Cebu City Highlights & Bohol Island (Part 2)

A tiny Bohol Tarsier clings to a tree at the conservation area.

After an adventurous day of getting acquainted with all of the major sights of Cebu City, I decided to take a ferry from Cebu Port to Bohol Island so I could see the precious Tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills. Bohol is a popular tourist destination because it has a lot of unique wildlife and geographical features. There are many lush forests, beaches, and conservation centers for animals too. I would highly recommend visiting this island in person because it will leave a lasting impression on you.

Getting to Bohol

One-way tickets to Bohol are around $9 for a high-speed ferry and the journey only takes around two hours (I booked mine in advance through 12goAsia). Though you can stay overnight on the island, a day trip is usually sufficient.

Since I wanted to know more about the history of the island, I decided to book a private tour with a local through Wow Bohol Tours. The tour was $50 and included the following things:

  • Blood Compact Shrine
  • Baclayon Church Ruins                                    
  • Python Viewing
  • Tarsier Viewing
  • Man-made Forest
  • Butterfly Garden
  • Chocolate Hills
  • Souvenir Shop

Overall I had an amazing experience day tripping to Bohol and doing photography, so I encourage my friends to do the same.

The Chocolate Hills

The Chocolate Hills are Bohol’s most famous nature attraction because they have a unique color and shape. During the dry season they turn completely brown and resemble Hershey’s Kisses, but I came during the wet season in November when they were completely green. I think they look beautiful during all seasons regardless of color. You can see them best from viewpoints at Chocolate Hills Complex (where I visited) and Sagbayan Peak.

According to an article I read, the hills got their shape through a rare type of weathering:

Geologists believe that the hills were formed through weathering carving marine limestone on top of a clay layer. Its color is the main reason it’s called Bohol Chocolate Hills.

Unfolding the Majestic Beauty of Chocolate Hills in Bohol by Cielo Fernando

I would love to come back during the dry season and see them in their chocolate form too!

Tarsier Conservation Area

The second place we stopped was the Tarsier Conservation Area which is safe haven to the world’s smallest primates. The Bohol Tarsier is an endangered species due to having many predators in the wild so they protected here. Another interesting fact is that they can only have one offspring per year making it hard for them to keep their numbers up. Tarsiers are very shy but safe to approach them as long as you do not disturb them. Unfortunately you cannot hold or get super close to them, but the staff will take amazing photos from a safe distance if you lend them your camera. I was pleased with the quality of this conservatory and so happy that I got to see them. Hopefully they can continue to thrive in this jungle area and live a peaceful life.

Butterfly Garden

After the cute Tarsier overload, my driver took me to a small butterfly garden/conservatory. There were quite a lot of them fluttering around and some of them even landed on my head! The garden had an overhead net which protected the butterflies from bad weather conditions. I was informed by one of the butterfly keeps that sometimes the heavy rain damages their wings so they are unable to fly. This information made me sad, but fortunately they are able to reproduce enough so their livelihood can survive.

There were pythons you could hold here, but some had just eaten and looked sleepy so I opted not to hold them. Sometimes it’s better just to watch!

Lunch on a Floating Restaurant

After all of these exciting activities, my driver took me to an all-you-can-eat buffet at a boat restaurant called Rio Verde! The experience was fun because the turtle-shaped boat sailed down the river and there was live music that really brightened the atmosphere. I had a lot of fun trying different Filippino foods, especially the curry and fish. I was happy to see that they had vegetarian options as well.

The price was around $14 which was worth it for the amount of food you can eat.

Blood Compact Shrine

Our last stops were the Blood Compact Shrine and the Baclayon Church Ruins before returning to the Bohol ferry terminal. I was expecting the Blood Compact Shrine to have an altar, but actually it’s just a monument. This monument symbolizes the old ritual of cutting hands with an ally and mixing the blood in a cup with wine to drink as the sign of a treaty or close friendship. Many tribes in Bohol performed this ritual in the olden days, but it is not used anymore.

I sadly couldn’t go inside the Baclayon Church Ruins due to time constraints, but seeing the outside of them was sufficient enough for me. Additionally, I didn’t take many pictures of the man-made forest because there was a paved road for vehicles going through it, but it was fun to drive through. The trees were planted there as a reforestation project making the scenery look more green and I was happy to see them growing. Overall I was extremely satisfied with this tour, especially that I got to see the Chocolate Hills and the Tarsiers! My guide was very kind and let me wander freely around all of these attractions. If you are interested in seeing beaches or islands during your time on Bohol, there are other tours that you can choose from.

In my next article, I will be writing about the two best diving spots in Cebu. Please look forward to it, and thank you for your support as always!

Spending a day in Morioka City, Iwate

The quiet shopping streets of Morioka City in Iwate Prefecture.

After spending the night at a hot springs resort on the lake in Akita Prefecture, we decided to take a road trip to the very last of the 47 prefectures of Japan on my travel list: Iwate Prefecture. Iwate actually has the lowest population density of all prefectures on the main island of Japan (Honshu), so you’ll definitely feel like you’re in the countryside if you travel here. Taking advantage of the country roads, we decided to stop at a farm and one of Iwate’s nicest museums, Ishigami-no-Oka, before spending the night in the largest city named Morioka. Traveling to all 47 prefectures of Japan has been extremely rewarding, and though Iwate felt a bit less exciting than other cities I’ve been to, I’m very happy that I had the opportunity to visit.

Koiwai Farm

Koiwai Farm is a very tranquil ranch with animals, various dairy products for sale, and a fantastic view of Mt. Iwate. This farm is located between Akita and Morioka City, so we decided to stop here first because it was on the way to our hotel. Before even checking out any of the attractions, we bought some creamy vanilla ice cream because it was fresh and delicious. We mostly spent our time walking around the fields and gazing at the mountain in the distance, but it was fun to see all of the activities you could do here. One of the most interesting nature spots of Koiwai is a sole cherry blossom tree in it that’s ideal for photography in the spring, but unfortunately it wasn’t in bloom this season. What’s also interesting is that you can sign up for lessons on how to milk a cow! During certain times of the year there are festivals and illuminations, so be sure to see what’s in season when you visit.

