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The first capsule hotels of Japan were originally targeted towards businessmen who burned the midnight oil and missed the last bus or train back home. Instead of staying in pricey hotels, or worse, sleeping out on the streets, capsule hotels offered these tired businessmen an affordable place to stay for the night. Although they are designed to be very compact, all the essentials of an overnight stay are provided.

Hotel front

For my recent trip to Kyoto, a friend and I managed to book capsules at 9h nine hours, a capsule hotel located at the historic and bustling district of Gion. Listed down below are four reasons why you shouldn’t shy away from this peculiar hotel during your next visit to Japan!

1. It’s affordable.

Japan is no cheap country to travel to. And if you’re there to sightsee rather than do a staycation, the last thing you want to spend money on is an expensive hotel that you’re just going to sleep in anyway. While capsule hotels are not as swanky as business hotels, it’s definitely a step-up from bed space hostels!

2. The beds are surprisingly comfortable.

The sleeping capsules were stacked in 2 levels. Small ladders are attached next to each “top bunk” to help guests up their capsules. If you think sleeping in a box would feel cramped and uncomfortable, think again! The capsule was unexpectedly spacious on the inside. (Of course, it helped that I’m a small, 5-foot girl). Each space was furnished with its own light fixtures, alarm clock, and charging station.

3. Lockers are provided for your belonging’s security.

Have you ever tripped on your roommate’s humongous suitcase that’s just scattered on the floor? I have. What’s great about staying in a capsule hotel is that everyone is required to stow away their luggage in their lockers. Aside from more walking space, the lockers give me a sense of inner peace knowing that my bags would be locked safe while I’m out and about exploring.

4. You don’t have to schedule with your friends who has to bathe first.

Finally, the last thing you want to do while on vacation is to wake up extra early to take a shower because there are four of you in one room who are all morning shower-takers. This capsule hotel has a dedicated floor for bathing (the lockers are located on the same floor). There are enough shower stalls, sinks, and blow dryers that you don’t really have to wait your turn. Huzzah for extra 30 minutes of sleep!

While these reasons are enough for me to try another capsule hotel again, there are downsides to this kind of unique housing. While most of your floor mates are generally good noodles and follow the no-talking rule in the sleeping area, there are some bad eggs who can’t resist gossiping in the middle of the night. It’s not that bad, though, since you ARE encased in your own little universe. Finally, you probably shouldn’t book a capsule hotel if your claustrophobic. I mean, this one is pretty obvious, you guys.

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Dover Street Market is more than just a concept-store, it is a space for artistic eclecticism. What sets Dover Street Market apart from most department stores is the unrestrained creativity it harbors. Art installations are displayed alongside designer clothing making it seem more like an art gallery than a boutique. The store is described by its owner, Rei Kawakubo – the designer behind Comme des Garçons – as an “ongoing atmosphere of beautiful chaos,” and this impression becomes clear as soon as you step into the store.

Previously the Komatsu Department Store from 1946, this revamped six-story building is a blank canvas for creatives to exhibit their work. Without the clothing racks and the artworks, the building would only be comprised of empty white rooms. All of the artists displaying their work inside Dover Street Market were picked by Kawakubo herself.

“Pulse” by Kyoto-based Kohei Nawa
“Bear Cave” by French studio Coudamy Design

Among the installations are “Pulse” by Kyoto-based Kohei Nawa, a set of twisting white pillars near the escalators; “Bear Cave” by French studio Coudamy Design, a wooden tree-like structure on the second floor that unfurls to the ceiling; sculptures of giant wasps by set designer Michael Howells that are scattered throughout the building; an elephant plaster sculpture by British artist Stephanie Quayle; self-portraits by American photographer Cindy Sherman; and a giant plastic rose by British artist Andy Hillman.

Michael Howells Installation
Self portait by Cindy Sherman

You’d be surprised by how simple the layout of each floor actually is. The building has no special architectural highlight whatsoever, it’s special entirely because of the art that it features and its selection of clothing.

I want to create a kind of market where various creators from various fields gather together and encounter each other in an ongoing atmosphere of beautiful chaos: the mixing up and coming together of different kindred souls who all share a strong personal vision.- Rei Kawakubo

Comme des Garçons S-S ’16

The featured designers were also curated by Kawakubo. A mix of avant-garde, street, classic, and obscure, it feels different from most department stores who curate their designers based on their target markets. The gothic clothes of Rick Owens, the minimalist collections of Phoebe Philo’s Céline, the timeless jewelry of Tiffany and Co., and the idiosyncratic pieces of John Galliano’s Martin Margiela are all sold under a single roof. Dover Street Market also carries all the labels under the Comme des Garçons company, such as Comme des Garçons, Tricot, Ganryu, Junya Watanabe, and Noir Kei Ninomiya. Most designers that Dover Street Market carry are very unconventional, which isn’t surprising since Kawakubo herself is a celebrated non-conformist. Some labels sold here can’t be found in other department stores, making it a paradise for those who love exploring new designers.

