Pt. 2 - Snowshoe Hiking, Dog Sledding & a Trip to the Glacier

I had envisioned how this day would go as I make my way to Kangerlussuaq Airport for my domestic flight to Ilulissat. Little did I know that what I imagined would come crashing down as my flight was delayed for more than 6 hours due to technical & weather issues. C'est la vie.

This wouldn't have been so bad but for the fact that Kangerlussuaq Airport - the biggest airport in Greenland - is so small that there's really not much to explore. So of course, I used the opportunity to play a game of people watching, had lunch, walked around the airport area (the weather was quite lovely with all the white snow, and the airport windows provided mountainous views, so I could've been stranded somewhere much worse), all in an attempt to while away the hours.

It seems that the small population (with only 500+ pax in Kangerlussuaq, and about 50,000+ Greenlandic people roaming about) lends itself to some intimate knowledge of your neighbours. There's a general sense of camaraderie between the locals whom I saw milling about at the airport, where everyone seemed to know each other and would strike up conversations among themselves while I sat apart from the circle. It's an interesting dynamic to watch, and it's a comfort to know that you will always know your neighbours and community.

After 6 hours of waiting, I did manage to get on the flight (I feared it would've been cancelled altogether), and finally arrived in Ilulissat when it's dark out - so there went my plans for the day, heh. The Malay Muslim adage "Kita hanya merancang, Allah yang menentukan" is very apt here. (Lit: They plan, God plans - and God is the best of planners.)

Upon arrival at Ilulissat airport (with a bewildering transit at Aasiat airport, where we had to disembark the plane, go inside the very small airport, and then go back out to board another plane which would take us to Ilulissat), I was greeted by Hotel Icefiord's driver, who would take me to my lodging for the next 4 days.

Hotel Icefiord - Gotta love the ubiquitous romantic lighting the Scandinavians & Greenland seem to love
I admit that I really splurged on this stay - there were other cheaper options, but the heart wants what it wants, and I'm loathe to deny myself anything when I'm travelling alone (ssh let me have my little luxuries). Wonder upon wonders, I was actually upgraded to another suite when there was a mishap at check-in, where I was directed to a room which was currently being renovated (lol, truly this trip is memorable in all the best ways).

With only three days left for a full exploration of Ilulissat, I had signed up for three activities which would take place on different days - snowshoe hiking, dog sledding, a city walk, and a hike to Semermiut glacier. I opted to follow World of Greenland for the snowshoe hike & dog sledding, and another tour to chase the aurora. Unfortunately (again) for me, the skies did not clear at all at night during my stay in Ilulissat, so there was no chance for me to glimpse a view of that elusive lady.

Snowshoe Hike
My first full day in Ilulissat started with the snowshoe hike. I made my way from my hotel to World of Greenland's office situated in the middle of Ilulissat small town, which I would know intimately during my stay in Greenland. Snow had been falling almost incessantly, which made the walk slippery where the ice had melted and tramped over - and so I repeat the nightmare I had while walking to the train station which would take us from Narvik to Abisko back in 2017 lol (which reminds me, I have yet to post that particular adventure, because there are just too many photos to sort through, heh).

My daily trek from Hotel Icefiord to Ilulissat town
After meeting up with the tour guide for the day (Mads), I was acquainted with the only other tourist who will be joining me on the snowshoe hike, Sarah - a Danish doctor who has been posted in Ilulissat for a month (so jealous). Apparently tourists are so scarce this time around (peak season would only start in Feb / March) that tour guides would know all the tourists by name, heh. I did see a lot of the same faces milling around town, which only proves the point.

Our hike would follow the Semermiut Yellow trail, which starts from the power plant and ends at the old heliport - while you can technically do this hike yourself, if you're not used to the area, it would be better to do the hike with a tour guide or a local as most of the trail & its markers are not visible due to the heavy snow. This was especially true on the day of my hike - snow was falling non-stop, and the day was cloudy through the night.

