After a successful day of freediving and seeing turtles in Aka Island, I decided to spend the next day on Zamami Island, which is also famous for its coral reefs and is just a short ferry ride away! Zamami is bigger than Aka Island but has a very similar feeling to it. There is a whale monument near the port and also the Marilyn dog statue on the way to Ama Beach which I really wanted to see. Though I thought about spending the night here, I found the resorts on Aka Island to be more charming so I stayed there. However, unlike Aka, Zamami is more famous for whale watching and even has a an entire music festival devoted to it! So if you’re into whales, then this is definitely your kind of island. I decided to skip the whale watching and focus on freediving, but I may come back here in the future for the whale music festival because that just screams awesome!
Getting to Zamami Island
From Aka Island Port to Zamami Island Port, tickets are only 300 yen and the ride only takes 15 minutes which is why you should see more than one Kerama Island—they are very close together and easy to reach! Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip. You can buy tickets on the day of your trip because there is usually always space on the ferries.
I decided to only do a day trip to Zamami Island and take the last ferry back to Naha at 5:45pm because I was able to see everything I wanted to in one day. However, there are a number of great accommodations available on Zamami for those who are interested! At the Zamami Island Visitor Center across from the port, there is a great coffee shop and also a cute Kumamon painted buoy. I love how Kumamon (the Kumamoto mascot) is literally all over Japan!
Renting a Bike
My favorite part of the Kerama Islands is that none of the rental bikes have locks or keys. Either everyone here trusts one another a lot, or likely it would be impossible to smuggle these rental bikes back on a ferry because they are too distinctive and everyone on the island knows one another so any thief would definitely be ratted out. Anyway, like Aka Island everything I wanted to see on Zamami Island was accessible by bike so I rented one at a 24 hour self-service bicycle shop called Rental Miyamura. This concept would not fly in almost any other part of the world, but it fits here perfectly here in the wholesome Kerama Islands.
Address: 156 Zamami, Shimajiri District, Okinawa 901-3402 Price: Depends on how many hours, but cheap.
Freediving on Zamami Island
Zamami Island has two main beaches for swimming and freediving that you can easily reach by bike: Ama Beach and Furuzamami Beach. Ama Beach is more designed for sunbathing than it is for swimming, but I did get some good practice in there. Like the smaller beaches on Aka Island, it still was filled with gorgeous coral reefs that were worth checking out. I asked a tanned man that looked like a local there where the best place to dive was, and he said it was Furuzamami Beach so I rode there after about 40 minutes of swimming at Ama.
I really liked the vibe of Furuzamami Beach more because it had a fantastic beachfront and a shack with food vendors and rental gear in it. I stayed here for about and hour and a half diving and seeing all kinds of tropical fish, then ended my day by eating Blue Seal sweet potato ice cream. Another day well spent! One mistake I made this day was not renting a wetsuit though. I wanted to practice freediving without one, but it was an amateur mistake. My back was badly sunburned (and still is) but fortunately it is getting better with the help of Aloe Vera gel. When I go to Hawaii, I will sure to wear a wetsuit at all times. I am glad I learned this now so I have time to recover!
Here is a video of the the coral reef at Furuzamami that I took with my GoPro:
Because I had a hearty breakfast, I didn’t eat much on this island but if you’re hungry I recommend stopping at sabaidee cafe near the port because they have delicious sandwiches and smoothies. I had one smoothie which I didn’t take a picture of, but I very much enjoyed it!
At around 5pm, I returned my bicycle to the rental place and waited at the port for the ferry to pull up at 5:45pm. I had a smooth ride back to Naha where I checked into my hotel and decided to call it a night. I was satisfied with everything I had seen on both Aka and Zamami Island and was ready for my final day in Naha before heading back to Tokyo. I will never forget the beautiful turtles and aquatic life I saw on the Kerama Islands.
The next article will be the final one in my 2022 Okinawa series where I talk about exploring Umikaji Terrace and my resort at Strata Naha. Please look forward to it!
