Tag Archives: review

Kanazawa Train Station

Review: Dormy Inn, Kanazawa, Japan – Near the Train Station, Comfortable Rooms

We stayed at Dormy Inn when we visited Kanazawa and it was quite good, but there were a few things that could have been better.

Dormy Inn is a bigger hotel than any we’ve stayed in in Japan so far, so the checkin process was a little more crowded. But amazingly, they still checked us in within 5 minutes of us arriving. The Japanese are so efficient and you needn’t worry about checkin efficiency here.Room at Dormy Inn KanazawaThe rooms at Dormy Kanazawa are quite small, but come with large LCD TV (no international channels), fast wifi, smallish double beds, air conditioning and older style bathrooms. Even though the rooms were a little bit older than we’ve previously experienced, they were very clean and comfortable.Bathroom at Dormy Inn KanazawaThere’s a free onsen onsite, but we didn’t try it but friends of ours did. They were suitably impressed!

Breakfast in the morning had a great selection of Japanese food, so if you love Japanese food, you will love this breakfast buffet. But if you prefer Western breakfast, you will be slightly disappointed with this buffet as there are hardly any options — and the options that do exist (like croissants) are quite poor.Breakfast buffet at Dormy Inn KanazawaThe breakfast issue aside, Dormy Inn Kanazawa is a decent option if you’re visiting Kanazawa as it’s incredibly close to both the train and bus stations so that you can just walk around the corner to check in. Kenroku-en is a 3km walk away. Awesome.Dormy Inn KanazawaThe latest prices for the hotel can be found here on booking.com

Dormy Inn
2-25 Horikawa ShinmachiKanazawa
dormy-inn-kanazawa.hotel-rn.com
Double Room: Rp1.150.000

Great Cafes in Taipei

Best Cafes in Taipei: I Tried Them All!

“Taipei has one of the best cafe scenes in Asia”, was how a friend of mine put it when I asked him how good the cafes are in the Taiwanese capital. So when I arrived there, I dove straight into trying to unearth the best cafes in Taipei. And I reckon I found some really good ones. Check em out.

Kiosk

What a fantastic place to come for a great coffee and little snack… perhaps even lunch. A good range of single origin coffees as well a house blend for the milky drinks.

My cappuccino (NT$150) was one of my favourite in Taipei and I think it must be one of the best in Taipei. Silky smooth milk, great temperature and nice flavour.Kiosk Taipei Best CoffeeThe toasted sandwiches come with a range of toppings and we got the grilled cheese with sautéed mushroom as well as the spicy sausage meat with roasted red pepper. Both were really good and worth the NT$180/190 price tag.Kiosk Taipei SandwichIt’s a modern fitout with a couple of communal tables and a bunch of tiny tables for two. When I was there there were a bunch of people working on laptops, so the staff mustn’t care too much if people are taking up this space by working instead of eating.

I love this place! Go here.

(Google Maps Location)

Dawn Surf & Co. Cafe

I love this cafe. It has a really relaxed laid back vibe, with a few soft chairs, a few work benches and a longish bar for sipping your coffee at.Dawn Surf & Co Cafe Taipei frontI tried a cappuccino (NT$140) and it was my favourite yet in Taipei. Pretty strong, smoothly textured milk and good temperature. Susan had a steamed milk green tea (NT$150) which she also enjoyed.Dawn Surf & Co Cafe Taipei insideThey also serve food here, but to be honest none of it appealed to me. But I saw other people snacking on toasted sandwiches etc and they looked quite nice.

A top cafe in Taipei.

(Google Maps Location)

Double L Patisserie

When I arrived here in the pouring rain, I desperately wanted this tiny pastry shop in the suburbs to be worth the effort of coming here. And I was not disappointed.Double L Patisserie cakesThe English speaking cashier explained all the cakes and drinks and I ended up ordering a caramel cake of some sort and a strawberry and cream tart. For drinks we ordered a latte and a matcha milky drink.

All up the price was NT$600 which is expensive, but I was OK with the price because what we ate was so good.

The strawberry tart had a hard base that initially I hated. But the flavour was so good that I ended up actually liking that biscuity base a lot. A winning tart.Double L Patisserie cakesThe caramel cake was dense and again I initially didn’t like it. But the caramel was so perfect and chewy that I immediately changed my mind – I love this cake.

