Kabukicho clips

On the eve of me trooping off to Tokyo again, I revisited some snaps and vids from past trips, and decided to post a few snippets from April, around Kabukicho.

Kabukicho Gate

Tokyu Milano Cinema

 These are all a bit dodgy, being made on my little point n shoot – but this time I’m taking my proper video camera again so I can make better ones!

Alas for me, my beloved Hotel Kent that I usually stay in, is under renovation/construction, so I have to go elsewhere. It’s right in the heart of Kabukicho, near the KOMA theatre, a cinemaplex, and lots of restaurants and late night spots, so was perfect.
Hotel Kent

It’s right near a corner where the hosts and hostesses hang out, but it’s sad when it’s cold and rainy, as they still have to do their jobs and it looks miserable.
Kabukicho in the rain

These are walking from the Kent up to Kabukicho gate
Kabukicho near Kent
Kabukicho

For part of the time instead, I’ll be staying again at the Shirakawago.
Shirakawago Hotel

I’m also trying out a new one (for me), called the Shinjuku Vintage Hotel, which is a bit further north, up towards Shinokubo. This, of course, is perfect for when I see 13th Moon at the Shinokubo Earthdom. It’s an artistic and multicultural neighbourhood (there used to be a punk art/ghetto space until last year – see my post here). I’m keen to explore the area, and will post good videos this time!

The Sakura Fleur Hotel in Shibuya/Aoyama – a lovely place to stay in Tokyo

I’ve previously listed my fave hotels in Shinjuku – Hotel Kent being my overall pick for location, quality and price.

Well, on my last trip I wanted to stay in Shibuya for a few nights, in order to go to some events that were on around there, without having to wait til morning for a train, or cabbing it home.

Where possible, I like to be able to walk home when I go clubbing late-late. (Just as well too – by the time I left Walpurgis, a mini-monsoon had hit, and rain and high winds assaulted me for the entire 5 minutes it took me to walk home).

And so it was, when looking to stay near Club Walpurgis (see my post on Walpurgis here), that I stumbled upon the tres genteel Sakura Fleur Hotel in Shibuya/Aoyama.

The outside and interior were lovely, and very girly. It used to be a hotel just for females at one point, but now anyone can stay there…as long as they don’t mind the feminine style. With rooms at around 9,000 yen a night it’s perfect for short stays.
Contrary to some comments I’d read on some travel sites, the staff were absolutely delightful and friendly to me..even when I was goth’d up and going out after midnight…and rocking in at 5am. Oh yes, there’s no curfew here; they are open 24/7 which is also a bonus for we nightcrawlers.
There’s a cafe onsite for cakes and tea..or even dinner. But I have to fess up that I ate at nearby establishments instead (including the farmers market mentioned below).
So, the rooms themselves. As you can see, there was a desk with bar fridge (important for storing your kombini food for morning..and the odd Kirin or Asahi, neh?) There was enough room to store my suitcase and shopping bags and still skirt round the bed.
There were also floral curtains, a sweet lamp and mirror, tv, tea/coffee making facilities and free net access, which I was pleased with :)
Look how fluffy that doona is! The pillow was fab too.
And behold the floral flocked wallpaper! It was slightly more burgundy than brown, with silver accents. Great for Holly Hobby. Not so much for butch males.
And now for the important subject of the bathroom – it was clean and about the size I was used to at the Kent. There’s a bath to the right of this picture, and it was lovely and deep.
Check out the Rakuten page for pics of the other rooms – some are blue, some pink, some red and some yellow! The Sakura Fleur is 10 minutes walk from Shibuya station. It is located conveniently at a road overpass…as you see below. It is the brown brick building behind the stairs. There are cafes galore nearby, as well as convenience stores, restaurants, shops and even bargain fashion stores.
Further up the road (on Aoyama Avenue) was the United Nations University, and on the weekends there they have a brilliant Farmers Market, with fresh organic produce, and fab cooked dinners as well as live music.
If you keep walking further, you hit a Citibank (great if you’re just about out of yen, as I was!) and eventually get to the end of Omotesando. It was also pretty close to Cat Street, when I wanted to hit Harajuku.