After an amazing two days of dining and chasing sunsets in Naha and Okinawa City, I decided to take a ferry to the Kerama Islands and spend my next two days there focusing on freediving. The Kerama Islands consists of a cluster of 20 big and small islands, but the main 3 that people travel to are Aka Island, Zamami Island, and Tokashiki Island. I chose to go to Aka Island and Zamami Island because they have 2 dog statues that have quite a famous love story together; Shiro and Marilyn. Shiro (found on Aka Island) and Marilyn (found on Zamami Island) are known as “the Hachiko of the sea” and inspired the Japanese movie I want to see Marilyn. Hiking to the statues is a fun experience as outside of Shibuya’s famous Hachiko statue, I have not seen many other statues that are similar in Japan. Funny how these two dogs ended up in Okinawa!
On top of that, the coral reefs on Aka Island are said to be the most beautiful of Kerama so that’s where I decided to start. I was not disappointed because I got the chance to swim with turtle on my very first day there! I also enjoyed getting acquainted with the culture of the Kerama Islands because they are very small and the people that live there friendly and wholesome. Since I came here right before Golden Week, the islands were peaceful and quiet too. I will never forget the two days I spent here!
Getting to the Kerama Islands
From Naha’s Tomari Port, I took a high speed ferry that reached Aka Island in about one hour. Please see the monthly ferry time table to plan your trip and see the ticket cost. Tickets can be purchased in advance or on the day of your trip but they may sell out.
Tomari Port Address: 3 Chome-25-1 Maejima, Naha, Okinawa 900-0016
From Aka Island’s Port, I was able to walk to my hotel in under 5 mins and rent a bike to get around the island. All of the best beaches on Aka Island and Zamami Island are accessible by bike so there is no need to rent a car. You can even walk or run to some of the main sightseeing spots too.
Please note that the Kerama Islands are mostly for swimming and aquatic sports. There are not many restaurants or bars on the island, so you will probably want to eat at your accommodation (most hotels include meals). If you are interested in beaches with more of a nightlife, the main island of Okinawa is better to stay at (you can still day trip to one of the main Kerama Islands and have enough time for sightseeing). However, if you wish to see multiple Kerama Islands then it is best to stay there. I think Aka Island has the best selection of hotels so that is where I decided to stay. Please keep reading for more details.
Freediving on Aka Island
I arrived to Aka Island around 10am, checked into my accommodation (see details further below), rented a wetsuit and bike from my hotel for 2000 yen total, then decided to explore the 3 best beaches for swimming and diving which are: Aka Beach, Nishibama Beach, and Hizushi Beach. These beaches are within 10 – 15 mins of biking from each other and you can visit all of them in the day if you start around 1pm. Aka Beach is where I started since it was near my hotel, but the swimming area is roped off so you can only see a small portion of the coral reefs. I stayed here for about an 40 minutes and was able to see some tropical fish, but after that I decided to pack up my gear and bike to Hizushi Beach where I had the best luck because it is not roped off. After about 10 minutes of swimming, I found not only multiple schools of colorful fish, but also a sea turtle!
Here is a video I took on my GoPro of me swimming above the turtle:
This experience was absolutely magical given that the waters were so crystal clear and I felt comfortable swimming at this depth. The beaches of the Kerama Islands are so beautiful and pristine that they are often referred to as the “Kerama Blue” because they are some of the clearest in the world visited by many tourists who love the ocean. As I was diving, I felt like my vision was enhanced because I was able to see so many different shades I would never be able to see anywhere else other than underwater. Diving is an experience that will definitely change your perspective, so I recommend trying it or snorkeling at least to get a feel for it so you can experience the “Kerama Blue” as well.
Swimming and diving at the Kerama Beaches is typically safe, but do be careful of black and white branded sea snakes because they are extremely venomous. I saw 4 of them during my 2 days here, but they mostly stick to the bottom of the reef and only one came near me. Fortunately I was wearing a wetsuit and was able to swim away. I am guessing that the snake was coming up for air and was pulled by the current towards me, but you never know—it’s better to be safe than sorry! Despite this, I did not feel scared and continue to dive after waiting 15 minutes. Fortunately there were no more close encounters with snakes. Unlike land snakes, sea snakes slither much more slowly through the water so they are easier to avoid from my personal experience.
After about and hour and a half of swimming and diving at Hizushi Beach, I rode my bike to Nishibama Beach. This is more of an aesthetic beach for photography and sunbathing and has several cafes as well, but the coral reefs here are beautiful. I did not see any turtles here, but I did see a lot of unique fish and enjoyed the atmosphere. I spent about an hour here, but not all of it was spent diving. I spent time doing photography on the shore and also found a shell here that I took home as a souvenir so I could remember this day forever. This day felt completely and I was extremely satisfied with everything I saw here.