This is a fantastic little patisserie for coffee and cake.

(Google Maps Location)

???? (Cafe LakuLaku)

This coffee is shop is awesome and sells some of the best coffee from around the world including some COE beans. I tried a cappuccino (NT$140) and it was the best I’ve had in Taiwan so far. Susan had a pot of tea for NT$180 and it was also good. But so expensive!Cafe Laku Laku Taipei coffee Moving onto the cakes, we grabbed a matcha cake and chocolate cake which came to NT$280 together so I’m assuming NT$140 each. Both were excellent and worth trekking out here to get.Cafe Laku Laku Taipei cakesWifi here is fast and tables are perfect for setting up a laptop and getting a bit of work done. This place is definitely worth a visit.

(Google Maps Location)

Coffee Lab

Coffee Lab is a cute and cozy coffee shop in a laneway just across from the creative park. I had high hopes for this place because of all the different sorts of single origin coffees on offer. But the cappuccino I had was not really up to international standard.Coffee Lab Taipei cat It was certainly not as good as many I would get in Indonesia and miles off what I get in good Australian coffee shops. It also took about 20 minutes for them to prepare my coffee. That’s not to say the coffee was bad! It was good. Just not as good as I had expected.Coffee Lab Taipei frontBut they do have a big cat who is fun to play with and Susan’s Honey Lemon drink was nice. Both drinks came to NT$285. Worth a visit if you’re at the nearby creative park.

(Google Maps Location)

Woolloomoolloo

This cafe named after an inner-Sydney suburb immediately caught my attention with its catchy name. I tried the Xinyi branch and arrived during peak hour – it’s incredibly popular! Standard Aussie style breakfasts such as sandwiches, sausage rolls and big brekkies. We tried the big brekky (NT$320), cappuccino (NT$130) and mocha (NT$150) and were impressed by the mocha, but the cappuccino was weak and served in a Latte glass – a poor cappuccino. All prices had an additional 10% tax added at the end.Woolloomooloo Cafe Tapei breakfastSecondly, the big brekky was a disappointment. Unsalted scrambled eggs, hard roasted tomatoes, but tasty baked beans. It really needs to better than this.Woolloomooloo Cafe Taipei InteriorThe prices here are sky high and among the highest we’ve experienced anywhere, particularly for the coffee. Also, the menu is a little old-fashioned compared to what we might find in Australia or even Bangkok when looking at the very latest cafes. Still, a decent choice with reasonable food and a good vibe. They accept credit card and have wifi.

(Google Maps Location)

So there you have it. My recommendations for some fantastic cafes in Taipei. I did try a few other cafes, but I didn’t think they were worth mentioning here because they weren’t up to scratch.

Taipei really is a great city for cafe hopping. Let us know in the comments which your favourite cafes in Taipei are!

Summerbird Boutique Hotel Bandung

Summerbird: Boutique Hotel in Bandung

Summerbird is a funky boutique hotel in Bandung which is perfect for kids of the Instagram generation due to its unique style and trendy fitout. Located in the centre of Bandung just off Jalan Pasirkaliki, Summerbird is close to the Bandung train station, Istana Plaza, Paskal Hypersquare and Jalan Cibadak. You can even walk to Pasar Baru from here if you feel like it.

Summerbird is a small hotel with only 3 levels of rooms, with each of the rooms surrounding an open courtyard area which gives the entire hotel a bright and airy feel. Construction is based on bare steel, lots of wood and a liberal usage of bricks which gives a very modern, fresh feel.Summerbird Boutique Hotel Bandung Bathroom

Rooms at Summerbird are themed — French, Scandinavian, Industrial and Vintage. We stayed in both the French and the Scandinavian rooms and to be honest, they are one of the funkiest rooms we’ve ever stayed in. Oh, and perfect for taking great photos of. We even saw a couple doing a pre-wedding shoot while we were there.

