Exploring the Freezing Ho Chi Minh City of Vietnam

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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!!

Why Vietnam?  

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.

ICE Coffee

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!

Access

262 Bùi Viện, Phường Phạm Ngũ Lão, Quận 1, Hồ Chí Minh, Vietnam

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:

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DK AROMA TEA IS HERE!

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

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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.

Accommodation

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!

Aesthetic Food Finds in Nagoya Vol. 3 ft. Meijo Park

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.

Holland

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Tom Nook ain’t got nothing on these cupcakes.

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

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

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Nothing says a balanced diet like nekopan and freshly chopped salad.

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

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!

杏ZU

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.

Meijo Park

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.

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:

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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

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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!

 

The Jeju Chronicles: Last Day on the Island Exploring Beaches, Sex Museums, and the Nexon Computer Museum

After exploring the east and west side of Jeju Island and climbing Mt. Hallasan, I decided to spend my final day on the island relaxing and seeing some of the places that most tours don’t cover (such as the sex museum and private beaches).  Since I don’t have an international license, I had my hostel help book me a private taxi driver.  The average cost of private taxi drivers in Jeju is about $150 USD per day but hiring one is much easier than trying to use the local buses.  The duration of the taxi session is around 9 hours and you can easily see all of the things you want to see without hassle.  Hilariously, all the English-speaking drivers were booked already due to high demand but I was able to book a Japanese one.  Without further hesitation I set off for my fifth and final day on the island and hoped for the best!  Fortunately the weather was on my side.

See Iho Tewoo Beach & Gwakji Beach

Jeju has around eight popular swimming beaches in total, but I chose to travel to the two most photogenic ones.  Iho Tewoo Beach is famous for its two horse-shaped lighthouses.  I wanted to see them in person so this was the very first destination I chose!  Unfortunately it was bit too cold to go swimming, but I just liked being on an empty and relaxing beach.  Apparently this beach is extremely popular during the summer because you can go for boat rides here, but during late April when I went it was extremely peaceful and quiet.  Just what I wanted after all of the exhausting hiking that I did!

I picked up some amazing octopus at a nearby restaurant here.  Raw Korean octopus tastes amazing:

After I had my fill, I decided to head to Gwakji Beach which is much livelier because there are a lot of resorts around it.  None of the resorts on Jeju are particularly fancy, but the cafes sure are.  I decided to try Mônsant which is owned by G-DRAGON purely because of its flawless architectural design.  You can see the ocean through the panes of glass while sipping on delicious coffee.  I ordered a strawberry smoothie and couldn’t believe the view that I was seeing:

I tried to go swimming here, but the beach shore was a bit rocky so I was reluctant.  Jeju’s beaches are more designed for soaking up the atmosphere rather than actually getting soaked.  I didn’t mind though, because Gwakji Beach definitely had a nice vibe.  In addition to posh cafes there were squids being sun-dried and local food stalls around.  I appreciated the diversity of food here.

One hilarious and slightly creepy trend here I saw was having photos of couples and babies printed onto lattes.  I’m usually quite adventurous when it comes to food, but I don’t know if I’d have the courage to drink myself…  This is just too realistic:

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WOW!

Nexon Computer Museum

The next stop was my favorite museum of all time in Korea: The Nexon Computer Museum.  Nexon is the company responsible for creating Maple Story and the longest running commercial graphic MMO in the world: Baram, also known as Nexus: The Kingdom of the Winds.  I was really surprised to see that a modest company in Korea had this award; which makes me think that Nexon is seriously underrated so naturally I wanted to learn more.

I featured this museum in my Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums article, so please check it out for the full description!  If you travel all the way to Jeju, you need to come here.  You won’t be disappointed.

