Monday, May 23, 2016

Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea @ Singapore Art Museum at 8Q

Time flies, Pei Pei and I visited "Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas" about one year ago (read our experience here), and she still remembers the fun hands-on activities during that exhibition! We were looking forward to "Imaginarium: Over the Ocean, Under the Sea", and decided to drag ask Hao Hao to join us.



A beautiful installation greeted us even before we entered Singapore Art Museum at 8Q!


This installation Underwater Labyrinth was enclosed in the room with glass panels, and we could only view it from outside. It was a challenge to take a good photo due to the reflection. Or perhaps my poor photography skill.

I was amazed by the installation Dimana Mogus (Where is Mogus?) at level 1. The creators must have spent a lot of time to make all these beautiful crochet creations! That reminds me of the little crochet bear that I have been working on for months, and I am still at the... er... 7th row?




I wonder how long it took to make this giant octopus!



Look up! This reminds me of Leo Lionni's book Swimmy!


The children had a fun time running and jumping around, while I was fascinated by all those crochet creations!

At level 2, the children spent some time making origami penguin, angelfish and seal.



At level 3, before we entered the room, the staff reminded the children not to touch the installation. While the kinetic sculptures captured the children's attention for 5 seconds, we left the room in less than 5 minutes.



The only installation that piqued the children's interest was this one. A creative use of mirrors and symmetry.




Plastic Ocean was a thoughtful installation that reminded us about the harm of plastic debris to the sea creatures.



What a pity that we did not visit the installation ADA, which was an interactive art-making machine, because of the long queue.

While the creations are beautiful, I think the children would appreciate the exhibition more if there were more hands-on activities like "Imaginarium: A Voyage of Big Ideas".


Singapore Art Museum at 8Q
Address: 8 Queen's Street Singapore 188533
Admission:
Free for Singaporeans and permanent residents
Adults - SGD10
Students with valid student pass - SGD5
Senior citizens (60 years and above with valid ID) - SGD5
Children under six - free
How to get there:
By bus - SBS 7, 14, 16, 36, 111, 131, 162, 175, 502, 518; SMRT 77, 167, 171, 700
By MRT - Bras Basah MRT
By car - parking available at Waterloo Street, Queen Street.


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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

10 Tips for Planning Okinawa (Japan) Self-Drive Trip with Children

Although I have been to Japan a few times, it is my first time visiting Japan with my children! And it is my first time doing self-drive trip!

Oh, why don't we consider using public transport in Okinawa? Well, there is only one train system located at the southern part of Okinawa (Naha city). Although there are buses, taxi and local bus tours, I feel that it would be more convenient and flexible for us to drive in Okinawa.




Here are my 10 tips for planning self-drive trip in Okinawa, and some of these tips are also applicable when you travel to other parts of Japan!

Tips #1: Useful websites and smartphone applications
Clueless about where to go in Okinawa? Read these websites for ideas!

In addition, I find these websites useful for travelling in Japan:

Here are some smartphone applications that I find useful (and they are free):

Google Translate (iOS / Android)
You can snap a photo or speak, and the app will translate for you!

Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi (iOS / Android)
Sign up an account or log in on the day before you travel to Japan, then you can connect to free Wi-Fi in Japan for the next 90 days.

Gurunavi (iOS / Android)
Search for good food when you are planning your trip, or when you want to locate nearby eateries when you are in Japan.

Google Map (iOS / Android)
Build your Google Map before your trip, so that you can use your customised map to locate the places that you want to visit.

Maps.Me (iOS / Android)
It works when it is offline too, not to worry that you get lost when there is no internet!

Mapion (iOS / Android)
Japanese version of map


Tips #2: Plan your driving route carefully
Other than the websites in Tips #1, I also read many Taiwanese and Hong Kong blogs on where to go and what to eat in Okinawa. After shortlisting the places of interest and eateries, create Google Map. This helps to determine the time taken to drive from one place to the other, and hence you can work out the itinerary.



Other than using Google Map, we would be also using GPS provided by the car rental company. In Singapore, we key in postal code on the GPS to locate the place. In Japan, we can use either telephone number or Mapcode (マップコード). Okinawa Travel Info provides telephone numbers and Mapcodes of many places of interest - just choose the place of interest, and look for "Access" and then "Mapcode"! Alternatively, you can find the telephone numbers and Mapcodes from the official websites of some of the places of interest.