And here’s the map to make it a bit clearer. As I was trying to decipher my map somewhere near the hachiko statue, a gentleman came up and showed me the right direction to go (NOT towards the huge crossing or 109, but to the right instead). If in doubt, there’s a police box right near the station; ask there.

All in all, I loved the place, and the area it was in. It had a less frenetic, cluttered pace than Shinjuku, and I will definitely stay there again. Maybe in the blue room, though :/

Hotel Name :SAKURA FLEUR AOYAMA
Address: 2-14-15 SHIBUYA, SHIBUYA-KU, TOKYO 150-0002, JAPAN
Phone Number :03-5467-3777

Do you have a fave hotel in Japan? What is it and why?

My Malaysian accommodation

Part of travelling is deciding where you are going to stay. Obviously this is influenced by how long you’re travelling. Since I don’t travel for more than 2 or 3 weeks these days, I can go for slightly nicer places than when I used to go to India for 3 months at a time.

I used to be a backpacker, but now I’m a bit older and earn a bit more, I’m more of a flashpacker. That is, I like a room with a bathroom all to myself, and maybe a bar fridge (if only to fill up water bottles and chill them in, as well as beer on the odd occasion, heh). 24 hr reception is also a plus, for when I come staggering in after a late night drinking session or club night.

I do love a hut on the beach mind you, and if I can get stunning seaviews mere footsteps from my door, then I’ll gladly trade comforts for views. There’s nothing like swinging in a hammock on your porch, gazing at the ocean while sipping a cool drink. I’ve done this on Phi Phi island (Thailand), Tioman Island (Malaysia) and Ko Samui (Thailand – back in 2000 before everything was flashy resorts, and you could actually get a hut on the beach for 15 US a night).

I can’t stand depressing rooms that are dirty and windowless, with no clean sheets or towels, but I don’t need air-con (a fan does me just fine, and often air-con is TOO cold for me). I also prefer not to be able to hear the occupants in the room next to me, or corridors, which is why I tend not to stay in hostels that much.

So here’s my rundown of the mid-range places I stayed at during my travels in Malaysia:

Kuala Lumpur

Citin Hotel – Jalan Pudu

I already mentioned in a previous post the Citin Hotel, and posted images so you could see how nice it was. I should point out I was upgraded to floor 10, with soaring city views, but I think this may happen with some regularity when they’re not full up. When I booked on the internet, straight after the booking was confirmed, it said ‘click on this link to see if you’re upgraded’. I didn’t click as I was in a hurry, but got upgraded when I got there. So, you never know.

It had great décor, comfy bed and pillows, was nice and clean with a lovely modern bathroom, had a wardrobe for clothes and even a safe for valuables in the wardrobe. See this post for more details.

Note: There is another Citin in Little India, near the masjid – don’t get them confused! Same chain, style and price.

Nightly rate: around 40 AUD.
Amenities: air-con, bar fridge, flat screen tv, toiletries, in-room safe, tea/coffee making facilities
Included: breakfast, internet on level 1 (if you can get on),
Best bit: the sweeping views.

Imperial Hotel – Changkat Bukit Bintang

When I returned to KL at the end of my trip, I chose to stay in the Bukit Bintang area, which is closer to the entertainment and shopping district (malls and food).

It was right near Jalan Alor, that hawker street I posted about before, as well as several other hawker stalls and café places around the Bukit Bintang Plaza. While I stayed in myself, I periodically peered out the window, and can attest that things run 24hrs around there. People were still up talking, eating and drinking until 6am.

The room was very nice and mod, contrary to what my footprints guide suggested (the phrase “don’t expect a gem at this price” almost put me off). Again, it has a good bed and pillows, desk, clean mod bathroom, alcove for clothes, spacious in area.

