TOKYO Travel Guide ~Winter Edition~

Good morning lovelies and happy Sunday. If you’re looking for some 2019 travel inspo, you’re in the right place! Today’s post is my second Tokyo Travel Guide, and this is going to be full of all the things to do in Tokyo in the winter. I wrote my first Tokyo Travel Guide in April, so be sure to check that post out if you haven’t already. But for now, happy reading and I hope you have lot’s of fun adventures lined up for the year!

What to eat:

Jojoen Yakiniku– Jojoen is our favorite yakiniku (translates to grilled meat) spot in Tokyo. With locations all over the city, their menu is full of various types of beef and pork, seafood, Korean side dishes and rice and noodle dishes. They also have super reasonable lunch sets that range from 1,500-3,000 yen that come with meat, rice, veggies/a salad, soup, a drink and dessert. With tons of locations, they each vary a little depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a more down-to-earth meal, I love the ones in Shibuya and Meguro. But if you’re looking for a nice locale, try the Jojoen on the 39th floor of Ebisu Garden Place.

Trattoria Mari e Monti in Roppongi- This has quickly become one of our favorite restaurants in Tokyo. Run by two Italian guys, the ambiance of the space makes you feel like you’re eating pasta and drinking wine on the streets of Italy. Their huge selection of produce, cheeses, meats, pastas and desserts are amazing and jaw-dropping. Some of my favorites are their truffle pasta, pappardelle with meat, grilled pork belly, literally all of their desserts and of course their homemade limoncello at the end of the meal.

Shibuya Parlor right by the Shibuya Crossing- My sister, mom and I stumbled across this place this past Christmas when I was on the hunt for a decadent fruit parfait. Located on the 7th floor of the Magnet building, the little cafe overlooks the famous Shibuya scramble crossing with the perfect birds eye view. To curb my craving, I ordered the strawberry brulee parfait which came with yoghurt, granola, vanilla ice cream, bruleed pudding and of course tons of strawberries.

Obica Mozzarella Bar in Roppongi Hills- We found this place this summer when we went out for lunch with some family friends and I’m actually obsessed with it now. The restaurants has a very modern vibe with shelves full of pastas and wine and huge floor to ceiling windows letting in so much natural light. I haven’t spent too much time looking at their dinner menu (every time I’ve been it’s been for lunch), but I can say that their lunch menu is incredibly reasonable and very extensive. For between 1500-2500 yen, you can get a lunch set with one main dish, one or two side dishes (depending on what you choose) and one drink. You can also add on a glass of red, white or bubbly for only 400 yen ($3.60USD). Some of my favorites are their pastas of the day, their grilled chicken salad and the lasagna.

Kushinobo in Roppongi Hills- Okay, I had heard my parents rave about this place forever and was always so skeptical until I went this Christmas and WOW. Kushinobo serves fried food on a skewer, but not greasy American fried food, elegant and refined Japanese fried food. It’s not too oily or heavy, it’s so light and delicious. My dad and I went for lunch and ordered the 10 piece set which came with 10 different kinds of skewers including salmon with roe, black pork, asparagus, and scallops, as well as a set of rice, an egg, miso soup, veggie sticks and dip and dessert. I don’t really know how to explain it, but PLEASE go try this place if you’re ever in Tokyo.

If you happen to be staying with a friend, at an Airbnb or anywhere with a kitchen, I highly recommend going to the store, getting some hot-pot soup (during the winter they have them everywhere in all kinds of delicious flavors), some shabu-shabu pork, tons of veggies and other fun treats and have a hot-pot night at home. It’s the epitome of winter meals in Japan and is so yum. And if you can’t do this, I would suggest going and walking around the supermarket anyway. Call me weird, but I think Japanese supermarkets are so fun.

How to get around:

Public transportation in Japan is absolutely the way to go. The trains and buses are everywhere and can get you anywhere you need. It can be a bit intimidating, but these days almost all signs for everything are in English as well. Don’t be afraid to go up to someone who works at the train station or bus stop and ask questions, most of them are able to have a conversation in English.

For the Shinkansen (bullet train), I would recommend getting the JR pass for either 7 or 14 days which allows you to get around the country on the bullet train conveniently and at a low cost. And seriously, riding on the bullet train is SO cool.

