After a sublime day of scuba diving on the best beaches in Miyakojima and exploring the pumpkin limestone cave, I was about ready to wrap up my Okinawa trip and fly back to Tokyo. However, before my flight departed at 4pm that day, there was one more island I wanted to see early in the morning. Irabu Island is connected to the mainland of Miyakojima by the appropriately named Irabu Bridge and can be reached by car, bike, and even on foot! It is roughly 11km from the main resort strip of Miyakojima and is extremely rural but has some beautiful beaches, cafes, and resorts to see. I figured it would be the perfect final destination to end my trip and reflect for a bit before taking the 5 hour plane ride home.
I woke up early, rented a regular road bike from my hotel, and set off for Irabu Island! During my morning run I had the chance to see the sun rise and it looked absolutely stunning on Painagama Beach. The blue colors of the ocean that surrounded Irabu were also impressive as I crossed the bridge. I had flashbacks to the Grand Tethe’alla Bridge from Tales of Symphonia as I made my way to the other side. This almost didn’t feel real!
It took me about 50 mins to bike to the main beach of Irabu called “Day’s Beach” but the view was definitely worth it. It looked just like the beach in one of my favorite anime movies Non Non Biyori: Okinawa e Ikukoto ni Natta. Even though this was slightly different from the setting of the movie, it still had the same vibe:
Here are some more photos that I took of Day’s Beach. If I had more time I would have went swimming! I noticed that there were a lot of farms and plantations here. One of the highlights of biking was stopping to see all of the tropical plants on the way:
After walking along the beach and feeling refreshed, I decided to stop by a nearby restaurant called Blue Turtle. Here I tried their signature rum cocktail called the “Blue Turtle”, ate some fried sweet potato and octopus, and drank a dragon fruit smoothie for dessert. The food here was top notch and the view of the beach was even better. Despite not being able to see any turtles during my scuba trip the previous day, this feast sort of made up for it.
Finally feeling fulfilled that I accomplished everything on my itinerary, I went to unlock my bike and set off back off across the bridge. But that is when disaster struck—as I started riding back I noticed I had a flat tire despite not feeling it at all before. I’ve ridden around Tokyo with flat tires on my bike when I’ve been short on time, but having this happen on a rural island is less than ideal. I thought about biking the 11km back or even walking if I had to since I had enough time, but I instead decided to do the smart thing and stop at the nearest resort and ask for help. Fortunately the staff at Azure Villa were more than willing to help me!
Initially I thought it was just a flat tire (パンクしたタイヤ) but after inspection the staff confirmed the tube was damaged too. This is the danger of renting bikes on rural islands—you truly never know what you’re getting and sometimes weather conditions can hasten these damages. Fortunately the staff drove me 11km back to my resort for free (because I don’t think most Okinawan taxis could carry this bike) and were super empathetic. I offered to pay them the normal taxi fee but they refused me. I couldn’t have asked for more kindness than what they had showed me. Okinawan culture is truly amazing!
When we arrived back at my resort on the mainland, Hotel Locus, the staff there was also super kind to me, gave me my bike rental money back, and added 様 to my name which was the greatest honor. I was able to make my flight with time to spare and saw everything on my itinerary, but if this would have happened the first day it would have killed the vibe a bit. However, no adventure is complete without some obstacle, and we all handled this in the best way possible so I’m proud.
Thank you to everyone that has kept up with my Okinawa article series! I am so happy I was able to make this trip safely in between emergency states and have such a phenomenal time. In the future I will be writing a spin-off series of my previous trip to Okinawa in 2016 mentioning all of the heritage spots I visited. This weekend I will be going to Kyushu to have some more island adventures, but they will be more a lot more relaxed than this. Life is never calm for an adventurer but I am loving every second of this life!
After I had my fill of the mainland of Okinawa staying at the Sanrio Resort and wandering through aesthetic neon paradise in Naha, I decided to fly to Miyakojima for the purpose of exploring luscious beaches and going scuba diving. Flights from Naha to Miyakojima cost just over 10000 yen roundtrip and take around 50 minutes to reach the airport. Since this island is extremely remote and located closer to Taiwan than the main islands of Japan, I think the price is extremely worth it. You can also take ferries to this island, but since the previous two days had a gale advisory I didn’t want to risk it being cancelled. Fortunately my flight was extremely smooth and I had an entire row all to myself! I was welcomed to Miyako with sunny weather and was able to explore the entire area around Painagama Beach where my resort was located. Miyako is relatively small in size and you can travel coast to coast from one end of the island to the other in just over an hour by car. Renting bikes to reach beaches is also very common.
