Taiwan

Going to Taipei in Nov-Dec? Book your hotels now

With the confirmation of the upcoming anniversary trip with the Hubs, I went on full OC-mode and started looking for a place to stay in Taipei this morning. Never mind if it was already 3AM, I have to find a room at Booking.com.

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Booking.com is a blessing to budget travelers – it allows fast, easy and convenient booking for hotel rooms, BnB’s, hostels and inns anywhere in the world without the hassle and minus the need for a credit card. Booking.com has been my partner in countless visa applications.

For this trip, I immediately sought my favorite CityInn Plus Hotel in Ximending but they are already fully booked during the time of our stay. I considered going to their other branches, particularly the one at the main station who kindly arranged for our car transfer and endorsed us to Keymann’s two years ago — but alas, the dawning of the Christmas season resulted to really steep rates, reaching to almost 20K in Philippine peso for a 4 day stay.

Persistency really pays off. One of the well-reviewed hostels in the Main Station area is the (amusingly named) Mr. Lobster’s Secret Den, located across from the Taipei Main Station. The reviews are all great both in Trip Advisor and Boooking.com which led me to book our stay there. Mr. Lobster is located in a less-touristy neighborhood, apparently surrounded by locals and mom and pop shops — something which I always loved discovering.

With my mad researching tendencies in full swing — I will certainly fill you in on the mystery of Mr. Lobster.

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Japan

Review: K’s House Tokyo Oasis – the best place to stay in Asakusa

I finally had the opportunity to write about my Tokyo trip — following a busy and harrowing two months where I had to concentrate on many projects that has been left on the sidelines.

For my first Japan trip-related post, I decided to post a review of K’s House Tokyo Oasis – a nice and quiet home located near the famous Sensoji Temple.

We all know how hard it is to find a good place to stay in Tokyo. After all, accommodations in Tokyo, especially in places like Shibuya, Shinjuku, Roponggi or even Ginza is not cheap. A twin bed can take you to as much as 6 to 7 thousand a night. Manageable if budget is not an option but kinda puts a dent in the wallet if you are a budget traveler. If you want to be somewhat in the thick of the action, but with slightly cheaper cost of accommodations, I would recommend that you consider the Taito area. The Taito area is located on the northeastern parts of Tokyo and covers the Ueno, Asakusa, Asakusabashi, Ameyoko and Yanaka area. It’s close proximity to temples and other sights while offering cheap means of accommodation make it an appealing option for budget travelers. Do not be alarmed by “cheap accommodation” — this being Japan, I can assure you that the hostels are most likely still very clean and secured in spite the not-so-high price tag.

Read more about Taito here.

One of the best place to stay in Taito is K’s House Tokyo Oasis, located a skip, hop and loooong jump away from the Senso-ji Temple in busy Asakusa.

Note: I wasn’t able to take photos of the hotel, so attached photos are not mine

K's House Facade - photo not mine, from hotel TripAdvisor page

K’s House Facade – photo not mine, from hotel TripAdvisor page

Some honest to goodness observations:

1. It’s not easy to find this hotel. From the airport, you will have to take the bus or train heading to Tokyo. You can follow the instructions on the hotel website on how to go to K’s House but I assure you, even if its written on a step-by-step format: IT IS A CHALLENGE TRYING TO GET TO IT. Be prepared to walk for a few blocks. For your health’s sake, do not pack like a fiend — if you stay at K’s House, you will be dragging your heavy suitcase for 15 to 20 minutes. And from experience, your hand will hurt. A lot.

Consider this photo, I lifted from the internet which I marked with arrows for emphasis:

photo not mine

photo not mine

One of the instructions on the website will lead you to the Subway exit near the red arrow. As you emerge, keep walking to your right (blue arrow) until you have reached the main road at the very end. Turn right, until you have passed Asakusa View Hotel and Life Supermarket. The street where K’s House is located is directly across from Life Supermarket and is to your immediate right.

HOWEVER, the only consolation here is that emerging from the dark confines of the subway and appearing on the subway exit right in front of the Senso-ji Temple, you will be greeted–no, accosted–by guys advertising the rickshaw ride. For girls and the fabulous gays (sorry, guys) if you have a thing for well-built, muscled, tanned and ruggedly good looking Japanese guys wearing scandalously skimpy shorts — think of this as your welcome committee. You’re very much welcome.

Kind’a like these guys:

Japanese Eye Candy (photo not mine)

Japanese Eye Candy (photo not mine)

2. K’s House is a nice catch — clean, secure, comfortable and most of all, affordable!

Secure: The Hostel has a gate that is protected by a number code that will be issued to you upon check-in. While they do not have electronic key cards yet in all their rooms (you will be issued a traditional key), the hostel management is vigilant in protecting guests from unauthorized people. There are limited number of rooms per floor and all are ensuite. The hostel is also located in a quiet and unassuming street surrounded by cheap eats and near Life Supermarket (which I very love due to its fresh produce, salads, breads and cooked meals). It is also beside a covered market where you can find the trusty FamilyMart.

