Floating down the Mekong Delta in Vietnam

After hiking around Black Virgin Mountain & Cao Dai Temple, I decided it might be nice to go out on the water for a day.  Mekong River Delta, home to a maze of rivers, swamps, and floating markets, is the perfect place to go boating and experience an agricultural community.  This river starts in the Himalayas and flows through four other surrounding countries before reaching Vietnam.  The murky brown color of the water comes from the soil it washes up so the river itself is actually quite clean.  A majority of Vietnam’s rice and fish is transported to other areas from Mekong Delta, so it’s vital to the country’s economics.  Not to mention its jungle-like aesthetic makes it the perfect place to go on an adventure!

Mekong Delta can easily be reached from Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s cheapest to go on a tour.  I booked a group tour through Get Your Guide for around $28 and found it to be quite helpful.  I got to explore parts of the jungle, eat delicious Vietnamese food, and see some of the smaller islands.  One is even named after a unicorn!  I was fortunate that the other people on my tour were kind and welcoming.  I met one woman from Colombia that introduced me to her sons that were around my age (mid-twenties).  We all awkwardly laughed.  No vacation is complete without awkward random encounters!

Sailing on the Mekong Delta was amazing.  The weather was humid but fortunately there was a cool breeze.  No matter which direction you look there is a lot to see:

I highly recommend buying a nón lá (leaf hat) from the market during your trip.  Initially I thought that wearing one of these as a tourist would be embarrassing, but the hats are ideal for the weather here.  During warm days they can shield your entire face from the sun, and during rainy days the droplets will slide off  them keeping you completely dry.

After a while of sailing we stopped at Ben Tre, the capital of one of the largest provinces in the Mekong Delta, and got to explore some of the beautiful scenery on foot.  There was a tiny wildlife preserve with crocodiles, porcupine-like creatures, and other exotic animals.  A woman came with a colony of bees and showed us how honey was made (fortunately the bees didn’t seem hostile).  We also learned how coconuts were used to make desserts and got to try some coconut jelly!  It was so delicious.

Besides boats,the main form of transportation around the muddy banks of the Mekong Delta is by horse.  Although a lot of residents of Vietnam own motorbikes, they seem to be quite challenging to ride around here.  That is another reason why I recommend booking a tour.  Though it can take days to see the entire Mekong Delta here, just a day trip was enough for me.

I said it once but I’ll say it again: Vietnamese Cuisine tastes amazing and severely underrated.  For lunch we had a buffet that included elephant ear fish (see top picture), shrimp, omelette, rice, crackers, fresh fruit, and coconut jelly.  This kind of meal is simple but very filling.  Since I don’t eat meat, I informed the chef and they were able to accommodate my request.  If you’re looking for a fancier dinner, you can always order one back in Ho Chi Minh City!

I visited a similar place to Mekong Delta in Cambodia last year called Kampong Pluk.  It also has a floating economy, amazing fish, and many similarities to Vietnam.  I recommend checking out both because their cultures are slightly different.  I can’t pick a favorite because both of them were an entirely unique experience.

Here are some other things I recommend checking out in Ho Chi Minh City:

  • Notre Dame Cathedral – A historic church with beautiful architecture.
  • Ho Chi Minh City Hall – An iconic landmark of the city,
  • Cafe ZONE 69 – I found this place during my morning run and thought it was hilarious.  I have no idea if it still exists or not, but it’s in the heart of the city.
  • Ho Chi Minh Opera House – I sadly didn’t have enough time to go, but I’d love to see a show here in the future.
  • Jade Emperor Pagoda – One of the prettiest temples in town.

I only stayed 3 days in Ho Chi Minh City, but that was enough for me because I got to see and experience a lot of different things.  In my next article, I will be talking about my experience in Hanoi and how it differs from this city.  As always, please stay tuned for more updates!

 

The Jeju Chronicles: Exploring Udo Island

During Golden Week of 2018 I decided to venture to Korea for the 2nd time and explore its most famous beach resort island: Jeju.  This island is extremely unique because not only does it have the best beaches in Korea, but it also has the Nexon Computer Museum with the world’s longest running MMO.  There’s also the tallest mountain in Korea (Mt. Hallasan), a folk village with traditional houses, and a fairly famous sex museum.  As you can see, Jeju has something for everybody because there is a huge diversity of attractions to see.  A lot of people that live close to Korea come here to spend their honeymoons or school vacations, but there are many backpackers like me who travel here too.  In this article series I will be detailing my 5 day stay in Jeju in hopes that other people will decide to come in the future.

Traveling to Jeju

The best way to travel to Jeju is to take a direct flight from Seoul.  Jeju Air has the cheapest flights that range from $30 – $50 USD roundtrip.  The flight only takes about an hour.  Jeju is comparable in Okinawa in Japan, but is much smaller and doesn’t have as many islands you can travel to.  However, traveling here is much cheaper than most islands in Japan and it has a different vibe.  One of the best islands you can visit in Jeju is called Udo which is the very first place I went.