Address: 36-1 Maruyachi, Shizukuishi, Iwate District, Iwate 020-0507
Entrance Fee: 800 yen

Ishigami-no-Oka Museum

Since I love art and nature, Ishigami-no-Oka Museum was the perfect destination in Iwate for me. Boasting a huge flower garden and abstract sculptures of animals with aerial views, this is a great place to enjoy a stroll and do photography. My favorite piece of art was the seahorse-like creature that looked like it was eating grass from a funny angle. I also liked the bear that was seated at the observatory point. What makes these kind of open air museums so unique is how the light and shadows hit the sculptures, and also how the surroundings change as the seasons change. I would love to come back and visit this museum again during another time of year if given the chance.

Address: Dai 10 Chiwari-121-21 Itsukaichi, Iwate, Iwate District, Iwate 028-4307
Entrance Fee: 500 yen

Exploring Morioka

Morioka is much smaller and more rural than what I initially imagined it to be, but here are some of my favorite recommendations in the city. Please remember that some businesses and attractions may close early since this is the countryside. One of my biggest regrets was not having enough time to make it to Jodogahama Beach because it was over two hours away from the museum, but I’ve also seen a lot of pretty beaches in Okinawa!

Morioka Castle Site Park

Since Morioka’s Castle Site Park was walking distance from our hotel, we decided to check it out before dinner. However, unlike Akita’s Senshu Park, there was sadly no castle here anymore because it was demolished in 1874 with the end of the samurai area. But the area that remains is quite lovely and you can see a nice pond and views of Morioka City by ascending the stairs here.

Food & Drink Recommendations

About 10 minutes walking from the park, I found an amazing vegan restaurant called Karakoma. I ordered a vegan teishoku set served with beet soup, brown rice, and an assortment of vegetable dishes and it tasted beyond amazing! They also have organic wine and vegan desserts. If I was more hungry at the time, I would have ordered more dishes, but what I had was filling enough!

Before calling it a night, we decided to head to a cocktail bar called esprit for some sweet drinks. I ordered a tiramisu cocktail and a White Russian. As you can expect from a bar like this, the quality was top notch and the drinks were just as good as the vegan meal I ate before. I really hope this bar gets more recognition because it clearly deserves it!

Accommodation

We stayed in Hotel Ace Morioka because it was centrally located and around 5000 yen per night, but I would not recommend it because the rooms were tiny and smoky. I would look at non-business hotels for a better stay because this one landed a bit below my standards.

This ends my adventure of exploring all 47 prefectures of Japan, but fear not! I have plans to still stay in the country and explore various culture festivals and other things I have yet to experience. I will likely be revisiting many of my favorite prefectures, like Kyoto and Osaka, again this year and look forward to what the future brings. My next trip is coming up in about a week and will be in the Philippines! Please continue to look forward to more exciting adventures from yours truly.

Meeting Akita Dogs and Seeing the Fall Colors of Akita Prefecture

A gradient of Fall colors in Senshu Park.

It’s been quite a while since my last update due to being busy with work, but I am happy to announce that as of yesterday I’ve traveled to all 47 prefectures of Japan; the last two being Akita and Iwate which I finally visited this week. Each trip took a lot of time and money, but they were worth the effort because I had the opportunity to meet many people and experience different lifestyles in this country.

This moment feels very bittersweet because when I first came to Japan over 7 years ago, everything felt so new and magical to me, but now it feels a lot more like home. There’s still a few cultural festivals I haven’t been to that I want to travel to next year, but other than that I’ve been to virtually all of the places I want to be here. Thank you everyone for supporting my dream of fully traveling the country! In this article series I will be talking about my journey to see the northernmost prefectures of Honshu. They are extremely rural but have some interesting features, including Akita dogs and wonderful soba!

Getting to Akita Prefecture

Akita Prefecture is a one hour flight from Haneda Airport or four hour train ride from Tokyo Station. The shinkansen ticket costs 18000 yen one way, so flying is definitely more cost efficient and saves time. We paid around 30,000 for a roundtrip JAL plane ticket, but you can definitely find better deals if you book in advance. Though keep in mind that JAL and ANA are the only two airlines that fly to Akita Station, so there are no discount airlines available.

When you travel around Akita, you’re definitely going to want to rent a car. Similar to Aomori, the trains are very infrequent and driving makes the trip a lot more convenient. We rented a car near Akita Airport through Times Car Rental for three days for around 20000 yen. We found this was one of the cheapest ways to get around and are very grateful we did it!

Our first stop on the list was Senshu Park in central Akita. Our mission was to see as many Akita dogs as possible and eat delicious food! If you are interested in learning more about the preservation of Akita dogs, then please check out the One for Akita Project for events and ways to help out. Fortunately there are many volunteers involved in Akita Prefecture.

Senshu Park

Senshu Park is a beautiful area in central Akita with gardens, a castle, and Akita dogs that you can see during certain times of the day. The red leaves start to show in mid-October and there are sakura trees that bloom in the spring here too. The changing scenery around Kubota Castle is very relaxing to see during the four seasons and attract many tourists. Since we came on a weekday, the park was virtually empty and we were two of the first to see the gray Akita dog in the main square at 11am. On this particular day, we were not allowed to pet the dog but it was very fun seeing it. Akita dogs are very strong and sometimes wary of strangers, but can be affectionate and make great companions. They are such a unique breed and it was fun to see the prefecture where they originate from.

For more information on how to meet Akita dogs, please see the Senshu Park website.

Address: 1 Senshukoen, Akita, 010-0876
Entrance Fee: Free

Tea at KouFuu

Before heading off to our next destination, we decided to stop at a tiny tea shop that’s part of the Akita Museum of Art called KouFuu. Not only was the view from the shop fantastic, but the tea and sweets were very high quality. I ordered matcha and wagashi while my friend ordered affogato. I also bought an Akita dog plush from one of the nearby gift stores. Right next to this tea shop is the Akita Dog Station which is another place you can sometimes see Akita dogs, but unfortunately it was closed. Be sure to check it out if you ever get the chance!

