Exploring the Colorful City of Kaohshiung & Cijin Island (Part 1)

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The astrological murals of Formosa Boulevard Station shine brilliantly.

After exploring Taichung for two days and having a lovely day out on Sun Moon Lake, I decided to ride the MRT south and explore Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan. This city is famous for its art murals, the Tiger Dragon Pagoda, and its ferry terminal that leads to the popular destination Cijin Island.  Historically Kaohsiung was used as a port town during the Qing Dynasty, and much of its culture has been preserved because you can still ride boats and find night markets here.  However, artists have transformed Pier 2 into a gathering spot with murals, pop-up stores, galleries, and cafes.  I rented a bike from my hostel at Legend Hotel Pier 2 for 100 TWD and biked 10 minutes to explore the area.  Pier 2 stretches for about a mile and has an abundance of things to see!

I enjoyed seeing all of the painted dragon murals that reflect the symbol of the town’s prized pagoda, and even the electrical boxes had faces on them!  They had some kind of dinosaur exhibit aimed at children going on as well (this place was very family-friendly).  I laughed at the name of the “CHIN CHIN perfume” place (Google the Japanese meaning of “chin chin” but don’t look at the images).  I truly had a fun time here.  I also loved that there was a park where you could rent kites and roam around.  This place had a more relaxed and open feel than Taipei and was the perfect getaway from the city:

After roaming around here for a while, I decided to buy a ferry ticket to Cijin Island at the ferry terminal.  Cijin Island is only 5 minutes away so it’s a very hassle-free trip and only costs 25 TWD.  What’s also cool is you can bring your bike on-board for free because the boat is huge (you also have the option of bike rental at Cijin).  Cijin is a long rectangular strip, so you can bike the entire island within an hour and 30 minutes.  The main sightseeing spots are the Rainbow Church and the Windmill Park by the beach.  There are also temples and and street food galore so you will never go hungry no matter how far you bike.

Though I had a fun time here, I will issue a word of warning: When I set my purse down to take pictures of the Rainbow Church (which is a series of rainbow pillars actually used in wedding photography), someone opened my wallet and stole all of my cash.  I won’t say how much I lost, but it was a considerable amount.  I reported it to the police station on Cijin Island and they checked the security cameras, but unfortunately they were unable to find the thief.  I acknowledge that this was fully my fault, but at the same time I am sad that this happened.  Previously I had gone swimming and left my personal belongings on the beach in other countries without any occurrences of theft, but now I know I should be a lot more careful.  Fortunately the thief did not steal my credit cards, or else I would be in real trouble.  However, I do not want this incident to reflect badly on Cijin Island or Taiwan.  Taiwan is still what I would consider to be a very safe country, and I hope my articles inspire people to visit it!

Look forward to Part 2 of my Kaohsiung journey where I visit the Dragon and Tiger Pagodas and more of the city!

Grand Adventures in Busan: Daewangam Park, Gamcheon Culture Village, and Jagalchi Market (Part 1)

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Daewangam Park in January–even in the dead of winter it’s a beautiful place.

Though it took me two full years of living in Japan before I wanted to venture off to other Asian countries, I finally made it to Korea in January 2018 after my wild trip to Hong Kong.  Korea is one of the cheapest countries besides Taiwan to fly to from Tokyo, so I found a good bargain through Peach Airlines for less than $200 USD.  I landed in Seoul around 5am, but instead of heading straight for the city, I wanted to check out the countryside and picturesque parks instead.  Since I didn’t have a lot of money back then, I took a bus from Seoul to Busan at 6am which took around 4 hours to reach the central station.  The bus was only $30, so not only did I save a lot of money but I also finally got the chance to catch up on sleep!

Daewangam Park was the very first place in Korea that I had the pleasure of seeing, and my was it a glorious place!  It’s a gorgeous park by the seaside and has a forested area you can walk through near the entrance.  The rocks are carved into very unique shapes and you can walk between them and see the coast by using connected bridges.  It truly feels like you are on an adventure here!  Though it was a bit chilly being here in January, I managed to take a lot of pictures and feel amazing on this hike:

I seriously could not believe how beautiful this place was!  I saw benches scattered across the park so I imagine in the summer that many picnics take place here.  I can’t read any Hangul, but this park was free to enter and easy to navigate.  According to the tourism website that I linked above, the park got its name from a large rock island that looks like a dragon rising up into the sky.  It truly is a mystical place.