Here are some of the best places that you can explore on the north side of the island near the airport. I will be covering over parts of the island in my future articles!
Miyako Shrine & Kamamamine Park
While waiting to checkin to my hotel, I decided to see some of the local attractions on foot. My first destination was Miyako Shrine, which is just a short 15 minute taxi ride from the airport. The shrine is small and humble but I enjoyed visiting it while feeling the ocean breeze. The colors of the roof are unique to Ryukyuan architecture and it felt like the perfect place to begin my journey! I next walked to Kamamamine Park which was right down the road and is famous for its giant shisa playground. You can climb into the shisa’s mouth and also slide down from the top of its back. I saw kids climbing on top of its head too. I was already loving the vibe of this island because it felt extremely open and free.
After checking into my resort, I decided to rent an ebike from the staff and bike to Sunayama Beach (accommodation details are listed at the end of this article). From the main resort strip, Sunayama Beach is about 25 mins biking. What I liked about this beach is it’s not clearly visible from the entrance—you have to climb over a sand dune to see the ocean which makes it extremely hype. Fortunately it’s just a short hike and once you see the emerald color of the waves, then the realization that you’ve arrived in paradise finally hits you! I am so happy that this was the very first beach that I visited in Miyako because it’s truly gorgeous and matched the color of my nails.
Sunayama Beach was actually quite small but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. The arch rock on the beach is famous so I took a lot of pictures around it and then jumped in the water for a nice dip. The end of April is actually a great time to go swimming in Okinawa because the sun isn’t as harsh. I really wished there were hotels on this beach so I could wake up and go swimming here, but at the same time I liked the remote and private feel it had.
The Yamatouga Ruins have stunning stone architecture reminiscent of ancient times and are a historic landmark of Miyakojima. I loved exploring the lush forested area and seeing the ivory that covered the walls. This is a cool place that I actually stumbled upon during one of my morning runs. It takes about 5 mins of walking from the entrance to reach the Yamato Well that still stores water. It’s amazing to see all of the architecture on this island because it really has been preserved well throughout time.
Unfortunately due to the pandemic a number of restaurants were closed here so I ate simple meals at my hotel, but the dessert game on this island was extremely strong. Here are my top dessert pics near the main resort area! I will be writing about other food options in my future articles.
Banana & Cake Monte Doll
While searching for dessert places, I stumbled across Monte Doll and immediately fell in love with their smiling banana peel mascot. Before this trip I went to the gym nearly three times a week so I could become strong and flex next to it. I didn’t want to let banana senpai down. The curse of trying Okinawan bananas is they are so ripe you will never want to eat the regular ones outside of the island again! I got the banana smoothie with coconut bits and the banana cream cake and both were to die for. If you come to Miyakojima, please visit this place! They all of the banana souvenirs that you could dream of too.
After all the swimming I did this day, I treated myself to two different flavors of ice cream at Painagama Blue Booth near my resort. The first I tried was sweet potato, and the second I tried was caramel brownie. I appreciated how they included sweet potato chips and banana chips in their toppings because that’s definitely something that you don’t see every day! The atmosphere of this restaurant is extremely relaxing because they have little hammock seats as well as indoor and outdoor seating. In addition to ice cream, you can order hot dogs here too! They definitely have the perfect menu for a long day at the beach.
After looking at a few properties on the main resort strip of Painagama Beach, I decided to settle with Hotel Locus because it was new and had a cute outdoor pool. The cheapest rooms are around 7000 yen per night but the hotel is easily accessible from Miyako Airport, has a bicycle rental service, and wonderful amenities. There is also a rooftop where you can watch the sun set every night on the harbor. I was very impressed with my two night stay here and would recommend it to my friends because it really has everything you need.
Thank you for reading the 3rd article in my Okinawa series. In my next articles I will be talking about scuba diving and exploring Ibaru Island on Miyakojima.
