The Tale of the Monkey Forest and Glaass Lounge in Nagano

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Matsumoto Castle in Nagano, Japan.

Nearly two years ago, I ventured north into the mountainous region of Nagano with two missions to accomplish.  The first was to see the famous hotspring-loving monkeys in Jigokudani.  Though a lot of monkeys in Asia are known to be feisty, the Japanese macaque (also known as snow monkeys) are said to be pretty relaxed.  It’s probably due to the fact that they have their own 24-hour hotspring to themselves.  The second objective was to go to a rare event in Matsumoto called Glaass Lounge.  This party is a gathering of house and techno enthusiasts that goes all night, and on this particular weekend Carpainter and Seimei of Trekkie Trax were to appear.  The stars had aligned for the ultimate weekend and I couldn’t be more excited!

 

Jigokudani Monkey Park

As soon as I arrived to Nagano Station, I went to the ticket office and purchased a day pass for Jigokudani Park.  The park is about an hour bus ride from the station, but you have the chance to see rare scenes of the countryside so it’s not a bad trip.  From the bus stop, the walk to the monkey park is about 30 mins through a lush pine forest.  When you get to the top of a hill in the mountains, you will see dozens of monkeys running through a roped-off area full of hotsprings:

Though you sadly cannot enter the hotsprings with the monkeys, you can get pretty close to them.  Often they will go under the ropes and leisurely mingle with people.  It is advised not to look them directly in the eyes because that is a sign of aggression.  Also there are notices posted not to feed them and to be careful with your bags (a.k.a. common sense).  I would allow yourself at least 1.5 hours to fully enjoy the park.  The monkeys are quite fun to observe and the mountain air feels lovely.

Besides the monkeys, the scenery surrounding the park made it worth the trip.  The mountain backdrop on the lake looked like something straight out of a postcard.  Plus hiking through the forest was an awesome workout and I saw many beautiful rivers along the way.  You can see the Japanese Alps from here too:

Admission Fee: 800 yen to enter the park // 3200 yen for admission to the park and roundtrip bus fare (I recommend this option unless you rent a car)

Although I had fun here, the day I went the monkeys weren’t particularly interesting in bathing even though it was cold out and there was snow on the ground.  Hakodate in Hokkaido has a better monkey onsen that you can see.  The monkeys there seem to love hotsprings more than the monkeys I saw here, but both are worth checking out.

Food

Due to having to catch a train into the city that night, I didn’t have a lot of time to look for places to eat but fortunately Nagano Station had me covered.  I managed to find some amazing kitsune udon (noodles topped with a thin layer of fried tofu), and oyaki (stuffed dumplings).  I was happy to see they had a number of vegetarian options and were very cheap to order individually.  Oyaki are a Nagano specialty so definitely try them if you get the chance!  You can find them literally all over the place in a variety of flavors.

Glaass Lounge

I arrived at Studio SONIC around 11pm when Glaass Lounge had just kicked off.  The club had a simple setup with a DJ booth in the front and a bar to the side, but since it was compact it was easy to socialize with people.  I found my friends immediately and told them the story of the bathing monkeys.  It felt great to experience the music scene of Matsumoto out here in the mountains.  A number of these DJs come to Tokyo events every once in a while too.

Monolith Slip, a duo of two music producers from this area were one of my favorite acts.  They create a lot of rave music and were featured on an earlier Haka Gang x Trekkie Trax compilation:

Besides them, I of course enjoyed seeing Carpainter as the featured guest.  As always, his techno/house mixes are amazing:

This party went on until 5am and was an experience I’ll never forget.  I haven’t been back to Nagano in over 2 years, but if there are more music events like these in the fture then I’ll definitely be tempted!