Despite the weather, Mads was game enough to continue the hike (even with only two tourists to guide, when they would usually require four).

It was truthfully another world of experience for a Malaysian like me, as I was not used to snow and super cold weather even after some exposure during my stay in the US & my trips to the Arctic - having to trudge through deep snow wearing what seems like tennis rackets attached to my boots, lol. Can't say the snowshoe wasn't effective though - I almost wish I had it for my next solo hike to Semermiut on the next few days!

Ilulissat town
In all honesty, even with the crappy weather, I truly loved the hike. The sounds of our snowshoes scraping against the underlying rocks and ground as we wade through the snow, the snow falling all around us, the sounds of our breathing as we hiked our way through the trail, and the almost oppressive silence all around us makes us feel like the only three person left alive on Greenland during that hike.

We took a much-needed break in the cold at our "picnic point" - this would typically be where you will be able to catch a glimpse of the Semermiut glaciers, but the snow and cloud was so thick that we can barely make out what's in front of us. Regardless, Mads took out some hot chocolate and biscuits for some snacks. Truly one of the most riveting silence I have ever had the pleasure to experience.

Dog Sledding
Another one of those must-do activities you can opt for during winter in Greenland: dog sledding. This still remains one of the mode of transportation for some Inuit settlers, when the ice thickness permits it. With global warming changing our climate patterns, it's anyone's guess on how long this practice would be able to last (honestly, the scientists could probably tell you, but will any politicians listen? Spoiler: As of April 2020, no, they would not.)

Dog sledding was an interesting experience - the majority of the mushers are Greenlandic Inuit, thus communication is next to impossible if you don't speak Greenlandic or Danish (the locals are fluent in both languages, and I suppose English is optional to the Inuits?). I was lucky that the other person who would be joining me in the activity was a local by the name of Daana, who could converse with the musher on my behalf when needed. She came along for the ride with an honest to good filming equipment - which she put to good use by filming the landscape (and me, heh - hey ma, I'm on Greenland TV) once we arrived on top.

My initial expectation was for us to ride through the expansive Greenlandic tundra, so imagine my surprise when the musher actually took us up the mountains. It was steep going up, and the pack of dogs were struggling to pull us before long. The musher said something to Daana, who informed me we would need to go down from the sled and run uphill while pushing the dog sled in order to gain back some momentum for the dogs to pull us forward again.

You have no idea the exertion and exercise I had to go through doing this - I was in between laughing in disbelief and gritting my teeth while pushing through it. It was no joke trying to push the sled uphill while running through thick snow, and it was something I'd never thought I had to experience. Having said that: IT WAS FUN 😂

I felt like an Oompa Loompa wearing this lmao - it's essential to keep you warm though
When we arrived at the top of the mountain, we hopped on back to the sled & continued our way through the snow with only the sounds of our movement to keep us company. Whatever I had expected to find on this journey, this was even beyond my wildest imagination.

Daana, the local Greenlandic who was my partner for the dog sledding activity
We stopped at a viewpoint where - surprise - it was foggy & clouded over. Truly, the weather was not being accommodating during my stay, heh. It was still a beautiful experience though, and Daana got to work with her video camera while I snapped a few pictures for keepsake.

We then made our way back to our initial location, and there was another fun experience awaiting me unknowingly - we would make our way down back that steep slope, thankfully without us having to push the sled.

Our musher & the dogs having a well-deserved rest
You know that feeling when you ride the rollercoaster, and there's a moment before the sharp plunge you can see at the end of the horizon before you actually plunge down? Yeah, that was how I felt during that steep slope downwards, except there was nothing to hold on to and there were no safety bars holding me down to the sled, so there wouldn't have been any surprise if I had gone tumbling down the sled and down the mountains (wouldn't that have been fun). It was definitely an adrenaline rush.