Museum of Sex and Health (Jeju Loveland)

Ah yes, the infamous Sex Museum of Korea.  I’ll admit I was a bit embarrassed coming here by myself, but I was on vacation so I figured why the hell not?  Jeju Loveland is an art museum of erotic outdoor sculptures and has an indoor collection of various adult toys.  What’s good is that it promotes a safe approach to sex and only admits entry to adults (honestly I’ve seen enough pedophilia in Japan bookstores and this was a much classier attraction).  “Various romantic and sexual art works are waiting for you.” the official website says.  I liked the ambiguity of the upside-down sculptures submerged in water… But I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination.  Definitely see it if it fancies you!

Entrance Fee: $9 USD (not bad)

Jeju Horse Park

Before having my driver drop me off at the airport so I could take my flight back to Seoul, I decided to make one more stop at Jeju Horse Park.  I was wearing the most extra outfit because I was shooting pictures on the beach just before, but once again I figured why not!  I was on vacation and I wanted to ride a horse one last time.  This was the perfect way to end my Jeju Chronicles.  I had successfully accomplished everything that I had planned so this was yet another perfect trip to commemorate.  The park has a really laidback approach and you can choose multiple routes around the mountains and seaside.  I couldn’t use my camera because I was riding, but I had an amazing time!  There was a guide who was keeping close watch on me so I felt safe at all times.  Horseback riding is a great way to see Jeju Island and is relatively cheap so you should try it at least once while you’re here.

Entrance Fee: $10-$20 USD depending on how long you go.

Final Remarks

As this article implies, I had a phenomenal time on Jeju Island and would recommend it to all my friends.  There were a few issues with the language barrier here and there, but island people are some of the friendliest people that you will ever meet.  I really treasured all of my time here.  I was also able to speak Japanese in a few instances and find my way around.  Google Maps aren’t always reliable in South Korea so I would do your research on what attractions you want to see before coming here.  That’s it really.  Once you arrive at Jeju, you’ll find that the island is small enough that you can easily navigate and fit in all the activities you want.  Jeju is by far the most beautiful place in South Korea and you should definitely give it a chance because it has activities for everyone!

The Jeju Chronicles: Climbing Mt. Hallasan

After getting a good dose of cycling and an impromptu dance party on Udo Island, I figured I’d spend my 2nd day in Jeju climbing Korea’s tallest mountain: Mt. Hallasan.  It’s actually not just a mountain— it’s an active volcano too!  Fortunately for us, it hasn’t erupted in over 1,000 years and doesn’t spew lava so it’s safe to climb.  Reaching the summit will give you the best view of the island which is why I wanted to take on the challenge.  I’ve climbed Mt. Fuji in Japan which was quite the strenuous hike of 3,776 meters.  Hallasan is still challenging, but is only 1,947 meters and has a lovely forest you can see on your way up.  I found the hike to be pleasant and surprisingly relaxing.

Hallasan National Park is in the center of the main Jeju island and is quite easy to get to from any accommodation.  It only took me around 45 mins via bus from my hostel.  The mountain has four main trails, but only two will take you all the way to the top.  I decided to start at the Seongpanak Trail then take the Gwaneumsa Trail down.  This is the best way to see Hallasan as you can reach the summit and fully experience all the sights on the main trails within 8 – 10 hours.  If you want a shorter hike, you can try Eorimok Trail or Yeongsil Trail which only take 2 hours.  I did not hike them, but from looking at pictures that others have posted I can see that they have similar scenery to the beginning of the main trails.  I never guessed that Korea would have such beautiful mountains, but I was surprised to see how jaw-dropping the views were the further I climbed:

I started climbing around 8:30am and bought a small bottle of Korean Sochu from a convenience store at the base so I could take little shots of it as I climbed up the mountain.  Fortunately my hostel provided free breakfast so with 3 pieces of egg toast I knew I would have the energy to go all the way.  I listened to all of my favorite music while walking through the forest and had a nice little reflection on life.  Here I was in Korea again.  I found out there’s way more to this country than K-pop, cosmetics, and partying in Seoul and Busan.  These violet flora I kept seeing were absolutely beautiful.  Before I knew it, I was walking up the stairs and could vaguely make out the peak.  Of course it looked closer than it actually was, but it was still within my sight.  This was honestly much more peaceful than my Fuji hike because there weren’t nearly as many people.  I could focus on the views and climb with ease in anticipation of climbing my first active volcano.