Nightly rate: around 46 AUD.
Amenities: air-con, bar fridge, tv, toiletries, and I think 24 hr reception.
Best bit: location is very central, yet virtually no street noise in the room.

Langkawi

Sunset Beach Resort – Pantai Tengah

This was the splurge of the trip. I wanted to check out the Balinese inspired, top-range villas with the gorgeous bathrooms, so I spent more than I usually would. The villas are set in leafy groves, so it is very tropical in feel.

The breakfast room/café faces the beach and is lovely, light and modern. Breakfast is included, but you have to be there by about 10.45. The (lady) staff are very friendly and talk to you by name, although they called me “green girl” for the duration of my stay, on account of my hair.

View from breakfast room

The villa itself was large, comfortable and styli
sh, with Balinese bedhead, wall hangings etc. The large bed is on a platform, and there’s a desk area and window seat if you like to lounge about. Of course there’s a tv and bar fridge, wardrobe area for clothes, and a choice of fan or air-con. The villas are very quiet, so I had REALLY good sleeps here

But the bathroom is the knockout. It is huge. It has a skylight ceiling so is always light and bright with an outdoor feel, and has a rock wall and pottery to add texture.

I almost wanted to set up a desk with my laptop there to write, so nice was the room, but I settled for the end of my bed.

There was a nice big shower, but the switch to turn the hot water on was so high up, I couldn’t reach it! I settled for daytime showers when the water was warmish.

There’s a front porch with 2 chairs if you like to have an afternoon or evening cocktail and people-watch, but I preferred to sit at the beach, myself. Speaking of which, there were more than enough deckchairs and sun-loungers on which to sun yourself.

The beach here is quiet, with no motorised watersports as at Pantai Cenang. Only the people at the resort sunbake here, which is good if you like it intimate, but not good if you like to feel you’re out among the masses. The water is deep enough to get wet and have a swim though, whereas at the other end of the beach it can be really shallow.

It is definitely a place for couples, not singles. A note on the tours: perhaps best to book with an operator on Cenang if you want to mix with other westerners. The island hopping tour I booked through here, consisted of me, an Indian couple on their honeymoon, and 2 Malaysian families who spoke only malay and to each other. NOT the social activity I was hoping for.

The places we visited were beautiful and enjoyable; I had my feet “massaged” by catfish, and I met some inquisitive monkeys!! I gave one a banana, which was probably  mistake, cos they came after my bag when I sat down :)

However,
as I was the only ‘whitie’, and everyone else at the places we visited was either Malaysian, Indian or Middle Eastern, I couldn’t get down to my bikini and swim. Everyone else swam fully clothed, and I would’ve felt like a Jezebel doing otherwise, so I didn’t get to swim at all  :(  But that was really the only downside, and easily avoided if you book through a backpacker place.

The sunset here on Thursday night, my second night there, was simply AMAAAAZING…

Nightly rate: around 70- 75 AUD (but there are cheaper villas)
Amenities: air-con, bar fridge, tv, toiletries, tea/coffee making facilities
Included: breakfast til 11am. Although wifi is possible here, you have to find a shop that sells the Wi-net cards – and I never did.
Best bit: feeling of luxury; the bathroom.

Given that on this occasion I was travelling alone (not the smartest move in Langkawi, I admit), I decided to move to the more happening part of the island at the next beach up – Pantai Cenang.

AB Motel – Pantai Cenang

This one gets the thumbs up from backpackers, so I was aware I was going downmarket for this one. As I only booked my room the day before, my choice was limited, and I ended up in a room in the main building rather than a bungalow.

It was also one of those rooms with a connecting room to the next one, and although it was bolted so there were no intrusions, it meant the noise carried from the next room.

There was an Arabic speaking family next to me, and the father in particular had a voice that carried. I had to put the tv on the drown the voices out, and then I was aware when I stayed up late, that I had to keep it turned down low. On my second morning they were up way before me and being vocal. I turned on the air-con and opened the balcony door for white noise.