I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Hike to Semermiut Glacier
Alas, my last full day in Ilulissat came way too fast. On my last day, I decided to take the Blue trail to the Semermiut glacier, as Mads and my hotel receptionist had assured me that the way would be well marked and there are boardwalks to take me there, so I shouldn't have any problem going forward.

Armed with a map and trail markers, what could possibly go wrong?
Of course, what they didn't take into account was that it had been snowing heavily for the past three days, so by the time I got to the start of the trail, my heart sank at the realization that the boardwalk and trail was only visible at certain points, and that I would have to take my chance.

Of course something would go wrong. Where did the trail go???

As luck would have it, there were another two travellers (or locals?) with the same idea as me, but they came well-equipped with snow shoes. I watched them as they put on their snow shoes and made their way through the trail with little to no trouble, staying as close as possible to the trail markers and boardwalk where it is visible.

My saviours putting on their snow shoes - thanks, ladies, you have no idea what you did for me on that day

As the only way was going forward, I followed in their footsteps.

How could I not follow? Look at that amazing view.

It was my last full day, and I couldn't have asked for better conditions, as the sun has finally shown itself and the weather seemed to be clearing the snow and fog. I felt like crying when I saw how beautiful the past three days could've been.

I could finally see the glaciers!
Before long, the two women in front of me had picked up their pace as I was too busy meandering around to take photos, and I lost sight of them once I headed to the top of one of the mountains along the trail. The way was blocked with a lot of snow, and where the snow had melted, it had given way to slippery ice, making it twice as hard for me to find my footing as I was not equipped with snow shoe and only had my crampons on.

Uh, guys... where'd you go 😭

Having no sight of the ladies in front of me and not knowing where the trail is, I had the disappointing choice of going back the way I came.

C'est la vie. Let's have one more look at those glaciers before I turn back.

Look at the massive scale of that iceberg and glacier. That small yellow boat that you could see could fit 100-200pax.

As it is, though, having seen the glacier in all its grandeur was truly enough for me.

Ilulissat City Walk
As I was making my way back to town from the hike, the weather continued to behave and I loved that I saw a different sight of Ilulissat as I walked about - honestly don't know how Greenland, Iceland and the Scandinavians coped with little to no sunlight during winter. (A certain video from Iceland's Oskaar came to mind.)

The walk from the Blue trail towards the town center was pleasant enough, made more so by the perfect weather and a few friendly sled dog puppies who followed me onwards, curious. We were warned not to entertain the dogs and to just ignore them since they shouldn't be trained to be friendly with people as their main purpose was to be trained as sled dogs. It was sort of sad to think about, but I guess for them it's the normal practice as they do need the sled dogs for their own purposes.

I joined the crowd who was waiting around for the city walk tour to start, seeing a few familiar faces - mostly people whom I've seen milling around the town doing some sort of tour activities. The tour itself was interesting, as the guide took us to various notable points around town - such as the fishing harbour, the oldest building still standing, several buildings with historical significance - as she told us about all the little tidbits that makes up Ilulissat. It was an interesting tour, but I did wish there was more in-depth history of the locality, as well as the population who made up the township. I was curious how the Inuits and Greenland Danes are co-existing together, and it seemed like there are some sort of segregation between them, although there were not too many details forthcoming on that - I suppose it's not something that they would prefer to highlight.

Overall, if you do want to know some history of Ilulissat, I would recommend you to join this tour, but know that you would only glean the surface. To know more, I suppose I would need to spend more time exploring the town and talk to more of the locals next time.

All in all, I had some really great memories of Greenland, and although I had a lot of troubles due to the inclement weather, the trip turned out to be one of those things that you appreciate more in hindsight. Yes, the weather had sucked, but I was determined to push through with the activities despite that, and was happy that I got to experience even a smidgen of what life is like in Ilulissat.

I would love to come again and spend more time in Greenland, preferably in summer because of the long daylight (although I am told by many, many internet people that I should be prepared for the incessant mosquitoes, so that's something to keep in mind).