Udo Island Day Trip

Udo Island was my first destination once I reached Jeju Airport.  Fortunately you don’t need to fly here and can instead take a relaxing 15 minute ferry.  The reason I wanted to go to Udo is because it is the perfect cycling destination.  The island was named for its somewhat rectangular shape that looks like cow lying down.  I also chuckled because the name reminded me of U-DO in Xenosaga.  You can see most of the attractions on Udo within 3 – 4 hours via electric bike.  E-bikes can be rented for around $10 per day and are extremely worth it.  This was my very first time riding an e-bike, but fortunately it wasn’t scary!  You can see the ocean from any point in Udo making it a wonderful spot for photography.  Everyone rides slow so they can stop to take pictures.

Since I was starving, I stopped at a local seafood restaurant near the bike rental shop.  I couldn’t speak much Hangul but I was able to place an order.  They whipped me up some spicy crab and muscle stew which tasted amazing.  For dessert, I decided to try the peanut ice cream that Udo is famous for.  They placed two adorable teddy bear crackers on it too.  The salty and sweet combination makes it worthy of all the praise that it gets.  You can find this food literally all over the island and it’s much cheaper than food in Seoul.

Finally feeling full, I decided to make my way down to the beaches.  Gwakji Beach and Hamdeok Beach were my two personal favorites.  Both can be reached via e-bike in less than 30 minutes and are found on the north side.  Exploring these beaches can take up to an hour.  I came here in late April so it was a bit cold to swim but the weather was near perfect.  Korea’s weather is similar to Japan’s but is slightly more mild.

Besides the swimming and biking, there are many other exciting things to do on Udo.  You can go horseback riding for a short time if you talk to someone near the stables.  If you like art, most of the buildings are painted in bright colors and there are murals all over the island.  The food here never disappoints.  The octopus-shaped bread I tried was filled with cheese and absolutely amazing.  Just the  atmosphere of being on a small beach island is awesome too.  I enjoyed walking inside the the giant shells that were near the pier and also petting the store owner’s dogs.  Everyone here is extremely friendly so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier.

On my way back to return my e-bike, I stumbled upon one of the best DJ booth turned ice cream shop ever.  The chef was spinning some fresh island beats as he was whipping up ice cream.  This was an extremely rare vibe that I was not expecting:

The store Udo Prince Story (우도왕자이야기) has both phenomenal food and music. If you come all the way out here, be sure not to miss out. This was the best instant dance party I ran into here and was the perfect way to end my day trip.

After an exciting first day in Udo, I rode the ferry back to the main island where my accommodation “GreenDay” was.  There are a few hotels on Udo, but there is much more selection and nightlife on the main island of Jeju.

I chose GreenDay because I thought the name was hilarious and the dorms are only $15 per night.  I couldn’t pass up staying in this colorful little house:

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Taking a “Holiday” at GreenDay.

GreenDay Address: 251-9 Samdoi-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea

Udo Access

I took a cheap taxi to Seongsan Port, then a 15 minute ferry to reach the island.  The ferry ticket is only $10 one way.  Please see the Udo Ferry Time Table for reference.

In my next article, I will be talking about some of the quirky museums that I explored.  Please stay tuned for more!

 

Naoshima, Japan’s Avant-garde Island of Art

Welcome to Naoshima—Japan’s obscure avant-garde island full of art museums, beaches, and outdoor sculptures.  Since I am a lover of all things aesthetic, I couldn’t pass up the chance to go here while I was traveling through Okayama.  This island is very small but has a lot to see.  It’s well-known among art enthusiasts and travelers that like to go off the beaten path.  The most iconic piece of art you’ll find is the giant yellow pumpkin at the pier designed by Yayoi Kusama, but there’s an artistic sense all around here.  Even if you’re not a huge fan of art, it’s really fun to go cycling and swimming here because it’s quite secluded from the rest of Japan.  This island is actually part of Shikoku though you can access it from Honshu too.  I’ll be detailing my full experience in this article!

Getting around Naoshima

From the net cafe I was staying overnight at (Jiyuu Kuukan), I walked to Okayama Station and rode the Seto-Ohashi Line to Chayamachi Station, then took the Uno Line to Uno Station for 50 mins total.  From Uno Station, I walked to the nearby port and rode a ferry for 30 mins to Naoshima island.  These ferries are frequent and leave almost every hour (see time table here).  It was a very fun ride and the weather was perfect too!

I rented a bike for 500 yen/day because cycling is the best way to see all of Naoshima.  The whole island takes about 2.5 hours total to cycle around and is pretty easy to navigate because it’s circular.  However, it’s easy to spend a whole day here because there are so many museums to see.  There are many hostels and resorts you can stay overnight at too.  I didn’t stay overnight here, but I really want to next time!