Please note that the peak turtle season is May – August but you can see them year round.
Staying at Hanamuro Inn
Out of all of the accommodations that I looked at on Aka Island, Hanamuro Inn was without a doubt the most fun and unique one to stay at! With its cheap rental gear (including snorkeling gear and bikes) it had a great system that was more of a deal than other rental shops on the island. It also had rooms with both and air conditioner and a fan, “hot tubs”, and delicious meals, so I think it was well worth the experience. The “hot tubs” were little bath tubs that you could wade and sun bathe in at any time of the day. They were ideal for relaxing in before and after the beach. The dinner I was served was a Japanese/American styled bento box with curry and french fries—the perfect combo. I loved how accommodating the staff was throughout my entire visit.
Please note that there are two Hanamuro Hotels on the island. There is a fancier one with a pool for those who are interested! Please see their website for more information as prices can change with the season. I paid around 12,000 yen for one night but it was worth it for the experience I had.
Hanamuro Inn is very close Maehama Beach where you can see wild deer roaming around the island! Unlike the deer in Nara, these deer are a little more timid but mostly seem to be calm around humans. Instead of senbei, they eat green grass on the island and it is advised that you do not feed them. The statue of Shiro the dog is very easy to find because it is directly north Aka Island’s Port. I think Shiro was the very first picture I took on this island, and I will hold it as a fond memory. At night you can see the stars shine brightly in the sky so I highly recommend staying overnight here if you can.
Other Dining Options
Since my hotel only served dinner and breakfast, I decided to have lunch at Hahna Cafe, which was just a short walk away from my hotel. They had delicious seafood pasta served with bread which I found to taste amazing because island food does not disappoint. They also have Okinawan soba and frozen cocktails and smoothies here. For dessert, I found a tiny cafe around the corner called guu guu that served some rice dishes, cakes, and desserts. I ordered no sugar coconut ice cream with azuki beans as the topping, and as expected it really hit the spot! I think since there are not very many restaurants on Aka Island, each one has a special charm.
Running to Geruma Island
Aka Island has a bridge that connects to Geruma Island where the Kerama Airport and elementary school is so I decided to explore this small and rural island before going to Zamami. Flying to Kerama Airport is typically more expensive, but perhaps is you wanted to come to the Kerama Islands directly without taking a ferry from Naha it would be to your advantage. Geruma was about 3.5 km from my hotel so I decided to run here. Walking here would take around 35-40 mins but if you run you can easily get here in 20 mins. Geruma has the lowest population of there Kerama Islands so there is not a lot to see here besides the main road that connects to the bridge, more coral reefs, and residential housing. The scenery did make it an interesting run though. My only complaint was that there seemed to be now vending machines to buy water at around, so be sure to stay hydrated if you come here! The beaches on this side appeared to have some washed up plastic on the shores so I would recommend not swimming here. Geruma is just something to check out if you are very curious like myself!
Thank you for reading my first article on the Kerama Islands! In my next article, I will talk about my experience exploring the next island I went to; which is Zamami. Look forward to reading more about my tropical adventures later this week!
After seeing Skrillex close the first night of Fuji Rock in 2018, I decided to spend the next day sailing to Niigata’s obscure island with dark past: Sadoshima. Through a large portion of history this island was used as exile for heinous criminals but also for free thinkers who had critical opinions of the emperors at the time. Many people were contained in detention centers, but after the discovery of the gold mines on the islands they able-bodied were used as forced laborers. People from the mainland were also selected to help mine the gold. Nowadays the island is filled with luscious nature and the mines and prisons have been turned into museums. There are a number of activities that you can do on Sadoshima including swimming and taking a boat tour, but my main reason for coming is so I could ride in the washtubs (also known as hangiri or tarai bune).
Getting to Sadoshima
I purchased a ferry tickets from Sado Kisen for 2380 yen in advance and rode the car ferry. There are multiple boarding points, but I boarded at Bandaijima Ferry Terminal because it is closest to the shinkansen station. I would definitely recommend booking in advance so you can better plan your trip because only certain time slots are available.