This park is located in Ulsan which is a little bit outside of Busan, so I took the Line 5001 bus from Busan Station to get here in one hour.  This was an insane amount of traveling to do in one day, but I am an insane person so it was doable.  I recommend coming here on your second day of staying in Busan so you are well-rested.

After a nice day of hiking and photography, I decided to head to one of the oldest and most famous hotsprings in Busan called Heosimcheong.  With the long flight and day that I had, it was extremely well worth it!  My muscles felt so relaxed after bathing in the hotspring water.

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“The best spa in the world.”

I have been to many hotsprings in Japan which I think are better than anywhere else in the world, but Heosimcheong (also called Hurshimchung) is comparable in quality.  After paying an entrance fee of 7,900 won, you will get a towel and key for your own locker to store your things in.  Similar to the manner in Japanese onsen, you will strip, shower, and enter a gender-segregated hotspring bath and spa.  Heosimcheong has an open air bath, sauna, and cold bath as well.  They also have a hotspring inside a cave which makes it feel kind of like a waterpark.  There were a lot of people here, but I had enough room to fully relax and enjoy myself.

What I really like about jimjilbang (Korean saunas) is that they have neon-colored lights inside.  I felt like I was at a sauna rave and it was a pretty awesome start to my first day in this country.  Except for the fact that I stayed here for too long and missed the train back to my hostel (which was quite far away).  Fortunately, Asia is scattered with places to stay in case these kind of things happen (such as net cafes and love hotels)…  I ended up staying in a love hotel (by myself) right near the spa:

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“Love is two hearts” except if you miss your last train and are staying here alone.

This became a huge joke on my social media, but I actually had a nice stay here.  It was a bit difficult to explain what happened to the staff, but with my luggage and my exasperated expression, I think they figured out what happened so they let me stay and were very accommodating to me.  I ended up oversleeping, but fortunately I did not receive any penalty charges.  What a crazy first day in Korea!!

Part 2 is now published.  I have stayed in Korea for over a month of my life and extremely happy to be able to share my experiences here.

Exploring Rural Towns of Hiroshima: Onomichi & Fukuyama

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Beautiful view from the temple walk in Onomichi, Hiroshima, Japan.

On my way from Hiroshima Station to Fukuyama to see Pascom Ongaku Club’s Night Flow Tour, I decided to backpack through the smaller towns in Hiroshima to see what they were like.  Though Hiroshima is known mostly for its Peace Memorial and remnants of WWII, I was surprised to know that each town within the prefecture had its own different atmosphere.

I previously wrote about the Rabbit Island I visited at Tadanoumi Port from Hiroshima, so now I will cover two major towns I stayed in east of it: Onomichi & Fukuyama.

Onomichi

Onomichi is a very tiny port town, but is famous for its temple walk, cat alleyway, and ropeway.  When I first got off at the station, I felt like there was not a lot to see here outside of the main shopping street.  However, most of the major sightseeing points are up on a hill because this town is on the incline of a mountain which makes in extremely unique.  Growing up in a place that was pretty flat, it amazes me to see how people live in the mountains.

The temple walk consists of 25 temples you can access on foot by hiking up a hill near the main station.  I decided to combine this hike with my morning jog, and it took me around 2 hours to see everything.  A lot of the temples are tiny, but there is a large one at the top of the hill and beautiful scenery along the way.  There is also a “Lover’s Sanctuary” where you can wish for good luck in love.  I found it adorable that there was a cat statue with a heart around it too!

As I was walking up the hill, a number of stray cats came out to bask in the sun.  Cat alley is on the way up to the top of the temple walk, so likely you will see come adorable felines on the way to the top!

My recommendation is to take a day trip here, or stay for one night.  I stayed at Onomichi Guesthouse Anago, which was in a traditional Japanese tatami-styled house near the shopping street.  I had an extremely pleasant stay here, because there was a breakfast option and they also had beautiful folded paper cranes.

Onomichi may be small, but it surprisingly has a large variety of food!  There are tons of little shops around the station and even on the way up to the temple walk.  I found a vegetarian restaurant that serves delicious Falafel sandwiches, and also tried some anago rice (rice topped with eel) at a shop inside of the station.  It is also recommended by locals to try the ramen as well.  There are options for every diet here.

