Airbnb surprises

Airbnb surprises

Travelling has not been the same for me and my family since the advent of Airbnb in 2008. While there have been horror stories of staying in such accommodation, my experience so far has been positive.

Over the years, I have stayed in Airbnb in a number of cities across four continents — Asia, Australia, Europe, and the United States. I’m often amazed by the homes and feel honoured to be able to experience living in a real home instead of hotels.

As someone who is unlikely to use a five-star hotel’s facilities, I’ve found that Airbnb accommodation meets my needs best.

During our trip to China in December, my family spent time in Airbnb homes in Suzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai — and each came with surprises that thrilled us. These are not expensive accommodation, just homes that cost less than S$100 per night — which is really affordable for our family of four adults.

Our criteria were:

  1. Location: Close proximity to public transport and eateries
  2. Privacy: No shared apartment, please. We value our privacy.
  3. En suite bathroom/toilet: For convenience and comfort.
  4. Big enough for four adults: There must be enough beds for all of us and space for us to maneuver. 
  5. Clean: Read reviews to find out what others say.
  6. Wifi: Staying connected is crucial for us but do note that there is a firewall in China.
  7. Washing machine: So that we do not need to bring too much luggage as space is needed for our purchases.
  8. Air-conditioner/heater: Depending on the weather, it is needed to make the room more cosy.
  9. Within budget: We were looking at S$100 per room per night.

After checking out dozens that seemed to match our requirements, we read reviews and dropped messages to ask those who listed for clarifications. 

Let me share a little about what surprised us at each of those that we finally decided on.

In Suzhou, we stayed in a mixed development complex with malls on the lower levels and homes/offices higher up. 

IMG_20181225_085630.jpg

Leveraging the benefit of its height, this loft apartment came with a projection system and four cinema seats. We could have caught movies using the entertainment system but there was a 50-inch flat screen TV on the lower level that makes it more conducive for watching.

IMG_20181228_115427.jpg

Our Hangzhou apartment also came with a XGIMI projector that produces crisp images and great sound. But what really stood out from this loft unit was the furnishing on the upper level. A rocking lounge by the window provides a cosy setting for reading a book, catching a nap or watching the happenings outside. At that level were also a table and two chairs that’s perfect for tea and a children’s tent with toys. This unit is very family friendly.

IMG_20181230_050729.jpg

After two loft units, our Shanghai rental home was entirely different. Set in a 1950s building, it is located a short walk from the Bund. The room was a stark contrast to the building’s facade. It was tastefully done up in a modern style with two queen-sized bed. But what really stood out for me was the spotlights on the ceiling of the bathroom. In cold wintry conditions, this brought so much warmth us when we were taking a bath. In fact, when we were cold after a trip out, we just stood there to heat up.

IMG_20181230_183624.jpg

One thing that all three homes had in common was the kettle. The nondescript white kettle is big, functional and especially useful in winter. 

These three homes continue to build on an enjoyable streak for us in our travels. My family and I simply love staying at such accommodation — for the reasonable price and experience.

Here are a few tips on choosing an Airbnb stay:

  1. Determine your criteria: Decide on your budget and requirements.
  2. Review each unit carefully: Look at the photos and description.
  3. Read reviews: What others say matters a lot but do consider the nationalities of the reviewers as well as they may have different expectations from yours. For instance, while some may find food in the vicinity too spicy, it may be just what you like if you’re from Southeast Asia.
  4. Ask questions: When in doubt, message those who listed. They are usually very accommodating and would answer questions promptly. And if they don’t get back in a timely manner, that may just be the signal for you to reconsider.

The joy of travelling is in the experience. And the right accommodation can set the right tone for an enjoyable trip.

 

Cremia ice cream on my mind

Cremia ice cream on my mind

Cremia.jpgEver had a taste that lingers on your tongue and mind long after you’ve eaten something? For me, it was the memory of a creamy ice cream that I ate in Osaka in December 2017.