The boat ride to Sadoshima from Niigata takes one hour and is a pretty smooth trip. I would recommend doing a day trip unless you plan on swimming a lot because most of the island can be seen in a day. There are various Sado Bus Tours you can reserve from the official website that take you to the main points of the island. You can also try renting a car or take a taxi, but the bus tours have the best value. I took the half-day course that included the gold mines, wash tubs, and Toki Forest Park for 4900 yen. I can happily say that my experience was worth the time and money because I got to witness a lot of rare sights!
Boarding the Ship
I boarded the ship at 6am and was surprised to find out that it was ginormous with a total of 6 floors. I booked second class seats because they were cheaper but the first class tickets come with small beds you can nap in. The ship even had anime mascots and cosplay that you could wear and take pictures in! Not to mention you could buy a lot of food and alcohol from the vending machines and staffed stalls. The view of the ocean from the top was amazing too and I still remember the gentle summer breeze. After backpacking in Asia for 3 years I was really getting used to the no frills ferries, but this was maybe the most luxurious boat I have ever ridden in my life. Even 3 years later while writing this I still remember how amazing it was!
Riding the Washtubs from Tales of Symphonia
As a child I adored Tales of Symphonia, and specifically remember there being a washtub scene in the game. In this scene the characters heroically board washtubs at the pier and sail to their next destination, some characters enduring the ride better than others making it comedic. Little did I know that I would get to experience the same thing here on Sadoshima! Fortunately the washtubs here are extremely pleasant to ride and you have your own captain to steer for you. A true luxury that is unique to this island.
In the past these boats were extremely popular for fishing due to their durability and low cost, but now there are much more powerful tools available so only remote villages are keeping this tradition alive. In Ito, Shizuoka, the Matsukawa Washtub Races are sometimes held, but these washtubs are leaner and meant for sports. Sadoshima is the best place to experience them and fortunately you can reserve them on the same day you arrive to the island. The ride is only for around 15 minutes but you can choose to ride multiple times. I had a blast reliving a scene from one of my favorite games!
Here is a video I took on my old camera. Sadly this was before my GoPro days but I remember how fun this was:
Kinzan Gold Mine
According to Japan Guide, Sadoshima’s Kinzan Gold Mine was the most active gold mine in Japan that produced over 400kg of gold and also silver and other metals too. It has two main paths that you can walk down and read the history while you explore the inner tunnels. One path has tiny robotic workers that reenact some of the activities in the mine and another has restored tunnels from the Edo Period. There is a gift shop that sells all sorts of crazy gold souvenirs including gold sake and sponge cakes with specks of gold in the frosting. It looks kind of tacky now but at the time I really enjoyed these kinds of places! I still have a gold necklace that I occasionally wear out that I bought from Sadoshima. I’d say the gift shops here are pretty top notch and it is always fun to look around~
Toki Forest Park
The Toki, or Japanese Crested Ibis, is an endangered species that is kept under special watch at Sadoshima. At Toki Forest Park you can learn all about them and observe them from a safe distance. The park is very beautiful and contains various facilities. There is an outdoor area where you can take a stroll through the garden and may have the chance to meet the costumed Toki mascot. There is an indoor area where you can see different pictures of Toki and learn all about their characteristics. I personally loved the distinct red color around their eyes. Sadly the Toki are on the brink of extinction due to habitat loss and starvation during the winter, but the preservation center here is aiming to take care of them and eventually release them into the wild. There were 6 birds here when I visited in 2018 and I am hoping there are more now. I bought the Toki change purse as a souvenir and as a reminder to not forget them.
Overall my experience to Sadoshima was very vivid and I definitely recommend coming here during the summer in Niigata. One day on the island was enough for me to do everything that I wanted, but if I come with a friend or a group of people I may consider staying longer. I hope to visit Niigata next year for the sake festival!
Nested in the mountains of Miyazaki, Takachiho Gorge has been a dream destination of mine for quite a long time now. I wanted to go here when I first visited Miyazaki in 2018, but I sadly didn’t have enough time as it requires a 3 hour one-way journey. However, last weekend I finally achieved my goal of traveling here and the trip was completely worth it! I did a combination of hiking and row boating through the gorge as well as stay in a traditional ryokan nearby. There are also shrines and waterfalls you can see around the area. From pictures Takachiho Gorge looks quite large, but it actually can be seen in 2 – 3 hours. I will be writing a handy guide for those who are curious about how I solo-traveled here.