Initially the temperature was mild so the climb was very easy.  I wasn’t sweating or noticing a huge incline so I didn’t need to stop for many breaks.  As I started seeing signs that indicated the summit was near, the air felt cooler and I noticed there was snow on the ground.  It was then I realized the mistake that I had made—I wasn’t wearing enough layers!!  I was only wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and a waterproof Nike jacket so I didn’t have any heatwear.  Fortunately the cold didn’t bother me due to the adrenaline that was pumping through my veins.  Plus I’ve gone running in the snow in Michigan wearing shorts before, so I suppose this wasn’t the first time I had been exposed to this kind of temperature.  The wind started to make my cheeks turn red, but by that point I had already reached the top.

Seeing this beautiful crater lake Baengnokdam (백록담/白鹿潭) was my reward:

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The lake at the summit of Mt. Hallasan.

I was so happy to not only have climbed Japan’s tallest mountain, but now Korea’s too!! I actually enjoyed this more than Fuji due to it being shorter and having the crater lake at the top. Not to mention that there were far less people. I would recommend climbing both if you are a nature enthusiast traveling through Asia. The feeling of looking down at the island once you’ve reached the top is one of pure victory. I enjoyed experiencing snow on a sub-tropical island even if I was unprepared for it too.

Here is a video of us climbing towards the top:

After snapping a bunch of pictures, I started my descent on the Gwaneumsa Trail. I was still freezing, but fortunately the further I climbed down the faster my body temperature returned to normal. I was high on adrenaline and knew food was waiting for me at the bottom too, so that was my main motivation!

The Gwaneumsa Trail was initially a bit steep to climb down, but provided me with some gorgeous mountain views.  There was also a sign warning us to steer clear of wild boars.  Who would have guessed they were native to Korea!!  I found that getting down took less time than I expected, so I completed the climb in around 8 hours.  Not bad for my first big climb of the year.  I celebrated with some Korean seafood pancakes by a place near the trail entrance.  I tried to use a map to figure out the bus schedule, but unfortunately I didn’t have any service and was informed that buses are really infrequent here.  Despite the language barrier, the store owners were kind enough to call a taxi for me that wasn’t very expensive.  I was very thankful for my experience and also that the weather stayed nice!

After my hike I decided to try a hot spring in Jeju, because why not?  Tapdong Seawater Sauna (which is now sadly closed) was closest to my hotel so I decided to walk there.  Two things about it really amazed me.  The first was that you could go swimming in certain baths.  Usually at Japanese onsen, swimming is forbidden.  However, Jeju has a huge female diving community, so I could see where this makes sense.  The second was that Korean people brought water with them into the sauna.  That is also not allowed in Japan, but with the super hot temperature I could see why people did it.  The culture here was a lot more laid back which I really enjoyed.  The concierge jokingly called me an alcoholic because I was still carrying soju around with me, but I laughed and said it’s because I just climbed Hallasan and I was on vacation.  It was hard to believe that this was only my second day!!

Journey to Yakushima: The Real-life Princess Mononoke Forest (Part 2)

After two awe-inspiring hikes through the forest that inspired Princess Mononoke and to Japan’s oldest tree, I decided to spend my final day in Yakushima relaxing at beaches and hot springs.  Though I went on this trip nearly three years ago, I still remember how breathtaking it was to this day.  This island undoubtedly has some of the best nature in Japan because it’s so remote from civilization.  This is the perfect place to reflect on life and also do meditation.  Please see Part 1 of my adventures in Yakushima for reference.

Day 3: Beach and Hotspring Adventures

Since I didn’t rent a car and was backpacking my way around, I decided to book a private tour through Yes Yakushima so I could see more of the island.  The main advantage of doing this is you’ll have an experienced guide to show you around and they can cater the tour to fit your interests.  I chose the Island Tour since I had already had my fill of hiking, but there are many other options available.  What’s amazing is their guides can take you almost anywhere on the island; even to the most difficult mountains that not many people have climbed.  Solo tours start at 27000 yen per person, but the price is worth it for what you get to see.  The money you spend also goes to environmental maintenance.