Until then, goodbye Greenland - it's been a blast!
Pt. 1 - Copenhagen & Kangerlussuaq

The initial plan was for me to follow a backpacking group to Greenland - namely, to Kangerlussuaq & Ilulissat. Due to many circumstances, the trip was cancelled, but since I had already bought my tickets, I thought: eh, why the heck not.

Surprise, it's another visit to Japan! Heh.

On this trip, I would be visiting my brother & his family, who's currently staying in Japan for their studies, and I would be bringing along my parents - basically, I'm an unglorified tour guide, lol.

Hello again, Seoul! After our packed two days in Jeju (see Part 1: Jeju), we made our way to Seoul via JejuAir once again! We would have three to four days to explore Seoul again, and it was the perfect weather to experience Seoul all over again.

Honestly, I didn't have any intention to go to South Korea again so soon since I've been there once in 2012. However, at my youngest sister's persuasion, I relented and thought "heck why not" - and so we bought our tickets and packed our bags for another Seoul & Jeju adventure (this time with a different sister!).

So I've gotten a number of questions on how I usually plan my trips, especially to Japan, as I've been there for a number of times (6 times... and counting, lol).

Instead of sharing my itineraries, I think it's best for me to explain how I do it instead so you can plan the Japan trip of your dreams that suits your liking. Everyone has their own travel comfort level & other preferences to take into account when they plan to travel, so hopefully these tips can help you a bit!

Travel scams: the bane of every travellers' existence.

Reading about the horrific experience of 3 Malaysian backpackers at Lombok over at The Vocket, I decided to share this with others just so that everyone will be more aware of the types of scams they could encounter when travelling.

Our Lombok Scam Experience

As far as scams go, I haven't personally experienced one (thankfully), although I've had my fair share of haggling that went wrong due to my own stupidity (you'd think I'd know better after having gone through it a few times, but haggling is just really not my strong suit).

I haven't told anyone about our Lombok holiday scam - thankfully I wasn't affected by the scam, but 7 of my friends were. I just thought I'd share this (since it didn't fit into the original Lombok holiday narrative) just to warn everyone that holiday scams aren't restricted to petty pick-pocketers (alliterations are fun!).

Two of my friends and I had to leave earlier than the rest of the Lombok gang back in May. Our friends who came back later than us later recounted their tale as they told us how they got ripped off by the airport staff at Lombok International Airport.

They arrived with their luggages in tow and were ready to checked in - when they handed over their boarding passes with their passports, nothing seemed amiss except one thing: the airport staff told them that they did not have any checked-in luggage allocated to their boarding pass.
As a note: My friends and I actually bought the AirAsia tickets to Lombok without luggage and meal since we thought we could just add it on later when we have more money in our pockets, and so that's what we did. Funnily enough, there was no problem with my two friends' and my checked-in luggage.

Well, needless to say, all hell broke loose - my friends vehemently protested that they have already paid for our checked-in luggage and meal and even showed proof of payment as well as proof of the luggage being included in the boarding pass. They had all the proof they need, to be honest, but in the end everything fell to deaf ears. I think my friends argued with the staff for over an hour, and there was a long queue of people wanting to check in behind them. The airport staffs denied my friends their luggage rights and my friends had to pay extra. Interestingly enough, the airport staffs had originally wanted them to pay cash, but since my friends didn't have enough leftover cash they paid by credit card. (As an additional aside, as far as we could tell, these airport staffs had no affiliation at all with AirAsia.)

Once my friends touched down in KLIA2 airport, they went directly to the AirAsia counter to recount their complaints. The AirAsia staff at hand informed them that there was indeed a record of them having bought the additional checked-in luggage - but the record was deleted a few moment before they checked-in at the Lombok International Airport counter.

To say it was "suspicious" would be too kind - but as my friends had already paid for the additional cost, the damage was done. My friend did try to revert the charge on his credit card, but as the process was a huge hassle with Maybank, in the end all of my friends paid for the additional charge. (Not even AirAsia could help because it happened out of their jurisdiction apparently.)