Getting to Onomichi

From Hiroshima Station, take the Sannyo line to Itozaki, then transfer and take the same line towards Okayama to get to Onomichi Station.  This costs 1500 yen and takes 1.5 hours.

You can also go to the Rabbit Island first from Hiroshima Station, then come here and stay overnight if you have enough time like I did (I would recommend this so you can see the most things).

Fukuyama & Sensui Island

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Epic, almost postcard-like view from hiking at Sensuishima, Fukuyama, Japan.

After successfully completing the temple walk in Onomichi, I decided to take the train to Fukuyama at the border of Hiroshima Prefecture because that is where Pasocom Ongaku Club’s event was held (I will be covering this in a future post).  When I got off at the station, I was astounded to see this town was much more urban than Onomichi and even parts of central Hiroshima was.  Since this town borders Okayama Prefecture, there is a much larger population density here than other towns in Hiroshima.

The first thing I noticed was the modernized yet rustic feel.  Among shopping malls, upscale bars, and hotels, Fukuyama Castle is also viewable as soon as you get off at the station.  I decided to begin my adventure by stopping at the castle first.  It is smaller than Hiroshima Castle, but is worth seeing because it is so close to the station.

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Take the “Fukuyama Castle Exit” from the station to see this castle!

Since my hotel wasn’t ready until 4pm, I decided to go to Sensui Island and use the famous hotspring there.  Sensui Island can easily be accessed by taking a bus from the station to Tomonoura Port (which takes around 40 mins), and then taking a free boat ride from there which takes only 5 minutes to reach the island.  You can see a detailed guide and boat timetable from the Fukuyama Tourist Website.

Sensui Island is fantastic for hiking, and there is a boat rental service as well.  The accommodations here are surprisingly cheap for only 5500 yen per night.  I spent around 45 mins hiking and taking pictures of the scenic island, then I used the hotspring at Kokumin Shukusha Sensuijima for around 1000 yen with the towel included.  It was such a relaxing day!  I listened to all of my favorite songs and got extremely hype for the event I was going to on the mainland at night.  I would love to come here during the summer and go swimming at the beach, because it is extremely private and relaxing.

I stayed at Setouchi Knot Hotel near Fukuyama Station, which was around 3000 yen per night.  It is the cheapest hotel in Fukuyama, but was extremely quiet and worth the price in my opinion.

Getting to Fukuyama

From Hiroshima Station, you can take the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen directly here.  This costs 5000 yen and takes 20 mins (this is expensive because Fukuyama is at the opposite border of Hiroshima Prefecture).

You can also go to Onomichi first like I did, then come to Fukuyama by the Sannyo Line which takes 30 mins and is only 420 yen.

Visiting the Adorable Rabbit Island of Japan (Okunoshima)

One of the main reasons why I wanted to visit Hiroshima again was to see the adorable and friendly rabbits that reside in Okunoshima (otherwise known as Rabbit Island) in Japan.  This island actually has quite a dark history because it was originally used as a secret location for gas testing in the early 1900s during WWII.  Though some of the abandoned facilities still remain, the island itself today now serves as a popular tourist destination attracting many visitors each year.

According to All Things Interesting:

A group of school kids who released eight rabbits onto the island in 1971 may have contributed to its rebirth and flourishing of bunny populations. By 2007, experts believed that there were 300 rabbits living on the island. The population continued to grow as the government banned new animals on the island as well as hunting.

Though they were suspected to once be used a test subjects in cruel experiments, now hundreds of rabbits inhibit the island.  It is unclear how they have multiplied so fast because the island is very small and does not have a sustainable ecosystem, meaning they heavily rely on tourists for their food.  The government also forced the scientists and military personnel to stay quiet about the experiments, so the island itself is shrouded in mystery.  Though Okunoshima is suspected to have small traces of poison gas remaining (a lot of places in the world might), it has been deemed safe to visit by environmental specialists.  It is definitely worth seeing if you are an animal lover or history buff.

