The Great Bike Trip Conclusion: From Yoshinoyama to Tokyo (Day 4)

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Yoshinoyama Shrine on a warm summer day.

After finally making it past the rain to our lovely ryokan in Yoshinoyama, we decided to spend the final day of our great bike trip leisurely exploring its hiking trails before heading back to Tokyo.  The summit of Mt. Yoshino is quite easy to reach from the hotel area, only taking around 20 mins of climbing.  From here you can get a great view of Nara and there are a number of old shrines you can visit too.  Obviously the best time of year to visit is during spring when the sakura trees are in bloom, but coming during summer was probably the second best choice.  Staying here made me feel refreshed and closer with nature.  I never would have known about this place have it not been for my driver!  With a positive attitude, we set off to the summit to begin the last day of our grand adventure…

For the introduction and full context of this trip, please see Day 1 (From Tokyo to Ise), Day 2 (From Mihama Beach to Kawayu Onsen), and Day 3 (From Kawayu Onsen to Yoshinoyama).  This article will cover the final day of our great bike trip.

Departure

The 4th day began on August 4th at 7:00am.  I woke up at 6:30 to go for a run around the mountain paths of Yoshinoyama and also wander through the garden in the backyard of our ryokan.  Our original plan was to depart early explore places around Takayama, but since I already did a pilgrimage to the town from Your Name, I wanted to see more of the mountains of Nara.  I have actually only been to Nara during my study abroad trip to Japan in 2013.  Seeing the rare areas by motorbike was a grand opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.  We planned to return to Tokyo at dusk and I was to ride the shinkansen home from Nagoya so my driver’s load would be lighter on the busiest highways.

Our updated map travel map looked like this (of course we were stopping at many places in between the 3 hour ride):

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Chikurin-in Gumpeon Road

One reason I’m happy we took our time at our ryokan is because there’s so much to see around it!  Additionally our reservation included a hearty breakfast that consisted of fish, salad, vegetables, egg, rice, tea and water mochi for dessert.  This set was so filling and delicious:

 

After checking out, we strolled down the road to the summit.  Along the way we saw a restaurant with a Shiba Inu, a workshop labeled “Mad Garage”, and a shrine guarded by tengu statues called Sakuramotobou.  This street is extremely narrow but has a lot of interesting things to see.  Due to the pandemic some stores were closing early, but everyone here was friendly and did their best to make us feel welcome.

 

Yoshinoyama Shrines

The main shrine of Yoshinoyama is called Yoshino Jingu and is located to the north of the hotel area, but there are dozens of others that you can see on the way.  Some of my favorites were Kinpusenji due to its old wooden architecture, and the smaller inner shrines of the because they had variety in their design.  What I liked most about Yoshino Jingu was it was adorned with wind chimes during this time of year:

 

After walking around for a while and soaking up the atmosphere, we decided to pay to have our fortune told… but there was only one fortune remaining!  So we did what two responsible adults would do and shared it.  And in return the fortune rewarded us with the best luck possible!  I really hope this helps me with future trips and job interviews!!

 

Here is a video we took of the wind chimes dancing in the breeze.  Up in the mountains there are few other noises to drown them out so their sound resonates beautifully:

 

When we reached the summit of Mt. Yoshino I had my first encounter with a Japanese Murder Hornet.  I could guess what it was immediately due to its immense size.  My driver confirmed my suspicions and told me to stand still and act as naturally as possible.  Their behavior is quite similar to that of normal bees so it’s best to not run from them as that will make them more defensive.  Fortunately these creatures are not vehement and even then it’s hard to die unless you’re stung by a group of them.  I managed to take one super-zoomed in photo to commemorate my survival:

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The not-so-murderous murder hornet.

After we saw the shrines and took pictures at the summit, we road back towards Tokyo while stopping at some viewpoints in the hills along the way.

Soni Highlands

 

While riding through Nara, we decided to take a pit-stop and try the famous blueberry ice cream made with Hokkaido Milk here.  I was not expecting that much, but the taste was actually creamy and delicious.  Plus seeing the deer/human mascot of this area was hilarious!  My driver thought it was an atrocity though.

Since the Soni Highlands were on our way back, we decided to ride up the plateau and see the pampas grass.  Though there wasn’t much to see at the top, the breeze sure did feel nice.  If we would have had more time and preparation, I would have loved to have a picnic here!

The Sonikogenonsen Okame Hot Spring is conveniently located next to the highlands, so we stopped there on our way back.  Due to being in the hills this onsen is extremely sunny.  What I liked the most is that there were straw hats in the outdoor onsen area you could wear to keep the sun out of your face.  The entrance fee is only 750 yen so it’s a good deal.