Godzilla Rock

After spending some quality time in the park, we decided to drive to Godzilla Rock for the memes. This rock is on the west coast of Akita and uncannily resembles the kaiju himself. The formation of the  lapilli tuff naturally occurred from a volcanic eruption about 30 million years ago attracting a number of photographers to this obscure area of Akita. The best time to see this attraction is during sunset when the sun falls behind Godzilla Rock’s mouth and it looks like he’s breathing fire from the front. However, we still had many destinations to see so we came during the day. It was very fun to see this place because there are a number of other cool rock formations around, including one called Godzilla’s Tail. Although it was a bit of a drive, it was worth it for the pictures.

Address: Oga, Akita 010-0535
Entrance Fee: Free

Akita Dog Visitor Center

Yet another fantastic place to see Akita dogs and buy cute souvenirs is the Akita Dog Visitor Center! I was surprised to see that they not only had a towering tree of Akita dog plushies here, but also sold sake and beer made as an homage to the dogs. I bought Akita dog wine and a container of chocolate cookies. We were able to see two Akita dogs behind glass here and also a bunch of fun Halloween decorations. Our biggest regret is we got here too late to visit the Akita Dog Museum next door, but overall relaxing here was very pleasant and there weren’t that many people. This prefecture is extremely countryside but they sure love their dogs here!

Address: 1 Chome-13-1 Onaricho, Odate, Akita 017-0044
Entrance Fee: Free

Lake Tazawa

Our final destination of the day was Lake Tazawa, which is Akita’s most iconic lake and the deepest lake in Japan. Many people cycle and take boats out on the lake when the weather is nice, and the water is so crystal clear you can see many fish swimming in it. At the main shore of the lake stands the golden Statue of Tatsuko, who was a girl who wished to preserve her beauty forever so she drank from a sacred spring but turned into a dragon. After this she became the guardian of the lake. Though this is just a legend, this statue was actually one of my most anticipated spots to see in Akita because the view is so stunning. I decided to book my accommodation near the lake too!

Address: Katajiri Nishikicho Saimyoji, Semboku, Akita 014-0511

Food Recommendations

Due to short staff and the ruralness of Akita Prefecture, sometimes finding good restaurants is difficult while driving around. However, we managed to stumble upon two amazing places that I would happily recommend to all of my friends. The place we went to lunch for was a udon shop near Senshu Park called Satoyosuke Akitaken. Akita is famous for its udon noodles which are thinner and flatter than other types of noodles used in udon, but are chewy and taste amazing with a variety of ingredients. I ordered mushroom udon and my friend ordered a bowl of curry udon. I was impressed with how good my meal was, especially on a chilly fall day!

Before heading back to our accommodation near Lake Tazawa, we stopped at a seafood donburi place called Urashima near the Akita Dog Visitor center. I ordered salmon roe and sea urchin donburi and told my friend (in English) how much I wanted to eat egg, and to my surprise the waiter understood me and brought out a mini plate of rolled omelettes! How lucky was that? I appreciated the complimentary service and would give this place a high rating. Donburi is certainly cheaper here than in Tokyo, and it always amazes me when people in the countryside understand my Midwest accent!

Accommodation

Because it’s been quite a while since I’ve stayed at a hot springs resort, I decided to splurge on a room at Tazawako Lake Resort & Onsen which was 13000 yen per night but absolutely amazing. There were expansive indoor and outdoor hot springs with a sauna and breakfast included. I stayed in the hot springs for over an hour both morning and evening and felt like an entirely new person when I got out. This is definitely one of the nicest options in the area, but there are cheaper accommodations around central Akita if you’re on a budget. I think staying by the lake is the best place to stay in Akita, but let me know in the comments if you find somewhere else that’s this scenic!

Overall, this was a very travel heavy day but the food, the dogs, and the lake made it worth it! I am not sure if I would recommend Akita to everyone, as it is quite remote and expensive to get to, but I sure had a lot of fun on this day. In my next article I will be writing about the nearby Iwate Prefecture which is also very rural and was the final prefecture on my list to visit. Please look forward to it!

Staying in a Lodge Surrounded by Wild Deer in Nara Park

A mob of wild deer come to greet me as I exit my lodge.

Continuing on from my expedition to two of Nara’s most aesthetic temples, I next decided to stay at a lodge named Deer Park Inn surrounded by wild deer in Nara Park. Nara Park is not only famous for its temples and lovely scenery, but also its friendly deer who beg visitors for rice crackers (called “shika senbei”). This is a great place to start your morning because there are a number of hiking spots and gardens to visit. You will also see many deer mobs grazing in the grass and waiting for humans to awake so they can feast on their delicious rice crackers. Deer are a sacred animal of Nara because they were once seen as messengers of the gods. For their high social status, these fellows never seem to get enough food! Fortunately you can buy crackers all over Nara for the mere price of 200 yen. Where I’m from in the United States, deer are extremely shy so having them approach me and behave like dogs was quite the experience:

Getting to Nara Park

From Nara Station, you can take the 62 bus to the Todaiji Bus Stop and arrive at the park in 10 mins for 220 yen. You can also take a short and inexpensive taxi ride here too. Nara Park is open 24 hours, but restaurants close early so it is advised you buy snacks from convenience stores if you want to eat at night.

Single rooms at the Deer Park in go for around 4000 yen but you can book a dormitory room with other people for a cheaper price. The advantage of staying in the park versus the city is that you can see the temples and gardens in the morning with fewer people. You can also feed deer from the balcony of your room! I had so much fun waking up and watching them from my window. It was a one of a kind experience that you can only get here in Nara!

Places I recommend checking out in Nara Park are:

  • Ukimudo (a bridge that leads to a gazebo in a pond)
  • Todaiji (a famous temple with a giant golden Buddha statue)
  • Kasuga Taisha (a bright shrine with a deer statue)
  • Kasuga Taisha Manyo Botanical Gardens
  • Mt. Kasuga Primeval Forest

Overall I spent about 3 hours in Nara Park before taking a short bus ride back to the main part of the city. All of the places I listed are very accessible and you can easily reach them on foot. Nara Park is free to enter, but some temples and gardens have a 300-700 yen entrance fee. I think the price is worth it because many of these places are historical landmarks that are surrounded by luscious nature. Plus you can interact with as many deer as you like if you carry their favorite food!

