After my recent encounter with Totoro in Miyazaki Prefecture, I just can’t seem to escape the Ghibli universe! But hey, I’m not complaining at all. Just recently a new Ghibli-themed cafe called Osu no Mori Cafe Kodama (大須の森カフェ コダマ) opened in the bustling Osu Kannon district of Aichi Prefecture. This place was recommended to me through my Instagram algorithms since I am an aesthetic food enthusiast. It’s still relatively unknown because it’s tucked away on the 4th floor of a building next to a trading card game store making it easy to pass by. The first time we tried to come here it was sadly closed for obon holiday. However, this time we were luckily able to enter and relive the nostalgia of these films once again while feasting on delicious food.
Because we had gone to the Higashiyama Zoo right before, we were just as hungry as these characters when we first walked in…
Immediately we were treated with outstanding service as the waiter gave us complimentary konpeito (star-shaped candy) and fans with Ghibli patterns to borrow so we could cool down from the vicious heat. We already felt at home here.
Onto the main event: The Food. Each dish is priced around 800 – 1200 yen and themed drinks are around 600 yen. Soft drinks and alcohol is also available for a relatively cheap price. We couldn’t believe how well-prepared everything was here:
“Sorry to eat your hat, Mei-chan…” – Me
“I hope your bacon burns.” – Howl’s Moving Castle
“Hold your [drink], commoner. You are in the presence of the king of Laputa.”
– Castle in the Sky
I appreciated all of the careful detail put into these menu items—they are truly one of a kind. I loved the cheese ribbon on my omurice and how they customized my order to be vegetarian. My boyfriend loved his super thicc bacon and how much the eggs resembled those from Howl’s Moving Castle. The drink I ordered was Laputa-themed and had a glowing ice cube that activated when you poured the mixer into the glass. How cool is that? Every menu item had some kind of figure or plush doll laying around so that you could associate it with what you were eating. Though the cafe is small in size, I’ve never seen any place so intricately decorated. This is an experience like nowhere else around here.
Here are a few more shots of the cafe. There are framed pictures, books, a little fireplace where Calcifer sits, and motifs everywhere you look. Additionally, Totoro requests that you sanitize your hands before entering!
In addition to what we ordered, there are also pancakes with a small cat print that resemble Jiji from Kiki’s Delivery service. There are also a ton of themed drinks based on the films that you can choose from. I would really like to order a bunch when I come back so I can experience them all!
Is it worth it?
Although I’ve had a number of wonderful dining experiences in Nagoya, this was by far one of the best themed cafes that I have ever been to. The service was top tier and the portion sizes were extremely generous for the price. Unlike the official cafe at the Ghibli Museum, Kodama has more creative dishes that resemble actual food from the movies. The interior design really brought the scenes to life as there were plush dolls and figures from every film surrounding you. The soundtracks from the movies playing softly overhead also brought back a lot of memories. I hope to see them expand their menu in the future to add some things from Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Porco Rosso! Overall it was completely worth the money we spent. My only real criticism is that they didn’t have many desserts (only pancakes and a cake that resembles a potted plant), but hopefully that will change with time.
After spending a lovely evening in Aoshima chasing sunsets and eating fresh crab, I decided to catch the very first train to Takaharu—a quaint farming town in Miyazaki where the life-size recreation of the Totoro Bus Stop is. According to Oddity Central, this Totoro statue was built by an elderly couple residing here as a surprise for their grandchildren. However, its design is so immaculate that it has attracted Totoro fans from all over Japan. There’s not a whole lot to see in Takaharu as it is mostly a residential area in the mountains, but the backdrop of the mountains and fields behind the bus stop look like they came straight out of a Ghibli movie. If you are obsessed with rare destinations in Japan like me then you might want to put Takaharu on your bucket list! The countryside of Kyushu is simply stunning.
Traveling to Takaharu for Totoro
The journey to Takaharu from Miyazaki will take around 2 hours and cost 1500-2500 yen (which is not bad). From Miyazaki Station, I took Kirishima Limited Express to Miyakonojo Station then transferred to the Kitto Line that took me to Takaharu Station. You can also take local buses which are usually cheaper. They will usually drop you off at the same locations depending on what time you leave. From Takaharu Station, I asked the station attendant to hail me a taxi directly to Totoro. If you simply say “Totoro” to your taxi driver they will know exactly what you mean. This is a short drive that will only take 5 mins. Once you reach Totoro, a warm feeling of nostalgia will wash over you. Congrats, you have successfully completed your pilgrimage!
I should also note that there is a red umbrella you can rent for 100 yen so you can recreate the famous scene in the rain with Totoro. Since the money goes directly to the people who built it, it’s a simple way to donate and show thanks! I took many pictures with it on my GoPro and made some postcard-quality content. If you come here alone like I did, there will likely be other people here to help you take your picture (or your taxi driver always can).