Nested in the mountains of Miyazaki, Takachiho Gorge has been a dream destination of mine for quite a long time now. I wanted to go here when I first visited Miyazaki in 2018, but I sadly didn’t have enough time as it requires a 3 hour one-way journey. However, last weekend I finally achieved my goal of traveling here and the trip was completely worth it! I did a combination of hiking and row boating through the gorge as well as stay in a traditional ryokan nearby. There are also shrines and waterfalls you can see around the area. From pictures Takachiho Gorge looks quite large, but it actually can be seen in 2 – 3 hours. I will be writing a handy guide for those who are curious about how I solo-traveled here.
Getting to Takachiho
Reaching Takachiho’s bus center from Miyazaki Station takes 2.5 – 3.5 hours depending on when you leave. Please keep in mind that some buses only run on weekends and you should try to leave between 7am – 9am if you want to maximize your time here.
I woke up around 6:30am and took the Sonic-Nichirin Limited Express to Nobeoka Station, then took the highway bus that heads towards Kumamoto to reach Miyakoh Bus Station in Takachiho. This costs between 3000 yen – 5000 yen, but they sell 1000 yen bus tickets at the bus center that will save you a lot of money.
There are a few cheaper routes that combine different buses, but I am pretty sure this route runs every day so I would recommend it to people. Especially since it combines a train and bus ride so overall you will save time and be comfortable.
Before heading down to the gorge, you’ll probably want to grab some food! There are a few vending machines and souvenir stores near the entrance, but there are far more options in the heart of the town. Fortunately you will pass through this area on your way there. My top recommendation is Cafe Terrace Takachihoya because they have a long and established reputation here. I ordered vegan keema curry rice with an egg for lunch and their famous tea macchiato topped with whipped cream and a signature cookie for dessert. This was probably the best meal that I had in Miyazaki because it was really filling! They also have curry, pancakes, sandwiches, and smoothies on their menu. If I come back here, I would like to try more!
Exploring Takachiho Gorge
From the bus station, Takachiho Gorge is a 24 min walk or 10 min cab ride. I chose to walk because I wanted to explore the town first. On your way to the gorge you will walk by Takachiho Shrine that is partly obscured by the forest. It fortunately only takes a short hike to reach the alter. I loved the way the sun reflected off the roof when I arrived:
After a few more minutes of walking, you will be able to make out the row boats sailing down the mouth of the gorge and that’s when you’ll know you’ve arrived!
The best thing about Takachiho Gorge is it’s completely free to explore—the only things that cost money are the aquarium (spelled “aqurum”) and row boat rentals. The row boat rentals are 3000 yen but are usually cheaper if you have people with you (see prices). I highly recommend taking the row boats out because they give you a unique view of the gorge that you can’t see from above. This was my first time ever solo row boating, but I am proud to say that I only crashed twice! At least I didn’t fall into the water!
I would recommend queuing for a row boat as soon as possible because they often have a 50 min wait time due to their popularity. While you are killing time, you can explore the hiking trails around the gorge to make the most out of your trip. You can also sit at the rest area or visit the aquarium. Once it’s time to board your boat, the staff will give you a life belt and instruct you on how to row. It’s pretty straightforward and impossible to get lost because the route is clearly marked. Going from one side to the other usually takes 30-45 mins depending on your rowing ability (I was a bit slower because I was also taking pictures). There are cute ducks that will fearlessly paddle alongside you. I enjoyed having them as company! After around 3 hours, I was satisfied with what I had seen here and made my way back to the town. I grabbed some chocolate shaved ice and called it a day. It was fun seeing the aesthetic of Takachiho, though!
In addition to the gorge, you may be interested in the Ameterasu Railway. You can ride past canyons and also see some illuminations on a classic train. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to go as it closes quite early, but if you have extra time in the morning it might be something worth checking out.
Where to Stay
If you wake up early enough, you can explore the gorge and head back to Miyazaki City just in time. However, that would involve roughly 6 hours of riding a combination of buses and trains so I wouldn’t recommend it. I planned on flying back to Tokyo the following afternoon so I stayed at Ryokan Yamatoya for the night. That way I could be comfortable and leave early in the morning. This ryokan is only 5000 yen per night and is right in the heart of the city so it was the perfect fit for me. It also has a public bath, but unfortunately it was closed due to the pandemic. That didn’t stop me from taking a hot bath in my huge room, however! I also made some green tea and relaxed in the yukata they provided. Relaxion and reflection. Another trip itinerary down with 100% completion!!