Running to Ukimudo

Since Ukimudo is surrounded by a beautiful pond and is in a forest with several sakura trees, this is where I decided to start my morning. Due to the lack of tourists, there have been reports of the deer acting more aggressive toward people for food, but if you open your hands and show them that you are not carrying any rice crackers, they will not attack you. When I went running this morning near Ukimudo, the grazing deer pretty much ignored me after giving me a few curious side glances since I wasn’t carrying any bags or food. However, when I returned with several rice crackers it was a different story! I was circled by groups of deer, and the more aggressive ones would bite at my skirt when I wasn’t feeding them. Fortunately it is easy to run away from them, and they will not trample or bite you. Just be prepared to be lightly head-butted at times and always protect your belongings!

Also, there are signs posted not to feed them any food other than the crackers because it can be harmful to them.

Todaiji and Kasuga Taisha

When I first studied abroad in Japan, I was completely awestruck by the giant golden Buddha statue that I saw at Todaiji Temple in Nara Park. Roughly 9 years later I had the opportunity to see this Buddha again during sakura season, and it took me back to the fond memories I had when I first visited Japan. The street that paves the path to Todaiji is lined with vendors, food stalls, and souvenir shops full of good luck charms and stuffed deer mascots so it’s quite enthralling when you first visit. Another thing I love is how the deer just make this part of the city their own—they have learned to live in harmony with humans and nature. Nara certainly wouldn’t be the same without their sacred messengers, and the people here have come to love them.

Kasuga Taisha is just a short walk from Todaiji. It’s not as impressive as the giant halls of Buddha but it’s worth checking out for the beautiful forest and gardens that surround it. The flowers naturally change year round which make it feel like a magical place. Be sure to lookout for sakura trees too, as they are scattered throughout these temple grounds.

Sakura Season is also Deer Mating Season

I didn’t realize this before, but sakura season in Nara is actually during the mating season of the deer. That explains why some of the bigger deer were trying to bite my skirt—it all makes sense now! In all seriousness, please be on the lookout for aggressive deer. There are many kind Japanese shop owners and also rangers in Nara Park that will help you if the deer come too close for comfort. One Japanese vendor helped me by clapping their hands firmly near the deer to catch their attention. This is a safe way to keep them from attacking you. For the most part, most deer are friendly and know that even when you run out of food, other visitors will eventually come to feed them more. They obviously won natural selection!

Top Food Recommendations

Like its surrounding cities Kyoto and Osaka, Nara is also full of delicious food! Stop by for deer macarons at OVER MACARON before heading to the park. They have a large selection of flavors including chocolate, strawberry cheesecake, and creme brulee. If you like Japanese desserts, you can also get strawberry daifuku with deer-shaped cookies in them Daibutsu Ichigo. This shop is also located near the entrance of the park and is impossible to miss because it always draws a crowd. For breakfast, I highly recommend Mizuya Chaya which is located inside of Nara Park. This is a teahouse that serves wonderful beverages, desserts. and breakfast sets. I ordered rice porridge that had a beautiful floral design in it, and it tasted amazing! My final recommendation is a vegan restaurant named KURURU located slightly outside of the park where I had creamy mushroom vegan pasta. Once again, I was blown away by the taste and it really filled me up! Whatever local eatery you visit here will surely satisfy you.

For those who are interested, I made a reel of my video footage here. My next article will be the final of this series, and will focus on a trippy aquarium I found in Nara City and some more highlights of Kyoto’s sakura season. Thank you to all who have kept up with my crazy journeys! I am excited to announce my next trip very soon!

Meeting the Penguins of Shimane Prefecture

It’s time to go back to school!

After a lovely night of eating seafood and drinking luxury cocktails in Kurashiki, it was time to head to the final destination of this backpacking trip: Shimane Prefecture. This was yet another rural prefecture of Japan on my list of places to visit, and I was ecstatic to go to Matsue Vogel Park to see botanical gardens and meet the famous penguins who sometimes wear seasonal outfits. I decided to go in late March because there was a special event where the penguins wear backpacks and waddle around the park at certain times to celebrate the back to school season. It’s much more fun to watch this video demonstration than to have me explain:

Words cannot describe how adorable this scene was. All of us made way for the incoming penguin colony *wearing backpacks* and watched them waddle to the other side of the room. At the end some of them got tired and sat on their bellies which was adorable. In addition to the back to school costumes, they also have special ones for Golden Week! I look forward to seeing what other penguin cosplay they come up with!

In addition to the penguins, there is a huge collection of other rare birds you can view, but I didn’t spend much time here because there were other things I wanted to see in Shimane. I did enjoy the huge flower baskets hanging from the first major greenroom, however. Matsue Vogel Park really has a lot of neat intricate design going for it:

Address: 52 Ogakicho, Matsue, Shimane 690-0263
Entrance Fee: 1050

Getting around Shimane Prefecture

Getting to and around Shimane Prefecture is difficult because it’s extremely rural, so I would highly recommend renting a car. There is limited public transportation available to all of the places mentioned in this article, but you will likely spend hours waiting for infrequent buses and trains. If you only plan on day tripping here like myself, then having a car is a must. However, if you decided to stay overnight then you can likely see all of these places by local train or bus—just be prepared to wait.

I decided to return to Tokyo by plane from the Izumo Airport which cost around 30,000 yen one way, but that is average because JAL has a monopoly on flights here. That may sound like a lot, but I am super close to seeing all prefectures of Japan and decided I will pay whatever it takes to complete my quest. I am very fortunate that my friend offered to drive me for this portion of the trip because it saved me a lot of time in money. The funny thing is, last time I was in Kurashiki, a similar occurrence happened too!

Lunch at a Hippie Cafe

For lunch we decided to go to an organic hippie cafe called Green’s Baby near the castle because it was easy to park there. Since Shimane is mostly farmland, you can expect the vegetables here to be top notch. I ordered a bagna cauda for myself and my friend ordered taco rice because we were hungry. Both tasted amazing, and we got to eat or meals while sitting in hammock chairs too! I would recommend this place to people who are tired of eating the same food and are looking for a new experience.