Returning Home

 

Feeling completely satisfied by this enthralling experience, I was finally ready to head home.  We drove from Nara to Nagoya where my driver dropped me off on the Meitetsu Line so I could take the shinkansen back to Tokyo.  Since I was sunburned and feeling quite tired, I could sleep off the exhaustion versus ride back on the highway.  This also gave me some time to reflect on trip and made the baggage on the bike lighter (I carried my helmet and clothes back with me) so it was a smart move.  We had succeeded in the great bike trip.  I’ll never forget this feeling for the rest of my life!

Day 4 Itinerary: 80% Completion

Though our original plan changed when we reached Yoshinoyama because decided to explore the mountains more, I’m happy things turned out this way.  Our ryokan stay would have been rushed if we drove to another prefecture so quickly and we would have missed out on the breakfast and lovely hikes that we took.  After getting to know the area of Yoshinoyama, I would really like to come back here during sakura season and see how beautiful it is!  This day was definitely slower-paced compared to the rest, but the hikes gave me a good workout.  4 days of biking was the perfect amount and I was lucky to be accompanied with such an experienced driver.  If you ever have the chance to go motorbiking through Japan (both as a driver or passenger) please do it!  It will open up a whole new world and take you to places that you can’t reach by public transportation.  Many people have been road tripping and camping during the pandemic to avoid public places and it is a much safer way to travel.

Future Opportunities

My sponsor and I both agreed that this trip went extremely well and we would like to plan more in the future.  Though we both normally travel solo, we learned a lot of new things through one another and agreed the trip was more fun together.  For example, they enjoyed guiding me through ancient places like Koyasan and I was grateful for their history lecture and taste in ryokan.  The only con was they don’t nearly enjoy the beach as much as I do, and I don’t like to camp when rain is forecasted.  Fortunately we were able to compromise on these things and got along quite well.  That is a vital skill we need to learn to live a happy life.

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Cheers to a successful trip!

Future Destinations

Some of our potential destinations this year include camping sites in Nagano and Shikoku.  We would also like to travel around Tohoku because I haven’t explored much of it yet.  Our departure date will depend on my work schedule, but I am doing my best to balance work and play!

Please look forward to future road trip articles from me or share your own experience in the comments~

Spending my 25th Birthday at a Hut in Vietnam (Part 2)

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Yet another beautiful sunset on Phu Quoc Island.

In my last article I talked about my expedition of Long Beach on Phu Quoc Island, but in this article I will talk about some of the other places that I ventured to outside of my hut!  I would recommend staying at least 3 full days on this island because between the beaches and the central town, there’s a lot of neat things to see.  I spent my mornings swimming on the beach and evenings chasing sunsets.  It was truly the best 25th birthday I could have imagined!

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The inside of a mini Cao Dai Temple in Duong Dong Town.

Since I wanted to see as much as possible on the island, I booked a day tour of the north and south sides of the island through Viet Fun Travel.  This is a completely private tour run by Phu Quoc locals, so it’s very high-rated and you can customize it to your liking.  I asked that they please take me to the Ridgeback Dog Farm because I wanted to feed the Phu Quoc dogs.  They happily complied with my request and created a custom itinerary for me.

Unfortunately because I was by myself this tour cost $195 USD which is very expensive, but since there are not many ways of transportation on Phu Quoc Island it was worth the money.  If you bring more people with you the price will drastically decrease.  Since these islanders don’t always make a lot during the low season, I didn’t feel regret spending this much for a quality tour.  It was fun and I got to experience so much!  My tour guide was very nice too.

Here are the places that we stopped at.  This tour lasted about 10 hours and included hotel pickup:

 

  • Pearl Farm & Fish Sauce Factory
  • Truc Lam Ho Quoc Meditation
  • Sao Beach
  • Coconut Tree Prison
  • Phu Quoc Ridgeback Dog Farm
  • Nguyen Trung Truc Temple
  • Passing Cape Ganh Dau
  • Vung Bau Beach & Ong Lang Beach

Our first stop was the pearl farm and the fish sauce factory.  Fish sauce is Phu Quoc’s most famous food and is exported all over the country.  I got to see how it was fermented in giant barrels which was pretty neat.  The “pearl farm” was a museum of pearls mostly geared towards selling them, but I didn’t mind seeing it for a short amount of time.  The pearls were so gorgeous.  If only I could afford them!  My tour guide bought me a sugar cane drink to sip on during the drive.  It was super sweet and full of sugar as the name implies.  There was also some mysterious green seaweed-like vegetable we tried.