Our suspicion was that my friends were deliberately targeted due to their large group and the airport staff deleted their luggage record because it was added-on separately - interestingly enough, their onboard meals (which they paid for with the checked-in luggage) was still available on board!

Our Lombok trip was one of the best trips I've ever been on, so this incident shouldn't deter anyone from going there or even travel elsewhere. But you know, I would rather avoid these scams if I could!

So how do you try to avoid travel scams?

Holiday scams are a "norm", but that doesn't mean we have to accept it. These are what I've learned on how to avoid some of the more popular scams:

1. Pickpockets

On my travels, I usually try to have three wallets - one wallet with emergency money stash (usually a mix of Malaysian ringgit and the foreign currency of the country I'm travelling to), one wallet where I put my daily budget it, and one wallet I use for the budget-of-the-day.

  • Put the wallet with emergency money in a safe, locked place (tip #2 applies)
  • Wallet-with-the-daily budget should come with you and stashed safely on your body (in your socks or whatever; I usually prefer to use the money-belt pouch that goes underneath your shirt but they do get uncomfortable!)
  • The daily wallet with your budget-of-the-day you can put in your bag. At least if your bag gets pick-pocketed, you'd only lose a couple of pounds/euro/yen/won/whatever. Don't put too much money in the daily wallet. 

Wear a cross-body bag if possible and ensure the bag is in front of you. Zip your bags up! If you want, you can also rip off a piece from a plastic bag and tie them through the loops of the bag zippers. This would result in the plastic bag rustling if someone did try to open it. (It's also a hassle for you if you plan on zipping & unzipping this bag a lot, but you know, pick your poison.)

Be aware of your surroundings and look at any suspicious people in the eye and give them a "I'm watching you" vibe just so they know you're watching.

That's right, you - no not the guy behind you, YOU

2. Keep Your Passport Safe

If I think I don't need to bring your passport for the day's excursion, I always prefer to leave my passport and other valuables somewhere in the hotel, but we all know that that's sometimes a double-edged sword. If you do leave it in the hotel, ask yourself this:

Does the hotel look trustworthy / safe to you?

It's hard to check of course but I always read reviews of the hotels I'm staying at at TripAdvisor & - other travellers often gives out good tips & tricks about their stay, and you could glean their wisdom by spending an hour reading their reviews. If I'm staying in a hostel, I'd lock my passport in my luggage - however, you'd run the risk of your luggage being stolen too, so take your laptop lock and lock your luggage to the bedpost or something of the sort. (Lol, I know, the lengths I go to.)

Hotels usually have a safe which you can utilize, and I prefer those.

Otherwise, bring your passport with you (especially if you think you need it for your travels) - just make sure you keep it secret & safe & close to your body (body wallet, secret pockets, do it by whatever means you have to keep it safe).

3. Don't Give Away Your Credit Card / Passport Details

Yeah this should be common sense, but sometimes during travels you tend to be lulled into a false sense of security (totally understandable if you're on a lazy vacation in Bora Bora for example).

I try not to give my credit card details at all if possible - probably unavoidable with hotels & car rentals, but always be vigilant. If you feel like it doesn't make sense for you to give your credit card or passport details away, DON'T.

If you get calls in the middle of the night claiming they're from the hotel and saying that there's a problem with your card details and could you please re-confirm it along with your CCV code? Yeah, probably not a good idea to give it to them. Instead, go down and check directly with the hotel the next morning. ALWAYS deal with people in person if possible, not over the phone.

Always ensure your credit card transactions are done either face-to-face or if you're doing it online, ensure that it's a safe connection and that you've satisfied yourself that the website doesn't look suspicious (do your research by googling things up online - yes, it's time-consuming, but it's worth it).