Clean: We are a witness to how manic K’s House is when it comes to cleanliness. We actually witnessed first-hand how one of their team members cleaned our rooms and yes, not a dust in sight. When we saw the friendly Japanese guy bust out a used tooth brush for cleaning the toilet, he immediately won our respect and admiration. This is one hostel that takes cleaning very seriously. There are no weird, funky smells which is sometimes present on cheap backpacker hotels.

Hang out area near reception and directly across to the elevators (Photo not mine.)

Hang out area near reception and directly across to the elevators (Photo not mine.)

Comfortable: This being Japan (where space is premium), the rooms are a bit on the small side but still comfortable compared to what is usually written on some reviews in TripAdvisor. Our party of three (my sister, my friend from high school and myself) were able to fit comfortably and without any hassle at all. In our first night of stay, we were assigned a Family Room where my sister and I shared a Queen-sized bed while our friend slept on the single Japanese-type low bed on the side. We transferred on the second night to a Triple room, equipped with a bunk bed and a single Japanese-type bed. Still, we are comfortable and there’s still extra room to accommodate our luggage (3 medium sized luggage, 3 carry on bags plus other knick-knacks) and the accumulated shopping bags on the floor. Each room are ensuite, with free shower gel, shampoo and conditioner (which was amazing with our hair!)

not mine!

not mine!

Affordable: I inquired directly through their site and was given a quotation for the 5-day stay the following day. The room costs about Y48,000 plus or 24,000 plus in Philippine money. We split the cost into three and shared about PHP8,000plus for a four night stay in Tokyo. Talk about cheap! With the money we saved, we splurged on food and took advantage of the fact that we are in the city known for its flavorful cuisine.

Service: The staff of this hotel provides amazing service and speak English quite well. Look up Sayo-san — a wisp of a woman, very hardworking and accommodating. Goes out of her way to be helpful and cheerful always.

You can read the rest of my TripAdvisor review here.

MY FINAL VERDICT
So, will I stay again here? I will definitely consider staying at K’s House once again but should I return to Tokyo, I will choose to splurge a bit and get a place that is a bit central compared to this hotel. Nothing personal, but the coming-and-going, the long walks and the excruciating uphill climb from the subway will get back to you once you’ve done it for four straight days.

K’s House Tokyo Oasis is a good catch (the amazing reviews at TripAdvisor do not lie) but in my opinion, my wimpy-ass can no longer take the long walks. It’s also far-away from the city central so you’ll be taking the bus or the train a lot should you decide to stay in Taito.

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Taiwan, Travel Diaries

Review: Keyman’s Hotel – great location, with really rock-hard beds

Here begins my series of posts for the Taipei trip, which was unfortunately delayed following a death in the family a day after we arrived for Taiwan.

Keyman’s Hotel is a hotel that could have been really great: except for the little hiccups that really add up in the long run. Centrally located in the vicinity of the Taipei Main Railway Station, in a street directly across the Taipei West Bus Station.

To go to this hotel from the Taipei Taoyuan International Airport, you can take the Kuo Kang Bus from the airport going to the bus terminal. Fare is just NTS 135 one-way and will take you 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the traffic. But since my sister and I arrived 12:40 and was able to went out of the airport by 1AM in the morning, we booked transfer services from another hotel. You see, Keyman’s is a last-minute choice since we weren’t able to book the first night with out hotel of choice since all rooms were already fully-booked.

We booked the hotel directly on their website — which is quite fast and efficient, considering that most text are written in Chinese. A confirmation of booking and payment was immediately sent to my email address upon payment and Keyman’s is known to address all email inquiries promptly and efficiently.

The main highway in front of the street where Keyman's is located. Opposite the cab and bus stop is Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A

The main highway in front of the street where Keyman’s is located. Opposite the cab and bus stop is Taipei West Bus Station Terminal A

Keyman’s is the kind of a hotel perfect for those who wanted immediate access to any means of transportation going in and out of Taipei. Directly in front of Huaining Street, where the hotel is located, is the highway as well as the bus stop. A few steps away is the entry to the MRT station which leads to the massive Taipei Main Station where aside from the MRT, you can also board high speed trains for your trip to the Taiwan countryside.

Like I always do, I found this hotel over Trip Advisor and as recommended in other travel forums. Rooms are affordable, starting at NTS1,800 for a “Succint Room” which is I think, their term for a double room. The room rate is already good for two persons, including breakfast served at the hotel’s topmost floor.

