Super Aesthetic Adventures in Osaka (Day 2)

After exploring the Kaiyukan Aquarium and meeting a fire bender on our first day in Osaka, we decided to take our second day at a more leisurely pace.  Or so we thought.  Despite all the drinking we did the night before, we surprisingly weren’t hungover so it was somewhat of a miracle.  Craving Mediterranean and Halal food, I found a Michelen Star restaurant called Ali’s Kitchen right near our hotel.  They have a large assortment of Pakistani and Arabic food that we heartily feasted on.

I ordered the Arabic salad and the Baba Ganoush that tasted like nothing I had ever eaten before.  It was clear that a lot of special ingredients were used in this style of cooking to give it such an amazing taste.  Plus it was extremely healthy too!  My boyfriend ordered the keema curry and I could tell by the look on his face that he thoroughly enjoyed it too.  This restaurant definitely deserves 5 stars:

Feeling satisfied, we decided to walk around American Street (also called Ame Mura) to see some of the latest Osaka streetwear and colorful architecture.  Honestly, the aesthetics here were off the chart.  Some of my favorite things that we found was a coffee shop called W/O Stand with a fake vending machine door, a shoe brand called “Dr. ASSY”, colorful fashion and logos, random shrines, and a giant mall with jungle-like foliage called Big Step.  I snagged an ASICS jacket for half-off here and they had neon bathrooms too!  Plus free table hockey!  The highlight was when my boyfriend lost the game by ricocheting the puck off my side and directly into his goal.  Good times.

We then decided to explore the “Kyoto of Osaka” and see Mizukake Fudo, a beautiful Buddhist statue that has been covered in moss.  This temple is very small but is surrounded by a lot of unique restaurants and bars.  The path is connected by Dotonbori’s central streets but it has more of a Gion feel to it.  While we were here a small ceremony was going on.  Monks were humming and chanting prayers.  We left a donation to show thanks and then quietly made our way to our next destination.

My boyfriend decided we should first see Denden Town (the central otaku hub), and then proceed to the old arcades in Shinsekai.  I remember going to a maid cafe in Denden Town years ago while I was interviewing for jobs in Osaka.  However, I don’t think I had ever seen Shinsekai before because usually I stay in Dotonbori (for sake of parties).  Fortunately the two areas are close enough that you can easily walk between them on foot.  I was so happy to experience Shinsekai because it preserves the old 80s feel of Japan with its smokey Mahjong parlors and 50 yen arcades.  The claw machines here are absolutely hilarious too.

We played Street Fighter and Time Crisis 3 here for a long while and walked around the illuminated streets.  There were less people around due to the pandemic but this place still had a lot of charm.  I could see Tsutenkaku Tower here and snap some really good pictures.  I would really like to come back here and try some sushi in the future!  Maybe even spend a night here too!

As we were walking back up Dotonbori to go to the famous hammock cafe called Revarti, we came across a completely random, unannounced matsuri here.  Gotta love the Osaka life.

Sadly to our dismay the hammock cafe’s hours had been drastically changed due to the pandemic.  Instead of staying open until midnight, they now only stay open until 5pm.  Closing at happy hour should be a crime but I vow to come back here some day when they are open.  We decided to initiate our backup plan which was the 200 yen bar called Moonwalk and drink cheaply to our heart’s content.  The entrance fee is 500 yen, but every drink you order after that is only 200 so you can drink like a sultan.  They have all sorts of liqueur that you can experiment with too.  My personal favorites are the Dalgona Coffee made with Kahlua and the ice cream grasshopper.  Each drink has stats like a Jojo character so you can strategically plan out how shit-faced you’re going to get:

After about an hour of this we were tipsy and ready for the next destination.  Our friend who owns the best gaming bar in Osaka, Space Station, invited us out and we drank more coffee drinks and an original cocktail called “Ecco the Dolphin”.  We then plopped in the most Australian Bomberman (Bomberman 3) and also played some Nidhogg.  I enjoyed looking out the Slime-tinted windows and into the night.  The design of this bar is iconic.

After chatting for a good while, we were invited to a music party at Sound Garden.  The genre was supposed to be house and techno so I was totally down.  The best part about this bar was it had a super comfy couch with a pillow that said “Fuck Tokyo. I [heart] Osaka”.  We sat on the couch and laughed about this for a good while.  It’s really true.

I was talking about music in Michigan and right as I mentioned Eminem, the DJ started playing “Sing for the Moment“.  That was our cue to get up and dance.  I was completely lost in the moment and let go of my fears and anxiety.  I can’t believe how amazing this trip had turned out!  Though our initial plans had slightly derailed, I was so happy that we were here together.  A sensation of euphoria came over me and after a while I wanted to wander by the river outside.  The music ended around 3am and we decided to make our way there.  There was a light rain in the air but it felt fantastic on our skin after dancing that long.  The river in Dotonbori had the most beautiful reflections that night:

As the sun rose we cuddled and listened to “P.S. You Rock My World” by Eels.  There were kids blasting EDM under the bridge and their playlist accidentally shuffled to “Last Christmas”.  It kind of felt like Christmas in July, in a way.  I really didn’t want for that night to end but eventually we drifted off to sleep.  What happens in Osaka stays in Osaka.

We left a few hours later at 11:30am via the Willer Express Bus and headed back to Nagoya.  However, we couldn’t leave without first picking up a souvenir:

img_7868
Takoyaki-flavored Pringles. The best parts of American and Japanese culture combined.

This was hands down the best trip to Osaka that I have ever had.  There was never really a dull moment—all of it was a highlight reel.  I hope to travel again with my boyfriend to Kyoto in the fall and hopefully make another trip back here.  Thank you all for reading up to this point!  Since we are currently unable internationally, this is the best alternative we could have asked for.

Exploring Hanoi City: A Tropical, Colorful, Communist Tokyo (Part 2)

46220702_10215737589224133_1290190029481574400_n
Hanoi — my favorite city in Vietnam!

Since I published my introduction of Hanoi yesterday, I’m now going to be detailing my experience here in tropical, colorful, Communist Tokyo!  I only stayed in Hanoi for 2 days because I spent most of my time in Ho Chi Minh City and Phu Quoc Island, but it actually ended up being my favorite city in Vietnam.  Hanoi is super condensed and has a lot to see, so backpackers will rejoice at how easy and fun it is to explore.  I made a lot of friends here that I hope to see again during my future trips!

Hanoi VS Ho Chi Minh

The biggest decision that first time travelers to Vietnam will make is what city they want to see the most.  All of my Vietnamese friends in Japan recommended Hanoi because they think it’s prettier, but Ho Chi Minh is cheaper to fly to from most Asian countries so I started there.  I researched both cities thoroughly and couldn’t pick a favorite so I decided I’d see them both!  Fortunately roundtrip flights between the two cities are only $40 dollars, so you can easily see them both during your trip to Vietnam.