For the local trains, you can try and get a train pass/card which requires bringing your passport to a train station and going to an office to get it done, so I would only suggest doing that if you’re going to be in Tokyo for an extended period of time to save money and time. But if you’re only there for a bit, buying tickets at the machines are super simple and easy and, again, are in English as well.

If you’re trying to take the bus around, make sure you’re carrying coins on you to pay the buss fee (most are between 200-250 yen). Also look there are a couple of apps in English that will give you everything you need to know about the bus routes, including all the stops, their names and how to get from one place to another.

And while I always recommend using public transportation while traveling to really get to know the city you’re exploring, taxis are fairly easy to find and flag down. Simply look for the dark cars with a white sign on top and stick your hand out to flag it down. If the light in the bottom right hand corner is red, the taxi is available, and if it’s green it’s been taken or is on shift change.

Where to go:

This section could seriously drag on and on, so I’ll try to keep it short and sweet with lot’s of links and photos.

1. Tokyo Disneyland– We decided to go this Christmas to see all the lights and since we hadn’t been in like a decade and it was amazing! Christmas at Tokyo Disneyland is a must (whole other post on this going up soon so keep an eye out for that).

2. Roppongi Hills Mid-Town lights- If you walk out around Roppongi Hills at night during Christmas, the streets and trees are all lit up with stunning lights (called イルミネーション or Illumination) that go on and off in beautiful patterns. It’s nothing tacky, just simple, elegant Christmas lights. And depending on where you are you can get a picture-perfect view of Tokyo Tower as well.

3. Takeshita Dori, Harajuku- Of course this is a must-do any time of the year, but I love walking down the crazy crowded streets right before Christmas to scavenge for last minute gifts and stocking stuffers. I found so many fun little gifts for my family and friends (especially for all the beauty and skincare lovers) by just walking around and popping into a bunch of little stores.

4. Mega Don Quijote, Shibuya- I don’t know if you’ve heard of this store, but it’s actually heaven on earth. This huge one in Shibuya is 6 floors and has absolutely everything you could ever want or need. Literally from Louis Vuitton bags to Japanese junk food and cleaning supplies to makeup. It’s crazy busy and insanely packed.

5. Ginza- If you’re looking for some higher end shopping or some luxury, head out to the Ginza area and walk around the malls and streets that are filled with tons of high end brands and boutiques. Perfect if you’re looking for a nicer gift for a loved one or honestly even yourself (you deserve to get yourself a Christmas pressie too!). And if you’re as in love with Kate Spade as me, there’s a huge 3-story store right by the station that is beyond adorable.

6. Backstreets of Harajuku- Of course Takeshita Dori will always draw in the crowds, but during the winter months the backstreets are absolute stunning. Their often really empty and the trees all turn a beautiful golden color giving the whole space a very old and classy vibe. Just spend a few minutes walking down the streets, taking pictures and taking in the natural beauty.

7. Odaiba Spa World– Okay, I have to admit that I’ve never been BUT I’ve always wanted to go and have done so much research on it (and my sister has been so that counts, right?). This place is a completely indoor onsen and spa “world” full of different baths and other fun activities. It’s a bit tacky and touristy, but I honestly love that sometimes. And what’s better than going to the hot springs during a cold winter day.

8. The Westin Hotel in Ebisu and Ebisu Garden Place- During Christmas, The Westin and Ebisu Garden Place are decorated to beautifully. Ebisu Garden place is lined with Christmas trees, bright lights and a huge annual crystal chandelier. It’s the perfect place to have a coffee or a drink with your loved ones and take a few pictures. And after that you can walk underground to The Westin to see their traditionally decorated but absolutely breath-taking tree and decorations. Also, if it’s in your budget, The Westin is my favorite hotel in Tokyo to stay at.

9. Combini- Go to any convenient store in the city (you’ll find one every 10 steps) and relish in the magic of Combini in Japan. I really don’t know what else to say, just do it and you’ll thank me later. PS, convenient store coffee and donuts are the bomb!

