Salt & Straw

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A trip to Salt & Straw is a must when visiting Portland. Now that they opened a location in Seattle, I guess that makes it more convenient for us to visit as well. After lunch at The Waiting Room, we walked by Salt & Straw and of course a line up had formed.

 

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The line moved a bit slow this time so we probably waited 30 minutes before we got our ice cream. The nice thing is that you can try as many flavours as you want once it’s your turn.

 

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The waffle cones are freshly made and smells delicious throughout the store. They have classic flavours but also seasonal flavours that switch up every month.

 

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Honey Lavender and Smoked Sea Salt with Chocolate Covered Feuilletine

The last time I visited, I had the Honey Lavender and I loved it. So of course, I had to get it one more time. Both the honey and lavender are sourced in Portland. If you enjoy floral flavours, then this is perfect for you. As for the Smoked Sea Salt with Chocolate Covered Feuilletine, this was part of their limited edition flavours. The ice cream features a cherry-wood smoked sea salt-base with chocolate-covered feuilletine folded into it. The feuillentine are light and crispy! Love the sweet and salty pairing of this ice cream.

Overall, Salt & Straw did not disappoint once again! Worth the wait and a must when visiting Portland!

Pros:
– Great flavours and well executed

Cons:
– Be prepared to wait in line!

Price Range: USD$5-7 per person

1: Terrible 2: Poor 3: Average 4: Good 5: Excellent

Food: 4.5 Service: 3.5 Ambiance: 3 Parking: Free street parking on weekends Overall: 4

 

Salt & Straw Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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Ruby Jewel Scoops

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Ruby Jewel Scoops was nearby our hotel, so after doing some shopping, I suggested we grab a snack. The shop features handmade ice cream and are also famous for making ice cream sandwiches with their cookies! There was a bit of a line up in the afternoon, especially because they only had two people scooping. You can choose to have your ice cream in a cup or add an extra dollar for a waffle cone.

 

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Caramel with Salted Chocolate

We decided to get a single scoop of Caramel with Salted Chocolate to share. The ice cream was creamy and it was not too sweet because the salted chocolate balanced it out. The waffle cone itself was okay but I prefer the ones at Rain or Shine. Decent size for the price and nice that it’s conveniently located where all the shopping is.

Pros:
– Great variety of flavours to choose from – many of which use local ingredients

Cons:
– Waffle cone is just average

Price Range: USD$3-8 per person

1: Terrible 2: Poor 3: Average 4: Good 5: Excellent

Food: 3.5 Service: 3 Ambiance: 3 Parking: Paid street parking Overall: 3.5

 

Ruby Jewel Scoops Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Blue Star Donuts

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Not my first time at Blue Star Donuts, but because it was so close to our hotel, I suggested coming by for a quick snack. Blue Star is known for their high quality ingredients and unique flavours. They have some of their most classic and popular donuts on display everyday, but usually will have some rotating flavours as well. The donuts are not cheap, and I think they might’ve increased prices since the last time I visited as well. Donuts are around USD$3-4 so definitely a premium.

 

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24k Rose-Rosé

I noticed they had some new flavours including the 24K Rose-Rosé which features a French dark chocolate buttermilk with a rose water and sparking rosé glaze. I loved how the colour was sparkly and the glaze itself was strong in rose flavour. This was actually our favourite because the chocolate donut itself wasn’t overly sweet. The donut itself is super crunchy on the outside but moist inside.

 

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Raspberry Rosemary Buttermilk

The second donut we got was the Raspberry Rosemary Buttermilk which featured a glaze made of fresh raspberries and fresh rosemary. This one was slightly sweeter and had a bit of tartness to it but featured the same buttermilk cake batter.

Both donuts were very filling and is great for sharing. It was interesting that both the donuts we chose also had this cool square shape inside the circle. Quite different compared to the typical ring donuts they usually have. Worth giving a try but definitively a bit of a splurge.

Pros:
– High quality ingredients
– Interesting flavours

Cons:
– Not cheap!

Price Range: $4-5 per person

1: Terrible 2: Poor 3: Average 4: Good 5: Excellent

Food: 4 Service: 3 Ambiance: 3 Parking: Paid street parking Overall: 4

 

Blue Star Donuts Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Smart n Save Cafe

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Smart N Save Cafe has been around for quite a few years now, but I didn’t learn about this until recently because the cafe is situated in such a random location in Richmond. It’s on River Road on the second floor of a office complex and does not have too much signage you would notice while driving. The cafe is actually connected to the Smart N Save grocery store in Lansdowne Mall. If you’re craving Hong Kong style cafe food and snacks, then this is the spot for you.