Getting to Takachiho
Reaching Takachiho’s bus center from Miyazaki Station takes 2.5 – 3.5 hours depending on when you leave. Please keep in mind that some buses only run on weekends and you should try to leave between 7am – 9am if you want to maximize your time here.
I woke up around 6:30am and took the Sonic-Nichirin Limited Express to Nobeoka Station, then took the highway bus that heads towards Kumamoto to reach Miyakoh Bus Station in Takachiho. This costs between 3000 yen – 5000 yen, but they sell 1000 yen bus tickets at the bus center that will save you a lot of money.
There are a few cheaper routes that combine different buses, but I am pretty sure this route runs every day so I would recommend it to people. Especially since it combines a train and bus ride so overall you will save time and be comfortable.
Before heading down to the gorge, you’ll probably want to grab some food! There are a few vending machines and souvenir stores near the entrance, but there are far more options in the heart of the town. Fortunately you will pass through this area on your way there. My top recommendation is Cafe Terrace Takachihoya because they have a long and established reputation here. I ordered vegan keema curry rice with an egg for lunch and their famous tea macchiato topped with whipped cream and a signature cookie for dessert. This was probably the best meal that I had in Miyazaki because it was really filling! They also have curry, pancakes, sandwiches, and smoothies on their menu. If I come back here, I would like to try more!
Exploring Takachiho Gorge
From the bus station, Takachiho Gorge is a 24 min walk or 10 min cab ride. I chose to walk because I wanted to explore the town first. On your way to the gorge you will walk by Takachiho Shrine that is partly obscured by the forest. It fortunately only takes a short hike to reach the alter. I loved the way the sun reflected off the roof when I arrived:
After a few more minutes of walking, you will be able to make out the row boats sailing down the mouth of the gorge and that’s when you’ll know you’ve arrived!
The best thing about Takachiho Gorge is it’s completely free to explore—the only things that cost money are the aquarium (spelled “aqurum”) and row boat rentals. The row boat rentals are 3000 yen but are usually cheaper if you have people with you (see prices). I highly recommend taking the row boats out because they give you a unique view of the gorge that you can’t see from above. This was my first time ever solo row boating, but I am proud to say that I only crashed twice! At least I didn’t fall into the water!
I would recommend queuing for a row boat as soon as possible because they often have a 50 min wait time due to their popularity. While you are killing time, you can explore the hiking trails around the gorge to make the most out of your trip. You can also sit at the rest area or visit the aquarium. Once it’s time to board your boat, the staff will give you a life belt and instruct you on how to row. It’s pretty straightforward and impossible to get lost because the route is clearly marked. Going from one side to the other usually takes 30-45 mins depending on your rowing ability (I was a bit slower because I was also taking pictures). There are cute ducks that will fearlessly paddle alongside you. I enjoyed having them as company! After around 3 hours, I was satisfied with what I had seen here and made my way back to the town. I grabbed some chocolate shaved ice and called it a day. It was fun seeing the aesthetic of Takachiho, though!
In addition to the gorge, you may be interested in the Ameterasu Railway. You can ride past canyons and also see some illuminations on a classic train. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to go as it closes quite early, but if you have extra time in the morning it might be something worth checking out.
Where to Stay
If you wake up early enough, you can explore the gorge and head back to Miyazaki City just in time. However, that would involve roughly 6 hours of riding a combination of buses and trains so I wouldn’t recommend it. I planned on flying back to Tokyo the following afternoon so I stayed at Ryokan Yamatoya for the night. That way I could be comfortable and leave early in the morning. This ryokan is only 5000 yen per night and is right in the heart of the city so it was the perfect fit for me. It also has a public bath, but unfortunately it was closed due to the pandemic. That didn’t stop me from taking a hot bath in my huge room, however! I also made some green tea and relaxed in the yukata they provided. Relaxion and reflection. Another trip itinerary down with 100% completion!!