Address: 204 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane 690-0887

Yuushien at Daikon Island

Our next destination was Shimane’s most famous garden called Yuushien, which you can reach by crossing a bridge to Daikon Island. Yuushien has a variety of artistic flower arrangements, seasonal flowers, and Japanese gardens. It is truly serene and clearly reflects the changes of the seasons. My friend and I had a lot of fun stepping on the rocks and hiking up to the waterfall. Daikon Island is pretty rural but this garden gives it a ton of color.

After circling around the garden twice, we decided to treat ourselves to parfaits at the Yuushien Cafe. My friend ordered the signature matcha parfait, and I ordered an anko set that came with hot green tea. Once again, they both exceeded our expectations. Beforehand I had no idea that Shimane’s tea and desserts tasted so delicious, but it makes sense because there are plenty of organic farms here.

Address: 1260-2 Yatsukacho Hanyu, Matsue, Shimane 690-1492
Entrance Fee: 800 yen

Matsue Castle

Before heading to the airport where I would fly back to Tokyo, we stopped at Matsue Castle on the way. This is actually the only remaining castle in the San’in region and is very large with 4 floors and an indoor museum. Surviving many natural disasters, it has kept its wooden structure and not needed a concrete reconstruction. It stands on the shores of Lake Shinji, which is Shimane’s famous lake that spans 30 miles. It was fun to drive alongside the lake and see all the birds that reside in it. Matsue Castle has a great view of the surrounding area so it is the perfect way to start or end a trip!

Address: 1-5 Tonomachi, Matsue, Shimane 690-0887
Entrance Fee: 680 yen

Final Thoughts

It was extremely fulfilling to complete this long four day backpacking trip from Fukuoka to Shimane and see two prefectures I had never seen before. Would I recommend this itinerary to everyone? No, because it went at an extremely fast pace and only focused on places I had never seen before, but I think a lot can be learned from reading about my experience which is why I wanted to share it here. Those who have lived in Japan for a while may be interested in some of the places I have discovered. Some of these places were challenging to go to and required a rental car, but were definitely worth the effort. As of now, I only have three remaining prefectures of Japan to visit which I plan on seeing at the end of this month!

Thank you all to have kept up with my crazy journeys. This is the final article in this series, but I will be publishing my next series on my trip to Nara this month! Please look forward to reading about my experience staying in a cottage in the woods with hungry deer looming outside.

Wandering through Neon Aesthetic Paradise in Naha

Lost in paradise in the infinity pool at Hotel Aqua Citta.

After an extremely fulfilling first day in Naha sipping on premium fruit cocktails and chilling at the Sanrio Resort, I planned to wander through neon aesthetic paradise at two recent attractions that had been added to the city since my last trip: Stem Resort and DMM Kariyushi Aquarium. I also wanted to hit the infinity pool at my new resort and reflect on life before flying to Miyakojima the next day.

I had a busy day ahead of me but fortunately was able to accomplish everything on my itinerary and meet many new friends in the process! If you come to Okinawa, you will never forget the friendliness of the people or the vividness of the city. I’m happy to say that day two of my trip was another brilliant success.

Stem Resort

Stem Resort is a 4 floor amusement park that just opened last year consisting of the Hitasura Kawaii Museum, a dinosaur park, a waterpark with inflatables, and a rooftop bar with hot tubs. No matter what age you are you’re bound to find something here that strikes your interest here. Given my love for neon colors, the Hitasura Kawaii Museum is what attracted me here the most. When I first walked in I was greeted by a wall of donuts and rainbow popsicles dangling from the ceiling. There was a room with a giant high heel you could sit in and watch looping BLACKPINK music videos. The lip-shaped couch in the adjacent room was definitely relaxing to sit on and the room full of lanterns made me feel like I was back at the teamLab Borderless museum. Holy nostalgia. The neon sides and donut slide were also a great touch but I think my favorite room was the final one that had a ball pit full of rainbow alpacas. I took a nap in there and replenished my MP. I am so happy I could finally experience this new museum because it’s been on my bucket list for quite a long time.

Since it was still raining this day I was unable to check out the outdoor attractions, but I was extremely satisfied with what I saw indoors. I have already been to a dinosaur park in Okayama and plan on going to the unicorn inflatable park once I can finally enter the Philippines, so the Kawaii Museum was what I was truly most interested and fortunately got a ton of pictures there. For all of my life I will never forget the ball pit full of rainbow alpacas.

Address: 901-0225 Okinawa, Tomigusuku, Toyosaki, 3-35 屋上
Entrance Fee: Depends on what you want to see but I paid 1800 yen to enter and thought the experience was worth it!

DMM Kariyushi Aquarium

Have you ever dreamed of walking through an LSD aquarium filled with jellyfish tanks? Well look no further! And believe it or not, this is just one small exhibit that makes up the DMM Kariyushi Aquarium.

Though the Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium that I visited in 2016 takes the crown for being the biggest and most diverse aquarium in Japan, the DMM Aquarium combines art with underwater life and also has a rainforest area. Its creative visuals and lighting definitely enhance the experience and almost make you feel like you are part of the exhibit! There is a room where you can take off your shoes and walk on a sealed panel to view all of the fish and sting rays swimming beneath your feet. I also got to see a sloth up close for the very first time in the rainforest area, and they even had a rare species of turtle here too!

I highly recommend trying the churros at the cafe. I bought them for the cute packing because I love tiny eels. This experience was so fun and had the best jellyfish exhibit that I had ever seen. If you’re looking for an artsy aquarium that is centrally located in Naha then this is your place!

Address: 3-35 Toyosaki, Tomigusuku, Okinawa 901-0225
Entrance Fee: 2400 yen

Vegan Omurice and Falafels at Ukishima Garden

Continuing my theme of trying new vegan restaurants, I decided to stop at Ukishima Garden to try some vegan omurice stuffed with rice and vegetables and order some falafel on the side. Instead of egg they used tofu to give this dish the classic fluffy texture. It was so creative and tasted even better than the usual omurice. I think this was actually the best dish that I had on the island! It was home cooked and made with love! They also have vegan burgers and taco rice on the menu as well as organic teas and wines. Check it out if you ever get the chance because this food is top notch!