Distilleries, Beaches, Crabs & Hotsprings

My guide Brian was also from the US, but he married a Japanese native on Yakushima and hiked there for years so his knowledge of the island was vast.  My tour started off with a bang when we visited a Yaksuhima sake distillery and I knocked back a few samples.  Sweet potatoes are very famous here so some breweries use them as a base for sake.  We also drove past some mini farms where you could insert coins into a post box and take vegetables.  The stores are completely unmanned so it shows there is a high level of trust between people on this island.

After eating a vegetarian bento by the beach, we drove to Hirauchi Sea Spa where you can go swimming and also wade in the tidal hot springs.  The best time to visit is during low tide which usually your tour guide can predict.  You can come here during high tide too, but the hot springs will be too deep to enter.  I spent a good 2 hours here swimming and wading in the hot springs.  The hot springs are unisex so you can choose to wear your swimsuit or jump in naked (I wore my swimsuit since I was on a tour).

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Hirauchi Sea Spa during low tide.

While I was walking on the beach, I saw some amazing sea crabs chilling in the rocks:

Here’s an extremely old video I took of them.  Their eyes are over-sized and adorable:

I will never forget how vibrantly blue the water was here.  Out of everywhere in Japan, Iwami and islands in Kyushu like Yakushima have the best beaches.  I also saw Yakushima-todai Lighthouse which is painted white and looks like a small chapel.

After having my fill of swimming, we decided to drive to some waterfalls next.  The following waterfall is the most beautiful waterfall that I’ve seen in Japan:

Ohko Waterfall

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A rainbow is reflected in the emerald pool of Ohko Waterfall.

We arrived at the perfect time of day because I got to see a rainbow reflected in the water of Ohko Waterfall!!  This was such an amazing sight to behold!  Plus there were hardly any other people around so you could only hear the splash of the water.  I sat on the rocks and mediated for a few minutes as cool water droplets splashed my back.  As I was meditating, a piece of bark from a Yaku Cedar tree fell from the cliff and drifted towards me.  Brian carefully picked it up from the water and held onto it.  He informed me that under no circumstances are people of the island allowed to strip bark from trees, but if the bark is removed by natural causes then people are allowed to take it.  Since he said he was skilled in instruments, farming, and other outdoor activities, I figured he would think of the perfect use for it.  He let me hold it and see it up close which was very special to see.  It really is as if the gods were smiling upon us here.

Senpiro Waterfall

Though there were no rainbows here, this was still an amazing waterfall to see.  While Ohko is best viewed from sea level, Senpiro is best viewed from the mountains.  The granite valleys here were quite the sight.  Hiking up to the level where you can see them only takes a few minutes and is way easier than the hike to Jomonsugi.  I am continually impressed by the harmony of land and water you can see on Yakushima!

Gajumaru Banyan Tree

After our waterfall treks, we drove to a mysterious forest in Nakama Village.  At first glance, it looked similar to the Shiratani Unsuikyo which I explored the other day.  However, Brian informed me that this is home of the Gajumaru Banyan Tree—a magical tree that grows by dropping down roots from its limbs into the ground!  The roots can also sprout onto existing trees which give this forest its twisted shape.  Yakushima is unique because a lot of the island is still uninhabited and these trees can grow wild.  Perhaps one day the Gajumaru Banyan Tree limbs will engulf the entire island.  No one knows for sure, but it sure was fun to ponder about what could happen in the future.