I started my trip by riding my bike to Gotanji Bathing Beach where the giant yellow pumpkin is.  I spent around an hour here swimming and seeing all of the Picasso-esque statues that line the beach area.  I met a mix of both Japanese and international travelers who were very friendly.  There was a giant raft in the middle of the swimming area where I actually took a nap on!  That’s how relaxing it is here~

After feeling refreshed from the ocean, I decided to make my way around to the major museums.  Some are free to enter but others have admission fees.  I would research them beforehand budget around 3000 – 6000 yen depending on what you want to see.

Exploring the Museums

The main museums worth seeing on the island are:

  • Benesse House – Museum by the beach with indoor and outdoor exhibits.  They combine their hotel with the “coexistence of nature, art and architecture” and are responsible for many projects on the island.
  • Chichu Art Museum – An ambient museum built mostly underground.  The natural light plays a huge role in seeing the artwork here.
  • Lee Ufan Museum – A contemporary art museum consisting of stones and two-dimensional paintings.  His art has a tranquil feeling when paired with the seaside viewpoint.
  • Ando Museum – A traditional wooden house that uses creative architecture to contrast light and shadow and the past from the present.
  • Teshima Art Museum – This is a famous art museum located on the nearby Teshima Island that resembles a water droplet and is perfect for photography.
  • Art House Projects – A series of small houses with a variety of different art from different artists.  For a full list, please see the Benesse Art Project Site.

*Please note that photography is not allowed at all museums, but is okay outside most places.

One of the most interesting things I saw was the light-up ‘Live & Die’ piece at Benesse House (pictured in the very top photos).  The words on the boards all have different associations with life and death.  While the lights faded, a Japanese man walked up and spread his arms out, as if embracing the words it had projected.  It was one of the coolest reactions I have ever witnessed at an art museum in my life.  I also saw a graveyard outside of the Lee Ufan museum.  Its juxtaposition with the art made me think more on the concept of life and death.  I did a lot of reflecting this day and it was very good for my mental heath.  That’s why I’m planning to come back here in the summer again and see all the spots that I missed!

Food & Drinks

There are restaurants, bakeries, and cafes all over the island so you can easily find a place that catches your interest.  I had cold soba noodles and matcha bread with anko for lunch at a place called Aisunao.  It was all homemade food and tasted amazing!  When I got back to Okayama, I drank a drink that smiled back at a Tiki Bar.  You seriously can find great selection here wherever you look!

Bathing in a Artsy Bath

Before I took the ferry back, I decided to bathe at the artsy bath called I♥湯 (I love you).  The outside of the bath house has an aesthetic mosaic design that looks like no other bath house in Japan.  The indoor area has equally beautiful architecture.  It was a great way to end the trip.  The entrance fee is only 660 yen.

Exploring other Islands

One regret I have is that I didn’t look into exploring the two smaller art islands you can access from Naoshima: Inujima & Teshima.  Both islands can be reached from Naoshima in less than 20 mins.  Benesse has a nice two-day itinerary where you can see all the major works of the three islands.  I will be going back hopefully later this year to see the small things that I missed!

Access

I mentioned the route that I took above, but there are multiple ways to get to Naoshima.  Please see the Benesse site for more information.

If you are interested in reading more of my art articles, please see my Yayoi Kusama and Innovative Art Museums in Asia articles!

Adventures in Arashiyama (Kyoto)

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Arguably one of the best views this forest has to offer.

With its vast nature including a bamboo grove, the Oi River which you can go sailing on, and a monkey park, Arashiyama is hands down one of the most popular day trips from Kyoto City.  Though this area attracts a large number of tourists each year, it’s easy to avoid them by taking side trails off the bamboo grove trail.  I was able to find complete bliss in solitude while hiking to several areas and listening to my favorite music.  I originally traveled here in 2018, but came back to try the delicious chilled soba noodles at a famous restaurant last year.  In this article I will be writing about the highlights of my Arashiyama hiking adventure and hopefully will inspire more people to visit!

Floating Down the Oi River

When you get off at Arashiyama Station, one of the first things you’ll notice is the gently flowing Oi river.  There are several shacks where you can rent boats and go on tours down the river and into the forested area.  This is one of the best ways to explore Arashiyama, so I opted for a private boat tour for 3000 yen.  Group tours are also available for a lower price.  The wooden boat has padded seats so its quite comfortable, and you can see beautiful scenes from floating down the river that you can’t see on foot!

While we were sailing a food boat (food truck but in boat form) sailed up to us and offered to cook me something.  I decided I wanted grilled squid and they made it right in front of me.  It was truly and amazing experience!  I’ve explored a floating village in Cambodia before which was quite large, but this river is much smaller and more relaxed.  If you love boating then there are a lot of amazing places in Asia that are worth checking out.  I aim to explore as many as I can.