 

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Imitation Shark’s Fin Soup

I love Imitation Shark’s Fin Soup and I always get this at the night market, so it was no surprise that I had to try it here. The consistency was thick and gooey with a good amount of chicken and vegetables. Pretty good and red vinegar was provided to add a splash of acidity.

 

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Fresh Beef & Eggs Sandwich

I heard that the Fresh Beef & Eggs Sandwich were a huge hit here, and it definitely did not disappoint. Such a simple dish, but the beef was extremely tender and the eggs were fluffy. I liked how they also toasted the white bread a bit. And yes, white bread definitely brings back childhood memories. And no crusts please!

 

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Deep Fried Prawn Paste Toast

Another dish they are famous for is the Deep Fried Prawn Paste Toast. This is such a classic HK style dish which we can’t usually find here. The prawn paste was bouncy and the toast itself was covered with panko bread crumbs and deep fried to golden brown. The mayo paired the dish very well.

 

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Mixed Sauce Plain Rice Roll with Spicy Curry Fish Ball

Another street food favourite is the Mixed Sauce Plain Rice Roll with Spicy Curry Fish Ball. The rice roll was surprisingly thin and smooth and the sweet sauce was delicious paired with the plain rice rolls. To add, the curry fish balls were a delicious complement. Loved the spicy sauce! Highly recommend getting this.

 

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Fish Paste Siu Mai

Last but not least, we had the Fish Paste Siu Mai which comes with 12 pieces and a side of soy sauce. I actually prefer eating the fish paste style siu mai rather than the ones you get at dim sum. Yes, these are the cheaper version, but they are so bouncy!

 

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Overall, I highly recommend checking this hidden gem if you’re craving HK style snacks. You won’t find much service here but it’s pretty cool since they have a QR system in place. Once you sit down, they give you a QR code for your table. Just scan it, and you’ll be taken to their website where you can order your dishes. When you click on a dish, it automatically transfers to the kitchen and you’ll hear a little ring. Then they will bring you your food when it’s ready. Water and utensils are self serve. The interior is actually better than I expected being bright and clean.

Pros:
– Great spot if you’re craving HK snacks
– Items are way cheaper and better than the night market

Cons:
– Don’t expect much service, but QR code system works

Price Range: $10 per person

1: Terrible 2: Poor 3: Average 4: Good 5: Excellent

Food: 4 Service: 2 Ambiance: 3 Parking: Free parking in the complex Overall: 3.5

 

Smart n Save Cafe Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

T-Go Tea

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Note: All food and beverages were complimentary, but all opinions are my own.

Last month, I visited T-Go Tea which opened up in Central at Garden City a while ago. It’s located under the Walmart and a great addition to this complex.

 

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Right now, the shop mainly has beverages only, but they are working on a small food menu, including teaming up with a pastry chef.

 

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There is a large list of drinks and they are known for their Teapresso beverages, which uses a special equipment to extract the flavours of tea. They also have the sea salt foam drinks which are super popular now.

 

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They focus on quality of ingredients here. For instance, their teas are purchased from Taiwan and are premium and made in smaller batches. They do not add syrups in their beverages, but rather the teas are infused with natural fruits or flavours when they are manufactured. The pearls also have a shorter life span compared to the ones other bubble tea shops use, to decrease the amount of preservatives.

 

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We got to smell some of their teas and they were absolutely fragrant!

 

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Rose Oolong Latte

The first drink we tried was the Rose Oolong Latte. This is made with fresh milk and has a hint of floral. Pearls had a nice chew and weren’t too sweet.

 

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Honey Aloe Green Tea

If you’re looking for some non-dairy beverages, then one of my favourites is the Honey Aloe Green Tea with coconut jelly. This was naturally sweetened with the honey and very refreshing.

 

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Diamond Purple Rice Black Tea

The next drink, the Diamond Purple Rice Black Tea, was very interesting with a cube of milk which is supposed to represent the diamond. As the cube melts, the milk disperses out into the drink. Really cool concept!

 

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Sweet Peaches Smoothie

Other than tea based drinks, they also feature smoothies, perfect for the kids, or if you’re craving something a little thicker. The Sweet Peaches Smoothie was one of my favourite as it was sort of like a peach icy. It was refreshing and great with the pearls. I’m not sure if the drinks are usually presented with all the fruits on top though. They even have an avocado smoothie drink and a kale smoothie! Perfect for those coming out from the yoga class in this complex.