Each room comes with air-conditiong, private bathroom with Western toilet and hot water, a big comfortable bed (seriously, it’s really soft and fluffy), cable television and free WiFi. The other thing is that the rooms are really clean and some of the fittings they use are seriously expensive and imported meaning you can immediately feel the quality of the room. Take the shower fittings for example — classy toto.Summerbird Boutique Hotel Bandung

Breakfast is included in the room price and is served in the cafe downstairs. We had nasi goreng and coffee and it was perfectly adequate for the day ahead. You’re also able to order other things off the menu for an extra fee, just like a regular cafe and we can people coming and having other meals here too.

We were initially worried that the massive glass wall in the bathroom would be a problem as far as privacy is concerned, but it turns out that they have blinds which you can pull down. all the way meaning you don’t have to worry about anything.

So what’s our verdict about this place? We really love it. Not only does the hotel look good in photos, it actually feels good to stay there. The beds are awesome, the air-conditioning icy cold and the room feels homey especially on a rainy Bandung day.

Summerbird Hotel
Jalan Ksatriaan no. 11. Bandung
Standard: Rp. 439.000
Superior: Rp. 489.000
Deluxe: Rp. 539.000

Check the current price on Agoda

Granparent's Home Ayutthaya

Grandparent’s Home, Ayutthaya

If you’re looking for a cheap yet comfortable place to stay in Ayutthaya, then look no further than Grandparent’s Home.

We arrived at Grandparent’s Home after waking around Ayutthaya for about an hour and a half and not having any luck at all. Everything was either full, too expensive or in a crappy area. But Grandparent’s Home actually was good in all aspects.

The location is within 100m of the main Ayutthaya temple complex, the rooms are spacious, comfortable and come with AC and the price is right — just 600B!

Of course, you can get cheaper in Ayutthaya. You can even get something for 250B. The problem is that the location will not be central, the room will be small, you will have to share a bathroom and you won’t have AC.Granparent's Home Ayutthaya

The rooms at Grandparent’s Home come with fast wifi, cable TV, big comfortable beds with quilt and colourful accents, icy cold AC and private hot water bathrooms.

The big question most people are going to ask is “do you need air-conditioning in Ayutthaya?” The answer is maybe. Ayutthaya can get extremely hot in the summer months (the low 40s or over 100F) and even in the cooler months it’s hot. We’re here in late December and the top temperatures are an energy sapping 35°C (95°F). You don’t have to have AC, but it is sure is nice and will only cost you a few bucks more. Up to you!

So there you have it. Our recommend for good cheap accommodation in Ayutthaya is Grandparent’s Home!

If you’re curious about current price, check the price on Agoda.

Cultivar Coffee Shop, Bandung

I got a burst of inspiration, so I thought I write up some of my thoughts about a new coffee shop in Bandung called Cultivar.

Located in a trendy area of town with a smattering of nearby eateries, Cultivar gets a lot right that some other coffee shops don’t. The first thing I noticed when I entered was that it was not overly crowded with seating spaced far enough apart that you could get away from people if you wanted to. The ambience was lively although there weren’t that many customer inside due to an eclectic mix of tunes on the small sound system.

Cultivar Coffee Shop Bandung - Tempat Nongkrong Bagus
Cultivar Coffee Shop Bandung – Tempat Nongkrong Bagus

I ordered a double shot cafe latte and it was bang on in my view. They served it in a massive cup which is a general turn off for me, but the flavour was deep and rich and no one where near as milky as I had feared. Two big thumbs up for the coffee.

Enjoying a Coffee at Cultivar, Bandung
Enjoying a Coffee at Cultivar, Bandung

I also ordered the strawberries and cream waffles. I was slightly disappointed with the dish because there was nothing on the plate that made me go “wow”. It was simply waffles, strawberries and cream — what did I expect?! Well, I would have liked that cream to be an amazing home creation with layers of flavour — perhaps vanilla, cardamom… some other Indonesian spices. But it was store bought cream and pretty standard. That said, I finished off the dish and I didn’t hate it — certainly much better than some dishes I’ve had at other cafes in Bandung.

Strawberries & Cream Waffles @ Cultivar Bandung
Strawberries & Cream Waffles @ Cultivar Bandung

The wifi in Cultivar is fast. I got 17mbit down and 7mbit up on my test which is perfect for uploading youtube videos or downloading your favourite torrents.

All in all, Cultivar hits the right spot for me. I can see myself coming back to work for an hour or two whilst indulging in one of those massive lattes. A welcome addition to the Bandung cafe scene.