The next day I took the same route back to Miyazaki Airport and flew back to Tokyo. I was lucky that the bus center is within walking distance from my hotel. Despite the pandemic, most of the domestic flights were on time and handled with proper care. I felt safe the entire time that I was here. Would I do this again? Hell yeah!! But I just got a new job offer so I will be working full time again! That won’t stop me from continuing to write these articles, however!!
I am currently planning weekend trips to Nagoya and Kamikochi so I will have more content up later this month. Thank you all for reading and I hope we can travel more soon.
After going on a grand tour of Phu Quoc Island on the day of my birthday, I decided to spend my final day in Vietnam going to Hon Thom Sun World amusement park. To reach this amusement park, you must go to the south end of the island by taxi and ride the world’s longest cable car to another island. You will pass over a cluster of fishing markets on your way there so it really is worth it for the view. I remember the ocean looked so beautiful from above. I’m really grateful I got the chance to swim in it when I landed!
As soon as I entered the park I noticed I was starving, so I ordered some vegan spring rolls, a seafood noodle dish, and a strawberry smoothie. I was surprised at how big the serving sizes were! There are restaurants all over the place so you’ll never go hungry:
Next I decided it was time to explore the park. I’ll admit that my main reason for coming here was to ride the cable car. I didn’t put much research into what attractions there were, but I figured I’d go and have fun no matter what. I looked at a local guidepost for direction, except there was only one destination on it:
I thought this was some kind of joke until I looked on Inspirock and realized others had run into this same situation:
So okay, Trao Beach it was! At least I could ride a air-conditioned van there from the park for free. Since it was October, there wasn’t many people there so I could relax and enjoy it all I wanted. It was essentially a private beach. This was one of the scenarios where it was not about the destination, but they journey. I had a lot of nice time thinking to myself and listening to all my favorite music. The tiki statues and chairs made out of tires that I saw here also added to the ambiance:
Even though there wasn’t a lot to see at Sun World, being on a remote tropical island was more fun than being stuck in the city. What’s interesting is that some pictures of the park online show a water park, but it only seems to be open during certain seasons. There was no mention of it when I went in 2018 so I wonder if it’s under renovation. I saw all sorts of construction going on in the main pavilion near the restaurant I was eating at. I would guess that there is some plan to expand this park because it is in a beautiful area that has a lot of nature. It really could become something amazing!
Is it worth it?
The cost for the cable car ticket is around $15 USD (roundtrip) and entrance to the park is around $25 USD. This actually isn’t that bad for a day on an island in Vietnam, but you could definitely go cheaper. If you have an extra day to kill this excursion is great because of the unique cable car view—especially if you have a camera. However, there may be only one destination available when you reach the island… you won’t know until you get there!
Upon further research, I noticed there is another amusement park called Sun World Ba Na Hills in Vietnam with the same logo (so they must be owned by the same company). Search engines are likely confusing them in English. Perhaps Phu Quoc’s Sun World (the one I visited) is going to be designed as a miniature version of the larger one. Who knows? I hope to return to Vietnam and visit the other, larger, park when it’s safe so I can expand this article!
In my last article I talked about my expedition of Long Beach on Phu Quoc Island, but in this article I will talk about some of the other places that I ventured to outside of my hut! I would recommend staying at least 3 full days on this island because between the beaches and the central town, there’s a lot of neat things to see. I spent my mornings swimming on the beach and evenings chasing sunsets. It was truly the best 25th birthday I could have imagined!
Since I wanted to see as much as possible on the island, I booked a day tour of the north and south sides of the island through Viet Fun Travel. This is a completely private tour run by Phu Quoc locals, so it’s very high-rated and you can customize it to your liking. I asked that they please take me to the Ridgeback Dog Farm because I wanted to feed the Phu Quoc dogs. They happily complied with my request and created a custom itinerary for me.