How to dress:

It does get fairly cool during Christmas in Tokyo, and by fairly cool I mean an average of 38-50 (that’s freezing to me!), but it’s also usually really clear and sunny. You will for sure want to have at least one pair of good sunglasses and one solid coat. For me, jeans are for sure the way to go for pants, it’ll keep you warm but not too warm if you’re going to be walking around during the day.

If you do start to find yourself getting cold, find a Uniqlo (there’s seriously one on every corner) and get some heat-tech long underwear and that will keep you warm for the rest of your life (haha- not really but my family swears by it!).

Tokyo, generally, dresses quite conservatively so try not to dress to scandalous when you’re visiting. I think everyone should dress how they want to all the time, but I also think there’s something to be said about respecting the culture.

I hope you have all the wanderlust vibes now and are ready to go and explore!! xx

2018- The Year in Moments

Happy 2019!!

It seems like I was just writing my 2017 highlights just the other day, but here we are again, 2018 in moments. This year has been absolutely crazy. I’ve been extremely open about my struggles this year, and even though it was one of the hardest years of my life, I learned so much about myself and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s made me appreciate the smaller things in life (as cliche as that may sound), and remember who the people who truly matter are. For me, 2018 was a reminder that family is everything, and I should never forget that. So here we go, first post of the year, my 2018 in moments.

 

January 1st // New Year’s at the beach- Started off 2018 the best way possible, laying out at Manhattan Beach. Even though it was cloudy and cold (and I was basically in a sweatshirt the whole time), being outside and with a bunch of my friends was such a fun way to ring in the new year. And plus, how lucky am I to be able to go to the beach in January?!

March 9th // Home for Spring Break- My Christmas present for the year before was a plane ticket home for spring break, since my winter break is so short (as you can imagine, I burst out in tears when I got my plane ticket). I was able to fly back to Singapore for 9 days and see all my favorite people, eat all my favorite things and go to all my favorite places. Being able to spend an extra week at home with my family was an absolute highlight of my year, and plus it was a surprise which made it twice as good.

March 24th // Marched for our lives- While it’s extremely devastating that it’s come to the point where we have to march for the safety of children’s lives, it was so incredible to stand alongside so many others who are fighting the same fight. After spending an evening making our posters, my friends and I were proud to show up to DTLA wearing our ‘March For Our Lives’ shirts and walk next to so many other people from all walks of life who were all there to end the most preventable form of death in our nation. That day made me extremely proud and brought so much hope.

May 13th // Mother’s Day back at home- And then we were back in Singapore for summer, and started off the break by celebrating the most amazing woman in my life. I was SO happy to be able to make it back in time to celebrate with her. My sister and I went as all-out as we could with flowers, balloons, presents and dinner at home to try and show my mom how much she meant to us. And Singapore even treater her to a gorgeous sunset to top it all off.

June 25th // Beach getaway with the family- With only a few more weeks to go in South East Asia, we had to get another Phuket trip in. One of our go-to destinations for long weekends and breaks, we were lucky enough to spend a few days at Le Meridien in Phuket as a family to soak in some beach time. We dined at our favorite restaurants in the area and got in tons of tropical cocktails during happy hour too. It was so much fun to be away with my family for a little bit and to celebrate 20 years of life in South East Asia.

July 6th // Last day in our home of two decades– Finally, after 20 years and 3 months, my family said thank you to Singapore for being the city that raised our family. We spent the last days on my favorite island eating all of our favorite foods, including hawker food, steamboat, dim sum, all the brunch and char siu noodles, soaking in all the beauty of the city and spending time with dear, old friends. There are no words to express all the feelings and emotions that were felt over those last two weeks. While it was with tears of sadness that we said see you later, the tears were also happy as we remembered all the amazing and incredible people and memories that Singapore had given us. Bittersweet, to say the least.

July 7th // First day in our new home, Tokyo- But as we said goodbye to one home, we said hello to another. While we had visited Tokyo many times before, this time was different. We slowly learned to make Tokyo our home. Couch by couch, street by street, house by house. As we went back to some of our favorite places, we also ventured out to new areas, tried new restaurants, met new people and slowly became more and more comfortable in our new home. And while it will never replace Singapore, it’s opened us with nothing but open arms.