At this point the journey was gradually unwinding.  I felt completely satisfied with what I had seen in the three days that I spent here.  On our way back to Miyanoura Pier where I planned to sail back to Kagoshima, we passed by some wild monkeys and a tree that resembles Cthulhu.  The more time you spend here, the more aesthetic things you’ll start to notice:

Final Thoughts

Though this may sound a bit hypocritical, any pictures you see of Yakushima online don’t do it justice.  The island is extremely vast and beautiful and the only way to truly see this is to embark on the long journey and see it for yourself.  That being said, my trip here was absolutely perfect minus not packing enough food during my hikes.  The first two days I spent almost entirely by myself hiking and seeing Japan’s oldest tree.  This was great because it gave me the chance to create my own personal connection with the island.  I didn’t feel lonely because I was on a journey.  The last day I reflected with an experienced guide and spent a lot of time relaxing.  I realized from talking to him there is still so much of Yakushima that is unexplored.  Was three days enough for what I wanted to see?  Definitely.  Would I want to come back in the future and see more?  Also yes!  3-5 days is what I would recommend to most people.  Be sure to respect nature and to also treasure your time here.

More Information:

“A Knight Out in Nagoya”: Aesthetic Food Finds Vol. 2

 

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Bis-Tria Gatsby, Nagoya: A sparkling suit of armor keeps watch over us as we feast like kings and queens.

If you told us that we’d be dining at a rooftop bistro in the presence of shining suits of armor adorned with jewels, we wouldn’t have believed you. But since the burger place that we wanted to go to was sadly closed, this was where we ended up.  Nagoya food and restaurants are seriously underrated, which is why I’m writing Aesthetic Food Finds Vol. 2 today.  This is just the beginning of greater food adventures that are yet to come.

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 for reference.

Bis-Tria Gatsby

Bis-Tria Gatsby is by far the fanciest restaurant I’ve been to in Nagoya, but it’s surprisingly welcoming and affordable.  As we walked in we were amazed by the huge collection of wines on display and the rare Dark Souls DLC suits of armor.  Despite us being in casual wear (because we were only planning on eating burgers before), we were politely seated and handed three different menu.  After some careful thought, we decided to order the tomato and cabbage pasta, a platter of octopus and marinated vegetables, a fancy pineapple frozen cocktail, and some chocolate cake for dessert.  This was the best meal I had in Nagoya and we only paid around 3000 yen when we split the bill.

I will never forget these aesthetic suits of armor:

This bistro is ideal for dates and birthday parties (we saw two Japanese girls celebrating their birthdays here).  I would gladly come back again given the occasion.

ANDY CURRY

I was going through food recommendations on Instagram when this giant glorious egg caught my eye.  ANDY CURRY offers some of the most satisfying curry dishes in Nagoya with a selection of seafood, chicken, and vegetarian options too.  I chose the seafood option and enjoyed the mussels in my curry sauce.  The egg on top is perfectly prepared so it melts into the rice giving it a zesty flavor right as it is served to your table.  You can customize the level of spiciness in your order as well.  I was very impressed to see that they offered takeout options during the emergency state of Japan.  We chose to eat in, but in the future I would love to grab a curry that I could take on the go or eat in a park!

THANK YOU, BAKE

THANK YOU, BAKE was yet another spot-on recommendation that came up in my feed.  The cute crocodile mascot totally sold me on coming all the way out to Kanayama to try the delicious vanilla ice cream topped with strawberry sauce.  They have delicious cookies, cakes, and pastries you can order to go as well!  The crocodile on their packaging bears and uncanny resemblance to the popular Japanese web comic “The crocodile who dies in 100 days” that ended just as the COVID pandemic started.  It’s definitely worth a read as it adds a layer of irony to this bake goods shop.  All the more reason to come out here and try their food!

Menya Hanabi

Menya Hanabi is a seriously amazing noodle joint that I had no idea existed until my boyfriend pointed it out.  The store originated from Taiwan and specializes in mazesoba which consists of noodles mixed with soy sauce, vinegar, minced pork, and other toppings that you can choose.  Since I don’t eat meat, I opted for raw egg and as many vegetables as they had on their menu.  The flavor it packs is out of this world.  The broth is extremely light so you can focus on the taste of the toppings.  I would say that mazesoba tastes a lot better than ramen, but I would still recommend trying both!