On the plus side, I was on the second floor, and had views of the beach from my balcony (which had 2 chairs for enjoying the sunsets). Not only that, but in the room itself, I could hear the waves crashing onto the beach. Yeah!

The room itself had 2 double beds and was way bigger than I needed. There was a choice of fan or air-con. Again the bed and pillows were fine, and there was a tv, bar fridge, wardrobe, and choice of fan or air-con.

The bathroom was ok, but there was no toilet paper, so I went to a shop and bought a roll for 1RM. The shower was right near the toilet, so it got wet when I had a shower. But at least I could reach the hot water!

Being on the busier part of the beach meant that there was lot of watersport activities nearby, banana boating, parasailing etc, and the water was quite shallow. There were some seats and tables between the beach and the hotel, and on my first night, there was a bunch of drunken locals being really loud from 5 to 5.30am right outside. I had to get up early for the snorkelling tour later that day, so sorely missed my sleep – not happy, Jan!

However, there was a nice atmosphere at the beach, people walking along, playing football, throwing Frisbees, sunbaking etc, with beach restaurant/bars at night lighting up the coast. I really enjoyed feeling amongst it here, as opposed to the exclusivity of the resort at Tengah.

The snorkelling tour I booked here had a lot of Europeans, so there were no problems re: swimwear. It was nice to chat to other backpacker/travellers, too. Here’s a pic on Pulau Payar, the island marine park where we snorkelled.

Nightly rate: around 25 AUD
Amenities: TV, bar fridge, air-con, soap, onsite internet cafe (open til 11)
Best bit: the balcony views

Penang

Oriental Penang – Jalan Penang

I got an upper floor room again, and again there were sweeping views of the Penang skyline. I could see the harbour and the mountains (with spectacular lightning bolts during storms).

While the décor was dated, the bed was fine and bathroom clean enough. There was a TV, chairs, desk, 4ft high fridge, wardrobe.

However, you did not have the choice to turn off the air-con, and I found it FREEZING! Although a sign said to keep the windows closed, I opened them to let in some warm air and try to normalise the temperature. At night I had to sleep in my jumper; there were extra pillows but no extra blankets.

Being situated on Jalan Penang (one of THE three main streets), it was extremely central for the Georgetown sights, hawker stalls and cafes.

Nightly rate: around 25 AUD
Amenities: TV, fridge, air-con, soap, 24 hr reception,
Best bit: the skyline views

Hope that’s helped you see the sort of places you can get in that mid-price bracket. There is still more coming from my Malaysian trip, like the food, architecture and shenanigans in Penang, so stay tuned…

My first night in KL Kuala Lumpur.

My last post came from the Citin Hotel in KL, on Jalan Pudu. Jalan Pudu is the road that links you from Chinatown up to the Golden Triangle area of Bukit Bintang etc. It’s therefore a short walk either way to get to these centres, without being smack bang in the noisy middle of it.

Although J Pudu is a busy road, you can’t hear it from inside the hotel. Indeed, the first room they put me in, had air-con so rattly and noisy that I could hear nothing but, and I went back to reception to ask sweetly if might have a different room.

To my utter astonishment, they upgraded me to a corner room on the 8th floor, with sweeping views of the KL cityscape. Oh my! Take a look – Petronas Towers, KL Tower, some other gorgeous old sandstone building I can’t find the name of, and the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve…

The room…see the turquoise above the bed?

View from one of the windows

and more views…

I felt like a queen. 3 large windows gave me a vista on KL, and the room itself had high ceilings, a big flat-screen TV and bar fridge, and a soothing colour scheme of cream and turquoise with the odd chocolate brown touch here and there. A modern clean citrus green bathroom with frameless shower fairly zinged.

But one can’t stay in one’s hotel room on holiday, no matter how nice it is (honeymooners excepted).

