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About Me

About Me
CrystalPhuong.net is a Personal Style & Travel Blog based in Singapore, written by Crystal Phuong. The blog was nominated FOUR times in Top 10 Best Fashion Blogs in the annual Singapore Blog Award from 2012- 2015, voted as one of the Best Lifestyle Blogs in Singapore in 2013 by Hotelclub.com, and Best Travel Blogs in 2016 by Foodpanda.com. Crystal hopes to connect and inspire young women to lead a healthy and happy life. Be confident, be positive, and be kind.


Before the global pandemic, I traveled so much for business and for pleasure that even my daily Instagram update couldn't keep up with the number of photos I had on each trip. Finding time to blog in between working, sleeping, and flying was almost impossible. Then, Covid put a stop to travel. It forced everyone to slow down and learn to appreciate. Work didn't get less busy, but I finally had time to work on many long-overdue travel posts. I'm still trying to catch up, so you can expect to have a few more posts like this in the coming months. 

Japan! It's a lovely country, yet it wasn't on the top 3 on my bucket list. Europe and US remain the number 1 and 2 on my list if I have more days off in the year to clear. Thankfully, business opportunities brought me to Japan twice in 2018. In between the meetings, conferences, and business dinners, I managed to spend one weekend each trip exploring different parts of Japan. My perspective changed.        

I had a short rest after 8hr red-eye flight to Japan. Here I was enjoying the room service with the first view of Osaka, a large port city and Japan's second-largest metropolitan area after Tokyo. I had plenty of Japanese food in Singapore before, but nothing was quite like the food in Japan. While enjoying the first meal in my room after a 10-hour journey, I felt immensely grateful for the job opportunity that brought me here. 

Osaka's showing off during sunset. This was a view I took from the hotel where I had a meeting the next day. How gorgeous!  

Every time I travel alone to a new country, I always want to experience the place from the local perspective. Instead of booking a group tour package, I'd hire a private tour guide for the entire day and ask them to have a free and easy day with me. My only request is to let me experience the food, the place like the locals as much as possible. I was lucky to find Kaori after viewing dozens of profiles on a tour guide booking website. She responded to my email so quickly and had all the itinerary plans prepared before I even asked. I knew I'd be in good hands and I was right. 

Kaori came to the hotel to pick me up and we bonded immediately. It felt as if we were friends for a long time. She could speak several languages and knew how to have fun. 
The first activity of the day, Kaori brought me to visit Osaka castle. It was raining heavily when we visited, but the rain couldn't stop me. I must have a photo of this iconic place. 

Just in case you don't know, Osaka castle was built in 1583. It is widely known as an emblem of the power and fortune of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, a Japanese samurai regarded as the "Great Unifier" of Japan. The castle went through many historical dramas and was repeatedly seen as the battleground of the major wars in Japanese history. A few years after Hideyoshi's death, Ieyasu Tokugawa- Hideyoshi's chief retainer, ruined the Toyotomi family and destroyed Osaka Castle (in the Summer War of Osaka) in 1615. The castle was rebuilt by the Tokugawa government in 1620, but its main castle tower was struck by lightning and destroyed by fire. 

Today, Osaka Castle is the 3rd generation, but its magnificent architecture, impressive stone walls, and picturesque surrounding still impress anyone who steps into this place. Myself included. 

After Osaka castle, we visited Horikoshi Shrine, one of the oldest shrines in Osaka (a Centuries-old Shinto shrine), where wishes & prayers are said to be granted

I made my first prayer in Japan, enjoyed some quiet moments at this peaceful place before making my way to one of the most crowded places in Osaka- Dotonbori. Welcome back to civilization! 

Drizzling rain made the Dontonbori canal look more romantic and charming. It's hard to believe that such a modern-looking and happening area was built in 1612.

Dotonburi is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Osaka. The bright neon lights, larger-than-life signages, enormous variety of restaurants, bars, and shops will make you feel like you are living your best life. You can't feel lonely at a place like this, but if you need a quiet corner in the mid of chaos, walk a little further, you might find yourself at a random place like where I was standing (and jumping). 

Eat like the locals, they said! We had lunch at a restaurant in Dontonbori and it was so delicious.  When it comes to food, I'm not fussy and I'd like to try many things. That makes it easier for people to travel with me I guess. At least, for Kaori since she did most of the food ordering. 

The next morning, I woke up early to prepare for my full day of adventures with Kaori again. She picked me up at the hotel, we had breakfast before catching a train ride to Kyoto. I have to say the Osaka subway system was efficient, fast, and oh-my-god overwhelming. I don't know how long would it take other foreigners to get around in Japan by train. Even buying a train ticket took me a couple of minutes to complete despite having Kaori's help. I completely gave up the idea to "do it myself" and relied on Kaori for all the transport arrangements after that. I just ran behind her like a little puppy (people walk fast in Japan, I don't know why).    