Review: QANTAS QF42 Jakarta to Sydney

I recently took a flight with QANTAS for the first time in 8 years and I thought it was worth jotting down my thoughts on the experience from Jakarta to Sydney on QF41. The flight took off 15 minutes late at 8:15pm and arrived 5 minutes early at 6:05am for a total journey time of 6 hours 50 minutes.

QANTAS seatback TV with a friendly reminder of which seat you're sitting in
QANTAS seatback TV with a friendly reminder of which seat you’re sitting in

The first thing I noticed when I entered the aircraft was that the interior of the cabin looked luxurious compared to carriers such as Air Asia. The dark grey and maroon looked classy and everything looked and felt new. Each seat came with a small seat back TV with lots of new movies, TV shows and games. It also had a USB port for charging which was absolutely needed! The seat itself had enough legroom and compared to Air Asia it was absolutely luxurious. In terms of comfort, the seat itself was quite comfortable and I only got a pain in the leg once or twice on the 7 hour flight.

Upon take off cabin crew immediately came around the cabin and served a lemon drink and each person already had a bottle of water in their seat pocket. After about an hour, dinner was served. There was a choice of 3 meals with fruit cake for dessert. As well as this, there was free flow of Australian wines, beer and spirits. None of the food contained pork.

QF 42 Jakarta to Sydney menu
QF 42 Jakarta to Sydney menu

I found the food to be average. I was actually quite happy with my fish, but it wasn’t as luxurious as I’ve had in the past on airlines such as Singapore or Emirates. It was better than some other airlines I’ve been on recently such as China Southern.

Cabin crew were all professional and if there was a problem or an emergency, you just know they would probably be one of the best crews in the world to handle it. That said, they weren’t as warm as some crews on airlines such as air Asia. But then again, I just don’t know if I trust those Air Asia crews with my life.

QF42 Jakarta to Sydney drink list
QF42 Jakarta to Sydney drink list

All in all, it was a fantastic flight with QANTAS and so far beyond the horrid Air Asia flight I had 10 days earlier that I am seriously considering paying more money for flights in the future when it comes to medium to long haul. The level of quality on a carrier such as QANTAS makes all the difference after about 5 hours of being boxed in a seat.

Ever flown QANTAS? What do you think?

Foursquare Sucks

It’s a big call, I know. Millions of people use foursquare daily and I have the hide to dis it. Well I am. I’m dissin’ it. And I’m serious, because I’m saying “dissin'”. Foursquare has gained popularity as a tool to track your friends movements and… I don’t know what else. But people love it nonetheless and I don’t know why.

If I’m lashing out and saying Foursquare sucks, I probably should give some substance to my controversial claim by providing some hard reasons for not liking it. First of all, though, I will say that I do use the app. All the time. And I don’t even know why.

Without further ado, the top reasons for hating Foursquare:

Woeful Design

I really hate the design of Foursquare. It reminds of an IBM computer circa 1988. Or maybe even a microbee circa 1986. It looks really out of place on a device such as an iphone which prides itself on fantastic aesthetics. That blue and white interface with hard lines, flat lists and endless blandness… it’s awful! Oh and don’t get me started on squares. The app is full of squares and rectangles! I like pictures. Colours. Rounded edges. Get some of that in the app and it will start to look more interesting and feel better to use. As it stands, whenever I open the app I feel irritated by it’s boringness. Note: Shaving off the edge of a corner does not give the app the rounded edges I desire. It just looks like a sharp corner was chopped off.

Duplicates?

Duplicates are rare on Foursquare. Why? Because many spots are in triplicate, quadruplicate, quintiplicate, hexatiplicate and dodecatipilacte. In other words, the database is an absolute mess making it really demoralising when you find that the spot you’ve been checking into for months is actually not the one most people have been using. They’ve been checking into the one 100m away. Another problem with all these multiple spots is that it’s sometimes difficult to know which one to checkin to. Really destroys the experience for me.

Too Many Inane Spots

There are so many inane spots on Foursquare that crowd out the real spots. Like “my bedroom”. Or all the gates that are located within an airport. Checking into gate 48a within an airport isn’t really relevant in a location-based app. Terminal maybe. Airport yes. Gate number no.