August 25th // Juuban Matsuri (end-of-summer festival)- To get rid of all of those back-to-school blues we spent one of the last days of summer (and one of my last days in Tokyo) with friends at the Obon Matsuri in Azabu Juuban. We spent the evening walking through the crowded, vendor-filled streets eating tonkatsu (fried pork) on a stick, playing traditional obon games and sipping on frozen sangria. As crazy and chaotic (and sweaty!) as it was, it was so much fun to celebrate the end of an amazing summer in such a special way.

October 30th // A week in LA with dad- I was SO excited for my dad to come and to be able to spend a week with him in LA in the middle of the semester. We did everything from going to the Grove, walking around Beverly Hills, eating so much brunch and Dim Sum and exploring the original Farmer’s Market. We also headed over to Claremont for a night to spend some time with my grandparents and were able to catch up with close family friends. Having a quick break from campus life was much needed and so much fun!

November 21st // Thanksgiving road-trip to San Francisco- After my grandparents decided to forgo our traditional Thanksgiving, we decided to go on a short trip up to San Francisco. We started with a two day drive up the coast and spent a night in the cute little seaside town of Cambria (seriously, the cutest town ever!). After getting to SF, we spent the next few days walking around the city, grabbing lunch at Pier 39 and of course having steamboat for Thanksgiving dinner, because what else would you do? My grandparents absolutely love SF, so they took me back to all their favorite places, including their two favorites, Lori’s Diner and Sears Fine Food on Powell Street. And to top off the weekend, we were able to watch the first Macy’s Christmas tree lighting of the season.

December 13th // Home for Christmas- And finally, the highlight of my year for sure, being home (in Tokyo) for Christmas. I was crazy excited to be home with my family for the holidays this year, and to have a real winter Christmas. I was so lucky to be able to spend so much time with my favorite people doing Christmas shopping, eating at our go-to places (and a bunch of new ones), going to Disneyland (whole post on Tokyo Disney going up soon!) and of course doing anything and everything Christmassy. We had so many cozy movie nights, nice dinners out on the town, Christmas parties and endless cuddles with my puppy. It was simply one of the best Christmases ever.

I already have so many amazing things lined up for 2019 and can’t wait to see where this year brings me.
Happy New Year! xx

Life Through A Lens #26- LA Feels

Missing Home- SG Shotz

Happy Thursday loves!! Being back in LA for my sophomore year of college, it’s really hit me how much I miss Asia and Singapore. I knew I was going to miss it, but I had no idea how much. So for today’s post, I thought it would be fun to put together a small collection of my absolute favorite photos of my beautiful home. If you’re looking for some SG travel inspo, I have it right here for you!

Travel Wishlist- Where I Wanna Go

What’s the number one place you want to visit right now? I get asked that question all the time and it’s so hard because the answer is: EVERYWHERE. I would love to not have to worry about school or working or money and just travel the world experience all the different cultures. But since that’s not reasonable, I thought I would sit and put together the 5 places that are at the top of my travel bucket list right now. What do you think of my list? What’s on your list?

*All photos courtesy of Creative Commons*

1. New York City, USA- NYC, I don’t even know what to say. Everything from the yellow taxis, the bright lights of Times Square and the quaintness of Central Park draws me to the city. I could get lost looking at pictures of New York for hours dreaming of everything I would do when I finally get to go. And it would be even better if it were Christmas. The tree at Rockefeller Center, hot chocolate at Serendipity (just like the movie!!) and New Years Eve in Times Square, ugh it would be so magical!

2. Sydney, Australia- I honestly don’t know how I lived in Singapore for over 18 years and never visited Australia, but it’s very high up on my wishlist. Not sure what it is, but I always just get such a chill/relaxed vibe from Sydney and the people seem so incredible warm and welcoming! And the growing food scene doesn’t hurt either.

 

3. Sicily, Rome and Amalfi, Italy- Isn’t this pretty much a staple on everyones bucket list? If I could spend a chunk of time exploring every single city in Italy I think I would die. But these three cities are the top three on my list for sure. I’m so intrigued by the contrast of the bustling city of Rome and the pure, calm, breathtaking Amalfi Coast. And then I would just love to move to Sicily and live on a winery and eat all the seafood I want all day.