The next day I took the same route back to Miyazaki Airport and flew back to Tokyo. I was lucky that the bus center is within walking distance from my hotel. Despite the pandemic, most of the domestic flights were on time and handled with proper care. I felt safe the entire time that I was here. Would I do this again? Hell yeah!! But I just got a new job offer so I will be working full time again! That won’t stop me from continuing to write these articles, however!!
I am currently planning weekend trips to Nagoya and Kamikochi so I will have more content up later this month. Thank you all for reading and I hope we can travel more soon.
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!
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:
GreenDay Address: 251-9 Samdoi-dong, Jeju-si, Jeju-do, South Korea
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!
If you’ve ever looked up day trips from Tokyo on the internet, Hakone will be one of the most prominent results. With it being the real-life location of Tokyo-3 from Evangelion and having many hotsprings, temples, and a great view of Mt. Fuji, that status is well-deserved. It’s also home to one of my favorite museums in Japan which has sculptures that resemble vaporwave visuals called the Hakone Open Air Museum. You should also try swimming in the famous red wine onsen at Yunessan to smooth your skin. Wherever you go you’re bound to discover something interesting here because the nature is vast.
I’ve been to Hakone five times by myself and also with friends so I’ve seen all its major attractions. Here are some of the coolest things that I’ve found:
Eva-Ya: The Evangelion Goods Store
As you exit the station and begin your wonderful journey here, one of the first things you’ll come across is Eva-ya; Hakone’s own original Evangelion Store. Here you will find a number of goods from the anime including water bottles based off the characters’ designs, food with the NERV logo on it, and a life-sized Rei Ayanami. Asuka fans don’t fret because she has plenty of merchandise too! One of my best purchases here was Misato’s cross-shaped necklace (not pictured). I also enjoyed the Unit 01-colored ice cream. Of course you can visit the official Evangelion stores in Tokyo too, but this is the one located where the anime takes places and has slightly different merchandise.
Owakudani is Hakone’s volcanic crater that has sulfur vents and hotsprings making it a beautiful mountain getaway. The sulfide causes the rocks to gain their lovely red hue. In order to reach Owakudani, you must take a cable car ride from Hakone Ropeway. There are black eggs sold here that are said to increase your lifespan. I bought a four-pack of them and thought they were very delicious! Only time will tell if their effect is really long-lasting. Unfortunately due to the danger of the volcanic gas some of the hiking trails have been roped off here, but watching the plumes of smoke form from the main viewpoint is an amazing sight. This crater is definitely worth seeing!
Cable Car Fee: See discounts on the Hakone website (I recommend getting the one with the pirate ship fee included too).
Yunessan is my favorite onsen in all of Hakone because of its famous red wine onsen you can bathe in among many other unique hotsprings and pools. This is a mixed-gender hotspring so swimsuits are required in most areas unless you rent a private onsen or pay to enter the gender-segregated bath called Mori no Yu. The plus side is that you can enjoy Yunessan with all of your friends! Last time I went they had coffee, sake, and pearl-water baths too. Some of the baths rotate while others are permanent additions. The outdoor area has water slides, a mystical cave that you can explore, and various hot springs positioned so you can get a clear view of the mountains. This is always the most relaxing part of my trip. During certain times they serve free glasses of red wine too so be sure not to miss out!
Entrance Fee: 2,900 (a bit expensive, but worth it for the variety here)
I’ve already mentioned that the Hakone Open Air Museum is by far my favorite museum here (see my article The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums for more information), but I also want to point out beautiful Hakone Venetian Glass Museum. This forest of glass has beautiful Venetian-inspired designs and adornments like nowhere else I’ve ever seen. Outside you can find trees and a bridge intricately decorated with glass ornaments as well as a miniature pond. Inside there are many hand-crafted glass sculptures and jewels as well. I was very impressed with the aesthetic here:
The Okada Art Museum is also worth checking out. Though I don’t have any recent pictures, they have many beautiful sculptures in the mountains and footbaths you can use too. There are some traditional Japanese handcrafts and artifacts displayed too.
Entrance Fees: Varies on the museum, but I would research beforehand and budget 3000 – 5000 yen depending on what you want to see. Keep in mind these are some of the best museums outside of Tokyo and have that awesome mountain view!