Reasons to go to Hanoi:

  • The streets are condensed making it easy to get around on foot.  Ho Chi Minh has a lot more traffic and you need to take a taxi or motorbike to get to some places.
  • You can access the emerald waters of Halong Bay from Hanoi.  Halong Bay usually takes 2-3 days to fully experience but is one of the prettiest areas of the country.
  • I found it much more easy to make friends here.  Ho Chi Minh is more spread out so meeting people outside of clubs was difficult.
  • There are more parks and nature around Hanoi.  You can also reach Sapa, a beautiful mountain village with terraces, from here.

Reasons to go to Ho Chi Minh

  • HCM is a huge international business hub which is why flights into this city are less expensive.  If you have an international driver’s license and are not afraid of motorbiking through huge crowds, you might save money here.
  • Though HCM isn’t near any beaches or beautiful waters, Mekong Delta is definitely worth seeing.
  • HCM has a lot of international cuisine and upscale restaurants.  I ate some of the best food I had in Vietnam here.
  • If you are a history buff, you will enjoy seeing the Cu Chi Tunnels here!

I recommend a minimum of 3 days and 3 nights in each city if possible.

Main Points of Interest

Here are the main points of interest I explored in Hanoi.  For food recommendations, please check out my Aesthetic Food Finds article!

  • Hỏa Lò Prison – One of the most historic prisons used during the Vietnam War.  Tickets are around $10.  
  • Ngoc Son Temple – A beautiful white temple located on Hoàn Kiếm Lake in central Hanoi.
  • Chua Tran Quoc – A pagoda on an islet in central Vietnam.  I walked here from my hotel and reached it in 30 minutes.  On the way there you can see beautiful parks!
  • Cat Ba Island – A beautiful island in Halong Bay.  I did not visit it because I went to Phu Quoc Island instead, but I would love to go in the future!
  • Water Puppet Shows – Vietnam is famous for its water puppet shows and my biggest regret is that I didn’t book a ticket in advance to see one.  I recommend using a website like GetYourGuide to buy one before your trip because they will deliver it directly to your hotel.
  • The Obama Combo – You can eat at the same bun cha restaurant as Obama did and order the Obama Combo in Hanoi!

Honestly the highlights of Hanoi were just wandering around the streets and seeing the culture here.  This was my first time traveling to a tropical Asian country so it truly felt like an adventure to me.  I loved going for morning runs and watching people do yoga in the park.  I bargained for a scarf at the Đồng Xuân Market and ate a lot of fresh fruit.    Seeing all the different markets influenced by the doi moi policy was eye-opening.  This is what I imagined Tokyo would be like if it hadn’t radically reformed after World War II.

However, aside from a few people most residents I encountered in Hanoi seemed truly happy.  This made me happy as well!

The Toilet Club

Have you ever dreamed of throwing a Communist party in a toilet?  Because at the Toilet Club (formerly known as the IP Club) you totally can!  This is where I spent my last night in Hanoi before flying off to the tropical island of Phu Quoc for my 25th birthday.  I chose this club because of its meme-worthy name, but the variety of music the DJs spin here is pretty decent.  They have regular house and trance nights along with an international selection of artists.  You can expect to see a lot of foreigners here, but it’s still a high-class club.  Worth the experience in my opinion.

I can’t even remember what I drank here, but I remember coming here on a Monday night so the entrance was free.  I met a bunch of backpackers from Australia and we exchanged travel stories.  I had so much fun dancing!  The club closed around 1am so I ordered a motorbike through Grab back to my hostel because that’s what was most convenient.  It was my first time ever riding on the back of a motorcycle, but fortunately I didn’t fall off!  What a way to end my night in Hanoi.

Accommodation

43433417_10215495350888326_6278698405237620736_n
HANOI GOLDEN -HOTEL-

Most accommodations in Hanoi are extremely inexpensive, so I decided to book a private room in the center of the city at Hanoi Golden Hotel for $20 per night.  The neon sign outside of the hotel makes it look like the entrance to a brothel, but the rooms were extremely clean and the service was outstanding.  They upgraded me to a family room for free because they had extra rooms available which was awesome.  The staff called me beautiful (in a respectful way) even though I had been walking for hours and my hair was super frizzy.  I couldn’t help but smile even though I know that flattery is cheap.  I definitely felt good vibes during my entire stay here.

What I liked about Hanoi was that there was no strange cultural or language barrier here like there is in Japan, so temporarily escaping that was nice.  Though I could never live longterm in Vietnam because I’d get tired of all the attention and vendors chasing me down, I do see myself vacationing here.  The main advantage is that travel in Vietnam is much cheaper than in Thailand or Japan.  Just be sure to watch out for taxi meter scams!  And learning how to bargain at markets will also be helpful to you.  I’ve learned through trial and error, plus a lot of negotiation (while sometimes buzzed).

Another strong point is people have a lot less in Vietnam but seem happier.  Woman seem more liberated too.  There’s a lot that you can learn by observing the life style of people here.  In my next article, I will be writing about my experience staying in Phu Quoc Island.  Please anticipate it, because Phu Quoc is my favorite part of Vietnam!

My favorite places to hang in Seoul

Since I’ve finished my Jeju Island article series, I’m going to write about some of my favorite places to hang out in Seoul next.  It’s hard to structure this article because there are literally so many cool areas of the city!  My two favorite districts in Seoul are by far Itaewon and Gangnam.  Both have extremely different vibes but are perfect for a night out depending on what my mood is.  Itaewon is friendliest and most international while Gangnam is the fanciest district is Seoul.  Even though I can’t speak Hangul, I never have trouble making friends in this city.  Spontaneously getting invited to a bachelor’s party while staying here was one of the coolest things that have ever happened to me in a foreign country.  I’ve been to Korea three times and hope to visit again when international travel is possible again.

Without further ado, here are the most fun places that I’ve discovered:

Common Ground

Common Ground is an urban mall that was built out of containers and is really fun to explore.  Unlike other malls, there’s not a huge mob of annoying shoppers here because those type of people usually go to the fancier malls in the center of the city.  Common Ground features small designer stores and also has restaurants and live music.  A lot of stores here import brands too.  No matter what your price range is, you can usually find something that fits your taste here.  I actually didn’t buy much but I had fun doing photography with the winter illuminations outside.  There was also a statue of an astronaut outside and some replicas of Roman statues inside the main building when I visited.  How aesthetic!