 

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Oreo Cookie Blizzard Smoothie

Last but not least, we tried the Oreo Cookie Blizzard Smoothie which surprisingly wasn’t too sweet. This would be perfect for the kids but definitely probably not the most healthy option available.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with the beverage options available and how they have differentiated themselves by focusing on healthier alternatives and premium teas. Good to see another addition in Richmond!

 

ZenQ (Marine Drive)

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Note: All food and beverages were complimentary as part of a ChineseBites event, but all opinions are my own.

Across the complex at Marine Drive Gateway, right next to Coco Fresh Tea, is now ZenQ, a drink and dessert store which is also Chatime’s sister restaurant. This chain’s first location was in Coquitlam, and has now expanded to Vancouver, Richmond, and Burnaby.

 

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The location has a decent amount of seating, but you can of course get your drinks to go as well.

 

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You order up front first, and if you choose to eat in, the server will bring your food to you. They have a large variety of beverages and plenty of toppings to choose from. For desserts, they have both cold and hot desserts, including shaved ice, grass jelly, tofu pudding, and even waffles. ZenQ is known for their mochi balls in their desserts whcih are made from taro or sweet potato.

 

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Hand Made Taro Milk Tea, Winter Melon Tea with Small Pearls, ZenQ Milk Tea with Small Pearls

To start, we had a variety of beverages. Since I was sick, I had to get all hot drinks. Well, it turned out to be perfect because the Hand Made Taro Milk Tea was our favourite of the three we tried. The drink features fresh milk with taro which I think is real because you get this gritty texture. This drink is only served warm and is perfect in this cold weather! As for the ZenQ Milk Tea and Winter Melon Tea, we personally enjoyed the ones at Chatime and Presotea more. However, I really enjoyed the tiny pearls available at ZenQ and the drinks were not bad after all. If I lived in the area, I definitely wouldn’t mind coming here for the drinks. The drinks are also fully customizable for sugar and ice level, just like Chatime.

 

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Tofu Pudding with Green Beans, Peanuts, Pearls, and Q Balls

The highlights at ZenQ for us were the desserts. K tried the Tofu Pudding and you can choose from a variety of toppings. Here, she has green beans, peanuts, pearls, and Q balls. Their Q balls are essentially mochi balls and are made from taro, sweet potato, and matcha. My favourite was the sweet potato Q ball as I found that the taro Q ball was slightly on the harder side, especially when served with a cold dessert. The tofu pudding is refreshing and not overly sweet. You also get plenty of each topping so every spoonful is filled with texture.

 

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Hot Grass Jelly with Q Balls, Large and Small Pearls

As I was sick, I got the Hot Grass Jelly and had it with Q balls, and large and small pearls. I liked how the grass jelly wasn’t too sweet and every bite was chewy because of the toppings. Here, the taro Q ball is softer possibly because the dessert is served hot.

 

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Grass Jelly with Taro, Grass Jelly Ice, Q balls, and Large Pearls

Lastly, E had the Grass Jelly cold and got it with a few chunks of taro, grass jelly ice, Q balls, and large pearls. This again is not too sweet, but you can get it with cream which you pour on top. It tastes a bit more like condensed milk when you add it.  Refreshing and perfect in the summer months!

Overall, ZenQ has a large range of Taiwanese desserts and is a great addition to the Marine Gateway area. It’s perfect if you not only want a bubble tea, but also a dessert! Prices are also quite reasonable as these mochi desserts can get quite pricey.

 

ZenQ  Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice (Marine Drive)

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Disclosure: All beverages were complimentary, but all opinions are my own.

CoCo’s latest location at Marine Drive has been open for some time now, and they will have their official grand opening this weekend. The location is short walk across the street from the Marine Gateway and Canada Line skytrain station.

 

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The location is brightly lit just like their other stores and has a decent amount of seating to enjoy your drinks. At Coco, you can customize your drink’s sugar and ice level.  Most drinks go for around $5 for a large. Regular is around $4.20.

 

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Of course they have the famous CoCo mascot here!