I didn’t have the best camera on me at the time, but here is some footage of me sailing down the river on a wooden boat.  It was a pleasant trip that only takes about 30 mins:

Sunset at the Kimono Forest

If you come to Arashiyama, then you definitely need to stay and watch the sun set slowly on the mountains before you leave.  First the sky will flash to a bright gradient of red, orange, and yellow, then fade to a gentle magenta and pink hue.  Afterwards there is a garden of kimono-patterned pillars near Randen Arashiyama Station that becomes illuminated at night.  I had a fantastic time walking through here and taking pictures—it felt as if I had slipped into another world with all of the colors!  These memories still burn very bright in my mind today.

Bamboo Forest and Monkey Mountain

The main tourist attraction of Arashiyama is the bamboo forest which is about a 10 min walk from the station.  The massive stalks of bamboo that surround you are truly astounding.  Back in America I had never seen anything like this before, so I was very impressed by this area.  There are normally a lot of tourists on the main path, but you can find paths that lead into the mountains like the one pictured on the right to avoid them.  If you aim your camera towards the sunlight that is partially blocked by the bamboo stalks you can get some really nice pictures here.

When I hiked up the path shown above, I spotted a very interesting building structure from afar and zoomed into it.  It looks like either a shack with clothes hung out to dry or small shrine.  Climbing to that area seems like quite a feat because it is not connected to the main path of Arashiyama.  “Who lives here?” I wondered 2 years ago, and I still think about it to this very day:

After exploring the paths around the bamboo forest which really don’t take that much time to climb, I recommend checking out the Monkey Park atop a small mountain called Iwatayama.  The climb takes about 10-15 mins and you can see a nice view of Kyoto from the top as well as several enthusiastic monkeys.  Be sure not to make direct eye contact with them as they can be quite aggressive!  However, a barrier will protect you from being attacked my them.

Compared to the monkeys in Thailand, the ones in Kyoto are actually quite nice.  However, if you are in Japan for a long time and are able to go to Hokkaido, the Monkey Park in Hakodate is actually much more fun to see.  You can watch them bathe in a hotspring and have a clearer view of them with less tourists around you.

Chilled Soba Noodles at Tempura Matsu

While searching for aesthetic food in Kyoto (which is not that difficult to find), I stumbled upon a tempura restaurant that serves soba noodles in a one-of-a-kind bowl made out of ice.  As far as I know, no other restaurant besides Tempura Matsu serves soba quite like this.  The egg topping mixed with soy sauce gives it an amazing taste.  It is best eaten in the summer because it will cool you down.  Amazingly even in the warm temperature the ice bowl will hardly melt.  I was impressed with the craftsmanship of this dish:

Since I had a long journey here, I decided to reward myself with the course meal that was around 12,000 yen at the time.  This is quite expensive, but I believe you are able to order individual items off the menu if you request them.  From my experience, it was well worth the price.  Carefully prepared seafood, soup, rice, vegetables, soba, and dessert were served to me in this course.  Vegetarian options are available as well.

Getting to Arashiyama

Kyoto Station take Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station.  This takes about 15 mins and costs only 240 yen making it an extremely cheap trip.

Please note that accommodations here are quite popular, so you might want to book 2 months in advance if you want to stay in a nice onsen resort.

If you are a solo traveler or are on a budget, I recommend day tripping here from Kyoto City since accommodations there are cheaper.  If you want to use a day hotspring in Arashiyama, consider trying Fufunoyu.  It is only 1000 yen to enter and has a lovely outdoor hotspring that you can use.

I will be writing more about my adventures in Kyoto and accommodation options in my next few posts.  Please stay tuned for more info~

The Best of Taichung: Visiting Rainbow Village & Sun Moon Lake (Part 2)

After visiting the eye-popping Rainbow Village, I decided to take a cheap local bus from Taichung Station to the famous Sun Moon Lake in Taiwan (its name immediately made me think of Pokémon Sun & Moon).  After an hour and a half ride, I was dropped off at Shuishe Pier, which is part of the central hub of Sun Moon Lake.  There are a number of restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops that you can browse around, although the real adventure lies elsewhere!  From here you can ride ferries and buy tickets to attractions around the lake.  The ferry will take you to Ita Thao Pier and Xuanguang Pier which both have a number of hiking trails and sightseeing spots to explore.  If you are unsure of what to do, the official Sun Moon Lake website has a number of itineraries available.

Originally I was thinking of going to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village and ropeway (which is a huge amusement park with a waterpark), but due to the mild and foggy January weather, I opted to do some hiking instead.  My favorite viewpoint that I discovered was the Ci-en Padoga built by Chiang Kai-Shek in memory of his mother.  This was about a 40 minute hike through a bamboo forest but was easy to access thanks to the English guideposts.  The ferries depart from pier to pier every half hour, so you can see the majority of sights in one day.  However, if you wish to see the smaller islands and go to the amusement park that I mentioned above, you will definitely need two full days.