While I was walking around here, a Korean student came up to me and interviewed me for a university project.  Since I didn’t have a strict itinerary during my first trip, I happily participated.  She asked me various questions about my country and also gave me some Korean snacks.  Though it was a simple project, I was happy that I could help out.  Common Ground is close to many universities so it’s great for socializing and meeting people!

Lotte World

Lotte World is one of the most famous amusement parks in Korea.  In fact, it’s the largest indoor theme park in the world—which is why I had to go!  It’s located in the massive Lotte Mall that has hundreds of shops and food from all around the world.  If you are looking for top tier shopping in Seoul, then this is the place.  I came after the start of the new year so the park had a winter theme.  Fortunately it wasn’t very crowded and I could ride all of the rides that I wanted!  There are carousels, roller coasters, haunted houses, and my personal favorite: The Balloon Ride.  You can see the entire indoor park and mall from the top which makes it an amazing experience.

Even though Lotte World is owned by Lotte Co. Ltd., there are actually a lot of parallels between it and Disney Land.  For example, the outside of Lotte World resembles the Disney World Castle.  It also has a beautiful lake that you can view by walking across a bridge that leads to the artificially created “Magic Island” which is a lot like Disney Sea.  Despite these similarities, the attractions are quite different and the entrance to Lotte World is considerably cheaper.  If you like one park, you’ll probably like the other too.

I would recommend checking out Lotte World as opposed to other amusement parks because you can come here in any kind of weather thanks to the indoor park area.

Entrance Fee: 32$ for adults (cheaper than most amusement parks in Japan so it’s overall worth it)

Jogyesa Temple

The Jogyesa Temple in Insadong, Seoul is probably my favorite temple of all time in Korea.  I first came here during the Lotus Festival in April and many bright hand-crafted paper ornaments were hung around the entire complex.  I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was!  Jogyesa is actually the center of Buddhism in Korea and many rituals and ceremonies are held here.  There are private prayer rooms as well as places that you can make public offerings.  The Chinese Scholar Tree was planted on the temple grounds because it is said to convert negative energy into positive energy and happiness.  Though I’m not particularly religious, I definitely felt in high spirits here.  Please check this place out if you ever get the chance.  The monks are very friendly and welcoming.

I enjoyed seeing the English pack of M&Ms being used as an offering when I went:

img_1856

Entrance Fee: Free

Myeongdong

Myeongdong is essentially the Shibuya/Harajuku of Seoul.  You can come here at any time of day and find something fun to do.  It has street food, hilarious fashion (“say no to kids, drugs”), recreational parks, and cafes galore.  The street and night markets have knock-off Gucci and Supreme which you can score for a low price.  I enjoyed eating octopus and drinking sochu while I walked through all the streets and alleyways.

Some of my favorite places I found around Myeongdong Station were:

  • Artbox – An adorable mall with art supplies, cosmetics, and accessories.  It reminded me of the LINE Friends store in Japan but had way more variety.
  • Stylenada 3CE – A pool-themed shopping mall and cafe with beautiful pink decor.  It has amazing desserts!
  • Bbongsin – An amazing restaurant with cold noodles and calzones.  Some of the best Korean food I’ve ever had!
  • Milky Bee – An ice cream shop with flower-shape gelato.
  • Happy Pills – Candy prescriptions.

Myeongdong has bars that stay open late, but not much of a club scene.  Continue reading to see my recommendations for clubs:

Gangnam

Ever since the song “Gangnam Style” became a hit song, I feel like this district doesn’t really need an introduction but I’ll give it a go anyway.  Gangnam is the most upscale district in Seoul but you can enjoy the nightlife here with almost any budget.  In addition to some of the most reputable clubs, it has secluded parks you can walk through by the river side and amazing cafes.  Gangnam itself is pretty spread out so people don’t normally drink in the streets like in Itaewon.  It’s classy and has a club area as well as a quiet upscale residential district as well.

My first memory of Gangnam was meeting up with some of my old college friends here and going to Octagon, where we got invited to VIP tables and drank champagne.  If you’re a girl then it’s really easy to meet people that will buy you drinks here.  The crowds and sound system are pretty insane too.  I honestly got too lit my first time here so I’d really like to come back and just focus on the music next time.

Last year I decided to get my eye bags removed at JK Plastic in Gangnam.  I had sunken eyelids that were caused by genetics so the veins under my skin would show and create permanent eye bags.  I always looked tired and wanted to fix the issue so I opted for eye surgery.  I chose JK Plastic because they are one of the highest-rated clinics in Korea and speak English.  It took about a week of downtime in Korea and then six weeks of recovery at home, but the skin beneath my eyelids has been fully restored now!  When I woke up from surgery I nearly cried because they did such an amazing job and I could already see the results despite having a swollen face.  During my down time I played visual novels and also watched a lot of anime.  It wasn’t so bad—just make sure you have enough time off to take care of yourself!

Plastic surgeons in Korea are the best in the world.  The advantage of going here is that if you’re a tourist you can get a tax refund from the surgery when you go to the airport.  I would not recommend plastic surgery in Japan because my friends have said the surgeons here are not as experienced or friendly.  I would recommend doing research, scheduling an online consultation with a clinic you like, and seeing what options fit you best.  I may write a full article on this at a later time!

Itaewon

26195351_10213465610706090_665561559694358007_n
The inside of Fountain, one of my favorite watering holes in Itaewon.

Itaewon is my favorite place to start my night out in Seoul.  I have so many fond memories here.  It caters to the late-night international crowd and has small, condensed streets as well as beautiful murals that decorate the walls.  You can sit at an outdoor bar or go drinking in the street and easily meet people (both tourists and Korean nationals).  You can find pretty much any type of restaurant or dessert shop here too.  It has the feel of a college town but is much more upscale and classy.  Usually I spend my first night going to various clubs and bars then wake up and soak in Itaewon Land Spa.

My favorite club here is called Cakeshop because it features a lot of independent producers from both Seoul and other countries plus it has a great vibe.  It originally caught my eye because Carpainter did a set here in 2015 (unfortunately I was in America at the time or I would have gone).  The club is small enough with one DJ booth and bar that it’s easy to converse with people and enjoy the music.  I have made a number of friends here that I still stay in touch with.  The entry fee usually isn’t more than $25.

Besides Cakeshop, Fountain is a great place to check out.  The first floor is huge dance floor that’s always usually packed and the upper floors have tables and arcades for bigger groups.  The music here is usually western EDM which disinterests me, but the atmosphere of the club is impressive.  I have never paid any entrance fee when I have gone in.  What I remember of Club Awesome was awesome too!

Next time I’m here I really want to check out a club called Pumpkin.  If it’s actually Halloween-themed like its outer decor implies then I’m in.