Address: 2 Chome-12-3 Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa 900-0014

Accommodation

Although I adored the Sanrio Hotel I stayed at the night before, I really wanted to stay somewhere with a pool so I chose Naha Aqua Citta which is rated as one of the top city resorts. With its beautiful infinity pool, free welcome drink tickets, and friendly atmosphere, I can definitely see why! I met so many amazing people on the rooftop bar that invited me to play drinking games because I was alone. We even ended up going to a hookah bar called Silver Ren which had the best hookah that I’ve ever smoked in Japan. People of all ages, races, and cultures were here so it was truly an international experience. The cheapest rooms are around 6800 yen per night which are more than worth it for the amenities. I would definitely stay here again just so I could mingle and meet more awesome people.

In my next article I will talk about my trip to Miyako Island! Thank you for reading and please look forward to it~

A Trip to the Higashiyama Zoo & “Momo Cafe Dog Cafe” in Nagoya

Higashiyama Zoo: Home of the Handsome Gorilla Shabani

In between stopping at the newly-opened Ghibli Cafe in Osu, I decided to check out Higashiyama Zoo—home of Japan’s most handsome gorilla named Shabani—and a small dog cafe owned by a kind woman called Dog Cafe Momo Cafe during my most recent trip to Nagoya. Despite the midsummer heat, I was surprised by the welcoming atmosphere of both places. Unlike Tokyo’s tiny Ueno Zoo, Higashiyama is quite spread out and consists of a zoo, pond with rowboats, sky tower, amusement park, and botanical gardens. I severely underestimated how much there was to do there. Not to mention the amazing kindness that the dog cafe’s owner showed us when we visited the next day. As I’ve said a million times, Nagoya is seriously a gem that makes my trip worth it every time. Be it restaurants or places that involve cute animals; I’m never going to run out of things to discover!

Higashiyama Zoo

We arrived at Higashiyama Zoo early in the afternoon and almost immediately noticed we were starving. The good thing about this zoo is it’s easily accessible by riding the Higashiyama Line from central Nagoya, but be prepared for a lot of walking to reach your favorite animal exhibits! We stopped at the first zoo cafe we could find so we could regain our energy, though we later discovered there are nicer restaurants near the gorilla enclosure. I decided to try the signature Shabani the Gorilla Popsicle with some tiger pan, and my boyfriend dual wielded an ice cream cone and churros. It was the fantasy breakfast of the champions.

We slowly made our way to the elephant area where we noticed that one in particular was eating its mate’s ass. Poggers! Some animals, like the giant seal, seemed really fatigued by the heat but others were downright horny. We watched two turtles bone, then the larger one fell off and stood on his dick for a while. Ah, the miracles of nature. We also saw a lot of kangaroo balls but I was most excited to see the lone capybara here. As many people know, I am a capybara fanatic. Likely you can find one of your favorite animals here because this zoo really has a lot of them!

Next we decided to see the zoo from an aerial perspective by riding up to the top of the Sky Tower. Entrance is only an additional 140 yen with your zoo ticket and there’s also a small amusement park nearby. Most of the rides were aimed for children so we skipped that park, but perhaps we will take another trip to the amazing Nagashima Spa Land in the future. Anyway, check out this adorable tower mascot and view that we captured:

I love how this zoo not only has an original “&” symbol mascot (to imply it’s a zoo and more), but it also has created one for its illustrious tower too. We spent a while here cooling off and looking at our map so we could make our way to the main event: The Gorillas. Be warned, as they are extremely handsome:

Shabani is a stunning male gorilla who was born in the Netherlands, but he was raised in Australia and later transported to Nagoya (of all places) to be part of the Higashiyama Zoo. He gained a lot of fame for tightrope walking when he was 10 years old and now even has his own fan club. Apparently woman flock here to catch a glimpse of him because he is so handsome, but according to officials, he already has two wives: Ai and Nene (source: CNN). Even though he’s aged a bit since his initial debut, he still has a lot of charm. I was surprised to see that there were 5 other gorillas living here with him too! It was fun to see the excitement of everyone around me. I would recommend this place to people that love animals because they seem to be quite happy here.

Displaying Dominance: A gorilla throws a Styrofoam cup at his mate.

Though we didn’t fully get to see the botanical gardens, it was still a solid 10/10 trip. There was a rose garden we walked through that reminded us of Utena so that was a huge plus. I was surprised at how spread-out Higashiyama was. It took us around 3 hours to see everything but it was a great workout for us. Once the weather cools down, we plan on visiting a monkey park in Inuyama! However, we will never forget the face of Shabani, Japan’s most handsome gorilla.

Access

〒464-0804 Aichi, Nagoya, Chikusa Ward, Higashiyama Motomachi, 3 Chome−70

Entrance Fee: 500 yen (640 yen for Sky Tower entrance)

ドッグカフェ ももcafe

Because we clearly couldn’t get enough animal interaction this weekend, the very next day we went to Dog Cafe Momo Cafe in Imaike (which is also conveniently on the Higashiyama Line). This cafe is run by a very sweet lady who owns at least five dogs. Like the pug cafe I visited in Kyoto, she operates this business out of her house. Most of the people visiting the cafe were her friends so they all showed us exceptional hospitality. Sometimes other people bring their dogs too as we saw three more come at the end! If you want to pet dogs in Nagoya, this is definitely the place for you:

The system here is simple: you pay 400 yen as the entrance fee and receive a snack to feed the dogs. They will usually come over to you and beg for it and you are free to pet and hold them. This is the perfect therapy for people who can’t keep pets in their strict apartments. Plus dogs love attention! Unlike other animal cafes, these dogs are healthy and you can tell they are well taken care of. I loved their fancy clothes too. I definitely felt under-dressed here but fortunately the dogs didn’t seem to care:

This cafe is usually open until 10pm on weekends so you can drop by before you do your usual bar run. You can even drink wine with dogs here like I did! One hour was definitely enough time to interact with them all. They were surprisingly well-mannered and enjoyed being cuddled. Plus since it was in Nagoya, there wasn’t nearly as many people here so we could relax. The owner gave us a free refill of dog treats so we got to know each of them well. I would come back here in the future just to see if they are any new ones around!