Vegi Kitchen GuGu

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You literally can’t go wrong with star-shaped curry.

Vegi Kitchen GuGu is a healthy vegan restaurant located on the outskirts of Nagoya.  I had my very first meal in Nagoya here after World Cosplay Summit dressed as Futaba from Persona 5 so it was extremely on-point.  Their star-shaped vegan curry is to die for!  I still remember the taste even though it was nearly 3 years ago.  Unfortunately due to the emergency state, the restaurant is only offering takeout options.  Fortunately there is a Campfire Fund for small businesses in Nagoya that has already met its goal, so hopefully in the future this restaurant will offer its full menu again!  When it does, I’ll be sure to go back and eat there again.

6/30/2020 EDIT: The full menu has returned to the restaurant and you can dine in now!  The vegan curry I ordered with my boyfriend earlier this month looks even better than before:

Antico Caffeé

Antico Caffeé is a modest cafe located in the Dai Nagoya building near the main station, but it never disappoints.  Their spinach and mushroom sandwiches, coffee, and canolis are all very fulfilling.  If you are looking to grab a quite bite to eat on your way out that’s affordable, then this is one of your best options.  Though quite simple, this cafe will always hold a special place in my heart because it was the first place that my boyfriend and I went on a date together.  I think it will always be a place I come back to!

Critical*Hit

I saved the best for last—Critical*Hit is one of my favorite gaming bars in Japan and also the a place I always make my rounds to each time I’m in Nagoya.  Whenever I’m here, I either make a new friend, discover a new game, or having extremely invigorating discussions with other people.  There are a number of console games plus rare games (such as LSD and other classics) that you can choose to play, or you can sit and converse with others which I usually do.  I still stay in contact with a lot of the people I’ve met here because Nagoya has a really close-knit community.  There are a mix of foreigners and Japanese people as well that frequent here.  I am really fortunate to have met my first boyfriend here on a night when he was playing Metal Gear Solid!

That’s all the aesthetic food finds for this week.  As more places in Japan open up, I’ll hopefully have a lot more to write about!

Hakone: Journey to the Real-life Tokyo-3

If you’ve ever looked up day trips from Tokyo on the internet, Hakone will be one of the most prominent results.  With it being the real-life location of Tokyo-3 from Evangelion and having many hotsprings, temples, and a great view of Mt. Fuji, that status is well-deserved.  It’s also home to one of my favorite museums in Japan which has sculptures that resemble vaporwave visuals called the Hakone Open Air Museum.  You should also try swimming in the famous red wine onsen at Yunessan to smooth your skin.  Wherever you go you’re bound to discover something interesting here because the nature is vast.

I’ve been to Hakone five times by myself and also with friends so I’ve seen all its major attractions.  Here are some of the coolest things that I’ve found:

Eva-Ya: The Evangelion Goods Store

As you exit the station and begin your wonderful journey here, one of the first things you’ll come across is Eva-ya; Hakone’s own original Evangelion Store.  Here you will find a number of goods from the anime including water bottles based off the characters’ designs, food with the NERV logo on it, and a life-sized Rei Ayanami.  Asuka fans don’t fret because she has plenty of merchandise too!  One of my best purchases here was Misato’s cross-shaped necklace (not pictured).  I also enjoyed the Unit 01-colored ice cream.  Of course you can visit the official Evangelion stores in Tokyo too, but this is the one located where the anime takes places and has slightly different merchandise.

Owakudani

Owakudani is Hakone’s volcanic crater that has sulfur vents and hotsprings making it a beautiful mountain getaway.  The sulfide causes the rocks to gain their lovely red hue.  In order to reach Owakudani, you must take a cable car ride from Hakone Ropeway.  There are black eggs sold here that are said to increase your lifespan.  I bought a four-pack of them and thought they were very delicious!  Only time will tell if their effect is really long-lasting.  Unfortunately due to the danger of the volcanic gas some of the hiking trails have been roped off here, but watching the plumes of smoke form from the main viewpoint is an amazing sight.  This crater is definitely worth seeing!