Other Interesting Places:

  • Hongdae – Hongdae is a popular spot for college students and those who love K-pop music clubs.  I came here to visit the ADERerror store and also to do some shopping.  I didn’t like it as much as Itaewon or Gangnam due to my music taste, but I highly recommend you spend a night exploring here and see what you think.

    I found an amazing “Magical Item Shop” called Creamy DD with tons of Sailor Moon and other magical girl accessories here.  It’s easy to spot the sign if you walk down the main road:

  • Ihwa Mural Village – Since I went to Busan and saw Gamcheon I skipped this village, but if you are looking for beautiful murals and art to see then please check this place out!  I want to go here in the future.
  • Secret Garden – A scenic area around Changdeokgung Palace that I recommend checking out if you have the time.  It is one of the most beautiful gardens in Seoul!
  • Nami Island – A scenic island near Seoul where many K-dramas are filmed.  Click the link to read my full article on it!

Places to Stay

As a backpacker, I favor cheap hostels but the majority of accommodations in Korea are less expensive than in Japan.  You can likely find a nice hotel for $45 USD or less too.

Here are some of the places that I stayed at and enjoyed in Korea.  I booked them close in proximity to the clubs I was interested in checking out:

  • Guesthouse Yacht (Itaewon) – A very inexpensive apartment-style dorm in the heart of Itaewon.  This is my go-to place if I’m spending the night there because it’s safe, quiet, and conveniently located.
  • Kimchee Guesthouse (Gangnam) – A guest house near Gangnam City Office that has private and dorm rooms.  I stayed here during my eye surgery recovery period and it was perfect because my room had a shower inside it.  This is the cheapest you will get in the fanciest part of the city, I assure you.
  • Neo Seoul Guesthouse – I wanted to try staying in Hongdae for a night, so I chose this place because of the cool name.  It was cheap and I could easily access the airport limousine the next day so I recommend it for its convenience (Itaewon and Gangnam are a bit further away).

Dessert Recommendations

Please see Desserts that will make your heart melt in Seoul Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.

This will be the last article about Korea that I write until my next trip!  Since I live in Japan, I can sometimes find cheap round-trip flights for under $150 so I come here usually once a year for a week long vacation.  Usually new restaurants and venues open, plus cosmetics and beauty clinics are really cheap here so I always have something to look forward to.  Until next time, Seoul!

 

Getting Invited to a Bachelor’s Party then traveling to Korea’s DMZ on the Day When Peace was Declared Between North Korea and South Korea [A True Story]

Apr. 27th, 2018 – I’ll never forget the day when I was strolling through Itaewon on my way to the club when I ran into a group of Korean guys who were pouring beer in plastic cups and passing them out to random people on the street.  Not wanting to be rude, I happily accepted one and drank it with them.  I noticed one of the guys in their group was dressed up in body armor made of cardboard and duct tape while the others playfully gave him commands.  Since this was only my 2nd time in Korea, I wasn’t sure if this was something normal or a special occasion.  Fortunately some of guys spoke English and informed me what was going on—this was a bachelor’s party.  A very casual and spontaneous one, apparently.  And I was invited!  Lucky me~

Since I left America when I was 21 years old, I never had the chance to partake in any wedding parties since I wasn’t old enough to drink.  Not many of my friends were mature enough to get married at that age either.  Who would have guessed that my first time attending one would be in Korea with a bunch of guys I just met?  I had booked a tour to the DMZ the next day, but I figured I could drink and relax for a few hours since it was my first night in town.  And this would historically be a night to remember, because the very next day North Korea and South Korea agree to end war.  But we wouldn’t know that until the next day…

After hanging out on the street and making conversation with random people, we moved to Awesome Lounge where they had reserved a VIP table.  I had been to a number of bars and clubs in Itaewon before, but this was my very first time here.  Everyone was extremely friendly and I was honestly having the time of my life.  Perhaps too much fun.  I remember drinking 1/3 of a bottle of champagne, pole dancing near the side of the VIP area, and losing my pocket wifi out of my purse which later cost me $60.  Fortunately I woke up with my wallet and passport the next day though.  The club was loud and dark enough so it was the perfect atmosphere to get belligerently intoxicated.  South Korea is a very safe country so you really don’t have to worry as long as you can make it back to your hotel.  I vaguely remember us going somewhere to get sashimi after the club.  It was one of the largest sashimi platters that I had ever seen in my life and man it was amazing!  I was happy that I took a picture so I could remember it.

After we finished eating it was near 2am so we happily parted ways.  I made sure to thank them for the most lit night in Itaewon ever and wish the cardboard armor guy good luck in his future marriage.  If this was just the bachelor’s party, I could only imagine how crazy the wedding party was going to be.

I drunkenly walked back to my hostel called Guesthouse Yacht.  Not only is it insanely cheap, but it’s on a hill just over the main street with all the bars and pubs.  The perfection combo.

Apr. 28th, 2018 – I woke up hungover but in an extremely elevated mood.  I couldn’t believe how crazy my first night out had started.  I was missing my pocket wifi, but I figured all the crazy memories from the previous night were more than worth it.  I had successfully attended my first bachelor’s party (even though I was a girl) and lived to tell the tale.  How often do you get to live out experiences like that?

Anyway, it was time to resurface to reality.  I had booked a tour to the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on Klook for $45.  This tour will take you to the borders of North and South Korea, and you can climb through a tunnel to technically be inside the North Korean border.  You can only come here if you book a tour as entry into North Korea is extremely restricted and there is a checkpoint in Paju.  However, the tours are completely safe and you will be with an English-speaking guide at all times.  Learning about the Cold War and seeing the Four Infiltration Tunnels (that were dug between the borders for a surprise attack) is a rare experience and I was grateful I got the chance to climb through them.  The views of North Korea that you can see from the DMZ border are surreal.

My tour group was one of the first to visit after peace was made between the North and the South.  I had only figured this out shortly before my tour bus came to pick me up as the news was announced early this day.  I had planned this trip during my Golden Week vacation a month in advance and had no idea this was happening.  Everyone was in extremely high spirits and it was a great time to be in Korea!

img_1101
One of the most peaceful days at the DMZ in history.

Here are some pictures I took of North Korea.  It was neat to see it with my own eyes.  With all of the stories of it circulating online you often don’t know what to believe.  It looks like there’s an extremely forested area nearby from the border.  You wouldn’t even guess that it was North Korea at first:

North Korea is apparently famous for its chocolate soybean candy.  Or at least that’s what they want you to think.  I tried some at the souvenir shop and it wasn’t my favorite chocolate, but it definitely had a unique taste to it:

Here is a picture of my location within the border to prove I was in North Korea.  What’s ironic is North Korea supports Google Maps but South Korea doesn’t.  How crazy is that?

b13c9ca4-9784-4c53-be4f-008231eef577
Inside North Korea, baby!