 

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Roast Pearl Milk Tea, Matcha Macchiato with Red Bean, Sago Taro Milk Tea with Pearls

I have tried a few of their famous drinks like 3 Guys and Bubble Gaga so I decided to try some drinks I haven’t tried before. The first was the Roasted Pearl Milk Tea which seems to be a new menu item. We had this at 50% sugar level but I think I would’ve preferred it at 70% sugar level as it was too strong in the roasted flavour. I think I still like Chatime’s roasted milk tea the most. In the middle is the Matcha Macchiato with Red Bean which I really enjoyed. Strong in matcha flavour and paired nicely with the red bean, it tasted like matcha red bean cake. Lastly, the Sago Taro Milk Tea with Pearls was my favourite. Although there are no taro chunks in this drink, I still enjoyed the tiny sago paired with the pearls. It’s like having Chinese dessert!

 

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To celebrate the Marine Drive’s grand opening, the Marine Drive location is having a buy one get one free promotion. From October 27 – 29, 2017, if you purchase any Top 10 Drink, you will receive a free medium Pearl Milk Tea. This is only valid at 491 SW Marine Drive.

The Top 10 Drinks include:

  • Red Bean Matcha Milk Tea
  • Lemon Yakult
  • Mango Smoothie
  • 3 Guys
  • Bubble Tea
  • Lemon King
  • Bubble Gaga
  • Black Tea Macchiato
  • Black Tea Latte
  • Sago Taro Milk Tea

CoCo Fresh Tea & Juice Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

[Japan Series] Day 6: Day Trip to Hakone 箱根

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On Day 6, we decided to visit Hakone 箱根 since Tokyo appeared quite sunny. I wanted to make sure it would be a sunny day because I wanted clear skies to see Mt. Fuji. Hakone is less than one hundred kilometers from Tokyo so many tourists will visit this spot from Tokyo. It is famous for the view of Mt. Fuji which is nearby and their hot springs. Many tourists choose to stay a night, but I found the accommodation quite expensive and lugging onto our large luggage on transportation such as a cable car did not make sense for us. Instead, we did a one day trip, which I can assure you is sufficient time. I had done lots of planning ahead of time, and learned about the Hakone Free Pass.

The Hakone Free Pass is a discount pass for tourists traveling in the Hakone area and covers all modes of transportation. It is only available for 2 days or 3 days of unlimited travel. However, I did some calculations and if you are going to take the whole route with all modes of transportation, the 2 day pass is a good deal even just for a one day trip. We chose the 2 day pass and the price breaks down further depending on where you purchase the pass. This really depends on where you are departing from. If you depart from Shinjuku station, the 2 day pass costs 5,140 yen. However, if you have a JR pass like we did, it is cheaper to take the JR train to Odawara station on your own since the JR pass provides unlimited travel and covers this route. If you are like us, then once you arrive at Odawara station, you should go to the tourist info center and purchase the Hakone Free pass. This will only cost 4,000 yen. Check out our JR shinkansen (bullet train)!

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Once we arrived to Odawara Station (小田原) and purchased the Hakone Zone Free Pass, we quickly headed to the station for the Hakone Tozan Train. We didn’t get a picture of the outside since we had to rush on the train as it had already arrived. The Hakone Tozan Railway (箱根登山電車) is Japan’s oldest mountain railway, hence the train is operated by a train conductor

 

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To be completely honest, I was quite skeptical about taking this train as it looked really old and it was going really slow. However, it was actually such an experience and lots of fun! The train goes through narrow valleys, over bridges and even through tunnels. I hear that there are flowers during the spring, but unfortunately when we went, it was mostly just green bushes. The whole ride takes under 40 minutes.

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I think the coolest part was that switchbacks are required. The train makes three stops along the way because it will hit a dead end, and the train conductor then needs to get off and go to the other end of the train so that the train can go the opposite direction. Think about a zig zag sort of route since it needs to climb up a mountain. Definitely something I have not seen before. Along the way, there are a few stops where there are art museums. One of the most famous ones is the Open Air Museum. This actually seemed quite interesting, but since we had a tight schedule, we skipped this. Thinking back, I think we would have had enough time to stop by for an hour. The last stop on the Tozan Railway is Gora Station, where we got off.

 

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At Gora Station (強羅), you can choose to visit some other museums and parks. This is also where many tourists will choose to visit an onsen (hot spring). However, unless you are staying overnight, most tourists will continue on and skip this area. The next mode of transportation is the Hakone Tozan Cable Car. So many people were waiting for this cable car, so when we got on, it was extremely crowded! Luckily, it was only a 9 minute ride. The windows are very wide on this cable car so you can check out the mountainous views. To be honest, S and I found this part to be a bit underwhelming. The views were average compared to the ones we have in Vancouver. I think the views on the cable car at the Grouse Grind are much more impressive. This gets you to Sounzan Station. The Hakone Tozan Cable Car is 9 minutes of heaven and connects the town of Gora, with its many hot springs (onsen), and a popular sightseeing spot, with Sounzan Station.