If you're asked to produce your passport, show them a photocopy of it instead (make a few photocopies! You can even leave a copy in your luggage for easier tracking). If the other party insist that you show your original passport, claim that you've left it at your hotel. If you're dealing with authorities, let them know that you're willing to go back to the hotel with them to show you your passport. (Lie only if you have to, but know your limits.)

Again, don't leave your passport with the hotel, the rental car company, etc for any reason if you absolutely don't have to!

4. Lock Your Luggage

Yeah this should be common sense too, but I guess some people are lackadaisical with their belongings? Even if you think there's nothing worth stealing, it's always a good idea to be vigilant and lock your luggage.

Also, you can do the "plastic-bag loop through the zippers" trick (see #1) for your luggage too!

5. Be Wary of "Free Wi-Fi"

Sometimes e-thieves (something I'd never thought I'd type out) will try to get your personal information via the free wi-fi you're accessing.

So if you're surfing the web via a free wi-fi you've connected to ("Score!" you thought elatedly), don't log into your banking account, don't do any online transactions if possible (find an internet cafe or a secure wifi) -- unless you want to find yourself out of your bank savings ("...dude, NotScore, NotScore, noooooooo!" you scream dejectedly).

Yeah, and the "Free Wi-fi" is only there to steal your monies

6. Know Your Budget Airlines

  • For AirAsia, I definitely recommend buying your luggage together with your ticket, as opposed to adding it on later via "Manage My Bookings". Hopefully you will be able to avoid my friends' Lombok Luggage Loss as you can prove that you've bought it with your ticket. If you feel safer buying extra luggage beforehand, then do it. Don't leave it to chance. 
  • Consider bringing only cabin luggage to avoid the checked-in baggage fees - I know this is hard especially for parents with kids, but it's just a suggestion :) 
  • Check the limitations of other budget airlines too - don't let yourself be caught having to pay more. 
  • Buy a digital luggage and confirm the weight of your luggage before you check-in, take a picture of it, and bring the digital luggage with you to the check-in counter. This way you can avoid the whole overweight-luggage trick some airports / airlines employ.  
  • Do your research about budget airlines - in other words, google for reviews to see what other travellers are saying about the airlines. For example, I've heard awful things about  Easy Jet - doesn't mean I won't buy their cheap tickets, it just means I will know how to navigate their tricky extra charges.

7. Double Check The Price You've Agreed On

I've personally experienced this in Lombok. We'd hired a tour agent to take us around since it's easier with our large group, and we've emailed the agent back and forth and finally agreed on a price.

When we got to Lombok, we were greeted by our tour agent (although he was not the one we dealt with directly) and it was all smiles when we were dropped off to our hotel for check-in. Then, the agent asked for full payment before we start the tour the next day - fair enough.

I'd prepared the exact amount of money to pay the tour agent, down to the very cent - however, when I checked the bill, the agent had quoted almost double the price! Luckily I checked the amount first and furiously searched for the e-mail stating the price we've agreed on beforehand and told this to the agent in charge of us.

The agent immediately called his boss (the one whom we dealt with via emails and phone) for confirmation and finally agreed on the original-quoted price. Now I'd like to think that this is just a miscommunication as the tour agent was really non-confrontational about the whole thing, but we decided to be alert to any hidden charges from then on.

The outcome of the whole thing is that you should always double check the price you've agreed on previously and the price you're asked to pay now.

If you don't double check, CC shows you what happens

8. And finally... Travel Insurance

At the end of the day, despite of all the careful plans we've cooked up to foil our fraudulent foes, we have to accept that sometimes accidents happen. It won't always happen, but it could.

This is where travel insurance comes in.

For destinations with questionable safety status, I always buy travel insurance. Now that I'm almost always travelling alone, I always buy a travel insurance. I prefer to get a yearly coverage as I know I will at least travel more than 3 times a year - personally I feel it's worth the peace of mind.