Next we visited Dorasan Station (which leads to the capital of North Korea):

Dorasan Station connects the railway between North and South Korea.  It is located within the DMZ and has been out of use for years, but serves as a symbol of hope that unification may be possible in the future.  You can walk inside it and take pictures, but even though peace was made it will be quite a while before civilians can use it.  Apparently goods are transferred through it now, but limited information in English is available.

I was very moved by this tour.  Though North Korea has a dangerous reputation, I don’t want to believe that all of its people are bad.  I met one Australian girl on my Herb Island Tour later who said she had volunteered there.  I can’t remember the details of what she did, but she spent about a week there learning about the culture.  Since I am American, I know it is dangerous (and likely still impossible) for me to go, but when it becomes more safe I would really like to do a volunteer program there.  I hope in the future it continues to open its borders, as South Korea is a wonderful country that I hold dearly in my heart.

 

The Tale of the Monkey Forest and Glaass Lounge in Nagano

29388942_10214052904628071_8923962268853469184_n
Matsumoto Castle in Nagano, Japan.

Nearly two years ago, I ventured north into the mountainous region of Nagano with two missions to accomplish.  The first was to see the famous hotspring-loving monkeys in Jigokudani.  Though a lot of monkeys in Asia are known to be feisty, the Japanese macaque (also known as snow monkeys) are said to be pretty relaxed.  It’s probably due to the fact that they have their own 24-hour hotspring to themselves.  The second objective was to go to a rare event in Matsumoto called Glaass Lounge.  This party is a gathering of house and techno enthusiasts that goes all night, and on this particular weekend Carpainter and Seimei of Trekkie Trax were to appear.  The stars had aligned for the ultimate weekend and I couldn’t be more excited!

 

Jigokudani Monkey Park

As soon as I arrived to Nagano Station, I went to the ticket office and purchased a day pass for Jigokudani Park.  The park is about an hour bus ride from the station, but you have the chance to see rare scenes of the countryside so it’s not a bad trip.  From the bus stop, the walk to the monkey park is about 30 mins through a lush pine forest.  When you get to the top of a hill in the mountains, you will see dozens of monkeys running through a roped-off area full of hotsprings:

Though you sadly cannot enter the hotsprings with the monkeys, you can get pretty close to them.  Often they will go under the ropes and leisurely mingle with people.  It is advised not to look them directly in the eyes because that is a sign of aggression.  Also there are notices posted not to feed them and to be careful with your bags (a.k.a. common sense).  I would allow yourself at least 1.5 hours to fully enjoy the park.  The monkeys are quite fun to observe and the mountain air feels lovely.

Besides the monkeys, the scenery surrounding the park made it worth the trip.  The mountain backdrop on the lake looked like something straight out of a postcard.  Plus hiking through the forest was an awesome workout and I saw many beautiful rivers along the way.  You can see the Japanese Alps from here too:

Admission Fee: 800 yen to enter the park // 3200 yen for admission to the park and roundtrip bus fare (I recommend this option unless you rent a car)

Although I had fun here, the day I went the monkeys weren’t particularly interesting in bathing even though it was cold out and there was snow on the ground.  Hakodate in Hokkaido has a better monkey onsen that you can see.  The monkeys there seem to love hotsprings more than the monkeys I saw here, but both are worth checking out.

Food

Due to having to catch a train into the city that night, I didn’t have a lot of time to look for places to eat but fortunately Nagano Station had me covered.  I managed to find some amazing kitsune udon (noodles topped with a thin layer of fried tofu), and oyaki (stuffed dumplings).  I was happy to see they had a number of vegetarian options and were very cheap to order individually.  Oyaki are a Nagano specialty so definitely try them if you get the chance!  You can find them literally all over the place in a variety of flavors.

Glaass Lounge

I arrived at Studio SONIC around 11pm when Glaass Lounge had just kicked off.  The club had a simple setup with a DJ booth in the front and a bar to the side, but since it was compact it was easy to socialize with people.  I found my friends immediately and told them the story of the bathing monkeys.  It felt great to experience the music scene of Matsumoto out here in the mountains.  A number of these DJs come to Tokyo events every once in a while too.

Monolith Slip, a duo of two music producers from this area were one of my favorite acts.  They create a lot of rave music and were featured on an earlier Haka Gang x Trekkie Trax compilation:

Besides them, I of course enjoyed seeing Carpainter as the featured guest.  As always, his techno/house mixes are amazing:

This party went on until 5am and was an experience I’ll never forget.  I haven’t been back to Nagano in over 2 years, but if there are more music events like these in the fture then I’ll definitely be tempted!

Address: 2 Chome-5-6 Fukashi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0815

Access

From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen to Nagano Station.  This will take 2 hours and costs 8400 yen one way.  From Nagano Station you can take a bus to the monkey forest and the Shinano Limited Express to reach Matsumoto City.  All tickets can be purchased on they day you arrive, but if you are coming during a holiday I would book them in advance.  I would recommend 2 days and 1 night here to see everything.

Since I didn’t have a lot of money at time, I stayed at a net cafe called Carefree Cafe for a few hours after the party.  However, there are a lot of great hotspring resorts and ryokan you can stay in that are better!  Booking usually has some great deals depending on what you are looking for.

 

 

Experiencing the Nightlife in Taiwan

Since no trip to a foreign country is complete without experiencing its nightlife, I decided to check out a few unique cocktail bars and venues in Taipei and Taichung while I was traveling in Taiwan earlier this year.  Through going to music events in Tokyo, I was fortunate to have met my friend Hojo who not only manages tours and bookings for foreign artists, but also curates in own events in Taiwan with CUSTOMS and DJs music that transcends genres (see Hojo’s SoundCloud for reference).  In Asia it’s generally easy to find bars and spots to socialize, but the scene I found here far exceeded my expectations.

At Taiwan’s venues, particularly at FINAL, the entrance fee is affordable, the cocktails and music are top-notch, and you can actually sit down with people and socialize.  A big issue with some venues in Tokyo is that they are too crowded, and although I am a club enthusiast I sometimes find it hard to relax even when I really enjoy the music.  People in Tokyo have a tendency to seek stimulation (and I am guilty as charged), but it’s very easy to get drained from the steady flow of events.  However, in Taiwan I never had that issue.  Each night I went out I was able to find the perfect atmosphere for whatever mood I was in, meet a lot of new friends, and make awesome memories that make me want to come back here in the future.