For information on accommodations in Takaharu, I would recommend checking out Guesthouse Nagata because it is right next to Totoro. There isn’t much to do in this town as it is pretty residential so I spent another night in Aoshima, but if you have a lot of time in Kyushu you might enjoy staying here. Getting your picture taken next to Totoro definitely makes the journey worth it!
Since I came here in the morning, I still had 2/3 of the day left to enjoy other activities in Miyazaki. Here are some other fun things that I recommend doing:
Aoshima Hammock Cafe
Aoshima Hammock is a relatively new and unique experience that I hope more people seek out! Unlike most hammock cafes in Japan, this place also includes a workshop and hammock rental system for those who are looking to relax in a hammock outside by the ocean. Their system is relatively cheap and affordable. If you go outdoors a lot you might consider buying one because they are made of high-quality yarn and come in many beautiful colors. You can even sign up for a class to knit one yourself.
Since it was scorching hot outside, I decided to buy a drink at the cafe and relax on a hammock indoors (which is free). However, outside the cafe is a beautiful park and rose garden by the water so I am considering renting a hammock in the future if I come back. They will teach you how to install the hammock and give you all of the materials and are foreigner-friendly. It’s a fun opportunity for you to learn how to better enjoy Aoshima life too!
Miyazaki Fruit Parfaits
One of the best things about coming to Kyushu is they have some of the freshest fruit in Japan. Most notably the ice cream fruit parfaits in Miyazaki are to die for! My top parfait recommendations are Sakuranbo and Fruit Ohno located near Miyazaki Station. Even if you don’t like ice cream, they have dragon fruit, fresh strawberries, and melon that you can try without it. I was thoroughly impressed by the design of these parfaits:
Who would have guessed that Kyushu has Easter Island motifs on it?? Sun Messe is a bizarre tourist attraction where you can take pictures with Moai statues. Your pictures can actually turn out pretty cool if you take them at the right angle (these were taken in 2018 so I regret not having a better camera). While we were here, we chatted with two nice guys from Kumamoto who were here on vacation and later went to the beach with them. What a strange place to socialize, but this place definitely has a powerful aura.
Nearby Sun Messe is the famous Udo Shrine and a beach that you can swim in! This beach isn’t as pretty as Aoshima in my opinion, but it’s definitely worth checking out while you are here. The atmosphere is pretty relaxing and you can make out mountains in the distance as you swim towards the horizon. A great experience overall.
Entrance Fee: 800 yen (worth it for the weirdness here)
Flower lovers rejoice because there are beautiful flora growing in Miyazaki year-round! At Florante Miyazaki you can see different types of plants being raised in outdoor gardens and greenhouses next to a beautiful pond in the summer. I remember seeing citrus oranges being grown here for the first time of my life. In the winter some facilities are closed but the park creates gorgeous illuminations. I believe they happen year-round now. I sadly could only come here during the day due to my busy schedule, but I hope to catch a night show here in the future!
Entrance Fee: 310 yen (very cheap)
Since Miyazaki borders the ocean, you can easily find seafood restaurants all over the city and beach fronts. In 2018 my friend took me to a place where you could order fish and seafood to be grilled right in front of you. It was such a fun experience trying Miyazaki specialties together! I encourage you to try the shrimp because it is especially zesty. You could also buy fish from a fish market and cook it on the beach if you have your own grill. Not to mention there are sushi and sashimi restaurants galore. You really can’t go wrong with food here because it’s way cheaper than in Tokyo!
Thank you for reading the 2nd article in my Miyazaki Series! In my next article, I will be writing about my adventure to yet another rare gem—Takachiho Gorge. Please look forward to it!
Since I couldn’t travel to the Philippines, Indonesia, or New Zealand this summer, I decided to take a trip to Kyushu Island—also known as the tropics of Japan. I’ve been to Kyushu around 6 times (most notably for my Yakushima Birthday Adventure), but this time my goal was to explore hard-to-reach destinations in Miyazaki Prefecture. Kyushu is most famous for Fukuoka and Okinawa, but Miyazaki is just as beautiful as those places and has some extremely rare gems like Takachiho Gorge. Surprisingly some Japanese people don’t even know about Takachiho because it’s so remote. If you like swimming and outdoor adventures, then Miyazaki is the place for you!