Tips #3: Booking air tickets
Read our blog post on getting from Singapore to Okinawa in a shorter time and at a lower air fare!


Tips #4: Booking accommodations in Japan
Take a look at our blog post on Okinawa Accommodations for Family for some ideas!



In Japan, to ensure good quality of sleep, many accommodations would require the visitors to book and pay for the exact number of people staying, including children. Usually the accommodations do not charge infants and children under 2 years old. For children above 2 years old and up to elementary school age, they would be charged at a certain percentage of, or even same rate as adults. I have heard of cases when some people tried to book a room without stating the number of children staying with them, and then the hotel requested them to top up the difference for the children during check-in. But I have also heard of cases when the hotel didn't make such request.

So for our family of 2 adults and 2 children, other than booking a room for 2 adults and hoping that we would not get caught the hotel would not charge us extra upon check-in, is there any way to save some money on accommodation? Yes! In Japan, there is a chain of business / budget hotels called Toyoko Inn. It is one of the hotels in Japan that allows two children to sleep-share with two adults in a twin room without charge. Oh, this hotel chain offers free simple breakfast too! We stayed in one of its hotels in Tokyo before, the room was really very small, but we were fine with it.

If you can understand basic Japanese, you may consider booking through the official websites of the hotels in Japanese, or through a hotel booking platform called jalan.net. Sometimes, they offer a lower rate than the usual hotel booking websites in English! In addition, these websites offer many accommodation plans which the English version of the official website and the usual hotel booking websites do not offer! It means that you can choose the plan that includes the number of meals, variety of activities, and the use of some facilities (e.g. spa) based on what you need.

Many accommodations do not require deposit or full payment in advance, and you can pay when you check-in. So for any reason that you are not going to stay in an accommodation, it is basic courtesy to inform them and cancel the booking in advance.


Tips #5: Book your rental car early and apply for international driving permit
When I was reading some Taiwanese blogs, many of them shared about this car rental company called OTS. Its website has English and Chinese version, and it provides multilingual GPS (English, Chinese, Korean). With my limited command of Japanese language, even though there are Japanese local car rental companies that offer much cheaper rate, I decided to go for OTS, as I can speak to them in Chinese in case of emergency (*touch wood*). Do book the car early to enjoy early bird discount! OTS also provides free infant / child / junior (booster) car seats.

Remember to bring along your passport, Singapore driving license and international driving permit (IDP) in order to rent a car in Japan!

To apply for IDP, just bring along your NRIC and Singapore driving license to Automobile Association of Singapore. The IDP costs SGD20. Alternatively, you may apply online.


Tips #6: Get the prepaid SIM card or rent a Wi-Fi router
Since we are renting car from OTS, we will be also renting a Wi-Fi router from them. On the first and last day of our trip when we do not have the Wi-Fi router, we would be using free Wi-Fi (See Tips #1 for the smartphone app that detects and connects to free Wi-Fi in Japan). Check out Be Okinawa for free Wi-Fi spots in Okinawa.

If you prefer using prepaid SIM cards, you can consider getting Yokoso SIM card in Singapore, or So-net card in Japan.


Tips #7: Bring along your notebooks
There are so many places to get pretty stamps! Yes, that reminds me that the post office in Japan is one of the must-go places!



Tips #8: Tax-free shopping
Currently, the consumption tax in Japan is 8%, and the tax-free purchase amount at the same store in a single day is more than 5000 yen. Even consumable items like food and beverages are eligible for tax-free procedure! I am going make shopping trips at the tax-free supermarkets and 100 yen shops! Check Japan Tax-free Shop for the list of tax-free shops!


Tips #9: Purchase admission tickets at a discount
Purchase the admission tickets of places of interest (e.g.Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium) at a discount from these places:
  • OTS Rental - you can purchase the admission tickets from them when you are renting car from them.
  • 道の駅許田 (Michi no eki Kyoda) - it is a service station near the northernmost end of Okinawa Expressway.

Tips #10: Multilingual Contact Centre in Okinawa
Need to seek help but can't speak Japanese? No worries, you can call Multilingual Contact Centre for help!

Phone: 0570-077201
SkypeID: call-center-en01
SkypeID: call-center-en02

Operation hours: 9 a.m. - 9 p.m.