Unfortunately because I was by myself this tour cost $195 USD which is very expensive, but since there are not many ways of transportation on Phu Quoc Island it was worth the money. If you bring more people with you the price will drastically decrease. Since these islanders don’t always make a lot during the low season, I didn’t feel regret spending this much for a quality tour. It was fun and I got to experience so much! My tour guide was very nice too.
Here are the places that we stopped at. This tour lasted about 10 hours and included hotel pickup:
Pearl Farm & Fish Sauce Factory
Truc Lam Ho Quoc Meditation
Coconut Tree Prison
Phu Quoc Ridgeback Dog Farm
Nguyen Trung Truc Temple
Passing Cape Ganh Dau
Vung Bau Beach & Ong Lang Beach
Our first stop was the pearl farm and the fish sauce factory. Fish sauce is Phu Quoc’s most famous food and is exported all over the country. I got to see how it was fermented in giant barrels which was pretty neat. The “pearl farm” was a museum of pearls mostly geared towards selling them, but I didn’t mind seeing it for a short amount of time. The pearls were so gorgeous. If only I could afford them! My tour guide bought me a sugar cane drink to sip on during the drive. It was super sweet and full of sugar as the name implies. There was also some mysterious green seaweed-like vegetable we tried.
The temples we saw on this tour were really beautiful too (unfortunately my photography skills from 2018 do not do them justice). Truc Lam Ho Quoc Meditation has a beautiful garden you can see when you reach the top. I enjoyed seeing the Choco-Pies that were placed in front of the deity at Nguyen Trung Truc Temple too. If I ever become a deity, I hope people place Choco-Pies in front of me too.
We next stopped at the Coconut Tree Prison that was built by French Colonists to imprison Vietnamese soldiers during the Vietnam War. Many tortures were performed here such as caging humans and burning off their flesh. I didn’t take many photos because it was grotesque, but you can Google it for yourself and see just how horrible it was. I was grateful for the personal tour because I never knew that there was a prison here! Most people that visit Vietnam only get to see the Hoa Lo Prison in Hanoi, as the Coconut Tree Prison is quite remote.
After that gruesome reminder of Vietnamese history was over, we stopped for my birthday lunch at a local Vietnamese restaurant. Everything was on the house~ Cheers to turning 25 on Phu Quoc!!
At the restaurant we ate octopus, fried rice with blue crab, and I tried snails for the very first time! The snails kind of taste like sautéed mushrooms but are chewy. I recommend trying them at least once if you get the chance. The flavor is actually quite enjoyable. The best part about this restaurant was definitely the atmosphere. Even though I was a tourist, I felt at home here.
We rode briefly through the central town of Duong Dong so our driver could get gas. This is the largest town on the island just north of my island hut. There is a seafood market and many temples and pagodas you can see. We stopped briefly to see a Cao Dai temple before continuing our tour so I could rest for a bit. If I ever some back to Phu Quoc, I would like to stay in this town for just one night to see what it’s like!
Next we stopped at the Phu Quoc Ridgeback Dog Farm so I could feed the dogs. For some reason this was one of the most anticipated stops for me! Phu Quoc dogs are some of the rarest and most expensive breeds in the world. They are extremely independent and love roaming the beaches. During the high seasons you can watch them race through courses and place bets on them. Since I was here in October, I could only pet and feed them, but that was fine by me. They were absolutely adorable:
My tour guide was extremely kind and gave me an extra bag of food. He knew pretty much everyone on the island so people were always giving us souvenirs. After I had fed every dog on the farm (and I mean EVERY dog), we decided to hit the southern Sao beaches. I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I was swimming, but it was extremely surreal to see cows grazing out here:
While I was swimming my tour guide told me I could stay out here as long as I liked because he was practicing meditation with an mp3. I stayed until sunset and got to soak up a lot of sun. Everyone that is native to this island practices spirituality, but they never try to force their beliefs upon you. I really enjoyed every single moment here even though my time was short.
I would recommend this tour to fellow adventurers because it truly takes you everywhere. I was exhausted by the end of my trip and was thankful I could rest in my hut. My next article will be the last of my Vietnam series! Thank you to all that have read up to this point.
When people think of tropical destinations in Asia, Vietnam usually isn’t high on the list. Most people in Japan flock to Okinawa, Thailand, Philippines, Guam, or even the Gold Coast in Australia for vacation. I wanted to experience something different so I decided to fly to Phu Quoc Island in Vietnam from Hanoi and stay in a beach hut on my 25th birthday in 2018. This was one of my first times staying on a remote island alone, but it was completely safe and turned out to be one of the best birthdays of my life!