Though a year has past, the thought of that smooth, rich Creamia ice cream that I bit into on a cold winter’s day on the grounds of Osaka Castle is still firmly etched on my mind.

Imagine my thrill when the corner of my mind caught a sign that read “Cremia” in a Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in Sun Moon Light Center in Shanghai.

It wasn’t only me but my family as well as we all shared that moment in Osaka — strange as it may sound, but somehow Cremia and winter became synonymous after that Osaka experience.

As we were a little full, we made a mental note that we will eat the dessert another day.

No joy
That day came very soon — the next day in fact (guess we just couldn’t wait) — and we decided to check out one of the KFC outlets located along Nanjing East Road. To our disappointment, it was not available there. What’s more befuddling is that the staff doesn’t know about that ice cream either.

A check with two other KFC outlets along that stretch yielded similarly fruitless result.

We were devastated but decided that we must have our Cremia fix even if we have to return to that outlet in Sun Moon Light Center.

Visual contact
Thankfully, the wait wasn’t long as we found what we were looking for at a KFC outlet along Guan Quan Shopping Street in Suzhou.

Guan Qian Shopping Street.jpg

This time, we bought and ate it on the spot and the ice cream tasted just as we remembered — heavenly!

Cremia is a premium soft serve ice cream made from fresh cream from Hokkaido. Its rich flavour delivers a full-bodied mouth feel, making each bite a delight and leaving a great after-taste.

Priced at 25 yuan (about S$5), it’s a little pricey for a take-away cone but this is no ordinary ice cream nor cone. The cone is made of cookie and crispy yet soft for a comfortable bite.

Since that first treat, we managed to have it twice more during our trip, including buying one from a KFC outlet along Nanjing East Road, just one hop from the last one that did not carry it.

Original better
At one of the stops, we tried the chocolate version which is not exactly chocolate ice cream but vanilla ice cream coated with chocolate powder. That takes some getting used to because all of us choked when we bit into the chocolate-powdered portion — the powder just ran down our throats. The chocolate also adulterates the vanilla flavour.

Hands down — our preference is the original vanilla version.

Ohhh…that bowl of good rice!

IMG_20181223_173014.jpgJust a bowl of good rice.

The name cannot be more in your face. It says it all. This chain called “Just a Bowl of Good Rice” serves really good rice. And that’s coming from someone who is trying to wean himself off rice.

We stumbled upon this outlet by chance while shopping in Wanda Mall in Suzhou. Located in Basement 1, it doesn’t really stand out from the many other food and beverage establishments.

What drew us to the restaurant was — hold your breath — the fact that there were empty tables. It was dinner time and many of the others were crowded. We were hungry and wanted something warm for our stomachs in the wintry cold.

With a fast food style ordering counter at the front, we were able to take a look at the menu, which is limited, but finding a place to eat was our top criteria.

IMG_20181223_170356.jpg

I went for a braised pork belly set while my family members opted for beef and chicken sets. As I did not want to over-eat, I shared the rice with my daughter.

The dishes are not spectacular or to-die-for. After all, most pork belly I’ve tasted in China were great — even the ones in the local shops.

What stood out was the rice. Cooked in a claypot, it came piping hot. Even after eating for several minutes, steam still emitted with each scoop.

IMG_20181223_170125.jpg

The white, fluffy rice has a nice soft bite and tasted great. It goes really well with the pork and other dishes.

Rice at the side and bottom of the bowl was a little burnt, not blackened but browned and crispy, adding any dimension to the bite feel.

Personally, I think the portion is good enough for two persons but a quick glance at the other tables revealed that every diner had a pot in front of them.

Such was the pleasant memory of the rice that we ate it again at other Just a Bowl of Good Rice outlets in Hangzhou and Shanghai.

Thankfully, this is not available in Singapore yet. Otherwise, my diet plan will go haywire. The rice is irresistible.