The call will be charged at 8.5 yen for every 3 minutes in Naha City, 20-40 yen every 3 minutes outside Naha City, 90 yen for every 3 minutes using cell phone. In case using overseas phone, roaming fee will be charged.




Stay tuned for our Okinawa (Japan) travelogue!


Our Okinawa Travelogue

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Okinawa (Japan) Accommodations for Family

Even though it only takes 2 to 3 hours to drive from the southern part to the northern part of Okinawa, to minimise the driving time, we will be staying at different parts of Okinawa during our 6D5N trip. I am going to share with you 8 accommodations in Okinawa that I had researched on.



Disclaimer:
We have not stayed in any of the accommodation mentioned in this blog post, the findings are based on what I read from the official websites, Facebook pages, many Taiwanese and Hong Kong blogs, as well as travel books. And this is not a sponsored post!

Note:
The rate is correct as of April 2016. The range in the rate is due to the date of check-in.

1. Woodpecker Nakijin (ウッドペッカー 今帰仁)
Yes, these are caravans, but they are not for you to drive around Okinawa! It would be quite a special experience for those who haven't stayed in caravan before!

image source: Woodpecker Nakijin official website


The room is not really big, after all, it is a caravan. Facilities of the resort include a swimming pool, open bath and sauna. It is just a few minutes drive to the famous Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.

image source: Woodpecker Nakijin official website


Rate per night: 6000 yen to 13500 yen per adult (high school and above), 2500 to 4500 yen per child (elementary school), free for children younger than elementary school age
Address: 681 Imadomari, Nakijin-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa-ken 905-0428, Japan (〒905-0428 沖縄県国頭郡今帰仁村今泊681)
Telephone: 0980-56-1010


2. Hotel Orion Motobu Resort & Spa (ホテル オリオン モトブ リゾート&スパ)
When I did my research on this hotel, I was attracted by the hot spring with sea view!

image source: Hotel Orion Motobu Resort & Spa official website


Other than the hot spring, the hotel has spa, as well as indoor and outdoor swimming pools. It is just a few minutes walking distance from Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.

image source: Hotel Orion Motobu Resort & Spa official website


The children would love this Ocean View Kids room! Look at the cute whale sharks on the wall!

image source: Hotel Orion Motobu Resort & Spa official website


Rate per night: more than SGD400 per room per night, depending on number of people and type of room
Address: 148-1 Bise, Motobu-chō, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa-ken 905-0207, Japan (〒905‐0207 沖縄県国頭郡本部町備瀬148番地1)
Telephone: 0980-51-7300


3. Churaumi Village (美ら海ビレッジ)
This reminds me of my stay at a Japanese friend's house many years ago. This is simply a great way to experience the local Japanese life!

image source: Churaumi Village official website


There are living room, kitchen and toilet at level 1, and a bedroom (with 2 single beds and a few sets of futons) at level 2. Oh, and there is a bench outside the house! It is just a few minutes drive to Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium.

Rate per night: 4000 yen to 11800 yen per adult (high school and above), 1000 yen per child (elementary school and younger)
Address: 253-7 Toyohara, Motobu-chō, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa-ken 905-0204, Japan (〒905-0204 沖縄県国頭郡本部町字豊原253-7)
Telephone: 098-48-3999


4. ANA Intercontinental Manza Beach Resort
Don't you think that this resort looks impressive?

image source: ANA Interconteinental Manza Beach Resort


In addition to the common marine activities (e.g. sea walk, diving, snorkeling) that many seaside resorts offer, this hotel has a submarine! You can view the beautiful underwater world in the submarine! How cool is that!

image source: ANA Interconteinental Manza Beach Resort


I think my children would go crazy to see this water playground! I may have gone crazy first...

image source: ANA Interconteinental Manza Beach Resort


All rooms are facing the sea, but the rooms located at the lower floor would have part of the sea view blocked by trees. If my wallet permits, I really would love to stay here...

image source: ANA Interconteinental Manza Beach Resort


Rate per night: more than SGD500 per room per night, depending on number of people and type of room
Address: 2260 Serakaki, Onna-son, Kunigami-gun, Okinawa-ken 904-0404, Japan(〒904-0493沖縄県国頭郡恩納村字瀬良垣2260番地)
Telephone: 098-966-2212


5. Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay (リザンシーパークホテル谷茶ベイ)
You may have noticed that those seaside resorts that I shared above cost quite a lot. Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay is one of the most affordable seaside resorts that I can find!

