Ho Chi Minh City – Intro

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Notre Dame

About 10 days after returning from my Jakarta trip, I was back on the road again. There was a great fare to Tokyo, but then another good fare to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) popped up. Although it cost more than the fare to Tokyo, I had never been to Vietnam and it was on my radar.

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People Watching

I didn’t know much about traveling to Vietnam, let alone that I needed a tourist visa. From the time I bought my ticket until my scheduled flight there were several changes to the tourist visa. If I would have known what was going to transpire, I probably would have delayed going to Vietnam until things got better.

At the time I purchased my ticket, you could gain entry via tourist for $25 for a one time entry. The US apparently changed their tourist visa policy towards Vietnam, and they likely changed their visa policy. Gone was the one time entry visa of $25, and introduced was a one year multi-entry visa for $135.

From what I read, there was a lot of pushback from tour operators in Vietnam as they knew this new policy would likely decrease tourism, and therefore their livelihood.

Days before I departed, they supposedly re-instituted the one time tourist visa of $25, but every visa service I saw was still offering only the multi-entry visa. Perhaps they were slow on implementing the change, as they were charging more for the mutli-entry visa than the one time visa entry.

If going to Vietnam, I suggest that you have all of your paperwork ready, including your visa entry letter, passport photos, and cash in USD. It will save you a lot of time. I used Vietnam Visa Pro and had no problems with them.

After deplaning, you must deal with your entry visa prior to heading to immigration unless you already have a multi-entry visa.

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New Buildings

Ho Chi Minh City seems to be a city undergoing a big change. It is a city mixed with old and new. Construction is abounding, and a metro system is being constructed, but probably won’t be finished for a few years.

I didn’t have the opportunity to explore the country outside of Ho Chi Minh City, but I guess that’s where the motivation comes in for having a multi-entry visa, LOL.

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ANA Shower Room – Haneda Airport

Following my long layover in which I was able to explore Kamakura a little, I was looking forward to taking a shower before my flight.

I have previously reviewed the ANA Business Lounge at Haneda Airport, so this review will just focus on the shower room.

After providing my Star Alliance Gold card, I inquired about the shower rooms. I was given a pager and told that the wait was about 45 minutes. This was a lot longer than I was expecting, and since I didn’t have that much time in the lounge was wondering if I would even have time to take a shower if called before my flight started boarding.

Luckily the pager went off with about 20 minutes to spare before my flight started boarding.

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Corridor

I was led to my shower room by an attendant who was very nice and helpful. The corridor is neat and well maintained with sleek black walls.

The shower room itself is perhaps a little larger than most business class lounges, but not as big or opulent as some lounges out there, such as the Lufthansa First Class Terminal or the Cathay Pacific First Class lounge.

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Shower & Toilet

The shower itself is on the larger side, and thankfully bigger than a phone booth. There is a Japanese style toilet.

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Counter Space

The sink has a decent amount of counter space.

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Amenities

There are amenities by Shiesedo, and come with just about everything you can imagine.

The shower rooms are impeccably clean, and are the perfect way to freshen up before a long flight.

Rokurinsha – Haneda Airport, Tokyo

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Rokurinsha

On my last layover at Haneda Airport in Tokyo, I was unsuccessful in trying to eat at the famed Rokurinsha, known for their tsukemen, or dipping ramen. With tsukemen, the noodles are served separately from the soup. You dip your noodles into the broth, which is a very concentrated broth that becomes slightly diluted from the remaining water on the noodles.

Rockurinsha is located in the departures area of the international terminal. There is a food court.

Rokurinsha can be easily spotted by the three red honeycombed hexagons that make up their logo.

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Menu

The menu is simple, and is broken down into “dip noodles”, or tsukemen, or the more familiar ramen.

Extra toppings including chashu, shredded pork, menma (bamboo shoots), a soft boiled egg, or shrimp flavored pepper can be added.

They also have gyoza, or pan fried dumplings, available.

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Special Dip Noodles

I chose the “Special Dip Noodles”, one of the tsukemen choices.

The noodles at Rokurinsha are much thicker than what you would normally find. Rokurinsha specifically made their noodles this way in order to have more soup cling to them. Although the broth is made with pork and chicken bones, it is also made with dried baby sardines, dried and smoked mackerel flakes, and finally dried and smoked bonito flakes. Needless to say, the broth is on the fishier side, with tons of umami and sea worth salinity shining through.

The noodles come cold which is a drawback for many. As you continue to dip the noodles into the broth, the soup becomes colder. I found that instead of dipping the noodles, by actually swirling them through the broth a little bit that the broth remained warmer for longer.

As the soup gets colder or depleted, there is hot water at the counter to make it hotter or easier to drink as the soup is rather concentrated.

The shredded pork was also on the colder side, but the egg was nicely cooked.

I was glad to finally have tried Rokurinsha, an establishment much heralded by many, including Anthony Bourdain and David Chang.

I had another upcoming trip with a rather long layover, in which I wanted to go to the original Rokurinsha inside of Tokyo Station.

Leonard’s – Yokohama, Japan

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Leonard’s

Many would probably be surprised that a small, yet strong Hawaiian influence has a presence in Japan, especially in Yokohama at the World Porter’s Mall.

There is a large section on the first floor filled with Hawaiian stores and restaurants, but since I was running short on time during my layover, my only goal was to head to Leonard’s for their famous malasadas.

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Hawaiian Town

The “Hawaiian Town” at World Porter’s include Honolulu Coffee, Local Motion, and Leonard’s to name a few.