Unfortunately due to the fog it was hard for me to capture good footage of the hike I took, but the mountains surrounding the lake were breathtaking and gorgeous.  I would say this was the 2nd most beautiful place that I have been to in Taiwan; the 1st being Taroko Gorge.  I wish I could have spent two full days here, but I was happy with all of the scenery I was able to see in one day.  Getting between the piers only takes around 15 minutes, so you can definitely make the most of your time here if you plan it out.

When you purchase your ferry ticket (mine was only 250 TWD because they thought I was a student), you are given a map with all the major landmarks on them.  If you are a seasoned traveler, I would just follow your instinct and go wherever looks most interesting to you.  The guideposts make it pretty straightforward, and there are always usually hikers around to ask in case you get lost.  Sailing around and feeling like I was in an RPG was honestly the best aspect for me.  It was so nice getting out of the city and into this amazing world of nature:

In my next article, I will be writing about Taiwan’s southern city Kaohsiung and Cijin Island.  Thank you to all those who have kept up with my wild adventures!

Exploring Rural Towns of Hiroshima: Onomichi & Fukuyama

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Beautiful view from the temple walk in Onomichi, Hiroshima, Japan.

On my way from Hiroshima Station to Fukuyama to see Pascom Ongaku Club’s Night Flow Tour, I decided to backpack through the smaller towns in Hiroshima to see what they were like.  Though Hiroshima is known mostly for its Peace Memorial and remnants of WWII, I was surprised to know that each town within the prefecture had its own different atmosphere.

I previously wrote about the Rabbit Island I visited at Tadanoumi Port from Hiroshima, so now I will cover two major towns I stayed in east of it: Onomichi & Fukuyama.

Onomichi

Onomichi is a very tiny port town, but is famous for its temple walk, cat alleyway, and ropeway.  When I first got off at the station, I felt like there was not a lot to see here outside of the main shopping street.  However, most of the major sightseeing points are up on a hill because this town is on the incline of a mountain which makes in extremely unique.  Growing up in a place that was pretty flat, it amazes me to see how people live in the mountains.

The temple walk consists of 25 temples you can access on foot by hiking up a hill near the main station.  I decided to combine this hike with my morning jog, and it took me around 2 hours to see everything.  A lot of the temples are tiny, but there is a large one at the top of the hill and beautiful scenery along the way.  There is also a “Lover’s Sanctuary” where you can wish for good luck in love.  I found it adorable that there was a cat statue with a heart around it too!

As I was walking up the hill, a number of stray cats came out to bask in the sun.  Cat alley is on the way up to the top of the temple walk, so likely you will see come adorable felines on the way to the top!

My recommendation is to take a day trip here, or stay for one night.  I stayed at Onomichi Guesthouse Anago, which was in a traditional Japanese tatami-styled house near the shopping street.  I had an extremely pleasant stay here, because there was a breakfast option and they also had beautiful folded paper cranes.

Onomichi may be small, but it surprisingly has a large variety of food!  There are tons of little shops around the station and even on the way up to the temple walk.  I found a vegetarian restaurant that serves delicious Falafel sandwiches, and also tried some anago rice (rice topped with eel) at a shop inside of the station.  It is also recommended by locals to try the ramen as well.  There are options for every diet here.

Getting to Onomichi

From Hiroshima Station, take the Sannyo line to Itozaki, then transfer and take the same line towards Okayama to get to Onomichi Station.  This costs 1500 yen and takes 1.5 hours.

You can also go to the Rabbit Island first from Hiroshima Station, then come here and stay overnight if you have enough time like I did (I would recommend this so you can see the most things).

Fukuyama & Sensui Island

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Epic, almost postcard-like view from hiking at Sensuishima, Fukuyama, Japan.

After successfully completing the temple walk in Onomichi, I decided to take the train to Fukuyama at the border of Hiroshima Prefecture because that is where Pasocom Ongaku Club’s event was held (I will be covering this in a future post).  When I got off at the station, I was astounded to see this town was much more urban than Onomichi and even parts of central Hiroshima was.  Since this town borders Okayama Prefecture, there is a much larger population density here than other towns in Hiroshima.

The first thing I noticed was the modernized yet rustic feel.  Among shopping malls, upscale bars, and hotels, Fukuyama Castle is also viewable as soon as you get off at the station.  I decided to begin my adventure by stopping at the castle first.  It is smaller than Hiroshima Castle, but is worth seeing because it is so close to the station.

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Take the “Fukuyama Castle Exit” from the station to see this castle!

Since my hotel wasn’t ready until 4pm, I decided to go to Sensui Island and use the famous hotspring there.  Sensui Island can easily be accessed by taking a bus from the station to Tomonoura Port (which takes around 40 mins), and then taking a free boat ride from there which takes only 5 minutes to reach the island.  You can see a detailed guide and boat timetable from the Fukuyama Tourist Website.