My plan was stay for 4 days and travel to the following destinations:
Narita Airport (Tokyo) ⇛ Miyazaki Airport (Kyushu) ⇛ Aoshima Island ⇛ Takaharu City (for Totoro Bus Stop) ⇛ Aoshima Island (for rest) ⇛ Takachiho Gorge ↺ Tokyo
I previously went to Miyazaki in 2018 and paid nearly 50000 yen for my plane ticket because I was traveling during a holiday. This is sadly the average price of non-discount airlines and is more expensive than international travel to surrounding Asian countries. However, this time I only paid 12000 yen through combining one-way Jetstar and Peach Aviation flights. A huge difference! I will admit that I was a bit nervous traveling here during the pandemic, but this is one of my last summer vacations before I start working full time again. Both airlines took great lengths to ensure our safety and enforced social distancing more than the trains in the city so I was grateful. Kyushu can also be reached by train, but it takes 6-9 hours by shinkansen and is usually more expensive than airfare. I recommend flying to save time and also to feel more comfortable.
I boarded my plane mid-afternoon at Narita Airport and had a smooth 2 hour flight directly to Miyazaki Airport. All I brought with me was my Totoro purse and backpack so check-in was no problem. Once I arrived, I could already feel the ocean breeze from outside so I instantly felt relaxed. There is a cheap bus that runs from the airport to Aoshima Beach, but since I was chasing sunsets I hailed a taxi there. I arrived just in time to watch the sun set and get some swimming in. I also pounded down 2 glasses of wine while wearing a fake Gucci shirt I bought in Osaka. It felt great to be back again!
Aoshima is a fantastic beach because it’s connected to a tiny island by a bridge you can walk over. On the island you will find a shrine, some unique rock formations called the Devil’s Washboard, random bars, and infinite palm trees. You can see the whole island in 15 mins or less but I decided to go swimming here even after the main beach had closed. After it started getting dark, I decided to walk back and relax at Aoshima Park. This area has a variety of restaurants and bars and usually stays open until 8pm-10pm depending on the day. There is a free alkaline shower you can use here as well!
For dinner, I decided to try the famous Aoshima Crab Bowl for 3000 yen. It came with a whole rainbow of sashimi with it too:
10/10. After feeling fulfilled, I decided to head back to my guest house and get some sleep. I was venturing all the way to the legendary Totoro Bus Stop the next day, after all. The party had just begun.
Where to Stay
The two best options for backpackers to stay at in Aoshima are Hooju Guest House and Fisherman’s Beach Side Hostel. Both are 2100 yen per night and are located right on the beach. They are extremely simple and have limited amenities, but are perfect for those who are planning on doing outdoor activities for most of their stay. I felt extremely welcome during my time here and the other people in my dorm were respectful. There is also bike rental available which saved me a lot of time!
As far as onsen go, I recommend the day hot spring at Grantia Hotel in Aoshima. It has an indoor and outdoor onsen, sauna, and only costs 850 yen to enter. A perfect way to unwind after the beach!
Alternatively you could stay near Miyazaki Station if you are planning to visit other cities in Kyushu. Aoshima is about a 45min bus ride away from the city center so you won’t be on the beach, but you will be close to it. No matter which location you choose, there’s a lot to see and do!
One thing I loved about Miyzaki Airport is that all of the clocks resemble smiling suns. The polar opposite of the Majora’s Mask Moon! Miyazaki Airport is one of the happiest airports that you’ll visit. The only thing that comes close is the Koh Samui Airport in Thailand with its beautiful outdoor garden.
When I first visited Miyazaki in 2018, I stayed with two of my friends in their town house near Miyazaki Station. This was very convenient for taking transportation and I got to know so much of the city thanks to their guidance. While I was out running, I remember passing by this stunning pink house in their neighborhood. The bright color and gorgeous design of the windows were extremely eye-catching. Plus it looked extremely spacious. That got me thinking… If I ever get over my “party every weekend” phase, I might enjoy living in a house like this near the beach. It’s really hard to predict the future at this point because Tokyo has the most financial opportunities for me, but it’s fun to fantasize about. Where is your dream house?
Thank you for reading the first article of my Miyazaki Series! I will be talking about visiting the famous Totoro Bus Stop in my next article. Please stay tuned for more.
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:
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.
For the duration of the 4 day consecutive summer holiday known as “Marine Day” in Japan, my boyfriend and I decided to take our very first trip together to bustling city of Osaka! We chose this destination because it’s much more laid-back than Tokyo and there is a myriad of things to do and see here. You can walk by the river and sip on a Strong Zero while being right in the heart of the city where there’s never a dull moment. I’ve traveled to Osaka about 10 times (mainly for music events), but I still haven’t seen it all. This time I was most excited to see the Kaiyukan Aquarium and go to the old school arcades with my boyfriend who is a fighting game fanatic. Along the way we discovered so many delicious restaurants and made heartfelt memories that I’ll never forget.