4. New Orleans, USA- New Orleans is definitely a recent addition to my list, but it’s so intriguing to me. Obviously it would be amazing to go during Mardi Gras, but any time would be incredible. The atmosphere just seems to laid back yet fun and old school funky. I would love to stroll through the French Quarter and spend the afternoon eating beignets at Cafe du Monde.

5. Island Hopping in Greece- Although I’ve been to Athens and the island of Sifnos, I’d love to go back and just spend time on a bunch of different islands. I love everything about Greece, the food, the people, the scenery, the oceans, it’s spectacular. The dream is to spend a month island hopping and spending the evenings sipping on wine and gorging on spanakopita and baklava. Wouldn’t that be amazing!

Summer in Moments- 2018

As we are quickly approaching the last couple weeks of (official) summer, I just wanted to put together a quick little blog post of my highlights from the summer. I’ve been back at school for a week and a half now an reminiscing about all the fun times and wishing I was still sitting by the beach and soaking in the sun. I hope you all enjoy this post and please comment some of your favorite summer moments down below!

1. Internship in Singapore- I was extremely lucky to be able to go back to my high school in Singapore for the last 5 weeks of their school year and intern with one of the programs I fell in love with. I was able to work directly with teachers and was even given the ability to run a few of my own classes and activities. Being a teacher is something that means a lot to me and this opportunity only made me realize my dream even more. It was amazing to be able to work directly with students and to learn so much from the teachers who were gracious enough to mentor me. I started my internship the day after school ended, and although it was difficult at times it was also an incredible experience.

I don’t have a real photo so please enjoy this mirror selfie from my first day at work.

2. Food adventures back home- While I was working, I also had so much time to relax in Singapore and spend time with my family. And of course, a lot of our time was spent eating at our favorite places (and some new places) around the island. I only put 5 photos in this post because if I put all the photos in you would be here forever. As you can see (here and on my Instagram: @swimeatlove) I had a lot of Asian food simply because I was craving it SO MUCH after being back in LA for a semester. I honestly can’t pick a favorite or highlight meal because everything I had was so good. But I loved that I was able to enjoy a fine dining meal (at Level 33) as well as a simple food court meal of chicken rice.

3. Beach getaway in Phuket- I wrote a whole big post on my trip to Phuket, so I’m going to keep this one short and sweet (but go check out the other post if you want to see more!). Most people already know this about me, but I’m obsessed with the beach, so getting to spend a few days in one of my favorite places with my family was definitely a highlight for this summer. We were all able to just chill and lounge around by the beach or pool sipping on mojitos and pina coladas- it was perfect! We stayed at our favorite resort (Le Meridien, Phuket) and loved the food, the spa and of course the private beach and sprawling pool. We got to go out to the town each evening and explored the area and ate at some of our favorite places around Phuket. It was the perfect summer getaway.

4. Lake days- After all of the fun times in Singapore, and a chaotic international move, we finally got back to some stability by spending over a month at our family lake house, which we do every summer. Nestled in between the mountains, the serene lake is by far one of my favorite places to be. There are so little distractions (we just got a flushing toilet last year and wifi this year!) and it’s just so peaceful. I spend the days lifeguarding and hanging by the lake, and then we spend the afternoons looking for the best and freshest summer produce which we then use to make fun, summery meals. We have game nights, do BBQs and have fun with fireworks and sparklers and it’s seriously the best thing ever. I look forward to being back at the lake the day after I leave. It’s the absolute epitome of summer.

5. Adventuring Tokyo- After leaving the lake for the summer, I was able to spend a full week back in Tokyo (which also happens to be our new home). While we spend time in Tokyo every summer, this year it was all about finding the comfort and familiarities of the city that would help to make it feel like home. We did some of the things we love to do (shopping in Shibuya, eating at our favorite restaurants), but we also did some things we’d never done before. Of course we discovered some new restaurants that will definitely be added to our go-to list, but we also did some fun new things like going to the summer festival (matsuri) in Azabu Juuban and exploring the neighborhood around our new house. I loved being able to spend my last week of summer with the people I love doing what I love (basically eating and traveling, haha!).

I hope you all had as good a summer as I had. It was by far the best one yet. Enjoy the last little bit of the warm weather and I hope ya’ll are getting excited for fall!