Junya Watanabe S-S ’16

Dover Street Market Ginza isn’t located along the main highway, but on a street parallel to it, behind the big Uniqlo store (there’s a bridge connecting the two buildings). Other Dover Street Market locations include London, New York, Beijing, and a new one that will open soon in Singapore. Every store’s design is unique which makes all of them worth going to. The New York branch is located along Lexington Avenue in Manhattan and has a different look altogether. I personally prefer it over the Ginza branch since it’s bigger and the installations are wilder, although that’s not to say that the Ginza branch is boring. If you’re not interested in shopping, window shopping, or looking at art, both branches also have cool cafés to hang out in.

Ginza is beautiful but the presence of many luxury stores can sometimes make it seem flat. Dover Street Market is certainly the most unique store around the area with its playful, artistic vibe. Like Kawakubo herself, Dover Street Market is an outlier amongst the typical fashion stores in the neighborhood, and that’s exactly why this store is undoubtedly the coolest boutique in Ginza.

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Upon arriving in Quanzhou, I was struck by how much the city has progressed since I last visited. The development the city has undergone during the past couple of years during China’s economic boom has been staggering. Modern infrastructure exists together with old buildings preserved since the Tang Dynasty, resulting in a juxtaposition between old and new.

Quanzhou may not be a famous tourist destination, but it holds a major significance in China’s history. A coastal city on the south eastern Fujian province, this city was one of the busiest ports in the world during the Song Dynasty; Quanzhou used to be an avenue for trade with Arabs and Tamil merchants among others. It is also an epicenter for emigration since many residents left the city and moved to the neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, accounting for the majority of the Chinese communities throughout the region.

Licheng District

The city’s history of emigration plays a role in one of the distinctive architectural details in Quanzhou’s old buildings. The buildings along the Licheng District have curving ends on their roofs comparable to the tails of swallows. The tour guide explained that like the swallows, many of Quanzhou’s immigrants return to their hometown with their families, settling there again after being away for so long.

Lower class district

I also visited another historic district in the city where lower class communities still reside. The buildings were not restored and were quite dilapidated, but since they were made of bricks, stone, and tiles, their structures still remained intact. Despite the few remaining residents in the neighborhood, some buildings are now deserted and are used as shrines for the ancestors of various clans. The deteriorating buildings around the neighborhood were a stark contrast to the new high-rise apartments around the vicinity for the growing middle class population of China.

An Ancestral Shrine

Various cultural influences are also noticeable in Quanzhou’s architecture. Because of its history as a port city, many immigrants also settled there and brought their cultures and religions. The Buddhist Kaiyuan Temple has Hindu-Tamil influences that is evident in the stone engravings of Vishnu and his avatars throughout the temple complex. Built in 685  during the Tang Dynasty, the temple was initially a Hindu temple dedicated to Shiva but was then converted to a Buddhist temple in 692. The twin pagodas were added in 916, first with wood, then with brick and stone after the original pagodas burned down. A few kilometers away from the temple is a lingam erected in the Bamboo Stone Park (however most passers-by simply see it as a cylindrical stone). The Qingjing Mosque is also located in the city and is the oldest in China, constructed in 1009 by Arab immigrants. Unfortunately I did not get to see the mosque due to lack of time.

The façade of the Kaiyuan Temple
Vishnu as Krishna (top) and Narasimha (middle)
Dilapidated engravings of Narasimha

Once a humble coastal town, Quanzhou has now transformed into a big city complete with large buildings, a mall, asphalt roads, and clean sidewalks. I stayed in Wanda Vista hotel, one of the newer ones in the city, connected to the Wanda Mall with a shopping street and a boardwalk along the riverside. Looking at the view of the city from my room, I could see the city’s skyline occupied by clusters of high-rise buildings. There isn’t any modern architectural highlight of the city, but I believe that Quanzhou’s rapid development is already an amazing feat in itself. It’s not surprising for major cities like Beijing and Shanghai to be developed and modern, but for a provincial city like Quanzhou to be as urban as a capital city like Manila is incredible.

Last year, I took part in a pilgrimage to Mount Putuo, one of China’s five major Buddhist religious mountains. Hauled along by an energetic tour guide who explained everything in either Mandarin or Fukien (ergo I didn’t really understand much), we snaked around the busy streets of Shanghai and paid our respects to a multitude of ancient Chinese temples in the nearby provinces.

Now when you think of the word “pilgrimage,” you think of a quiet, spiritual experience through a billowing cloud of incense smoke, of monks draped in bright orange robes, and of fellow pilgrims offering a small prayer to the assembly of Buddhist gods before them. All of these things were there, but multiply the pilgrims exponentially. We literally had to make our way through a sea of humanity just to get to the different temples within Mount Putuo.