We departed from Nagoya via the Willer Express Bus at 8:30am. This was a good move because it was cheaper than the shinkansen and we could peacefully sleep on it. We arrived to the Umeda Sky Building (in central Osaka) around 11:30 where we walked to La Tartine for coffee and some sweets. I found this cafe through my Instragram algorithms and wanted to try the dog macaroon because it reminded me of Pasocom Ongaku Club’s mascot. I also tried a cookie with a beach design that tasted amazing. All of the desserts were intricately made here. Incidentally, we also got a free coffee jelly as a gift for discovering this cafe through Instagram. How nice♫~
Next we made our way towards our hotel in Shinsaibashi and decided to get some okonomiyaki for lunch at Hanahana since it was nearby. Not only was this place absolutely delicious, but it was dirt cheap too. I ordered shrimp okonomiyaki and my boyfriend got a mix of pork and seafood in his. It was such a satisfying meal:
Since our hotel wasn’t quite ready to check in to, we dropped off our stuff and headed straight to Kaiyukan Aquarium which I had never been to before! This is one of the most famous aquariums in Japan so I figured it would be the perfect date spot. Unfortunately since it was a holiday, a lot of other people had the same idea so we had to wait an hour to enter. Luckily it was worth the wait. I had been to Japan’s largest aquarium in Okinawa years ago, but I hadn’t been to another one in ages so this was refreshing. In addition to colorful schools of fish, smiling stingrays, and the “Silence Brand” crab, they also had capybara which is my favorite animal there too! My boyfriend most enjoyed the waddle of penguins (yes, a group of penguins is actually called a “waddle”):
We were very impressed with the large variety of sea creatures here! I also loved seeing the “Keep distance” penguin sign, though it was an impossible challenge for the over-excited Japanese children here. I also liked the message that said “all things are connected” at the end. It really had me thinking for a while. By the time we finished seeing all of the exhibits here, we were exhausted. This aquarium is quite huge compared to other underwater exhibits in Japan.
Admission Fee: 2,550 yen (worth in in my opinion)
Not wanting to miss out on every food opportunity that life presented us, we stopped for ramen and ice cream. The two main food groups. I bought a capybara souvenir at the aquarium so I could forever remember this moment. This isn’t the first time this has happened. My boyfriend chose to eat ramen at Zundoya which has a branch in Osaka. He said it was some of the best that he’s had in a while. I tried the Pokemon ice cream flavors at Bakin Robbins, but unfortunately they didn’t live up to the hype. I give them a 6/10 because they taste like sugary melted soda. They would be much more satisfying if they contained vodka. Fortunately that’s what we had next…
Yet another bar that ended up in my Instagram algorithms was called Mixology Bar Factory & Gear. And boy, it did not disappoint. It was here that we met a fire bender and drank magical cocktails from the galaxy. My boyfriend also ordered a Tuxedo Mask-esque drink and another drink that was wrapped in plastic like Laura Palmer. I ordered the “Little Planet” (pictured above) and a mysterious pineapple drink with a bubble that you can pop. Watching the video is easier than explaining it. This is peak aesthetic:
The taste of all of these drinks can be described as “works of art” but this Tweet sums our experience up the best:
Condensing an entire late night astrology program into a glass and lacing it with acid has been the most fun my mouth has ever had. Dope ass cocktail. https://t.co/rT2DIkts5Z
If you have time, please check this bar out! The average cost of drinks is 1300 yen but I promise that you won’t be disappointed. There’s also some “Viagra Liqueur” (the opposite of whiskey dick) for those who are feeling adventurous. We will remember this bar for the rest of our lives.
Where to Stay
Normally I stay at Asahi Capsule Hotel when I’m alone since it’s one of the cheapest places in Osaka, but since I came here with someone special I wanted to stay somewhere a bit nicer.
This time I chose Felice Hotel because it was only 5000 yen per night for 2 people. This was within walking distance of Dotonbori and all of the bars we wanted to go to so it was the perfect choice. Our bed was huge and extremely comfy. There is also a public onsen bath and a rooftop bar that you can visit. I would honestly love to stay here again!
Though the theatrical release of the Evangelion 4.0 movie has been indefinitely postponed due to the pandemic, official Evangelion collaborations are still going full swing in Japan. Last week I visited the Radio EVA Cafe located on the 6th floor of the Shibuya PARCO building and tried some of their delicious desserts. In addition they have some custom merchandise for sale. Their menu had a lot of options, but my personal favorite was the purple mousse rose with leaf-shaped chocolate:
This mousse was perfect because it was super soft and creamy, but not too sweet! The little bits of pancake also added to the texture. Though the food is quite expensive (averaging 1500 yen per dish), the pro of coming to this cafe is that you get to see special scenes from the movie! Unfortunately recording them is not allowed, but I was able to take a lot of pictures around the cafe:
I really enjoyed seeing the comic book art-style they chose here. The interior design was really thought out and it was interesting to see fully English quotes. Unfortunately there were not a lot of vegetarian options, but I loved the flavored drinks and desserts. For the full menu, please see their official website.