The Fucking Place (操場)

The very first bar I went to in Taipei was called The Fucking Place.  This place became a meme when Trekkie Trax toured here because one of their members got legendarily lit, so it’s been on my bucket list for quite a long time.  This bar is close to a lot of clubs in Taipei, so it makes the ideal pregaming spot.  But why the name, you ask?  Hojo explains it all in his Tweet below:

True to its name, Fucking Place’s atmosphere is cozy and welcoming.  They have a large selection of hard liquors and you can ask for your own favorite cocktail combination too.  I drank whiskey mixed with milk and reached the perfect level of drunk among good people.

The upstairs of the bar is also worth checking out because it has a mini gallery that will perhaps expand in the future:

FINAL

By far one of the best venues I’ve experienced in Asia is FINAL in Taipei.  I was at here 3 different nights during my 12 day stay in Taiwan because each night had a diverse variety of music.  This club has always been on my radar because a number of my favorite artists from Japan (including Carpainter and Onjuicy) have performed here, and Hojo also runs his own events here.  Each night I connected with different friends from around the world so I would say the scene here is very international and friendly.

By chance, Night Tempo and Neon City Records were doing a large show here on the first Friday of 2020 during my trip, so I was extremely lucky to see them here.  I have been following Night Tempo since college and attended his first HMV show in Tokyo, but recently haven’t been able to attend his events in Japan because they sell out extremely fast.  Fortunately I was able to get door tickets here and catch his amazing 2 hour performance while catching up with my friends in Taiwan.

Night Tempo’s style has really changed from sampling old Japanese songs to producing Showa era idol music and recently working with famous vocalists like Anri and Mariya Takeuchi.  He played at Fuji Rock last year in addition to touring many Asian countries and America as well.  I have met some of my best friends through his music, so I always try to catch his events whenever I can:

The very next day, Hojo hosted CUSTOMS featuring IVVVO who I met, and other aspiring international artists with a lot of talent.  As I have heard from my friends who previously attended CUSTOMS events in the US, this one was nothing short of amazing.  Each artist played whatever style of music they wanted, and no one could predict what was coming next so it was fun.  One of my favorite moments was captured below:

I would recommend FINAL to everyone because it plays and caters to all tastes of music.  The scene is here is one of the best I’ve come across in Asia and I look forward to seeing who else performs here.

The Cave

While I was in Taiching, I decided to check out this bar called The Cave because it was the other venue in Taiwan where Night Tempo toured.  I came here on a weekday so no live performer was playing, but I really appreciated the ambient atmosphere and the carefully mixed cocktails the bartender crafted for me.  I ordered one that looked like cotton candy and was coated with honey, and another delicious cherry one that was both delicious and high in alcohol content.  This was one of the best bars that I have been to in Taiwan, and I highly recommend it to everyone.  It was very cozy but perfect for the mood that I was in.

Afterwards, I decided to go on a walk to the nearby Taichung Park Pavilion.  I really appreciated the vibe of the neon lights and how bright the pavilion shone at night (I think it looks prettier at night than during the day).  Additionally I ran into so many cute dogs that were being walked here, so it was a real delight.

Round4

img_3212
We all know the lyrics to this one.

On my very last night in Taipei, I went to a small lounge called Round4 recommended by Hojo.  Since it was a weeknight it wasn’t very crowded, but the bartenders gave us the best hospitality.  A bartender named Jimmy came out and talked to us, and also made special coffee cocktails that I’ll never forget.  I really like it when the bartenders make an effort to connect with their visitors, so this is a place I’d like to drink at again because it has good vibes.

Which raises the question…

Will I return to Taiwan in the future?

Since it’s right next door to Japan, I would say there is a very high chance that I will return.  I had a phenomenal time both experiencing the night life and spending time with nature in this country.  There will be a music festival held at a temple this year that I am considering coming back for.  Once the dates are decided, I may buy another plane ticket depending on my schedule.  The life of a traveler who also loves clubbing is never complacent.

Exploring Kuala Lumpur: Temples, Caves, and Chinatown

IMG_4711
The city of Kuala Lumpur comes alive at night.

Malaysia is a country where you can find an abundance of places such as remote beaches, penthouses with infinity pools, markets, skyscrapers, temples, and more amazing architecture.  I loved the diversity that the city of Kuala Lumpur had to offer.  Though the center of the city is quite fancy, the country itself is actually very affordable to travel in, making it a popular destination for backpackers.  I traveled here via bus for three days after exploring Singapore, and was extremely happy with all the sights I was able to see.

I recommend staying at least three days in KL to make sure you have time to see everything.  Much of the city is reachable on foot or via train, but since it was cheap I used the Grab app to call taxis around the city.  With the tropical weather, delicious food, and affordable accommodations, you really can’t go wrong traveling here!  Here are the places that I definitely recommend seeing:

Petaling Street & Chinatown

The Chinatown district of KL is always very lively and has a ton of cultural aspects to enjoy.  When exploring a new country, my strategy is always to usually start with the local market to see what the downtown area was like.  That is why I chose to come here early in the day, though most places are usually open until around 11pm or later.  The market on Petaling Street had an array of knockoff handbags and interesting items.  I managed to score a seemingly authentic-looking Ted Baker bag for less than $50.  Prices here are open to negotiation, and I recommend that you look around!

If you’re not into shopping. there is still a lot to see around this area because it’s very close to KL’s central transit station.  I explored the local Sri Mahamariamman Temple, which is the oldest Hindu temple in the city.  I also got some local street food that tasted amazing!  I recommend that you try the local fried rice dishes and curry here.

I also tried “ABC Ice”, which is a very unique Malaysian spin on shaved ice:

The top of it tasted like traditional shaved ice you find in Japan–it was topped with condensed milk which made it extremely sweet and delicious.  However, at the bottom it was filled with jelly cubes, sweet beans, and this mysterious green noodle sweet I had never tasted before!  It was refreshing, but the texture of the toppings they placed at the bottom as a bit too much for me…  However, I was happy that I tried it!

The Batu Caves

The Batu Caves is a beautiful area with rainbow stairs leading to a limestone cave with temples inside.  There are actually a total of five caves, but the central ones with the golden statue of Lord Murugan are the most frequented.  Though the hill looks steep, it actually only takes approximately 8 minutes to climb.  The caves are extremely gorgeous, and this trip is a relaxing escape from the city that only takes approximately 30 minutes to reach.  I enjoyed sipping on some fresh coconut juice while going on this short hike.  To reach the Dark Cave, it is required you book a tour, but you can see the majority of the area without one.

Petronas Towers

The Petronas Towers are an iconic landmark of KL and are currently the tallest twin towers in the world.  At night they light up and you can find groups of people gathered around them because they are in the heart of the city.  When you first enter them, you will find an upscale shopping district called Suria KLCC.  However, on the 41st and 42nd floor, you will find the skybridge that connects the two towers.  You can go up to the top and take some stunning photos.  This is an ingenious design because it saves a ton of time walking through here rather than from one building to the other.  This very well could be the future of architecture!