Badges Suck

The badges in Foursquare really are awful. Firstly, the implementation seems to be a half-hearted attempt and adding a game feature to the app. But it’s half-baked. Many of the badges are for things that don’t mean anything (checking into 3 locations that have photobooths in them???), they very rarely scale based on how heavy a user you are (what about a badge for checking into 100 locations that have photobooths in them?) and they are ugly. Really ugly. I don’t want those badges. They’re embarrassing.

Spot Popularity Indeterminable

It’s really difficult to tell if a spot you’ve never been to before is popular or not. This might seem irrelevant, but on my recent trip around Oz, I often used Gowalla to look at spots around me to see if lots of people were going to them. There appeared to be a direct correlation between frequently checked into spots and the location’s awesomeness. On Foursquare, you have this flat list of messed up spots and duplicates that gives no hints about what nearby is cool. Even the new “explore” feature doesn’t work.

Tips

The tips feature is busted. Rarely is it used to give tips. It’s turning into a way for users to spam and add “humurous” comments. They’re rarely of any use. This feature needs to be deleted and replaced with a rating feature. Thumb up or down if you like the spot. Add a comment and it can be thumbed up or down. Simple.

They’re my main bugbears. The design aspect is the thing that keeps me away from it most of the time. As Gowalla improves its foursquare checkin procedure, I’m going to start trying to make all my foursquare checkins through Gowalla. Then I don’t have to use foursquare at all! This begs the question, though, why don’t I just delete the app altogether? Well, I’ve been asking this question myself and I think it’s related to my 1) hope that they’ll fix it, 2) fear of missing out on something.

If you use foursquare, give Gowalla a try for a few days and let me know how you go. Better or worse? Agree that Foursquare is a bag of crap?

Bali Travel: Ubud

This is Part 3 of my Bali Travel Overview which started here and was continued here.

I’ve generally encountered two types of people that enjoy Bali. The beach types and the culture types. The beach types predominantly hang out in the South (Kuta, Legian Seminyak and the Bukit) and the culture junkies in the centre – the centre being Ubud. So what does “culture” exactly mean? Well, it’s a catchall for seeing dancing, galleries, doing yoga, eating great food, staying in plush accommodation and wandering through the ricefields. If you like this stuff, you’ll love Ubud because it has it in spades.

On the cultural front, just about everyone visits a traditional dance in one of the main styles: Legong, Barong, Kecak etc. Although in the centre of Ubud these are put on purely for tourists, they still honour the traditional methods and in some cases offer a better experience than what you find in local villages. The main reason being that it costs a lot of money to have a hire a gamelan and train a bunch of dancers to the level that are on display in the centre of town. The other main cultural activity that people partake in is visiting local artists’ galleries and the woodcarving village of Mas or the stonemasons’ village of Batubulan.

Bali: Dancer
Bali: Dancer

Another favourite of visitors to Ubud is visiting a spa. Now for the blokes, this might seem a little girly, but it’s actually a pleasure to roll up and have a massage for an hour or two. Some places charge western prices and some are as cheap as USD$5 for an hour massage. You generally get what you pay for, but at the cheaper end competition is so fierce that with a little shopping around you can get a top massage in clean surrounds for a fraction of the price you’d pay at home.

Accommodation in Ubud ranges from a bare room with cold shower to hotels that rank among the best in the world. Most of the best accommodation options are located so far out of town that you have to use the hotel shuttle to get anywhere and are really only practical for those wanting seclusion. In the centre of town there are any number of cheaper options with common prices being around the USD$15/night and USD$40/night marks. Cheaper than this and you’re likely to get something not very nice.

Bali: Plush Accommodation
Bali: Plush Accommodation

For foodies, Ubud has all that you could ask for. World-class dining, great coffee, locally run eateries (rumah makan/warung) and even an organic food market. Most of the top-quality dining is found at the many top-end hotels around town such as Uma Ubud and the Viceroy. But there are also restaurants such as Lamak and Mozaic that are independently run and offer world-class food. The cafe scene in Ubud is also quite developed with Tutmak and Kakiang Bakery serving the best coffee and some good food too! On the local front, everyone visits Ibu Oka for a plate of pig ($3). But there are a bunch of other places that do good local food too like Warung Mendez (mainly for the goat) and Warung Mina. For the health nuts, you cannot go past Kafe or Bali Buddha for a vast menu featuring fresh local produce.