The cafe will be running from 6/1/2020 – 8/2/2020. There is no online reservation system so you can just walk in. I went on a weekday at 6pm and was immediately seated. For those who are unable to go, fear not! There will likely be another cafe when the movie is finally released. When that happens, I will be sure to check it out!
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.
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!
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. As far as Vietnam goes, I noticed most of the trendy bars and cafes were located in Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh has a lot of upscale restaurants and fancy cuisine from around the world that I enjoyed trying, but Hanoi had the most photogenic food plus the famous “Obama Combo”.
Here are some of my favorite aesthetic restaurants that I discovered in Hanoi. Please see my first Ho Chi Minh article for some food recommendations there too.
The Unicorn Pub
“You have entered a different world… one filled with good times and specially-crafted artisan cocktails. Enjoy your journey through our exclusive, fun-filled menu found nowhere else on Earth!” -The Unicorn Pub
While walking down the narrow streets of Hanoi as a tourist, you’ll definitely draw a lot of attention from the locals. Food vendors with carts will follow you down the road, shop owners will yell and beckon you into their stores full of everything from bootleg designer bags to handmade accessories… At first all of the attention is nice but it gets hard to relax after a while. My favorite example is when I sat down at a restaurant with outdoor seating and a woman selling fried bananas tried to get me to buy them. I politely showed her my receipt and explained that I had already ordered food and I didn’t want any, but she started putting the bananas in a bag and tried to sell them for me for a discount. Even when I started to ignore here, she simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. Eventually the food that I ordered arrived and she finally left when I started eating, but man…
I understand that these vendors need business, but being polite with how you approach someone is important. Though I ate at some smaller food stalls to give them business, on my first night in Hanoi I decided to try an upscale bar called The Unicorn Pub to see what the atmosphere was like. And let me tell you; it was completely worth it!
The Unicorn Pub has by far the best atmosphere and original cocktails that I discovered in Vietnam. The bar owner is very kind and speaks great English. She came out and introduced herself and her staff to me and asked what kind of liquor I liked. I explained that I was an aesthetic food enthusiast (though I didn’t use that terminology exactly) and she already had a cocktail in mind for me. The very first cocktail I had was the Butterfly Cocktail! It was sweet and had a mix of fruity liquor and vodka with the adorable butterfly decoration on the rim of the glass. Next I ordered the Pho Cocktail which is a spicy cocktail that is exclusive to this bar. It takes a precise level of mixology to prepare this concoction, but the flavor is out of this world! I have never seen a drink prepared with such care before.
This bar draws in a number of foreigners and locals so it has a good mix of people. The guy sitting next to me was Vietnamese and was telling me all about Sapa village. I unfortunately couldn’t fit it in on this itinerary, but I’d really like to travel there in the future. He was sipping on some 38% alcohol which I couldn’t read the name of, so the bartender let me have a sip. I can’t even remember the taste but mixing liquors sure is an adventure in itself. Conversation flowed easy after that. I ended my night with some kind of lemon cocktail and walked back 10 mins to my hostel. I added all of the people at the bar on Facebook and I still keep in touch with them today. Fortunately the corona virus hasn’t spread as much in Vietnam and this bar is still in business! I’ll be sure to come back some day.
Egg Coffee at Cafe Giang
Egg Coffee is without a doubt one of the biggest food memes in Vietnam. It was invented in the 1940s while there was a milk shortage. The true recipe is unknown but it is said to contain egg, butter, and cheese along with a coffee base. Giang Cafe is one of the best coffee shops to try egg coffee in Vietnam. According to The Guardian, currently the son of the coffee’s inventor runs the shop. Not knowing what to expect, I ordered a hot glass of the standard egg coffee. It surprisingly didn’t taste like egg at all; it had a creamy coffee texture almost like a latte but much thicker. Plus I bet it’s still healthier than most drinks at Starbucks! I would recommend trying a cup while you are here because it’s quite satisfying.
The “Obama Combo” at Hương Liên Bún Chả Obama
Ah yes, another great meme. My friend informed me that there was a famous bun cha (pork and noodle) restaurant that Obama once ate at while he visited Vietnam. This had such an impact on their business that they added “Obama” to the name of their restaurant. Is Hương Liên Bún Chả Obama worth the hype? The ingredients in bun cha are undoubtedly delicious, but this restaurant is pretty standard in what it offers. There unfortunately weren’t many vegetarian options here but I had fun checking this place out and ordered my noodles without pork. The Obama Combo tasted good, but it was higher-priced than other places and I prefer eating pho. If you go, be sure you walk up all the floors so you can see all the framed Obama photos. It must have been the greatest moment of honor for this restaurant!