I stayed on Phu Quoc for four days and three nights and managed to learn a lot about the island culture of Vietnam. Being here is completely different than from being in the city which is truly eye-opening. In Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh you’ll get a lot of stares and attention from the locals, but here you’ll find complete and total privacy:
Getting to Phu Quoc
A roundtrip flight from Hanoi to Phu Quoc only costs $65 through VietJet and takes two hours so it is quite cheap and easy to plan out. I’ve researched other islands in Vietnam such as Cat Ba, but Phu Quoc is by far the most beautiful. Long Beach is the best place to stay on the island because it has a lot of restaurants and you can see the best view of the sunset. The beach looks pretty 24/7, but swimming in the ocean and watching the sky turn that lovely mixture of pink, blue, and red makes it feel as if you are living inside of a painting:
The island hut I stayed at was called Viet Than Resort. I chose this resort because I liked the design of the thatched huts and it was only around $35 per night. Plus it was right on the beach and had a swimming pool too! I came during the off-season in October, but I still had a lot of fun here because the weather was perfect. I spent my entire first day here exploring Long Beach and going swimming. It was definitely the relaxation that I needed after several days of trekking through the populated cities.
Cuisine on Phu Quoc is cheap, healthy, and extremely satisfying. I tried a restaurant near my hotel and ordered seafood ramen and an omelette. After hours of swimming, this was exactly what I needed!
Another perk of staying here is you’ll often run into Phu Quoc dogs. An islander informed me that these dogs are friendly towards people but completely independent. They’ll let people wash and feed them, but they spend most of their time frolicking on the beaches. I wish I were a Phu Quoc dog!
Unlike places in Thailand and Bali, Phu Quoc is NOT a party island. It does have a lot of bars and places to socialize, but you won’t find any recreational drugs here. I really wish that there were more islands in Japan like this. I went to Okinawa for my first birthday in Japan and had fun, but it does not have a lot of beach huts and the best beaches require renting a car or riding a infrequent bus to reach. I liked Phu Quoc because everything was accessible, and if I needed to get somewhere I could use Grab or ask my hotel to call a cheap taxi service. This would honestly not be a bad place to retire.
In my next article, I’ll be talking about my island tour and how I rode a cable car to Sun World! Thank you all for reading my Vietnam article series! Though this happened almost 2 years ago, this island is still a very popular resort destination and a place that I would recommend to all my friends. It’s really easy to have fun here no matter what your budget is.
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 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 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)
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:
Entrance Fee: Free
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.
Myeongdong has bars that stay open late, but not much of a club scene. Continue reading to see my recommendations for clubs:
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 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).
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!
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:
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.
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.
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!
After successfully climbing Korea’s tallest mountain, I decided to take a bus tour around the west side of the island so I could relax and enjoy some of the quirky attractions of Jeju Island. I booked my tour through Jeju Day Tour because they go to the most places out of all the tour companies and are locally owned. The price for seeing half the island is only $65 USD which is worth it because it’s cheaper than renting a taxi or car. Mr. Ko, who personally organizes the tours and is the main guide, speaks very good English and answered all of my questions about the culture here.
The tour is about 9 – 10 hours but includes lunch and plenty of breaks. Our tour only had about seven people on it which was the just the right amount. The bus came directly to my hostel at dawn so we could get an early start. I couldn’t wait to see how my third day on the island was about to unfold!
Our first stop was the “Mysterious Road” (also known as “Dokkaebi Road”) which was located at the base of a mountain that connects two major highways. It was given this name because things that fall on it seem to roll up the hill rather than down. In other words, the road appears to defy gravity due to an optical illusion of its mountainous surroundings. Since we came on a slightly rainy day, we could see water droplets coming towards us from the top of the hill and it was supernatural. The demon head statue that marked the road also added to the ambiance, and it was only our first stop!
Our next stop was the Cheonjeyoen Falls, which are three of the most beautiful waterfalls in Jeju! The water from the first waterfall divides into the other two making it a beautiful natural occurrence. The water from this park eventually flows into the ocean, which is why people call it “The Pond of the Gods”. It definitely looks like something mythical straight out of a video game. I was grateful to have my guide explain its origin or else I would have overlooked it. These are the best waterfalls to see on the island in my opinion.