Getting to Okunoshima

The easiest way to access Okunoshima is to ride the Sanyo Line from Hiroshima Station to Mihara Station, then transfer to Tadanoumi Station which takes about an hour and a half.  Fortunately it is a relatively inexpensive journey.  From Tadanoumi Station, Tadanoumi Port is just a 5 minute walk away.  You can find the ferry time tables on the Okunoshima Tourist Website.  The ferry ride is 15 minutes and costs only 310 yen.  You can buy food for the rabbits at the harbor or also bring vegetables yourself (as I saw many Japanese people doing).  I bought the recommended rabbit food for 500 yen because it gives them the best nutrition.

The island has one hotel accommodation/restaurant, but other than that almost everything else on the island is abandoned or roped off so visitors stay safe.  I walked around the entire island in around 30 minutes and found it to be extremely peaceful.

Interacting with the Rabbits

I owned a pet rabbit as a kid named Patches, and she was extremely docile.  However, since the rabbits here have no predators and are so used to human interaction, they behave somewhat like extremely hungry puppies.  When you first get off the boat, the will hop towards you almost immediately and wait for you to take out the food.  Instinctively they know what the crinkling sound of a bag means, and if you kneel down with food they will surround you!

I have been to rabbit cafes in Japan before, but these rabbits were completely different.  I wouldn’t call them aggressive exactly, but they definitely know how to get the food from you.  One rabbit ripped part of my food bag, but he was so cute I could only forgive him.  You will see a number of rabbits digging holes and lounging in them, as well as palm trees grown around the island, so this place truly feels like a rabbit paradise.

The Okunoshima Tourist Website asks that you do not pick up the rabbits and instead let them come to you.  They are virtually harmless, but can nip you if you are not careful.  Just use common sense, and you will be fine.  Despite what some videos show, the rabbits are peaceful for the most part.

Exploring the Abandoned Facilities

Seeing the remains of the poison gas facilities is somewhat haunting, but the gentle appearance of the rabbits will set your mind at ease.  As you walk around the island and into the forested areas, you will notice that less rabbits are around but they will still come out to greet you (in hopes of getting food).  As previously mentioned, most areas are roped off so tourists cannot get inside, but seeing the remnants of this former off-the-grid island is an unforgettable experience.  It’s amazing seeing the rabbits live with virtually no fear.

The Future of Okunoshima

Though this island is a happy place, a lot of people worry about the future of the rabbits.  Th ecosystem is unbalanced, and people are unsure of whether their growing population will be sustainable in the future or not.  On rainy and cold days, not a lot of people come to feed them even though they have some caretakers on the island.  The rabbits are living in a paradise for now, but if the island runs out of vegetation in the future, there will likely be famine.

Unfortunately the future is unpredictable, but all we can really do is continue to feed and support them.  Like us, they only have a short time on this planet and should be taken care of as much as possible.

 

Exploring Koh Rong Samleom

After my wild night of raving in the jungle of Koh Rong and frolicking on the beach until the early hours of the morning, I still couldn’t sleep so I decided to take the first ferry from Koh Touch to its sister island Koh Rong Samleom.  This ticket cost about $8 and there are 4 ferries that depart from Koh Rong daily depending on the boat service you choose.  I decided to get off at Saracen Bay because it has the prettiest beaches and most bars and accommodations.  M’pai Bay is more lively at night and attracts a lot of backpackers with its parties and cheap accommodations.  However, Saracen Bay and the other parts of the island are quite relaxing and carefree in comparison.

The atmosphere here during the day was definitely more quiet and reserved than the main island, but it had a lot of restaurants and places you could stop for a massage as well as snorkeling equipment available for you to rent.  Wifi is scarce here due to how remote this island was, but I was able to score it for a bit from a local restaurant I ate at.  It was definitely the cleanest area in Cambodia I had been to and I was very impressed with all of the great views:

Similar to Koh Rong, this island also hosts jungle parties on Friday nights and Half Moon Parties during certain times of the year.  Though I wasn’t able to attend one here this year, I’d really like to come back and go in the future.  I loved staying at Treehouse Bungalows on the main island, but I would like to trying staying here in the future so I could get to know more of the locals.  The island really has a great vibe and is off-the-grid so you can definitely make it your own.  I just went here as a day trip, but I wish I could have stayed longer.  It was great to relax here and reflect on all the crazy things that happened the night before.