Aroi Dessert Cafe
Aroi Dessert Cafe is a cozy relaxing space that’s open 24 hours and serves the cutest desserts! I came here to charge my portable wifi and try one of their famous bear cakes. It was light, fluffy, and filled with chocolate. Exactly what I needed after walking around the city all day. In addition to cakes they have a large selection of coffee and fruity cocktails. It’s really easy to kill time here between planning your next move so I would recommend it! I recall the chairs being extremely comfy too.
Remember my story about the old lady who tried to sell me fried bananas? I narrowly escaped her by ordering this sandwich and showing her my receipt. Oh manh! A Spicy Perspective describes manh as “one of the most vibrant and delicious sandwiches in the world” and I can agree. Manh is usually filled with pork and fresh vegetables, but the stall I ate at in central Hanoi had a vegetarian option too! The pickled vegetables in the grilled baguette topped with mayo and spices definitely made my day.
Thank you for reading yet another aesthetic food article for me! I hope to take another trip to Vietnam when things start to calm down.
During my birthday in October of 2018, I made the decision to take a week-long tropical vacation to Vietnam—baby’s first trip to a Communist country. It has taken me nearly 2 years to find time the proper time to write about it, but take my word that this next article series will be worth the wait. We will be exploring some of the craziest places and seeing how Communism shaped the culture here. Going to Vietnam changed my life and is yet another adventure I’ll never forget. In fact, people don’t talk about this country nearly enough!!
It all started during my first week Tokyo when I went clubbing in Roppongi (when it was still good) and met one of my best friends who is half Japanese and half Vietnamese. She likes drinking and dancing as much as I do so naturally we hit it off. One night while we were having dinner she couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the beaches in Vietnam were. Since I had already been to Okinawa (I still need to write about this) and Yakushima for my previous birthdays which are considered some of the most beautiful getaways in Japan, I decided it was time to get out of the country and see these renowned beaches for myself.
I researched and found that Phu Quoc is known as the most beautiful island in Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh is the cheapest place to fly to from Tokyo likely because it is a large international business hub. I paid around $400 USD through Vietnam Airlines for a roundtrip flight. I decided that I wanted to see Hanoi too because that is where my friend is from, so I came up with an itinerary that looked like this:
Tokyo ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ⇒ Hanoi ⇒ Phu Quoc ⇒ Pineapple Island ⇒ Ho Chi Minh ↻ Tokyo
Though this only hits the major areas, I booked some private tours to remote temples that I will mentioning in this series.
Getting a Visa in Vietnam
Since Vietnam is a Communist country, tourists will need to apply for a visa BEFORE they arrive. Unlike other countries, applying for a visa upon arrival is usually not permitted. I chose to purchase one online through Vietnam e-Visa, which is a legitimate and trustworthy service that you can safely submit your documents to. Your visa will last 1-3 months and usually costs around $25 (there is sadly no way to avoid this fee). You can also apply directly at the Vietnamese Embassy in your country. For my lifestyle, it was much easier to apply online and I received approval within 3 days. Easy.
After arriving at Ho Chi Minh Airport and successfully passing through customs with my e-Visa (fortunately it was an easy process that didn’t require much time), I hired a taxi and drove to the very first destination on my list: ICE Coffee. This is one of the most unique coffee shops in Vietnam that has a deep-frozen room full of furniture and sculptures made of ice plus an adorable Husky you can pet! I was lucky because I came in the afternoon when no one else was there. I ordered a simple strawberry milk drink and began my journey through the frozen lands of Ho Chi Minh (fortunately winter jackets can be borrowed at the entrance with no extra cost). To my surprise there was a bed that you could take a nap in too. Exactly what I needed after my long flight!
I loved the design of this place because it had an avant-garde ice cave feeling to it. The neon lights that reflected off the ice ornaments added a really cool city pop (cave pop?) aesthetic:
I had previously thought about staying in an ice hotel in either China or Hokkaido, but now that I’ve been here and taken plenty of pictures I really don’t feel the need. This is the perfect place to chill with your friends and plan your trip around the city (or by yourself like me). The temperature is quite cold, but the blankets on top of the ice furniture will keep you warm. The hot drinks definitely help too!
When I exited Winters and headed back towards Summers (pardon the Earthbound joke), it started downpouring rain. That’s when I saw a familiar character’s face just up ahead—it was none other than Donkey Kong! Not wanting to get drenched in the rain or awkwardly re-enter the coffee shop I just left, I ran towards the mysterious DK shop. Whatever this place was, it had to be good. Unbeknownst to me, it was another tea and coffee shop called Aroma Tea! While I waited for the rain to subside, I decided to order the weirdest drink on the menu: Cream Cheese Tea. The best part was that DK was smiling proudly on my cup:
It was surprisingly sweet and easy to drink. Obviously a lot of sugar and milk was added to create a satisfactory flavor. Exactly what I needed after my strawberry milk, right?