Life Through A Lens #24- SUMMER AT HOME

Top 10 Travel Tips: Part 2

About a year ago I posted my first Top 10 Travel Tips blog filled with lots of little hacks and tips to make traveling just a little bit easier. Today, in honor of summer and vacation season coming up, I’m going to do part 2 of my travel tips!

I hope you find these useful useful for your next trip:) Comment down below where your next adventure is taking you!

1. HYDRATE! This is mainly for actual plane ride, but of course hydration is always key. When you’re flying, the oxygen is being recirculated throughout the cabin, and the moisture in the air is extremely limited. Be sure to carry around a water bottle (make sure it’s empty when you go through security!!) to make it easy to continuously drink water. Hydrating your body is great, but don’t forget about your skin. Take the time on the plan to stick on a hydrating mask (my favorites are linked below) and load up on lotion. You’ll walk off the plane feeling fresh and hydrated.

2. Make good use of document holders and passport cases. I used to think it was so dorky when my parents used cases to hold all their travel documents in, but as I began to travel more and more on my own I realized how useful it is to have everything together and in one place. I also love using passport covers (maybe it’s because I have the absolute CUTEST Kate Spade one:) because it makes it so easy to find in your bag, and I’ve found that it reduces the risk of misplacing it (or the fear of losing it).

3. Learn a few basic phrases in the other language. You say “hello”, “goodbye” and “thank you” to the people in your life at home, so why not spend 5 minutes learning the phrases to show appreciation to all the people who make your trip easy and comfortable (“where is the bathroom” may come in handy too:).

4. Relax. Vacations can be a bit of a stressful time, but don’t forget to take some time to just sit there and enjoy the beauty around you. There’s nothing wrong with jam-packing your days with activities, but there’s also nothing wrong with just sitting on the balcony of your room or lounging by the pool and doing absolutely nothing, it is a vacation after all.

5. Use a travel website. Companies like Hopper are great for finding and tracking low-price tickets to your desired destination. I haven’t personally used it yet, but two of my friends used Hopper to find their tickets to come visit me in Singapore and it worked great. Super user-friendly and definitely gets you the best deal in town.

6. Carry around cash. In today’s day and age, it’s easy to rely on your credit card for everything, but remember that not every place you will go will accept cards. Make sure to convert some money at the airport to carry around just in case. It’s nice to be able to pay for small purchases or tip the people that help you with cash.

7. I had this one in my first post, but I’m going to say it again: PICTURES! I’ve heard a lot of people speak out against taking tons of pictures on trips because you should be “in the moment”, but I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to capture as many moment as possible. Not only can you share it with your friends and family, but it’s also a memory for you. You can look back on the photos 5, 10, 20 years from then and remember all about your trip.

8. Take public transportation. Not only will you save heaps of money, but you’ll also get your body moving and get to explore local life. Hopping in an Uber may be easy, but your missing out on so much. Taking public transportation forces you to walk around (move your body everyday, right?) and see so many things and places that you may have missed out on if you just hailed a cab.

9. Talk to locals. Getting to know the people is the best way to learn more about the place. Ask them what their favorite thing to do it or where their favorite place to eat is. You will find so many hidden gems that no travel website would lead you to. We have found some amazing little spots and eateries that the locals have led us to. Don’t be afraid to ask around and to step out of your comfort zone, that’s what traveling is all about!

10. Watch the sunrise. Get up early and watch the sun come up. Early mornings may sound grueling, but they don’t have to be. Grab a cup of coffee and appreciate the morning. No matter where you are in the world, the sun will always rise. Appreciate the beauty of that.

“Top 10 Travel Tips” Post: https://swimeatlove.com/2017/03/18/top-10-travel-tips/

Links:

Hydrating Face Mask (perfect for the plane): https://www.sephora.com/product/sleeping-mask-P398102?skuId=1668615&icid2=products%20grid:p398102

Kate Spade Passport Cases: https://www.katespade.com/accessories/travel-accessories/

Basic Phrases in Other Languages (website with many languages): https://www.infoplease.com/common-english-phrases-translated-other-languages

Hopper: https://www.hopper.com/

Life Through A Lens #23- SPRING HAS SPRUNG