Bukit Bintang

Bukit Bintang is the main bar street of KL, and there’s a lot of adventures to be had here!  Though I only had two nights to explore it, I came across this upscale Asian bistro called Opium that I really enjoyed.  They had a ton of Asian cuisine (Thai, Maylasian, Japanese, Vietnamese), as well as some fascinating cocktails.  I tried the spiced rum and coffee cocktails.  Though they were a bit pricey, just two of them got me pretty tipsy.

I then briefly popped into the club called Zion (Sieg Zion)!  The pro was that it was free, the con was that it played mainly American hiphop music with no variety, but I was bought a handful of drinks by locals so it was a night well spent.  The club was big enough to dance, and I’m curious to know what the music selection is like on other nights.

Final Thoughts

Though this might not be the first trip on your itinerary, as someone who’s lived in Asia for a while, I can definitely say traveling here is like a breath of fresh air.  The country is extremely safe, and I enjoyed experiencing the culture of the people that live here.  It feels familiar because everyone speaks English, but also extremely foreign at the same time.  The biggest culture shock for me was that people eat rice with their bare hands!  However, people were extremely polite and kind to me, and it reminded me of Thailand at times.  Please consider taking a trip here.

 

Escaping to Thailand for Golden Week

I had a very fulfilling trip to Thailand over NYE traveling to Bangkok, Phuket, Koh Samui, and Chiang Mai, but unfortunately due to a severe storm my pink dolphin and James Bond Island trips were cancelled.  Not wanting to accept defeat, I immediately scheduled my next trip there over Golden Week.  This year Golden Week lasts a consecutive 10 days, so both overseas airline tickets and domestic travel costs within Japan are heavily inflated, being even more expensive than the average New Year’s prices.  Even though it was quite costly, I bit the bullet and booked my flight.  This time I am determined to do what I couldn’t do last time, and more!

My planned itinerary (so far) is listed below:

Narita Airport (international flight is around 2pm on the 26th) → Bangkok → Phuket → Phi Phi Islands → Koh Lanta (and surrounding islands) → Phuket → James Bond Island →  Phuket → Koh Samui → Koh Tao → Koh Phangan (for Blackmoon Culture party) → Krabi → Bangkok ↺ Tokyo (on January 7th).

April 26th: Phuket

I will be leaving Tokyo a day before Golden Week starts and arriving in Phuket at 10:00pm.  This time is not ideal, but was the cheapest flight I could find.  I booked this flight in February, and already most of the discount airlines leaving from Japan were fully booked.  This time I am staying at a guesthouse in southeast Phuket near Rassada Pier since I will be sailing a lot.  I do not have many plans besides maybe getting some mango sticky rice because tomorrow I will be getting up early for a sightseeing adventure!

April 27th: Phi Phi Islands

phi-phi-islands-tour-ptd-fb-8-phi-phi-leh
Image from https://www.trazy.com/

The Phi Phi Islands are a popular destination among many Thailand travelers due to their beautiful beaches and nature, and are a destination I feel I most definitely see.  This was a tour that I was supposed to go on last trip, but it got cancelled due to the weather.  I booked this tour through a private company with good reviews called Phuket Sail Tour and will be traveling around via speedboat.  The advantage to this is hopefully I will avoid the crowds, as the people who run this tour are Thailand natives that manage their own company.  I look forward to exploring Viking Cave, swimming in Maya Bay, and seeing the monkeys on Monkey Beach (even though I recently saw some in Hakodate).

April 28th: Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta is a beautiful island in Krabi with rich emerald waters and scenic beach huts. My friend who teaches English in Thailand posted pictures of her vacation there, and I’ve been longing to go ever since!  I had a great stay in Koh Samui in my rainbow beach hut in January, but I am looking to stay somewhere more remote.  I will be taking a ferry from Rassada Pier in Phuket which I booked through 12go, and arriving there early in the morning.

From there, I plan on exercising a rescue dog on the beach from Lanta Animal Welfare to support their foundation and also meet a cute animal.  If I have time, I want to venture to Mu Ko Lanta National Park to do some sightseeing, and then return to Lanta Secret Beach near my accommodation, Pinky Bungalow Resort.  Pinky Bungalow!  What a name!

April 29th: Koh Lanta Island Tour

On my 2nd day in Koh Lanta, I will be snorkeling at Koh Ngai, seeing the glistening Emerald Cave at Koh Mook, swimming and sunbathing at Koh Kradan, and seeing tropical fish at Koh Chuck!  That sure is a lot of “Kohs” (which means “island”)!

I booked my tour through Easy Day Thailand.  I do not know a lot about them, but the tours in Koh Lanta are limited so I hope to make the most out of my situation no matter how it goes (it should go well).

April 30th: James Bond Island Sunset Tour

I will be taking the first ferry back to Phuket from Koh Lanta, then having Phuket Sail Tours (which I booked for Phi Phi too) pick me up at Rassada Pier.  This was another tour I was supposed to do last time, and I have high expectations for it!  If you look through most trip itineraries for this island, you will see that most boats leave early in the morning to go here.  The tour that I booked specifically says it leaves in the afternoon to avoid crowds, and I am looking forward to getting that picture perfect Instagram-worthy sunset photo!

If I’m going to be a tourist, I’m doing it right!

May 1st: Tango Beach Resort at Koh Samui

Untitled-6
Image from http://tangosamui.com/

I definitely splurged a bit here, but the price is still reasonable at $50 per night.  I will be staying at Tango Beach Resort on Chaweng Beach in Koh Samui!  This is the party beach and I plan on spending the entire day there.  Last time I stayed at the budget New Hut Bungalows which were actually very nice and cost approximately $10 per night, but this time I am looking for more luxury!  I am hoping the rain holds off on this day, or else I will just focus on writing.

May 2nd: Koh Tao Island Tour

Koh-Nang-Yuan-Island-Thailand-14
Image from lillagreen.at

Koh Tao is one place I haven’t been where everyone tells me I need to go!  I debated about staying overnight here, but again I prefer the accommodations and convenience of staying in Samui since you can reach other places easier.  That is why I opted to take the one day speedboat tour here so I could see all of the island’s main points.

I am most interested in climbing to the famous viewpoint in Koh Nangyuan and taking pictures of the beautiful waters crashing below.  I am also looking forward to snorkeling in Mango Bay!  I will be snorkeling a lot during this trip, so I hope I don’t get tired of it!

May 3rd: Pink Dolphin Tour + Blackmoon Culture Party

spot-the-rare-pink-dolphin_orig
Image Credit: International Packages (I will hopefully have my own original images soon)!