I spent some time here planning out the rest of my day. Fortunately the rain was only expected to last for 3 hours and I could still go out at night. Because the traffic was starting to get heavy, I kindly asked the staff to assist me with calling a taxi because I couldn’t flag one down. I severely underestimated the craziness rush hour here. The majority of people in Vietnam ride motorbikes and it’s extremely hard to cross the road until you get the hang of it. Most drivers will slow down when you start to walk across, but some remain driving at full speed until they’re right beside you!
Another thing to watch out for is the exhaust from all of the bikes. I noticed it in my lungs immediately when I went for a run the next day. Though I don’t have asthma, it was harder for me to breathe than usual. Luckily I had planned various excursions outside of the city so I wasn’t breathing it in all the time.
When the taxi arrived, I had them drop me off at my hotel so I could check in and put my suitcase away. After that, it was time to get changed into fancy clothes and party!
Dining in Ho Chi Minh (Nha Hang Ngon)
Even after sipping on all of those sugary drinks, my hunger was still unsatisfied. I hadn’t eaten anything all day so I decided to dine at a beautiful restaurant called Nha Hang Ngon. This place has all sorts of Vietnamese cuisine you can try with a gorgeous interior decor. The menu is in English and has pictures of the dishes so it’s the perfect place to try things so you know what you like. I ordered coconut shrimp, chili crab, and coconut ice cream while dining in the garden area. The food and service was amazing! Plus the rain had subsided so I was in a happy mood. Who wouldn’t be when they’re eating here?
Even upscale restaurants in Vietnam are extremely affordable. I only paid around $30 USD for all of this and it was very fulfilling. Next it was time to hit the clubs!
Clubbing at Apocalypse Now
I had a list of clubs written down, and Apocalypse Now was at the top of the list because of its iconic name… In no time was drunk and ready to take on the apocalypse. The club had no entrance fee and I immediately made friends with several Vietnamese girls who invited me to their table (probably due to my extremely blonde hair at the time). They spoke simple English and we danced to better-than-what-you’d-expect remixes of popular EDM songs. The club’s interior was very beautiful and had red lanterns. I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was too focused on having a good time and sipping on Coronas.
Though my time here was short because I had a huge itinerary, I still stay in touch with the girls I met through social media. I enjoy seeing them travel around Vietnam because it inspires me to come back!
Clubbing in Ho Chi Minh is safe because there are always officers in uniform around keeping watch. However, they don’t act like bouncers do. They simply observe and ensure that no suspicious people try to sell drugs or anything. Drugs are quite rare in this country so you shouldn’t have to worry about getting your drink spiked. It is always a good idea to keep your eye on it, however.
I stayed at a private room in Blue River Hotel for $20 per night. It was quiet, clean, and located near most of the attractions that I wanted to see so it was perfect for me. With a little more money, you could likely stay in an upscale hotel with a spa and more luxurious amenities! I was on a budget so I wasn’t able to stay in the nicer hotels, but I plan on checking them out in my next trip!
As far as transportation goes, I recommend using Grab app so you don’t get scammed. The price is automatically calculated by distance so you don’t have to worry about dodgy people. I’d like to believe that most people are honest, but I was scammed by an old taxi driver who hid the meter with a piece of cloth. I can’t remember how much I lost, but it was likely the equivalent of $50 USD and I had no way to determine the correct amount. I reluctantly paid and got out. Vietnamese people are not rude or dangerous, but they will try to take advantage of tourists. Please be careful while traveling here.
In my next series of articles, I will be writing about the rest of my adventures around Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, and Phu Quoc Island. Please stay tuned for more!
A trip to Nagoya is never complete without trying all of the delicious food available. This aesthetic food adventure takes us to many dessert cafes and restaurants that have just re-opened after the emergency state ended. We also drank at Meijo Park near Nagoya Castle which is one of the chillest spots I’ve found in this city with awesome scenery. All of the places I visited this weekend have a lovely atmosphere and I can’t recommend them enough!
I’ll be expanding this list as I find more places, but feel free to suggest any you recommend in the comments! Please see Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 for reference.
When I first saw the pink refrigerator door that serves as the entrance to this cafe, I was already enamored by its aesthetic. Amelia Cafe, located on the 3rd floor of the PARCO building in Sakae, has a large range of fulfilling dishes and beautiful desserts. I ordered the vegetable and seafood salad while my boyfriend ordered the massive curry that had a volcano of cheese fondue in it. I had never seen such a wild combination but it tasted amazing!! We also ordered the strawberry and Orea milk bottles topped with whipped cream and chocolate to go along with our orders. At that point we were already feeling full, but we couldn’t leave without defeating the final boss: The Rainbow Cake Pudding Parfait. It surprisingly had a light texture so we finished it off in now time. Hungry protagonist unite! Next time I come here, I would really like to try the waffles and tiramisu coffee drinks. The portions are huge but the food is actually quite cheap. This is a good place to eat with groups and also the ideal date spot. I’m really lucky that my boyfriend found this place!
