View of Mt Yotei

Japan ski adventures

For any food-loving Aussie skier, the mere thought of Japan is enough to get one salivating. There is an abundance of light fluffy powder, it’s less than 11 hours away (that’s on the doorstep from our perspective!), and even the Japanese food is worth a visit alone.

I know it must seem crazy to some to take flight from a gorgeous Australian summer to seek winter cold in Niseko, but passionate skiers and boarders know that it’s worthwhile. There are pretty much guaranteed snowy conditions, fantastic off-piste skiing, and of course, the food. And compared to the predictably icy Australian snow conditions and extortionate lift ticket prices, it ends up being much better value than a week at Thredbo.

 

On the mountain at NisekoIt snowed every day, which meant that every morning was filled with the excitement and anticipation of getting on the mountain. The weather was very cold, with temperatures of around -8C in the village and -15C on the summit, but you didn’t really notice too much until you were sitting high up on a lift, a slave to the elements. All I can say is thank god for the gondolas and the hooded lifts!

My favourite ski area was the Hanazono area, where there were some fun off-piste runs through the trees. It was my first time skiing through trees so I wasn’t game enough to go hardcore through the gates and outside the resort boundary and patrolled area, and Strawberry Fields area in particular had some narrow steep drops with some nice powder stashes, as well as wider open areas through the trees.

Niseko Hirafu

Hanazono ski signThe best thing about visiting Japan (right up there with the snow!) is all the delicious food. They take such pride with the serving and presentation of their food, that you can even get tasty snacks in their convenience stores. It’s fine dining compared to the dry sausage rolls or tasteless egg sandwiches in the Australian convenience stores.

We sampled a range of Japanese food throughout our visit, including sashimi, teppanyaki, sukiyaki, soba, and lots of ramen. It was cool to see that food vans were a thing in Niseko too.

Sukiyaki

Soba noodles

Ramen with snow crab legs

Potato ramen

Potato ramen

Peace out!

Deep fried oysters

Gyoza at Little Red Mimoji

Fresh sashimi

Niseko food vanWith so many Aussies in Niseko, the bar scene is hip and happening. The most trendy bar would probably be the Fridge Door Bar, properly called Bar Gyu+ but known for it’s distinctive front door.

Fridge door bar NisekoInside it’s a cosy European feel with warm wood panelling and wooden furniture. The menus are hand illustrated, and there is a great selection of whiskies, as well as hot alcoholic drinks and my first ever absinthe (the stuff knocks your socks off).

Niseko fridge door bar menu

Ev with a drink

AbsintheSkiing and eating aside, we managed to find some time to squeeze in some karaoke. For the equivalent of around A$20 for two hours of singing and all-you-can-drink, you can be assured to hear some high quality vocal performances. Oh well, when in Rome, or Japan…

Karaoke

Hooded up in the snowDid you take off for any snow adventures this winter? Or are you looking forward to the upcoming Southern Hemisphere winter for some snow action?

Advertisements
Older couple making spring rolls

Taipei’s Shilin night markets

On our recent trip to Japan, we stopped over in Taipei for a night of feasting at the famous Shilin night markets. The markets first opened in 1899 and has a huge variety of delicious Taiwanese street food and snacks. During the day, the streets are empty and quiet, devoid of food carts, but come nighttime, it’s jam-packed with hungry people throughout the night.

 

A country still at war

With South Korea and its northern neighbour still technically at war, the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the border of these two countries is a really fascinating visit.

On one of my trips to South Korea a few years back, I joined a tour to check out the DMZ to see the stand off between the two Koreas. We were taken around on a guided tour of the Joint Security Area and the Freedom House, where delegates from the two countries have met for talks. Soldiers from the Republic of Korea (as South Korea is technically known) stand stiffly without cracking any hint of emotion. The border between the North and the South runs straight through the centre of the building.

Outside, ROK soldiers stand on guard, half exposed and half hidden while facing their northern counterparts.

These are some of my favourite photos of my South Korean trips, including the walled city of Suwon, Namsangol traditional houses, and Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Fun in the Filipino sun

For many years, I’d heard of the great diving in the Philippines – beautiful reefs, lots of fish, and loads of historical wrecks.  I recently managed to get there to experience it for myself, along with my brother, his girlfriend, and our mate Steve.