The temples we saw on this tour were really beautiful too (unfortunately my photography skills from 2018 do not do them justice).  Truc Lam Ho Quoc Meditation has a beautiful garden you can see when you reach the top.  I enjoyed seeing the Choco-Pies that were placed in front of the deity at Nguyen Trung Truc Temple too.  If I ever become a deity, I hope people place Choco-Pies in front of me too.

 

We next stopped at the Coconut Tree Prison that was built by French Colonists to imprison Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War.  Many tortures were performed here such as caging humans and burning off their flesh.  I didn’t take many photos because it was grotesque, but you can Google it for yourself and see just how horrible it was.  I was grateful for the personal tour because I never knew that there was a prison here!  Most people that visit Vietnam only get to see the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, as the Coconut Tree Prison is quite remote.

After that gruesome reminder of Vietnamese history was over, we stopped for my birthday lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant.  Everything was on the house~  Cheers to turning 25 on Phu Quoc!!

At the restaurant we ate octopus, fried rice with blue crab, and I tried snails for the very first time!  The snails kind of taste like sautéed mushrooms but are chewy.  I recommend trying them at least once if you get the chance.  The flavor is actually quite enjoyable.  The best part about this restaurant was definitely the atmosphere.  Even though I was a tourist, I felt at home here.

We rode briefly through the central town of Duong Dong so our driver could get gas.  This is the largest town on the island just north of my island hut.  There is a seafood market and many temples and pagodas you can see.  We stopped briefly to see a Cao Dai temple before continuing our tour so I could rest for a bit.  If I ever some back to Phu Quoc, I would like to stay in this town for just one night to see what it’s like!

Next we stopped at the Phu Quoc Ridgeback Dog Farm so I could feed the dogs.  For some reason this was one of the most anticipated stops for me!  Phu Quoc dogs are some of the rarest and most expensive breeds in the world.  They are extremely independent and love roaming the beaches.  During the high seasons you can watch them race through courses and place bets on them.  Since I was here in October, I could only pet and feed them, but that was fine by me.  They were absolutely adorable:

My tour guide was extremely kind and gave me an extra bag of food.  He knew pretty much everyone on the island so people were always giving us souvenirs.  After I had fed every dog on the farm (and I mean EVERY dog), we decided to hit the southern Sao beaches.  I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I was swimming, but it was extremely surreal to see cows grazing out here:

While I was swimming my tour guide told me I could stay out here as long as I liked because he was practicing meditation with an mp3.  I stayed until sunset and got to soak up a lot of sun.  Everyone that is native to this island practices spirituality, but they never try to force their beliefs upon you.  I really enjoyed every single moment here even though my time was short.

I would recommend this tour to fellow adventurers because it truly takes you everywhere.  I was exhausted by the end of my trip and was thankful I could rest in my hut.  My next article will be the last of my Vietnam series!  Thank you to all that have read up to this point.

The Best Pug and Gaming Cafes in Kyoto

After eating the legendary floating noodles and having some aesthetic dining experiences in Kyoto, I figured I’d point out two of my favorite cafes there as well.  They both involve two of my favorite things: small animals & videogames so naturally I had to check them out.  I will be detailing my experiences below so hopefully more people will decide to visit!

Pug Cafe Living Room

Pug Cafe Living Room is a small space where you can interact with adorable little pugs dressed in colorful jerseys.  It was opened in the living room of the Japanese family’s house who owns it and currently there are 15 friendly pugs that reside there.  The system is very simple; you pay 1500 yen to enter and you have a full hour to play with the pugs.  The entry fee includes treats so naturally the pugs will come to you if you feed them!  They are quite energetic so it was difficult for me to take photos, but I really enjoyed my time here.  You can extend your visit for 500 yen per 30 minutes if you wish.  The cafe is a bit more crowded on the weekends but I was able to walk in on a Saturday and not have any wait time.  Be sure to check their calendar to see if they are open because they do have some irregular holidays.  If you are a pug lover, this is an experience that you can’t miss.

Access

151 Katsurakawatacho, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto, 615-8017

Cafe la Siesta

Cafe la Siesta is a retro gaming cafe located in central Kyoto with 8bit-themed drinks, old school games, music events, and more!  I lucked out by coming here on a Wednesday night when all of the arcade games were free to play.  I ordered a Space Invader drink that had Crab-shaped ice cubes which was highly aesthetic and tasted awesome.  The wall of cartridges was also quite fun to check out because their collection of games was massive.  I’ve been to many gaming bars in Asia, but this and Space Station in Osaka are  my favorites due to the friendliness of the staff and the welcoming atmosphere (not to mention the interior decor).  I was only here for a short time but got the perfect buzz.