Around the time that Animal Crossing for Switch was released, these guys popped up in my recommended desserts feed on Instagram. Though I don’t play the game because I value my free time, who could pass up the chance to try tanuki cupcakes!? Holland is western-themed desserts and confectionery shop near Kanayama Station in Nagoya. They sell individual sweets and customized cakes for a pretty affordable price. The tanuki cupcakes come in strawberry and chocolate flavors. They had both a wafer and cake-like texture underneath the frosting. Honestly they hit the spot after traveling over 2 hours here from Tokyo. I am excited to see what other fun cupcakes they design in the future!
Cafe One in central Sakae delivers breakfast of the champions with it’s signature nekopan. Or should I say breakfast of the champio-nyans? Whatever you want to call it, it’s mouthwatering and delicious. I had ice cream milk coffee that was decorated to look like a cat with a mustache and a cookie tail on the side. I instantly felt energized after consuming all that ice cream and sugar. My boyfriend ordered neko melonpan that had no face but was thicc and tasted amazing. I ordered the nekopan with almond eyes that was covered in peanut butter and marshmallow toppings with chocolate whiskers. Honestly is was a bit overwhelming but was also some of the best bread I had ever tasted. There are many flavors of nekopan available here so I’d love to try more in the future!
Dean & Deluca Deli
After consuming all of that sugar, we walked around for a while and decided we should eat something healthy for lunch. Not too far from Cafe One is the Dean & Deluca Deli where you can order sandwiches and fresh salad for a healthy meal. They offer juices, desserts, and takeout options here as well. I decided to get the vegetable salad with avocado, grilled pumpkin, potato, lettuce, quinoa, and carrots. It was a good balance to what I ate for breakfast and gave me a lot of energy for the rest of the day. My boyfriend had the chicken sandwich and said it had his stamp of approval too. This place is win-win for both vegetarians and people who like meat because it has a number of options.
Poket is a Hawaiin restaurant that just moved to the bottom floor of ASTIR Hotel in Sakae. They are relatively new but have a really vibrant and welcoming atmosphere. Poke Bowls are the specialty here which you can order with salad or rice as your base. I customized my bowl to include sauteed octopus and vegetables. For dessert, I decided to try their one of a kind “banana soft” which is vanilla ice cream that is carefully placed inside of a fresh banana. The result is extremely photogenic and Instagrammable. Bananas sure have evolved a lot! The drink menu has Japanese drinks, Hawaiin beers, and pineapple sours. I definitely felt like we were in a tropical place even though we are currently in the middle of the rainy season in Japan. I would definitely come back here again to try more variety of of Poke and see what other crazy desserts they come up with!
For once I wasn’t the one that found this restaurant—full credit goes to my boyfriend for taking us here. 杏ZU specializes in vegan Chinese food but has a non-vegan menu too. I decided to ordered the vegetables boiled with yuba tofu (vegan option). I also tried some Chinese wine on the rocks. It was bitter but tasted just right paired with the food. My boyfriend got a chicken dish that was served in a delicious rice cracker. What makes this place stand out from other Chinese restaurants is the seasoning they use in their cooking. I tasted a hint of lemon in mine and it was very healthy because they didn’t use any butter in it. I would really like to come back here and try some shrimp dishes in the future. This place will be on my watch list.
This mysterious restaurant popped up in my Instagram feed one day and got me thinking… just what is an Icelandic Market doing in Nagoya!? I looked at their menu and decided I would try their bread bowl with shrimp soup. The other choices were tomato curry and Nagoya spice because that’s totally what people eat in Iceland. Though not completely authentic, this was the best bread bowl that I’ve ever had in Japan! My boyfriend had a hot dog wrapped in bacon which he said was pretty good. This restaurant is about 40 mins from Nagoya Station and is quite small, but it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for something different. I definitely enjoyed the theme.
Situated next to Nagoya Castle, Meijo Park is one of the ideal places to drink or have a picnic. Unlike other parks and gardens in Nagoya, it doesn’t have an entrance fee and is open 24 hours. It feels like something out of an RPG because it has a giant windmill that looks like it holds secrets, a sundial that could possibly turn back time, and comically huge sunflowers everywhere. Not to mention the adorable stray cats. You could definitely use this place in a game map. Anyway, my boyfriend and I spent 2 hours drinking here before Final Fantasy VII trivia night at Critical Hit. We also tried the new Blue Hawaii donut at Lyrical Coffee Donut which was better than their matcha series. I later came back here to watch the sunset and see the moon before I left for Tokyo. This place has a wonderful aesthetic because all of the trees block the city lights.
That’s all the aesthetic food finds for this week. I’ll have more to write about when I visit Nagoya again later this month! Thank you for reading.