It has a private beach that stretches 800 metres. The inflated floats on the beach and at the seaside would definitely be appealing to my children!

image source: Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay official website


There are outdoor and indoor pools. The indoor pool is child-friendly, there is a slide!

image source: Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay official website

image source: Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay official website


There is also a spa facing the sea!

image source: Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay official website


After reading many reviews by Taiwanese bloggers, the room is a bit old, but is still clean and comfortable to stay. The seaview rooms are more expensive than garden view (or rather, carpark view).

image source: Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay official website


I notice that booking this hotel from its official website (in Japanese) is cheaper than other English hotel booking websites, and there are many accommodation plans varying in the usage of facilities (e.g. spa) and number of meals. Check out their discount rate for booking 77 days in advance!

Rate per night: more than SGD200 per room per night, depending on number of people and type of room. Check out their discount rate for booking 77 days in advance!
Address: 1496, Kunigami District, Okinawa Prefecture 904-0496, Japan (〒904-0496 沖縄県国頭郡恩納村字谷茶1496)
Telephone: 098-964-6611


6. Coral Garden 7 Pools
I saw this from a Taiwanese variety show, and fell in love with the great view from the apartment!

image source: Coral Garden 7 Pools official website


Imagine yourself relaxing in the bath tub and enjoying this view!

image source: Coral Garden 7 Pools official website


There are 4 levels in each apartment - car park at level 1, living room and kitchen at level 2, bathroom and resting corner at level 3, and bedroom (2 single beds and 1 sofa bed) at level 4.

image source: Coral Garden 7 Pools official website


There is a common indoor swimming pool at the basement!

image source: Coral Garden 7 Pools official website


The only issues I have with this accommodation are the design of the level 3 - there is a "hole" below the table, babies and toddlers may crawl underneath the table and fall down to level 2. The staircase looks quite steep. So you have to be very careful if you are staying with young children.

Rate per night: 18500 yen to 24500 yen per apartment (maximum 3 adults), the 4th adult needs to pay extra 2500 yen
Address: 789 Nagahama, Yomitan, Nakagami District, Okinawa Prefecture 904-0324 (〒904-0324沖縄県読谷村長浜718-3)
Telephone: 098-985-7565


7. The Beach Tower Okinawa (ザ・ビーチタワー沖縄)
This hotel is very thoughtful for families with younger children. Each child would receive a welcome gift set which includes a few pieces of diapers and baby food!

image source: Booking.com


Located on Sunset Beach (famous for err... sunset!) and near American Village (famous for shopping), the location is very convenient! The visitors can also use the hot spring (Terme Chula-U) next to the hotel.

If I have a chance to stay here, I would like to book the Japanese-western room because of the tatami floor! 

image source: Booking.com


Rate per night: more than SGD300 per room per night, depending on number of people and type of room
Address: 8-6 Mihama, Chatan-chō, Nakagami-gun, Okinawa-ken 904-0115, Japan (沖縄県中頭郡北谷町字美浜8-6)
Telephone: 098-921-7711


8. Okinawa Grand Mer Resort (オキナワ グランメールリゾート)
Since we are visiting Japan, I am determined to find an accommodation with traditional Japanese room - having tatami floor and we sleep in futons! However, many such rooms are rather expensive. Finally I found Okinawa Grand Mer Resort, which costs about SGD200 per night, including breakfast for 4 of us! It is located near a super big shopping mall Aeon Rycom, as well as Awase Fish Market where you can enjoy the taste of freshly caught seafood!

image source: Jalan.net

image source: Jalan.net


Rate per night: about SGD200 per room per night for Japanese-style room or superior room (for 2 adults and 2 children)
Address: Japan, 〒904-2174 Okinawa-ken, Okinawa-shi, Yogi (〒904-2174 沖縄県沖縄市与儀2丁目8番1号)
Telephone: 098-931-1500


Conclusion
After planning the itinerary, we decide where to stay based on the location, and whether our wallet can afford! We have made our booking for two of these accommodations - Okinawa Grand Mer Resort and Rizzan Sea-Park Hotel Tancha Bay. Stay tuned for our reviews!


Our Okinawa Travelogue

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