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Menu

It appears that they rotate some of the flavors of their “specialty” malasadas. During my visit, they had Sugar, Cinnamon Sugar, Custard Cream, Caramel Cream, and Cinnamon Sugar with Apple filling.

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Mr. Malasada?

Since I visited in December, there were some Christmas themed decorations.

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Box of Malasada’s
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Cinnamon Sugar with Apple Filling

I got one of each type of malasada, but only had time to eat one before I headed to the airport. The Cinnamon Sugar with Apple filling was still warm from the fryer. It was slightly crisp on the outside, but warm and fluffy on the inside. The filling tasted like some of the best apple pie filling I’ve had in my life.

The Custard Cream tasted like a cross between a donut and cream puff. The Caramel Cream had a slightly salted caramel taste. The Sugar and Cinnamon Sugar are the standard bearers in the malasada world.

I can’t say that I had a very good idea of what the malasadas really tasted like other than the Cinnamon Sugar with Apple filling, since I tried the others once they had reached room temperature and not really “fresh”.

If you are a fan of Leonard’s in Honolulu, I would definitely recommend this location if you are in the area, and missing some Hawaiian grindz.

Kikuya Bakery – Yokohama, Japan

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Kikuya

Kikuya Bakery in Yokohama is known primarily for one thing, it’s rum balls.

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Packaging

The interior of the rum ball is like a compressed chocolate cake. It retains some texture, but a nice hit of rum does come to the forefront.

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Rum Ball
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Rum Ball Interior

As I spent most of my layover in Kamakura, I really did not have a chance to explore much of Yokohama.

I guess that just means that a return trip is in order.

Hokokuji Temple – Kamakura

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Hokokuji Temple

Hokokuji Temple is a Buddhist Temple in Kamakura. It is probably most famous for its bamboo garden.

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Torii Gate

Once you enter through the torii, there is a small narrow path leading you past some statues and a small bamboo water feature.

The temple and grounds are somewhat small.  There are small stone statues adorning the courtyard area in front of the temple.

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Courtyard

Past the temple is another smaller courtyard with a tree and a very small rock “garden”.

Beyond that, is Hokokuji most famous feature, the bamboo forest.

Through the thicket of bamboo lies a small tea house where, for a small fee, you can enjoy a glass a matcha while contemplating life and enjoying the view of the bamboo forest.

After leaving the tea house, the trail leads through more bamboo and onto another garden.

This garden peers out to three small caves, which are inaccessible to visitors.

The path then leads to a tranquil rock Zen garden.

Hokokuji is quite far away from Kamakura station, and the other main sites that I visited. It was somewhat disappointing in that I was expecting the bamboo forest and grounds to be a lot larger.

If not pressed for time however, I would recommend a visit as the grounds are very calming, relaxing and beautiful.

Matsubara-an – Kamakura, Japan

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Matsubara-an

Kamakura Matsubara-an is one of the more highly regarded restaurants in Kamakura. They also have a sister restaurant in the Harajuku neighborhood of Tokyo.

The restaurant specializes in soba noodles, which are handmade daily. They are also known for their duck preparations as well dashimaki tamago.

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Zen Garden

The restaurant sits in a residential neighborhood and is on the smaller side. Upon entering the restaurant grounds, there is a small Zen garden surrounded by outdoor tables. As I did not sit in, or get a very good look at the interior, I cannot provide any comments. It does appear to be on the smaller side however.

At lunch, there are set menus, in addition to ordering from the menu.

I chose the Matsubara course, as I wanted to try as many dishes as possible.

The appetizer course consisted of sashimi, vegetables, fried eggplant, fried soba, duck, tofu and edamame, and a fried rice cake.

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Appetizer Course

The appetizers were beautifully and simply presented. The fried rice cake reminded me of savory mochi, as the exterior was nice and crisp, while the interior was nice and chewy. Instead of dipping it into kinako and sugar, this was sitting in a mild fish and shoyu sauce. The tofu was very soft and tender with a strong yet subtle soybean flavor. The duck breast was nicely medium rare with a slightly gamey flavor. The fried soba skin was very crisp with a slightly nutty flavor with a slightly salty miso paste. The eggplant was nice fried and not greasy. It had a nice strong eggplant flavor. The sashimi was marinated and sat atop a couple of potato slices and paired with a tomato and snap pea. Lastly, there was fried eel sitting atop a small salad. The eel had a crisp skin, and was rather mild in flavor.

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Duck

The next course was thickly sliced duck. The duck had plenty of seasoning, and reminded me of roasted port when first presented. The duck was slightly overcooked and a bit on the dry side. The seasoning added a punch of flavor while the lemon added brightness and acidity.

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Soba

The next course was the soba course. I chose the kake soba which is served in a hot soup. The soba noodles had a nice nuttiness and chew.

The soba was served with shaved green onion, freshly grated wasabi, and soy and mirin base. The soup was served in a separate kettle, which is flavored with bonito.

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Tempura

The next course was the tempura course, which consisted of shiso leaves, octopus, fish, squid, and shrimp. I paid the small upchare for the seafood tempura.

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Salt

Unlike the United States which serves tempura with a soy based sauce, tempura is paired with coarse salt in Japan.

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Dessert

Dessert consisted of a jelly made out of agar and was topped with azuki beans in a slightly sweet syrup.

Service was very good and attentive, as you would expect in Japan. The staff spoke decent English, much better than my Japanese, LOL.

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Blanket

Little things have been thought of as well, such as blankets at each seat to cover your legs in case you get cold. Little baskets are provided to store your purse or belongings.

Dining outside overlooking the Zen garden also made it a more peaceful and tranquil experience. I would highly recommend this restaurant when in Kamakura.