Bali: Lunch at Uma Ubud
Bali: Lunch at Uma Ubud

The one thing that I find most people don’t do when visiting Ubud is walk. Yeah, people might walk around the big loop that is Monkey Forest Road and Jalan Hanoman, but people rarely get beyond that. But beyond that loop are the endless surrounding ricefields. The Lonely Planet guide has a bunch of walks around the local area and they are generally very good and not too difficult to accomplish despite the oppressive heat. Just take a hat and some water and all is OK. The tranquillity just a 10 minute walk in any direction around Ubud is phenomenal and should not be missed!

Bali: Endless Ricefields
Bali: Endless Ricefields

Visted Ubud? How was your experience? Want to visit Ubud? What do you look forward to most?

Three Bags Full – Raspberry, White Chocolate and Coconut Cake

As I’ve stated previously, I love cakes but I rarely eat one at a cafe that I can rave about. Continuing my quest for cafe cake and pastry perfection, I headed to Three Bags Full in Abbotsford, a few kilometres from the centre of Melbourne. On offer was a Raspberry, White Chocolate and Coconut cake. Exactly the sort of cake that promises the world because of the mouth-watering possibilities of the flavours, but then so often disappoints due to flavour imbalance!

This cake was moist. This cake was pleasantly chewy because of the coconut! (as well as a subtle tropical flavour that only coconut can give). This cake was also slightly tart on account of the raspberries which also provided the odd pop of sweetness.

Cake: Raspberry, White Chocolate and Coconut from Three Bags Full
Cake: Raspberry, White Chocolate and Coconut from Three Bags Full

OK, so the part of this flavour combination that almost always fails is the white chocolate component. The main reason being is that people often try and make the white chocolate the dominant flavour like one might do in a normal chocolate cake. But really, white chocolate is usually so sweet and so sickly that it ruins your palate after one mouthful. So it was with great trepidation that I took my first bite of this Three Bags Full cake… The white chocolate was only slightly there! Great! It was actually just enough for me to realise that it was contained within, so it just sort of buzzed along in the background without jumping out and becoming a nuisance. It did its job just nicely.

The star of the show for this cake is the raspberry flavour – playing a decent second fiddle is the coconut texture. An all round satisfying cake that I’d be happy to go for again.

Three Bags Full is on Nicholson St, just up the road from Viet restaurant central, Victoria St Richmond.

Market Lane – Was this a Rugelach?

OK, so for my first Melbourne Cake/Pastry review, I failed to note down the details of what exactly I was eating such was my desperation to get stuck in.  Nevertheless, I do suspect I was eating a rugelach despite its non-traditonal appearance.  A rugelach is a Jewish pastry that is usually rolled into a crescent shape and is filled with such items as walnuts, raisins and cinnamon – like a cinnamon scroll in many ways.

My own strict rules for reviewing pastries was to only review those that were made in-house at a particular establishment.  Perhaps this was a silly rule as my primary motivation for going to a cafe is for its coffee and accordingly cakes and pastries are usually secondary items on the menu.  So what this means is that many top cafes buy in their cakes from boutique wholesalers – this was the case at Market Lane in Prahran.  And these boutique bakers still do a sensational job despite them not always being a retailer.  I guess my initial fear of bought-in cakes was that they would be of the mass-produced one-dimensional kind.  My suspicion is that Market Lane purchase their rugelach from Little Bertha in Richmond.

Cake: Rugelach from Little Bertha via Market Lane

First of all, the rugelach was delicious.  As I’ve said before, I like my cakes to not be overly sweet and my rugelach managed to give a good account of itself on this front.  The walnuts gave a solid, crunchy texture, the dried fruit some chewiness and the pastry a nice amount of crumble.  It was cinnamonny (?), nutty and ever so slightly cakey.  A perfect accompaniment to the TOP coffee at Market Lane.  Yes, I do love a good cake/pastry and this one lived up to expectations.

I’ve been told that cakes and pastries from Little Bertha can be found at some of the best cafes in and around Melbourne and I will surely be seeking out more of these delectable morsels over the coming months.