For more information on Koh Rong Samleon, please check out the island guide from Don’t Forget to Move!

Koh Rong: The Happiest Place in Cambodia

Koh Rong, a tropical island in the Sihanoukville Province of Cambodia, is an extremely attractive destination with its white-sand beaches, jungle full of waterfalls and wildlife, and its weekly parties on Police Beach.  Though the island is about the size of Hong Kong, most of it is undeveloped so it feels like an untouched paradise.  Most of the villages here only stretch for about a mile so everyone recognizes one another and knows each other by name.  I compare a lot of the islands that I’ve traveled to The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, but this actually felt like an island straight out of an RPG the way it was laid out.  There are tons of places you can freely explore on foot, and you can also take boat taxis to access more remote parts of the island.  Or just stay in the main village and enjoy drinking with the locals every night on the beach!

Similar to Koh Phangan in Thailand, there are Full Moon Parties thrown here that attract a lot of backpackers, but the atmosphere of this island is truly rural and more off-the-grid than any other island I have ever traveled to.  Most of the people I met here had already been to Thailand and were looking for a different experience.  I learned a lot from the observing the life of the villagers here and am extremely excited to share my experience!

Getting to Koh Rong

In order to reach Koh Rong, you must fly or take a bus to Sihanoukville and take a ferry  because there are no airports on the island.  I opted to take an overnight bus from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville that I booked through 12goAsia for $25.  The journey was 10 hours, but I actually slept quite well on the bus because I was exhausted from exploring Angkor Wat and the floating village.

When I first booked this bus, I was expecting to meet some strange people (like those you see riding the MegaBus in America), but I was surprised to see that actually everyone riding this bus was quite normal.  Everyone around me were international backpackers trying to save money, so we opted for the cheaper route.  I even cheersed the guy that was holding a beer beside me with my tiny bottle of wine.  After about an hour, almost everyone was asleep so it was a pleasant ride.

Sihanoukville itself is a strange town full of construction and Chinese-owned casinos.  The roads are absolutely chaotic, and though it has beaches, the ones in Koh Rong are much more beautiful so I would not recommend staying here.  Go straight to Koh Rong and experience life in paradise instead!  The ferry ticket there was only $11 and the ride was about 30 minutes long.  Though the overnight journey took a while, everything I was about to discover on the island would make it worth it.

Staying in a Treehouse

Since the village of Koh Touch is near the weekly Police Beach parties, I opted to book a private room at Treehouse Bungalows.  I paid around $50 a night for this room, but in my opinion, the stay was worth it!  Not only is it quiet and more private than other hostels, but it also has a great view of the beach.  I enjoyed playing music from my balcony and being up in the trees.  There is a wonderful restaurant down below, and a massage place on the beach that I went to nearly every day.  For those looking for cheaper options, please check Hostelworld (some dorms are only $5 per night).

I made a somewhat funny video to commemorate my treehouse stay which you can watch below:

Chasing Sunsets

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Sunset on Long Beach, which I was informed by one of the islanders is the best beach to watch the sunset.

During my first day at Koh Rong I decided to explore the beach nearby my treehouse called 4K beach, and I also hired a motorcycle driver for $30 to take me to some of the other remote beaches.  What amazed me is how truly undeveloped this island is.  Most of the roads are made of dirt and some twist through the jungle, so I would recommend hiring an experienced driver or a boat taxi your first time.  These can easily be found within the village, and the bartenders can also recommend you where to get a cheap ride.  There is also a lot of abandoned property on the island.  I really hope it is put to use someday, because the atmosphere of this island is lovely.

Sweet Dreams Beach was the first place that we ventured to. It was extremely gorgeous with its swimming pool and paved road to the beach.  I saw a few families staying here because this is a safe and relatively quiet location away from the main village:

The next place we went to was Long Beach so I could go swimming and watch the sunset. My driver told me that in the fall season this is the only place where you can clearly watch it, so I was grateful to see this on my first night.  I think this is one of the most beautiful beaches on the island because it is extremely quiet and pristine.

In addition to the beaches that I visited, you can find a fantastic Koh Rong Beach Guide here.  There is also a nearby island called Koh Rong Samloem with a nice vibe that I will be covering in my next post.  Overall I really loved staying on the main Koh Rong island due to all of the nice people that I met and the privacy of my treehouse.