Cable Car Fee: See discounts on the Hakone website (I recommend getting the one with the pirate ship fee included too).

 

Yunessan

Yunessan is my favorite onsen in all of Hakone because of its famous red wine onsen you can bathe in among many other unique hotsprings and pools.  This is a mixed-gender hotspring so swimsuits are required in most areas unless you rent a private onsen or pay to enter the gender-segregated bath called Mori no Yu.  The plus side is that you can enjoy Yunessan with all of your friends!  Last time I went they had coffee, sake, and pearl-water baths too.  Some of the baths rotate while others are permanent additions.  The outdoor area has water slides, a mystical cave that you can explore, and various hot springs positioned so you can get a clear view of the mountains.  This is always the most relaxing part of my trip.  During certain times they serve free glasses of red wine too so be sure not to miss out!

Entrance Fee: 2,900 (a bit expensive, but worth it for the variety here)

Outdoor Museums

I’ve already mentioned that the Hakone Open Air Museum is by far my favorite museum here (see my article The Top 3 Most Innovative Art & Technology Museums for more information), but I also want to point out beautiful Hakone Venetian Glass Museum.  This forest of glass has beautiful Venetian-inspired designs and adornments like nowhere else I’ve ever seen.  Outside you can find trees and a bridge intricately decorated with glass ornaments as well as a miniature pond.  Inside there are many hand-crafted glass sculptures and jewels as well.  I was very impressed with the aesthetic here:

The Okada Art Museum is also worth checking out.  Though I don’t have any recent pictures, they have many beautiful sculptures in the mountains and footbaths you can use too.  There are some traditional Japanese handcrafts and artifacts displayed too.

Entrance Fees: Varies on the museum, but I would research beforehand and budget 3000 – 5000 yen depending on what you want to see.  Keep in mind these are some of the best museums outside of Tokyo and have that awesome mountain view!

Hakone Shrine & Pirate Ship Tours at Lake Ashi

A trip to Hakone isn’t complete without seeing Lake Ashi and the famous Hakone Shrine along the shores.  I first saw it in the winter when snow was on the ground, but the summer is the ideal time to go if you want to experience the lake.  My friend and I decided to buy the tickets to ride the pirate ship and drank a bottle of Captain Morgan on it in true spirit.  The ship was very spacious and we could feel the gentle breeze of the lake while staring at the view of Mt. Fuji in the distance.  It was exhilarating—an experience like nowhere else in Japan!  I think the only other place where you can ride a pirate ship quite like this is at Tokyo Disney, but you don’t have the awesome mountain backdrop that you do here.

Cable Car Fee: See discounts on the Hakone website (I recommend getting the one with the cable car fee included too).

Access

From Shinjuku Station, you can take the Romancecar Express to reach Hakone-Yumoto Station in 1.5 hours for 2300 yen.

Once reaching the station, all of the places I listed can be reached via bus within an hour, but I would allow yourself 6-8 hours here at least.  It took multiple trips in both the summer and the winter for me to see everything here, but you could probably see these things in approximately 2 days.

If you decide to stay here overnight, Hakone Japan has some good choices.  I plan to stay at a ryokan in the future and will write about my experience.

Naoshima, Japan’s Avant-garde Island of Art

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

Getting around Naoshima

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

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

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

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

Exploring the Museums

The main museums worth seeing on the island are:

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

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

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

Food & Drinks

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

Bathing in a Artsy Bath

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

Exploring other Islands

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

Access

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

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

Exploring Mt. Daisen and the Ghost Town of Yonago

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The ceiling of Enryuin features hundreds of painted yokai by Shigeru Mizuki.