Sensui Island is fantastic for hiking, and there is a boat rental service as well.  The accommodations here are surprisingly cheap for only 5500 yen per night.  I spent around 45 mins hiking and taking pictures of the scenic island, then I used the hotspring at Kokumin Shukusha Sensuijima for around 1000 yen with the towel included.  It was such a relaxing day!  I listened to all of my favorite songs and got extremely hype for the event I was going to on the mainland at night.  I would love to come here during the summer and go swimming at the beach, because it is extremely private and relaxing.

I stayed at Setouchi Knot Hotel near Fukuyama Station, which was around 3000 yen per night.  It is the cheapest hotel in Fukuyama, but was extremely quiet and worth the price in my opinion.

Getting to Fukuyama

From Hiroshima Station, you can take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen directly here.  This costs 5000 yen and takes 20 mins (this is expensive because Fukuyama is at the opposite border of Hiroshima Prefecture).

You can also go to Onomichi first like I did, then come to Fukuyama by the Sannyo Line which takes 30 mins and is only 420 yen.

Visiting the Adorable Rabbit Island of Japan (Okunoshima)

One of the main reasons why I wanted to visit Hiroshima again was to see the adorable and friendly rabbits that reside in Okunoshima (otherwise known as Rabbit Island) in Japan.  This island actually has quite a dark history because it was originally used as a secret location for gas testing in the early 1900s during WWII.  Though some of the abandoned facilities still remain, the island itself today now serves as a popular tourist destination attracting many visitors each year.

According to All Things Interesting:

A group of school kids who released eight rabbits onto the island in 1971 may have contributed to its rebirth and flourishing of bunny populations. By 2007, experts believed that there were 300 rabbits living on the island. The population continued to grow as the government banned new animals on the island as well as hunting.

Though they were suspected to once be used a test subjects in cruel experiments, now hundreds of rabbits inhibit the island.  It is unclear how they have multiplied so fast because the island is very small and does not have a sustainable ecosystem, meaning they heavily rely on tourists for their food.  The government also forced the scientists and military personnel to stay quiet about the experiments, so the island itself is shrouded in mystery.  Though Okunoshima is suspected to have small traces of poison gas remaining (a lot of places in the world might), it has been deemed safe to visit by environmental specialists.  It is definitely worth seeing if you are an animal lover or history buff.

Getting to Okunoshima

The easiest way to access Okunoshima is to ride the Sanyo Line from Hiroshima Station to Mihara Station, then transfer to Tadanoumi Station which takes about an hour and a half.  Fortunately it is a relatively inexpensive journey.  From Tadanoumi Station, Tadanoumi Port is just a 5 minute walk away.  You can find the ferry time tables on the Okunoshima Tourist Website.  The ferry ride is 15 minutes and costs only 310 yen.  You can buy food for the rabbits at the harbor or also bring vegetables yourself (as I saw many Japanese people doing).  I bought the recommended rabbit food for 500 yen because it gives them the best nutrition.

The island has one hotel accommodation/restaurant, but other than that almost everything else on the island is abandoned or roped off so visitors stay safe.  I walked around the entire island in around 30 minutes and found it to be extremely peaceful.

Interacting with the Rabbits

I owned a pet rabbit as a kid named Patches, and she was extremely docile.  However, since the rabbits here have no predators and are so used to human interaction, they behave somewhat like extremely hungry puppies.  When you first get off the boat, the will hop towards you almost immediately and wait for you to take out the food.  Instinctively they know what the crinkling sound of a bag means, and if you kneel down with food they will surround you!

I have been to rabbit cafes in Japan before, but these rabbits were completely different.  I wouldn’t call them aggressive exactly, but they definitely know how to get the food from you.  One rabbit ripped part of my food bag, but he was so cute I could only forgive him.  You will see a number of rabbits digging holes and lounging in them, as well as palm trees grown around the island, so this place truly feels like a rabbit paradise.

The Okunoshima Tourist Website asks that you do not pick up the rabbits and instead let them come to you.  They are virtually harmless, but can nip you if you are not careful.  Just use common sense, and you will be fine.  Despite what some videos show, the rabbits are peaceful for the most part.

Exploring the Abandoned Facilities

Seeing the remains of the poison gas facilities is somewhat haunting, but the gentle appearance of the rabbits will set your mind at ease.  As you walk around the island and into the forested areas, you will notice that less rabbits are around but they will still come out to greet you (in hopes of getting food).  As previously mentioned, most areas are roped off so tourists cannot get inside, but seeing the remnants of this former off-the-grid island is an unforgettable experience.  It’s amazing seeing the rabbits live with virtually no fear.

The Future of Okunoshima

Though this island is a happy place, a lot of people worry about the future of the rabbits.  Th ecosystem is unbalanced, and people are unsure of whether their growing population will be sustainable in the future or not.  On rainy and cold days, not a lot of people come to feed them even though they have some caretakers on the island.  The rabbits are living in a paradise for now, but if the island runs out of vegetation in the future, there will likely be famine.