We went to the dive centre of Puerto Galera, which was a 2 hour drive from Manila airport to the port town of Batangas and then a 1 hour ride on a bangka boat to La Laguna beach in Puerto Galera.  We arrived at our amazing resort, Out of the Blue, where we had a villa right at the top of the hill that had great views over Sabang Bay.

banca boatout of the blue resort puerto galera philippinesout of the blue resort puerto galera philippines

We didn’t dive on our first day there, but took the opportunity to unwind with cheap beers, mangoes, and massages.  One thing I didn’t expect was the number of older, foreign men with young, pretty Filipino women.  Call me naive but I had thought that this was a dive destination, not a seedy, girlie destination!

la laguna beach sunset philippines eating mangoes on the beach bikini bar sabang philippines

Thankfully, the diving was fantastic and it was well worth the trek here.  The diving was relatively easy here, with mild currents at most, but the reefs were colourful and teeming with fish.  We even saw a few turtles!

divers on a boat

On our last day in Puerto Galera, we took a day trip around the island in our own private jeepney, one of the flash buses common to the Philippines that were former US military vehicles.  We went to check out the stunning views from the mountaintop Ponderosa golf club, White Beach, and a lunch at Tamaraw Falls.

welcome to puerto galerajeepney philippines jeepney philippineswhite beach puerto galera philippinesview from ponderosa golf club puerto galera view from ponderosa golf club puerto galera drinking from coconuts tamaraw falls puerto galera tricycle philippines

After we’d had our fill of diving, we island-hopped to the premier beach holiday destination of Boracay.  I usually find top rated beach destinations a disappointment whenever I go on holidays because we simply have amazing beaches in Australia, but this was one beach that definitely lived up to the hype.  Walking across the beaches of Boracay is like a heavenly dip in powdery, silky soft talcum powder, and the water is a beautiful turquoise blue.

boracay beach philippines boracay beach philippines boracay beach philippines

Boracay is a fun holiday destination, with loads of restaurants and bars, sunset sailing, and checking out the local seafood markets.  We had one night out on the town with a pub crawl group, where we met lots of great fellow party people from the Philippines, the US, Saudi Arabia, and a few other Aussies too.

seafood markets boracay seafood markets boracay eating seafoodboracay beach sand sculpture dinner with friendssailing boracay sailing boracay sailing boracaysunset boracay beach sunset boracay beachboracay pub crawl boracay pub crawl

For great diving and beaching, and a cheap Asian holiday destination, I would definitely recommend the Philippines.  It’s a laid back country with friendly locals, and has the advantage of being an Asian country where English is widely spoken. I’m looking forward to heading back to the Philippines sometime to check out more of the country’s spectacular diving and beaches.

Similan Islands diving

After many years of hearing that the Similan Islands in Thailand were a must-dive destination from my diving friends, I finally managed to make my way there this month.  It was pretty late in the season, which was beneficial in getting a half-empty (or is that half-full?) liveaboard boat and a cabin all to myself, however the weather was starting to turn slightly foul, with cloudy skies most of the time and lashing rain on occasion.  The glimpses of blue sky were very welcome.

Similan island white sandy beach

The diving was quite easy, although there was often a bit of current at the sites to keep things interesting.  The visibility ranged from 20-40 metres and the water temperature hovered around 29C, which made for easy and comfortable diving.

I love seeing big stuff and colourful reefs, and the sites here were not disappointing.  The coral growth on the reefs was looking pretty healthy, apparently making a good recovery after the tsunami of 2004.  The reefs attracted loads of colourful reef fish, which in turn attracted some bigger fish such as trevally and tuna.  On one particularly memorable dive we saw a majestic manta ray that slowly checked us out, before turning around to swim past us again, then swimming off into the blue.

Liveaboard diving is a continual cycle of diving, eating, sleeping/reading, diving, eating, more sleeping and reading.  The diving can get a bit tiring at the end of the day, but it’s definitely worthwhile.  We even checked out one of the white, sandy beaches of one of the islands, which had the whitest powdery sand I’ve ever seen.  It felt like I was standing on a large strip of flour!

White sandy beach at Similan Islands

Thai fishing boats