Hakone Shrine & Pirate Ship Tours at Lake Ashi
A trip to Hakone isn’t complete without seeing Lake Ashi and the famous Hakone Shrine along the shores. I first saw it in the winter when snow was on the ground, but the summer is the ideal time to go if you want to experience the lake. My friend and I decided to buy the tickets to ride the pirate ship and drank a bottle of Captain Morgan on it in true spirit. The ship was very spacious and we could feel the gentle breeze of the lake while staring at the view of Mt. Fuji in the distance. It was exhilarating—an experience like nowhere else in Japan! I think the only other place where you can ride a pirate ship quite like this is at Tokyo Disney, but you don’t have the awesome mountain backdrop that you do here.
Cable Car Fee: See discounts on the Hakone website (I recommend getting the one with the cable car fee included too).
From Shinjuku Station, you can take the Romancecar Express to reach Hakone-Yumoto Station in 1.5 hours for 2300 yen.
Once reaching the station, all of the places I listed can be reached via bus within an hour, but I would allow yourself 6-8 hours here at least. It took multiple trips in both the summer and the winter for me to see everything here, but you could probably see these things in approximately 2 days.
If you decide to stay here overnight, Hakone Japan has some good choices. I plan to stay at a ryokan in the future and will write about my experience.
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!
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.
Enter the stairway to hell. Around 3 years ago, I was feeling dissatisfied with my office life (more on that later), so I decided to book a trip to the abandoned island where the live action Attack on Titan and Skyfall movies were filmed. Unlike other remote places I’ve ventured to, I didn’t come here because I was a huge fan of the movies. The reason I came here was to experience the eeriness of the desolate ruins and ponder on life while doing some photography. The island itself is quite small and requires you to book a tour in advance due to safety concerns, but the sights here will leave you with a haunting feeling—in a good way. You’ll also have the chance to learn about the unique history of Gunkanjima. From the surface it looks like a simple island that was used to mine coal, but the more you look into it, the darker the story gets.
Gunkanjima was originally a coal hot spot in the 1800s but was abandoned in 1974 after the need for petroleum became greater. After all the people left, nature took its course and many of the buildings gradually eroded away. Trees and flowers started growing through the cracks eventually making it on the way to become a UNESCO World Heritage Historical Site due to its supernatural beauty. However, during World War II many Korean and Chinese prisoners of war were sentenced to harsh labor here. It is estimated that over 1000 of them died. This is where the image of the island gets controversial.
Should it serve as a historical landmark or a haunting memorial?
When you first get off the boat, the island seems nothing more than a collage of broken wreckage. You can make out some of the buildings but you have no idea what they once were. As you look at the details closely, it’s wondrous to see what parts of the structures have collapsed and what parts are still standing. Then as you hear the explanation by the guide (which is in Japanese but they have a translated English brochure), you start to really wonder what went on here. Though there are no visible bloodstains or remains of corpses here, it becomes easier to imagine as you start to explore and think about it.
What makes it the spookiest is the way it was originally constructed. There are labyrinths of avenues and the infamous “stairway to hell”, which is a narrow staircase that has now somewhat caved in and looks deformed. Looking at these pictures, it’s hard to believe that this island once had a primary school and apartments that housed hundreds of residents then became a prison. But it’s all true. I don’t personally believe the ghost stories, but there are some interesting rumors on the net. If you would like to take a virtual tour of Gunkanjima Island and learn more, please The Forgotten World.
So what did I gain from coming here? A new perspective. A sight that I will forever remember. A lot to analyze and think about. A fun boat ride. A day off from work. Bragging rights that I made it all the way to a remote place. Some mindfuck (the usual).
Jokes aside, I am really happy that I came here. My heart goes out to all of the war victims. Remote and out of public eye, probably few people knew what actually happened here. Witnessing a rare part of history made me really made me more grateful for my own life.
Is the island safe to visit?
Yes. There are trained guides that will take you in groups of people. Most of the island is roped off, but you can still freely walk around and do photography to your heart’s content. You can’t climb the stairs or enter any eroded buildings, but you can get very close to the wreckage without worrying about it collapsing on you.
Booking a Tour
There are number of companies that run chartered group tours you can browse, but I chose the one by Yamasa that cost 4200 yen. They have both English and Japanese support and a lot of availability. The tour gives you roughly an hour to explore the island before they take you back to Nagasaki, but due to its small size that is plenty of time.