In spite the very late arrival (or early morning, depending how you look at it), check in was quick and very efficient. We were given our keys to our room which is located at the 3rd of the eight floor establishment.

The key itself manifests that Keyman’s is a very old establishment. It’s not the typical key cards present now in hotel establishments but a old school key attached to a long plastic key chain. The hallways are wide and pleasant, but you can sense the hotel’s been around for a very long time, judging from the decorations and furnishings adorning the halls and the room itself. Clutching the key, it felt like we were transported to late 1980s Taipei and somewhere around the corner, will come out people dressed for groovy 1980s with their big hair and equally big shoulder pads. In one of the balustrade, a comforter was hanged to dry.

The room, while old, served its purpose well. There was an old television set where many channels can be accessed (yes, there’s CNN) — we flipped through channels serving as background noise while we go about making ourselves comfortable. There was a reusable Japanese-style slippers for our use and a simple coffee and tea making facility on the side.

Keyman's Succint Room -- yours for only NTS1800

Keyman’s Succint Room — yours for only NTS1800

an old lampshade on top of a old-school control panel.

an old lampshade on top of a old-school control panel.

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the window above this love seat leads to nothing -- i.e. the concrete walls of the building beside Keyman's

the window above this love seat leads to nothing — i.e. the concrete walls of the building beside Keyman’s

The lampshade was on top of a very old-school looking console where you can see knobs for turning on the light, controlling the brightness of the lampshade. There were other buttons too, but I was afraid to fiddle with it for fear that I will short-circuit the whole room. Plugs for charging your gadgets are too few and you have to unplug the TV if you want to charge your electronics — that also is a cause of worry since the wirings are quite old. The love seat beside the window is comfortable and the fabric decoration is so spot on 1980s (memories of my grandma’s old sofa set flashed through my eyes). There’s coffee and tea provided and you can get your hot water on the water dispenser located in the hallway.

T&B was dated but spacious

T&B was dated but spacious

Complete bathroom set: shampoo, toothbrush with toothpaste, shower gel, shower cap is also provided

Complete bathroom set: shampoo, toothbrush with toothpaste, shower gel, shower cap is also provided

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The Toilet & Bath was spacious and stocked with complete bathroom amenities. A hair dryer was also provided and which we used liberally in the morning. The bathroom kit (shower gel, shampoo, toothbrush with many toothpaste) was a generic brand but very useful and decent.

In the end, Keyman’s is a good hotel located in a perfect location — albeit one that’s getting on with age and definitely showing it.

And yes, the rock-hard beds.

I would like to believe that my sister and I were used to sleeping on hard surfaces, having our share on sleeping on a thin mat spread to the ground. But the bed at Keyman’s, in spite how nice it looked on picture, was the hardest bed I’ve ever slept on. Doesn’t help really when you are given one small pillow that’s quite a bit thin and hardly useful in keeping your neck comfortable. My sister and I hardly slept at all because the bed was bothering our backs. Though we knew that our stay in Keyman’s was only for about a few hours and we intend to check out early in the morning to proceed to our hotel in Ximending, we ended up waking really early because we hardly slept at all — tossing and turning from 2AM to 8AM due to the unfortunate bed. It was so uncomfortable, I felt like my spine was realigned away from my neck. After having to deal with tossing and turning, we decided to head for the free breakfast and take out our misery on the free food provided on the Restaurant floor of Keyman’s.

free brekkie at Keyman's

free brekkie at Keyman’s

Keyman's "restaurant" at the topmost floor

Keyman’s “restaurant” located at the topmost floor

The breakfast had limited choices but enough to nourish and sustain you for a day of traveling. There were bread, butter and jam for those who prefer western brekkie, and a pot of congee surrounded by traditional chinese toppings (peanut, veggies, chicken or pork floss), sauteed veggie which looked spinach and sunny side eggs for those who want to fill up. Coffee is also provided as well as bottled water.

However, the servers were quick and very efficient and friendly and I noticed them always replenishing the bowls of food to ensure that it’s always filled up.

Frustrated by the need to wake up early due to the hard beds, my sister and I ended up having our fill during breakfast, joking that we are after “getting our money’s worth” since we are due to check out after breakfast and we have been miserable all morning, no thanks to the rock-hard bed.

If you don’t mind sleeping on a hard bed, in exchange for a centrally located, reasonably priced hotel — why don’t you give Keyman’s a try? Service is really good, if only they’d do something about getting more comfortable mattresses.

HOTEL CONTACT INFORMATION:
Keyman’ Hotel
No.1, Huaining St. , Zhongzheng District, Taipei City 100, Taiwan (R.O.C.)  
TEL:+886-2-2311-4811   FAX:+886-2-2311-5212 
http://www.keymans.com.tw/

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