This is the main reason I’m going back to Thailand.  I’ve never told anyone this, but I think about meeting these pink dolphins almost every day. I was supposed to see them, but the great storm of Phuket last month cancelled my trip.  This time however, the weather should hopefully be on my side.  Or else I am postponing other things on this trip until I see them!

This will be an insane day, because immediately after the tour I am having my bus drop me off at Na Thon Koh Pier where I will be sailing to Koh Phangan for the Blackmoon Culture Party!  I had a very memorable time at the Fullmoon Party I went to during the 2019 Countdown.  I made friends from all over the world, and the kind folks at Wild & Wandering Backpackers Hostel let me store my luggage there for a great price.  I definitely plan on paying them a visit this time around!

Unlike some articles on the internet say, these parties are safe and I did not witness any drug-taking there.  The fire rope definitely exists, and partying with hundreds of people on the beach is a crazy experience, but ]the majority of people there were kind and respectful.  I’d say this is definitely a beach worth partying on!

After the party ends, I will be taking the first ferry back to Krabi at 7am!

May 4th-5th: Krabi

During my last two days in Thailand, I am meeting up with my old friend from college in Krabi!  I did not plan much other then drinking on the beach with her and hiking to the Tiger Cave Temple!  I feel like there is no better way to end my trip then spending it this way and reflecting on my trip over gorgeous views and farewell drinks on the beach.  I am super excited to write all about my experiences (I still have many to write about from the last trip)!

I will be flying back to Tokyo at 5:30am, which again is not ideal, but is the cheapest price I could find for Golden Week.  I will likely be sunburnt and exhausted when I get back, but the relaxing moments I have in between will make it worth it!  I am excited for yet another exciting trip in Thailand!

A Steamy Weekend Getaway: Takasaki WOAL & Kusatsu Onsen

img_9375

As a free-spirited traveler, I go wherever the wind blows me.  Upon returning to Tokyo from Thailand, I learned that my friends at Trekkie Trax were playing a show at an underground club in Takasaki called WOAL, so immediately I started planning my weekend trip there. I had been through this area before on my way to Niigata for Fuji Rock this summer, but have never gotten off to explore the area, so this was definitely on my bucket list.

Takasaki, the city of luck, is located about 2 hours from Tokyo in Gunma prefecture and is known for its dumplings, daruma dolls, and hotsprings.  The easiest way to get there is by the Joetsu Shinkansen, so I took the very last one from Omiya Station equipped with umeshu and Strong Zeroes to pregame for this all night show (that lasted from 10pm – 5am).  I decided I would stay at a net cafe called Link’s Cafe (for the sole fact that I love Zelda) then immediately go to Kusatsu Onsen when I woke up because that was the cheapest move.  Though there are many onsen scattered around Gunma, Kusatsu is by far the most famous and prettiest!

The atmosphere of WOAL was very friendly and inviting.  It was about an 8 minute walk from the station, but very easy to locate.  As I descended the stairs, I was immediately lost in a world of vibrant rotating neon lights and a boastful sound system.  The bar was conveniently located near the entryway, and by chance I met all of Trekkie Trax there as soon as I walked in!  I was so happy I could make it to their first show of the year, which was located outside of Tokyo (a rare event)!

img_9328
it’s a spirtual thing. a body thing. a soul thing. A lo-fi image of my favorite DJ from Trekkie Trax: Carpainter playing in Takasaki, Japan.

At the time I arrived, a Gunma native DJ called Amps was playing.  He is a longtime member of Trekkie Trax and I’ve heard him play juke sets in Tokyo before, but due to the chaos of Tokyo clubs, I had never really got to know him before.  It was wonderful to hear him play in his element.  An example of some of his tracks can be found below, or on his Soundcloud:

Each DJ had one hour to play, and it was great because the club wasn’t very crowded so there was a lot of room to dance!  I had a chance to get to talk to each artist, meet some of the Takasaki locals, and also became friends with one of the resident DJs called Momo who kindly bought me a tequila shot.  I liked this event because all of the artists played the music they wanted and didn’t try to please the crowd.  Everyone here came for the music and it was a great atmosphere.

This whole night felt like a dream to me because in the middle of Carpainter’s set, Andrew brought out a tray of tequila shots, Seimei brought out pizza, and Momo and I were dancing at the very front in this sea of neon lights and banging techno music, so it all just felt unreal.  Tokyo club events like this are usually very crowded and sometimes noisy, but I was able to lose myself completely within the music here at WOAL which is why I love traveling for these smaller shows.  The feeling that I felt here, I will never forget!

What’s funny is the vibration caused from the speakers makes the toilet paper in the restroom fall to the floor, and it’s become somewhat of a meme in the Japan music scene online:

Feeling completely mindblown and fulfilled, the next morning I took the local JR train to Naganohara Kusatsuguchi Station, then took a bus to Kusatsu Onsen and was amazed at this beautiful natural hotspring in the middle of the village:

Much like Takasaki, the atmosphere of this town was friendly and very inviting.  Dozens of street vendors were giving free samples of tea, dumplings, and local sake.  Though there was snow on the ground, the steam from the local onsen was enough to keep me farm.  Feeling hungry, I decided to wander around and find some food first.  There are dumpling shops everywhere, so I decided to try the black sesame ones.  I also found an udon shop called Matsumoto, and tried the udon and mushrooms that Kusatsu is very famous for in tempura form:

After feeling full, I wandered to Sainokawara Park and paid 600 yen to go inside the natural hotspring.  The water was very tepid, but it relaxed my muscles and made my body feel amazing.  I highly recommend this onsen for day trippers, because it is very affordable for those who cannot afford an inn.  Additionally, you can feel very in-tune with nature by sitting on the rocks and watching the moon rise.  Witnessing amazing music followed by bathing in an onsen is the perfect feeling!

Scattered throughout the town, there are many free footbaths that you can use!  Additionally, a friend of mine runs a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) called Hotel Miyuki Annex, so I would recommend staying there, because they are local and quite affordable (my friend is Japanese but speaks nearly perfect English).  At night, the town becomes illuminated and beautiful!  Another recommendation I have is coming during winter, because I think the water in other seasons would be too hot for most people otherwise.  I only stayed here for the day, but most people stay here overnight.  Most of the town you can access on foot, and there are an endless amount of hotsprings for you to try!

Before I took one of the final buses back to civilization, I stopped at a local liquor shop.  They had amazing grape liquor as well as amusing sake and award-winning beer, so I picked up a couple souvenirs for my friends.  You really can’t go wrong with the food and drinks here!

I am now back in Tokyo, but I will never forget the vivid memories I have from this trip.  The people of Gunma treated me with extreme kindness, and the views of the mountains, steamy hotsprings, and neon lights are permanently etched within my mind!  I am grateful I had this as my first trip of 2019!