The fact that their food is amazing should also be known. We tried their Loco Moco rice and it was amazing:

Home-cooked perfection.

Access

〒464-0850 Aichi, 名古屋市千種区今池Chikusa Ward, 15, 1-15-14 ハウス今池公園1階

Entrance Fee: 400 yen plus the purchase of one drink for 60 mins (was completely worth it)

That’s all for now since I have started working full time again! And it’s going exceptionally well except for the fact that I can’t get my sleep schedule under control (hence the reason I am awake at 4am typing this). However, I am planning another Nagoya trip for the four day consecutive holiday weekend coming up this month. I’m not sure exactly what it will entail but it should be just as aesthetic as the rest of my adventures. Thank you to all my dedicated readers!

Super Aesthetic Adventures in Osaka (Day 1)

For the duration of the 4 day consecutive summer holiday known as “Marine Day” in Japan, my boyfriend and I decided to take our very first trip together to bustling city of Osaka!  We chose this destination because it’s much more laid-back than Tokyo and there is a myriad of things to do and see here.  You can walk by the river and sip on a Strong Zero while being right in the heart of the city where there’s never a dull moment.  I’ve traveled to Osaka about 10 times (mainly for music events), but I still haven’t seen it all.  This time I was most excited to see the Kaiyukan Aquarium and go to the old school arcades with my boyfriend who is a fighting game fanatic.  Along the way we discovered so many delicious restaurants and made heartfelt memories that I’ll never forget.

We departed from Nagoya via the Willer Express Bus at 8:30am.  This was a good move because it was cheaper than the shinkansen and we could peacefully sleep on it.  We arrived to the Umeda Sky Building (in central Osaka) around 11:30 where we walked to La Tartine for coffee and some sweets.  I found this cafe through my Instragram algorithms and wanted to try the dog macaroon because it reminded me of Pasocom Ongaku Club’s mascot.  I also tried a cookie with a beach design that tasted amazing.  All of the desserts were intricately made here.  Incidentally, we also got a free coffee jelly as a gift for discovering this cafe through Instagram.  How nice♫~

Next we made our way towards our hotel in Shinsaibashi and decided to get some okonomiyaki for lunch at Hanahana since it was nearby.  Not only was this place absolutely delicious, but it was dirt cheap too.  I ordered shrimp okonomiyaki and my boyfriend got a mix of pork and seafood in his.  It was such a satisfying meal:

img_7633
Okonomiyaki: The staple Osaka meal.

Since our hotel wasn’t quite ready to check in to, we dropped off our stuff and headed straight to Kaiyukan Aquarium which I had never been to before!  This is one of the most famous aquariums in Japan so I figured it would be the perfect date spot.  Unfortunately since it was a holiday,  a lot of other people had the same idea so we had to wait an hour to enter.  Luckily it was worth the wait.  I had been to Japan’s largest aquarium in Okinawa years ago, but I hadn’t been to another one in ages so this was refreshing.  In addition to colorful schools of fish, smiling stingrays, and the “Silence Brand” crab, they also had capybara which is my favorite animal there too!  My boyfriend most enjoyed the waddle of penguins (yes, a group of penguins is actually called a “waddle”):

We were very impressed with the large variety of sea creatures here!  I also loved seeing the “Keep distance” penguin sign, though it was an impossible challenge for the over-excited Japanese children here.  I also liked the message that said “all things are connected” at the end.  It really had me thinking for a while.  By the time we finished seeing all of the exhibits here, we were exhausted.  This aquarium is quite huge compared to other underwater exhibits in Japan.

Admission Fee: 2,550 yen (worth in in my opinion)

Not wanting to miss out on every food opportunity that life presented us, we stopped for ramen and ice cream.  The two main food groups.  I bought a capybara souvenir at the aquarium so I could forever remember this moment.  This isn’t the first time this has happened.  My boyfriend chose to eat ramen at Zundoya which has a branch in Osaka.  He said it was some of the best that he’s had in a while.  I tried the Pokemon ice cream flavors at Bakin Robbins, but unfortunately they didn’t live up to the hype.  I give them a 6/10 because they taste like sugary melted soda.  They would be much more satisfying if they contained vodka.  Fortunately that’s what we had next…

img_7737
Drinking the galaxy at Mixology Bar Factory & Gear.

Yet another bar that ended up in my Instagram algorithms was called Mixology Bar Factory & Gear.  And boy, it did not disappoint.  It was here that we met a fire bender and drank magical cocktails from the galaxy.  My boyfriend also ordered a Tuxedo Mask-esque drink and another drink that was wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer.  I ordered the “Little Planet” (pictured above) and a mysterious pineapple drink with a bubble that you can pop.  Watching the video is easier than explaining it.  This is peak aesthetic:

The taste of all of these drinks can be described as “works of art” but this Tweet sums our experience up the best:

If you have time, please check this bar out!  The average cost of drinks is 1300 yen but I promise that you won’t be disappointed.  There’s also some “Viagra Liqueur” (the opposite of whiskey dick) for those who are feeling adventurous.  We will remember this bar for the rest of our lives.

Where to Stay

Normally I stay at Asahi Capsule Hotel when I’m alone since it’s one of the cheapest places in Osaka, but since I came here with someone special I wanted to stay somewhere a bit nicer.

This time I chose Felice Hotel because it was only 5000 yen per night for 2 people.  This was within walking distance of Dotonbori and all of the bars we wanted to go to so it was the perfect choice.  Our bed was huge and extremely comfy.  There is also a public onsen bath and a rooftop bar that you can visit.  I would honestly love to stay here again!