I set off on the first night for Jalan Petaling Street – the Khao San Road area of KL, if you like. Although it was raining, this area is under cover, so you can haggle and ogle and purchase to your heart’s content without struggling with your brolly.

As I remembered, there were night-market stalls everywhere, largely selling knock-off designer handbags, wallets, watches and perfumes. I got done for a leather wallet that I knew full well wasn’t Hermes.

I sidle up, eyes drawn to the aqua and lime green wallets.
The stall owner first says “250!”, then, “for you, 125″.
Yeah, right.
“75″, I say, confidently. He shakes his head.
“It is leather, ma’am, feel it, smell it. No vinyl, like these ones”, and he showed me some cheaper pvc ones.

I smelled the leather. He smelled a sale. He came in for the kill.
“Ok, 100 for you”.
I didn’t even really want the wallet, but before I knew it, I’d countered his offer with “90″. (Doh! Should have said 70).
He looked momentarily pained, then smiled brightly and agreed, “ok – 90″.

It was then I knew I’d been had.

Oh well 30 Aussie dollars for a leather wallet aint so bad. And it was the fun bargaining experience I was REALLY after. After a saunter round the rest of the markets, checking out the tropical fruits and other foods, I decided I’d try a new part of town before the night was through. Luckily, the showers had slowed to a very fine trickle.

After checking out the Central Market and deciding its touristy products weren’t for me, I walked northeast on Jalan Pudu and up Bukit Bintang, mentally noting where the malls were for tomorrow’s excursion.

I discovered Jalan Alor, which certainly wasn’t mentioned in my guide book. It’s a street full of, well, street food. Bourdain would love it. There were low-key restaurants everywhere, with plastic chairs and tables on the street for you to eat at. The good thing was, unlike Petaling, this was all about the food. No market stalls of tourist tat anywhere, YAYUH!

Yes, there were touts at the front of each establishment, beckoning you in with a glimpse of their menu; I’m fine with that. I knew I wanted Malay food, not Chinese or Thai or Indian. I ended up at maybe the 4th or 5th one down on the left hand side, and opted for chicken satay and kway teow (see below). It was yum!!

I reckon, no matter which place you ate at, you’d get a good feed. I asked for a Chang and got a large bottle – but I managed to get through it, hehe. There was the odd monk, seller of postcards, beggar etc that came up, but nothing too obtrusive. (I did give to the monk, despite considering the orange robes may well be for show).

So there you go. Even if your tra
vel guide doesn’t mention it, Jalan Alor is a nice buzzy little food street you should check out. It runs off Cangkat Bukit Bintang. I’ll definitely head there again when I’m next in KL. Stomach full, spirits lifted, I walked slowly home. After the day’s travels and mucho walking, a good night’s sleep was definitely in order!

Where to stay in Shinjuku

The first thing I do after I book my plane ticket to Tokyo, is book my hotel. Whereas in much of South East Asia you can just land in a town and look around for a room, the population of Tokyo is such that moderately priced rooms can book out totally in peak times. Oh, there’ll be rooms available – but in mega expensive hotels, chewing up your hard earned dosh.

I stay in Shinjuku because I love to be in the thick of it. It’s great for restaurants, shopping, nightlife and transport links. OK so it means you have to negotiate the world’s busiest railway station, which is pretty daunting. But hey, that’s all part of the adventure!

But back to hotels. I’m past the age of wanting to share dorm rooms, and like to have a bathroom all to myself, so mega-budget hostels are out. Since I’m not a guy, capsule hotels are out. Love Hotels can be quite cheap (and have 24 hour room service!), but I don’t want to be thinking about what’s been happening on the bed before I got there :/ This leaves me with hotels proper.

1. Hotel Kent

Hands-down my favourite for location and value-for-money. It’s in Kabukicho, the entertainment district of Shinjuku, and is only 5 or 6 minutes walk to Shinjuku Station (see access map). It has a 24 hour reception so you can stumble in at any hour (unlike some hotels which have a lock-out period). Check-in is 2pm; check out is 11am.