Mt. Songak is a little volcano with 99 peaks. This was the second volcano I visited after Mt. Hallasan and was a much easier climb! The summit has the best view of the west side of the island, but unfortunately due to the heavy fog it was difficult to see. The coast and walk to the temple however were breathtaking. Even with the fog I could still clearly make them out. I climbed part of the mountain (which only took a few minutes) then opted to go horseback riding for a small fee. My horse looked similar to Epona so it was totally worth it.
The good thing about Jeju is that the fog usually clears quickly. Since I was here for 5 days and had already climbed the tallest mountain, I was more focused on the experience of hiking rather than taking photos.
Jeju Trickeye Museum
After spending the entire morning submersed in nature, we had a Korean buffet lunch that was included in the tour package and were dropped off at the Jeju Trickeye Museum. At Trickeye museums you can pose with various paintings that are designed to make it look like you are part of the art. I had been to the Trickeye Museum in Seoul the previous year so this was quite similar. However, the Trickeye App that you can download for free on your phone makes photography much more interesting here. My favorite part was the VR pandas that were created with the app. This video I took made it look like they had crawled out of the painting. It was honestly worth the trip.
Soingook Theme Park
I was not expecting to run into Shrek and crew while I was in Korea, but that just goes to show how crazy this island is. At Soingook Theme Park you can can see replicas of famous architecture around the world juxtaposed to characters from famous films in a humorous display. I enjoyed seeing Buddha, Shrek, an Angry Birds plane, and some vaporwave all in the same place. Not to mention a beautiful bridge and lake from god knows where. I bought some knock-off Kit-Kats called “Twin Kicker” at a convenience store here and they tasted pretty good. I’m still trying to process everything I saw here!
Osulloc Tea Museum
Osulloc is the largest tea plantation in Korea and is also a museum with delicious sweets. From Jeju Island, the plants receive the perfect amount of sunlight so they can be processed into high quality tea and shipped around the country. You can freely wander through the plantation and learn about how tea is made. I tried the green tea ice cream and chocolate green tea roll which was amazing! This is one of the best spots to pick up souvenirs on Jeju too. I would say Korean green tea is just as good as Japanese green tea.
Teddy Bear Museum (Teseum)
Because meeting Shrek wasn’t enough, our final stop was the Teddy Bear Museum (also called “Teseum”) where we went on a “Teddy Bear Safari” to meet stuffed bears from all over the world. Not gonna lie, the concept seems childish but this was actually a very fun exhibition. Seeing everything from the anatomy of a teddy bear to their origin made me think back to all the stuffed Beanie Babies I collected as a kid. I did not realize how much of an impact teddy bears had on the world before I came here. Why was this on a sub tropical island in Korea? I have no idea, but it was an interesting concept.
When we got back on the bus, Mr. Ko kindly gave us mini bear keychains as souvenirs from the museum. I still have mine and think back to this trip very fondly.
After a fulfilling day of nature, green tea, and some of the craziest museums in Jeju, I was taken back to my hostel Skywalker around dinner time. I chose this hostel because it was close to Mt. Hallasan Park and the dorms were only around $12 per night. Unfortunately this hostel is now closed, but my other recommendation GreenDay is still open!
This tour was 100% worth it. The amount of things we were able to see in one day was astonishing. We had the perfect balance of nature, museums, and silly tourist attractions (which I never would have went to by myself but I enjoyed them). Basically we saw the entire west part of the island and were free to explore each destination after listening to a brief explanation. You could try to reach these places with a local Jeju bus, but some spots such as the Mysterious Road can only be accessed by car or via tour bus. The amount I paid for this tour was about the same as I paid for my bus tour in Okinawa, Japan, so it was pretty fair. I was happy to have a Jeju local as my guide. If you book a tour with Jeju Day Tour then be sure to say hello to Mr. Ko for me!
In my next article, I will be exploring the east side of the island with the same tour company (they were that good)! The west tour runs on even days and we east tour runs on odd days, so you can easily fit them into your schedule. Thank you for reading!
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:
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!!