Unfortunately the future is unpredictable, but all we can really do is continue to feed and support them.  Like us, they only have a short time on this planet and should be taken care of as much as possible.

 

Finding Inner Peace while Backpacking through Hiroshima & Miyajima (Japan)

Over the weekend, I had the grand opportunity to explore Hiroshima and its smaller cities: Onomichi, Fukuyama, and the famous Rabbit Island.  Despite the tragedy that occurred here [which you can still see the remains of at places like the Atomic Bomb Dome], Hiroshima has rebuilt itself into a beautiful city where many people live, work, and come to travel–it has both a sense of peace and adventure to be had.

I had previously visited central Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Museum when I was 19 years old and first studying abroad in Japan, but it took me 6 years to find the proper time to come back here.  I feel so fortunate that I was able to go backpacking and explore the fascinating cities here, because they are truly unlike any place I’ve explored in Kanto, Kansai, Kyushu, or Hokkaido.  You’ll notice that this area is definitely more quiet than other places, but it’s perfect for reflecting on life and spending time with yourself.  I found that it’s also easy to make friends at the local eateries and bars as well.

Getting to Hiroshima

From Tokyo, I booked a flight in advance for around 25,000 yen from Haneda Airport to Hiroshima Airport through ANA because that is the fastest an most cost-effective way to get here for someone living as a long-term resident in Japan.

You can also travel by train (which I recommend for everyone who purchased a JR Pass because it will be covered), but it can take up to 5 hours from Tokyo.  It is better to take the shinkansen from Osaka, Nagoya, or Kyoto if you plan on exploring multiple areas of Japan.

I stayed at at Hostel Mallika for just under 1800 yen per night (the accommodations are extremely affordable).

Things to do in Hiroshima

My top recommendations for Hiroshima are going to the Peace Museum and Memorial Park, seeing the castle, trying some okonomiyaki, and also checking out Miyajima Island, which is just a short boat ride away!  I boarded the ferry at the pier near the Memorial Park because it was near by hotel (you can see the exact location and time tables from the Miyajima Tourist Website).  Roundtrip tickets are 4000 yen, but I think the experience is extremely worth it!

Exploring Miyajima Island

On Miyajima Island, you can see friendly deer, visit the highly aesthetic Itsukushima Shrine (you will see it on many postcards in Japan), and eat some fresh oysters.  There is a shopping street, a lovely beach, and a ton of other shrines and historical monuments to visit.  It’s recommended to come here during the summer season since the weather will be more pleasant, but I came during late November and was surprised to be able to see lovely fall foliage around the island.

Though Miyajima is a popular tourist destination (attracting grade school Japanese tourists and some foreign ones as well), you will find that it’s far less crowded and more peaceful than other places in Japan.  I had a lot of fun reminiscing here.  Though it’s been 6 years since I’ve last been here, I was surprised to find that it’s almost exactly the same as I remember.  The only thing that has changed is that some of the shops and cafes have become more modernized, but you can still find traditional Japanese food here.

For food recommendations, I suggest trying the green tea ice cream topped with the deer cookie and the oyster soba sold near the pier.  Though it doesn’t really suit the style of the island, I came across some interesting Rilakkuma burgers sold on the shopping street.  You can choose to have an eel or oyster croquette burger, or a dessert burger made.  I tried the eel croquette burger, and I couldn’t believe how delicious it was!  Additionally, I found a bar called “Oyster” on the same street.  You can order your first alcoholic beverage for 600-700 yen, and refills are 200-300 yen depending on what you order.  This is a cost-effective way to turn up on Miyajima, as the convenience stores are quite limited here.

Another thing I loved about this island is how many people brought their dogs.  I saw five dogs and one deer approaching them out of curiosity, yet all of them coexisted in harmony.  I wish that we [as humans] could do more of this.  The other picture I captured of the deer is arguably the most meme-worthy photo on this trip.  Being on this island really taught me a lot!  The average time that people spend here is usually 2-3 hours.

Eating at an Anime Okonomiyaki Restaurant

After fully exploring Miyajima, I decided to head back to the mainland to meet a friend of my boss.  Since I am an avid anime fan, he took me to a popular anime izakaya called “Momijitei“.  This restaurant is small, but has an amazing atmosphere and absolutely delicious food!  The restaurant is plastered with Love Live and Idolm@ster posters, there are cute anime girls beckoning you to order Coca Cola (and other drinks), and anime openings loop continuously on tiny TV screens.  This place definitely is a vibe, and serves some of the best okonomiyaki in town.

I had a nice conversation with one of the staff about Touhou Project.  He was surprised to know that a foreigner knew about the series, but if only he knew how popular the fanbase was outside of Japan!

I decided to order the seafood okonomiyaki with shrimp, drink a few glasses of wine, and enjoy the small but definitely fun nightlife of Hiroshima.  As a special service, the staff brought out a dessert with little ice cream bunnies.  At this point I was definitely tipsy and overcome with happiness.