Rooms have high-speed internet acess and bar-fridge, and bathrooms have those groovy little amenities packs. Single rooms start at 5,500 yen, or non-smoking from 6,300 (cost varies according to the day of the week). And yes, they have triple rooms!
Even though it is in the midst of theatres, restaurants and pachinko parlours, I found the rooms to be quiet. I think they must have triple-glazing on the windows :) The rooms aren’t big, but they are clean.



One weird little feature is that you have to take a step up to get into the bathroom, but I can live with that. My tip for booking is not to use any of the usual booking sites like Agoda, because it’s cheaper to book direct with the hotel, AND you don’t pay until you get there.

Best Western Astina Shinjuku Hotel

This one is the most beautiful hotel I stayed in. Newly refurbished in 2008, it looks a million bucks with its zebrano wood, hanging chrome pendants and shiny marble flooring. Stylistas will feel right at home here.


Prices start at 8,000 yen (again, depending on the package deal and what day it is, and usually that translates to more like 10,000 yen). Check-in is 2 p.m and check-out 11 a.m, but you can pay 30% more to stay until 2pm, or 50% to stay until 5pm. Great if you have an evening flight and want to shower and re-pack your shopping-stuffed luggage in the privacy of your own room!

The location in superb too, slightly further from Shinjuku station than Kent, but closer to the Isetan and Marui shopping malls. While it is 8 minutes to JR Shinjuku Station, it is only 5 minutes to Tokyo Metro Shinjuku-Sanchome Station (and the gay nightlife area nearby in Ni-chome). It is also right Next to the Golden Gai area, near the Hanazono Shrine. Great for stumbling back late at night (see my post on punk bars in Shinjuku).




Hotel Sunlite Shinjuku
Priced from 7,140 yen, this is in roughly the same bracket as Hotel Kent. However, it is located further away from the main Shinjuku Station. Like the Astina, it is closer to Sanchome station and department stores – and there is a killer Izakaya directly opposite it too!

One down side is that it closes each night from 2am to 5.30am – not a good one for night-crawlers! I forgot this and rolled up around 5 after clubbing; luckily for me there was a steward in reception who let me in, as a) I was in full gothic lolita regalia, and b) it was bloomin freezing that day. Check-in is 3pm, check-out is 11am.

Hotel Shirakawago

I stayed here because I wanted a triple room and the Kent was booked. I arrived a day before my two friends and the only single room I could get was a smoking one. UGH! It gave me a headache just being in it. I threw open the windows even though it was a cool day, just to air the place. The reception area is likewise constantly shrouded in ciggie smoke – it even hurt my eyes! So it’s great for smokers; not so good for the rest of us.

Location-wise it isn’t as
accessible either. It’s further away from the station in the heart of Love Hotel land, and I actually got lost in the myriad of backstreets until I learned to look for the golfing range nearby. Check-in isn’t until 4pm (!!) and check-out is 10am. I had to plead to be allowed into my room earlier.

At 15,000 yen the triple is good value, but I’d still go for one at the Kent if it’s available.

EDIT 2010 – I stayed at the Shirakawago again and it was not as smoky as last time. Also, the couple running it were lovely and very helpful. When I couldn’t get internet in my room they let me use the pc in the reception area, even though it was quite late at night. I noticed the wife ran origami classes in the cafe too.

One I haven’t stayed at but looks really swish is the Shinjuku Prince Hotel. If you book more than 7 days ahead, you can get rooms from 8,500 yen, but otherwise it’s more like 10,000 and up. The 2nd floor of the hotel is the Seibu Shinjuku Station, or it’s 5 minutes to the main Shinjuku station.
These are all located on the east side of Shinjuku station. The west side is the skyscraper district side, more business than entertainment oriented, and not as ‘happening’ at night. The main reasons I head west are for the fab yakitori joints of Omoide Yokocho , or to shop at Closet Child for secondhand gothic punk fashion.
Those are my recommendations; what are yours?