After riding camels in Tottori and swimming in the timeless ocean of Iwami, I set my sights on climbing Mt. Daisen which is about an hour away from Tottori Station.  Daisen-Oki National Park is quite expansive and has beaches, mountains, and the remnants of a volcano that is said to be inhibited by the gods.  There is also a lot of interesting wildlife you can see here such as salamanders and beautiful flora.  I even ran into a herd of cows on my way to the top.  Although I didn’t make it all the way up due to fog and visibility issues, I had the chance to explore some temples buried deep in the forest and bathe in a natural hotspring.  Though it’s quite remote from the major cities of Japan, Daisen is the perfect place for a hiking retreat or those who want to explore places outside of Fuji.  You could spend anywhere from a day to a week hiking around all of the trails here.

Exploring Mt. Daisen

The main trail to Misen Peak takes about 3 hours to climb, making the total climb around 4-6 hours.  I came here on a humid day in August, and unfortunately thick fog covered a lot of the trail so I only climbed for about 1.5 hours.  However, in that time I was able to make it to all of the temples and attractions that this trail is famous for.  I first stopped at the Daisen Farm Home of Milk to gaze at the cows living their peaceful farm life and try some of the famous ice cream here.  It was amazing as expected.  Next, I ventured to the two famous temples here: Daisenji and Enryuin.  Due to the fog I got lost on the way to Enryuin and accidentally walked through someone’s backyard in the forest, but they were thankfully kind enough to point me in the right direction.  I arrived in yokai heaven:

Daisenji is classic Buddhist temple that can only be viewed from the outside, where as Enryuin has an immaculate interior design and is designed for meditation.  Both are worth checking out to see the history and connection between them.  It is said that although yokai are monsters, they are viewed as gods here because they have the power to scare people and drive out their impure desires for the greater good.  At Enryuin, you can lay on your back and meditate by looking at the artwork of yokai painted on the ceiling.  They were drawn by Shigeru Mizuki, who is also the author of the manga series GeGeGe no Kitaro.  The monk here was very nice and welcomed me with kindness.

After having my fill of yokai watching (punny), I decided to seek out some food.  Hinokami Goen Yuin is a really handy place because it has hotsprings, guesthouses, food, and campground access.  I bought a soba set there and also bathed in the hotspring for an hour.  It started raining on the mountain so I came at the ideal time.  It was relaxing to watch the rain fall off the plains of the mountain while I relaxed at a sheltered outdoor hotspring.  This is peak mountain life (/end pun).

For a full list of attractions you can see in Daisen, please see their official website.  Usually the weather here is quite pleasant, but unfortunately I came during a rainy time.  If I come back I definitely want to explore the beaches and more of the volcanoes.

The Ghost Town of Yonago

 

Once the rain cleared, I decided to head to the ghost town of Yonago to see what it had to offer.  Since I prayed at Enryuin and survived the storm, I figured I could get through this.  Yonago is only an hour away from Daisen and is said to have a spiritual influence.  It is also the hometown of previously mentioned manga artist Shigeru Mizuki, so you can find his yokai artwork all over the place by walking around the streets from the station.  Did I see any ghosts here?  Many.  Take a look for yourself:

The design of this town is extremely aesthetic which is why it initially attracted my attention.  Everything from the streetlamps to the outdoor gardens to even the vehicles have some kind of strong yokai influence.  Though these are anime versions he created of the scarier yokai depicted in old Japanese folklore, they have an artistic sense that attract a number of visitors to the town.  I have never watched or read GeGeGe no Kitaro, but I can see why it’s so popular in Japan.  It’s a good way to get younger audiences interested in studying the myths behind these strange creatures.  Now I want to study more too!

I should also note that there is some amazing aesthetic food here including eyeball mochi, yokai oden, and all sorts of spooky sake:

This town is somewhat touristy, but visiting a yokai town is something that not many people can say they’ve done.  I had a lot of fun doing photography here and can gladly say that it was worth my time.  During this trip I learned that ghosts can definitely be your friends.

Access

From Tottori Station, I road the San-In Line to Yonago Station.  This took about one hour and cost 1600 yen.

Daisen has three main points of access.  I came here from a bus from Yonago Station.  Please see the Daisen Guide for more information.  Getting here should only take 40 mins – 1 hour, just be sure to watch the time tables.  You can also take a taxi.