Do your research when it comes to travel insurances and look at all the T&Cs involved in it, especially on the ease of claims if you do run into a loss/accident. There are a lot of offers in Malaysia, and there's a few international travel insurance worth looking into as well (although a bit more expensive what with the Ringgit depreciation), so pick the one that you think is worth it. It also depends on what you want to cover - luggage, delay, heck even your travelling gadgets will be accounted for if you want to go for more coverage. So yeah, do your research and pick the one you like most.

TIPS: Make a list of all your belongings (on your phone & on physical paper) so that it's easier for you to keep track of your belongings and easier for claims as well. Also it helps you to see what you should insure and what could do without. To take it a step further you can take a picture of your luggage and all your travel gears just so you can show your insurance company later what condition it was in before it meets with any accident.

When all else fails, always have travel insurance as your backup!

I was thinking about the whole New Year's Resolutions thing and thought I would do one for my travels - just so I can keep the end in mind. I know that it's mid-February already in 2016, but hey we kinda just entered the New Year by Chinese calendar, so I'm totally using that excuse to post this lol.

Ahhh, yes, another last-minute planned trip to Japan.

I find now that I'm getting older, I get a bit more impatient about planning my holidays :P All my previous holidays have been planned a year in advance usually, but all my 2015 travels have mostly been a "spur-of-the-moment-omg-let's-book-that-flight-now-it's-so-cheap!" kind of thing. It's not a bad way to live I guess, but my savings are kind of crying right now.

This trip was brought on due to Sakamoto Maaya, once again. To promote her newest album "Follow Me Up", she held several lives from November 2015 to January 2016. I managed to get tickets to her New Year's Eve show thanks to again, and so I would be spending my New Year's in Tokyo!

What To Do in Tokyo During New Year

Japan-guide has great suggestions on what you can do in Japan during the New Year's celebrations, and will be very handy to plan your trip. NOTE: Some sites and attractions will be closed during the New Year holidays, so do take note of which ones are opened over at japan-guide so that you're not disappointed.

Fair warning: travel activity during New Year within Japan will be increasing, so book any shinkansen seats, hotels, theme park tickets etc. earlier to be safe. Hotels and flights are of course more expensive at this time of the year (as it will be everywhere else around the world).

1. Visit the shrines (Hatsumode)

A popular activity for the locals, where they will pay their first visit at the popular shrines all over Japan on New Year. Yes, it will be extremely crowded - I went to Kawagoe's Kitain Temple on the 3rd of January and it was full of people. Well, part of it may have to do with the fact that there was a Hatsudaishi "festival" going on with food stalls, daruyama and the works - but hey, if you want to experience Japan's culture during the New Year, this should be #1 on your list.

"Oh, well, this doesn't seem so bad," you might say.
...Yep, this was the crowd that greeted us at Kitain Temple #noregrets
A whole lotta daruma in all sizes! The belief is that you fill in one eye to indicate what your goal / aim / wish is for the New Year - when your wish is fulfilled, then you fill in another eye :) It's a great way to motivate yourself, albeit probably a little creepy on account of the no-eyes thing.
My all-time favourite in Japan: takoyaki!

2. Go on Fuji-Q Highland's record-breaking rollercoasters 

I know it sounds kind of weird to go to a theme park on New Year, but honestly what better way to welcome the New Year? :D

Fuji-Q Highland is a 2-hour bus ride from Tokyo / Shinjuku and you can get there by bus or train (the more convenient way would be by bus, which was what we did).

Thankfully when we went, the crowds were either too busy spending time with family outside of Tokyo or they didn't think going on rollercoasters was the proper way to welcome the New Year - either way, most of the rides had an average of 1 hour to 1.5 hour waiting time (the longest wait for us was the 2 hour wait for Dodonpa), which wasn't too bad. You can always buy the express pass, but we opted not to.

Fuji-Q has only 4 rollercoasters, but these are not your normal rollercoasters: Fujiyama is the oldest rollercoaster in Japan (which was unfortunately closed due to strong winds on the day we were there), Dodonpa is one of the fastest rollercoasters at 172km/hr (I couldn't feel my face for the first few seconds, no lie), Eejanaika has a barf-inducing loops while you're falling backwards on the steep coaster track, and Takabisha has the #1 spot of rollercoaster with steepest drop at 121 degrees!