Finding Happiness

Throughout the main village of Koh Touch (and other locations in Cambodia) you will see signs advertising “happy” consumables that you can buy, but also signs reminding you that you cannot buy happiness.  What do these things all mean, and what is happiness to Cambodian people and travelers on this island?

Happiness is Khmer is “សុផមង្គល” (so ph mongkol), but rarely will you see the word written in anything but English.  Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, and many of the country’s people were slaughtered by their own kind or forced into slavery during the rule of the Khmer Rouge.  The country is still rebuilding itself from those times and the devastation from the war is very apparent.  However while traveling here–especially on this island–I saw nothing but smiles from all of the local people.  As a fellow traveler examines in The Happiness Plunge:

“When you live through a genocide, life is kind of like a miracle. And maybe the people here live each day like it’s a miracle.

I suppose when every day is a miracle, you see things you wouldn’t otherwise see – things that make you smile.”

A lot of backpackers come here to escape life and party on the beach to find happiness, as well as consume psychedelics and cannabis to forget their worries, but the miracle of happiness and life that Cambodian people have cannot be replicated by this.  However, staying on this island gives everyone a chance to connect with one another and appreciate nature while learning about the culture of this country.  This feeling cannot be bought because happiness is not a concrete thing or consumable, but it can be shared a celebrated with others and found within yourself.  Though the horrors that Cambodia has faced in the past cannot be erased, we can do our best to pay our respects and look forward to a brighter tomorrow.

Happiness is both a journey and realizing to be thankful for what you have in life.  Whether it takes a happy cookie or a long journey to realize this depends on you.  But if you make it all the way out to Koh Rong, likely you will find happiness in some way or form.  Life here is so different than living in the city or a first-world country.  People have simple lives and because of it they are relatively carefree.  You can learn a lot by simply spending a few days here.  If you are living a high-stress life, then coming here may simply be the cure.

In my next article, I will be writing about the techno rave in the jungle I went to while I was here for my birthday and re-examine happiness once more.  Thank you for reading.

 

Exploring Hikone: A Castle Town with a Mythical Island and Fierce Cat Samurai

Over the weekend I made the amazing discovery that samurai cats are real!  About an hour east from Kyoto lies a quiet castle town called Hikone with the adorable samurai cat mascot you see here: Hikonyan.  Hikone is in Shiga Prefecture and borders Lake Biwa, one of the most famous lakes in Japan due to its lovely scenery.  I decided to start my trip by taking a ferry from Nagahama Port, which is just a few stops north of Hikone Station on the JR Tokaido-Sanyo line, and visit the mythical island in the middle of the lake called Chikubushima.  See the ferry schedule for reference–a roundtrip ferry ticket is around 3000 yen.

Chikubushima is known as the “Island of the Gods” and is said to be imbued with magical powers.  Though I am not a religious person, I appreciate going on journeys like this because it gives me the chance to see rare parts of the world!  You can walk around the whole entire island within 30 mins and see shrines, a beautiful view of the lake, and also try some local cuisine at the cafes (though the selection is very limited).

The main point of interest here is visiting Hogonji Temple and making a wish with a daruma doll.  Daruma Dolls are a special kind of talisman here that you can write your wish on a slip of paper and put it inside the doll for good luck.  The Japanese people at the shrine were extremely kind and helped me do this.  Though this island was tinier than I expected, it was a very nice way to start my trip!

After the pleasant ferry ride back (which only takes 30 mins), I then decided to go directly to Hikone Castle to see the Hikonyan Show!  During this time, the fiercely adorable samurai cat will come out before the castle gates to greet his visitors.  Hikonyan is treated as a celebrity by Japanese people.  I was surprised to see a line of people with cameras out waiting to see him, but he is definitely worth the hype!  He appears every day and you can see the timetables here.

In addition to Hikonyan, you can walk through the Hikone Castle, see the Genkyu-en Gardens, and also visit the Yume Kyōbashi Castle Road that has shops and souvenirs.  I visited all of these places by foot from Hikone Station, but you can also take buses around the city!  By 6pm, I was exhausted from all the travel so I decided to go back to my capsule hotel in Kyoto.  Hikone makes for the perfect day trip from Kyoto because it is easy to access and full of history.