A short 20-minute train ride later, we arrived in the beautiful Kyoto. Of course, we had to visit Fushimi Inari Taisha, the most popular shrine to Japanese people and is the head shrine that all the others are affiliated with. For 1300 years, people have gathered here to pray for business prosperity, safety, success, and happiness. In return, companies and individuals donated a tori gate with the name and date written on each gate. The entrance where I was standing is Senbon Torii, meaning thousands of torii gates. It leads to a hiking trail and has become one of the most Instagrammable places in Kyoto. 

Following the tori gate led me to the Yotsutsuji intersection. This beautiful view of Kyoto was a reward after a hot long walk. 

The whole of Inariyama, the mountain where Fushimi Inari Taisha rests is a precinct of the shrine. There was beauty everywhere I walked. Even the trees in front of these houses looked beautiful. 

After Fushimi Inari Taisha, I wanted to play dress-up, so Kaori took me to a costume rental shop in Kyoto. Apparently, this is quite a popular activity for foreigners to do while in Japan. I wanted to experience how fun it would be to put on a kimono, so I walked into the shop as a Vietnamese lady, walked out as a Japanese-wannabe woman. 

I can finally say "I've tried wearing a kimono and walking around Kyoto street like nobody's business". Although, not much of walking I could do in that tight outfit, to be honest, I still had fun pretending to be a Japanese girl for a day.

After having a delicious lunch at a local restaurant, we made our way to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, one of the most photographed places in Kyoto. Because it's quite a popular tourist attraction, you can imagine the number of people visiting this place every day. I was lucky to visit Arashiyama bamboo forest during the off-peak season, so the place was rather quiet. It's possible to walk the forest path within 30minutes, but if you want to take it slow, have a moment to stand still in the midst of this lush green bamboo grove and look up, you'll find it quite an enchanting and breathtaking experience. 

I had a quick outfit change before leaving Arashimaya Bamboo Forest. Kaori and I decided to have dinner in Kyoto city before heading back to Osaka. We explored many cute and small streets in Kyoto, caught a beautiful sunset, had another delicious dinner, and called it a day.   

My heart, my mind, and of course my stomach were full. It was a wonderful way to end the week. 

As soon as Monday hit, the "tourist" hat I had been wearing all weekend immediately changed to a business one. No more sandals, flip-flops, or kimono outfits, it's time for the blazers, high heels, laptop, and business talks. I couldn't let all Osaka's charms make me forget about the reason why I was here. 

Meeting went so well because I had spent so much time preparing for this. 

After work, Kaori took me out for a dinner. But first, she wanted to bring me to this place- HARUKAS 300 Observatory.  If you want to have a good view of Osaka from 300 meters above the ground, this. is the place you should go to. 

I remember how overwhelmed it made me feel. I stood there, stared at this view for a long time. We managed to catch the sun before it went down completely. It was an emotional moment and I couldn't believe that I was actually in Japan. I felt so insignificant and inspired at the same time.

As if Kaori didn't impress me enough, she brought me to this underground restaurant for dinner. "We eat like the locals," she said and boy, we really did. I lost count of how many plates of food and how many glasses of beer we finished. We were so full of happiness and food. What a first trip to Japan,  I said to myself. 

One month after my first trip, I had another opportunity to be back in Osaka again for a business conference. This time flying back to Osaka felt like visiting an old friend. 

When work requires you to dress up, meet new people, enjoy delicious food and visit new places, doesn't it sound too good to be true? I know I'm lucky and I've never taken any moment like this for granted.  

I met Kaori again once my work finished. As usual, she planned out my weekend perfectly, picked me up at the hotel, and suggested that we should visit Nara for the day. We took the train on Sunday morning after breakfast and an hour later, we were in Nara. 

Known as the first permanent capital of Japan, Nara Prefecture is an ancient city filled with natural beauty, historic buildings, charming townscapes, and national treasures. Not to mention the cute friendly deers roaming around the street. Nara is also a home of three World Heritage sites: Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara, Buddhist Monuments in the Horyuji Area, and Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii mountain range.

There are many beautiful houses and shops like this in Nara. We had to cut our visit to each shop short as we didn't have much time here.  

When in Nara, you have to visit Nara Park. Here, you'll encounter many deers roaming around. They are so cute and friendly as long as you don't tease them with food. It is said that one of the deities had ridden to Nara upon a sacred deer from Kashima Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture. Because of this legend, deers have become sacred animals and protected as natural monuments in Nara for many years. I tried to feed the deers and they bowed down to me. 

Some followed me around as they knew I was carrying crackers to feed them. How smart! 

Leaving Nara Park after feeding these deers my last cracker, we made our way to Todaiji, one of the most famous and significant temples in Japan. 

Inside this beautiful temple, there is a Big Buddha Hall that houses one of Japan's largest bronze Buddha (Daibutsu) statues which is 15 meters tall. The picture below doesn't do enough justice to how magnificent it is. 