The weather was hot and humid as we navigated through the crowd, trying to avoid getting burnt by the hundreds of smoldering incense sticks that were being wielded around like weapons. Finally, after a tiring day of climbing up and down stairs (and after a lifetime’s worth of breathing in incense smoke) in Mount Putuo, we were finally whisked away to the secluded village of Wuzhen Water Town.

It was like being transported back in time. Lining the sides of the canals were small, traditional houses with their mossy roof tiles, weather-beaten walls, and ornate wooden windows. Constructed with a mix of rough concrete, exposed bricks, and dark wooden panels, the village gave off a feeling of an unpolished hidden gem, something that has remained untouched for centuries. It would really seem like you were back in ancient China if it weren’t for the occasional air conditioning system that popped out of some of the houses.

In the mornings, the sun cast a soft glow onto the picturesque village of Wuzhen. The mix of neutral grays, innocuous whites, and deep browns of the houses’ walls and rooftops were accented with bursts of green from the trees and shrubs that grew along the riverside. With the morning fog and its palette being so close to nature, the scene looked like something straight out of an ancient Chinese landscape painting.

As the sun set, however, the streets and houses were lit up, mantling the village in a mystical, almost eerie glow. Red and yellow paper lanterns lent their otherworldly light in dim alleyways. The morning’s calm and cool undertones of Wuzhen melted away into a tinge of warm amber. Ruby and gold-colored reflections danced along the dark waters of the canals, disturbed only by passing wooden boats.

It’s amazing how a difference in lighting can change a place so dramatically! Wuzhen Water Town was the perfect destination after such a tiring day at the temples. Its quiet, provincial atmosphere was peaceful, warm, and welcoming.

Though separated from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, the village pulsated with its own unique kind of energy—you just need to wait until the sun sets.

Imagine this— a soft sea breeze, the warmth of the mid-afternoon sun slowly ebbing way, a glass of crisp Alsatian white wine in your hand, and a basket of flaky, freshly-baked croissants on the table in front of you. Looking up from the book that you’re reading, you see the sun leisurely making its descent into the deep, crystalline blue waters of the sea, casting soft, golden sunbeams on the small fishing boats making their way back to the village.

Sounds infinitely better than your stuffy office cubicle, am I right?

Just a 20-minute plane ride from Manila lies Balesin Island Club, an exclusive 500-hectare tropical paradise with its own private beaches located off the coast of Quezon Province. Balesin has a total of seven themed villages: Balesin, Bali, Phuket, Mykonos, Costa del Sol, Toscana, and finally, St. Tropez, where my family and I managed to book a room after a two-year wait.

Balesin’s St. Tropez Village was fashioned after the famous Hôtel Byblos located along the French Riviera.

During the late sixties, Lebanese billionaire Jean-Prosper Gay-Para confessed his deep admiration for the French actress Brigitte Bardot, and with this infatuation came the strong desire to build “a palace worthy of the Thousand and One Nights, unique in its kind, from one side of the Mediterranean to the other.” And thus came Hôtel Byblos, which will already celebrate its 50th anniversary on May 2017.

Thanks to the inspiration from this iconic hotel, the villas of St. Tropez indeed whisk its visitors away to a quaint seaside village in France. True to the original architecture, the buildings in the French village of Balesin are constructed in very close proximity with each other. Their weather-beaten exteriors were painted with earthy reds and yellows, and dotting the sides of the villas are small square windows that give an unobstructed view of the sea.

The lobby and hallways were painted with cheery yellows and pastel blues, emphasizing the spacious interiors and lofty ceilings. Tiny colored glass windows were scattered at the top of the stairwell, flooding the space with multi-colored beams of light during the late afternoon. The villas’ décor, some of which were even acquired from France, were carefully curated to suit the tropezienne theme.

As with the rest of the villa, our room did not disappoint. Reminiscent of a tiny seaside cottage, it was predominantly blue, with lush cobalt bedspreads flowing onto the wooden bedframe, a carved cerulean storage chest at the base, and a bedside study table complete with the quintessential pitcher-turned-vase.

Each room came with a balcony overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Leave the balcony doors open to let the cool sea breeze in. Imagine having your morning coffee with this view!

Activities in the island are not limited to lounging around in cushy beach chairs (not that there’s anything wrong with that). You could go fishing, maybe try your hand at archery, or just go around the other villages in Balesin. It’s like going around the world…via a tiny golf cart. Once you’ve tired yourself out, retreat back to your beautiful French paradise, and let the crashing waves be your lullaby as you drift off to dreamland.

If you can’t spare the time to travel to the French Riviera for a quick vacation, then make your way to Balesin Island’s St. Tropez Village. If not for the fact that everyone around you was speaking in Filipino, you would really think you’re exploring the cobblestone streets of a little French village.

Oh, and don’t forget to order some buttered croissants and chilled white wine once you get there. Bon voyage!