The irony was that I was planning on going to the Rabbit Island the next morning, so this was the perfectly chosen dessert.  I was sure to thank everyone there for their hard work and hospitality.

In my next articles, I will be covering smaller towns outside of Hiroshima and also the Pasocom Ongaku Club events I went to at small event spaces here.  If you have any questions regarding Hiroshima, please feel free to ask me!

Exploring a Floating Village in Cambodia (Kampong Pluk)

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The friendly villagers of Kampong Pluk offer rowboat tours to travelers.

During my 2nd day in Siem Reap, I decided to go on an adventure to a floating village way out in the countryside of Cambodia called Kampong Pluk (which means “Harbor of the Tusks”).  Earlier this year I visited a fishing village in northern Kyoto called Ine, and this village actually had some interesting similarities to it.  Like Ine, Kampong Pluk primarily relies on fishing as its main source of income and is quite remote from the main part of the city.  Though it’s a popular tourist destination, it has an extremely rural feel to it and a lot of ground to explore.

I booked an extremely cheap group tour from GetYourGuide and it was actually a very pleasant journey.  I was transported to Tonle Sap Lake by an air-conditioned bus where I later boarded a longboat to explore the stilted village.  It was really amazing to see all of the different buildings there!  I saw a floating church, hospital, and several temples in addition to many brightly painted houses.  You can even opt to stay at a floating guesthouse if you feel adventurous enough to do it.

The longboat will eventually pull up to a plot of land that you can walk around.  Here you can learn more about the culture of the village and see how exactly how people live here.  It was interesting acquainting myself with the way people live in the countryside of Cambodia, but it was also disheartening to learn that a lot of people live in poverty here and depend on fishing as their sole source of income without higher education or many other options.

I was also informed by my guide (who used to live here) that some families live off rice and develop alcohol and smoking issues, so while the trip was fun, I couldn’t help but feel a bit melancholy…  Another sad thing is not much of the money you pay for the tour goes to the village.  I think they should offer more volunteer programs for tourists here so the villagers can benefit in some way.  I donated a bit, and I’m not sure how much it will help, but all we can really do is continue to be grateful for the things we have in life.  The trip to this village really taught me to be thankful for my ability to travel, and also everything I have.

The tour ended on a very enjoyable note as we watched the sunset on Tonle Sap Lake.  There is literally nothing obstructing your view so you can see it perfectly.  You can also go swimming in the lake if you want to cool down because the boat stops here for quite some time.

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Cambodia is a great country to explore just because it has a lot of untouched nature and is safe for young backpackers.  Most of the people on this tour were in their 20s (around my age) and were all interested in learning more about this country’s culture, so it was easy to converse and make friends.  I listened to music a lot and reflected on life.  It was hard to believe that this was only my second day, because a lot more adventures were about to come!

Exploring Hikone: A Castle Town with a Mythical Island and Fierce Cat Samurai

Over the weekend I made the amazing discovery that samurai cats are real!  About an hour east from Kyoto lies a quiet castle town called Hikone with the adorable samurai cat mascot you see here: Hikonyan.  Hikone is in Shiga Prefecture and borders Lake Biwa, one of the most famous lakes in Japan due to its lovely scenery.  I decided to start my trip by taking a ferry from Nagahama Port, which is just a few stops north of Hikone Station on the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line, and visit the mythical island in the middle of the lake called Chikubushima.  See the ferry schedule for reference–a roundtrip ferry ticket is around 3000 yen.

Chikubushima is known as the “Island of the Gods” and is said to be imbued with magical powers.  Though I am not a religious person, I appreciate going on journeys like this because it gives me the chance to see rare parts of the world!  You can walk around the whole entire island within 30 mins and see shrines, a beautiful view of the lake, and also try some local cuisine at the cafes (though the selection is very limited).

The main point of interest here is visiting Hogonji Temple and making a wish with a daruma doll.  Daruma Dolls are a special kind of talisman here that you can write your wish on a slip of paper and put it inside the doll for good luck.  The Japanese people at the shrine were extremely kind and helped me do this.  Though this island was tinier than I expected, it was a very nice way to start my trip!

After the pleasant ferry ride back (which only takes 30 mins), I then decided to go directly to Hikone Castle to see the Hikonyan Show!  During this time, the fiercely adorable samurai cat will come out before the castle gates to greet his visitors.  Hikonyan is treated as a celebrity by Japanese people.  I was surprised to see a line of people with cameras out waiting to see him, but he is definitely worth the hype!  He appears every day and you can see the timetables here.

In addition to Hikonyan, you can walk through the Hikone Castle, see the Genkyu-en Gardens, and also visit the Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road that has shops and souvenirs.  I visited all of these places by foot from Hikone Station, but you can also take buses around the city!  By 6pm, I was exhausted from all the travel so I decided to go back to my capsule hotel in Kyoto.  Hikone makes for the perfect day trip from Kyoto because it is easy to access and full of history.