As if this temple isn't impressive enough, you'll also find a giant pillar with a hole in its base that is the same size as the Daibutsu's nostril. I was told that those who can squeeze through this opening will be granted enlightenment in their next life. I had to try, and guess what? I made it. You can watch the travel vlog below and see me in action. I guess, being petite has some benefits at least. 

Soaking up this sunset view of Nara before I headed back to the hotel. It was the last day in Japan and It was so perfect. I couldn't expect more. I first came to Japan with a little fear of not being able to enjoy the place so much. I left Japan with a heart full of gratitude and beautiful memories. More importantly, I made a new friend, tried many new things, and experienced a new culture with open eyes. 

Writing this blog post now makes me miss Japan so much. I really wish I could visit this country soon again. 
Till next time, Arigatō, Japan! 

Crystal Phuong

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And just like that, my favorite month of the year- November, came to an end. It's the period when I find myself going through the introspection process a lot. My birthday is at the beginning of the month, and Thanksgiving is towards the end. Plus, the rainy weather in Singapore happening in between makes a perfect time to stay in, have a coffee, and reflect.    

Last year, I was lucky that the government lifted the social distancing rule just before my birthday; hence, I could still celebrate with some friends. But, unfortunately, the restriction was extended this year, and only two pax dining and visitors were allowed. So, instead of having five people gathered for dinner or lunch, I had five meals with different friends the entire week. Most of the celebrations were in my new home. It was the first time in 12 years living in Singapore; I hosted birthday parties at home. It was a unique, special, and memorable birthday indeed. 

When I was ten years younger, my birthday didn't mean so much to me. I didn't find joy in celebrating getting older, becoming chubbier, having more wrinkles. I wish I were forever 25. Turning 30 was fun, remarkable, but scary. I have some female friends who are older than me; they responded, "I'm 40 years old already", "OMG, I'm 45 this year," when I wish them "Happy birthday." Some are at 39 years old but already feeling down thinking about turning 40 in 10 more months. I have not heard any male friends complaining about turning 40, 45, or even 50 yet. But women, we do this to ourselves, all the time. Why?

I was the victim of my negative thought and insecurity before, so I understand these feelings very well. But, what could we have done to stop our number from going up? Nothing, unless our time is up and our clock stops permanently. Saying it out loud helps change my perspective completely. I'd rather like my age to go up every year as long as possible. I'm sure you would too, wouldn't you?  
And that's why the older we get, the more we should celebrate our birthday well. Instead of feeling worried about getting old and ugly, we should focus on creating memories, living well, and making the most of every day with people and things that matter to us most.

Despite the Covid restriction, I still had a wonderful time celebrating with some old and new friends, which I appreciated so much. There are still many super close friends that live far away from me. I wish we could celebrate with them in person soon. For now, here are some throwback photos from the celebrations of my 37 trips around the sun. Many more ahead!

Pre-birthday dinner at home with my ex-colleagues.

Steamboat dinner at home prepared by yours truly. Thanks Roger & Benjamin for always supporting me at work. I'm gonna miss working with these 2. 

First birthday cake of the year, thanks to Benjamin!

Surprised breakfast delivered to the home by a mysterious man. :D  

Surprised birthday flower delivery! Love it so much! Thank you Faith! How could I not see this coming when you asked for my home address. So cheeky! 

Birthday staycation at Fairmont Singapore, special thanks to Accor!  

another surprised birthday cake. 

and birthday dinner at Skai Restaurant. Thanks to Emmanuel, the General Manager for the champagne treat. 

Ready for another birthday brunch! 

With Anna, whom I'd like to call my guardian angel. Thank you for always listening and helping me grow over the last 4 years. I can't believe we finished all the food and still stay so skinny :D

Another day, another meal. Brunch with the man in the afternoon

Happy hour and chill with the girls in the early evening. It's so lovely to finally be able to invite my new friends, Sylvie and Chloe to my new place. Three of us went to view the same house at the same time without knowing each other. Then, five months later, we were here. How amazing life brings people to you sometimes.   

Another birthday cake, courtesy of American Express. They really know how to treat their customers. 

I went out to have a lovely dinner with one of my male best friends for the post-birthday celebration.

If only every Monday looked like this.

The last birthday cake this year. 

Dhilip- one of the most kind-hearted, sweet, funny, and silly men whom I've been lucky to know for 4.5 years now. Our relationship has many titles over the year: from colleague to a friend; from friend to a work competitor; from a competitor to brother and sister. Thank you for your unconditional support in work and life. Your loyalty and friendship mean so much to me, especially at a time like this. 

How many more trips around the sun can I take? I don't know. One thing I know for sure is as long as I can still breathe fresh air and see this gorgeous view from up here, it's a good enough reason to celebrate. I promise that I'll never whine about getting old ever again. I hope you'll also have a fresh perspective about your birthday celebration after this post. 

Thank you so much for reading!  
Crystal Phuong

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