Spending my 25th Birthday at a Hut in Vietnam (Part 1)

When people think of tropical destinations in Asia, Vietnam usually isn’t high on the list.  Most people in Japan flock to Okinawa, Thailand, Philippines, Guam, or even the Gold Coast in Australia for vacation.  I wanted to experience something different so I decided to fly to Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam from Hanoi and stay in a beach hut on my 25th birthday in 2018.  This was one of my first times staying on a remote island alone, but it was completely safe and turned out to be one of the best birthdays of my life!

I stayed on Phu Quoc for four days and three nights and managed to learn a lot about the island culture of Vietnam.  Being here is completely different than from being in the city which is truly eye-opening.  In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh you’ll get a lot of stares and attention from the locals, but here you’ll find complete and total privacy:

Getting to Phu Quoc

A roundtrip flight from Hanoi to Phu Quoc only costs $65 through VietJet and takes two hours so it is quite cheap and easy to plan out.  I’ve researched other islands in Vietnam such as Cat Ba, but Phu Quoc is by far the most beautiful.  Long Beach is the best place to stay on the island because it has a lot of restaurants and you can see the best view of the sunset.  The beach looks pretty 24/7, but swimming in the ocean and watching the sky turn that lovely mixture of pink, blue, and red makes it feel as if you are living inside of a painting:

The island hut I stayed at was called Viet Than Resort.  I chose this resort because I liked the design of the thatched huts and it was only around $35 per night.  Plus it was right on the beach and had a swimming pool too!  I came during the off-season in October, but I still had a lot of fun here because the weather was perfect.  I spent my entire first day here exploring Long Beach and going swimming.  It was definitely the relaxation that I needed after several days of trekking through the populated cities.

Cuisine on Phu Quoc is cheap, healthy, and extremely satisfying.  I tried a restaurant near my hotel and ordered seafood ramen and an omelette.  After hours of swimming, this was exactly what I needed!

Another perk of staying here is you’ll often run into Phu Quoc dogs.  An islander informed me that these dogs are friendly towards people but completely independent.  They’ll let people wash and feed them, but they spend most of their time frolicking on the beaches.  I wish I were a Phu Quoc dog!

Unlike places in Thailand and Bali, Phu Quoc is NOT a party island.  It does have a lot of bars and places to socialize, but you won’t find any recreational drugs here.  I really wish that there were more islands in Japan like this.  I went to Okinawa for my first birthday in Japan and had fun, but it does not have a lot of beach huts and the best beaches require renting a car or riding a infrequent bus to reach.  I liked Phu Quoc because everything was accessible, and if I needed to get somewhere I could use Grab or ask my hotel to call a cheap taxi service.  This would honestly not be a bad place to retire.

In my next article, I’ll be talking about my island tour and how I rode a cable car to Sun World!  Thank you all for reading my Vietnam article series!  Though this happened almost 2 years ago, this island is still a very popular resort destination and a place that I would recommend to all my friends.  It’s really easy to have fun here no matter what your budget is.

Pocheon Art Valley & Herb Island in South Korea

img_1747
Pocheon Art Valley in South Korea looks out of this world.

After spending an amazing 5 days on Jeju Island, I decided to fly back to Seoul and explore the places that I had overlooked on my first trip to Korea back in 2018.  Pocheon Art Valley and Herb Island caught my eye because they seemed up my alley.  Both places were slightly outside of the city and had a lot of fantastic nature to see with other quirky exhibits.  Every day tour that I’ve taken outside of Seoul has been well-organized and was easier than taking public transportation, so I booked a package that included both of them and strawberry picking for around $60 USD on Klook.  The tour has amazing ratings and gives you enough time to explore both places.  Entrance fees are included as well so it saves you both time and money.

Pocehon Art Valley

I started off my tour by completely going to the wrong station to get picked up my by tour guide.  That’s what happens when you’re jetlagged, can’t read Hangul, and are just ignorant in general from all the traveling you do abroad.  Fortunately I called Klook and my guide waited for me because our tour was only about 5 people.  I apologized to everyone and we made our way to the strawberry farm in a small van.  It was nice being in the Korean countryside.  The people on the tour were all in their twenties so it was easy to make friends with them.  I picked a ton of strawberries because I was starving.  After our baskets were full, we made our way to the art valley!

Pocheon Art Valley is a garnite quarry and geopark that has been transformed into a creative art valley.  In addition to stunning natural scenery you will see sculptures, planted flora, and even live concerts here.  There are arts and crafts workshops you can participate in as well.  I mostly came here for the exploration and aesthetic art aspect.  After our tour guide finished his explanation, we all set off in our own direction.  You can choose to ride the monorail or hike up the valley on your own (it doesn’t take that much time).  I hiked around the valley and saw many amazing sights!  You can see the silhouettes of the mountains once you get near the summit of the climbing area.  This was much easier than climbing Mt. Hallasan like I did the week before.  I had so much fun taking pictures here and can see why so many Korean dramas are filmed here.

After about 90 minutes, we met back at the van and drove to Herb Island.

Herb Island

Herb Island is perhaps one of the funniest memes I’ve come across in Korea (at least I thought it was very amusing).  First of all, it’s not actually an island━it’s a Christmas-themed amusement park with hundreds of Mediterranean herbs planted around it.  Plus it has a mini-zoo, soap-crafting workshop, and lavender ice cream which I highly recommend trying.  Everywhere you look there’s strange visuals.  I loved seeing the jellyfish and heart illuminations alongside the statues of Santa.  Walking through the gardens and the sea of Christmas lights in the summer was surreal.  The bakery with the herb cookies was also amazing.  This is my favorite amusement park in Korea because it’s just so random:

When you get through the sea of lights, you’ll come across a pen with miniature donkeys.  As if this “island” couldn’t get weird enough:

If I ever come back here, I swear to god I am crafting some herb soap.  I’ll also buy some more herb cookies for my friends as souvenirs.  Keep on staying weird, South Korea!

Overall I had a pleasant experience on this tour.  The traffic was heavy due to a public holiday I wasn’t aware so we were late coming back, but that was also my fault for initially being late to the tour.  I would like to re-visit Pocheon when I come back to Korea in the future.  I hope more people decide to come here because it’s the perfect day trip from Seoul!