinner was about $250 US and we think it would have been almost double had we had the same items at home (when I say home now, I no longer mean the U.S. I guess!).

The trick is to reserve an outside table and get there about 30 minutes before sunset. That way you have a drink in hand and your seafood is cooking while you just watch the sun drop over the horizon. When you see how fast that little red ball drops, it is amazing we aren’t spinning off the surface.

This by far ranks as one of the best dinners ever, if not the best! The combination of scenery, food, wait staff, my wife, scenery, my wife, all added up to make this one awesome dinner (and the parameters are not necessarily in the right order).  Maybe I should say it was the best outdoor dinner ever only because I really miss a bone-in filet from Mastro’s in Costa Mesa (or South Coast Metro as YAW likes to say).

I have to give recognition to our waiter Pande. He was attentive and funny. All of the staff were great. We even passed some the next day and they said hello to us by name! As we left the restaurant, we booked the same table for Sunday night too. “Yes, of course Mr. Watson!” Ah nice… (usually they always said Ms. Watson since the reservation for the resort was in YAW’s name).

After a walk around the resort to help aid in the digestion of so much seafood, we of course called it a night. That’s all you get for today! Ciao.

Bali – Day 1 at the Ayana Resort

Where to start? Yes, I will be splitting this information into 3 parts – pretty much one part for each day. There were some interesting things that cropped up occasionally and trying to piece all the fun information into one entry would be…well…too long even for me! And I like to type! This was our first getaway since moving to Singapore 2 months ago and it was sorely needed. Yes, we missed the Formula 1 night race which was the same weekend but what can you do?

Overall it was a fantastic, relaxing, great-weather (no humidity!) trip and we expect to stay at the resort again. The Ayana Resort and Spa is located on the cliffs above Jimbaran Bay in Bali (http://www.ayanaresort.com).

This was a much-needed respite from the stress that is my wife’s work; her 11-12 hour days here in Singapore. It is all about her well being at this point since I, the “guy tai”, still don’t really work unless you consider I do the laundry. You would think laundry is not time consuming but our washer is the size of an ice cream maker and it takes several loads to get 2 days worth of clothes washed. I know…at least we have one

Let us begin. Day 1: I thought we weren’t going to make it. Our flight was at 12:15 PM and I hoped to try the MRT (subway), which meant out of the house by 10:15 AM. We left at 11:00 AM. Work never stops for YAW even on the mornings we are headed for a stress-free, relaxing time away from…work! When got in the taxi (too late for the MRT), the driver asked our flight time. He chuckled for a good 5 minutes after we told him it was in an hour and 15 minutes. See, sometimes the airport is a 30-minute drive and then there is immigration, getting through the terminals, and lots of security.  Every flight, yes every flight out of Changi Airport is international. Weird huh? Not much need for a commuter jet to go to the other side of the small city-state.

He got us there in 15 minutes.  We breezed through customs making it to the gate with a good 30 minutes to spare! Ah… this is going well now.

The flight left 30 minutes late. Nothing else exciting there. I had just picked up and began reading Return to a Sexy Island by Neil Humphreys. He is another “Ang Mo” (white-guy) but originally from the U.K.  He has lived in Singapore and Australia for a while and has written quite a few books about his life here. A friend here compared me to him so I thought I better check it out. It was a great read and I recommend it with a caveat. Now that we live here I can picture many of the things he talks about and it makes me laugh. “I’ve seen that too” I think. Not so sure it will be as understandable for the non-Singaporeans but it is very entertaining.

Landed in Bali. First stop is the $25 fee for the entry visa. Next was the one hour line to get through immigration because we did not want to pay the $100 “hurry up’ fee offered by the guys at the back of the line.

When we finally got through, a host from the resort was there to greet us (we found out later they can meet up to 45 people per day). The drive to the resort was a 45-minute trip in heavy traffic, over a few dirt one-lane roads, pass a lot of run-down buildings, and while avoiding the mass amounts of scooters and motorbikes zooming in and out of traffic. It is a sight to see when the dad is holding one child in his lap and the 2nd child is squeezed between the dad and the mom, her straddling the back of the scooter. I didn’t really know much about Bali and I was surprised at its large size and its poorness. It was like driving through Tijuana , Mexico.

The resort gate had one security guard, armed, checking in the car while the other guard had a bomb-sniffing dog walked around the car. Interesting. Another thing I did not expect! Going into the grounds, over 70 hectares, seemed a bit dry and tired but once we go to the main lobby, well then the awe inspiring beauty started.

Unfortunately my first experience with the resort at check in was a little frustrating but luckily it was my only real negative experience the entire stay. There were some issues about the included breakfast (they said it did not, I said it did) and for some reason no one could easily agree to let us stay one more day! We wanted to stay an extra day and had already changed our return flight. Before we left, we figured a 3-day trip was needed. I had sent an email to the resort, which had not been read, but this was the most challenging communication. We just wanted to checkout one day later. Could we? “We’ll check and get back to you”. Really? Don’t most hotels love it when a guest will stay an extra day?

When we checked back later after dinner, it had all been worked out. (Well except for when we were locked out of our room Sunday since the keys had been set for 2 days, not 3). Ahh. Now we can relax. Yes, I was worried we would wake up hungry and have to fight the whole breakfast thing again. It was included and now we could eat. That is part 2.

The room was very ice with a partial ocean view and overlooking the main central area of the hotel.  But as the hotel bellboy walked us into the room, I wasn’t sure to tip him. We did not research this before we left! There is no tipping in Singapore but what about Bali? Still not sure but we do know they also include the 10% service charge in every food bill so maybe it is similar.

We ate dinner that night at the hotel’s Italian restaurant. All the eateries are outside in large covered pagodas and the weather and scenery was wonderful. The food a little saucy but overall very good for an Italian place on Bali!.The bill was only 1,228,150. Not bad. Ha, you do the math! I can tell you the food and drink prices are much better than in Singapore. I could go on but this is enough for the first day. See you in Part 2.