It even has a certificate and everything.
Fuji-Q Highland also has a Haunted House - which apparently lasted for 60min or 900m wth. Tbh I've erased everything about the haunted house once I got out of it, otherwise it will forever traumatize me lol. But yeah, worth it for the experience if you've never been to one or you love being traumatized for life.

You know why I'm traumatized? This is literally what my workplace looks like and now I will forever associate long, dark-lit corridors with the memories of zombies chasing me. Thanks, JM, you owe me an un-scarred brain.

There's also the Ultimate Fort, a labyrinth / maze / escape room kind of game which sounds absolutely fun (anything zombie-less sounds fun!) and supposedly has a success rate of 1/100000 - you might end up being the 1 in a 100,000 ;)

Also, if you're super lucky, you will get an awesome view of Mt. Fuji while you go on all the rides! (We were lucky and managed to see Mt. Fuji the whole day.)

Can you imagine getting this awesome view while you ride on all the rollercoasters? This was the view we had all day. Mt. Fuji was super shy when I was there back in 2014 for the Shibazakura festival
After you're done with all the rides Fuji-Q has to offer, you can opt to go to the awesome onsen nearby (price is of course excluded from the park) to relax before you head back to Tokyo. Or if you so prefer, you can make your way to Kawaguchiko lakes since it's nearby.

3. Go to a cat cafe

Don't judge me, I love cats, okay. Cat cafes are the in-thing in Japan (along with a myriad of other specialized cafes, like owl cafes - honestly it sounds cool and I'd love to go to one), and you can opt to spend 30minutes to 1.5hr with the cats!

Be warned: not all cats will be friendly - remember, cats are our overlords.

Case in point. This cat basically glared at everyone the whole time.
When will my husband return from war.

4. Eat, eat, and eat!

The New Year is the perfect excuse to cheat on your diet for a day or two (or five), and Japanese food will tempt you from all sorts of corners so you might as well give in now.

My ryokan offered an osechi food (Japanese new year meal) for free!
Zouni - tasted better than it looks! Feat. Year of the Monkey.

One of the better eel dish I've tasted
Potato taiyaki! This was so good!!! Had this in Kawagoe

OK this isn't for eating, but lookit how cute!!!

5. Karaoke

...OK, you can judge me a little :P I blame my love for karaoke and singing on my dad (sorry dad, someone's gotta take the blame).

But seriously, Japanese loves their karaoke - you will be able to find countless karaoke chains all over Tokyo! Prices vary depending on the chains you choose, but for the most part you will get cheaper rates if you go during nighttime and/or on weekdays.

For those who are a bit more shy to sing in front of other people, you can always opt for solo karaoke - yep, Japan even caters for solo karaoke-ers! 1kara offers these hitokara rooms, where you get an awesome "pit" for yourself, equipped with professional sound system and microphones! You'll have to bring your own earphones (you can just use any earphones really) or you can rent one at 1kara as well. Bonus: there's a ladies-only floor! Free-flow drinks are available on each floor, but honestly you'll be too busy singing and enjoying yourself to care about drinks.

Et cetera, et cetera

Of course the above is a non-exhaustive list and I don't have the time to list down everything you can do in Tokyo on New Year, but the above should give you an idea of how to occupy your time.

According to japan-guide, you can shop to your heart's content as Japan will have superb sales during the New Year (and you see people lining up for miles starting from NYE nights just to buy the fukubukuro at certain stores), you can choose to go for sidetrips from Tokyo (we went to Kawagoe and had a blast; there's Yokohama, Hakone, Nikko, and so many other places to choose from), or you can just chill around Tokyo and do normal sightseeing should you wish to do so ;)

May 2016 bring in a lot of joy to everyone!