Address: 2 Chome-5-6 Fukashi, Matsumoto, Nagano 390-0815

Access

From Tokyo Station, take the Hokuriku-Shinkansen to Nagano Station.  This will take 2 hours and costs 8400 yen one way.  From Nagano Station you can take a bus to the monkey forest and the Shinano Limited Express to reach Matsumoto City.  All tickets can be purchased on they day you arrive, but if you are coming during a holiday I would book them in advance.  I would recommend 2 days and 1 night here to see everything.

Since I didn’t have a lot of money at time, I stayed at a net cafe called Carefree Cafe for a few hours after the party.  However, there are a lot of great hotspring resorts and ryokan you can stay in that are better!  Booking usually has some great deals depending on what you are looking for.

 

 

Adventures in Arashiyama (Kyoto)

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Arguably one of the best views this forest has to offer.

With its vast nature including a bamboo grove, the Oi River which you can go sailing on, and a monkey park, Arashiyama is hands down one of the most popular day trips from Kyoto City.  Though this area attracts a large number of tourists each year, it’s easy to avoid them by taking side trails off the bamboo grove trail.  I was able to find complete bliss in solitude while hiking to several areas and listening to my favorite music.  I originally traveled here in 2018, but came back to try the delicious chilled soba noodles at a famous restaurant last year.  In this article I will be writing about the highlights of my Arashiyama hiking adventure and hopefully will inspire more people to visit!

Floating Down the Oi River

When you get off at Arashiyama Station, one of the first things you’ll notice is the gently flowing Oi river.  There are several shacks where you can rent boats and go on tours down the river and into the forested area.  This is one of the best ways to explore Arashiyama, so I opted for a private boat tour for 3000 yen.  Group tours are also available for a lower price.  The wooden boat has padded seats so its quite comfortable, and you can see beautiful scenes from floating down the river that you can’t see on foot!

While we were sailing a food boat (food truck but in boat form) sailed up to us and offered to cook me something.  I decided I wanted grilled squid and they made it right in front of me.  It was truly and amazing experience!  I’ve explored a floating village in Cambodia before which was quite large, but this river is much smaller and more relaxed.  If you love boating then there are a lot of amazing places in Asia that are worth checking out.  I aim to explore as many as I can.

I didn’t have the best camera on me at the time, but here is some footage of me sailing down the river on a wooden boat.  It was a pleasant trip that only takes about 30 mins:

Sunset at the Kimono Forest

If you come to Arashiyama, then you definitely need to stay and watch the sun set slowly on the mountains before you leave.  First the sky will flash to a bright gradient of red, orange, and yellow, then fade to a gentle magenta and pink hue.  Afterwards there is a garden of kimono-patterned pillars near Randen Arashiyama Station that becomes illuminated at night.  I had a fantastic time walking through here and taking pictures—it felt as if I had slipped into another world with all of the colors!  These memories still burn very bright in my mind today.

Bamboo Forest and Monkey Mountain

The main tourist attraction of Arashiyama is the bamboo forest which is about a 10 min walk from the station.  The massive stalks of bamboo that surround you are truly astounding.  Back in America I had never seen anything like this before, so I was very impressed by this area.  There are normally a lot of tourists on the main path, but you can find paths that lead into the mountains like the one pictured on the right to avoid them.  If you aim your camera towards the sunlight that is partially blocked by the bamboo stalks you can get some really nice pictures here.

When I hiked up the path shown above, I spotted a very interesting building structure from afar and zoomed into it.  It looks like either a shack with clothes hung out to dry or small shrine.  Climbing to that area seems like quite a feat because it is not connected to the main path of Arashiyama.  “Who lives here?” I wondered 2 years ago, and I still think about it to this very day:

After exploring the paths around the bamboo forest which really don’t take that much time to climb, I recommend checking out the Monkey Park atop a small mountain called Iwatayama.  The climb takes about 10-15 mins and you can see a nice view of Kyoto from the top as well as several enthusiastic monkeys.  Be sure not to make direct eye contact with them as they can be quite aggressive!  However, a barrier will protect you from being attacked my them.

