A Casual Day Trip to Hell Valley (Noboribetsu, Japan)

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Hell Valley, better known as Jigokudani (地獄谷), is a beautiful national park with an active volcano hidden away in a hot springs village called Noboribetsu.  Located in the north of Japan where it frequently snows during the winter, this village has become a popular getaway destination for those looking for a natural source of heat and a dip in the hot springs.  Many of the locals think that its appearance represents an image of hell, though with its picturesque views and fantastic food, other people would beg to differ.  Hell Valley attracted my attention because it is the perfect destination for hiking in Hokkaido, and there are rumored to be demons dwelling here!

To get to Hell Valley, it’s cheapest to fly to New Chitose airport, then take a bus from Sapporo to Noboribetsu Station.  I took the rapid train which was more expensive, but I was able to travel for about $80 roundtrip which is cheaper than most destinations in Japan.  From Noboribetsu Station, there is a nearby aquarium and amusement park that can be seen nearby, but most people travel to Noboribetsu Onsen since there are more attractions.  This is simply a 15 minute bus or taxi ride away.  From the onsen station, you can easily walk to Hell Valley and start your demon hunting adventure!

The first thing I noticed about Hell Valley was not the demons, but the strong smell of sulfur caused by geothermal activity; it was potent, but you know you’re at a legit hot spring when you can smell it.  Also, why are there demons here in the first place?  The Noboribetsu Website (English) has confirmed that these creatures are here to protect that natural hotspring!  There are a number of statues and maces scattered around the town that you can visit for good luck (check the tourist website for more information).

Hell Valley itself takes just a few minutes to hike up and see the geysers from the onsen station, but you can climb the nearby mountain for a better panoramic view and a free footbath.  You can also see the famous geyser called Tessen Ike nearby, or choose to enter one of the open-air hotsprings.  This area is very hiker-friendly because it has guideposts written in both Japanese and English.  Additionally, be sure to check out the oni toilets at the park entrance!

Overall, I had a lovely day trip here in Hell.  This actually isn’t the first Hell Valley I’ve visited; I’ve also been to the one in Hakone, Japan.  However, this one is colored in a redder hue and looks cooler, plus it’s a lot more remote and there are more places to explore.  One day here was enough for me because I mainly came here to do hiking and photography, but staying in a hotsprings inn is ideal for those looking to relax.  Hokkaido has a lot of hidden gems like this and I hope to uncover more of them during my backpacking adventure!

Secret Agent Woman: Going to James Bond Island in the Rain & Getting Jumped by a Monkey

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James Bond island, also know as Khao Phing Kan, is undoubtedly one of the most popular tourist destinations in Thailand due to its appearance in “The Man with the Golden Gun”.  Though it is somewhat overrated, I wanted to go for the sake of photography and also to learn more about its unique geology.  I learned during my tour with Phuket Sail Tours that its Thai name means “hills leaning against one another” because that is how it is thought to be formed.

The rock floating in the middle is called “Ko Ta Pu” and was originally thought to be a barrier reef that eroded by natural causes including wind, waves, and tides. All of these formations around the island and their limestone caves are actually a part of Ao Phang Nga National Park, which is a picturesque place to sail through and go swimming.

According to Geology Page, the legend surrounding the island is:

Once upon a time, there lived a fisherman who used to bring home many fish every time he went to the sea. However, one day he could not catch any fish despite many attempts and only picked up a nail with his net. He kept throwing the nail back into the sea and catching it again. Furious, he took his sword and cut the nail in half with all his strength. Upon impact, one half of the nail jumped up and speared into the sea, forming Ko Tapu.

Curious to learn more, I set sail from Phuket on a group tour just before the sunset.  The advantage to going later is you avoid most of the crowds, and on clear days you can get golden lighting while photographing these landscapes.

The tour began with a trip to Phanak Island where we got off the boat, and explored the hidden caves and lagoons via kayak.  It was quite a pleasant trip, as the caves were like nothing I had ever seen before!  I met some interesting wildlife there, including a tiny blue crab.

On the way through the lagoon, a wild monkey jumped from a rock formation and onto my canoe!! Fortunately I had left most of my belongings on the main boat so he didn’t have anything to ransack.  He seemed to be merely curious; maybe he thought my blonde hair was a banana.  I tried to keep on rowing slowly while taking a video, and eventually he got bored and hopped off.  Though our encounter was brief, it was an experience that I’ll never forget!  It is wild moments like these that make me really love going on these adventures in Thailand.

After saying goodbye to my monkey friend, I headed back to the main boat and onwards our main destination: James Bond Island.  I was happy to find that there weren’t many tourists there when we arrived–just monks, vendors, and a few other people.  I was able to get a few good pictures right before the rain started to fall!  I took cover in a nearby cave, and despite the weather I felt like I was on a legitimate mission.  It was actually kind of fun being there on a cloudy day because it fits the atmosphere of a secret hideout.

The captain then called us back to the ship for dinner.  We had some very delicious grilled fish, curry, vegetables, and beer with the same name as my cat, Leo!

Even though it was raining, the tour still continued.  On our way back to shore, we stopped at Hong Island and the bat caves.  Within the caves you can also see rare blue plankton.  It is a chemical reaction that scientists hypothesize is possible due to the plankton wanting to confuse their predators with a a bioluminesce glow.

Though many people slam James Bond Island for being too touristy, I would recommend it because the destinations around it are beautiful, and it’s actually very fun to see!  This trip is perfect for those looking to see the limestone caves up close and learn more about the unique geology this country has.  Just be sure to watch out for the monkeys!