Access

366 Kamiyacho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8024

Aesthetic Food Finds in Taiwan

As an avid lover of all things that are aesthetic, searching for unique restaurants and trying the most colorful foods around the world is one of my life goals.  Since I spent the majority of my time in Taiwan hiking through national parks and exploring mountain towns, I mostly ate Chinese and aboriginal food because it is healthy and affordable.  However, when I was in the city I managed to find a lot of interesting food which I will list below:

PLANTS

My favorite vegan restaurant that I discovered in Taipei was this beautiful cafe called PLANTS in the heart of the city.  With a rainbow flag hung at its entrance, it has an extremely welcoming atmosphere and the staff can speak almost perfect English.  I was amazed at the large range of food they had!  I tried the Flamingo Acai Bowl and also ordered the Macrobiotic Tempeh Bibimbap.  It was so delicious, I came back here again and tried hummus with pita bread, the Adaptogen Bliss Balls, and gluten free donuts for dessert.  This food definitely gave me the energy I needed to explore the city, and I was extremely grateful for the hospitality of the restaurant.  It was clean and had a lot of space so I could relax and plan out my day.

I wanted to try Miss Green and a few other vegan places (they are all located around this area), but sadly did not have enough time.  I was extremely happy with what I ate here and would come again, however!

J.C.co Art Kitchen

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Today’s Aesthetic Food: Hyper-realistic earl gray milk tea-flavored dog ice cream.

Say hello to my new puppy… before I eat him!  J.C.co Art Kitchen in Kaohsiung serves up the most aesthetic ice cream in Taiwan.  This crazy work of [ice cream] art is fully edible even though it looks almost exactly like a real dog (especially when photos are taken with certain cameras).  The detail put into the fur-like texture of the frozen ice cream is almost unreal.  The taste is pretty refreshing on a warm day as well.  The cafe asks that you make reservations in advance, but fortunately I was lucky enough to walk in without one and be served.  Though some people may have qualms about eating something so realistic, I was actually quite thrilled to eat a work of art.

Giant Avocado Smoothies

You don’t have to walk far around Taiwan to find smoothie and milk bars–they’re literally scattered everywhere, even on beaches and remote places you wouldn’t think they’d be.  I’ve been around many night markets in Asia before, but one thing that caught my eye in Taiwan were the giant Avocados.  I am an avocado freak so I ordered an avocado smoothie here.  It tasted absolutely amazing.  I would highly recommend trying a giant avocado here in any form just for the experience.

Vegetable Buffet Platters

While I was in Kaohsiung, I found the most amazing vegetarian buffet called Double Veggie with a huge variety of wholesome food!  I tried mini sushi rolls, rice, quinoa, olives, an egg-like pancake, and heaps of salad.  These two plates really filled me up and I was satisfied.  I had previously biked all of the way from the port to Cijin Island to the Tiger and Dragon Padogas, so I was grateful to eat at a buffet this day!  The quality of food here definitely makes it worth the price, and you can eat to your heart and stomach’s content!

Congee

Congee is a type of rice soup widely eaten throughout Asia, and is often eaten with other vegetable and meat dishes.  After a wild night out at FINAL, a group of friends and I went to a nearby restaurant and all selected different dishes.  I finally worked up the nerve to try stinky tofu (it actually wasn’t even that bad), century eggs (which I thought were very good), and heaps of vegetables.  I definitely recommend coming to these restaurants as a group because then you will have the chance to try a lot of different food!

Individual Takeout Sushi

One thing I really liked about the sushi in Taiwan is that you can choose your favorites that are individually wrapped at certain takeout places near the stations!  I found this place at Tamsui Station near Laomei Reef and really enjoyed it.  Though I would say it’s not as delicious as the sushi in Japan, it still has a lot of flavor and makes the perfect snack on the go.  I tried crab, squid, and shrimp and really enjoyed them!

I hope to come back to Taiwan later this year and go to Tainan, which is known to be the haven of foods.  Please look forward to my future food articles!

3D Latte Art at Reissue Cafe (Tokyo)

Yesterday I had the pleasure of trying my first 3D latte in Tokyo, and boy was it amazing! Reissue was apparently the the first coffee shop to start this trend, and the latte artists there are extremely talented. They have a menu full of anime-inspired latte art to choose from, or you can request your own! I requested one of Yamper from Pokémon, and I think they did a very good job of bringing him to life:

If you’re not a fan of coffee, you can order hot chocolate or warm soy milk instead. The have green tea, caramel, and raspberry lattes as well. The shop is very popular, but fortunately I was able to walk in and sit down without a wait time.

When I first moved to Tokyo several years ago, I ordered a Goku latte as well from the same cafe. Once again, their precise lineart drawn in chocolate syrup was amazing:

Address

Tokyo, Shibuya, Jingumae 3-25-7