Compared to the monkeys in Thailand, the ones in Kyoto are actually quite nice.  However, if you are in Japan for a long time and are able to go to Hokkaido, the Monkey Park in Hakodate is actually much more fun to see.  You can watch them bathe in a hotspring and have a clearer view of them with less tourists around you.

Chilled Soba Noodles at Tempura Matsu

While searching for aesthetic food in Kyoto (which is not that difficult to find), I stumbled upon a tempura restaurant that serves soba noodles in a one-of-a-kind bowl made out of ice.  As far as I know, no other restaurant besides Tempura Matsu serves soba quite like this.  The egg topping mixed with soy sauce gives it an amazing taste.  It is best eaten in the summer because it will cool you down.  Amazingly even in the warm temperature the ice bowl will hardly melt.  I was impressed with the craftsmanship of this dish:

Since I had a long journey here, I decided to reward myself with the course meal that was around 12,000 yen at the time.  This is quite expensive, but I believe you are able to order individual items off the menu if you request them.  From my experience, it was well worth the price.  Carefully prepared seafood, soup, rice, vegetables, soba, and dessert were served to me in this course.  Vegetarian options are available as well.

Getting to Arashiyama

Kyoto Station take Sagano Line to Saga-Arashiyama Station.  This takes about 15 mins and costs only 240 yen making it an extremely cheap trip.

Please note that accommodations here are quite popular, so you might want to book 2 months in advance if you want to stay in a nice onsen resort.

If you are a solo traveler or are on a budget, I recommend day tripping here from Kyoto City since accommodations there are cheaper.  If you want to use a day hotspring in Arashiyama, consider trying Fufunoyu.  It is only 1000 yen to enter and has a lovely outdoor hotspring that you can use.

I will be writing more about my adventures in Kyoto and accommodation options in my next few posts.  Please stay tuned for more info~

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!

The Adventure of Hakodate, Monkeys, and Squid! (Part 1)

Over the weekend I went on a two day trip to the charming city of Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan!  This town has been on my travel list for a while because of its famous dancing squid dish and gorgeous views from the top of Mt. Hakodate.  Why I chose to go this weekend is because Nakata Yasutaka played a show at Riviera (in Sapporo), so I figured it would be the perfect combination of sightseeing and listening to my favorite music.

The first place on my list was Yunokawa Onsen to see the hot-tubbing monkeys!  This was very close to the airport and inexpensive to travel to by taxi.  I was happy to skip town for this scenic view:

Seeing monkeys bathe was definitely an experience.  Though you can’t bathe with them, there are a number of hotels that are part of Yunokawa where you can use onsen!  Here is a comprehensive list, including those that are available to day trippers.  I took a very relaxing bath at Hotel Banso which had an amazing aroma sauna, then took the tram to Mt. Hakodate to see this glistening view of the city:

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A lot of people say that the city lights of Hakodate glisten like a jewelry box, and it’s very true!  You can take a cable car to the top of the mountain from 10am to 10pm to witness this breathtaking view.  The sensation that I got from being up here was truly amazing–I felt like I could finally clear my head after being in Tokyo for so long.

This town is very peaceful and is probably the closest place that I’ve been to in Japan that resembles the countryside where I grew up in America (minus the squid, monkeys, and mountains).  It’s very quiet, the people are friendly, and there are a lot of parks and rivers.  However, I think Hakodate is definitely more fun!  A lot of towns in America are suburbs, but Hakodate has a lot of nature so it is better for sightseeing.

After my wonderful experience on the mountain, I went to Bar Jey’s in central Hakodate and was whipped up an impressive cocktail:

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There is not a lot of nightlife in Hakodate, but there are a number of fantastic bars!  Because I am a budget traveler, I stayed at Hakodate’s only net cafe called Eye Cafe.  It is cheap and close to Fort Goryokaku and is very convenient.  I will cover the rest of my adventures in my next post!  Please look forward to it.