You cannot access this island by yourself. Remember to be respectful when you are here.
This island is in Nagasaki and is quite a long journey from Tokyo (about 7 hours), but it’s worth the trip if you’re a true explorer.
Take a flight to either Fukuoka or Nagasaki Airport, then a bus to Nagasaki Station. From there you can take a taxi or bus to Nagasaki Port and reach the island in 40 mins via boat (which needs to be booked in advance and is weather-dependent). This will cost minimum 20,000 yen but is overall worth it for the experience.
The weather was cloudy when I went which was perfect for the overall aesthetic. Please do not go if you are faint of heart.
If you are interested in other eerie islands stories I have, please see my Okunoshima article.
After riding camels through the desert of Japan, I decided to take a day trip to Iwami—a beautiful beach town on the west coast of Japan; also known as the real-life location of the swimming anime Free! Iwami is a small and rural town, but doing sightseeing around the beaches will keep you busy for hours. This place is perfect for people who love water sports and fishing that need a break from the city. Besides Okinawa, I think Iwami has some of the best beaches in Japan. If you rent a bike and ride around the coast it’s quite easy to find your own private beach to relax on. It truly felt like a hidden oasis to me. Plus I got to see yet another inspiration for one of my favorite series!
When I arrived at Iwami Station, I was thrilled to to find a mini Free! shrine dedicated to all of the characters. A life-sized version of the bird-like school mascot also greeted me. There were framed photos, guestbooks that you could draw in, and a whole desk of fan-made items dedicated to Rin’s birthday. Seeing all of the time that went into this made me happy that I could be a part of it too. Iwami is definitely a gem even if you aren’t a fan of the anime.
In addition to all of the character goods, they also had maps that mark all of the major sightseeing points from the anime (they hilariously said “Take Free” on the front):
I decided to rent a bike at the Iwami Tourism Office located next to the station for 500 yen per day. Biking is the best way to see the entire town and saves you a lot of time and money. I would allow 4-6 hours here depending on how long you want to go swimming.
The old-school road bike I rented wasn’t half-bad. I also bought some cookies as an offering to my favorite character Haru. After checking my map, I decided to head to the Uradome swimming area because that is the main beach featured in the anime. It’s fortunately just a short ride from the station, and seeing all of the rock formations that surround the town on the way there is amazing. I spent about an hour here swimming then road my bike to a rockier area with less people. Treading the rocks hurt my feet a bit, but once you get in the water you will feel the best adrenaline rush.
This was my favorite beach that I found (you can search “Uradome Coast Oguri beach beaches” on Googles Maps to find the exact location):
Please swim here with caution because there aren’t as many lifegaurds here as the main swimming area. There are literally beaches all over the town so you can find the one that suits you the best. There are sandier ones in central Uradome you can easily access.
In Uradome you’ll also notice an island with a torii which is quite a famous lookout point. Near it is Tajiri Port which is used for fishing and transporting goods. These places were referenced in the anime as well:
After swimming to my heart’s content, I decided to explore more of Iwami by going on a boat tour at Uradome Coast Island Tour. The “Pleasure Boat” boat tour is 1400 yen and around 40 mins. I highly recommend this tour because you can get up and close to the unique rock formations that this area is famous for. Plus it feels like an adventure:
After my little boating excursion, I decided to end my trip by hiking to Tajiri Shrine. Luckily it’s not too far from the port. One of the most unique parts of the town is you can actually see Makoto’s house here! It is located near the top of Tajiri Shrine:
When I reached the top of the shrine, I was surprised to find a Rin cosplayer there! Like me, she was a huge fan of the series and decided to spend her time here during the summer. We talked and actually became really good friends. I still stay in touch with her though I traveled here nearly 3 years ago. I really regret not staying in Iwami overnight so I could see the sunset and the sunrise, but I plan on coming back here in the future!
From Tottori Station, take the Nikko Bus for either Iwai/Kabushima or Iwai/Nagatanibashi and get off at Iwami Station. This takes around 50 mins and costs 700 yen.
If you are coming from a larger city, I highly recommend flying to Tottori Station because you will save a lot of money. Please see my previous article for more information.
While I was in Tottori, I stayed in a net cafe that is now permanently closed because I was short on cash. However, there are more net cafes and better places that you can stay in. Please see booking for better options!