 

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Again, there isn’t much to do at Sounzan Station (早雲山), so most tourists will continue on to the next mode of transportation. Next up was the Hakone Ropeway (箱根ロ-プウエイ). Before heading on, the staff will give you a wet towelette to cover your mouth and nose. This is because the air will get very gassy as there are active volcanoes here.

 

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The ropeway takes around 30 minutes in total, but there is one stop in between that most people will get off at. The views here are spectacular. Here you will see Owakudani’s sulfur fields and the volcanic gasses. On a beautiful day, you should also be able to see Mt. Fuji, but unfortunately we could not see it as the clouds were in the way. Was pretty disappointed since that was the main reason I suggested coming here, but it still ended up being a fun trip.

 

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Here, we are approaching Owakudani (大涌谷). Remember to get off at this stop as there are lots to see! Owakudani is an area around a crater created by a eruption of Mt. Hakone 3000 years ago.

 

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The area is an active volcanic zone where you’ll see sulfurous fumes. It is quite hot in this area and definitely very gassy. It smells sort of like rotten eggs. If you have respiratory problems, this is probably not the right place for you.

 

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In this area, there is also the Hakone Geo Museum, where you can learn more about Mt. Hakone.

 

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What a view from Owakudani! Too bad we couldn’t see Mt. Fuji in the background.

 

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There is not much food here, but since it was lunch time, we needed to get something to fill up. I read online that the black eggs are a must try. The eggs are cooked in naturally hot water and the shell is blackened by the sulfur. The myth is that if you eat one of these eggs, it will prolong your life by seven years!

 

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Of course we had to get these black eggs! I think they were around 600 yen for 5 and the minimum order was unfortunately 5 eggs. Oh well, since we needed to fill up. The eggs are really just hard boiled eggs. Didn’t taste any different, but the shell is black so that’s a bit fun! Piping hot! They also have black coloured soft serve but I read online that it’s not that good so we skipped it.

 

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The food around here is qutie pricey since there is nothing else to eat here. So we grabbed one more snack. This was deep fried potato. Pretty good actually!

 

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After grabbing a bite and snapping some scenic pictures, we decided to continue along to the next stop. We headed back to Sounzan Station and jumped onto the ropeway again which took us to the last station, Togendai. There is not much to do in this area again other than some souvenir shops. From here, you can take a bus back, but there is a more interesting way!

 

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Pirate ship? Yes! Okay, well I’m not sure if they are called pirate ships, but they sure look like one. The Hakone Sightseeing Cruise links Togendai with Moto-Hakone-ko and Hakone-machi. Included on our Hakone Free Pass, we are able to take this ship for free which sails through Lake Ashinoko. The boat ride takes around 30 minutes and was very windy!

 

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Lake Ashinoko (芦ノ湖) was formed from the eruption of Mt. Hakone back in the day. Again, on a clear day, you will be able to see Mt. Fuji, but I really could not see it. Along the shore, there are a few small towns and some lakeside resort hotels, but really not much. The ship took us to Hakone-machi, where we quickly hopped onto a bus so we could go back to Odwara. This took under an hour, so luckily we got a seat. There are many buses that can take you back to Odawara but it can be overwhelming. I suggest asking the staff when you are buying your Hakone Free Pass so they can circle it on your map.

 

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The bus ride actually wasn’t that bad. Soon enough, we arrived back in Odawara. The city does not have much to do. The most famous would be the Odawara Castle. However, we wanted to make sure we caught our train back to Shinjuku, so hurried back to the train station after getting off the bus.

 

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The shinkansen were so much fun to watch as they passed by. They really go at crazy speeds!

 

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The shinkansen were also very clean and spacious. Way better than sitting on a plane! They even have bathrooms on it due to the long distances they travel. By the way, if you have a JR pass, you have the choice to reserve your seats. However, since we knew this train wouldn’t be too busy, we just went to the unreserved seating. Each train will have a few carts that are for non-reserved passengers, so it’s first come first serve. I would suggest reserving seats if you are taking the train during peak times, but otherwise, they seemed relatively empty. Off we went back to Shinjuku for dinner! Stay tuned! Highly recommend checking Hakone out for at least a day if you want a getaway from busy Tokyo!

 

Detailed information including the map of this whole route can be found here: http://www.odakyu.jp/english/destination/hakone/#link-01